A colleague talked about an experience they had had when doing their Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). All UU clergy have to do CPE in some form of supervised ministry setting whether it be a hospital or a community setting such as a jail or hospice. The point is to have candidates for ministry face their own issues while in training rather than while in a settled ministry. I used to think of it as a “make or break you” kind of thing.
Part of the training involves numerous group sessions with a supervisor to talk about interactions with patients or clients being served. When this colleague shared a particular interaction, the supervisor called this colleague’s theology, “S**t happens.” It is often to be a UU in a multi-faith context because many religious traditions offer “answers” or a rationale for the events of our lives. Even when there are none.
I understand people wanting a faith tradition that provides answers or provides a framework to live through difficult events in our lives. I would love that kind of comfort. But for me and so many of our colleagues, S**t just happens. There is no “why” for it. It just is. There is no rhyme nor reason to it, no possible explanation. How we deal with the S**t is what defines our “theologies” or values or understandings of ultimate meaning in life. It is in the “how” of the living through these kinds of events that who we are, what we believe and value are discovered and shaped.
I remember when I visited the home of a family whose son had just died of HIV/AIDS. He was laid out in a room for visitors to say their good-byes. I was fairly new to being with those who had experienced a death. And so I was pretty tearful. When the father yelled at me, “Look at that!” pointing to his son, “Tell me why that happened!” I had no explanations for him. All I could whisper was, “I have no idea.” “Good,” he replied, “I don’t want to be Goddamned lied to.”
So I am a great believer in S**t happens theology. I don’t want to be lied to in my times of crisis. I would never presume to explain to a grieving parent why a child has died. All I can do is weep with them in their grief. I still have no clue about why the suffering that happens minute by minute in this world happens. S**t happens. And ministers often come behind sweeping up after it. It is actually a privilege of this profession.
I want to acknowledge that there are those who find great comfort in the belief that things happen for a reason. This is the gift of their faith. I do not belittle them or their faith. But neither should my colleague’s or my S**t Happens theology be belittled or viewed as somehow less than. Perhaps more revelation will be revealed to me about all of this sometime. But for right now, I’m sticking with the theology that works for me: S**t Happens.