OTF is off the floor

I stood next to a couple of coworkers in the ER. We were waiting for a patient to arrive. I was hearing their conversation. (When you are standing two feet apart, it’s hard to call it “eavesdropping.”)

marbles“OTF is off the floor” was the first sentence I heard. I immediately assumed that they were saying that a piece of technology wasn’t available for their use because it was on another floor. As the conversation went on, I discovered that I was sort of right, but mostly wrong.

Some piece of equipment wasn’t available. But it wasn’t the OTF. The sentence meant, “O.T.F is an abbreviation for the phrase ‘Off The Floor’.”

I laughed, though quietly. Remember, we were crowded around the door of a room. When chaplains just start laughing, it’s a little unsettling to everyone else.

I realized how often I fill in the other side of the conversation, the meaning of the text. I ignore the possibility that there is a conversation going on, that what came before may provide the context for what comes after. I can insert myself in a conversation that is neither about me, nor intended for me. I can interrupt teaching that is happening for others. I can jump to implications and applications before I start with understanding.

I talked yesterday about reading scripture as communication. What’s true for my ER misunderstanding is true for how we approach the Bible, I fear. We hear a phrase and think we know what it means. We apply it to others. We apply it to ourselves. And we didn’t take a moment to see whether we should be involved in the conversation.

If it were just a text, just a piece of literature, we might be okay with that approach. But if someone is talking with us, it’s worth asking them what they mean before deciding. And if they weren’t talking to us, it might be nice to know.

And the option of asking is always available. Dangerous, but available.

Saying something for some reason

The other week, I told some friends to read 3 John. It’s because they want to know how I read when I read the Bible. A couple days after we agreed to read, I read the text myself. And I sent them this email.


I just sat down to start thinking about this text, and the first thing that I thought was, ”  ___.”

You think I’m going to tell you that? And shape your thinking?

TalkingBut I did start thinking about what was behind that observation and I realized that I often start by trying to understand what might have been going on that called for this piece of discourse. It’s a way of thinking that is rooted in my training as a scholar, going back to a concept called “The rhetorical situation.”

In brief, it says that there are some situations where words don’t matter, where nothing anyone can say will change them. But there are some situations where there is a problem that invites discourse and there is an audience to speak to.
I often work backward from that and say, “There is a communication reason that someone wrote these words for an audience. There is a change that is being invited. There is a problem that needs to be addressed.”

This is different than a pure literature approach that doesn’t care about the author or the audience but considers the structure of the poem. I am always assuming that choices are being made not JUST for literary reasons but PRIMARILY for communication reasons.

This doesn’t mean that what is being communicated is facts or information. It’s possible through communication to foster a sense of security or belonging. The mere fact that someone speaks to us, regardless of what they say, often is offering that sense of belonging.

But I “always” have an underlying assumption that there is an intention of understanding. Someone, John, is speaking to someone, Gaius, (at least) for some reason.

In this case, for me, that means someone, John, is speaking to someone, Gaius, (at least) for some reason.

Which then helps me start thinking of “what is going on? Who is talking? What are they assuming? Why do they say this or ask this? How does that fit with what I know of humans from scripture, from universals, from our culture. What was going on at the time such that this is how things are phrased rather than that way, (assuming that the discourse choices are made for a reason)?

Enough. I’m not trying to write a comprehensive essay. But I wanted to give you a glimpse while it was fresh.  And to give you a reminder that this is how you interact, too. You write and speak words in response to situations, to audiences, in contexts. And you make those choices of the words and images for reasons.


I keep mail lists, just in case. It’s what everyone says to do if you want to sell online.

I created one for Lent, one for this project, one for that project. Each of those lists was for a good idea, an occasionally helpful project. After all, I wrote the Nehemiah book to an email list. It gave me purpose and accountability to have to send a conversation with Nehemiah out every Sunday afternoon.

