Category Archives: Interfaith Pastoral Care

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


A Thanatology Café Guide to Communication


Thanatology Café will meet on Saturday, April 9, 2016, at 2:00 p.m. at the RCS Community Library, 95 Main Street, Ravena, New York.


we will listenHow do we communicate in a group like Thanatology Café?

Well Part of our task is to learn how to communicate effectively in a group. Most of the time we find ourselves talking. It’s like we have two ears and one mouth and the mouth has to work twice as much to keep up with the ears. Problem is, we don’t use our ears for much anymore except to listen passively to the television pundits, talking heads, and, of course, we need someplace to plug in the ear buds to isolate ourselves from the very thing we are attempting to re-create at TC, community.

We live in what holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Victor Frankl would call an “existential vacuum,” where most people live without a real purpose and try to fill the vacuum with neurotic pursuits. Sound familiar?

Well, the success of Thanatology Café depends on active listening, not passive listening, so we’d like to share some listening suggestions to make our journey together more effective and to ensure that we achieve our purpose of effective communication, learning, healing and growth.

My first tip for better communication would be the statement,

Communication is about listening and talking.

Not listening to talk, which is what most people do. They listen for a pause so that they can start talking, even if they aren’t really responding to what was said. Sometimes it’s like being at Planet Fitness and having some juicebag on the phone broadcasting his or her side of a conversation. It’s a monologue and no one seems to care what’s being said, they just have to use those free minutes. That’s not what we do at Thanatology Café.

We listen actively and deeply  to what our conversation partners are saying, and we want them to do the same for us. Right?

Listening is not passive. Being a good listener is a skill that requires patience and practice. A compassionate listener …

  • listens with the ears of the heart (a lot of what’s
  • sits quietly (but comfortably, assume an interested posture)
  • avoids unnecessary distracting activity (don’t fidget, don’t start grabbing for the beverage, and don’t you dare reach for that phone)
  • doesn’t interrupt (even when there’s a longish pause)
  • lets the other person express an entire thought or feeling (this may not be orderly expression and it may take sime time)
  • acknowledges understanding by repeating back statements (this ensures that your conversation partner knows you are listening with a purpose)

As a good listener you can show interest and support with …

  • eye contact (don’t stare but do occasionally make contact with your eyes)
  • nodding the head (don’t be one of the bobbing creatures you see in a rear window but do nod occasionally in affirmation of what you’re hearing)
  • reaching out and touching (read the body language first; touching may be welcome but it may also be intrusive or even offensive)
  • ask if you can give a hug at an appropriate time in the conversation
  • make supportive statements (see below for some examples).

Thanatology Café is a safe, sacred space. What is said in a Thanatology Café converstation stays in Thantology Café. Each person must feel safe to talk and must have the freedom to express feelings, needs, and concerns, whatever they may be. We are conversing about what might be the last taboo in our culture, death. We’re discussing a topic that for some people means suffering, pain, emotional turmoil, and something they’ve been taught to deny rather than to acknowledge in our society.

Be non-judgmental and supportive.

We’ll be seeking and hearing a lot about feelings. Feelings include opinions, beliefs and pure emotions (many opinions and beliefs are highly emotionally charged). Because these opinions and beliefs, like emotions, usually come from very deep in the speaker, they should not be judged as bad or good. They are what they are. Sometimes the speaker expresses them intentionally and sometimes they come out unexpectedly. We’re listeners, not analists, and we’re not talking to each other to be judged, but to understand and to grow spiritually.

Expressions of feelings or concerns should begin with “I” statements. We are not here to give policy statements or to persuade or convert anyone. What you say is yours and you need to take ownership of it.

Here are just a few examples of supportive statements you will be using and hearing during your conversations:

  • I hear what you’re saying.
  • I understand.
  • I care about what you think and feel.
  • I don’t know what you need; help me understand.
  • I’m here for you; we’re all here for each other.
  • Your feelings are yours and I’ll listen if you’ll share with me.
  • I’m trying to understand you, please help me do that.

There’s much, much more to conversing, sharing effectively. One of the first things we need to do is decide to let down our shields, we have to accept permission to be vulnerable, we have to learn to trust. We’ll do our very best to try to create an atmosphere that will make these important steps easier, but every participant in the conversation has to decide for himself or herself when the time is right. It’s OK to just listen; you’ll know when you have something to say. Sometimes silence is a very expressive statement. This is just a starter; we’ll learn so much more during our sessions.

Research by David Macleod shows that the most important enabler for employee engagement is that they ‘feel listened to’. The ‘feel’ in ‘feel listened to’ comes from the above kind of listening, particularly the heart and undivided attention.

