Do Funeral Service Providers Police our Spirituality? Character is important.


Prologue

As this story unfolded, I pondered whether it would be worthwhile to publish an editorial on the general impact of the events. Ultimately, considering the importance of the subject matter as a cultural topic and its downstream effects on persons in the grip of acute bereavement, I felt it was not only necessary but even a my moral duty as a spiritual care professional to take a position on the subject. And so I have in this editorial.

In the professions, whether in divinity, medicine, counseling or funeral directing, just to name a few, we look for authenticity, maturity, wisdom, integrity, competence, integrity. There’s much, much more that goes into a real professional but the essential wisdom comes from exceptional mentoring and life experience.

I’ve written volumes on clergy, healthcare and funeral service professionals, and while remaining principally factual and staying close to the published professional literature, I have both lauded and lambasted the professions.

While we are saving our exposé on how the corporation calling itself the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany profanes the notion of continuing bonds with our dead through its tyrannical mismanagement of diocesan cemeteries, practices that run contrary to the mortuary traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, which historically accrued considerable political and spiritual power by manipulating the continuing bonds of the living with their dead — and continues to do so on a much smaller scale — we do want to continue our series of articles on the deathcare industry and how it affects our spirituality.

I am publishing this post from another blog simply as a prelude to an upcoming article on how politics shapes our traditions, most especially how we continue our bonds with our dead. While that may seem a bit off topic for most of my readers, the way politics shapes our continuing bond with our dead is important, as you will learn in the article, for how such regimes like Maoist China, the Roman Catholic Church, or ancestor reverence in Japan have steered the political base from the traditional clan, tribe and family to a dominating political or religious power elite. This article sheds some light on how our funeralization practices are being hijacked and abridged by the funeral home chains and corporations and the quality of their employees and hiring practices. In an upcoming article we will explore how these affect our families, our communities, our culture, and ultimately our spirituality.

Nothing in this article should be taken personally but everything in this editorial should be taken seriously.


Because I am a professional bereavement chaplain and thanatologist, I am deeply involved in the funeralization profession and have had a great deal of experience with different funeral homes, funeral directors, their customers, their staff and their operations. I consider myself eminently qualified to comment on the subject of dying, death and death services. Moreover, as a spiritual care provider and ethicist, I observe and reflect on a great variety of human behaviors in the attempt to make some sense out them and to understand what is going on in the person’s heart, mind and soul. Admittedly, that is only second-hand knowledge at best, but with experience, wisdom and a special gift, it can prove fruitful.

I am in love with learning. That comes from my upbringing and some wonderful teachers and mentors; I’m grateful to my family, my teachers, my mentors, even my clients because they have all contributed to who I am now, today, and what I shall become. What I am and what I become is how I shall be remembered. That’s why I always counsel humility, compassion, gratitude and justice.

One of the more disturbing aspects of the New York state education and licensing system for funeral directors is the fact that the curriculum does not include ethics or a similar course, which, in my opinion should be mandatory. Moreover, most professions require at least 4 years of college but mortuary science is a 2-year program, at the end of which the successful candidate receives an associate’s degree. After graduation with the 2-year degree, the future funeral director must be accepted into a 1-year residency with an established funeral home under the mentorship of a licensed funeral director. Then there are the state and national boards leading to licensure.

So you have people entering the 2-year mortuary science program at maybe 18 or 19, graduating at about 20 or 21, and finishing their residency at about 21 or 22, barely able to purchase a bottle of wine but now they are “licensed funeral directors” authorized to sell funeral services and products. That’s scandalous, when you think about it. How can a 21 year old even come close to understanding what a family is going through after losing a loved one. Most of these mortuary science graduates haven’t even experienced the death of a loved one!

Nick Facci’s
Mantra for Self-Promotion

He hasn’t the integrity or the character of a three dollar bill

As a funeral officiant and psychospiritual facilitator to several funeral homes, I take righteous offense at some wet-behind-the-ears youngster acting as if he’s God’s gift to the bereaved. I am even more offended when I have worked with, and have advised one such individual, and find that he hasn’t the integrity or the character of a three dollar bill.

While I can cite a number of individuals that fit this picture, some of them very admirable persons in their own right, and who, by the time they reach maturity at about 30, may even have the wherewithal to become really great funeral directors, there are others, fortunately few, who have managed to make my skin crawl.

One of those individual, a newly licensed funeral director, Nick Facci, has recently been plastering his personal narcissistic propaganda all over that social media garbage dump, FaceBook, now touting his having been hired by one of the factory funeral companies, Newcomer Funerals and Cremations, (I’ll just shorten that to Newcomer) with locations in Schenectady and Latham, New York.  Newcomer has a large number of locations across the country; it’s the MacDonald’s of the deathcare industry, a factory funeral home. While I find much of what Nick Facci has done and is currently perpetrating — he actually uses the “Simple Choices” logo, the property of his former employer, and a public FaceBook page to contact “Friends, Family, Clients, and Colleagues” with the message:


Once again, I am making it clearly known that I am NO LONGER affiliated with Riverview Funeral Home or it’s direct cremation company Simple Choices Cremation Service.

Today I began employment as a Licensed Funeral Director with Newcomer Funeral Service Group, specifically serving Albany, NY areas.


I am not singling out or attacking Facci as a person or individual but because of his recent conduct, he has made himself visible, available and convenient for representing the transparent stereotype of a pitiful development in the funeral services profession. He has made himself available to become the poster child of the immaturity and absence of ethics that characterizes the stereotype; arrogance and ingratitude are at its heart.

And please, don’t be misled as to Nick Facci’s faith; Nick Facci is for all appearances a devout, church-going Roman Catholic boy, brought up in the Church.  On second thought, is all this Catholicism and devotion part of Nick’s corporate marketing image. It’s really hard to decide whether it’s genuine or marketing. Besides, Nick Facci’s faith is not the subject of this article; his morality and ethics are the topic, and how a funeral director’s morality and ethics, especially when he or she is a member of a multi-state organization, affect us as faithful and consumers.

Apparently what Nick Facci doesn’t seem to be aware of is that he doesn’t have any personal “clients”; the families with whom he worked while he was employed at Riverview Funeral Home are Riverview’s clients! What troubles me most about this particular individual is his schizoid personality and his total lack of ethics. Let’s call this young villain Nick F.  for the rest of this editorial.

I first met Nick F. when he was introduced to me by a widely respected  funeral director and funeral home owner, Mr Roy F. Bordeau, with whom I was working at the time. Nick F. was not yet out of Hudson Valley Community College but was working with the Riverview Funeral Home, where he expected to do his residency once he graduated. Nick F. finally graduated and Mr Bordeau and the Riverview Funeral Home sponsored him for his 1-year residency, and Mr Bordeau, a man with more than 40 years of experience in funeral service and very respected in the specialty field as a gifted funeral director, agreed to be his mentor. Nick F. was very fortunate and should be very grateful to Riverview and Mr Bordeau, because most everything of what Nick F. has to offer as a funeral director he received from Riverview and Roy F. Bordeau! But gratitude and humility are not in Nick’s character.

Over the period of Nick Facci’s residency at the Riverview Funeral Home, I had many opportunities to work with him and to have observed him. He frequently sought me out to talk about various issues, and I was able to form a very clear picture of who this person was. While I cannot violate the confidentiality of the specifics of what Nick brought to me, I can say in general that much of Nick Facci’s problems were due to immaturity and self-esteem (they apparently still are); he simply was way too young and immature to be in the position he had. He had a nasty side to him and admitted that he could be vicious if crossed; I attributed that side of him to be one of his favored defenses; that side of him was no secret.

At 21 Nick’s life plan was expressly to “crush the competition.” While putting on a compassionate and caring mask during the arrangements conference with families he charmed them but he had an awful lot of disturbing remarks afterwards, especially if they were financially challenged or not attractive to him. This judgmental side of Nick F. really disturbed me and I counseled him to be less judgmental; Nick merely rolled his eyes — a curious but frequent response — and put his nose in the air, walking away.

While outwardly charming and likable, the Nick F. I came to know was not a very caring person and he was unquestionably ungrateful, arrogant, and disrespectful to his mentor. I chalked this up to Nick’s physical constitution, his sexual orientation, and his blended family background.

Colleges today fail students by not teaching values.

Because Nick Facci was actually one of the first “residents” with whom I had close contact, his conduct raised many questions in my mind about how mortuary science programs select and screen candidates for this very demanding and tough profession. I wondered what sort of psychological assessments or background evaluations might have been done to ensure that candidates for this very sensitive profession are the right stuff. It was obvious that no psychological assessments or background evaluations were done, or if they were done, they failed miserably.

