Diary of a Chaplain

July 24th, 2016

People look at me oddly when I tell them I’m going to spend Sunday at the hospital. Or when I tell them I voluntarily spend time in the emergency room. Why would go spend time doing that? their expression says.

If you have spent years caring for kids, if you enjoyed the “job” of parenting and miss doing it, you will feel at home caring for people in a hospital. At least I do. It’s good to have a role to play. It’s good to have staff people greet you when you come in,  and patients look happy when you appear. You do worry about what’s going to happen, and you do dead some disaster. But must Minnehaha are small and human and quiet, and I like being part of that.

Beautiful Music in the Hood

December 22nd, 2015

One of the most successful online marketplaces for musical instruments in the country is located just four or five blocks from my house. It’s caed Reverb.com and I got to visit the offices recently. Thanks to the people who work there for letting me hang out them them. There were lots of instruments in their space. They get together and jam sometimes after work. Cool place to work!

The article is here: http://www.ecommercebytes.com/cab/abu/y215/m11/abu0384/s02.

The Only Way to Be Happy

December 20th, 2015

Over the past four months I have undertaken two life-changing projects. I am taking a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL. And I have helped create a nonprofit organization called Devices 4 the Disabled (D4D). These two things have given me a new direction. Bu they are tied together because they are both ways to help people. The Dalai Lama said that the only way to be happy is to practice compassion. When you cultivate loving kindness you yourself are happy. CPE and D4D both act as laboratories for this. But we all have our own laboratories.

August 16th, 2015


One big kid joined all the little kids in the sprinkler at our block party yesterday.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

August 16th, 2015

“The atomic bomb is the perfect symbol of wicked wisdom.”
–Gelek Rimpoche

Change Your Inlook

August 11th, 2015

“A lot of our research is based on outlook, not inlook. If people did inlook research just as we research rabbits and mice, they would have a big surprise.”
–Gelek Rimpoche

Greg’s Fermentation Factory

August 10th, 2015

Yogurt in back, kefir in front on the left, kombucha on the right. You can never have too many probiotics aroun


d the house or in your gut, I say.

My Article on Email Triggers

August 8th, 2015

My ECommerceBytes article on e-mail triggers is up at http://www.ecommercebytes.com/cab/abu/y215/m08/abu0381/s02. It’s based on a workshop at IRCE in Chicago last June.

What’s an email “trigger?” It’s an event that causes your email marketing system to send a message to certain individuals who have been visiting or shopping on your e-commerce website. The whole system depends on people logging in the moment they visit, so you can identify them and contact them later. Nathan Decker at evo.com, a sports equipment seller, explained how he and a programmer worked up a system that automatically approached people even if they were simply looking on the site–not even if they had gotten to the point of an abandoned cart. It seemed a tiny bit intrusive to me. If you are just casually looking on a site and don’t buy anything, would you respond positively to a marketing email encouraging you to buy something similar? I would not. But that’s just me. Some less-automated and less-expensive version can certainly be worked up by e-commerce sellers on a budget.

You never know what’s going to change your life or what state you’re going to be in. Then, when it happens, you’re not always sure anything significant occurred. Ninety percent of it is just showing up. I believe Gelek Rimpoche, my teacher, told this to us just a month ago, at our last retreat. Just give yourself a chance and just show up.

My journal entries for this day and the days immediately preceding it are so painful as to be almost unreadable. I was having terrible fights with my wife. “You’re so selfish, you’re so self-centered,” she yelled at me. “You think you’re so much greater than everybody. You’re just the same as everyone! You think your shit doesn’t stink!”

Two days later, on Sept. 24, I started out in this state:

“I want to hurt myself. I want to cause myself discomfort and pain. I want to work even though the weather has been so beautiful this fall. I want to work and grind and grind even though I hate it. I hate my job and yet I stay at it. I want to write and yet I refuse to. I work. Why am I killing myself slowly, strangling myself this way?”

I had seen a flyer posted on campus advertising a talk by this Tibetan guy. The title of the talk was “Overcoming Habitual Patterns.” This didn’t sound very mystical or airy-fairy. So I stayed after work and walked over to Ida Noyes Hall. I sat on a bench near the bank. It took me a while to realize that the little guy in the suit and short-brimmed hat was our speaker. I had expected him to be in robes or something. I think I wanted something totally different, something to take me out of the hell of my mind and everything I hated.