Chinese Character for Listening

Chinese Character for Listening

Thanks for listening!

the-first-duty-of-love-is-to-listen

Please click here to read, print or download a short Thanatology Café_Assuring Better Communication handout.


Thanatology Café: Where the conversation is about death.


Church and clergy have fallen flat on their faces when it comes to supporting the bereaved in their difficult moments of loss. Scripted, cookie-cutter rituals and services, bland remarks, formulaic prayers all serve to leave the bereaved high-and-dry at a time when they need empathy and presence. A new opportunity for bereavement ministry is being offered in a unique program called Thanatology Café.

Thanatology Café: Where the conversation is about death, is being launched in Ravena, at the RCS Community library, 95 Main Street, Ravena, New York.

Be sure to mark the date: Saturday, April 9, 2016, 2-4 p.m. The program starts promptly at 2:00 p.m. so don’t be late. There will be light refreshments.

The organizers do ask that you sign up at the RCS Community Library using the sign-up sheets available there. You can also sign up at thanatology.cafe@gmail.com. When you sign up via email, you’ll receive an initial registration form that you should fill out and bring with you to the program on April 9.

What is Thanatology Café?

We thought you’d never ask!

joke's over


Thanatology: [than-uh-tol-uh-jee] the study of death and dying, and bereavement, especially the study of ways to understand the coping mechanisms, meaning-making, transcendence and transformation to support the bereaved and mourners, and to lessen suffering and address the needs of the dying and their survivors.


It’s a  totally unique program and it’s called

Thanatology Café.

It’s a place where anyone can come in and talk about their thoughts, concerns, and interests centering on death and dying, bereavement, grief, society and death, spirituality and death, the death industry, our responsibilities as human beings who will die some day.

Thanatology Café is a safe place to talk about the ultimate mystery and to share thoughts and concerns about death and dying. It’s a place where you won’t be judged, no agenda will try to convert you or attempt to sell you something. It’s neutral ground, a sacred space where you can open your heart and mind to benefit everyone.

Thanatology Café will also be a source of valuable information from professionals who work in the field of death and dying. The program will include speakers, presenters, or even a film for discussion. But most of the time it will simply be a place to freely express ideas and thoughts, to share with the entire group or in smaller groups working off their own energies, monitored by a facilitator.

Thanatology Café is going to be offered in at least four counties: Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Greene to start. Since community libraries are centers for education and information and are central to most communities, the organizers will be holding the regular monthly sessions in community libraries throughout the area. There will also be other sessions for special interests or to organize special events like tours etc. to historic sites. One such site is Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, where Uncle Sam is buried along with a slew of other historic figures. But the crematorium chapel is a must see and TC is working on a tour for sometime in May or June 2016.

Thanatology Café is an important resource for first responders, church bereavement groups, bereavement ministries, and even funeral directors (TC will host several presentations by funeral directors with Q&A sessions).

Thanatology Café is for everyone and the invitation is open to anyone who needs or wants to talk about death, dying, grief, mourning, spirituality, traditions and superstitions, the funeral business. The field and conversation is wide open. Only the participants will decide.

Click the link to visit the Thanatology Café blog.

Don't be one. Join us at Thanatology Café on April 9th, RCS Community Library. The Editor

Don’t be one. Join us at Thanatology Café on April 9th, RCS Community Library.

The Editor


New Homiletics Blog


Many of our readers are pastoral or spiritual care providers, and only some actually have the opportunity to teach or to preach in a formal way, that is, by way of sermons or homilies.

Here is the Link to Our New Blog, Homiletics and Spiritual Care


When Listening is Greater than Talking

Why the homilist should be a more skilled listener to be a better talker
or
What they don’t (can’t) teach you in seminary.

bible-notebook

I feel that bereavement provides one of those moments of what we theologians call kairos, a supreme opportunity. If spiritual care providers are blessed with the opportunity to officiate at funeral or memorial celebrations, such opportunities are kairos moments not only for practicing our ministry of compassion for the suffering but also for proclaiming our fundamental sacred doctrines on living and dying, and what may come after.

We tend to talk a lot about homiletics and talk is what we apparently do best. But homiletics, good homiletics and the product, the revealing homily, requires good listening skills. Dag Hammarskold said, “The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is sounding outside. Only he who listens can speak.” This brings me to mind two ways of communicating with that voice within: lectio divina and the lesser known lectio continua. I’ll have more to say about those two disciplines and their role in homiletics in a later article on the Homiletics and Sprititual Care blog. Reflection and self-examination are also very important when it comes to listening authentically. Again, I’ll comment on these in a later editorial.

