Category Archives: Reformed Church of America

Of Chickens and Ducks: A Taxonomy.


Republished with permission from the Companions of St Silouan Athonite


Those of us in the vocation of teaching or preaching sometimes find that no matter how we attempt to describe something, we fall short of the mark, that is, we just don’t have the wherewithal to communicate complex situations in terms our audience can fully embrace.


As I lay in bed one early morning unable to sleep, and immersed in reflection, I began musing and imagined the various Christian faith communities as chicken farms, and I created a taxonomy of about 4 categories of chickens. I reached for my journal and jotted down some key thoughts in order not to lose them. Once I found peace having jotted down the necessary mnemonics, I was able to doze off. I rose early that morning to reconstruct my dozy thoughts. Here they are:

There are Ducks among the Chickens

On the one hand we have the factory farms where the chickens are confined in large coops and fed a prescribed diet doped with various enhancers. These are the Roman or Western Rite Christians. They are kept in parochial coops, fed a diet of dogma, doctrine, catechesis, and Canon rules and regulations; they are under the chief keeper, the bishop, whose minions, the priests are the farm hands. The corporation headquarters calls all of the important shots for these chickens. It’s “systematic.” The lights in the coop go on timer-controlled, stay on for a set period of time, and then go off. Feeding is done automatically, mechanically by the hopper method — homiletics or liturgical preaching —, in the process of delivering  a premixed formula — a so-called liturgy —, which the clucks devour at set times, and then go on with their lackluster, routine lives until it’s time to make the trip to the processing plant. That’s category 1.

Factory farmed, raised systematically, kept in line by protocol.

Category 2, took shape when I turned my thoughts then turned to the chicken-metaphorical Eastern Orthodox Rites. Here I have free-range, cageless chickens, who roam about within a perimeter of dogma and doctrine. These chickens have relative freedom and autonomy, although the head farmer makes all of the major decisions affecting their lives and his farmhands live among the chickens, ensuring that they stay healthy, and keep the foxes and weasels at their distance. These chickens rise with the sun and roost when the sun sets. They have relative variety and color in their diets and it’s natural, no artificial additives; organic. These clucks are out there digging around and experience the mystery that is their life and the beauty that is their world. They live their live with relatively few rules and regulations, and finish their lives plump and clean.

Wandering and feeding in the beauty and mystery of creation.

There’s a third category of chicken in the chicken world I’ve conjured up. It’s the chicken kept by the guy down the road who wants his eggs fresh and his Sunday dinner just outside his door. Nice and convenient. This chicken is kept in a rather pedestrian, vulgar way, allowed to roam about, kept in a makeshift hutch or in a coop. Their keeper is not particularly well educated in chicken-care nor in what chickens need out of life so their diet and care is a bit haphazard and generally subject to their keeper’s idiosyncrasies and whims. Their keeper gets his chicken knowledge out of a popular magazine or off the Internet. No real plan, no real structure, each chicken has a personal relationship with its owner. Neighbors see these chickens and refer to them by the owner’s name: “There’s Joe’s chickens in the road again. “ “Or Amy’s chickens are in our backyard again.” With little or no supervision or protection, these chickens sometimes become road-kill or are taken by a fox or a dog. But they can also be happy chickens because they don’t know anything else, and they can be healthy chickens, but they’re good only for soup because they’re very lean and underfed; a bit tough at times. These are the non-mainstreamerspopular religious movements, sects, cults and storefront “churches.”

Backyard chickens.

Getting near completion of our taxonomy of religious chickens, of course, we have some chickens who fall somewhere in between these three groups, or chickens who get “rescued” by one or the other categories. They’re still chickens but a bit confused.

Finally, we have the un-chickens. These are creatures that think they’re chickens, look like chickens, act like chickens but are definitely not chickens. Fortunately, these bizarre items are rare and they do make the tabloids or National Geographic. They even manage to attract vulnerable followers, who think that these un-chickens are the real thing. Most of these un-chickens are charlatans, some may actually believe they are chickens, but they are easy to identify and can’t easily hide their deception from the discerning observer.

The Un-chicken. They look like chickens, act like chickens, but don’t know they’re un-chickens.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include the un-chicken category. These are not chickens at all but ducks who want to be chickens. These ducks leave their aquatic environment for dry land among the chickens. These ducks have lost track of their special gift: mythologically they inhabited and belonged to three worlds: the world of water, the world of dry land, and the world of the ether. Some would say that these ducks, if they were aware and awake, would realize that they mediated between the sky, the earth and the water. They are special. They think they’re chickens but they still sound like ducks and walk like ducks. Some of the chickens don’t even know there are ducks among them; some of the ducks don’t know they’re ducks. But in reality, you can’t mistake the ducks among the chickens but no one seems to mention the fact and no one makes a peep…or a cluck.

Moving freely between worlds.

And then there are the ducks. Wild and free. Diving into the depths or flying invisible paths. No words or texts are needed to guide them. They find their food along their journey’s course. They quench their thirst in fresh, living water. They live in all three spheres but belong to none in particular. Unlike the chickens who are earthbound and know only a circumscribed tract, the ducks share three worlds; they know the world under the reflective surface of the pond in which they dive, they know the dry land where they walk, and they know the heights, which they share with eagles. We might call the ducks among us the mystics or the contemplatives, those among us whose keeper is the Spirit.

The Spirit is in our midst!

Br Silouan …
A chicken in discernment to be a duck!

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A Novel Venue for Developing True Spirituality: Companions of St Silouan Athonite


Some General Information About
The Companions of St Silouan Athonite

First of all and from the outset: This is not a religious group nor a denominational outreach. It is not a cult-in-the-making.


One nagging question that I have frequently posed is this: Why do most people think of spiritual care at the last minute, when someone is at Death’s door or when you are facing the dying process of a loved one? It’s like exercising and eating a healthy diet after the heart attack, isn’t it? Why not get started now.


This is an ecumenical, interfaith, non-denominations, judgement-free community of persons who are solely interested in companioning each other on their spiritual pilgrimages.

The inspiration for forming a wider group of spiritual companions came from my association with a Russian Orthodox Monastery in Northeast New York. The monks decided to resurrect a concept of a group of lay persons who would live some of the monastic values while in the secular world. These so-called companions of the monastery would apply, be considered as aspirants and then admitted to the so-called companions. They would subscribe to a rule of life, establish for themselves a prayer discipline, support the monastery in time and treasure, and make regular pilgrimages, either to the parent monastery or to some other monastery or retreat venue. It was a great idea but poorly organized. It was open to all faiths and, while it had an insignia identifying the companions, a small stylized cross, it still had the flavor of a very distinct Christian denomination. I couldn’t imagine a Buddhist, a Jew or a Moslem wanting to become a companion and having a cross as their insignia.

My patron saint is St Silouan of Mount Athos, St Silouan Athonite for short. I chose Silouan because of his humility and simplicity, his dedication to love and forgiveness, his compassion. Although Silouan was highly advanced in monastic ascetic spirituality and reached the height of monastic hierarchy as a Staretz or elder, a schemamonk, his humility and simplicity were legendary. Silouan, a Russian Orthodox Christian elder monk, who lived on the exclusive Greek peninsula known as Hagios Oros, the “Holy Mountain”, or Mount Athos, he lived values that transcended the Christian model and are the common threads of all the great world spiritual traditions.

