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

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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

Crossing Divides: Can an Atheist be a Chaplain?

Can an Atheist be a chaplain?

It may seem like a ridiculous question, I know. However Great Britain recently named its first “Non-Religious Pastoral Carer” within its national health system. This sparked debate about whether or not it’s even possible for a non-religious person could technically be a “chaplain” given that the title itself has an obvious religious connotation.

While the argument is interesting, I don’t find it very helpful though. It becomes an argument about semantics and definitions. But frame the question this way and I think it gets interesting: Can someone of one faith provide spiritual support to another of a different faith, or of no faith at all? Put it that way and I think you are getting to a core question for those serving in Chaplaincy already, as well as those planning for ministry. Continue reading

Gerald May: The Chaplain as Physician

I’ve been reading the excellent book Simply Sane by Dr. Gerald May, primarily for my personal benefit but secondarily for professional benefit. It wasn’t recommended to me by anyone, and I honestly can’t remember how I stumbled upon it, but I’m glad I did.

Dr. Gerald May

It’s an excellent book for those doing pastoral care as well as teachers and educators. I recently read a passage that struck me as to how well it spoke to the position that many Chaplains find themselves in: wondering what to do.

I had an older woman come on service a few days ago who appeared to be greatly depressed. When I introduced myself and gave the usual opening “how are you today?”, her response was “I want to die. Can you give me a shot?” Continue reading

David Mills: Death Dignified by Christ

I’ve been trying to write a post about the “death with dignity” movement, but found it very difficult to write something that didn’t turn into a book.

While there has been a great deal of discussion about the rightness or wrongness of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, I’ve found less discussion about what “dignity” means in this context. I found this post by David Mills and wanted to share them in regards to what it might mean for a Christian to die with dignity. The biggest takeaway may be that while one side sees neediness, exposure and helplessness as antithetical to human dignity, Mills sees these at the very heart of Jesus’ own death. His attitude towards the indignities placed upon Him actually made His death more dignified. It’s a lesson we can take away as we seek to conform to Christ.

He was a dignified man suffering all the embarrassing ways cheerful young women the age of his granddaughter deal with the body’s failure as cancer begins shutting down the organs. Dying in a hospice, you lose all rights to modesty as you lose control of your body.
Continue reading

Kelsey Dallas: “What caretakers can do when their patient believes God has abandoned them”

Deseret News National reported a study in which the health outcomes of those with positive beliefs about God were compared to those with more negative beliefs and found some striking differences. Reporter Kelsey Dallas wrote:

Researchers behind the study, published this past summer, concluded that caretakers should try to intervene to help patients gain a more positive spiritual outlook to guard them against harmful physical and mental health consequences. However, experts who have studied how people cope with negative spiritual beliefs said shifting someone’s spirituality is a difficult process, which can’t be undertaken lightly.

Continue reading

The Chaplain and Mental Illness: When religion makes healing “sinful”

The issue of how Christians deal with mental illness has been on my mind as of late. One reason is that I’ve been going through my own therapy for anxiety and depression, which rears its head from time to time in my life. Second is that I came across a LinkedIn discussion in a pastor’s network group that had some pretty ugly things to say about mental illness and psychotherapy.

Writer and musician Shaun Groves recently posted his own reflections on depression and faith on his blog, and while I can’t repost the whole article, I would certainly recommend it to you (here’s the link). He had written about his father-in-law’s death as a result of suicide and while many offered their sincere condolences some of the responses were a bit shocking. One wrote, “Did he not believe the words from scripture he read to his church?”. Another wrote, “The Bible tells us not to worry, not to fear, be afraid, etc. 366 times, one for every day of the year including leap year! What can stinkin thinkin do, but make a person sick?”. Continue reading

Problems in Caregiving Relationships: Neglect of God

We’ve seen how neglect can happen in caregiving relationships between the Chaplain and the person being cared for. For example the caregiver can neglect the other in the relationship by taking away their power and authority regarding healing, and the caregiver may neglect their own needs as well. These problems often show themselves in co-dependency, overcompensating and undercompensating, burnout and meaninglessness.

Now to the third member of the therapeutic relationship, God. It’s interesting to note that we tend to relate to God similarly to how we relate to others, yet God does not relate to us in the way others do. Perhaps this is why our relationship to God can be so puzzling and frustrating at times! Continue reading

Chaplaincy and Evangelism: Is “Sharing the Gospel” the Same as Proselytizing?

So in reading a few other blogs yesterday looking for other comments and thoughts on faith and chaplaincy I came across the following clip.

I found this clip interesting on many levels and got in to a discussion with the blog poster who brought it up as an example of how postmodern Christians, especially mainline chaplains, seem unable or unwilling to present the Gospel to those who need it. But I found this clip very interesting regarding the skills a chaplain needs as well as whether or not it is considered proselytizing for a professional chaplain to share the Gospel. 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