 

For now it may be interesting to look at some listening statistics:

listening-statistics

But here are some more startling listening facts:

Listening is the communication skill most of us use the most frequently. Various studies stress the importance of listening as a communication skill. A typical study points out that many of us spend 70 to 80 percent of our waking hours in some form of communication. Of that time, we spend about 9 percent writing, 16 percent reading, 30 percent speaking, and 45 percent listening. Studies also confirm that most of us are poor and inefficient listeners.

Thought speed greater than speaking speed. Another reason for poor listening skills is that you and I can think faster than someone else can speak. Most of us speak at the rate of about 125 words per minute. However, we have the mental capacity to understand someone speaking at 400 words per minute (if that were possible).

So listening is a critical skill that needs to be developed by us as spiritual care providers, particularly those of us involved in a teaching/preaching ministry that requires us to confect effective homilies.

big ear buddha 2

No doubt you have seen depictions of the Buddha with long pendulous ears and probably have asked yourself, “Why does Buddha have such big ears?” Well, in the Orient large ears are looked upon as auspicious because they indicate wisdom and compassion. So, the Buddha is depicted as having big ears because he is the compassionate one. He hears the sound of the world – hears the cries of suffering beings – and responds. The important thing for us is not how large our ears are, but how open are our “mind ears.”

As a professional interfaith chaplain practicing primarily in bereavement and grief facilitation, I find that listening, effective authentic listening is profoundly important in several prominent situations:

  • Initial interview
  • Family interview
  • During lectio divina and lectio continua
  • During reflection on potential readings
  • When selecting hymns
  • When rehearsing the homily.

Listening for the interfaith chaplain is also especially important when communicating with colleagues in spiritual care ministries of other faith and belief traditions, and in exchanges with hospital, nursing home, funeral home staff, and with members of the community.

An important concept to bear in mind when writing homilies is that while the assembly is listening to the words, the sounds coming from my vocal apparatus, they should be moved to listen to the internal voice that speaks in them during that outside listening. After all, that’s our target as homilists, to get that internal voice speaking and the listener listening to that voice.

Chaplain Harold

ListenHeart

 

 


Pastor or Chaplain, or Both?


Is There a Distinction that Needs to be Drawn Between a Practicioner’s Playing the Role of Pastor or that of Chaplain?

I was a bit bemused by the persistence of the tendency to Bible-thump one’s way through any such discussion

I recently engaged several colleagues on the question of chaplaincy or pastoring. I was a bit bemused by the persistence of the tendency to Bible-thump one’s way through any such discussion, while advocating an interfaith approach as advanced by the adherents of the CPE agenda. I thought I’d share my contribution to the discussion.

listen-with-heartIt is my contention that we should not advance the notion of a “versus” or “as opposed to” when discussing chaplaincy or pastoring. While it is true that some traditions, the Hebrew and Islamic, for example, eschew the notion of “pastor” or “shepherd” for cultural or traditional, even ethical reasons, in the broader sense all chaplains are in fact “pastors,” while all pastors (in the conventional sense) are not necessarily “chaplains” (or critically speaking, even pastors!). In fact, I object in principal to the biased terminology we so frequently use in our vocations, “pastoral care” department, because it tends to be exclusive. I personally prefer spriritual care provider (although in my professional materials I do use pastoral care). Moreover, most people, even those in the vocation, tend to associate pastoral with pastors and thus with some sort of clergy or ordained service provider (usually with no questions asked and we all know about the profanation of ordination); that in itself is a misfortune for all concerned. But the much-touted CPE doesn’t do much to clarify the issues for interns or residents, and we still see chaplains “certified” by the self-proclaimed arbitors of chaplaincy who are just as ignorant after several years of “education” as they were before.

A case in point is taken from the scenario presented by the initiator of the discussion who describes walking into a Jewish patient’s room with a Christian clerical collar, which I characterized as benign “ignorance” but in reality was outright insensitive and would indicate that the “chaplain” in question did not do any initial preparation before launching out on rounds or visitations.clerical collar pc I might fraternally suggest that in future, whether you are a chaplain or a pastoral care associate, to check the chart briefly or dialogue with the nurse assigned to that patient before you visit. The offending chaplain actually says that he was aware that the patient was dying and had no family, so it seems rather odd that the chaplain did not appreciate the patient’s faith tradition and, if it wasn’t in the chart, that he didn’t consult with the immediate caregiver (nurse or LPN).

