Choice, or Lack Thereof: Lenten Reflections in a Pandemic

You have no idea how important this choice is (from The Stanley Parable)

I started a computer game last night that spoke to the times in an interesting way. No, not The Walking Dead or Plague, Inc.: it’s The Stanley Parable (and it’s free for a limited time as of this writing on Epic). Sure TWD and Plague, Inc. certainly share the paranoia and dread of today, but The Stanley Parable deals with something that has affected us all around the world, and that choice – and the lack thereof. Without giving too much away, TSP is game in which the isolated protagonist office worker Stanley discovers that he has suddenly stopped receiving directions from his boss. The parable that ensues makes you consider whether or not the choices you make are really your own and how much control do you have of the story being told – if there even is a story.

I’ve been very aware of choice over the past week, as have all of us I expect. We are all now much more limited in where we can go and what we can do. Some choices are made for us, like what stores are open, and others are made on our own. Others’ choices impact our own lives as well, from refusing to follow precautions to hoarding paper towels. The idea of choice and the lack thereof has impacted my life most significantly in my work as a hospice chaplain and bereavement counselor. Continue reading

Guest Post: Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Through Activism, by Dominic Fuccillo

Guest Post: Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Through Activism, by Dominic Fuccillo

The following article was contributed by Dominic Fuccillo and originally appeared in CPSP Pastoral Report on Jan 20, 2020, Perry Miller, editor:

Editor’s Note: In this time of division, even with forces designed to legitimize expressions and actions fueled by hate and racial discrimination, we need to hear and re-hear the voice and message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. but more is required. We must commit ourselves to an activism that aligns ourselves with the redeeming power of justice articulated by the inspiring dream and hope of Dr. King. 

Mental Health and Worship: Relating Faith and Psychology Part 3

Last time I wrote about practical ways in which churches can work to address the concrete needs of those affected by mental illness and emotional distress in their congregations. That frankly is something that is not too difficult or controversial. The more difficult task for clergy is how to address mental health during the service. Here as well I think a holistic approach is best and necessary. Every aspect of the service, from choice of music to sermon, can and should speak to these issues. Continue reading

Mental Health and Your Congregation: Relating Faith and Psychology Part 2

Previously I wrote concerning the importance of faith communities as well as professional support in addressing mental health in our congregations. I advocated using a holistic approach, addressing the spiritual, emotional, physical and social aspects of the whole person. Today I am going to look at practical ways that churches can do that. Continue reading

Relating Faith and Psychology From the Pulpit: Part 1

Mental health is a major concern in the United States, and Christian books concerning depression, anxiety and other mental health issues are common bestsellers. Yet the majority of pastors rarely or never discuss it on Sunday mornings.

A 2018 study by Lifeway research brought the issue of how mental health is addressed in churches to light. The study found that although 66% of pastors rarely discussed mental health issues from the pulpit, over half have counseled someone with an acute mental illness, and ¾ of those surveyed knew someone personally who suffered from clinical depression. The study found that almost a quarter of pastors surveyed struggled with mental illness themselves. If this is the case, why aren’t pastors speaking about this more often? Continue reading

The Political Chaplain

An image from the Arbor Day foundation: “A rotten inner core … can cause a split trunk. The wounds are too large to ever mend.”

I have a game at home called “We Didn’t Playtest This At All”. It’s a really fun game (to some at least) based on unique cards that people play during the game that change the rules of the game as it’s played. For example, one card simply says “You Win” and when you play that card, you win (but only if you’re a girl in one case). Unless someone has the card that allows them to make someone lose whenever that person just won (but they also lose). My favorite card though is called “Politics”. When you play that card you are told to say “everything is ruined!”, then all players turn in all their cards and pick new ones. Because, as we know, politics ruins everything. 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

Repost in Response to John Piper: The Chaplain and Mental Illness

Recently John Piper, through his Desiring God twitter account, sent out the following message: “Stop seeking mental health in the mirror of self-analysis, and start drinking in the remedies of God in nature.” The result was a backlash from many concerned with this apparent disregard for the nature of mental illness. A friend of mine told me afterward that he had recently lost a friend to suicide and that this sentiment was not helpful in the least.

Piper later walked back on his statement a bit, adding the context of the statement for clarification, noting that “mental health” meant something different 40 years ago.

To be quite honest, the suggestions included in the text (“10 Resolutions for Mental Health”) were quite interesting and would be beneficial for anyone. I recommend you read them. However couching this advice for “mental health”, knowing that true mental health is not just an intellectual endeavor but involves the interplay of biology and psychology as well, is still irresponsible.

Many shared their own stories of the battle between faith and true mental illness.

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Christianity today still has much to learn about mental illness. Following is a post I originally wrote in 2015 which speaks to this further. 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

In Defense of “Feel Good” Theology

I need this mug

I want to first state that this is not going to be a bashing of traditional, orthodox Christian theology. Orthodoxy certainly has its place, and has earned it over thousands of years. Lately it’s come under quite a bit of fire in spots, especially regarding such things as its view of homosexuality, penal substitutionary atonement, the doctrine of hell and so on. This is not about the merits or problems with conservative theology against progressive theology. Neither is this about defending “health-and-wealth” theology, which is an entirely different subject altogether I think. What I do want to do is give a (qualified) defense of what many call “feel good” theology, “me-ology” or “watered down” theology, which for the sake of discussion is teaching or theology that tends to favor the emotional over the intellectual, and minimize talk of God’s judgment (sin, hell and so on) in favor of God’s love (grace, forgiveness). It’s one of the most derided forms of faith, and often for good reason. However I am going to say that in some circumstances it’s not a bad thing. Continue reading