While a resident and after having received licensure as a funeral director, Nick F. as an employee of Riverview Funeral Home, provided what are called “trade services” to other local funeral homes. These funeral homes do not do their own preparation of the deceased but call in “trade” embalmers and reconstructionists, cosmeticians, etc. to do the work for them. Nick F. and his mentor, Mr Bordeau, a well-known and respected deathcare specialist, provided removal services (picking up the dead bodies), embalming, preparation, etc. for other funeral homes in the area. One of those funeral homes was Newcomer Funerals and Cremations in Albany, NY.

It would be an understatement to call Nick F.  a gossip.

As I mentioned, I frequently spoke with Nick F.  about local funeral homes and their operations, and Nick F. knew a lot of dirt about everyone in the business and had a lot to say about everyone as well. It would be an understatement to call Nick F.  a gossip. He knew some dirt about just every operation in the Albany-Schenectady-Rensselaer counties region and had no scruples in sharing it with anyone with time to listen.

Master of Bad-Mouth

Nick F. had no love for Newcomer Funerals and Cremations…

Newcomer Funerals and Cremations, being a large national provider of mortuary services and a substantial competitor, was one of the subjects of our many “trade” discussions. Nick F. had no love for Newcomer and would relate stories about how removals were done and how bodies were stacked in a garage. [Editor’s note: While I do not know this to be fact, I am reporting only what Mr Facci related to me in personal conversation.] Nick F. would recount how Newcomer advertised the lowest prices but once they got their claws into a customer they nickel-and-dimed them to the poorhouse. Nick would tell how Newcomer couldn’t keep any staff for long, and those who did stay couldn’t get anything better. It’s amazing to think how Nick F.’s opinions and loyalties could change so easily, isn’t it?

Nick F. lampooned and scandalized the factory funeral home called Newcomer’s

But while Nick F. was at Riverview Funeral Home in Troy, during his residency, and after having been licensed, Nick F. lampooned and scandalized the factory funeral home called Newcomer’s.

The facts speak for themselves. Nick F. was interviewed by the Troy Record in September 2015 and Nick had some interesting things to say about his then employer, Riverview Funeral Home, and his mentor Mr Roy F. Bordeau. Interestingly, Nick F. answered one question, “In your opinion, what personality traits are necessary for becoming a successful funeral home director?” as follows:


“Number one is patience. It takes a great deal of patience, understanding and compassion to be a funeral director – or at least a good one.”


If that answer as quoted is Nick’s honest response, there is no hope for him to become a “good” funeral director, that is, unless he’s coined a novel definition for “good”. The Nick F. I came to know was not patient, not understanding, and his compassion was a great act. Nick was quick to criticize, to demean, to complain, and to degrade many of the families coming to him. True, he put on a great act, but that’s all it was. I was frequently shocked at what I saw and heard but had to hold my tongue.

When Nick F. was asked about Riverview Funeral Home, where he did his residency under the supervision and mentorship of Mr Roy F. Bordeau FD, and where Nick F. was employed at the time, he had the following to say:


“Riverview has a rich family tradition dating back to 1897, therefore making us one of Troy’s oldest family funeral homes. Today we [Riverview Funeral Home] continue to provide superior quality services at the most affordable prices. We, at Riverview, provide personal and individual family service, which only an independent family firm can do. Unlike some other local firms, we have no ties to other funeral firms outside of Troy located near NYC or any funeral chain-corporation in another state, such as Kansas, which is becoming common in our local area.” [Emphasis provided]


[Editor’s Note: Newcomer Funerals and Cremations (Albany and Latham) is one of a large number of funeral services locations owned by the Newcomer Funeral Service Group, which has locations in some 10 states and its main offices in Topeka, Kansas.]

Note that Nick F. states that “only an independent family firm” can “provide personal and individual family service.” More importantly, note that Nick F. contrasts this “personal and individual family service” with the “funeral chain-corporations”, notably and specifically those in another state, “Kansas“, the home state of Newcomer Funerals and Cremations! By mentioning “funeral chain corporations”  and “Kansas” there is no doubt at all that Nick F. was referring to Newcomer. Nick Facci is now employed by Newcomer Funerals and Cremations. Now isn’t that special?

And when asked what makes Riverview Funeral Home so successful, Nick Facci responded:


“We are not looking to be Troy’s biggest funeral home – only it’s best. With Riverview you are simply going to see a difference and we invite you to compare. Competitive pricing certainly helps but our success is not based on price alone. We [Riverview Funeral Home] credit our success to a sincere love of service to our families and a total dedication to excellence in funeral, cremation and tribute services.” [Emphasis provided]


Nick F. manipulated operations and people

There’s a big difference between guiding, even finessing, and manipulating. Nick F. manipulated operations and people in order to make himself almost indispensable to Riverview while he was there, and he didn’t shirk from making that fact known, and even to use it as an instrument of extortion to force Riverview to acquiesce to Nick’s ambitions. I found this to be personally and professionally reprehensible in the conduct of an immature adolescent vis-à-vis his veteran mentor and superior.

So, dear readers, you can understand my surprise when I received a FaceBook notification — Nick F. is addicted to FaceBook and posts every kind of stupidity imaginable on that sewerage media, including unflattering photos of himself in a bathing suit on a beach, his relationship with a questionable African American, “itinerant pastor” whom Nick is cuddling up to and who has ” connections”, which Nick is no doubt using, and myriad other unprofessional snippets from a boy’s life – that FaceBook notification announcing, not without some theatrical suspense, that Nick F. would be announcing his new employer’s identity, “tomorrow”. Given what I have reported above, you will find no difficulty in understanding my loss of consciousness when Nick F. announced that his new employer was none other than … NEWCOMER FUNERALS AND CREMATIONS !!!

Nick’s response: He removed the message and blocked the sender!

My only response was to write a comment wishing Nick well and encouraging him to be grateful to Riverview Funeral Home and to Mr Roy Bordeau FD for the opportunities he had received there and to be grateful to Mr Bordeau for the fine mentoring he received from Mr Bordeau during his residency and beyond. Nick’s response: He removed the message and blocked the sender!

I was very concerned when I read in Nick’s announcement his undisguised and unabashed invitation to families he worked with at Riverview Funeral Home to follow him to Newcomer!!! Such conduct is in violation of every ethical principle known to any profession. Customers and customer lists are proprietary and confidential; even if not written into a contract, it is simply ethical and honest conduct not to attempt to entice a former employer’s business away from him. Such conduct is clear evidence of a deep flaw in Nick’s character, and if Newcomer Funerals and Cremations doesn’t rebuke and rebuff Nick F. for doing such a thing, there’s not much to say for Newcomer. But if Nick F. can do that to Riverview, think of what he can do to Newcomer Funerals and Cremations! A serious word of caution is in order here.

It’s one thing if Nick Facci wants to continue his career with Newcomer Funerals and Cremations but as I’ve pointed out, even that is questionable conduct, given Nick F.’s expressed opinions, public and private, and disclosures about Newcomer’s operations. If what Nick F. said was true about Newcomer Funerals and Cremations from the point of view of someone with insider information, that is, Nick’s personal experiences, you need to wonder Why? Nick F. is inviting Riverview customers to follow him to Newcomer? Didn’t Nick just publically state how wonderful Riverview is and how they offer excellent services to their families? Didn’t Nick just finish skinning Newcomer alive, telling me how terrible they were, and how they nickel-and-dime their customers? And is this what Nick Facci is now offering to anyone who follows him to Newcomer Funerals and Cremations? There are some very serious contradictions in Nick Facci’s professional conduct, and in Newcomer Funerals and Cremations choice of employees and their hiring policies. Don’t you think?

In Nick F.’s posting announcing his new employer, Facci writes:


” I am so happy and honored to be working with such fine professionals, from the management,funeral directors and support staff everyone has been so warm and welcoming it really is a family, here at Newcomer.

” For the families I have served in the past with my former employer and are currently expressing a desire to “follow me” you are more than welcomed to return me and I will be privileged to serve you again through New Comer Funerals & Cremations at either of our locations. Know that pre-arrangements can be transferred and you are under no obligation to stay with an original funeeral [sic] home by law.”  [Emphasis provided]


Is this 2017 Nick Facci the same Nick Facci of 2015, 2016? It’s really beyond belief how one person could be so schizoid, so inconstant, so disloyal, so flighty!

What Mr Facci never learned is what might be legal may not be moral or ethical

Apparently Nick Facci is also trying to encourage Riverview clients to transfer their pre-arrangements to Newcomer Funerals and Cremations, too. This is clearly dishonest and unethical. But is this how our misguided little Nick Facci is trying to endear himself and stand out to his new employers? If Newcomer accepts or condones this sort of thing without taking action or at least reprimanding Nick F.  they should be tarred and feathered and run out of town! What Mr Facci never learned is what might be legal may not be moral or ethical.