I also questioned the fact that the visiting chaplain was aware that the man was “Jewish”. Being Jewish immediately identifies one as being associated with a certain cultural, socio-religious tradition, after all, one does not call one’s self “Jewish” except to identify one’s self as a Jew. So this also raises the question of whether the chaplain in question was indifferent to the possibility that this dying man might have welcomed a visit by a rabbi, or that the chaplain did not make or offer to make a referral. Such sensitivity may have been a great comfort to the man, who might have found great refuge in his tradition and prayers. So I identify a boundary issue in this behavior, too; an issue of knowing one’s limits.

This situation also sends up red flags in that it clearly indicates that the institution did not do a spiritual assessment of this patient, much less a spiritual evaluation or history, which also reveals a glaring ignorance of the now widely inaugurated JCAHO and HIPA scoring categories relating to patient spiritual care.

The scenario I describe above should be instructive to us all and I thank the so-called chaplain for the inadvertent teaching/learning moment he has provided.

Finally, in the dying process I don’t feel there’s a heck of a lot of “pastoring” left to be done, unless it’s for the survivors. In my experience, in end-of-life situations I am more of a presence and spiritual guide/companion. While that may arguably be part of pastoring in a general sense, I feel that the actual mission of pastoring contrasts in praxis with the mission of spiritual accompaniment at end-of-life or in an existential crisis.

plant in handIt’s rather like the difference between evangelization and catechesis, if you have that in your tradition. One takes care of the basics and gets the seed started (evangelization), the other (catechesis) ends in the care and nurturing to harvest time.

Listening to hearAnother colleague mentioned in a rather cliché fashion with which we are all familiar when listening to the CPE crowd, that CPE trains one to listen. I disagree with such responses such as “CPE “teaches” one to listen.” I’m not quite sure how that works but in my divinity training and three years of supervised pastoral formation, and my participation in and disappointment with a rather popular CPE program in a large trauma center in Albany, New York, which fell far short of even my minimum aspirations, I don’t think that people can be “taught to listen” they may listen, but they don’t listen deeply. I know that from experience the deep listening skill comes from deep within one’s self, once one is comfortable with one’s self, and can leave one’s self for the time it takes to absorb and process the patient’s narrative. It’s that kind of listening that might be part of qualifying an aspirant to be spiritual care provider but it certainly isn’t the be all and end all.

The serene face of the large Buddha his long wise curvaceous ears at once loving and open to the woes of the world: Compassionate.

The serene face of the Buddha, his long wise curvaceous ears at once loving and open to the woes of the world: Compassionate.

Deep listening is the act of sinking into a serene quiet place, and awakening a receptive awareness of the other. By entering quiet and becoming aware of the other, we move out of and beyond our ego-driven chaos to become open to the divine messages within us and shared with us by the other. Imagine the irony here is that we so often complain of the pain of not having been heard, but we are so guilty ourselves of being deaf to, not hearing the innate wisdom from within ourselves and shared with us by others. When we learn to accept emptiness, when quiet, we instinctively trust in the guidance of sacred voices far more profoundly than what our bullying brains and the busy buzz of life would have us hear. And we listen, respond with silence.

In fact, having examined quite a number of CPE curricula and having developed continuing quality improvement curricula for the healthcare chaplaincy department, I find that the current CPE programs and their associated certification elements serve only to promote a burocratic and very branded form of “pastoral” care, and that branded product falls short of most suffering persons’ real needs. helpingIt’s the proprietary nature and standardization (viz. uniformization, homogenization) of the learning that deals the death blow to an appreciation (1) of the universal truths and values shared by all human beings, (2) the beauty in the diversity of traditions and how to appreciate and be enriched by a certain mutuality, (3) the possible pitfalls of an interfaith approach to faith traditions that may adhere very loyally to their dogmas. There are other reasons I could enumerate but regrettably (or fortunately for the readers) space is limited.

I think that an overwhelming majority, too, of CPE students come with excess baggage and too little self-death–I’ve observed interns, residents, even certified chaplains who have a great potential to do considerable damage…and do. The situation is not unlike seminary, you can do much to scrutinize, to form, to standardize but Whoa! when you turn them loose on the world, watch out! (A Roman Catholic diocesan priest, who also serves in the chancery tribunal, remarked ironically to me one day, “They’ll ordain anybody these days.” Which is probably true given the shortage of priests today.)