As a professional theologian and thanatologist, a scholar of religion and psychospiritual care, I find that the vast majority of persons who call themselves members of a particular faith or belief community don’t have a clue about what their denomination teaches. Most ministers have no clue about what’s going on in interreligious dialogue, much less about their particulars. Most institutionalized religion has been caught with their pants around their ankles when it comes to credibility.

In recent decades we have all too often heard the ambiguous and practically meaningless phrase, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” Even the “spiritual” professional literature from the healthcare, deathcare and spiritual care disciplines can’t even agree on an across-the-board commonly held definition of what spirituality is! In fact, one publication did a review of the literature and found more than 90 different “definitions” of  spirituality!

In my professional practice I deal with end-of-life, death, dying, and survivors. I know the value of religion and I know the value of spirituality; I think I know where the one stops and where the other starts. Every time I think I’m sure, a situation arises that sets me back to square one.

One thing is certain: every human being is spiritual. There’s no doubt about it. Once you can admit you recognize that there’s something greater than yourself, that transcends your understanding, you have become spiritual. Now how you use that evolutionary revelation to best advantage and how you ease into it to make meaning of difficult moments, suffering, challenges is another story. To get the most out of your spirituality, you need companioning, guidance, others willing to talk about their spirituality and to share their insights.

That’s what this group, the Companions of St Silouan Athonite, is all about.

It’s an open group meaning that anyone inclined to explore the group can freely do so. What you receive from the group and what you give to the group is purely a matter of what you have at any given time in your journey. The pilgrimmage is self-paced. The requirements are your own.

The only formal hierarchy is me, the self-styled “Principal Companion,” actually the monitor of the group and the main person doing most of the work on this site.

In the near future, once the group shows signs of stability and growth, I will offer two levels of formal membership: Aspirant and Companion. The Aspirant is a candidate who has identified a sincere calling to companion others in developing their spirituality. The Companion is the person who has achieved a certain level of competence in companioning through personal discipline and involvement.

Initially, there is no commitment other than the personal commitment you make to yourself and to those with whom you have a relationship to follow the Simple Rule of the Companions of St Silouan Athonite. As the Companion community matures, we may ask for volunteer support or offer specific products for generating funds. Those products will be subject to the Community’s approval, basically all full Companions will have a say in what is offered and what is done.

At some point in time, again as the Community grows and matures, it would be great if we could have a Companions retreat once a year at locations offering retreat accommodations and meeting facilities.

The organization will be very loosely structured: Most of the site will be public access. That means that announcements, reflections, etc. will be public access.

Anyone interested in more intense involvement will be asked to “Follow” the site by signing up with their real name and their email. This means only that the moderator, I, will see who you are and know our email. You will receive an email automatically notifying you whenever a new item is posted. You can do the same for comments.

At some time in the near future, I will post an application form on this site. If anyone wishes to become an Aspirant they will fill out the form and email it to me.

To become a full Companion, you will fill out the same form but only after 6 months of Aspirancy, include an essay about your spirituality and the importance of being a Companion, and you will document your spiritual activities, retreats, spiritual direction, etc.

A full Companion will receive a letter of good standing and a Certificate of Companionship, both of which will have only sentimental value.

Very soon I will create a suitable “habit” for Companions. The habit will be a small item identifying the wearer as a Companion. It will likely be a lapel pin or similar item. Cost will be kept low, since the value of the habit is to be kept intrinsic and the habit itself is to be kept very humble.

Since most everything will be done digitally and the material for reflections etc. will come directly from my own resources or from material I’m reviewing at the time and find suitable for the Companions, no real overheads will be generated. As for the habit, the Companion will purchase that directly from the manufacturer.

I may from time to time suggest certain devotional items such as prayer ropes and the like or items to enhance sensual aspects of the spiritual practice. If I do so, I will also provide links to suppliers of such items. I do not have any financial interest in any of these suppliers but if one were to come about, I would announce that fact publicly to the Community.

Aspirants and Companions are accountable to themselves. If you misrepresent something you do your conscience is your judge, no one else.

Finally, all I ask is if you are seriously interested in becoming a participating member of the group that you contribute to the reflections or to the feedback about reflections. The only requirements are that you remain on topic, leave egos outside, and don’t bring any personal baggage on board. No proselytizing and not judgmentalism.

In closing, I do sincerely welcome your comments, recommendations, suggestions, even criticisms of me and only me. Comments should be made using the comments form on each post; they will be moderated and then published. If you don’t want what you write to be public please email me your thoughts to st.silouan.companions@gmail.com. Your email communications will be confidential and I now notify anyone concerned that I invoke clergy privilege should any law enforcement agency request insight into the emails. When I say confidential, I mean confidential.

As always, I am available at st.silouan.companions@gmail.com should you have any questions or concerns.

To view the Simple Rule of the Companions of St Silouan click here.

Looking forward to exploring the beauty and mystery of spirituality with you,

Peace and joy!
Rev. Ch. Harold Vadney BA, [MA], MDiv.
Principal Companion


Do our funeral homes provide only customer service or human service?


An Op-Ed Republished with Permission

We might ask the same question as regards our faith communities and so-called pastors.


As a provider of psychospiritual care to the bereaved, as a professional bereavement chaplain, theologian and thanatologist, I firmly believe that some things just have to be delivered locally and face-to-face; these include sex, making friends, spiritual care, funeralization services. Not necessarily in that order or priority ranking.


Grief work is not achieved in three days nor with an online consult. That’s purely and simply idiotic.

The saying goes thus: “Death is the great equalizer.” We are all equal in death. Presidents, kings, supreme court justices, movie stars, athletes all die, all decay, all go the same way as the homeless man on the corner. But would you think of direct burial or direct cremation for a president, a queen, Mohammed Ali? So why skimp on grandpa? We celebrate the deceased’s achievements in life, not the fact of his or her being dead. And we do it with pomp, ceremony, rites, ritual, tradition, dignity and respect. Virtual mourning is none of the above and the grief work is not achieved in three days nor with an online consult. That’s purely and simply idiotic.

Furthermore, a death is a social, political and community event. The emotions involved in the acute grief experience are far too complex and idiosyncratic to be amenable to one method, one technology, one dose. As a social, political and community event death care requires real community involvement, hands on, and that means a local group understanding the local cultures, a “neighborhood,” if you prefer. This is a physical community, complex, deep, involved, alive; not a virtual make-believe, conjured up community.

One more thing: We have to stop giving Jessica Mitford and her estate post-mortem kudos for a book and a sequel book that was not only self-serving and conflicted in its interests, but a masterpiece of biased muckraking appealing to the titillation lust of the masses and their denial of death anxieties. Mitford couldn’t attack Death itself nor could or would she attempt to attack institutionalized religion, so she went after the next best thing, the funeral services industry. I’ve cited Mitford several times on my various blogs so I won’t waste bytes on her here.