There’s just something about Nick Facci that raises red flags

What a fly-by-night business does is one thing, and if you sleep with dogs you wake up with fleas. But in my experience and opinion, I feel that a funeral services provider, a funeral director, must be held to a high ethical standard; he or she must be honest, have integrity, have some code of ethics, and must act like a professional. From what I have read in Nick Facci’s FaceBook publications, he has some very serious flaws in all of those areas. With some luck he may grow up and if he matures, there may be some hope for him. But judging by his recent past trajectory, his conspicuous conduct, and his addiction to FaceBook and publishing all sorts of questionable material, I seriously doubt that Facci can be trusted with the responsibilities of a “good” funeral director. There’s just something about Nick Facci that raises red flags. And if Newcomer’s feels he is the right stuff for Newcomer’s I tend to believe that what Nick told me about Newcomers is likely very true. We can only say, “birds of a feather…”

While recent developments and Nick Facci’s FaceBook activity provide the example for this editorial, and if Nick Facci is a stereotype of at least some of today’s mortuary science graduates, his example serves to raise serious questions about what New York state’s mortuary science programs, particularly Hudson Valley Community College’s program, are teaching students — or more importantly what they’re not teaching them — and what the repercussions will be on the funeral services provided by such graduates but even more importantly how their conduct will reverberate in the lives of the bereaved emotionally, spiritually, culturally, and financially. One major question that comes to mind is how are these people screened by the mortuary science program directors to ensure that they are morally, ethically, psychologically fit for the profession.

“We don’t train them to be funeral directors” [A statement allegedly made by one Hudson Valley Community College instructor]

In the words of one veteran funeral director, quoting a high-level staff member at HVCC, “We don’t train them to be funeral directors,” they just provide the coursework. Somehow that just doesn’t seem right. But apparently it is true, if we can judge from the quality of the graduates and the criteria for licensing them: no one in the colleges or the licensing authorities seem to care about character. Now where does that leave us as consumers?

Epilogue

I was informed by a third party that my comment was deleted by Nick Facci and that I was blocked from his FaceBook page. That was his response to my “best wishes” and my counsel that he be grateful to Riverview and Mr Bordeau. You can draw your own conclusions from that.

Time to grow up, Nick F.
The Editor


Disclaimer

Republished with the express permission of the owners of the Smalbany blog and the original author.

The author of this editorial is not an employee of Riverview Funeral Home or Simple Choices Cremations, or of Newcomer Funerals and Cremations or the Newcomer Funeral Services Group, and has not solicited the opinions from either Riverview or Newcomer. The author states that he has no financial or other interest in publishing this op-ed, save for generating interest and reflection in readers for the betterment of the concerned professions. The author has not received nor does he expect financial reward for publishing this strictly pure opinion and informational article. This article is intended and published solely as an opinion editorial for the information of the public and as a public service of the Smalbany blog. All facts and statements made in this article are taken from the information provided by those concerned on FaceBook, the relevant Internet pages, or are made on personal knowledge or information and belief; all statements are considered factual and true unless otherwise disputed by the concerned parties. All inquiries and permissions should be addressed to the publisher at rcs.confidential@gmail.com. Comments are invited using the comments feature on this page.

(Do your part in informing the community and the world: Cut and paste the link to this blog article into an e-mail and send it to your contacts! Here’s the link: http://wp.me/p2jPFe-2I1 )

בס”ד

“Qui tacet consentire videtur ubi loqui debuit ac potuit.”
“Silence is admission when when the accused ought to have spoken and was able to.”

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Why don’t funeral directors offer chaplain services?


Whether they deserve the criticism or not, funeral directors and funeral homes sometimes get some very bad press or we read some devastating review of a funeral service written by persons who expected, needed more than what they got on the price list. Why is that, you might ask yourselves, when you feel you covered very base in the funeralization services the family asked for and you provided.

Are you dropping the ball?

Did it ever occur to you that perhaps you might have exceeded your skill set? That what you may have started wasn’t really finished? That you left the bereaved at the end of a long pier with nowhere to go but off the deep end

I’m not just picking on the funeral director or the funeral home staff. I’m also talking about poorly trained clergy or clergy who accept a gig with a funeral home but who have no clue how to provide what the bereaved need. For any professional or paraprofessional to attempt to provide services for which they are not fully trained, competent, and experienced is almost criminal, and can have tragic circumstance in the short term and certainly over the longer term, particularly in the bereavement situation? But we still have funeral directors and funeral home staff who try to be spiritual guides and psychospiritual facilitators, bereavement support providers, and they are not trained to do that. Worse still, we have clergy or ministers who have their eye on the honorarium and attempt to perform effective and complex funeralization rituals but have neither the training, the requisite knowledge, nor do they have the communications skills necessary to the task, and end up simply provided a lackluster service and a meaningless ceremony. Sometimes one really has to ask one’s self, don’t you have any self-awareness? Are you that arrogant or greedy to think you have the skills to do everything?

Is this where you’re leaving the bereaved?

Well that can happen when you attempt to do more than that for which you have been trained.

I’m writing from the vantage point of having witnessed some pretty awful and uninspiring attempts at memorialization and bereavement services that have sent me home almost sick to my stomach, wondering what in the world did that funeral director think when engaging that clown. Or doesn’t that funeral director realize how shallow his prayer delivery is? Don’t they have any sensitivity for the lack of depth they are exhibiting to persons in existential crisis? Obviously no one has bothered to point out their shortcomings to them. Doe they even care? Would they care?

Not only do many funeral homes simply ask if the family belongs to a faith community, and if they do, simply make a phone call to coordinate a funeral service with a minister who probably never even met the deceased or couldn’t pick out the family in a lineup. Some funeral directors simply hand the bereaved a clergy list at some time during the arrangements conference and leave it at that. Others couldn’t even care that much and simply offer to lead a graveside prayer, intoning a bland “Lord’s Prayer” or, if you’re really lucky, might even read a staid “The Lord is My Shepherd”, before flatly dismissing the family. And you wonder that you don’t have customer loyalty? Wake up!

Thanks! But where now….

“Would you like some time with our chaplain?” That might well be one of the most important and meaningful questions you might ask of the bereaved. It shows several things: First, it shows that you have an appreciation for the various levels of the bereavement experience. Secondly, it gives the bereaved permission to acknowledge that they are also experiencing a spiritual component to their bereavement. Thirdly, it gives permission for the bereaved to open up a discussion about a religious or spiritual component to the funeralization services you are offering. It also demonstrates that you offer complete care and are not only interested in selling tangible products and services. It all adds up to a statement that you actually care about the holistic wellbeing of the bereaved. But do you ask that simple question? Have you ever event thought of asking it? Or do you expect the bereaved to come in with a laundry list of services they expect you to provide?

Falling apart and no one to help!

It is a simple expression that shows you care. It’s a simple expression that shows you appreciate the complexity of bereavement. It’s a simple expression that shows you know your business.

One of the most satisfying things that I have heard recently is when, at the conclusion of the graveside service, the funeral director addressed the family and thanked me on behalf of the family. The funeral director, addressing the rather large group of mourners, said: “We’d like to thank Chaplain Harold for this beautiful service he created for S. I sat in on the family conference he had with M. & H., and I know he really cares.” The beautiful note I received from the family several days later was all the encouragement I ever needed to continue what some feel is a very difficult ministry. It is difficult, and draining at times. But it builds relationships and it brings healing. Sometimes it is incredibly uplifting when you know you really made a difference.

One of the universal characteristics of bereavement, loss of any kind, is suffering. Suffering may be physical or mental or spiritual or all of these. Suffering has been referred to in the professional literature as an illness that benefits from treatment on the path to healing. I’ve often referred to mortuary science as being an extension of medical science; they have so much in common. There’s suffering, illness, and the hope of healing, if not cure. If you think about the parallels for a moment and you’ll be awestruck.

So why is it that funeral homes and funeral directors don’t ask that very important question? Is it that their training doesn’t emphasize the fact of psychospiritual suffering and dumps it all into a big bucket called grief? Is it because funeral directors don’t have a complete understanding of the psychospiritual aspects of deathcare and the importance of spirituality in providing deathcare? Is it because they simply brush it off as the responsibility of the family to find spiritual support? Or is it because they feel, like most healthcare providers, that if it’s not physical, let the clergy have it (regardless of competence)? Or can it be that funeral directors simply don’t want to get involved in anything more than just a disposal service? Could be a little of all of the above, don’t you think so? (Those same questions could be asked of the healthcare professions, too, with similar outcomes!)