The so-called supervisors of the CPE programs almost invariable have their own biases and agendas, and these tend to impair good formation.
In some, not all instances, too, CPE programs have become “pay-to-work” programs in which minimally screened individuals, wet behind the ears and green, are turned loose on the floors to deal with sophisticated staff and human beings in existential crisis. I don’t feel that’s right. And I have also observed that interns are exposed to the same curriculum content for three or four years, and unless they have the academic predisposition to independently advance their armamentarium of experience through narrative and study, many don’t build their foundations. Some interns do not have theology or pastoral studies to help them through the necessary processing, and almost all have a depraved Western bias to their spirituality that tends to act as a speed bump when offering care to Non-western recipients. These programs tend to be “chaplain mills.” CPE does not fit the bill on its own to form professional, well-rounded spiritual care providers, but does excel in churning out multitudes of volunteers for greedy institutions. That may be one of the reasons it has survived this long.

On another level, some practitioners involved in the discussion advocated that the “Gospel” or, by extension, holy scriptures, has no firm place in chaplaincy. I do differ in that the fundamental ethics of the “Gospel” (not as understood principally by the evangelicals or fundamentalist among us) is a major part of chaplaincy. servant leadershipI cite particularly the beatitudes and the teaching of discipleship and servant leadership (chaplaincy is certainly not limited to the sick and dying but to the suffering generally). While I abhor the notion, and even more so the practice of proselytizing to captive audiences, and would hasten to emphasize that evangelization and catechization is not a fundamental role of the chaplain, ethics, discipleship, and servant leadership all play a special role in the myriad activities of the professional chaplain. (Note also that I do distinguish between the “professional chaplain”, the pastoral/spiritual care associate, and the visitor providing spiritual support.) To advocate that the truths and values espoused by the “Gospel”, the holy scriptures of any faith or spiritual tradition might have no place in chaplaincy is to advocate a position, I believe, of a chaplaincy practice devoid of ethics (and religion) (I do realize that this is a particularly “Christian” approach and my Judaic, Islamic and Buddhist colleagues may not necessarily agree with the religion-ethics statement, but I make the statement here somewhat loosely for convenience sake).

I’m not judging colleagues in chaplaincy or Clinical Pastoral Education too severely at all. In fact, I’m simply sharing my own observations and opinions based on personal experience. I am not a bit surprised when some readers tend to take these observations personally, as if they were meant to make an ad hominem stab at the straw[wo]men of CPE; I usually anticipate that persons in our line of work have a bit more self-awareness not to take every facially severe remark as a lancet thrust to the heart, however.

Rather than play an offended person’s role, perhaps we all would benefit by admitting that we may have learnt something about one’s self as through another’s eyes.

We Respond, We don't React.

We Respond, We don’t React.

Our role is to humbly respond, not to knee-jerk react. After all, to paraphrase the prophet Martin Luther King, Jr.: ‘We are all wrapped in the same cloth…when we directly hurt another we indirectly hurt ourselves.” (I do hope I did that statement justice!). So, when one party to the conversation called such a response arrogant, and a failure to simply accept some responsibility in relationship to colleagues’ responses, I merely responded, “My point indeed. The mouth loves the feel of words.” Instead we minimize, rationalize and justify our behavior, making certain to protect one’s self. This particular correspondent insists that “our patients have thick enough skins to handle a collar.”panda overload My response was tantamount to the fact that I don’t think that we have any right to expect patients to have “thick skins.” Some practitioners in pastoral care seem to admit patients’ strengths but underestimate their sensitivity and vulnerability. Many of the patients I see have lost their thick skins and in fact are pretty bruised in terms of dignity, autonomy, fortitude, patience, etc. I see no reason to add another straw to the pile. And Yes! It’s not about us, it’s about patient-centered, family-focused, inter- and multi-disciplinary care.

bedside prayerWhen we adopt such an approach we appreciate that, whereas many of our colleagues practice their spiritual care ministry in acute care settings or in crisis settings, many colleagues may find themselves–particularly in the scenario of the long-term care setting–in the position of playing both the role of chaplain and pastor to some residents in those longer-term care facilities. Regrettably, many of these residents lived their lives unchurched or churched with infrequent interaction with their faith community; more regrettably, some faith communities have disappeared or simply no longer continue a ministry of visitation of the sick and homebound who were once part of their faith community. It’s in such situations that the chaplain may very well become the pastor, and have to function in both roles. I don’t feel that this should be a major stumbling block nor even a concern to the well-formed spiritual care provider, who is responding to a true call to spiritual care ministry.

We're all wrapped in the same cloth...

We’re all wrapped in the same cloth…


A Moment to Consider Suffering


“There is a time for everything…under the heavens a time to be silent and a time to speak.” (Ecc 3:1a,7b)

The Suffering in the World and the Heaviness of Grief Drag the Soul Down and Weight it With Despair…But It Is Better to Light A Single Candle than to Curse the Darkness Around Us.

animated candle small

All religious and spiritual traditions teach that man lives in horizontal time or chronos; the Divine time is vertical, kairos. In Divine time there is no past or future, it is all here and now. Unlike humankind, the Divine does not look to the past nor to the future, they are simply unnecessary because the Divine is perfect and that perfection embraces unchangingness and allknowingness. Perfection does not have to learn from the past nor hope for the future.