I place Mitford in the same category as Kübler-Ross in that neither of them can claim any objective or scientific credibility but their main contribution to Western, particularly American society, was to get people talking about death and deathcare services. That, my friends, was a big step in a society frozen in preadolescent fascinations, psychosocial pathological denial, anxiety and narcissism, steeped in materialist humanism and addicted to corporate-fed consumerism.

It’s progressively gotten worse with the public health problem of Internet Addiction Disorder and the pathological subset, Facebook Addiction Disorder, and the emergence of the multistate funeral services groups like Newcomer Funeral Services Group, Service Corporation International and their alter ego Dignity Memorial, and StoneMor, who have all added greed and indifference to the corporate mix of tastelessness and deception of the consumer public. and their dead Again, I’ve commented extensively on these ghouls of the funeral services niche so I won’t waste time or words on them here.

Newcomer, SCI/Dignity Memorial, StoneMor
Ghouls of Corporate Death Services

They want your money not your brains!

Like it or not, death is inevitable for every mortal creature from cockroaches to presidents and kings. No matter how you define or think about it, you will have to some day deal with death so get a grip. How you deal with the death of a significant other in your life, whether that loved one is a pet or a parent or a child–or your own death is a matter of what I will term befriending death. No, I don’t mean the superficial, make believe, virtual “befriending” most of you are addicted to on Facebook and other social media. I mean the kind of be-friending that involves learning about, nurturing an intimacy with, even trusting, welcoming into your world, and frequent contact. Being at ease with, acknowledging, being aware of death is key. That may sound a bit bizarre so let me explain.

Technology has evolved faster than we as human beings have done. We lag far behind technology in our understanding of it and our ability to wisely and prudently steward it. In fact, technology has overrun us and has taken over our lives; this can’t be denied. This fact has been used to the level of Dr Strangelove proportions by corporations and big business, and even by individuals with pathological ambitions like Donald Trump on Twitter and Mark Zuckerberg with the Facebook phenomenon. The medical, psychological and ethics journals are full of reports on the so-called Internet Addiction Disorder, which was described back in the 90’s, and now there’s a subset of that disorder termed the Facebook Addiction Disorder and the Internet Gaming Disorder, which all share the same symptoms as alcoholism and street drug addiction like heroin or the like. Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it, just go to Pubmed and plug in a couple search terms and you’ll get all the proof you’ll ever need of this fact.


Editor’s note: For those of you who are not familiar with Pubmed, it is the database and search engine maintained by the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM) at the National Institutes of Health; it provides access primarily to the MEDLINE database of references and abstracts on life sciences and biomedical topics. (Access Pubmed here. )


You have to admit you have a problem when you need Facebook to help you grieve!

The stimulus for this editorial, however, is not Newcomers or SCI. Nor is it Twitter or Facebook. The funeral service corporations and the social media and networking evils do figure in the theme of this communication, however.
If presidents and perverts have discovered social networking and social media, neither of which are social in the benevolent meaning of the word but serve a more sinister, asocial purpose of getting people hooked and then controlling them, just as the word “service” is used deceptively when used in conjunction with such greed mills as Newcomers or Service Corporation International.
The stimulus for this commentary is, in fact, an article that appeared in Forbes online, “Customer Service In Deathcare: How The Funeral Home Industry Cares For The Living” (contributed by Micah Solomon, MAY 26, 2017).—

Mr Solomon describes himself as a “customer service consultant” and “consumer trends expert,” — he doesn’t say how he got those credentials, though — catchy phrases but a bit too catchy to inspire any confidence or credibility. I’m a bit at a loss not at the What? but at the How? when Mr Solomon then goes on to say:

While some of my own work with the death care industry as a customer service consultant and consumer trends expert has been on innovation in the deathcare customer experience (methods for serving today’s far-flung bereaved customers by using connectivity, videoconferencing, and recording technologies to allow them to take part in memorial/celebration of life service) most of the work I do in this industry and that matters the most, in my opinion, is simply aimed at improving the customer experience, which, of course, is for the living.

Likewise unclear is Solomon’s terminology “far-flung bereaved customers” and “connectivity, videoconferencing, and recording technologies” to involve them in the “memorial/celebration of life service“. Maybe it’s Mr Solomon’s sense of compassion that is represented by his use of the term “far-flung” to describe the unfortunate mourners who are separated by distance from the event. Describing the bereaved as “customers” further chills the atmosphere he’s creating. Technical jargon like “connectivity, videoconferencing, and recording technologies” somehow put a damper on my sense that this guy has any clue about the nature of bereavement, acute grief, mourning, tradition, spirituality, cultural sensitivity, or even the characteristics of the vocation of funeral director. I’m therefore at something of a loss how he, with his frigid and disconnected technospeak, can improve the customer experience! This he leaves to the funeral directors he’s interviewing. Wisely so.

But even more poignant ar the three phrases caught my attention in that unimaginitive and deceptive title: “customer service,” “deathcare,” “funeral home industry.”

We alone, as moral agents and social actors, are responsible for what we do and how we do it

Inserting a bit of Kantian deontology that I’d like you to keep in the back of your mind while reading this, I’d like to say that we are not measured by what the other guy or gal does, but by what we do; we alone, as moral agents and social actors, are responsible for what we do and how we do it. It’s the quality of our values, morals and ethics that govern our behavior. As moral free agents we alone are responsible for what standards are used to guide our conduct.This applies not only to our inner forum, our conscience and how it guides us, but to the external forum, the community in which we live, work, and may disinterestedly interact.

Human service becomes “customer” service when an goods or services transaction forms the basis of the interaction

Customer service is at its most basic human service, service to human beings, human interaction, relationship building. By human services, I mean a broad range of interdisciplinary services whose commitment is jointly and individually to improve the overall quality of life in diverse populations through guidance in meeting basic human needs and support remediating real or perceived social challenges.  Human service becomes “customer” service when a goods or services transaction forms the basis of the interaction but it is still a subset of human services. Accordingly, customer service cannot separate itself from the humane aspect, the relationship aspect of its nature. The problem I have with the Forbes article is that, true to the materialist consumerist interests of Forbes, the article defines customer service purely in terms of selling and purchasing relationships but in the context of the so-called, malapropism, funeral service industry. Customer service must be human service, especially in the funeral services professions. Human service and hence customer service in this framework is near impossible on a corporate or industrial scale for reasons I’d be happy to substantiate in another article, if required.

Try doing this on Facebook or in cyberspace!

The second term that raised my suspicions is “deathcare.” We can defined death care as the care given to the dead or as post-mortem care. This would involve respectful and dignified custodianship and preparation of the dead body for whatever funeralization rites and rituals are appropriate as defined by the deceased individual during his or her life or as requested by the survivors. We must not oversimplify deathcare with the deathcare services businesses and industries that commonly provide services related to the dead body and death traditions, that is, preparation of the dead body (removal, embalming, cosmetology, etc.), funeral rituals, disposal (burial, cremation, etc.), and memorialization. The deathcare business includes for example funeral homes and their operations, including transporation services; containers like caskets, coffins, urns; accelerated decomposition services such as alkaline hydrolysis, cremation, etc.; cemeteries and burial plots, and headstones, markers, etc. What we most neglect in the discussion of deathcare services is psychospiritual care, and here we must include the professional bereavement chaplain and some but not most clergy.