Caregivers at all stages in the dying, death and after-death experience should be providing this support up to and and at hand-off to the next caregiver team, including hand-off of the deceased and the bereaved to the funeralization professionals who will be providing deathcare services. The care should be seamless. But far from being seamless it all to frequently is simply non-existent.

In reality, you can’t do it all; if you try, you run the risk of mistake or even offending, and that can have disastrous repercussions. Professional wisdom and humility would require that you do what you do best and are best equipped to do, and leave the rest to those with the requisite expertise. Why should the psychospiritual care of your families be any different? After all, you don’t entrust embalming or reconstruction to the florist or the hearse driver, do you?

This is the whole purpose of what we do and why we do it.

As a professional interfaith bereavement chaplain, I have spent years studying spirituality. I have covered the literature across cultures and belief traditions. I have established networks of colleagues through retreats, conferences, and continuing education. But more than that, I have assisted hundreds of families in getting through the grief and mourning associated with bereavement, and have helped in the closure and healing through well orchestrated, compassionate, and personalized funeral rituals.

Does your organization offer a holistic funeralization team that provide your families that expertise, and can you provide the whole range of psychospiritual facilitation services either on an on-call or p.r.n. basis, or on a part-time basis on site, at your location. The cost is very reasonable and the benefits to your organization and to your families are immeasurably enduring.

Why not take steps to discuss with a trained bereavement chaplain how you can collaborate and how you can provide professional spiritual care to both your staff and to the families you serve? Why not do that today, now?

If have any questions, please don’t wait another minute before contacting me or a bereavement chaplain near you for ideas on how to establish a partnership to provide your families with the best deathcare and follow-up care possible.

Author Contact:
Rev. Ch. Harold W. Vadney B.A., [MA], MDiv
Interfaith Chaplain / Thanatologist
pastoral.care.harold @ gmail.com
Telephone: (518) 810-2700

 


Conversion 101: A Reflection on Repentance vs. Metánoia


On reflection, one of our most distinctive traits as human beings, although created in likeness of the Creator God, is our freedom to choose to approximate the Divine or to take an alternate route, distancing ourselves from a forgiving God, a detour we call sin. The Greek is for missing our waypoints is hamartia (αμαρτία, from αμαρτάνειν hamartánein), which in the classical language, means to “miss the mark.”

Conversion 101 – A Reflection

In a recent reflection posted for the Companions of New Skete, we read the word repentance, a word that has plagued theologizing linguists for centuries because it is an extraordinary mistranslation, a linguistic glitch that distorts the intended meaning of the Greek word metánoia – and conflates it with the Greek word metámelomai (see Mark 1 vs. Matt 27:3, sources which employ the words metanoeo/metánoia or metamélomai (μεταμέλομαι)) that occurs in the Second Testament (and in the LXX), which renders the Hebrew word “nacham” (change of mind, finding comfort). That word metánoia (μετάνοια, change in mind, conversion) continues as evidence of the extraordinary insult in translating dating back to the Latin Fathers’ translation of metánoia, rendering it poenatentia, and thus associating it with penance and punishment, and which reflects the later Medieval Scholastics’ teaching of a God, who is vindictive and vengeance seeking, angered by our choice to sin, and the teaching that for our sinfulness God demands propitiation, payment to avoid Divine wrath. The sinner must purge themselves of their guilt engendering guilt and condemnation. That teaching reached its pinnacle of silliness with the teaching of “tollhouses”, stages of purification through which the soul must pass to attain salvation.  This is a notion of a distorted God and flies in the face of the teaching of a forgiving and merciful God, and our freedom to change.

Metánoia is not the only casualty of the Latin translators, we can also note the confusion of messiah and savior in the translations from the Hebrew; that confusion continues to this day and continues to mislead the ignorant faithful and far too many of the clergy. No less a figure than Tertullian took offence to the translation of metánoia with poenitentiam, arguing that metánoia is not a confession of sins but a change of heart. (Having made that statement, I do not argue that the “change of heart” does not result from reflection of one’s past behavior or regret for having sinned. St Augustine himself is clearly a witness to that.)

The word repentance, which has persisted in myriad translations and in pastoral and theological usage, does not convey the very important and authentic meaning of metánoia: a change of heart.

In the ordo salutis, at one pole of which we have the steps leading to healing and return to the source and final end in the Western Catholic (faith, contrition, regeneration, penance (epitimion, pokúta; following confession), sanctification, purgation, theosis) or in the Eastern Catholic (Orthodox) (catharsis, theoria, theosis by way of virtuous life, prayer, and participation in the Mysteries), or in the Reformed tradition, election/predestination. Repentance, at least in the Western tradition, has to do more with penance, less with metánoia.

This is metánoia, not repentance. The Great Error of teaching is based on erroneous translation!

So, what is my point, you may ask by this time? I find myself reflecting on the Orthodox tradition, in which sin is conceived of as a disorder, an illness, and confession as a ‘medicine’, with metánoia being the healing therapy, leading to – another insult to conscientious linguistics and competent translation — “salvation”, where salvation may be in its broadest connotation a sort of being saved or deliverance, in truth is not being saved but being “healed” (it derives from the Latin salvus, and like the English word “salve,” is healing).

There are a number of reasons for these confusions but whatever the reasons, we have to deal with them now, in our lives, in our teaching.

No matter what the reasons for the misuse of the term repentance or why it has persisted, the fact remains that our healing, our salvation if you prefer, depends not on revisiting old sin, or on guilt, or on propitiation (save for the salubrious effects of epitímion, if employed by the priest) but on metánoia, a change of mind, heart and conduct.

In fact, a more appropriate reading of John the Baptist’s call to “repent” is actually a call to change of heart, a change of mind and conduct, not to revisit past sinfulness. Moreover, the reported teachings of Jesus point also to the notion of change of heart and conduct, less than a recollection of past sinfulness. While I am not purporting that we should not maintain an awareness of our freedom to make wrong choices or that we should not examine ourselves regularly, nor that regular confession and consultation with a spiritual guide are nice but not necessary, I do feel that we must look forward, while employing all of the preceding, to changing our way of thinking and behaving. And Yes! this process of metánoia or conversion is a lifetime process, and we would be ill advised not to revisit our hearts and minds and conducts regularly, in order to tweak and fine tune ourselves, ensuring we are on the correct spiritual heading towards the destination, which is God.

Far from the negative connotations and denotations of the term “repentance,” metánoia compels a positive, proactive, life-affirming response to God’s offer of union through His grace.

Reading St John Climacus’ “Ladder of Divine Ascent“, the saint teaches that “[R]epentence is the renewal of baptism. Repentance is a contract with God for a second life. A penitent is a buyer of humility. Repentance is constant distrust of bodily comfort. Repentance is self-condemning reflection, and carefree self-care. Repentance is the daughter of hope and the renunciation of despair. A penitent is an undisgraced convict. Repentance is reconciliation with the Lord by the practice of good deeds contrary to the sins. Repentance is purification of conscience. Repentance is the voluntary endurance of all afflictions. A penitent is the inflicter of his own punishments. Repentance is a mighty persecution of the stomach, and a striking of the soul into vigorous awareness.” We could easily replace “repentence” with “metánoia” or “change of heart” without substantially distorting the saint’s teaching (assuming the rest of the translation is correct).

Having said all of that, I do not wish to avoid reflecting on the concept of repenting on behalf of others (so important for Greek monastic theology from the 4th century on), at least in nascent form, can be found in the LXX, but that’s another diatribe for another time.

Our reflection was on repentance as compared with metánoia, and our Lenten retreat centers on forgiveness. So what’s the connection I’m trying to make? Well, having reflected on the importance of metánoia, it would seem that claiming a Christian lifestyle would be a mockery if not abject hypocrisy, if we were not to engage metánoia as our radical, i.e., fundamental attitude towards forgiveness. We have the freedom to choose Divine Light or a fragmented, autonomous existence choosing darkness. Self-awareness, authenticity, that is, the admission that we are capable of sinning — sin is not just the province of evil people — our purification and forgiveness comes from getting to the root of the reality of potential and real sinfulness, and this involves metánoia: a change of mind, heart and conduct. Some have referred to this as “soul surgery”, something we can’t do ourselves, but for which we need God’s grace and the wisdom of wise and patient spiritual guidance from another pilgrim capable of nudging us towards opening ourselves to the truth about ourselves, acknowledging that truth, doing something about it, and navigating us towards true forgiveness, reconciliation, and ultimately healing.

