Friday, June 25, 2010

Bat Bleep Crazy

NYC - MoMA: Jackson Pollock's One:Number 31, 1950

I used to think it was a liability associated with being a minister, but now I know it's simply a fact of life. People assume you're interested in morality and ethics because anyone who pursues a professional relationship with God is likely to be the kind of person who prefers to stay within the lines while coloring. You know what my problem was? I could never quite do that. My crayon books would have made Jackson Pollock proud (see photo). I wasn't being stubborn as a kid, or independent, or recalcitrant, I just couldn't keep my crayons between the lines to save my life.

I should have known this was a portent of things to come, but as a second grader, my vision of the future had a somewhat narrower focus, i.e. how many more weeks is it until Christmas? I'm still that way, as you may have guessed from the litter of holiday essays I manage to produce between Halloween and December 25. I mean, here we are, it's not even the end of June and I'm talking about it already. But this post isn't about Christmas. It is, however, about morality, ethics, and a disinclination to stay within the lines.

The reason I say this is partly due to the fact I have trouble seeing them. The lines aren't as distinct as they were in my coloring books depicting black ink on white newsprint outlines of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. It's not a matter of eyesight because mine has improved substantially over time to my doctor's amazement. It's really a matter of experience, and discovering that human nature needs grace most of all. Legislated morality is an open invitation to go bat bleep crazy.

A good friend of mine, now in his first week of residency, passed along a wonderful comment he overheard the other day: "Make sure you know the rules inside and out so you can discern when and how to break them." Some folks are very good at telling others what they should or shouldn't do and justifying it on the basis of any number of social considerations. What I've found, over the course of more years than I'd like to admit of doing pastoral counseling and psychotherapy, is that most people genuinely struggle over poor decisions or relationships gone sour.

It isn't that they want to screw up, but things happen that no one can anticipate. Life is far more complicated than a "do this and not that" orientation can manage. The gray areas are as common as frost heaves on a Maine country road after a hard winter, and believe me, frost heaves are really common. One can't always know with absolute or any other kind of certainty what is the best thing to do.

I'm bringing all of this up this morning because I'm thinking about all my friends who have begun residency this week. Technically speaking, they're involved in orientation meetings and the real work of doctoring starts next week. But eventually, they are going to be confronted with decisions that aren't crystal clear and situations they've never encountered before. They'll have the support of attending physicians, senior residents, and hospital staff, thankfully, but they'll still have to wrestle with the necessity of integrating training with conscience.

As they do, as we all do, I hope they find the grace of self-forgiveness in the process. No one is omniscient, everyone makes mistakes, rigidity breaks rather than strengthens the flailing heart. Granting oneself permission to ask for help, to be less than perfect, to be less than God-like, is the blessing of being human. We do far better seeking grace with every step we take, as my friend John Denver would say, and it's how we make ourselves better at the same time.

(Image of unknown license by Wallyg via Flickr; Rocky Mountain High, words and music by John Denver, copyright 1975)

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