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 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

There’s No Wisdom to Share: Thoughts on the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Just over a week ago the calm of a quiet Jewish neighborhood on the fringe of Pittsburgh preparing for Shabbat was shattered by a gunman who entered a synagogue, shot eleven people, and wounded several others. I live in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh, but when I heard the location of the shooting I went into a panic. Tree of Life synagogue, which had been attacked, is where my CPSP chapter routinely meets. Three members of our chapter are closely tied to that community in one way or another, and one is the Rabbinical leader of New Light Congregation which was beginning services at Tree of Life when the shooting started. Three members of his congregation were killed. Another member of our group, also a Rabbi, was shot as well. It took over a day to find out he had survived but was in critical condition. 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

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

“I wait to see if they come back”: Shelly and the Pain of Love

“My life’s been like a Stephen King novel.”

That was how “Shelly” described her life to me, and it turned out to be fairly accurate.

I had been requested to see Shelly at a skilled facility by the staff there. She had been the roommate of one of our patients who had died recently (I’ll call her Mrs. Bea), and the staff felt that she could use some support. I don’t get requests for visits like these often, and usually when I do I find that it’s more often the staff that have issues with coping rather than the person they’re directing me to. That was not the case here. 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

What Exactly is Biblical Literacy?

Ezekiel eating the scroll (Eze. 3:1)

OK quick – what are the first three books of the Bible? Was Paul one of the twelve disciples? Did Abraham lead the Israelites out of Egypt?

If you can’t answer these questions (though I really hope you can) you shouldn’t be surprised. Research has shown that most Americans know very little about the Bible – presumably much less than what was known a generation ago.

“…A Famine in the Land”

Pastors, authors and pundits are saying that we are in a famine in terms of our biblical literacy. This famine is not due to lack of access though. According to the Barna Group, “Nearly nine out of 10 adults and teens report owning a Bible, a proportion that has held steady over six years.” The problem comes in that according to the same research only about 35% of those responding read the Bible once a week or more, and over 40% read it less than once a year if at all (not counting reading in church). Because the Bible isn’t read routinely by many in our society, we’ve lost that knowledge of it that was once considered a given. Continue reading

Amy Kumm-Hanson: The incarnational nature of Chaplaincy

photo: A.Kumm-Hanson, Iceland 2016

From Amy Kumm-Hanson; I thought her words spoke a great deal about the difference between the nature of Chaplaincy and its place in ministry.

Chaplaincy is not a cerebral ministry of long hours spent in a pastor’s study in preparation for preaching. It is holding hands through bed rails and wearing isolation gowns and being willing to literally stand in suffering with God’s beloveds. It is not about translating Hebrew or Greek from ancient texts, but about translating scripture into something now that matters to the mother who is delivering her stillborn child or the son losing his father to cancer.

The theology of the cross is particularly apparent to me in my hospital work. This theology holds that God’s love for all of creation is most clearly seen in the act of dying on the cross.  That God did the most human thing of all, which is to die. The theological conviction that shapes my ministry as a chaplain is that God knows what it is to suffer and to die, and there is no place that God is unwilling to go, even death. This is good news for all of us who feel immersed in suffering, our own or that of others.

Read her whole post here.