This is a radical revolution, an about face in our attitudes rooted in a change of heart and an orientation to God. If we commit ourselves to metánoia, we approach true self-awareness, a prerequisite for the essential authenticity, and self-control through the action of the Holy Spirit and Divine Grace.

Whoever acts as his own spiritual guide has a fool for a client.

As I reread and reflect on my thoughts, it becomes obvious how frequently I, and you, have been deceived by detouring from the true path to the Divine; in other words, we have frequently been deceived by sin of one sort or another. We all have heard the saying: “Whoever acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client.” This can apply very aptly to our spiritual life as well. As we cannot do our own soul surgery, we cannot act as our own spiritual guide, and we really should have a wise spiritual father or mother who can provide good counsel to us, based on their mature spirituality and their deep listening skills. We are fortunate, as Companions of New Skete, to have a treasure of rich resources at our disposal, and we would be pitiable spiritual sons and daughters if we were not to avail ourselves of these resources.

In conclusion, our focus should be less on repentance as such and more on metánoia. Through a change of heart, a reorientation, a radical transformation of outlook, a change in our view of the world and ourselves, a renewal of how we love, and how we see beauty.  Metánoia should be at the heart of our teaching, our liturgical preaching, and our participation in the liturgy, which is a great source of healing and inspiration. The liturgy is faith in action, and Orthodoxy is a liturgical culture; we are liturgical creatures. We must appreciate the gift of liturgy and spiritual guidance. I speak from experience: Those of us practicing vocations of compassion often come away from encounters with the faithful-in-crisis, whether spiritual or existential, with a deep sadness, a sadness that has its roots in a realization that our faithful have acquired and live with an image of the Christian life and the Christian God that are distorted. One of those distortions is that God is punishing one because of one’s past, present, even future sins. This is not the message of the Gospels. Let us recall the scripturally based prayer of absolution teaching that “God desires not the death of a sinner, but that the sinner turn from his evil ways and live.” That prayer teaches metánoia, not medieval notions of repentance and wrath, guilt and shame. It also teaches forgiveness.

I think, during this liturgical season of reflection, that we should seriously make metánoia and forgiveness our goals as compassionate companions.

Please share your thoughts with me about my thoughts.


Putting Humanity Back into Deathcare


The Internet is literally crawling with people who have reinvented themselves from pitiful loners to supreme gurus of life, death and everything in and around those two great mysteries. On the one hand you have to admire them for their capacity to make real their fantasies and virtual lifestyles but on the other hand you have to take two steps back to get the whole pitiful picture. These maladjusted spirits are out there posing as leaders and innovators — fabricators would be a more accurate description — and many readers are so naïve as to accept the rubbish they publish as Gospel truth.

It's not about revenues or stats, it's about bereavement and grief!

It’s not about revenues or stats, it’s about bereavement and grief!


Their readers are unable to separate truth from fiction, originality from plagiarism, or fact from flatulence.

What’s worse, those readers actually fuel the smoldering information-dump fire these pseudo-pundits have ignited, actually giving them unearned credibility. Most of this is due to their attractive web presences with sophisticated websites all shiny and colorful but even more is due to the inability of readers to separate truth from fiction, originality from plagiarism, and fact from flatulence.

We have such entities as the Funeral Commander (Death with a military macho twist complete with camouflage fatigues and cigar! A real comedy flair.), Death and the Maiden (bringing sexism, feminism to death; we doubt that the author is anything close to a “maiden”), Natural Death Center (provides funeral advice from of all places the UK!), Funeralwise (a fairly worthwhile site, general information), Funeral Insider (touts itself as “the nation’s No. 1 newsletter for funeral service professionals”), Final Passages (“the first organization in the United States with the mission to inform and educate the public about their rights to care for their own dead.” How to bury your own dead? as if bereavement weren’t confusing enough), Everplans (a complete archive of everything your loved ones will need should something happen to you, that is, if you should die), and the list could go on ad nauseum. While some of these entities are there just to indoctrinate and to infect the reader with misinformation or information that is self-serving or simply to titillate the reading public’s fascination with the great denial, death, others do, in a good moment, provide some reliable information. But those moments are few and far between. You have to have some basis for assessing the information as reliable; that’s the hitch. It’s not reliable just because it’s on a colorful Internet website or blog.

The Gordian Knot of Grief

The Gordian Knot of Grief

Then there are the (psycho)spiritual guides, the ones who know all you need to know and more about the mystery of death and dying. They’ve discovered the Rosetta stone for unraveling the Gordian knot of the great crossing over. What most of these people are doing is broadcasting their own doubts, fears, speculations in the vain hope of having them validated by a following, which is what happens. So you have small communities forming around these very human and very vulnerable seekers. Very frequently I have to ask myself when surveying these sites, “Have they ever reached in to themselves? Is the problem that they have always been looking outside of themselves for the answers and, not finding them in their immediate space, now they are looking in cyberspace. How sad that they are reaching out ever farther from the real answer within themselves!

One of the most visible, not necessarily the biggest nor the most widely read violators of Internet trust is ConnectingDirectors, an online publication that touts itself as being God’s unique gift to the the funeral industry, and the one source for all the information a funeral director needs in order to crush the competition. Well, it’s like the story of the coconut-eating rats:

coconut-eating-rats

“Once upon a time there was an island on which the islanders depended for their very existence their coconuts. Then, somewhere out at sea, a ship was wrecked and its wreckage floated onto the island’s shores with a very special manifest of passengers: rats. Well the rats loved the island and loved its coconuts even more, and soon their population grew and grew and grew, until it threatened the very survival of the islanders. One very wise elder came forward with an idea: Let’s capture a number of these creatures, place them in a pit with some coconuts, when they devour the coconuts and become hungry again, they’ll start devouring each other. And so it happened. Once the rats had consumed the coconuts in the pit, they started devouring each other. Once the captive rats were released on the island, the islanders no longer had a problem with coconut-eating rats…because now they had rat-eating rats. The rat population soon disappeared once the last rat-eating rat starved to death for lack of rats.”

There’s little or no originality to these myriad sites sharing their instabilities and vulnerability cloaked in illusory intelligence; they are beta-testing their own speculations or are literally re-publishing information, frequently not vetted, from other sources, acting like a sort of unauthorized information clearing house with no authentic credentials.

oracleTrue sages never give a clear answer. The great Oracles always left the seeker wondering what the answer meant. Any parable worth the telling never provided true peace of mind. What they all do was make the recipient of the message think. Think!
Whether the sage’s metaphors were vague or the Oracle’s message cryptic or the parable disruptive of one’s world view, the one thing they all do is make one think, reflect, contemplate. You see, the problem today is that we no longer know how to think, to reflect, to contemplate. We have lost touch with the depth and all of its healing power and its risks, its paradox of opportunity and risk.

Thogmartin is using a shotgun technique

So, then, taking the Internet entrepreneur ConnectingDirectors as an example of what confronts us, what amounts to outright attempts to disabuse us of our natural answer-finding capabilities, one operator in the cyberuniverse of virtual consultants, let’s take a closer look at what ConnectingDirectors is actually providing. Sometimes, when reading CD, we get the impression Thogmartin is using a shotgun technique to hit everything on the target: out of the one side of his mouth he’s touting how to pay “thousands less for a funeral” while out of the other side of his mouth he’s telling funeral service professionals how to sell top-of-the-line products and maximize their revenues. While addressing the interests of the small to medium funeral home or funeral home group, he’s glorifying the factory-funeral providers and all their clever machinations to gobble up the small to medium funeral home operators to provide “personalized” cookie-cutter funeral products! We have to ask which team Thogmartin is playing on because his messages are very, very mixed.

What Mr Thogmartin and the funeral corporations seem to have missed is that it’s not about merchandising, or selling services, or about statistics or revenues; it’s about a respected and honorable profession compassionately caring for human beings in death and their survivors in coping with death. That’s why it’s called deathCARE. It’s about providing competent care to human beings faced with loss and existential crisis, human beings who desperately need companioning and real warmth, support, and a guide for the arduous trek towards healing and transformation. Something ConnectingDirectors, the funeral corporations and social media do not and cannot provide; they, in fact, have the potential to do more damage than good.

Quiz: What does this man need? Compassion or a cheap funeral?

Quiz: What does this man need? Compassion or a cheap funeral?

