Sunday, October 5, 2014

Change in Blog Name...

It has been a long time since I last posted on "Chaplain Stuff", and I have been thinking about taking it in a new direction because I need for it to reflect my growth towards what I describe as "post-evangelical".  More importantly, however, I am growing into a more faithful understanding of and commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. 

It is a journey I did not expect, nor did I seek it.  I was perfectly happy being a card-carrying evangelical.  What happened?  I believed the Holy Spirit kicked me in my self-righteous, non-gracious, and judgmental behind.  Over the course of the next several posts I plan to share my unexpected faith journey.  Stay tuned!

Monday, November 1, 2010

All Saints' Day

Forget Halloween! The holy day that really matters is All Saints' Day, observed on November 1. Traditionally All Saints' Day is the day we remember the saints who have made the journey from the Church militant to the Church triumphant. I observe All Saints' Day by thanking God for all the saints who were essential influences in my journey of faith: Mom, Dad, Dr. John Thompson Peters, the Rev. Robert Foster, Dr. Bruce Metzger, Dr. David Willis, Dr. Graham Bardsley, a whole host of Sunday School teachers and youth group leaders, and others.

Today, however, I give honorable mention to two saints who were God's agents in steering me towards health care ministry: Jim Rawlings and Margot Hover. Jim and Margot were my Clinical Pastoral Education supervisors during my chaplain residency at Duke University Medical Center, 1991-1992. It was through their supervisory processes that I clearly experienced God's call to be a health care chaplain.

Thank you Lord for Jim and Margot. Bless them this day. May they realize that they have been very important saints in my life and my faith journey. Amen.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Creation, Evolution, and the Bible

Screwtape has to be happy! I'm surprised he hasn't written a recent letter to Wormwood or some other junior devil, commending the evil diversion of energy by millions of American Christians to defending creation literalism against the straw man of evolution. Energy for evangelism, and energy for biblical justice frittered away in pitting the creation stories of Genesis 1-3 against the theory of evolution.

It is a completely unnecessary conflict that harms the cause of Jesus Christ by alienating many scientists who feel they must choose between empirical science and bogus science (literal creationism).

I think the conflict stems from differing views on the inspiration of Holy Scripture, the Old and New Testaments. We need to ask what is the primary purpose of the Bible. Is the primary purpose of the Christian Scriptures to be the only authoritative explanation of what has been, what is, and what will be, or is to be THE authoritative witness to what God has accomplished and will continue to accomplish in Jesus Christ? From my Presbyterian tradition, I affirm the Scriptures to be the "infallible rule of faith and practice". Are the Scriptures infallible in their description of the human condition? Absolutely! Are they infallible in expressing God's judgement on sin? For sure! Are they infallible in relaying God's messianic promises? I am counting on it! Are they infallible in their testimony to the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? My eternity and the eternity of God's creation depend on it!

Is the Bible intended to be a 21st century science textbook?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Time to Let Go! Some Theological Considerations.

A friend, responding to the original "Time to Let Go!", wondered if some Christians are reluctant to withhold or withdraw advanced life support for dying loved ones because they are concerned as to whether or not their loved one is saved, and allow the loved ones more time to confess faith in Christ. My response is:

From the Reformed/Calvinist perspective, salvation is God's doing and
God's alone. Our confession of Jesus as Lord is only possible because
the Holy Spirit moves our being to make that confession. That does not
diminish our responsibility to have a loving witness to Jesus with
friends, family, and others. But it does take away (from me, anyhow) the
need to cajole, manipulate, and otherwise try and coerce the "right
words" out of those who may not have knowingly confessed Jesus as Lord
and Savior.

In the mid-80's I was serving a Presbyterian Church near Utica. Robin
and I made many trips to Canajoharie to visit her grandmother. Her grandmother was
a nominal Methodist who was quite resistant to our attempts to share the
Lord (including her son's, my father-in-law, witness) and became quite
argumentative in her responses. She was already in her late seventies,
and we were concerned about her spiritual state. I shared this burden
with a friend, an evangelical Episcopal priest. I'll never forget what
he said, "Rich, as much as you and Robin love her grandmother, think
how much more God loves her and wants her to be saved." A great load
was taken off my shoulder. I sensed my role from that time forth was to
love her and pray for her. Her salvation was in God's hands.

I think we can take a cue from a question Abraham posed to God, "Shall
not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" (Gen. 18:25). While the
context is God's judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, I think it is a
question, answered in the affirmative, that can be asked of all of God's
dealings with creation. God does what is right and just. His mercy and
grace are just, and his judgments and decrees are just. We have peace
because God always, without fail, and consistently, speaks and does
rightly. When we realize that Jesus is God's ultimate in doing just, we
need not fear nor be concerned about God's dealings with our loved ones.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Healing v. Cure

As do most chaplains, I pray for healing. Patients and their families expect I will pray for healing, they need me to pray for healing. What I pray for (healing), and what patients might expect could be different. Why?