The phrase that most raised my hackles is “funeral home industry.” First of all, the funeral home is not an industry. It may operate like a business but it is a professional operation requiring very specific training and licensure in most places. Most states require a trained and licensed funeral director to at least oversee the operations of a funeral home. The term “funeral home industry” is grossly misleading and deceptive because it creates an image of the traditional funeral home with all of its warmth and amenities together with the dignified and compassionate professional funeral director at its helm. Nothing could be farther from the truth if one looks at the funeral services industry, the more correct designation for the funeral services groups and corporations such as Newcomer Funeral Services Group, Service Corporation International (Dignity Memorial) or StoneMor, who operate more like waste disposal business than funeral homes. Remember corporations operate according to policies, procedures, protocols and most of all the bottom line and shareholder satisfaction. No room here for stuff like compassion, empathy, much less “human service”.

Their focus is twofold: dignified care of the dead and compassionate care of the living.

The traditional, community funeral home is a hub of interdisciplinary teamwork.

The role of the funeral services provider, more accurately the funeral services team, is just that: to provide human services. Those human services are provided by a team of specialists that range from the funeral home cleaning and maintenance person(s), to the housekeeper, the groundskeeper, the funeral home assistants, the behind the scenes professionals (the cosmetologist, the hair stylist, the embalmer), to the front of house staff (the assistants, the funeral director(s)), to the psychospiritual care provider (the funeral home chaplain or associated clergyperson). Their focus is twofold: dignified care of the dead and compassionate care of the living. The human services aspect persists far beyond the care provided with the first call, the removal, the arrangements conference, the chaplain visit and consultation, the visitation or the funeral; what happens at any of these milestones significantly affects the survivors during, immediately after the services, and well into the future, perhaps for years. That’s what the funeral services industry, the large groups, the corporations can’t provide but what the local family-owned funeral home pride themselves in: the human side of funeral services. So be clear on this point: once you start talking “industry” you are not talking “human”. Period.

So far I’ve taken issue only with three phrases that occur in the title of the article alone. But what about the remainder of the so-called article at issue? Well, there’s not much to say about it because the bulk of it is made up of questions put to three selected funeral directors and their responses. Their responses are totally acceptable in terms of the language, and to be honest I can’t find much with which I’d tend to disagree. The funeral directors seem to have their acts in order and say the right things. They are in a highly competitive business and have to be realistic, not necessarily traditional. Read into that what you like.

It should be clear by this point that I do not advocate virtual or technological or corporate solutions to anything as profound as the death experience or any occurrence of acute traumatic bereavement. Electronic signals, bits and bytes, virtual compassion just do not and cannot replace the warmth of human spirit, the compassionate embrace of a friend or loved one, the immediacy of the death experience, the real-ization of the death and its sequellae. The funeral home and its resident and on-call team members are the experts in offering compassion and comfort and no social networking scheme, no corporate disposal package, no virtual event and no DVD can replace the authenticity and true empathic response of face-to-face, human-to-human, verbal and non-verbal communications, the symbols and rituals that give meaning to this most mysterious of life events, death.

… some things just have to be delivered locally and face-to-face; these include sex, making friends, spiritual care, funeralization services.

This is what we do.

The Editor

 


Editor’s Note: Solomon’s self-description reads line a narcissist’s mini-bio: “I’m best known as an author, keynote speaker, consultant, and thought leader in customer service, customer experience, company culture, leadership, hospitality, innovation, entrepreneurship and consumer trends. I travel nationally and worldwide, and home base is metro Seattle. Reach me at 484-343-5881 or micah@micahsolomon.com or http://www.micahsolomon.com” We’ve contacted him for a comment on this editorial.


Acknowledgement: I’d like to extend my special thanks to my colleagues on LinkedIn, Ms Linda Williams M. Ed., M. Th., who describes herself as an Entrepreneur, Virtual Event Planner and Facilitator, Instructional Designer, Educator, Inspirational Speaker”.” Ms Williams describes her business, In-Person Away Virtual Events, as an operation that provides “our clients, their families, and friends with a virtual alternative to come together in an engaging, realistic and meaningful way, as well as host and attend social events, without breaking the bank on travel expenses.” Ms Williams does not advocate virtual resources as a substitute for real presence but only as a valuable alternative affording an opportunity to share where no other viable options are available. I agree.



How Sick is the Church? An Opportunity to Share Your Inputs


Francis: Rebuild My Church

Rebuild my Church

[But not into an art gallery, disco, or brothel!]

By way of introduction, here are a couple of examples from real life, that you may have experienced:


  • PS, a Roman Catholic priest and RCDA tribunal judge, made the revealing and statement in a moment of resenting sarcasm, “They’ll ordain anything these days!” That raises the questions of “Who?” will ordain and Who are the “anything?” But that’s just one example of the many careless and imprudent public statements that are being made by persons in visible and influential positions in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.
  • A Roman Catholic Sister of Saint Joseph (you know, the nuns who seem to have usurped the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany Pastoral Center and most administrative and higher teaching  positions) has a favorite innuendo – filled phrase, “Those men in Rome!” The impression made by such insensitive and indifferent statements on auditors of any persuasion can be devastating.
  • A Roman Catholic priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany claiming to be of Ukrainian origin and liaison to the Orthodox churches, refers publicly to the soon-to-be-canonized Pope John Paul II as the “Polack on see of St Peter.”
  • Women chaplain interns under the tutelage of a Calvinist supervisor at a major Albany, New York, hospital, in a Clinical Pastoral Education (hospital chaplaincy) announce that they are disgruntled Catholics, publicly announce their support for women in the priesthood and criticize the Roman Catholic Church openly and publicly; they are then invited to present talks at the so-called Spring Enrichment.
  • Roman Catholic clergy and male religious cow to that same Calvinist supervisor and are degraded by the non-Catholic, mostly women, chaplaincy staff.
  • Women gatekeepers decide who speaks with the bishop, the pastor, etc., and create an environment of exclusionism.
  • Hungry faithful feel unwelcome in God’s house; unwelcome at His table.
  • A well-educated, highly competent,  man in excellent health applies to the diaconate program of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany. He is initially welcomed but is later called in by the director of deacon formation and told, “I did not notice your age. The deacon program is 6 years and you must be ordained by age 62. That’s the diocesan policy. You will be 64 in six years so we cannot enroll you in the program. Thank you for your interest.” In the meantime, poorly educated, ailing men are welcomed into the program, some drop out because of health or program leadership.
  • A graduate of St Bernard’s School of Ministry and Theology continues a ministry of pastoral and spiritual care to the faithful who are not affiliated with a Roman Catholic parish; the minister practices a Roman Catholic spiritual discipline with a local male religious community. The minister attempts to place an ad in the official Roman Catholic newspaper offering his services in pastoral care, provides the text of the ad, the ad is accepted by the Evangelist, he pays for the ad. Several days later the female editor of the Evangelist contacts he minister and informs him that the ad will not be printed because he is not associated with a parish.
  • A feminist theologian and member of a women’s lay religious community, the Sisters of Saint Joseph, comes under fire for her heterodox writings on the theology of the Trinity; she lectures to the public at the local Sisters of Saint Joseph Provincial House

Rebuild My Church!