First of all, CD is the invention of one Ryan Thogmartin, who describes his two cyberprogeny, Connecting Directors and Disrupt Media, both LLCs, as “the premier progressive online publication for funeral professionals…is a thriving global publication with a reader base of over 15,000 of the most elite and forward-thinking professionals in the industry,” fairly read that’s a pretty hyperbolic claim and one Mr Thogmartin might have trouble substantiating, if called upon to do so. And there’s Thogmartin’s social media marketing solutions firm, Disrupt MG, which according to Mr T., “focuses on proficiently assisting small businesses in creating engaging social media marketing strategies,” but according to what standards of performance is our question. What Thogmartin is doing, actually, is inventing an online persona to sell his skills as a virtual person and his attempt to infect a vulnerable minority of funeral service professionals with the suicidal idea that social media is the only way to survive. What Thogmartin seems to have lost is his humanity and his sensitivity to the real essential element of funeralization: compassion and ritual.

Ever feel like you've been baited, trapped and ... ?

Ever feel like you’ve been
baited, trapped and … ?

What Thogmartin is in effect preaching — for his own interests, ego and profit — is that funeral professionals should (1) become rat-eating rats, and (2) distance themselves even further from the real needs of the bereaved. It’s a perversion offered by the factory funeral industries, a $15 billion industry like Service Corporation International a huge corporation providing burial and cremation services, which reported more than $533 million in revenues in one quarter alone! Then there’s the Dignity funeral network of more than 2000 funeral homes, or even the factory-funeral provider Newcomer Funeral Homes where you can get the latest in cookie-cutter, nickle-and-dime-me funerals. Those are just a couple of examples.

For an interesting survey of the 10 corporations that control the funeral service sector, see the Wall Street Journal article, “The Ten Companies That Control The Death Industry”  and think to yourself: How much is it worth to you to sell your peace of mind, your humanity to save a couple of dollars, the cost of a flat-screen TV that will be obsolete as soon as you cart it out of the store. Your peace of mind, your humanity has to last you a lifetime; so does your guilt if you don’t do things right the first time, because you can’t redo the funeral or fix the unfuneral. Question: Are you going to become, like the funeral service industry is trending, one of the rat-eating rats?

In 2014, Forbes published an article “Death Of The Death Care Industry And Eternal Life Online.” It’s another eye-opener if you have a moment to read it.  While the article is a bit dated in its information, and poorly written — but if you’ve visited any of the sites above, you’ll find poor writing the new standard —, and although the information in the Forbes article is not 100% reliable — we hope that the author’s references to Jessica Mitford’s American Way of Death are tongue in cheek—, it will provide you, the reader, with some different perspectives to consider. After all, you do need an awareness base in order to evaluate what you find.

technology-has-exceeded-humanity

Few of our readers are old enough to remember when people were not walking around talking to themselves, or if you do remember you also remember that people doing that usually ended up in a padded cell. Or old enough to remember when people actually conversed over a meal rather than fondling something on their laps, or if you do remember when someone was fondling something on their laps during a meal, they got a slap across the back of the head. Or old enough to remember when we read out of a thick object filled with word-filled pieces of paper that you had to use your fingers to turn, some can remember the fragrance of the paper and the ink, some will remember how the object made your hands and sometimes your heart warm, it was heavy and you knew you had something substantial in your hand; it was called a book. Now you hold a piece of back-lighted or LED illuminated plastic in your hand and can use a head or eye movement to change screens. How human do you feel now? You may feel fascinated, asking yourself, “How does it know that?” But deep inside you must feel threatened? Just like the mouse who’s fascinated by the tasty morsel in the trap, and can’t help itself, until SNAP! Can’t undo that bad decision! It’s no wonder that people are frantically searching for meaning but they’re searching in all the wrong places.

Thogmartin and Co-conspirators at work.

The Great Search for Meaning according to Thogmartin (center, of course)  and Minions.

Their purpose is apparently to advance dehumanization in the most human of professions …

We’re not picking on Ryan Thogmartin and his ilk. Thogmartin and his creations are just a product of a culture of control, a symptom of an epidemic cultural illness, and the people that follow him are like lemmings; they follow into oblivion. The Thogmartins of the world are narcissistic opportunists who need an audience with as little substance and humanity as the Internet medium they use to spread their messages; their purpose is apparently to advance dehumanization in the most human of professions, not the physician’s realm of healthcare — that’s already irretrievably gone down the tubes —, but the funeral director and competent deathcare. The funeral, the ritual, the human element of compassion and companioning that we get only through community, is the only way we can navigate the stormy dips and swells of the work of grief, and come out of it psychologically and spiritually healed. We mustn’t lose sight of that truth or we’re doomed to become what we apparently are so awed by and so love, those dehumanized, soulless, virtual social media creatures called avatars. Remember, an avatar has no mind or spirit of its own; it’s an icon controlled by something outside of itself, a controller.

Take back your humanity!

Recover Your Humanity! The Editor

Recover Your Humanity!
The Editor


The Retreat: Key to Psychospiritual and Physical Self-care.


self-careWhen I write about retreat, I don’t mean those seminars held by local urban churches and similar organizations, events that are anything but retreats. I’m not talking about preregistering sometimes months ahead to sit in some hall or auditorium for several hours listening to a how-to lecture by some crackpot, who does the same thing on a circuit tour, cookie-cutter, over and again. Buy the CD and you’ll be better off. Read the book if you’re into indoctrination rather than psychospiritual and physical healing. So-called urban churches of all denominations and religious communities, some in their death throes and struggling to generate funds, tout these self-help seminars and workshops as “retreats“; they’re not, and here’s why.


First some background…

I’m in a ministry, vocation, profession–call it what you like–that takes an enormous toll on one’s spiritual and emotional capital.  I’m a thanatologist, a death and bereavement chaplain, a psychospiritual counselor.

In my, for lack of a better term let’s call it “profession”, I have to be a sounding board, an active and deep listener for the questions in the statements and the statements in the questions.  I have to authentically and compassionately companion persons experiencing some of the worst moments in their lives, and I have to stay cool, calm, responsive, and compassionate. At times I have to be an advocate for an individual, a group, sometimes an entire community.

Self-care is one of the most neglected mandates in the helping professions

I am one of the greatest proponents and supporters of what we in the helping professions call “self-care.” But what is self-care? Self-care, simply put, is taking care of yourself so that you can care for others. And it’s one of the most neglected mandates in the helping professions such as clergy, funeral directors, doctors, nurses, managers, mothers, fathers, those experiencing recent loss or bereavement. That’s just a short list but I think I’ve made my point. Anyone, everyone who is in a situation that produces stress on a regular basis needs self-care on a regular basis. Even if you find yourself in the position of being a caregiver or a support resource — as would be the situation in bereavement — for a relatively brief time, you should seriously consider a program of self-care.

Self-care can take many forms. For example, one of my year-round self-care activities is fitness training. I work out at a local fitness center regularly. During the good weather months I love to work with my hands in dirt, getting close to the soil. I find cooking very creative and relaxing. Mental and intellectual self-care is reading what I like, not what I have to read to keep up-to-date in my field. All of these things and more can be called self-care but most people may be doing them with the opposite effect: causing themselves stress.

Even the atmosphere of the gym (Planet Fitness) is stressful.

Is this you at the gym?

Is this YOU at the gym?

For example, I go to the gym to relieve stress. I see many people there creating stress, even the atmosphere there is stressful. Here’s why: They rush in, change quickly, then rush out to get somewhere else.  Stress. They bring their phones in with them and are constantly checking something or making or receiving a call.  Stress. They are hurried and get irritated when they can’t access a machine or a piece of equipment when they want it.  Stress. Even the atmosphere of the gym (Planet Fitness) is stressful.  Canned music everywhere you go. Televisions blasting. People shouting trying to be heard above the televisions and their idiotic talking heads and the canned music. All that, dear readers, is NOT self-care; it’s self-abuse.

self-care-drg

I make my gym workout a total experience; not just physical but a workout for the mind and spirit.

In contrast, my gym experience, and the experience I promote in those who seek my advice is like this: My gym time is my self-care time. I am not rushed (I refuse to be rushed). I leave my phone in my car and I don’t check it until I leave the gym. I’m not listening to wild crazy music;  if I listen to anything at all while on the cardio machines it’s either a mantra or a lecture of some sort. I rarely socialize and if I do, I keep it short and sweet.  I make my gym workout a total experience; not just physical but a workout for the mind and spirit.

It’s really comical when some of these so-called retreats are about prayer or meditation!

So, you can understand my objections to calling a one-day seminar or workshop a retreat. You rush in traffic to get there, you rush to find a parking spot. You get in line, get your name tag, and they hand you a plastic binder with everything you need to know. You rush to get the free muffin, bagel or cup of coffee, you gobble that down, then you rush to get prime seating, and you think you are ready to absorb the wisdom of some spiritual or religious pundit, and to appreciate being in the moment, mindful, spiritually renewed — Then it’s lunchtime and you get to sit socializing amid loud conversation and probably intrusive announcements and more elevator music. There’s no silent lunch, no quiet space for medication or reflection. It’s all industrial. They feed you but you’re not nourished in the end. In fact, it’s really comical when some of these so-called retreats are about prayer or meditation! NOT!