But there is a cost to maintaining those lists. Part of the cost is financial. My Mailchimp account has charges associated with tiers of numbers.

PruningBut there is another kind of cost to maintaining possibilities. The “what if” and “I should do this sometime” projects create a weight on our hearts and our plans. If we have the list, we tell our selves, we can maybe do more to offer impact. If we have the list, email theory tells us, we have more opportunities to monetize. To make money through selling to the names on the list.

In my writing, that’s a risky thing to try. I remember a few years ago on a Bible reading project I was doing. I sent out a followup email using the statistics available to me. I quickly heard back that the person didn’t appreciate my spying on their reading. And they unsubscribed.

(This is different from the friend who has worked with me to see whether Mailchimp can keep no trace. It’s not about me in this case, it’s about the notion of tracking. And we’ve decided that there isn’t much we can do.)

Last week I sent out emails to a couple of my lists.

“Thanks,” I said, “for being part of that project. If you want to hear from me from time to time, you can sign up for Social Media Chaplain updates. But I carry forward too many threads and so I’m going to delete the list you are on.”

And on August 23, I’ll delete them.

I want to suggest to you that you might want to do a similar pruning of your archive of “what if” and “maybe someday” and “It’s a great idea for them”. I’m thinking that the good but not essential things I drag along might be part of why I’m dragging.


I’m not deleting the list for 300wordsaday.com, by the way. That list of some of you, which carries just this blog, is too important to me.

Simple compassion.

HelpIt was a very challenging day for Northern Indiana. Which meant that it was a very challenging day for people working in the hospital. Which meant that it was a very challenging day for chaplains.

As each new unrelated event happened, coworkers would look at each other and say, “What is going on?” Some people decided that it’s the eclipse effect. It’s probably not.

At the theoretical end of my shift, as I was walking back to the office down a back hallway, a nurse said, “You’re going the wrong way. You need a little desk in our area.” She was almost right, given the day. And she was teasing. But we had a good and honest and helpful conversation about our work. And I felt less crushed.

Later, in another area in the hospital, I was waiting for a coworker to copy a document. Someone said, “You need this,” and handed me a cookie, double chocolate. The kind that my friend Kent calls “energy bars.” I was grateful. When I walked back through the unit I told her why.

I think that when we read Jesus saying, “love one another” we think big, expensive, dramatic thoughts. And that may be true. But most of us are in the middle of really long days doing work that we love and that often costs us more than we want to acknowledge to each other. And what we need to offer and receive is conversation and compassion and courage and chocolate chip cookies.

Nothing more. But nothing less.


The mug is available at chaplainmugs.com

It’s not up to you.

So after suggesting that we aren’t as alone as we feel and that you aren’t really the worst failure in the world, we come to our third reminder for what feels like the worst day of your life: You don’t have to fix yourself to make God happy.

We make the wrong connection between God’s love and our actions. We say that God’s love, God’s openness to us, affection for us, willingness to die for us, depends on how deserving we are, how good we act. We work really hard to live up to what God must want.

committed completelyAnd on really bad days, sometimes we think that we have to make ourselves better for God to pay attention to us. That’s why we try to make deals about what we’ll do if God fixes things. And, I suppose, it’s why we then are frustrated when God doesn’t keep his part of the bargain, the one that he didn’t actually make.

God’s attention to us is more compassionate. Paul says:  “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” And then he says, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

But this isn’t to say that there is no connection between God’s love and our actions. There’s an calling and opportunity to show God’s love in our actions. As we understand that it isn’t our actions that make God love us, we can act in a loving way because of love.

And we can stop blaming God for punishing us or being afraid that we’ve offended him or thinking he must be trying to get our attention on what feels like the worst day of our lives.

Sometimes on what feels like a terrible day, God is with us, God doesn’t regard us s a failure, and God’s not waiting for us to fix things. Sometimes, on these days, God is quietly speaking and reaching out his hand, for a person he loves very much.

Like you.