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: The Power of Narrative Preaching (or, The Preacher as Dungeon Master)

One of the side things I enjoy is playing fantasy roleplaying games with a group of friends online. Destroying giant bees ridden by bow-wielding goblins from the comfort of my office chair is always fun. However they can be very exciting not merely for the fun of fighting but the chance to create stories in imaginary worlds where choices are hard and have consequences. Continue reading

The Transformative Nature of Pastoral Authority

Bread and wine

An issue that comes up frequently in chaplaincy training is pastoral authority. This area of ministry tended to trip me up at first, and I expect it does for others as well. It’s one of the key areas where we need to grow and develop as chaplains though: it’s one of our core competencies for a reason. Continue reading

Feelings Aren’t Dangerous: A Response to The Gospel Coalition and Gloria Furnam

A while ago an email drifted through my inbox from The Gospel Coalition. Ususally I delete them, mostly because I find most of them to be uninteresting or not that helpful. Thankfully they list the subjects of the email right off, so you can delete them fairly quickly. But this one caught my attention, because one of the articles in the email was called “Moms, Don’t Trust Your Fickle Feelings“.

“OK”, I thought, “don’t rush to judgment – see what they say.”

And I got mad. Continue reading

Being an Anxious Christian

…pretty accurate

While at the library a few weeks ago I found this book peeking out at me from among the graphic novels called The Worrier’s Guide to Life. It’s hysterical, because it’s true. The page I included above made me laugh out loud because I’ve had all of these – sometimes several combinations of them – keep me up at night. I showed it to my wife but I don’t think she got it (she’s usually asleep before she hits the pillow anyway). There was so much in that book that worriers and the anxiety-prone people like me to find funny, which is great because it’s good therapy to hold a mirror up to your problems and laugh at them.

I’m a Christian that has struggled with anxiety for many years. It’s something I deal with more or less on a daily basis, but it’s not as debilitating for me as it is for many others. I’ve had a few panic attacks, been on and off medication, gone to counseling, and try to manage more or less on a day to day basis. Regardless of how many ups and downs I have, I know that what I go through is nothing compared to what others do though. Continue reading

“What do these stones mean to you?” Reflections on Joshua 4

The following is from a remembrance service I did at a facility some years ago. At the end of the service we passed out stones to the families and staff in attendance. I hope you enjoy it.

…Joshua said to them: “Cross over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.” Continue reading

Why I’m a Chaplain IV: Nancy – the Gift of Recognition

“You’re smart, Sam. You need to go to Harvard or something.” These words were spoken to me by Nancy, who was one of the LPN’s on the geri psych unit where I worked after I graduated from college.

I mention Nancy because she was able to speak into my life in a way that was simple yet profound. It speaks to me now of how important and significant it is to not just say big, thoughtful things but also to speak – and listen to – the simple truth. I can speak personally from this experience and others that when someone tells me something positive about myself in a simple way it makes more of an impact than when pronounced with fanfare. I don’t trust fanfare. When someone I respect recognizes something in me and brings it out, that means everything. My CPE supervisor and my academic adviser and mentor at YDS both nearly brought me to tears just by saying “you’re good at this”. Continue reading

What Does it Mean to “Trust the Process”?

In any kind of Clinical Pastoral Education experience, you will probably hear this phrase at least once: “trust the process”. I know I heard it several times in my own CPE classes, and it was never spelled out what it meant to “trust the process”.

That is part of trusting the process.

Many seminarians enter CPE because they have to, because they want to enhance their pastoral care toolbox, or enhance their resume. I’m not going to pan these reasons at all. They are all good reasons to take a CPE unit. However this is only part of what CPE does. The tools and materials used in CPE to help develop interpersonal caregiving skills – books, group work, role-play, writing essays and reports, films – are also designed to work intrapersonally as well. When entering in to the work at first, the focus is outward. We come to learn to help others, to manage others’ crises better, and see how caregiving fits in to our theological and scriptural paradigms. Continue reading

Love Does Strange Things, or How I Got a Cup of Cremated Remains From Pittsburgh, PA to Newfoundland, Canada

The following is an essay I wrote for a friend of mine, Shane Blackshear, who hosts the podcast Seminary Dropout. I highly encourage you to check out his page and podcast. Oh – and upgrade your book budget as the authors and speakers he interviews will undoubtedly make you want to fill your shelves with their insights.

view of Fox Island, Newfoundland, Canada

view of Fox Island, Newfoundland, Canada

As anyone who is – or has been – on love will tell you, love isn’t just an emotion you feel for someone else. It sometimes captures you to the point where you will do just about anything for that person. It’s not always romance that produces this feeling, but it’s instead the kind of love that comes from losing yourself, which is what true love is and does. Sometimes it looks like spending hours crafting a poem or writing a song for that person. In this case it looked like smuggling a dead man’s ashes across international boundaries on a passenger jet. Continue reading

What counseling others reveals about yourself

One of the things I learned through reflecting on and getting feedback to pastoral encounters through verbatims is that many times I am counseling myself without knowing it. It’s only in reflection, sometimes long after the fact, that you start to hear yourself talk to yourself. I decided not to go the whole CPE verbatim route, buyt I like this format for reading.

For an example I included part of a dialogue I had with one of my regular patients, an older woman on hospice. She typically has a lot of pain but rarely tells anyone about it. She puts on a pleasant front but typically doesn’t let much out. I decided one day to press her a bit.

C8: So how’s you’re back been? Better or worse or about the same.
P8: No, about the same.
C9: About the same? Just not a good day today.
P9: eh..
C10: eh…
P10: (pause) I’m not complaining too much. Stick around though.
C11: You’re not too much of a complainer though.
P11: Seems like I’m always complaining.
C12: Really? I’ve never seen you as much of a complainer.

Continue reading