The wisdom of the East is contained in the saying:

Let no one neglect one’s own work to do that of another, however great the need. Clearly understanding one’s own welfare, one can concentrate doing good.

what-is-self-care

At New Skete, you’re on personal retreat. Everyone knows that. Everyone respects that.

I go on a regular 3-day, usually a Thursday evening to Sunday noontime, retreat on a monthly basis. I make my retreats at a monastery near Cambridge, New York, the Monastery of New Skete, which is situated on a mountain, surrounded by forest, peace, quiet, nature. The guesthouse, where I sometimes stay when not in the monastery proper, is luxuriously appointed: private suites with private bath, a sitting room, a bedroom, a patio that opens to a meadow or to the forest. A small guesthouse library stocked with religious, spiritual, and secular titles. A large open social space with comfortable chairs and a large wooden table for pizza together or for games. A kitchen with microwave, fridge, free tea and coffee, etc. You can attend morning services (matins) with the monks and beautiful voices, evening services (vespers) before dinner, for a real spiritual moment. In the morning, enjoy a breakfast of cereals, wonderful breads, pretty much anything you’d like. Main meal at noon is home cooked and plentiful; the evening meal is usually a surprise and abundant. You can walk, sit and read, listen to the birds and the breeze in the trees, pray or meditate, visit the training kennels or the puppy kennel on prior arrangement. Bennington is just 12 miles away and Cambridge is a sleepy little town with lots of attractions and a couple good restaurants and coffee houses is 10 minutes down the road, if you find peace and quiet oppressive and need some stress back into your life. With all that you can make an appointment for spiritual guidance from one of the monks, or you can simply sit back and chat with them; they’re genuinely interested in you. Genuinely.

At New Skete, you’re on personal retreat. Everyone knows that. Everyone respects that. Even so, you can make some wonderful personal contacts while there. But the overarching understanding is that you are there for spiritual renewal, on a real retreat, and the bonus is that you leave there not only spiritually renewed but also mentally refreshed and physically rested. That’s retreat, my friends.

A paraphrase of the Dhammapada, the sayings of the Buddha, might sound appropriate at this point:

As a bee gathers honey from the flower without injuring its color or fragrance, so too the wise seeker goes about his or her retreat.

calloused-handsIf you don’t take care of your hands when you are doing heavy or hard work in the yard, you get blisters. If you do that kind of work regularly, your hands become rough, callused and insensitive. It’s only natural and it happens to protect your hands from real damage. If you’re smart you’ll take some measures to protect your hands like using gloves or applying a moisturizing cream. The same principle applies when you are exposed to hard mental or spiritual work like in the helping professions or just being a good parent. Your mind and your soul can get blistered (anger, rage, etc.), callused (insensitive, hardened), or even injured (burnout, depression, etc.) Like hard physical work, these mental and spiritual changes can occur gradually, over time, without you realizing it until, well, it’s too late. There’s a Buddhist saying that milk doesn’t sour over night (My translation: Avoid weeding your garden and see where it gets you). And, as the flood carries away the sleeping village; so too does unawareness seize and carry away the foolish.

Eight Ways a New Skete Retreat Can Heal You

In a recent issue of Organic Life, I was pleased to find confirmation and something like validation of my own teachings on what a retreat should be (I’m attaching a scan of the item below) and I’d like to summarize some of its points below:

  • A lower heart rate: Nature sounds have been shown to lower the heart rate.
  • Pump up your immune system: A forest walk can lower the heart rate and pump up natural killer cell activity (helpful immune cells).
  • Greater compassion:  Studies have shown that gazing at a forest or at treetops caused subjects to feel more compassion and generosity.
  • More friends:  Exposure to green space reduces a feeling of loneliness. Immersion in natural settings is linked to social bonding and stronger interpersonal ties.
  • Increase your brainpower: Even small bursts of time in nature can boost attention spans and exercise levels, improve motor skills.
  • A better state of mind:  Solo time in nature is good for creativity and mental health. Studies report that after a walk in nature subjects had fewer repetitive, depressive thoughts and decreased morose thinking. The recommendation: if you need to solve a problem, take a walk in nature.
  • Deeper and better sleep: Taking a break from toxic indoor air and desk jockeying can give you a cognitive boost; exposure to outdoor light can help to reset your diurnal rhythms, improving the quality of your sleep. Sunshine increases the body’s production of vitamin D, which has been shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers.
  • The Bigger Perspective: Neuroscientist David Strayer has documented the “three-day effect”. Three days spent in a natural surroundings away from the daily grind helps you to tap into certain areas of the brain that can enhance your multi-tasking power. He recommends a three-day retreat in natural surroundings at least once a year. (See: National Geographic, This is Your Brain on Nature, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/01/call-to-wild/, last accessed on January 27, 2017)

To read the entire piece, please click here Eight Ways Nature can Heal You

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You can walk, sit and read, listen to the birds and the breeze in the trees, pray or meditate, visit the training kennels or the puppy kennel on prior arrangement.

If I’ve managed to convince you that you owe yourself the experience of a real retreat, during which you can achieve those eight objectives, and thus experience real psychospiritual and physical benefits, I’m recommending that you contact

Brother Gregory Tobin,  Guestmaster at the New Skete Monastery, (518) 677-3928/ brgregory@newskete.org

Form more information and some stunning photography, visit the New Skete website

Monks Monastery
273 New Skete Lane
Cambridge, NY 12816
518-677-3928

Sign up for the New Skete Newsletter

The New Skete Guesthouse

The New Skete Guesthouse

You can have your self-care  retreat at New Skete, meals, accommodation, comfort and renewal for a fraction of the cost of a modest hotel room. (The suggested donation is $80/day. It’s a donation and, depending on your financial situation, whatever you can reasonably afford is acceptable. Your generosity is humbly appreciated.). The donation you make to the Monks of New Skete for your retreat includes your accommodation in the guesthouse, meals, and access to the beautiful amenities of the monastery properties such as meadows, forest, hiking trails, beautiful sacred spaces, meditation paths, and so much more! Your donation is also tax deductible

New Skete is just about 1 hour from Albany, New York, through beautiful countryside. Just the drive is worth the effort but the New Skete experience is otherworldly.

Editor’s Note: In 2016, the 50th anniversary of the New Skete Monastic Community, the community inaugurated the unique opportunity to become a Companion of New Skete:

The Unique Companions of New Skete Cross

The Unique Companions of New Skete Cross

In 2016 New Skete celebrated its 50th anniversary. The monks at New Skete believe and are committed to those values that are crucial to a living and vital spirituality and faith, and they welcome all seekers regardless of denomination or tradition, and are further dedicated to responding to the call to extend those values to those outside the monastic community, to those who especially share those ideals. Today’s world presents profound challenges for anyone seeking to journey along such a path; the support of a wider community is needed to help each of us stay faithful to our calling. If you share the vision of fellowship in spiritual community in the world, and the ideals of the Companions of New Skete speak to you, we encourage you to contact The Companions of New Skete, in care of the monastery. Be transcendent, become part of something bigger than yourself.

To learn more, please visit the special Companions of New Skete site.


Is there a sinister relationship between careerist clergy and dilligent funeral service professionals?


what-we-do


My recent article was actually meant for funeral services professionals but since it has important relevance for all of my readers, I decided that I would post it for the general readership. This is just an abstract of the whole article, which and be downloaded or read on line at What we do and how we do it makes the ultimate difference!

We have to think about what we do...

We have to think about what we do…

There is a disturbing trend in the funeral services industry that threatens to undermine the most sacred rites of passage and transition human beings ever experience, and its aftermath is likely to be worse than we ever could have imagined. This trend is incarnate in amateurs and dilettantes foisting their services as funeral and memorial celebrants on the unwary and vulnerable bereaved. In the past, the worst we had to deal with was indifferent boring clergy and finicky funeral directors offering cookie – cutter funeral and memorial services. There was a pitiful collusion between the funeral director and certain clergy, who held their congregations in a strangle hold of obligatory, staid, incomprehensible rituals. Another factor in this deplorable development is the fact that although we wallow in abundance we sleep in the lap of self–centeredness and abandon much of what might distinguish us as compassionate beings; we allow our customers to abandon all notion of proper care and dignity for our dead, opting for cut–rate funerals, abridged opportunities for closure, quick fix funeralization, the worst of which is direct burial and cremation. Today’s western culture seems to have enough money for flat – screen televisions, multiple cars in the driveway, every conceivable electronic toy but not enough money to give grandpa, mom or dad a decent, dignified, loving send – off. It’s really embarrassing how families today are so dysfunctional and how they have marginalized even their dead. And Yes! we funeralization professionals can all meet our obligations while serving our families and avoiding the impression of cookie – cutter services, and “one size fits all” routines, or the ever – present risk of making a judgment and then having to make an apology. So this paper is about boundaries and competency, about establishing relationships, about communications, about you and your appreciation of the boundaries between the mortuary services you provide and the spiritual care services the chaplain provides. Boundaries should not be viewed as obstacles but as safeguards and reminders of the essential humility of our professions. I do not believe that by meeting our obligations as death – care professionals we are not violating any boundaries by gently but firmly educating our the families and survivors we serve about their traditional family obligations even, especially in the difficult moments surrounding bereavement.