For many "healing" is synonymous with "cure". When I pray, healing and cure are not synonymous. Christians often turn to Jesus of Nazareth, often described as the "Great Physician", as their model of healing. All four gospels record various healings of Jesus. Jesus' healings do cure physical ailments (e.g. the woman with chronic bleeding). The mistake we make in reading these stories is our tendency to focus on the "cure" and not the wholeness of the healings. One of my favorite stories is in Mark 2, where a paralytic is lowered through a hole in the roof. The first thing Jesus said to the paralytic was, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Then a discussion (or argument) ensued between Jesus and some of the religious leaders over the permissibility of Jesus' action. Finally Jesus commanded, "I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home." And the paralytic stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them.

Where is the healing in this story? Is it in the forgiveness of his sins or in the restoration of the paralytic's walking? It begins with the forgiveness of sins. Could it be the paralytic was so overwhelmed by his sin, having no sense of God's forgiveness, so over-burdened he was no longer able to walk? Forgiven of his sins by the One who would ultimately pay for his sins, he walked again. Psychosomatic illness is no less real than any other illness. The healing through forgiveness led to the cure of the man's paralysis.

Many years ago I learned a lesson on healing from my late father. In 1986 my grandmother was being treated for bladder cancer. She and Grandpa came to central New York to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary with my family. During their time in New York, I arranged for the elders of the church I was serving, to have a time of healing prayers for her. We laid hands on her, anointed her with oil, and prayed for her healing. I was hoping for her cure. Grandma died two years later. We went out to Illinois to attend her memorial service. On the eve of the service, Dad shared with me the true outcome of the healing service my church had for Grandma. He said to me, "Rich, that service of healing brought your grandmother and grandfather into a much closer relationship with God. That was the real healing." I will never forget those words. What a lesson in healing!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Time to Let Go!

A recent study about preferences pertaining to aggressive care at the end of life showed that religious persons (particularly Christians) were more likely to maintain advanced life support on dying patients than non-religious persons. I find this puzzling, but not surprising.

Christians believe that God in Jesus Christ has promised eternal life for those whom God has saved. So why do many Christians hang on to aggressive care when such care becomes burdensome(FOR THE PATIENT!)and futile (no hope for meaningful life)?

There might be several explanations. Some Roman Catholics believe their Church teaches that all life must be preserved at all costs. That is not what Catholic Health Care Directives, as promulgated by the US Conference of Bishops, mandates. A guide from the North Dakota Catholic Conference states, "Death is a beginning, not an end. Death, being conquered by Christ, need not be resisted by any and every means and a person may refuse medical treatment that is extraordinary. A treatment is extraordinary when it offers little or no hope of benefit or cannot be provided without undue burden, expense, or pain.". It is acceptable to allow natural death to occur, as long as the dying person is kept comfortable and their spiritual needs (as well as their loved ones' spiritual needs) are supported.

Many Christians believe in miracle healing. I do too! But miracles are few and far between. I think that is why unusual cures are called "miracles". Most people will age, decline, and die according to predictable, scientifically explained patterns. To keep a dying person "alive" in hopes of a miracle "cure" can lead to a painful, burdensome, and cruel death. Even death row inmates have constitutional guarantees against cruel and unusual punishment. Should we not protect our loved ones from cruel and unusual(unnatural) dying? "O death, where is your sting?" asked St. Paul. Visit your local intensive care unit (or ask an ICU nurse to share some stories) and you will see.

When I am working with families struggling with these issues, I will sometimes remind them of how our forebears died before the advent of respirators, critical medications, and CPR. There was a time when dying was not so institutionalized. Folks died at home in the loving care of their families. Medical advances have been great in helping the living recover meaningful lives. Unfortunately these same advances can be torturously tyrannical when used upon the dying.

God forgive us, for we know not what we do.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Taking Care of Myself!

It sounds strange; a chaplain, an ordained minister, writing a blog about self-care. Many in professional ministry put so much energy into caring for others that they (we!)neglect to take care of them (our)selves. Our nursing colleagues are prone to the same self-neglect. We carry beepers. We respond to cardiopulmonary resuscitation codes, we are present at deaths, we preside at funerals, and we stress-debrief staff.

In order to take care others, chaplains and other ministers need to take care of themselves, and not feel guilty of doing so. Who can be our model? Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus did not succumb to the tyranny of the urgent. When Lazarus became deathly ill he took four days to return to Bethany. Let the pastor or chaplain get away with that one. Jesus also got away from the crowds and disciples to pray and spend time with the Father. He even fell asleep in a fishing boat as it was tossed about by a violent wind storm (Lord, don't you care?). We are not Jesus. As mortal human beings with flawed relationships with God and eachother it is so important we take care of ourselves.

Taking care means exercising spiritual disciplines, enjoying hobbies (Microsoft Flight Simulator), participating in sports (for me it's golf and watching baseball), etc. and not feeling guilty about setting aside the beeper.