Rebuild My Church!

We have over the past several years received a number of communications complaining of problems perceived in at least the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany but which may be reasonably inferred to be endemic in most of the American Catholic Church. We have listed some below, but instead of a bulleted list, we’ve made it into a survey list that our readers can check off and which can be tallied to get some idea of the range and nature of ecclesiological, pastoral, and magisterial problems the Catholic faithful are experiencing in their dioceses.

We’d like to invite our readers to review the following list and to click on the circle preceding a “problem” if you find that you have experienced such a problem.

At the end of the list, you can tell us whether you are Roman Catholic, Protest and, Jewish, or Other, and after that list you can tell us where you live.

This is all anonymous and for information purposes only. You can see the results up to the current date by simply clicking “view results” at the bottom of each poll box.

Thanks very much for your participation in this interesting undertaking.

American-Idolatry

Ecclesial and Pastoral Pathology List

In the list below, simply check off the list items that most correspond to how you feel. If something is not included in the list, you can enter it in the space at the end of the list or leave a comment to express your thoughts.


 

Religious or Faith Affiliation

This is where you can let us know about your faith tradition. It serves two purposes: (1) it informs us of the percentage of RC readers responding, and (2) it informs us of the percentage of non-RC respondents who have some perception of the problem.


 

Ministry Activity

We’d also like to know about your ministry activity. Are you involved as clergy or as a lay minister? What are your perceptions about these problems.


 

Where Are You Located?

We are discussing the situation in the United States but this doesn’t mean that these problems are unique to the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. But it is important for us to know where our respondents are located, and whether the majority of our readers are experiencing these problems in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.


 

Yes, it does come down on the heads of the American bishops; as the saying goes, “The fish rots from the head down.” If the bishops do not recruit to the ranks, the ranks deplete. If the bishops lose the reins of their diocese, the horses run amuck. If the bishops do not take command of the front line troops, they have mutiny on their hands. If the bishops abandon the rudder, the ship of Church runs aground. In the present state of affairs the faithful are angry, confused, depressed, and lost. It’s just such an ecclesiology and pastoral theology at work when Protestant authors note the hemorrhage of the Roman Church and the recourse of the faithful to evangelical, fundamentalist, and Orthodox traditions. The breakdown of Roman ecclesial hierarchical authority has created a festering wound that refuses to heal because it’s not receiving the appropriate attention.

But it’s not only the bishops who are failing us and the Church, its we, too, who as members of that mystical body we call Church, turn our backs on Mater et Magistra, Mother and Teacher, and then point the finger as if we were pure as lilies. Now, during Lent, instead of giving up something, let’s do something. We can start by identifying where the pathology is and then proposing a course of therapy. That’s the whole sense of this survey.

Otherwise, and generally speaking, the Roman Church must return to its origins and principles or it is doomed to mutate into an institution that bears no resemblance to its former self; much is the fault of bishops who have lost control over their dioceses, and much the fault of those who want to be Church but want Church to change according to their parameters. This is a similar situation where some agendas want God to have specific genitalia or be a particular something; in otherwords, anthropomorphizing God, downward theism, if you will. Poor teaching has brought this about; God is pure spirit and doesn’t need a created body! God is perfect and doesn’t need to be made according to creature parameters. God is unmade and cannot be made.

Our culture is overwhelmed by idolatries! Idoltatry is worshipping something created as if it were God. Look around you, what would you give up to be closer to God? If you don’t say everything and anything, then you are an idolater! You are putting something before God or between you and God. In the simplest of terms, that’s idolatry!

But much, too, can be attributed to the ambitions and scandal of those with heterodox agendas acting under the aegis or cover of the Church; these are the most insidious and dangerous pathogens that must be eradicated if the Church and the Tradition is to survive.

 Please leave a comment about this article.

Where are you on this scale?

Where are you on this scale?
Idolatry————————Humility


Smoke of Satan…Again…Still


The Editor of a Widely-read Blog Recently Forwarded to Us a Comment from A Reader. The Reader’s sentiments are so widely shared by many Christians today, that we felt it would be instructive and informative to publish the question and our response here:

Marcus-Allen-Steele-Satan

What are Pastors and their Minions Thinking…
If They’re Thinking!

Tony S. writes:

Thank you for all of your help and understanding with my recent comment about St. Patrick, Ravena.  We have two children 3 and 4 years old.  My wife wanted to bring them up Catholic, but since our encounters with st. Pat’s, we went elsewhere.  It’s a real shame.  I miss the Catholic Church.  That church was not welcoming at all.  A lot of the people you mention in your blog are parishioners there.  It’s a very hypocritical place, in which we did not want any part of.  The Bethlehem Reformed Church has a great Pastor and welcoming and supportive community.  However, being raised Roman Catholic, I still feel like I’m missing something..I am missing the tradition and rituals that the First Reformed Church doesn;t have.   Tony S.

We Respond:

Hi, Tony!
 
The Smallbany blog kindly forwarded your correspondence to me, since I contribute to a number of blogs as contributing editor for faith, spirituality, religion and church. I hope I can be of some support to you and your family.

Regrettably, as you have already experienced, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany has missed the mark in terms of feeding the spiritually hungry and, again regrettably, has turned into a company club with branch lodges, called parishes, throughout its territory. Pastoring is far low on the list of prioritiesl, even though the former bishop Howard Hubbard had the best of intentions, his minions (not soldiers; soldiers follow regulations and orders) had their own agendas. Unfortunately, when the chief pastor gets his information and intelligence from demons, well, the result is demonic.

Church Hierarchy Needs to be Cautious>/big> Satan Lurks Where You Least Expect Him!

Church Hierarchy Needs to be Cautious
Satan Lurks Where You Least Expect Him!

One of the problems was that post-Vatican II priests were a confused lot, having been raised and educated in the Tridentine (pre-Vatican II) tradition and then having to live and work in a radically changed Church. That was compounded by the feminist movement in the cloisters and convents of the women religious institutions; nuns left the schools and hospitals and headed for the board rooms. That’s when all hell broke loose. The rabid nuns took over administration and higher education, filled the corridors of the profit-making arms of the church and left the priests to pound the pavement, some preferred to subject themselves to the bullying of the now secular executive “nuns”. (See our article, “Renegade Nun Lectures in Latham: Nuns Gone Wild!“.)

Nuns Out of Order BIG-TIME!!!

Nuns Out of Order BIG-TIME!!!