Rachel Weeps for All Her Children!

Rachel Weeps for All Her Children!

But we exist in a different dimension, if you will. We can either despair of the past or hope for the future; resent the past and despise the future; or as Ecclesiastes teaches, we can accept that the Divine plan provides for “a time for everything…a time to be born and a time to die..a time for scattering stones and a time to gather them…a time to embrace…a time to search…a time to mend…a time to be silent and a time to speak…a time to love…and a time for peace.”

The Divine plan is Perfection and Immutable. It keeps us on schedule and on plan always, whether we like it or not, and whether we understand it or not. The world is full of pain and suffering, most of it so far away from us that we almost take it for granted and go on with our own lives without considering that human beings and other creatures are suffering immensely but we don’t see their tears or hear their cries…so they’re easy to pass by and cast our eyes away. Until it strikes close to home. But the Divine plan includes us always and when Perfection sees its creatures becoming callous to the lessons of suffering, Perfection brings it closer to home so that we, too, can face the challenge and become humbled by it. When we see suffering we can appreciate the wisdom of Ecclesiastes: There is a time to be born and the fact of being born brings with it the fact of death.

gathering togetherWe are made of fragile materials and we break, sometimes very badly, and we die. It’s when we are humbled by challenge, moments in the Divine Plan that we are incapable of comprehending, that it becomes time to gather stones to rebuild, a time to embrace our universal humanity as the kin-dom of the Divine, a time to search for meaning in the challenge. But above all and essential to the purpose of the Divine Plan is that a time of challenge is a time for love, a time for God, because as John teaches “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love,” (1 Jn 4:8). Gathering together in love, we are in a time of mending, of healing; in that time of healing we find a time to be silent, present, and a time to speak. As stones gathered searching for meaning in the challenge, and embraced by the power of perfect love, we heal in silence and sometimes speak silently in prayer…we seek peace.

The events in the world that cause suffering and despair, confusion and anger, anxiety and hate are in our time, not Divine time, we can move into Divine time by staying in the moment, no past no future, for but a breath’s time and find peace in the moment we occupy now.

blue tear

Let’s stop for a moment being stones scattered and be stones gathered, remembering in this moment the suffering around us. Let’s stop for a moment to heal, to love, to be silent. Let’s stop for a moment to be peaceful and to grant peace to all of Creation. It’s in the Divine Plan. Let’s stop for a moment and remember we are created in the image of a God who is Love.

Remembering in this Divine moment of love, healing, and peace, the suffering in the world of all Creation, and remembering the acute pain we now suffer with the events closer to us. In your own, personal way remember the suffering in Newtown, Connecticut.

animated-candleburning3


You Are Not One Of US…


“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. (Mark 9: 38-41)

Pointing-finger

It would seem that Ms Kate Blain, editor of the Evangelist of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, and her mentors are shooting themselves in the foot! Not ony is Ms Blain and her mentors exemplifying and incarnating all the worst street wisdom about Roman Catholics, and playing into the hands of their worst detractors, but they are also turning their backs to the best of the Christian Tradition in terms of encouraging good works and works of mercy and charity. Judging from Ms Kate Blain’s response, if it is truly the position of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, no one but those associated with a Roman Catholic parish or receiving the support (just what the nature of the support should be is unclear) are licitly or legitimately practicing a ministry in pastoral or spiritual care to the suffering. What a pile of crapola!

So, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany’s Evangelist refuses to publish an advertisement because the advertiser is “not working through any parish or with the support of the Albany Diocese,” according to Ms Kate Blain, editor of the Evangelist.
Always the curious one, I thought something was very fishy with this whole affair and so I picked up an Evangelist to check out some of the ads that are being run in the rag. Here’s just a sample:

Fidelis Care, selling health insurance plans
McDonough’s Farms, selling trees and wreaths
Silver Parrot, selling jewelry items
Ross and Visconti, a law firm specializing in family law, general law and wills
Celtic Treasures, selling Irish gifts
Joe Mazzone Antique Services, buys and sells antiques
Eddy Senior Living, a secular assisted living facility
Marra’s, sells home healthcare items
Falcon Trace, a secular “active adult community”
The Spinney at Pond View, cottage rental community
Romanation Jewelers, buys and sells gold
Eastwyck Village, retirement living
Ohav Shalom Apartments, independent senior living
Adirondack Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery
Delmar Place, assisted living residence
Bob Tahlam, Inc., basement and cellar work
Advanced Hearing Aid Centers
Shaker Pointe at Carondolet, independent senior living
Mr Fix It, plumbing, electrical, carpentry
Wesley Woodlawn Commons, assisted living
Accent, healthcare services
Visiting Nurses Healthcare
A&B Stairlifts
Albany Housing Authority, Senior Housing
The Lira Ensemble, polish music
W.J. Lyons Funeral Home Inc.
Stefanazzi & Spargo, monuments
Wm. J. Burke & Sons Funeral Home

