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

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

Trauma and Boundaries: Membranes, Walls and Drawbridges

I recently attended a conference on trauma and grief along with members of my CPSP chapter. The impetus for the event was the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, which was where our group met where some members were leaders.

While it wasn’t discussed, I realized that one of the things that makes traumatic grief so painful is that those who are going through it are so vulnerable to continued pain. Our speaker talked about how triggering events, images and even sounds can bring trauma back to the surface even years after. Some participants found that even discussing traumatic grief was difficult for them in the context we were in and had to leave the room to gather themselves. Continue reading

The Art of Ending Well: Grief, Grieving and Avengers: Endgame

Turns out Tony is pretty good at dying (from Marvel’s 2016 series Civil War II)

Before I start, I don’t think I can get two sentences in to this subject without mentioning massive spoilers for Avengers: Endgame, so if you don’t want them read this after you’ve watched the film. I also assume you’ve seen Avengers: Infinity War, so you may as well watch that too. Heck just go watch all 22 movies. I’ll wait. Continue reading

The Dangerous Necessity of Hope

I had a request from one of the facilities we serve to visit one of their residents. This man had some tremendous losses in the past year. His wife, who had dementia, had died rather suddenly some months ago. He also had a stroke which affected his speech and mobility, requiring him to move in to the facility as well. I spoke with his daughter  before visiting and she spoke of how concerned she was for him, saying he had talked with his physical therapists about how depressed he was. Continue reading

Sidebar: Katie Rottner Sings About “Broken Records”!

One of my readers sent me an email regarding my last post on helplessness and hopelessness.  She had actually written a song very relevant to the discussion and shared it with me and I wanted to pass it along. She shared some of her valuable insights as well.

“I wrote it because my stepmother was struggling quite a bit in her grief, following the loss of her mother. She expressed to me that she didn’t want to sound like “a broken record,” by talking about her mom’s death so often. But she just couldn’t stop thinking about it. My reflection was that this language of “broken” language is problematic. What if there isn’t anything wrong with the record at all — what if it’s repeating itself because what it’s saying is important?

Perhaps, like you wrote in your post, a grieving person just needs a different listening ear after a while, to help them process it?”

You can listen to her perform the song here on Bandcamp.

Thanks Katie!

Moving Beyond Helplessness

In my working with individuals who are struggling with their grief, one of the most difficult obstacles I’ve had is the sense of helplessness that sometimes accompanies grief. I made a call the other day to the wife of a past patient the other day, and she expressed her feelings this way: “You can’t help me.” She went on to talk about how she and her husband did absolutely everything together and how they planned on growing old together. Life without him was unimaginable. Now, two years after his death, every day feels worse than the day before. She has no picture of a future without him, feels unmoored and purposeless, and lacks a sense of her own identity. She has panic attacks and is very depressed most of the time. Worst of all though is her feeling that there’s nothing I or anyone else could do to help her. Continue reading

Tish Harrison Warren: Marked by Ashes

I’m not one for Lenten traditions, but I try – and fail – to mark the season in some way. This year I’m going to repost stories that reflect on that Lenten season.

The following is by Tish Harrison Warren and originally appeared on The Well by Intervarsity here.

March 05, 2014 By Tish Harrison Warren

Marked by Ashes

At my first Ash Wednesday service several years ago, I knelt in a quiet, contemplative sanctuary and was surprised by feeling almost irrepressible rage. As the priest marked each attendant with a cross of ashes on our foreheads, I felt as if he was marking us for death. I was angry at death. I was angry at the priest as if it was somehow his doing. Continue reading