Then came the conspiratorial sex-scandals. Statistically the problem was minuscule. Politically and media-wise it was catastrophic. Why the anti-Catholic trend in the scandals? Well, the US has historically been anti-Catholic because the US hates rules (that’s one of the problems with the American Catholic Church). But within the RC Church in America, one way to get a stab at “those men in Rome” by the non-Catholics, the secular nuns (especially), and the scandal-hungry press was to attack the all-male RC priesthood, and demonise a very disciplined, highly-educated (compare with most of the poorly trained Protestant sects), committed, but selective and hence highly vulnerable group. If the nuns and wannabe women in the Roman Catholic Church couldn’t wait and wanted to get a Roman Catholic clerical collar, so the conspiracy goes, the best way to do that is to discredit and disgrace the exclusively male clergy. After all, women, even lesbian women, would never sexually abuse a minor! (But what about the abuse of children by poor parenting, divorce, bullying, gratuitous violence on TV, in the cinema, and let’s not forget the obscene games they now can play, and the electronic toys.)

The Smart Phone: The Ruin of Communication A Tool of Destruction of Youth

The Smart Phone: The Ruin of Communication
A Tool of Destruction of Youth

Many millions of Roman Catholics are very poorly educated and catechised because they, the parents and guardians of the children, have too many other distractions that have priority over religious and spiritual; in other words, moral and ethical education. The decline of the family, profaning of the traditional marriage union, and poor parenting (the rise in individualism and materialism (the woman who must experience motherhood, dropping the infant into the arms of daycare after 3 months so she can get back to her career!), and the commitment only to self (I have a life and I owe it to myself to live it my way.), and the feel-good culture has inflicted deep and serious wounds not only on the Roman Catholic Church as a community, but on our entire culture, as well.

satan inside

These effects are not lost on the so-called pastors of most churches, but most noticeably on traditional churches like the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. Once the bedrock and foundation of ethics and morals that provided a refuge to the suffering and to the marginalised and a safe haven for recuperation for those in the world, the fragmentation and distractions of the culture of pathological ego and individualism that have destroyed the notion of community overall, have corroded faith communities, too.

Is anyon familiar with Genesis 1:27 or Genesis 2:21-23?

Is anyone familiar with Genesis 1:27 or Genesis 2:21-23?

Pastors in politics, pastors preaching politics, online ordinations, the 51% making a mockery of the 49% (in the past two or three decades the number of sitcoms, films, commercials that elevate the American woman at the cost of degrading the American male have come to dominate all aspects of commercials and entertainment!).

Agenda-Vaginas in the Pulpit. In my experience with so-called disgruntled Catholics (as many so-called Catholic women, usually post-menopausal or feminist by persuasion) and women clergy has been unfortunately negative. They have agendas and spirituality takes a minor role. Their vaginas, not the Divine, moves their hearts and minds. They demand roles in society, culture, church, and life that are not provided for in the very Holy Scripture they have professed to preach and to teach! And because of the trust (The word “faith”comes from the Latin word “fides” and means “trust”!) the ignorant members of their congregations put in their church elders and hierarchies, these women must be preaching orthodoxy. Bad choice, people. They are actually preaching heresy or at least heterodoxy!

A Freak with his Minions Why do women priests look so retarded?

A Freak with his Minions
Why do women priests look so retarded?

 So why do you think older priests now have lost resolve, confidence, interest? Why do you think that pastoral and spiritual care has gone to hell in the proverbial hand basket? Why do you think that way back in the 60’s Pope Paul VI made the remark, “The smoke of satan has entered the Church through a small crack.” We smelled the smoke back then, now we have a satanic wildfire consuming the Church, and it seems no one is interested in dialling 911, or if you do, you get put on hold. Ask me, I know!

clay figure child

Just a Clay Figure

It’s up to spiritually thirsting people like you, your wife and your friends to take charge of the situation and ensure that your children and your children’s children have the wherewithal to cope with the world that will inevitably confront them. Think of it this way: Man is created as a hollow clay figure and stays a hollow, clay figure until the day that clay returns to the clay from whence it was formed, UNLESS the potter fills that clay figure with something of value, something to believe in. Whether you think of the Divine as the potter, the parent as the potter, or the Church as the potter, that clay figure needs to be (ful)filled. It needs not only the physical necessities, not only the human necessities that parenting and community provide, but in order to become a contributing, benefacient (benevolent, charitable, altruistic, humanitarian, neighbourly, public-spirited) PERSON (as opposed to a clay figure), it needs to be formed with spirit, beliefs and values that for thousands of years we have called religion. The clay figure needs to have a sense of awe, needs to appreciate a sense of mystery, needs to move away from thinking of itself as the centre of the entire universe and the sole occupant of that universe. The clay figure needs to be filled with faith (trust) and love (charity, humility), in order to have HOPE in the future.
 
Thinking of it in these terms, Tony, you may have a better appreciation of what is going on and how to confront it without becoming apathetic, confused, despairing.
 
As for you search for truly Catholic liturgy, I’m afraid you won’t find it anywhere in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany that I am aware of. You’ll probably have to go to a male religious community (friary or monastery) to find the spirituality that you are seeking in the Liturgy, a Divine Liturgy that still offers mystery and awe without the bells and whistles. A Divine Liturgy that hasn’t yet raised the smoke screen so many of our churches have raised to hide the hypocrisy, the corruption, and the worldliness that has entered through that ever-widening crack along with the smoke of satan.

My recommendation, Tony, would be to visit one of the local Eastern Orthodox churches some Sunday (Greek, Russian, Ukrainian Orthodox) to experience a truly beautiful liturgy (they tend to be longish but if you can sit for 3 hours for a ball game, can’t you do 2 hours for God?). Or, the closest male religious community that I know of in the area is the Saint Anthony of Padua Franciscan Friary in Catskill, New York. A great many Roman Catholics and quite a few Protestants considering conversion to RC attend the Sunday Masses there and the friars have particularly beautiful traditions around the Easter and Christmas seasons.

Russian Orthodox Icon: The Divine Liturgy

Russian Orthodox Icon: The Divine Liturgy

This was supposed to have been a short note but has become an entire article. It’s come so naturally and rings so true that I am going to post it on one of my Church blogs. I hope you don’t mind.
 
Of course, if you have any questions at all, or need any help or recommendations, please contact me directly via a comment to this blog.
 
In the meantime, let’s ask for God’s blessings to give you and your family peace and health in mind, body and spirit.
 
Laudetur Iesus Christus!

We look forward to receiving comments and opinions from our readers. Thank you in advance!

Read our related, topical article Where Have All the Mothers Gone?

Are we spiritually dead?

Are we spiritually dead?


Tedious if Not Platitudinous…On Public Prayer and Poetry


The Local, Regional and National News Is Fast Becoming Tedious If Not Platitudinous. A Sure Sign that Media is Spiritually Exhausted and Intellect-Starved.

boys on fenceJudging from the front page of the some of the local and regional rags as well as the digital table-talk, and from the subject-matter dominating the blather–it’s not news, actually, nor is it journalism, by the way–the tabloid-wannabe-news is fast becoming undisguised infomercials promoting ideological, political, or commercial, that is, they’re local propaganda rags. We’ll look at the latest edition of a local weekly newspaper (the Ravena News Herald of Ravena, New York) to see what we mean at the grassroots level of misinformation.

