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.

Is CPE broken? Reconsidering the “CPE horror story”

anyone having flashbacks to their CPE supervisor’s office?

If you Google “CPE” chances are pretty good that it will start autofilling “horror stories” in the search box. It seems like there are much more stories about bad experiences in CPE than good. Perhaps this is just bias toward the negative, but it certainly does seem to be that CPE is not a good experience for many.

If you follow that search you’ll see why. I read stories about supervisors that destroyed boundaries and exercises designed to tear people down in front of their peers. One person even wrote that “Clinical Pastoral Education is nothing more than a systematic ‘weeding out’ of orthodox seminarians through a process of enforced radical leftist indoctrination.” It’s criticized as being unnecessary, unhelpful, “navel-gazing”, pseudo-psychoanalysis. So why is it still required for those entering ministry? Is there something wrong with the program? Are supervisors adequately trained and supervised themselves? Or are seminarians missing the point of CPE entirely? Continue reading

Why Certification Makes a Difference for Chaplains

The question of the necessity of certification is common today among chaplains, especially those who are already working as a chaplain in the field. During my CPE experience all of us were encouraged to go on to be certified. It was the “gold standard” and would put you ahead of someone who isn’t certified. After completing my four units and having all of the paperwork I needed mostly done (verbatims, theology papers, biography) I didn’t bother getting certified for several years. It just didn’t seem necessary. 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

Verbatim: Ms. F, “Maybe it’s not so bad”

(watch the video above before you read on: it’s funny, creative and has cute doggies)

I wanted to share my most recent verbatim which I’m also using for my certification. It’s in a bit of a different format and is definitely longer than most of my posts. Read on and I hope you benefit from it. You’ll catch why I included the video at the end of the paper. Continue reading

“What do these stones mean to you?” Reflections on Joshua 4

The following is from a remembrance service I did at a facility some years ago. At the end of the service we passed out stones to the families and staff in attendance. I hope you enjoy it.

…Joshua said to them: “Cross over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.” 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

A. James Rudin: Clergy education for end-of-life questions inadequate

Rabbi A. James Rudin recently wrote about the growing need for clergy of all faiths to be prepared to help those dealing with tough choices related to end of life care. He asserts that often the questions being asked at the bedside of the dying are not as much related to deep metaphysical questions but are much more pragmatic and ethical:

Rather, [the] questions, usually asked in a hospital room, go like this. “My beloved family member is gravely ill. The doctors are recommending some extraordinary and complex medical treatments. I am confused and I am being asked to make a decision. As my spiritual leader, please tell me, what should I do?”

Unfortunately many clergy are not provided much opportunity for education in medical ethics and how it relates to their particular faith. Some denominations require some clinical pastoral education which, depending on the training center, would provide invaluable insights into the day-to-day decisions encountered in trauma units and hospices. But this represents only a very small group of those in ministry training, and an even smaller percentage of those currently in ministry. Other seminaries offer courses in medical ethics, but these are almost always elective. Because of these deficits, Rudin concludes:

Medical science and technology will move forward with or without the religious community. Major decisions about health care in the U.S., including the staggering question of withdrawing and withholding life support systems from desperately ill or comatose patients, will be made with or without the “benefit of clergy.”

If the best thinkers within our faith communities do not address these issues in a thoughtful and informed way, others will decide for us, and that would be an abdication of religious leadership. If that happens, rabbis, priests, pastors and imams will have no one to blame but themselves, and worst of all, desperately ill patients and their troubled families will be the losers.

What has been your experience as a minister or as a chaplain? Did you have adequate training to help others cope with complex end of life issues?