Emotional triage

Some chaplain days have no space. The pager calls you to the emergency department three times in fifteen minutes. The pager calls you to three deaths in three hours. The pager calls you to two patient rooms for conversations in the same fifteen minutes and the same three hours.

On those days, I’m learning about emotional triage.

IMG_1607.JPGTriage is what happens in the waiting area outside the Emergency Department. People arrive with needs. All are serious enough to cause someone to come to the hospital, but not all are equally risky to the health of those who arrive.

Inside the doors of the Emergency Department are beds and staff to start treating those needs, but not enough to treat everyone simultaneously.

And what most people in the triage area don’t see is the other doors. Some lead to the rest of the hospital, where people with serious needs are sent. Another brings people in ambulances, with needs that are usually more life-threatening than the needs that walk in.

The nurse at the triage desk has to listen to the people who arrive, discern the life-threat of the situation, and send people back to the waiting beds and staff in an orderly and ordered manner.

First come is not first served. Although a heart-attack and a sprained ankle may have comparable pain, they do not have comparable life-threat. An upset stomach may be more vocal than a stroke, but may have to wait longer.

On really hectic days I’m learning to stop and evaluate the demands in front of me. I cannot arrive at all pages simultaneously and I cannot handle the emotional impact of each simultaneously, so I do triage. What must happen now, what can wait ten minutes, what can wait two hours? What can be handled with a phone call, with a text, with a short visit, with a long presence.

Today your life, your work, your family, your heart may be fully ordered. You may not need to think about intentionally stopping and sorting through the emotional burdens.

But sometime you may.

Good rain on not good people by a good God.

(This is part two of a series on Matthew 5:38-48)

And then Jesus gets tougher.

peaceYou have heard it said, “love your neighbor.” That’s in the law. The hate your enemy? That’s not in the law, but it could very well be in the culture. Because it’s a human thing.

We try to create lines between friends and foes. And if someone is an enemy, we label them. And we dump hate on them.

Jesus says that God dumps rain on them.

Jesus says that his people are to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecute them.  Jesus says that’s how to know that you belong to God, if you are loving your enemies and praying for them.

Because, Jesus says, that’s what God does. He continues to give them air. He continues to give them rain. Unlike the assumption that bad people are punished by bad storms, the experience is that bad people get nice rains just as much as good people, and that bad people get just as much sunshine as good people. Because God loves those who are enemies of his, and those who persecute his people.

This sun and rain distribution doesn’t mean that evil doesn’t have consequences. But they are not up to us to distribute.

We can understand a little better what it means when we look at Jesus.

Love your enemies, he says, and pray for those who persecute you. In a few weeks, we will read the story of Good Friday. And we will read that Jesus will be hanging on a cross. With enemies and people who persecuted him to death.

And as he is hanging on the cross, he says, “Father, forgive them.” He prays for those who persecuted him.

I talk to people. They tell me, “that person at work is trying to make my life miserable.” And I say, “How are you praying for them?” And they say, “I don’t know. That they get fired?” And I say, “talk to Jesus about it. Tell him what’s happening. Ask him to improve the attitude of the other, to alleviate whatever the insecurity is that is causing the meanness.”

What I’m really saying is, “talk to the one person I know who fully understands what it’s like to be so misunderstood that you are killed for it, to be completely blameless.”

We are living after centuries of people trying to explain and excuse and exploit what Jesus says. People have been abused BY this teaching, where people in authority taught “respect authority” and then abused it.

But the way people abuse his words doesn’t remove them. We are still called in the million situations that we have in our daily lives, most of us, to love those who are against us, and to pray for them.

Unwarranted respect.

(Part one of a series on Matthew 5:38-48)

Evil people woke up this morning and looked at the sun and thought, “Another day for me.” That’s not fair. Not at all.

If we had our way, evil people would wake up and….well…if we were honest, we kind of wish evil people simply wouldn’t wake up.

Right? We wish that genuinely bad people would disappear. Then life would be perfect. Instead, they get air. And sunshine. And their lawns get just as much rain as the good people. Which is annoying to us because they probably somewhere hold the mortgage on the lawn of the good people.

We cry out to God and we say, “It’s not fair.”

peaceThe law, the “you have heard it said”, said that in certain physical crimes punishment could and should be limited to the extent of the injury. So an eye for an eye, not more. A tooth for a tooth. It feels extreme to us, but it was actually culturally gracious. When “A hand for a theft” is a standard, the eye for an eye was measured.

But then Jesus.

Jesus redefines the standard to respond with graciousness, not technicality. With unwarranted respect, not retribution.