In a front-page piece commemorating the local Boy and Girl Scouts of America reaffirmatin of faith in God at a meeting in the Roman Catholic Church of St Patrick in Ravena, NY, we read that

“…dozens of community members gathered at St. Patrick’s Church in Ravena to witness the Cub and Boy Scouts of Troop 1067 reaffirm their commitment to reverence, “to be reverent toward God, faithful in his [Ed. note: God’s?] religious duties and to respect the beliefs of others” in accordance with the law of the Scout put forth by the Boy Scouts of America.”

That bit of scurrilous reporting which, if you read the news outside of Ravena-Coeymans, is the epitome of misinformation and hypocrisy, given the BSA’s refusal to stop being a pillar of discrimination, exclusion and hate, where even the federal government has long ago legislated against such practices. I think it’s the part about to “respect the beliefs of others,” that got my attention. But more on that some other time.

But the most glaring first-page gaffe is the caption under the large photo on the first page. More on that below.

Weeblos of Pack 1067 illustrate the deadline sin of gluttony in a skit at the Scouts Own Service on Sunday.(Source:

Weeblos of Pack 1067 illustrate the deadline sin of gluttony in a skit at the Scouts Own Service on Sunday.
(Source: The Ravena News Herald, Vol. 132 No. 52 (February 14, 2013). Photo by Marlene McTigue)

This was followed by a rather lengthy “prayer” read by Brian Searles, BSA troop master, which runs more than 144 words and takes up 2/3 of the first page text. That “prayer” runs along the lines of the Prayer of St Francis of Assisi that starts, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…”

“Dear Lord, bless all those everywhere who contribute to shape the hearts, minds and bodies of young people. Let us remember what they have taught and apply it daily.”

I have some serious questions as to the “what they have been taught,” and if the scout leader is referring to the explicit policy of discrimination and hate espoused, defended, and ipso factotaught” by the Boy Scouts of America espouse with regard to certain groups. The venerable scout master Searles continues:

“When facing deceit and dishonesty, let us be trustworthy. If we see hypocrisy and faithlessness, let us be loyal. Where disregard for others and where materialism prevails, let us be helpful. In an atmosphere of ill manner, let us be courteous. Where some measure manliness in brutality and crudeness, let us be kind. Though law-breaking and rule-scoffing are common, let us be obedient. While others grumble and grouch, let us be cheerful. In an environment blighted by waste and extravagance, let us be thrifty. When confronted with danger and temptation, let us be brave. As we see filth and pollution everywhere, let us be clean. While witnessing impiety and irreligion, let us remember to be reverent. In short, in a world that has for generation after generation lamented the lack of good examples, let us Scouts stand out, grow up and be real adults.”

Clumsy as Mr Searles plagiarized prayer might be, his complaints are quite clear–we all know what he’s talking about, don’t we?

Actually, had Mr Searles simply read the Peace Prayer of St Francis of Assisi, maybe someone in the group would have more completely appreciated the intended prayerfulness of the moment and would have actually attempted to live the admonitions promoted by the holy example of the saint, and centuries later distilled shortly before the First World War into the now popular and familiar verses. (To read and download a copy of the Franciscan Peace Prayer I’ve prepared, click this link: The Story Behind the Peace Prayer of St Francis )

It’s rather ironic, too, that these lofty confessions of what our society and community have come to represent: “deceit and dishonesty,” hypocrisy and faithlessness,” “disregard for others,” “materialism,” “ill manner” ( must admit, I’m at a loss to really understand what that is supposed to mean), “manliness in brutality and crudeness,” “law-breaking and rule-scoffing,” where our neighbors “grumble and grouch,” and in a culture that confronts us daily with “danger and temptation,” where we find “filth and pollution everywhere,” and in our very churches we witness “impiety and irreligion” (irreligion is an interesting word meaning hostility towards religion. I don’t think that’s the problem though.), “lack of good examples.” In a word, doesn’t this sound like the routine in this community, in the local schools, in the  entire country–with few exceptions? And let’s ask ourselves how long the Scouts have been the model of American youth? And where do they go and what do they once they graduate from our schools, move on from the scouts, and enter the mainstream?

The same issue, reports also on the front page, an interview with a local official,  a building inspector, who allegedly advocates, misconstruing a Robert Frost line, that  “Good fences make good neighbors?”  While it’s not really out of character to read that a building inspector might advocate good fences, he also advocates more laws to smooth out relations between citizens and local officials but good relations involves building community not fences, and seeking collaboration and consensus, not compliance with laws.

R. Frost (1874-1963)Probably Turning in his Grave!

R. Frost (1874-1963)
Probably Turning in his Grave!

In a misinformative and pitifully distorted version of both American literature and reality, the idiot reporter, one Bryan Rowzee (reporter with the Ravena News Herald of the Hudson Catskill Newspapers group), in the front-page item, kicks off his item with a quote from Robert Frost’s memorable poem, Mending Wall. But in the true spirit of American journalism, Rowzee prooftexts, misinterprets and so falsifies to his readers the message of the poem, and does so by taking one familiar line out of the context of the whole poem, similar to what’s done business as usual in the American propagandist media.

For starters, the poem is a lament of fences, how walls and fences are something that are unnatural:

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

And throughout the poem Frost questions the necessity for fences and even characterizes the neighbor who builds the fence (in the poem a stone wall) as being

…like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness

In fact, Mr Rowzee, Frost’s poem has nothing good to say about walls or fences; in fact, the entire poem is a statement against walls and fences! Mr, Frost, describes his neighbor likening him to a menacing caveman as he puts a rock into the wall, and repeats, “Good fences makes good neighbors.” So, either Mr Rowzee is trying to be cute and is using the Frost quote in total ignorance of what the poem actually preaches or, Mr Rowzee is being sneaky and using the quote to ridicule the interviewee in the article. Difficult to say unless you read the item in the News Herald, and until you reach the paragraph

“Conrad said the town loves growth and wants growth but needs growth that follows the laws created to help the whole community. He said he hopes that this business and others will benefit from clearer zoning maps and believes this may lessen misunderstandings and strained relationships between community members and town officials.”

The building inspector interviewed in reality has a motley history of contradictions and obstruction; he’s not much different from any other small-minded, small-town, power-drunk petty official. Of course, Mr Conrad, the building inspector,  loves walls and fences, they’re unnatural and intended to isolate and obstruct. He’s been building unethical walls in his community for years, and has gotten very good at it.

Moreover, there’s nothing small-minded, small-town, power-drunk petty official’s like more than passing laws that make them appear more powerful and make their jobs more secure, while at the same time make everyone else’s lives more complicated, and unpleasant, increase the already insufferable red tape and corruption in the area, and offer more opportunities for the small-minded, small-town, power-drunk petty official to do “favors” for special people.

Like so many in our élite, exclusionist community, political, religious groups, our Conrad talks out of both sides of his face

two-facedLike so many in the Ravena-Coeymans élite, the judge, who violates the Code of Judicial Ethics and interprets the law according his own or his party’s (im)morality; the mayor or board member who plays loosey-goosey with public money, the community wife, who runs a close second to her double-talking husband and has a teflon surface with her supporters;  the attorney who places avarice and winning above ethics and justice; the bishop or prelate, who juggles doctrine with politics, and politics comes out on top, to the detriment of credibility, and the list could go on and on, those who cooperate in the sin of others  must by necessity talk out of both sides of their faces, but as a made members of the élite inner circle, they are loyal to the their own corrupt interests and to their godfathers and protectors.

