528 Hertz

“You know that the universe vibrates at 528 Hz, right?”

This was only part of the first conversation I had with Neil*, who had just come on hospice and was living at home with with his mother. It was my initial assessment with him, and it was already off to an interesting start. When I arrived for our meeting time he wasn’t available. The neighbors in his apartment building who were sitting outside said that he had just gone out to the local Rite-Aid with his girlfriend. So I waited on the patio until he arrived.

Neil right off the bat struck me as an interesting guy. He was in his mid-50’s, and his long white hair, thin build, pale Hawaiian shirt and straw fedora made him look like a wandering beachcomber. He carried a portable oxygen concentrator, the only visible indicator of his end-stage lung cancer. “Hey man! Sorry I’m late. I had to go get my meds and some toothpaste.” He introduced me to his girlfriend who was with him and neighbors and then escorted me inside, chatting the whole time. Continue reading

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Sidebar: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Titan (or, Infinity War and God the “Moral Monster”)

Thanos and Gamora: original art by firasd/Reddit

The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to surprise me. The fact that it has, for the past 10 years, created not just a series of blockbuster movies that are often fun and occasionally downright compelling is pretty darn impressive. The fact that these movies actually all join together in serial form culminating with Infinity War is even more impressive. The fact that Infinity War itself manages to tell a coherent story across multiple simultaneous arcs and over a dozen primary characters is amazing.

To me, the biggest surprise was Thanos.

Marvel has not always done well with its cinematic villains. The worst (Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2 for example) come off as fairly standard tropes. Their motivations are standard – power, glory, revenge, etcetera. Even the better villains such as Ultron (Avengers: Age of Ultron) I found somewhat disappointing, as came off to me as another take on the monster who destroys its creators as well as everything else.

Thanos, however was quite different. I’ll say why ahead, but if you haven’t watched the film yet what follows may spoil some of the film for you. I’m also going by memory (and Google), so bear with me if I make storyline errors. Continue reading

NPR Show Discusses Hospice and “Comfort Care”, Advance Directives

Joshua Johnson, host of NPR’s 1A

The NPR show and podcast 1A recently held a discussion with former radio personality Diane Rehm and medical experts, prompted by the news that former First Lady Barbara Bush had chosen “comfort care” in the last days of her life. Continue reading

Countering Hospice Myths: A Response to John Neihof and the American Family Association

A recent article by Dr. John Neihof on the American Family Association website caught my attention recently. I find that I’m often at odds with the AFA, and try to counter some of their more off-base proclamations (the biblical mandate for border walls for example) in their comments section. It’s been a fool’s errand I think, and this fool has run his final errand with the AFA. Continue reading

CPE Verbatim: Avoiding the Unavoidable

I revisited an older verbatim that I wrote back in 2011. It’s interesting to go back and review older visits and interactions with the lens of history and experience. I don’t remember this particular case, but it reminds me of several other cases. I do remember that it was rather frustrating for me, which will be evident in the interaction. Continue reading

The Bookshelf: “Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounded?”, by Dwight Carlson

The relationship between body, mind and soul is one of the most complicated and least understood in the modern world. One reason is that while the three certainly seem distinguishable (at least to those who believe we have a soul) the boundaries are extremely hazy. Is depression a result of a chemical imbalance, a poor self-image, or guilt from personal sin? How you answer this question will be a reflection of not simply your faith but your worldview as well (and the answer is most probably “yes” to all three). Continue reading

Serving the Servers: How Chaplains Can Help Prevent Burnout

The Rev Daphne Preece (right) gives support to a member of staff. Photograph: Milton Keynes University hospital NHS foundation trust/The Guardian

Burnout is a common problem for those in helping professions, and while the word or term “burnout” may be used without much thought at times, it is a real problem with specific features. Maslach noted that the features of burnout are multifaceted, including  “emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment”. Since caregiver burnout was first described in the early ’70’s a great deal of material has been written in order to study its effects and possible ways to alleviate it. Because of their visible role in the workplaces where they serve, chaplains can become a resource to help their coworkers prevent burnout and provide staff support as well as indirectly provide better patient outcomes.

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The Bookshelf: “Bradshaw On: The Family”, by John Bradshaw

223513I’m going to start right off by saying that this book will probably garner some strong reactions. John Bradshaw rose to prominence and popularity through PBS specials in the ’80s that, at the time, were controversial not only for their pop-psychology and soft spirituality but for their criticism of the family system as a source of dysfunction. Yet I found this book pivotal in my CPE training and helpful for understanding how individuals aren’t nearly as “individual” as we think.

Bradshaw On: The Family comes on the heels of the social upheaval of the late ’60’s and the cultural narcissism of ’70’s America. Popular culture was trying hard to emancipate itself from traditional societal and religious norms. This cultural zeitgeist runs through this book and therefore may turn some off. However don’t disregard it as mere “psychobabble”; it has ideas well worth considering. Continue reading

Joe Malm: 2 Things to Remember When Struggling With Grief

I came across the following short but insightful article on Relevant Magazine’s site. It highlights two basic observations that may seem obvious to some (the cyclic nature of grief and the importance of a social network), however the fact that it’s written at all shows the necessity to continue to educate and assist those grieving any sort of loss.

2 Things to Remember When Struggling With Grief

Joel Malm: March 5, 2018

Several years ago, a pastor who was a longtime mentor and friend of mine did some things that caused havoc in my family. Overnight we lost our church community. We felt totally betrayed. For weeks I was angry, then sad, then just depressed. I avoided interaction with people. I didn’t want to hear any Christian platitudes that just made me feel worse.

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Words Fail

Starting out as a chaplain I was very concerned about what I might say and what counsel I could provide to others. As time went on I learned chaplaincy was more about listening than talking, and learned to silence my inner psychologist and problem-solver (or at least to keep that voice in my head, if not silenced). Then there are the times where words just fail. Continue reading