Yes, we thought you’d be a bit surprised., and we’re none the wiser for the effort. There’s no rhyme or reason behind these advertisements, they cover a wide range of services unrelated to a parish and certainly don’t need diocesan support. In fact, the ads are supporting the diocese to some extent.

So we have to look elsewhere for an explanation why an advertisement for genuine and much-needed services would be canned by the Evangelist.

A big question looms large in this consideration: Is someone at our sacred and holy Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany Pastoral Center playing a career assassination game? Are there personal or political motives behind the refusal. Does someone or several of our loving, charitable, good Christians at the Pastoral Center have an axe to grind with regard to the advertiser. It wouldn’t be the first time that some Church functionary saboutaged the work of ministry for personal reasons.Is this a form of cowardly punishment or retribution? But just the thought of the bad press, the damage to an already suffering image, the civil consequences that such stupid misconduct will entail is chilling.

This raises a number of troubling contradictions in this diocese, including but not limited to:

  • The Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany sends its deacon candidates to a local secular hospital that epouses explicitly interfaith pastoral care to patients, and whose manager is of the Calvinist tradition, apparently loathes his own denomination (RCA, according to the AMC pastoral care manager, the “deformed” Church of America), and has no great love for Catholics, unless they’re female, “disgruntled””, outspoken and dissenting. Two Roman Catholic priests are on the hospital’s pastoral care team and paid by the RC diocese of Albany, and I have personally witnessed some very anti-Catholic and abusive treatment of those two clerics at the hands of some non-Catholics. Knowing the situation at the hospital and in the Pastoral Care department there, one wonders what the rationale is behind the diocesesan practice of sending deacon candidates to train there if interfait pastoral care is not supported by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.
  • While I was completeing my master of divinity degree at the Roman Catholic school of theology and divinity supported by the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Albany (Bsp Howard Hubbard) and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester (Bsp Matthew Clark) and most recently in Syracuse, under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, my pastoral formation supervisor encouraged me to participate in the clinical pastoral education (CPE) program at Albany Medical Center, which I did. In terms of experience it was incredibly edifying, that is, in terms of the direct clinical experience on the floors. The personal experience with the supevisor and the peer experience was frustrating to say the very least. It was not the place for a traditional or conservative Roman Catholic or one with weak faith or one with no guts. I was surrounded by feminazis, Calvinists, and sociopathic “disgruntled” female Roman Catholics/Episcopalians; a male Catholic was chum in shark-infested waters = I didn’t have the chance of a snowball in hell unless I put up a very strong front, and I stood by my faith, my Tradition, and my ethics. So, if the Roman Catholic school of theology and ministry sends its students to participate in the interfaith program at Albany Medical Center, knowing the the program is promoting the interfaith model of pastoral care, how is it reasonable that the editor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany’s newspaper, Kate Blain, refuses to run an advertisement on interfaith pastoral care?

 

The Ultimate Perversion!<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Female Gay Bishop!<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
How Close are We?
The Ultimate Perversion!
Female Gay Bishop!
How Close are We?
  • The very school of theology and ministry I attended and which awarded me the master of divinity degree is a former Roman Catholic seminary college that went Guess what! Interfaith in order to survive. Right in the middle of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany Pastoral Center we now find Roman Catholics sitting next to Baptists, Calvinists, Episcopalians reciprocally revealing their ignorance. Now the Protestants, Jews and Calvinists can experience first-hand the renowned infighting that goes on among Roman Catholics. They can, along with the now appalled traditional and conservative Catholics, experience the liberal priests and female religious dissenting, criticizing their Church, and hear the eunichs in the group pander to the instructors and to the wannabe women priests [and bishops]. Typical ambiguous and ambivalent American attitude, typical American “be politically correct or be shunned”, “How dare you have such an opinion!?!” type of Me First! exchange. But it’s all in the interest of unity, of ecumenism, of interfaith dialogue, of …or is it revenues?

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany appears to support the interfaith pastoral care effort…or does it?