So you can really understand, given the example of our building inspector’s associations, history, cronies, and the mob he hangs out with, we must carefully scrutinize statements like “the town … wants growth but needs growth that follows the laws created to help the whole community. He said he hopes that this business and others will benefit from clearer zoning maps and believes this may lessen misunderstandings and strained relationships between community members and town officials.”

Conrad, the official with a modicum of power and authority,  apparently believes that more laws controlling what residents and neighbors do and “help the community,” and that more laws “will lessen misunderstandings and strained relationships between community members and town officials.” Which side of his mouth is this coming from, I ask?

To all those who share such a perverse world view, the only way that misunderstandings and strained relationships between community members and village/town officials can be lessened is not by creating more laws but by streamlining the administration. This may very well entail eliminating some laws, some positions of authority, and rehabilitating what’s left, an administration that will first of all put an end to the corruption and coercion that has hallmarked communities, government, church for decades through ineffectual governance, poor teaching, and pandering to the vociferous ignorant! It will involve elimination of the money pits and dens of cronies we popularly call our administrative and governing bodies and purging the hypocrites and ignorant from our leadership and who call themselves licit leaders! A thorough re-examination of ourselves and our systems would be the wisest move ever for our communities.

Before you create new laws or bring in new systems, Leaders, there’s a hell of a lot of healing that has to be done to “lessen misunderstandings and strained relationships between community members and town officials.”

Most communities, whether secular or religious, have been hemorrhaging members and resources while being poisoned by the corporations and oppressed by the special-interests, while popular denial and complaisance are feeding and fostering the small-minded, small-town, power-drunk petty officials, who all believe they have their positions for life and can hand them over to their designated heirs. And theyhave all but silenced the democratic process in our communities, both secular and sacred. Clean out and town hall and the pastoral centers completely and maybe the fresher air in the town and diocese, parish, congregation will attract more health conscious entrepreneurs, ministers, leaders, thinkers. To date all that our communities appear to have attracted are corpse flies feeding on the dead and dying communities, businesses, churches. What community organizations and institutions that are left standing after the special-interests and sociopaths have finished are disillutioned, angry, and suspicious of anything that comes out of the town halls or from the chancel!

Officials like our example, Mr Conrad,  haven’t a clue what they’re talking about! Before you create new laws or bring in new systems, Leaders, there’s a hell of a lot of healing that has to be done to “lessen misunderstandings and strained relationships between community members and town officials.” The TRUST and CONFIDENCE in local government and in our Church leadership has to be re-established after decades of a local corrupt machine of indiffernece, impotence, self-interests and special interests have made our entire communities  into a communities of paranoid recluses!

Rather than Building Fences or Proselytizing that “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” or that Laws Lessen Misunderstanding and Heal Strained Relationships, Government, Church  and the Boy Scouts of America–at all levels–Should be Proactively Tearing Down Fences and Building Community in spite of the Hypocrites, Whether Religious, Social, or Political Hypocrites!

The Moment of Truth is NOW!Make Positive Changes Now. Tweak Later.

The Moment of Truth is NOW!
Make Positive Changes Now. Tweak Later.

So back to page 1 of the Ravena News Herald. We can start by not asking God to do what we ourselves are very capable of doing ourselves, if we simply follow the ethical principles taught by the Gospels and especially the Beatitudes (Sermon on the Mount). If you’ve forgotten what they are, find a Bible and read them again, if you ever have read them. The entire law condenses down to, “Love God totally and love your neighbor as you love yourself!”

Careful How You "Pray"!

Careful How You “Pray”!

Misusing prayer to make a political appeal to empty hearts is a sacrilege and involving God in that conspiracy is blasphemy! In the precincts of a Roman Catholic sacred space used for secular purposes, the prayer should either not have been done or the real experts in screwing up prayer should have been invited to invoke the petition to the divine: either the pastor of the Roman Catholic Church of St Patrick in Ravena or the bishop’s minion, the deacon at St Patrick’s. At least the screwed up prayer would have been screwed up professionally. But to have such a “prayer” come from the lips of a representative of an organization that conspicuously and publicly discriminates and offends the dignity of persons, and whose hypocrisy flies in the face of such dignity and of  the community of the Faithful is an affront to fair play and justice.

But certainly, the admonition that can be taken from the scout master’s so-called prayer is the enumeration of the darkness that the speaker finds in the community, society, and the world. But just publicly displaying awareness of those evils, evils that are right outside our doors, is not enough. Solutions are needed but no solutions are offered. That doesn’t work for me at all.

The newspapers at one time played an important educational role–they now churn out chum, crap!

The public media have lost all sense of dignity and continue to fail in their obligations to the people of our communities. Where the public media, the newspapers, played an important role of sharing good information while playing fair, and demanding quality in the information they send out to the public–yes, the newspapers at one time played an important educational role–they now churn out chum, crap! The conspicuous cover photo accompanying the article, “Scouts reaffirm their faith in God in annual service,” regrettably demonstrates this point. In the caption we read: “Weblos of Pack 1067 illustrate the deadline sin of gluttony in a skit at the Scouts Own Service on Sunday.” What is a “deadline sin”? Doesn’t the editor know gluttony (actually intemperance in moral theological terms) is a “deadly sin“? Shame on you!

Poor editing, poor attention to detail, poor reporting substandard education of the still-reading public. But giving reporter Rowzee the benefit of doubt, maybe he was actually writing his article tongue-in-cheek.

And again, the glaring ignorance of Mr Bryan Rowzee and his pitiful misrepresentation of a renowned American poet laureate’s poem, Mending Wall, reveals the deplorable level of teaching the humanities, even important American literature. Rowzee’s gaffe reveals two things at least: the carelessness and indifference of the print media in terms of accuracy and reliability of facts, even well-established facts, and the failure of our education system in teaching our American literary heritage to such an abominable degree that an allegedly “qualified” journalist (a term used very loosely, indeed, in this discussion), one whose prose is made public as if it were credible, doesn’t have an inkling of understanding of what he’s writing about. If Mr Rowzee knew anything of what he was writing about he would have used the line from the Robert Frost poem correctly, and Rowzee would certainly have known better than to have printed the Conrad quote. But giving Rowzee the benefit of doubt, maybe he was doing both tongue-in-cheek. We can only guess!

seek truth

Don’t Believe Everything You’re Fed!
The Editor

If you’d like to read Robert Frost’s poem, Mending Wall, I’m pleased to attache a copy. Just click this link: Mending Wall by Robert Frost.

Special Notice: We make every effort to be truthful, complete, fair, and balanced on this blog; therefore, if you see anything that you know to be false or incorrect, or if you have additional information to clarify any issue, please let us know by e-mailing your information or by leaving a comment. It’s very important to us that we don’t fall into the same category as those whom this blog is intended to expose. Thank you very much in advance for your cooperation and assistance!

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…


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