Imagine, Jesus says, that you are standing in line in the market, and have been. There isn’t much fresh lamb. And someone comes up and shoves you out of line. Do you

  1. Call the Roman soldier and file a complaint
  2. Create a scene
  3. Offer the person your shopping bag, too.

Imagine that a Roman soldier comes up alongside you as you are walking home after work. “Carry my backpack,” he says, and tosses it to you. It almost knocks you down, it’s so heavy. But the laws of occupation say that he can do this. For a mile.

Do you

  1. Carry it for a mile, swearing at the soldier. At the milepost, you drop it and walk away.
  2. Carry it for a mile and make the best of it, asking the soldier about his family. And then at the milepost you stop, wish him well, and hand him the pack.
  3. Carry it for a mile and just keep walking. And then tell him about the way Jesus told you to do this.

Imagine, Jesus says, that when you say something in a gathering someone slaps you with the back of their hand. It’s less about pain, more about shame.

Do you

  1. Slap back.
  2. Shout for the authorities
  3. Stand in place, refusing to be shamed.
  4. Let the temple guards spit on you and hit you and mock you.

The point that Jesus isn’t making is that there is no place for an army of defense. This is originally addressed to people not nations. BUT it IS addressed to people.

Stop talking about rights, Jesus says. Talk about relationship.

I understand that what Jesus is saying is completely counter- cultural. We have rights and we have to defend them. We have honor and we have to uphold it. This isn’t fair. But the kingdom of heaven is built in grace, not fairness. And Jesus is saying this counter-cultural thing. Stop trying to win.

Spiritual side hustle.

I’m a regular listener to Chris Guillebeau’s Side Hustle School podcast. In 8 minutes every day, he tells the story of someone who has created a side hustle, something alongside a regular job that provides a little extra income.

Chris is good at making it clear that these are examples, not prescriptions. And he’s choosing a variety of examples, from products to services, from a few hundred dollars a month to $100,000 a year.

As I was listening sidehustlethe other day, I realized that we need a spiritual side hustle podcast. It would tell stories of people who didn’t quit their day job, but started side projects serving Jesus. Not for money. For those you can listen to Chris. But for the opportunity to change people’s lives, a little at a time.

  • One episode could be about the young software engineer and the ice cream plant supervisor who knew how to explain math, so they started tutoring children who had immigrated from Myanmar (Burma).
  • Another could describe the administrative assistant and the home-school mom who knew that people need the dignity and delight of a good home cooked meal so they started inviting people to a meal.
  • Another could tell about the carnival ride business operator who started running the local food bank because there wasn’t anyone else.
  • Another could introduce the office manager who uses Instagram and knitting to raise money and awareness for refugees still IN Syria.

I’m thinking it would be an amazing project to illustrate how many people are doing remarkable work in people’s lives in the name of Jesus outside the church building.

Chris always ends his stories with, “Inspiration is good, but inspiration combined with action is so much better.” This podcast isn’t going to my project, but I invite you do it.

Or maybe just to start a spiritual side hustle.



old bulletinWe make promises all the time. And often they come in a series. Kind of like this:

“Yes. “

“I will do that.”

“If you ask me, then I will do that.”

“I will do that, cross my heart and hope to die.”

“If you will do this, just this one time, I promise that I will do that, I swear on a stack of Bibles.”

“I know that I’ve promised a thousand times and I’ve messed up every time, but this time, I’m really, really serious, and I mean it this time, and see, my fingers aren’t crossed behind my back and this time I won’t try to weasel out if it and this time, I promise on my mother’s grave that I will do it.”

“You have to believe me; I am completely different this time. You can ask anyone, I swear to you, I will do this.”

“Please, what do I have to do for you to believe that I will do this?”

“May God strike me dead if I don’t do this.”

When Jesus started talking about oaths and about swearing in Matthew 5:33-37, he wasn’t talking about the #@%&* kind of swearing. He was talking about people who couldn’t be trusted. He was talking about people who had broken their word and so had to add support to their commitments. He was talking about people who had said that they would do something and hadn’t and then said, “This time I will, so help me God.”

He was talking about people like us.

The simplest thing to do to have people trust you is to say “yes” and then do “yes.”

Of course, in the middle of a busy day when there isn’t time to think clearly, it may be simple to say “yes” just to get the noise of requests to stop. But Jesus wanted “yes” to actually mean “yes.”

It’s about trust.


An earlier version of this post is included in Learning A New Routine: Reading the Sermon on the Mount a Little at a Time