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


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

James Ford: The Zen of Letting Go Before You Die

La Pieta Rodanini, Michaelangelo

A short reading from James Ford, originally posted on Patheos’ Buddhist page: Continue reading

Safe Spaces: Reflection on Luke 10:38-42

J. Vermeer: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary

I love it when I read an overly-familiar Bible passage and something jumps out at me that never had before. It feels like that moment when you watch your favorite movie or read a favorite book and you discover something important that was hidden in plain sight. That happened recently as I was reading the familiar story of Jesus, Mary and Martha. Continue reading

Assurance When You Aren’t So Sure: Chaplains, Funerals and Nonbelievers

Funerals are something that Chaplains are well acquainted with. I’ve attended and presided over more than I can count over the past ten years. These can be challenging for Chaplains as more often than not, we know very little about the person we are eulogizing. Many times we may know little more than a person’s religious background and the stories told about them by friends and family.

Chaplains are also occasionally called on to perform services for those who never believed, at least as far as we know. I’ve done a few of these services myself, and they can be challenging. Ministers who believe in the final, eternal punishment of the unrepentant sinner can feel torn when asked to perform a funeral for someone whose faith may be unknown, unclear, or even blatantly unbelieving. Typically at the funeral of a believer we comfort those who mourn with the assurance of heaven and salvation. How do we comfort those for whom that assurance is not so sure? Continue reading

The Push and Pull of Empathy

Chaplains can find themselves in some sticky situations among family members. While our primary focus is often the patient or other person we are working with, we can be brought in to situations where family members are at odds with one another, with staff, or even with the patient. We may be brought in to help defuse a volatile meeting or try and get the family on the same page. The reasons for this often comes down to two of the most important skills we have in our toolbox: our capability of empathy and our ability to listen non-judgmentally. Some people though have a knack of turning those skills against us. 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

Why We Get Complicated Grief Wrong

I recently switched positions in my company to help manage our bereavement services. Don’t worry – I’m still in the field as a chaplain as well (with a very limited caseload – something I asked for)! I had a great deal of experience working in bereavement in my prior company so this has been a good fit so far.

However this move has brought up something that has always bothered me. That is even though that the staff I work with on a daily basis has years of experience in hospice care we still struggle with measuring and even recognizing complicated grief and bereavement. Continue reading

Getting Your Foot in the Door: 8 Ways to reduce “declines” for chaplains

the chaplain makes his rounds

One issue that I see frequently coming across chaplain discussion boards is that many have increasing numbers of those declining chaplain support. One poster, a hospice chaplain in Georgia, said her declines went from 10% five years ago to about 35% now.

Many believe that the refusal of spiritual support is due to a decline in religiosity overall in our country and culture. That may be true, but I don’t think it accounts for the majority of declines. Even though the Pew Research Center found a nearly 8 point percentage drop in those professing Christianity between 2007 and 2014, about 70% of Americans still identify as a member of some Christian church or faith group. From my own experience I can say as that I have had many accepting of chaplain support who were atheist or agnostic, or believed in God but did not consider themselves religious.  And no these were not millennials, these were your typical elderly hospice patient. Continue reading

Spiritual Communication Boards for the Critically Ill: Wall Street Journal

This came across the line from the APC and thought it was such a brilliant and simple idea. The text is included below but please access the full article here.

When William Campion was in the intensive-care unit this month after a double lung transplant, he felt nervous and scared and could breathe only with the help of a machine.

Joel Nightingale Berning, a chaplain at Mr. Campion’s hospital, New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, stopped by. He saw that Mr. Campion had a tube in his neck and windpipe, which prevented him from speaking. The chaplain held up a communication board—not the kind used to check a patient’s physical pain and needs, but a “spiritual board” that asks if he or she would like a blessing, a prayer or another religious ministry. The board also lets patients rate their level of spiritual pain on a scale of 0 through 10, from none to “extreme.” Continue reading