Please download or read this revealing and thought-provoking article by clicking this link: What we do and how we do it makes the ultimate difference!

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Thank you all! Peace and blessings at this wonderful winter holiday season!

Rev. Ch. Harold


Several Blogs Take up The Ministry Slack


danger wrong wayThe era in which we now live has been called many things, including post-modern and even post-Christian. Perhaps that’s true, and perhaps we, especially we Americans, are the authors of our own crises.

If it isn’t happy-happy, a pseudo-love fest, shiny, new, attractive, or electronic, we deny it or dispose of it. Just like we do to our once-venerated elderly. Just like we do to our once reverenced dead.

The last nature we will control is our own human nature and then we shall have destroyed humankind as we know it. (C.S. Lewis, Abolition of Man)

As C.S. Lewis writes in his Abolition of Man, we have gone from stewards to controllers to destroyers of Nature. As C.S. Lewis writes, we were once stewards of Nature, and then we strove and are striving to control Nature. The last nature we will control is our own human nature and then we shall have destroyed humankind as we know it. Humanity will have been abolished. Are we approaching that point now, where, as in C.S. Lewis, we have lost all sense of morality and elect few are making the rules, defining the morality by which we live? We have the great modern prophets but only very few of us read them.

The great age of horror films and modern morality plays on screen have been filed away in the archives of cinematology; they made us think about the unthinkable, our own souls, our fears, our itinerary through life cycles. There was crass exposé but also beauty and elegance. What do we have today but the product of computer algorithms and sound mixing, “entertaining” or rather “distracting” from the real issues and blunting human intelligence and sensuality with a pornography of death, a pornography of violence, and a degradation of the human spirit. You have become a means to the materialist capitalist end; you have become examples of ethics most abhorrent violation: A human being should never become a means to an end. But you say, some of this travesty of humanity does some good. We do some good in the Third World. Blind. Horribly blind. Another ethical principle states that an evil act shall not be used to achieve a good end. We make too many excuses for our bad behaviour and we correct pitifully little. Can we still make a claim to a moral high ground? Do we even remember what the moral high ground is? At what price do we take the post-modern, post-Christian high ground?

“We arrive at the destination without every having experienced the trip.”  (Anthony DeMello, S.J.)

postmodern humanityThe late Jesuit psychiatrist and motivational speaker, Anthony DeMello, described our human condition so aptly in his little parable about the people on a train. DeMello: “We are like people riding on a train to a final destination. The train is passing through some breathtakingly beautiful scenery but we have the shades drawn on the windows and don’t appreciate what’s outside of the car. We are all very busy arguing and discussing what we will do when we arrive, and who will be in charge. We arrive at the destination without every having experienced the trip.” We’re too busy doing and not being, no living.

I am a professional bereavement chaplain, a thanatologist. I deal with the dead, both the reposing and the walking ones. I see firsthand how shallow, lost, afraid people are when faced with mystery. I also see how institutionalized religion has failed them. Religion has failed them in the past because it attempted to use spurious and unconscionable means to control the faithful by fear, ignorance, and coercion. In today’s world, institutionalized religion attempts to control by more insidious means, more hypocritical means. Relativism has entered the Church through a small crack, just as Paul VI warned about the liturgical reforms instituted by Vatican II, “The smoke of Satan has entered the Temple through a small crack.”  We are paying a steep spiritual price for trying to renew something that is not in need of renovation.

In his masterwork, The Space of Death, Jean Ragon quotes Jean Ziegler (Les Vivants et la Mort, 1975), “The dead are human beings who have ceased to function…They no longer produce or consume.” How poignant. How thought-provoking. Ragon continues in his chapter on “Functionalism and Death”:

“The men of the Renaissance and the classical age saw the human body as architecture; the men of our industrial civilization tend rather to compare it to a machine; a machine which wears out, parts of which may be replaced, and which one day will become unusable.”

needleIn 1969, in Great Britain, a bill was proposed intended to legalize social euthanesia on the grounds that no useful purpose was served by prolonging human life beyond a certain age. The legislators fixed the “useful age” at eighty. Think of it this way: the post-modern elites will brainwash you from age 5 to 17 or 18, impoverish you by “educating” you from 18-24, use you until age 65, then retire you until age 80. At 80 you get the needle. Nice? The bill may not have passed in 1969, but in 1970 the English translation of the Vatican II documents were completed and reached the English-speaking world. Spiritual euthanesia followed. After spiritual euthanesia, moral and political depravity followed: we have abortion, even partial-birth abortion; we have been stuck with the biomedical model of health and healthcare for more than 100 years; we have assisted suicide in which even physicians participate; we are ruled by a corporate elite; we have been insidiously desensitized, dehumanized, blunted. Relativism has become our guiding light.

In the mid-19th century Friedrich Nietsche announced that “God is dead.” A new god had to be created. A race of superhumans would arise to create that god and to rule over the masses. Guess what?

Where have we left our children?

Where have we left our children?

As a thanatologist I can freely say that for most, their flavor of a god is either dead or dying. I can include the general pubic as well as clergy in that statement. We no longer have a model of morality or saintliness. Even popes have become politicians … wait, did I write “have become?” Mea culpa!

By denying the destination we deny the journey; by denying death, we deny life.

We need to throw open the shades on our train and take in the landscape through which we are passing…before it’s too late.  for many of my readers, they’ve already missed most of it and for some, well, they’re already detraining. We are conceived in sleep, we are born in sleep, we go through life asleep and we die…ASLEEP. By denying the destination we deny the journey; by denying death, we deny life.

That’s why I’d like to encourage you, my dear readers, to visit the Thanatology Café resource.
A New Feature: Articles and Essays
skulls

Learn More about Death and Dying.

I am Principal Facilitator at Thanatology Café and I write about a number of subjects relating to death, dying, grief, and the funeral services profession. Published on several blogs these articles have stimulated interest among people who never thought they’d be talking about the dread subject of death, and those readers and participants in local Thanatology Cafés have asked for more about the subject of thanatology; so many readers have requested copies of “the Chaplain’s” essays and articles;  responding to every individual request has been quite a task. To make it easier for anyone interested in reading my essays and articles (my homilies are published on Homiletics and Spiritual Care), I’ve decided to create an online page on the Thanatology Café blog, where you can click on the essay title and either read the article online or download it. It’s that easy!

The article “Interfaith Bereavement Chaplain — An Essential Asset” is actually an article written for the benefit of funeral homes and funeral directors, and gives them a good talking-to about how they are failing to provide the bereaved with essential grief services and aftercare. It’s a must read if you are going to make pre-arrangements or are making arrangements for a loved one. Local funeral homes like Babcock Funeral Home (Ravena), especially (!) with their expensive and shoddy services, and A.J. Cunningham (Greenville and Ravena), the Capital District’s very own “factory funeral home”, Newcomer Funeral Home, could learn a lot from that articel.

deathThe article, “Why is Funeralization Desirable and Necessary” is directed more to the consumer than to the funeral director, although funeral directors could benefit considerably from this article. It focuses mainly on the benefits of the traditional funeral for survivors and mourners. It’s a must-read for anyone who is or will be involved in funeral arrangements — that means everyone!

One of the most interesting articles is “Plain Talk About Cremation,” which is a real eye-opener for anyone considering cremation as a final disposition of their mortal remains.

Those articles and more are available on the Thanatology Cafe Blog page, “Articles & Essays.”

Click this link to go directly to New Feature: Articles and Essays.

As soon as we have it, we’ll also be publishing the September and October Thanatology Café program for the RCS area. Stay tuned and stay informed! That’s the best place to talk about death, dying, grief, mourning and other death-related topics.

Please let me know how you like “the Chaplain’s” new service.

Happy reading! The Editor

Happy reading!
The Editor

Source: A New Feature: Articles and Essays

Other blogs by the Chaplain include:

 


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