“Coming over here I realized how thoroughly I have turned my mind off and how I retreat into fantasy,” I wrote. “It really is a way of escaping the way things really are, of reality, really. I escape into dreams, and I think, over and over again, Wouldn’t that be nice, Wouldn’t that be nice, instead of thinking Isn’t this nice, Isn’t this good. Being happy with the way things are. It’s something I’m not used to.”

That’s the state of mind I was in when Brenda Rosen gave an introduction and Rimpoche began to talk.

“Little Tibetan monk in a brown business suit and a beige tie. How his earlobes were so long and stuck out like little baby’s thumbs. How his eyes were just like slits; round moons above and below. How he stood there gathering his thoughts with his eyelids closed and his eyes rolled up in his head like the Tibetan singers. How neat his hair was. The teacher gains respect. The only way to gain respect is by benefiting others. Then you gain respect without even trying. You acknowledge and face your problems. Then you use patience and compassion to overcome it. You do not ignore it. You allow your true beautiful nature to grow by eliminating barriers; then it grows of itself.”

And that is all I wrote. Nothing like “Wow!” or “This changes everything!” But my writing and thoughts after this after different. I started looking at things, simply looking, and finally getting out of my own head. And when Jewel Heart met the following week, I came. And I have never left.

Sacred Music Sacred Dance
One good thing about working at the University of Chicago was the number and range of cultural events that took place on campus and in the neighborhood. I was in a Javanese gamelan group for a while. There were classes in Ikebana flower arranging, choral concerts, poetry readings. And on this day, a concert by Tibetan monks. I stayed after work and went to it.

Perhaps I went because they were to be introduced by the actor Richard Gere. Perhaps that’s why the hall was absolutely packed. I wrote:

“A suitably gray, introspective type of day. Tremendous overflow crowd snaking through hall. Guy behind me talking about home renovation. Richard Gere has perfectly gray hair. Have all these people come to hear the music of the unconscious?

“Although I went to this thinking that I would test my theory about the unconscious, I was more interested in the large crowd and the feeling I got from being with them–an indescribable good feeling that thee were all good people, interesting people, and that this was the right place for me to be. ‘It’s something different,’ the girl in front of us said. That was true; it was something away from everyday life, a break from the mundane, a time to pause and connect with ‘god’ in the sense of universal bliss or self-awareness or whatever–which has nothing to do with everyday life. That is what church never did for me, yet should have been. It started out as something mysterious and foreign but became less and less so. Doing the mass in English was the first big change. Then turning the altar to the front. Then guitar music, deacons, shaking hands–god knows what they have now. They probably have group discussions and hug-fests in the middle of the service. That’s why it became dead for me.

“That shivering, resonating shiver when something is really right, when I am learning something. I got it quite often that night.

“As to whether Western music is music of the ego and the chanting of Tibetan monks is music of the unconscious, I’m not sure. It feels that way, but I have no way to test it. I suspect that many of the people who went to the concert felt better for it but could not tell you exactly why–because it did not reach them on a conscious, verbal level. If that was the way they looked at it, they would say, ‘That’s weird,’ or ‘I can’t follow it.’ But if they forgot that barrier of consciousness, and let it speak to their unconscious, I think it does touch us there, and that is why we feel better about it. Because, for a change, our conscious set o ‘ears’ has been entertained, not the conscious set.

“It demonstrated the value of mass ritual–the energy and excitement gained from the group, with it loss of emphasis on individual concerns. so that one is open to more universal things–and the escape from the transitory world of everyday pain and suffering; the opening out into the wider sphere of the collective unconscious. Mad me realize how far away from that I had come, how I never got that sense in all the Catholic masses I had gone to.

“The popularity of this is hard to explain except to say that it touches something universal that we long for and that is connoted by the words ‘lama’, ‘Tibet,’ ‘mystical,’ etc.–that turning to the East that we are slowly doing in our culture. Not revealing something to people but touching something that is already there inside–people who know nothing of this would be unlikely to spend $10 to come to it.”

I am sure when I got home I told my wife very little of this. She was a Lutheran and didn’t want images of Buddha put up around the house.