(There are a number of discrepancies in the pastoral formation programs both in the diocese but most particularly at St Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry that require review and correction. Those discrepancies have nothing whatsoever to do with the supervisor/director of the program itself but the way the students’ projects are selected and executed leaves a great deal to be desired. But this is something that we shall take up with the accrediting body itself.)

The Roman Catholic Church has spent a great deal of ink writing about the importance of care of the suffering, the sick, and the dying but it seems that much of what is written and prmulgated is contradictory in one respect or another. Or, in its slavish dedication to the principle of subsidiarity, the Church has delegated much of its authority to self-serving, poorly catechized managers and underlings. The Pastoral Center of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany lacks overall leadership, although it is figuratively headed by a brilliant saint of a man, somewhere along the line the minions and the satans have usurped power over their domains and the Center has turned into a collection of feifdoms, the Evangelist obviously being one of them.

samaritan

Our beloved bishop Howard Hubbard (RC Diocese of Albany) and his brother bishop Matthew Clark (RC Diocese of Rochester) are both nearing retirement and their personal pastoral ministries have been phenomenal in terms of goodness, charity, brilliance, but their legacies will be remembered for their excess liberalism. The buzz is that at the Albany Diocese the greatest fear is that a conservative bishop will succeed Hubbard. If this happens, say Bye! to the fiefdoms, the self-serving monopolies and nepotism, and to the women religious who have pretty much taken over running the place.

It’s not the Holy Spirit that moves the Roman Catholic Diocese at Albany, it’s the cliques. And it’s high time the Diocese and the departments and parishes were returned to the Church, to be run in accordance not with liberal agendas but with the Roman Catholic Tradition and the Magisterium. It’s time Christian kerygma becomes the modus operandi and not personal agendas or the like. The idiotic grins are a poor cover-up for the envy, the paranoia, the anxiety, the ambition beneath. How has it reached such a point, I have to ask?

(It’s not just in Albany, either. I spent years nurturing relationships in a local Eastern rite parish, St Ann Maronite Catholic parish in Troy. scary-clownsFor more than a decade I was part of the parish life, grew to become very close to its former pastor and its parishoners. The pastor was transferred and I asked to do a year of my pastoral formation with the new priest who was very young, from Lebanon, and not long in the USA. The young priest had a poor command of English, very little parish experience (about 6 months unter the supervision of a senior priest down south), couldn’t preach to save his own soul, and was culturally inept (the Church in the Middle East is incredibly different in Traditions, organization, and in its participation in politics). The wet-behind-the-ears monk thought he knew everything, though, except integrity, honesty, humility, and inclusiveness. He openly spoke hatefully of Muslims with parishoners and was inauthentic. I confronted him, he ran to his bishop, his bishop ran to my bishop, this bishop supported him, my bishop asked me to cool it. That’s the way it goes: the bishops support their priests regardless of the damage. I disappeared and was demonized. C’est la vie, c’est la guerre. But it shouldn’t have to be that way and wouldn’t be that way if the bishops would be bishops and stop pussyfooting around.)

According to the Chinese, “The fish rots from the head down.” Oh! How true! Look around you.

So, back to the Evangelist and editor Ms Kate Blain, now making policy for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany. What say ye, bishops?!?

Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.” (Mark 9: 38-41) Is that really so? Are we still preaching this (I know I am).

animated candle small

What’s important here? The fact that one operates out of a parish or the fact that one has the “support of the diocese” ( read that as “has not invoked the perfidy of someone with some power at the diocesan offices”). Who is this Kate Blain to make the determination that one does not have the support of the diocese. And if that is true, why does the Roman Catholic Diocese not support qualified spiritual care regardless of company or special-interest connections.

I’d be happy to discuss this dilemma with anyone from the Pastoral Center. Just give me a time and a date. According to Saint Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry which awarded me the “gold standard” professional degree in pastoral and theological studies, the Magister Divinitatis, which I received from the hand of bishop Matthew Clark and the co-authentication of bishop Howard Hubbard, I should be qualified to engage in such a debate…and to provide qualified pastoral and spiritual care regardless of the faith or Tradition of the recipient.

But there’s still the question of why the editor of the Evangelist refuses to run my ad that is in full accord with express Church doctrine and policy, with the explicit teachings, and with the promulgations of the USCCB? Do we have female bishops in the RC Church already? Yes. But not officially, it seems.

Please share your thoughts on this subject matter. And stay tuned for the next installment: a discussion of Church teachings on the care of the suffering, sick, and dying (and how it’s falling on it’s egg-stained face).

Shut up! And do your homework!The Editor

Shut up! And do your homework!
The Editor


%d bloggers like this: