Category Archives: New York

Ring out the New; Ring in the Old. Scrap the redefinitions of end-of-life care.

Interfaith Pastoral Care. Just what is it? Interfaith pastoral care is a hard nut to crack when a client actually is interested enough to ask the question., “What is interfaith?”

Is this reality? Even possible? Honestly.[1]

Some have suggested that we change, broaden our terminology to “interbelief” but I don’t really think that changes a thing; in fact, I think it complicates the conversation even more than “interfaith” does. It gets even worse when the innovators come up with a term like “interpath” care. It soon becomes so turbulent that it becomes obfuscating; it becomes an idiotic dialogue of nonsense.

The Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the Archdiocese of Chicago (RC) defines “the difference between ecumenical, interfaith, and interreligious relations”, as follows:

  • “Ecumenical” as “relations and prayer with other Christians”,
  • “Interfaith” as “relations with members of the ‘Abrahamic faiths’ (Jewish and Muslim traditions),” and
  • “Interreligious” as “relations with other religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism”.[2]

[Aside: Some proponents of interfaith whatever have adopted the name “interbelief,” “interpath”; how far do we stretch “interfaith” before it becomes “intercultural”?]

In such places like the Public Religion Research Institute[3], we can examples of the glaring misinformation and mixed messages concocted by “interfaith dialogue” proponents can be found in the short article, “How Religious Affiliation and Attendance Influence Likelihood of Divorce.” [4] Here’s an extract from that article:

“A new study released in the American Journal of Sociology finds that “conservative religious beliefs and the social institutions they create, on balance, decrease marital stability.” The study’s authors note that by discouraging pre-marital sex and cohabitation outside of marriage, conservative religious institutions inadvertently increase the likelihood of divorce. However, Professor Charles Stokes, in reviewing the research, notes that couples who are embedded in religious communities tend to have lower divorce rates regardless of their theology.”

Excuse me, but isn’t that a contradiction? Or a glaring error in the American Journal of Sociology when it reports a misinterpretation of the published data. Isn’t the Am Jour Soc a peer-reviewed journal or at least an edited journal? The same article reports:

“In an effort be more inclusive of atheists, the St. Paul Interfaith Network has changed the name of its monthly community meeting to “Inter-belief Conversation Café.” In the Midwest, 2 percent of people identify as atheists.” [my emphasis]

Inclusivism = Universalism = Sentimentalism

Why can’t we just be people of faith and let the atheists be people of unfaith? 

I think that’s pushing the notion of liberal secularism and sentimentalism a.k.a. “inclusivism” right over the edge into oblivion. Forgive me, for I have “ismed” again! In articles appearing on sites with catchy names like, “The Friendly Atheist“, we read lines like: “I’ve heard atheists say something like, Atheism isn’t a faith, so “interfaith” excludes us by definition.” in articles with equally catchy — at least for atheists — titles like, “Minnesota Interfaith Group Changes Its Name to Become More Inclusive of Atheists.” Nothing like letting words and definitions govern your ethics!.[5] Why can’t we just be people of faith and let the atheists be people of unfaith?

We have all became amoral meandering idiots!

So even the atheists are claiming a piece of “interfaith,” though on somewhat shakier grounds, and on condition that you change your group’s name. In articles appearing on sites with catchy names like, “The Friendly Atheist“, and where we read lines like: “I’ve heard atheists say something like, Atheism isn’t a faith, so “interfaith” excludes us by definition.”[6] So what? In articles with equally catchy — at least for atheists — titles like, “Minnesota Interfaith Group Changes Its Name to Become More Inclusive of Atheists“—all 2% of them. Nothing like letting words and definitions govern your ethics! Girls using boys’ toilets, boys using girls’ toilets, women clergy, girl boyscouts. Where does it all end? Segregation became diversity; diversity became indiviudalism; we have all became amoral meandering idiots!

And the  St Paul Pioneer Press  while other proponents have proposed the term interpath dialogue. It seems that these groups are making a radical departure from what we know as “faith” to honor impossible inclusiveness while losing all focus and credibility. These groups are making the attempt to include or at least to avoid excluding atheists, agnostics, humanists, and such with no religious faith in traditional terms but who espouse ethical or philosophical credos.

What we now call post-modern or post-Christian might as well be called post-mortem; we can dilute the doctrines and dogmas (Truth) of world faith and belief communities to the point of losing all tradition and with it all sense of identity; we have lost sight of the fact that unity implies otherness and otherness implies identity.

Another example of how the concept of interfaith can derail and alchemically transmutate into a bastard creature of so-called religion-turned-social-program is the  About Interfaith IMPACT of New York State. (We have no idea why the “IMPACT” is uppercase.) According to their website,

“IINYS consists of congregations, clergy and individuals from progressive Protestant, Reform Jewish, Unitarian Universalist and other faith traditions. Together we work for the common good through progressive religious advocacy.  The interfaith Impact of New York State Foundation, Inc. is a charitable organization. Its mission is to Inform and encourage progressive faith based participation in public dialogue.”[7]

One of IINYS’s stated missions is to ensure a separation of Church and state but a closer reading of what their activities include is a direct contradiction of any separation and has nothing to do with any faith with which I am familiar. Key to understanding what interfaith in the IINYS is the word “progressive.” What this means is “secularization,” social “justice” programming (socialism), and is deeply imbedded in “state” (= government) activity and operations. Of course, you won’t find any mainstream faith or belief traditions represented on the “Reform” and “Universalist” board membership, because mainstream faith or belief traditions have clear and unambiguous statutes and doctrines, not an agenda of political activity clothed in smoke and mirror deception, and a blurring of the black letter of the Separation Clause. And that’s just one example of how “interfaith” is being marketed.

IINYS succeeds not only in confusing any coherent impression that the term “interfaith” may have implied by conflating “moral values” with “social programs,” a gaffe that distracts significantly, among other things, from the organization’s alleged principles, which should not come as a surprise given the intimate, almost incestuous relationship IINYS has with the profane state government of New York, itself in a state of disinformation and secular humanist and liberal materialism. Interfaith is equated with unabashed sentimentalism.

IINYS’s case gets even worse: the IINYS actually uses a P.O. box at the New York State Capitol to receive mail! Now that’s what I call Church-state separation.

They’ve pirated the word but killed the concept.

Another example of the perversion of the faith part of “interfaith” would be the Interfaith Medical Center of Brooklyn, New York. The only faith at IMCB would be faith in the idolatry of medical capitalism and market economy. Unfortunately, at this writing IMCB’s mission statement was “under construction.” They’re probably having a real tough time justifying the interfaith part of what appears to be an enterprise healthcare facility attempting to cater to the needs of a multiethnic community. So why not just say so and leave “interfaith” out of the game? Because “interfaith” means nothing but looks really good. Smoke and mirrors. They’ve pirated the word but killed the concept.

One thing is very clear: there has been no peace between human beings since the Tower of Babel because we all are speaking different languages; even when we’re speaking the same language, we don’t understand one another. There’s no need to imagine the catastrophic confusion that comes about when we attempt to use language to define or to discuss the ineffable, the transcendent like the mysteries of life, death or faith or belief in a transcendent state or spirituality. Imagine that when we have such difficulty distinguishing between religion and spirituality at all!

While I personally reject the alleged definitions of “interfaith” anything, I do understand the thought behind it and the problems of rendering “inter-“ anything intelligible to the point of being useful or implementable. Here are a couple that may help us to get our arms around the notion of what really should have stayed under the rubric of “tolerance.”

As a psychospiritual care provider, I have to confront this problem on a regular basis when I have people telling me, “She wasn’t religious at all.” But then they go on to tell me how she believed in God and in an existence after death; where my conversation partner tells me that she, the deceased, is now in heaven with her beloved spouse. Or “We want a spiritual service, not a religious service.” What do you mean spiritual but not religious? Now the great silence starts and I recognize that my dialogue partner doesn’t know what the difference is; in fact, she’s embarrassed and I have to save her now.

This becomes a particularly acute situation when I am facilitating a family conference for arranging a funeral or memorial service. During this conference I have to chop through suspicion, confusion, defensiveness, family secrecies, and so much more to establish a relationship of trust and authenticity in just a few sentences. I have to learn enough about a person, his or her family relationships, community involvements, likes and dislikes, habits and idiosyncrasies, end-of-life circumstances, and I have to do this without traumatizing my conversation partners or offending sometimes unspoken sensitivities. They didn’t each this sort of thing at my seminary institute, and they didn’t help very much in my many hours of Clinical Pastoral Education in a major trauma center, or in the nursing home or in the parish where I did my pastoral formation. My guess is that most of my instructors and mentors didn’t have a clue outside of what they were able to find in somebody’s book on the subject and what we brought to the table ourselves. At this point in my career-vocation, I can see why it’s something that you can’t just each or get from any textbook, because the lessons to be learned are as diverse as the individuals and families we, as pastoral care providers and psychospiritual guides are called to serve.

In fact, having written the term “pastoral care” I even balk at using that term because not all of the sufferers I companion think of themselves as animals, sheep, who require a pastor, a shepherd. Since we are finding ourselves increasingly faced with practically unlettered clients, clients who don’t read and who never were taught reading and writing skills, who tend to communicated in a few syllables or in emoticons, we, too, have had to develop second language skills, so-to-speak, and I don’t mean only in our liturgical, ritual, and Scriptural language, but in the language we use in the professional milieu and that we use in the care-giving milieu. This distinction does not discriminate between the lower socioeconomic or socioethinic groups but applies equally well to the so-called “educated” and techosavvy groups, who are just as language-challenged as a newly arrived immigrant but less likely to admit the importance of learning the language.

Furthermore, in strict terms, I’m not a pastor at all because I don’t have a fixed parish or congregation, so I’m not providing “pastoral” care as such. In fact, there are very few pastors who are called to do what I do and have to do in my vocation. Normally, a pastor has a congregation with whom he, nowadays also she, is in theory expected to be intimately familiar on an individual basis.  But we all know that today, just about every faith and belief community has succumbed to the post-modern sentimental hypocrisy of the happy-clappy social club, insincere hugging orgies, and idiotic grinning clubs we today call congregations. Or, even worse, the entertainment events in the guise of worship now offered by the megachurches springing up all over the place. Well, they’re cheaper than a ticket to a country western concert and the cappuccino at the java bar is pretty good, too, and cheaper than Starbucks. Music’s pretty cool, too. Maybe God will even show up one of these Sundays! Meanwhile, the show of raised armpits, gibberish cries of ecstasy and the Guinness Book of Records breaker show of hairy armpits will go on…and on. Thank you, Vatican II! Thank you, Facebook! Thank you, Beelzebub!

In recent years, I have found that I am providing a form of psychotherapy as well as spiritual guidance, so I more often than not will use the term psychospiritual care provider. It seems to come closer to what I really do, and doesn’t get the discussion bogged down in a quagmire of denominations, faith communities, belief traditions or spiritual path distinctions. Once we get past the icebreaking and the initial disclosure process, we are in a better position to explore religion and spirituality without treading on eggs.

Meanwhile, back in the conference room, we are sitting with the husband, the three daughters and the two sons of a woman recently dead, and we need to put together a chapel service and a graveside interment service the Saturday morning, two days hence. The funeral director has the easy job of prepping and embalming the body, dressing her, and doing her cosmetics, so that she is Barbie-doll presentable in her lovely imitation mahogany eternity capsule. The FD has the easy part, the dead don’t get defensive; they’re good listeners and don’t talk much.

“So, tell me a little about your mom,” or so the conversation starts.  “Well, I don’t really know where to start. What do you think, dad?” Now dad’s in the hot seat and hasn’t got a clue what the question is. So we start over again, this time I’m trying to recall the scanty information that the FD provided during our initial conversation about the case. And so I move on, now in reverse mode: “What kind of service did you have in mind to celebrate your mom’s, your wife’s life?” Here’s where we get right down to the nitty-gritty: religious, spiritual, non-religious/secular, humanistic (no religion). Mr. FD tells me that your mom’s records show that she declared herself to be Roman Catholic. The daughter-in-charge looks a bit dazed, “She did? Was mom Catholic, dad?” Dad puts on a sheepish look, “Yeah. We

both were. We got married in church and we had you kids baptized, too.” One thought rolls over my mind: “OMG! Just let them talk this one out.” Once they are done doing their own interviews, I can interject with, “It seems your mom did have a religious preference and that she had a faith tradition. You may be surprised but I have had situations like this many times where a parent or a grandparent gets so involved with caring for their family, that there’s just no time on Sundays to pack everyone up and march to church, and so the “religion” moves from the church to the heart. That’s not a bad thing. So I’m not surprised that your mom was busy being a good mom and a loving wife, and managed to keep her religion in her heart and worship there. That’s a beautiful thing. Don’t you think?” In unison: “Yeah. You’re right!”

And so we move past that hurdle, and we have something to hold on to. I have a starting point and the family has a very viable option, the service will be a religious service, but not “too” Catholic, because we don’t go to church and the kids won’t sit still through a lot of prayers. The conversation and sharing goes on beautifully from that point on, once a “major” question has been negotiated.

But what about the non-religious, or the so-called “quilted family system,” in which you have a mix of non-believers, and believers including the odd Buddhist, the Jew, the Presbyterian, the Evangelicals, Baptists and the de rigueur generic “Christians?” Is this interfaith, interbelief, or interpath? My categorical answer is: Yes. But it’s likely to be non-religious if it’s any of these.

You see, it’s hypersimplistic to presume to take any collection of denominations or traditions and call it by any name, let alone be crazy enough to think that you can properly address and avoid offending any or all of the traditions in the assembly. To be very honest, there are today so many flavors of Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, Episcopalianism, etc.  Forgive me! for I have ismed.

The truth is that you can provide a service only along the lines of a single tradition – or no tradition — and, if you are not a listener or not well-trained, you run a risk of adoring adulation from some and condemnation as a heretic by others in the same group. The attempt to please all is doomed to please none.

This is because most institutionalized, mainstream denominations simply do not properly train or supervise their clergy – so as not to offend them or in order to allow the clergy to take the odd doctrinal or dogmatic detours to ensure that he or she keeps the pews filled and the collections abundant – so you can go to one service on one Sunday and hear one teaching and the next Sunday go to another worship service and get another take on the Gospel. Neither do the clergy properly and honestly form and educate their constituents; that’s why Christians are so diverse and so critical of and cruel to one another, while preaching some sort of love. Most tend to go where you have a preacher who says what they want to hear; once-a-week worship becomes a happy-clappy hypocritical quest for affirmation and acknowledgement. Orthodox doctrine is a thing of the past; institutionalized religion, the mainstream religions, like any institution are self-serving and self-preserving; it’s a market economy with hymns and incense. It’s ice-cream religion, vanilla or any flavor you’d like.

Meanwhile back at the funeral home, we’re just finishing up and have decided on a chapel service that will be based on the Rite of Christian Burial that will include Roman Catholic liturgical elements, even candles, holy water and incense, but will include some secular poetry readings, and a couple of “Protestant” hymns. The graveside service will be prayerful, moving and tearful. The family’s happy, the FD is over the moon, and I have my doubts.

On the way back to my office I’m pondering, “How am I going to pull this off, and still be able to have dinner with myself again?” That may have been a reason for considering self-harm years ago but today it’s just a pro forma start to “designing” a custom and personalized service we now call the “Celebration of Life,” rather than a funeral ritual.

It’s here that years of study, continuing education, lots of extradisciplinary study, interpersonal skills, creativity, and a lot of help from something I refer to as the Holy Spirit gets us all over the hump rather than in the dump.

In ministering to suffering in general and to those confronting an end-of-life process, death, and the rite of passage from ante-mortem to post-mortem life, we are forced to recognize the indisputable fact that suffering if anything,  while being a common thread running through all of humankind, is inextricably individual; the pain of bereavement is totally one’s own experience, each individual experiences it differently, and any attempt to provide an “inter-anything” type of psychospiritual care is a deplorable fake.

At some time after our birth we are presented to the community in a rite of passage ritual called “naming;” naming explicitly announces to the cosmos that here we have an individual, an “other,” who, for the purposes of distinction shall be called “Baby Doe.” Different cultures will ascribe different duties and responsibilities and different degrees of separateness of the new member but that new member is almost universally recognized as an “other.” Accordingly, the cookie-cutter funeralization rites and rituals of various faith and belief traditions, while they may at one point or another recognize the individual by mentioning his or her name, the overall presumption is that the departed one has indeed departed the community and, upon final disposition of the mortal remains, is no longer. Thank you, Dr Freud!

But this is as far from health reality as we can get. We have to reach back into our own history and bring back the family involvement, the maintenance of important connections with our dead; we have to learn from other traditions how to continue those bonds and how to grow with them.

A clergyperson who doesn’t hone the importance of acknowledging the “other,” the named one, the uniqueness of the deceased, and who doesn’t include the family to the maximum extent possible in the rites of funeralization, is shortchanging the deceased and the mourners! Continuing bonds with the dead is an intimate, personal necessity and not one in which church or community should be dominant; the annual memorial mass is one example of superficiality and ecclesial control. By far more effective is to light a candle at a holiday gathering or to light a candle on a special occasion, honoring the presence and memory of a dead loved one, or even the community of dead loved ones. Perhaps even observing a moment of silent reflection when the family gathers.

The Agape Meal

The early Church started in private homes in the family circle; for centuries it continued and evolved in the warmth and intimacy of private homes, the early house churches; this had less to do with persecution than with the Jewish Sabbath tradition and the primordial agapé meal! But then, the early organizers got together to set the rules and to enforce some control over the various “churches” as they were called in the different faith communities. Gradually, faith moved out of the family circle, out of the home, into the community assembly space, out of the core of the individual human being, until today, it has practically moved out completely. The lights are on but nobody’s home. We are the janitors of the soul, the concierges of the refuge; when we get the call, we prepare the place.

Faith, religious belief, spirituality still maintains an address in the human soul and still receives mail there; our job as clergy, ministers, chaplains, psychospiritual care providers have to keep that abode open, accessible and welcoming for the time when the prodigal has to return, open the mail, and pay the bills. All suffering, all grief, all healing, all transformation is addressed personally to the individual; all care has to do the same: it must be individual, or at least the individual must be provided with the tools so that they can do the DIY repair and maintenance.

Creating new labels for negligence or indifference or continuing cookie-cutter rituals is an affront to any concept of ministry, to any concept of community. We need to stop being narcissistically creative and start being humbly serving.

If we are going to allow any notion of “inter” to enter our lives, our praxis, our ministries, and from there into the lives of those who look to us for guidance, we are going to have to recognize and accept the fact that our churches, our faith and belief communities have become institutions and, like any profane or secular institution are governed by self-interest and self-preservation, all else playing a lesser role.  As a psychospiritual care provider it is my duty and obligation first to be tolerant and to recognize that it is arrogant to claim and impossible to be “interfaith,” “interreligious,” “interpath,” “interbelief,” and to claim to be any of these is to announce being nothing at all. Best to be wholly tolerant and wholly compliant with the explicit wishes of the deceased but even more so with those of the living, obviously, and to be guided by good and prudent discernment of the content of the sharing during the family conference.

The rites and rituals of funeralization should transform the dead into fonts of meaningful legacy and provide the living with psychospiritual nourishment and the opportunity for growth; this requires deep listening, sensitivity, creativity, humility, compassion, and patience. Ours is a vocation, not a job, that’s why the FD or some funeral home dilettante should not, must not be put in the position of providing psychospiritual care as a funeral or memorial officiant. Doing so simply makes the statement either that the funeral director or the funeral home does not know its limitations or boundaries, or that they simply are indifferent to the harm they can do by providing care outside of their competence, or both. Offering quick fixes like direct burial or direct cremation are careless and insensitive alternatives to providing the care and attention necessary for healing grief work and transformational mourning; even direct disposition services should offer, promote and encourage the services of a professional bereavement chaplain, even if it’s only to meet with the survivors in an informal environment and simply chat; the chaplain will know how to steer the sharing.

Epilogue

It’s astounding how few FDs actually make it a point to offer or even mention chaplain services. It’s even more disappointing to have to admit that most clergy never have a pre-funeral or pre-memorial meeting with the family to discuss the rites and rituals and why things are being done a certain way. Even fewer enlist the family’s participation in the actual service. This is a travesty of deathcare services both by the FD and by so called clergy. We owe the dead, the bereaved, mourners in general better treatment than this, especially if we are receiving a fee or a stipend to provide psychospiritual care!

In this article I have used the word sentimental and its derivatives but have not really defined it as I am using it. I owe you, my patient reader, the fairness of a definition. Sentimentality is fooling yourself into thinking there are easy answers. Sentimentality gives free rein to rank simplification, excessive feeling, particularly emotions, that have no place in actuality Sentimentality is a form of defense, a self-deception just like denial, and is used in order to avoid acknowledging more painful emotions, particularly anger, shame or guilt. So what would I propose to you as the opposite of sentimentality? My reasoned suggestion of an antonym for the term “sentimentality” would be “mature realism.” Mature realism Mature realism steering clear of cheap idealization just as we would steer clear of cheap grace; such realism requires the courage to examine the good and bad of everything, and further demands that we to search beyond the superficiality of our own emotions, motives and those of others that mislead us to think that there are easy answers to complex problems.[8]

Rev. Ch. Harold Vadney MDiv
Bereavement Chaplain/Thanatologist

 


[1]DAVOS-KLOSTERS/SWITZERLAND, 30JAN09 – Lord Carey of Clifton (VLTR), Archbishop of Canterbury (1991-2002), United Kingdom, Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, United Kingdom, Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jim Wallis, Editor-in-Chief and Chief Executive Officer, Sojournes, USA, , captured at the press conference ‘Religious leaders call for the peace in the middle east’ at the Annual Meeting 2009 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 30, 2009. ©World Economic Forum. swiss-image.ch/Photo by Andy Mettler.
[2] Source: Archdiocese of Chicago (http://legacy.archchicago.org/departments/ecumenical/Relations.htm, last accessed on October 22, 2017)

[3] The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) describes itself as “”… a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life…PRRI’s mission is to help journalists, opinion leaders, scholars, clergy, and the general public better understand debates on public policy issues and the role of religion and values in American public life by conducting high quality public opinion surveys and qualitative research”

[4] “How Religious Affiliation and Attendance Influence Likelihood of Divorce.” (https://web.archive.org/web/20160202185558/http://publicreligion.org/2014/07/the-morning-buzz-how-religious-affiliation-and-attendance-influence-likelihood-of-divorce/ last accessed on October 24, 2017)

[5] “Minnesota Interfaith Group Changes Its Name to Become More Inclusive of Atheists” (

[6] “St. Paul’s atheists are coming out of the closet” (http://legacy.archchicago.org/departments/ecumenical/Relations.htm, last accessed on October 24, 2017).

[7] Interfaith IMPACT of New York State (www.interfaithimpactnys.org, last accessed on October 24, 2017).

[8] I would strongly recommend the book Faking It by Digby Anderson. In that 1998 book Anderson and contributors present a scathing assessment of sentimentality in most of today’s institutions of modern culture. (Anderson, D., P. Mullen, Faking it:  (1998) The sentimentalization of modern society. London: St Edmundsbury Press.)

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A Repost of An Important Lesson!

This just in: An Albany, NY, resident witnesses the Albany Police Department in action. The resident was so irked that s/he sent in this story for publication. We think it’s worth the space and want to share it with our readers.


Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article with permission from the Smalbany blog because there is a great deal to be learned from this person’s observations. We preach that we must see Christ or the Buddha or the Divine something in our brethren and then proceed to abuse them. We teach human dignity and social justice and then crap all over the doctrines. Why is that? We have to ask ourselves some very tough questions after reading this report. The nagging question is this: Will we have the courage to admit the unpleasant truths and change our hearts? (I’ve done some minor editing but not much.)


Keystone Cops Gang-Pursue a Homeless Man and Expose Motorists to Unnecessary Danger

While a gang of Albany cops pursued a sole black man, they put motorists at risk of an accident by unlawfully and carelessly parking an Albany Police Department patrol car No. 117 kitty-corner on the main drag New Scotland Avenue. When advised by a citizen that it was parked dangerously with no signal or warning lights, the driver occupant of the patrol car ignored the citizen. Albany’s best in blue. (The photo below was provided by the citizen, and shows the patrol car and another of the three patrol cars responding to an upset homeless 66-year old black man!)

Albany Police Patrol Car No. 117, Parked Dangerously on Corner of New Scotland Avenue with NO LIGHTS!


I am writing this to your blog because I feel you have a real interest in your community and in people. I also believe that if there’s going to be a better world we have to act from the individual on up to the community. Each of us has to tow the mark and stop being like a bunch of liberal drama queens looking for acceptance while losing all self respect.

Today, on Wednesday, September 13, 2017, a little after 5 p.m., I was sitting with a friend in front of the Ale and Oyster on New Scotland Ave., in Albany, NY. (I’m mentioning that because if there is an investigation, the time and location will be important.) It was a beautiful day and we were sitting outside at a table, and had just finished our meal and waiting for the check.

I noticed a slim black man walking down the street towards us and, so prone to stereotypes as our society is, noticed he was carrying the de rigueur large bags, and so judged him to be homeless.  That’s my problem, though. As he was passing, I didn’t avoid his gaze, and he cautiously approached and pulled up a chair. If we had just started our meal I would have been more proactive and asked him to please allow us our privacy. But we were finished and almost ready to leave so what was the big deal.

The man knocked my socks off when he started to speak because Poof! Gone! was the stereotype. He was articulate and well spoken. Very genial and mannerly. It is in my character not to be so dismissing of those less fortunate than myself and we engaged in a very robust and open conversation. He told me he was 66 years old and lived beyond his time; he had a moving story. My partner apparently thought I had gone completely nutz ,because he didn’t say a word and just looked at me, avoiding the man, who noticed and politely commented that he didn’t smile very much and looked like a professor. I had to laugh.

After about 15 minutes, the man, uninvited, got up and said good-bye, without any sort of pitch or gig.

I wished him well and blessings and he left.

About 5 or 10 minutes later, I heard him speaking in a loud voice and saw him exiting a Stewart’s shop just a couple of doors down the street. He had made a complete 180 degree turn in his manner, and being in a profession and trained in human psychology, I wondered how that could have happened. He was obviously very upset.

Long story short, about five minutes later, at about 5:30, I note an Albany Police Department police cruiser racing towards us and making a U-turn, parked at an angle at the opposite corner, and two patrol persons exited, raced towards the Stewart’s shop, and then down the street. Not minutes later two more patrol cars raced to our vicinity and now 3 more cops were in hot pursuit of this skinny black man, with his two bags, and his ironically Law Enforcement cap. I couldn’t believe my eyes!

We lingered to see what was going to happen next, what with the one patrol car posing a hazard to traffic, and five cops in pursuit of a frail black man. As I waited, I became more and more reflexive about the situation, and wondered what I should do.

The waiter returned with the receipt and my guest decided it was time to leave. We got up and I headed for my car but, halfway there, turned around and decided I could not overlook the cops’ irresponsibility at leaving the patrol car parked like that with no warning or signal lights on. It was bound to cause an accident.

So I turned around and headed in the direction in which I observed the cops to have headed, identified one of the occupants of the offending vehicle, a gender ambiguous person of equally ambiguous ethnicity, could have been male or female, Oriental or Hispanic. I waited cautiously until s/he knew I was there and then approached saying, “Don’t you think you should get some lights going on your vehicle. You might have to deal with an accident if you don’t.” Shooting me a contemptuous glare only like a cop can do when confronted by common sense, s/he simply said “OK.” And disappeared around the corner. I started back to my car, and noticed that s/he was standing across the street talking to someone, and hadn’t  even bothered to put any lights on on his/her vehicle. By this time I had had enough of the Keystone-CSI comedic drama, and decided that if I couldn’t assist the unfortunate creature they were after, I would at least point out the indifference of the Albany police to public safety and, risking my own security, openly photographed the patrol car on the corner. I am providing you with that photo.

Judging from the man’s conduct when he was conversing with me at my table, I can only surmise that he had been maltreated in the Stewart’s shop and became indignant. He had his dignity and, when treated with dignity, obviously was gracious and polite. Anyone, including myself, if abused would react and respond appropriately. In this poor man’s case he was stereotyped and apparently didn’t appear to the Stewart’s people, staff and customers, to be worth human dignity. Their answer apparently was to abuse him and then play the victims, calling the police.

This entire scenario irked me for several reasons. The man and I had just discussed the virtues of simplicity and humility, and what it meant to him. I treated him with dignity and respect and he treated me with dignity and grace. The Bible-toting Christians preach that we should see Christ in the least of our brethren; the liberals teach that we are all equal and have human dignity. The problem is that no one practices what they preach.

I saw that paradox first hand today and it affected me deeply; I vowed to make a statement about it.

On another note, most people avoid getting involved, especially when there are police on the scene. They won’t get involved out of fear or some other poor excuse but certainly out of fear for themselves. I chose to get involved if only minimally. I regret that I didn’t get more involved and because of that I feel a bit like a hypocrite (surprisingly, something the man and I had also discussed).

The police claim to be public servants. The mouth the slogan “To serve and protect.” But it doesn’t seem to be true. Here we had a law-abiding citizen drawing a law enforcement person’s attention to a dangerous situation created by the law enforcement person, and the law enforcement person not only ignoring the citizen but further ignored the hazard s/he had created to the motorists having to make the turn onto the street. That was just not right.

Albany mayor Kathy Sheehan is running this year for re-election. As mayor she is the chief law-enforcement officer in the city and the Albany Police Department reports to her and the Common Council. I hope that she and the Acting Police Chief Robert Sears of the Albany Police Department see this letter on your blog, and that an investigation is launched to explore the reasons for this clown show I experienced today.

Is this a complaint? I guess it might be. You decide whether you want to send it in. Right now I’m a bit sour on Albany and the Albany Police.

Thank you!
[Name withheld by request]


This story raises a number questions about what kind of culture we have become, and how much of the great lie we actually live. PC, political correctness, literally a lie, a denial of the obvious. Gender-benders who confuse the hell out of anyone making an honest attempt to identify whether it’s male or female. But even more troubling is the obvious exclusivism, stereotyping, discrimination, unfairness, and inhumanity that we can observe at every level of our society. We have not evolved much from the animals we once were.

We really need to get a grip!

Worse still, we see an example of how the once respectable and admired men and women of law enforcement have become bully careerists. It’s now just a job and I’ll put my time in for this week’s check, and bide my time til retirement and my pension. I’m law enforcement and the law doesn’t apply to me. Whatever I do, I’m immune. Stay out of my way or I’ll hurt your ass.

Luckily there are still some human beings left out there who practice what they preach and who are willing to step forward and try to correct the indecency that floods our world and our lives.

We hope some of you might learn something from this story. We can only hope.

It’s time we started admitting and correcting the unpleasant truths!

The Editor

Like a Wounded Beast…

beast

The Bereaved can be Serenely Grateful or Vicious as a Wounded Beast.

The vast majority of bereaved persons and families, whom I have been blessed and privileged to serve over the years, are serenely grateful for the authenticity, openness, genuine compassion, and care that go into the personalized services I create for them. I consider my professional activities to be more of a vocation, a special calling, than simply a way to make money. A living would be impossible given the time and resources that must go into an effective funeral or memorial service.

Now there’s the new fad, so-called board certification; If all else fails, a certificate will fix it!

I am a professional caregiver. As a professional, I figure that a professional chaplain would have at least a bachelor’s degree, preferably a master’s degree, in a subject like psychology, comparative religion, sociology. The coursework alone for a four-year degree today would probably run something like $40-60,000 at an “average” 4-year college. Unless the chaplain has done studies in religion, comparative religion, psychology of religion, or some theology studies, s/he would be well advised to find a program in religious studies, pastoral studies or theology. Ideally, a master’s degree in one of the study tracks mentioned above would be followed by a couple of units of clinical pastoral education (CPE) in a healthcare facility. Even more ideally, a degree in psychology or sociology plus a degree in theology or divinity would be desirable. Then there’s the continuing professional education in the form of courses, seminars, workshops, webinars, and conferences. None of this comes cheaply; it all costs money. (The final tab for my 3-year graduate studies for the M.Div. was $60,000! And I commuted from home!) Of course, American’s can create a demand ex nihilo: now there’s the new fad, so-called board certification. If all else fails, a certificate will fix it! It’s something the agenda-organizations have cooked up that appeal to the ego of some practitioners, and impresses small minds, like those of human resources departments and the like. My opinion is that if you feel you need to have some organization certify your skills, you’re probably not made of the stuff to be an effective chaplain; you’re too full of yourself and lack self-confidence. You simply don’t have the ‘right stuff.’

A chaplain… is obviously not in it for the money.

But I don’t want to distract you from the point of this article: A chaplain, no matter what his or her speciality, is obviously not in it for the money. And if you’re after kudos and compliments, forget it. Administrators couldn’t care less whether you’re there or you’re not, and would rather just refer you to the “volunteers coordinator” of the facility. Your “best” client may drop you like a hot potato if keeping you means standing up for ethics or principle.

Most of the institutions who really should have a professional chaplain on board don’t. I’m talking about healthcare facilities, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, first-responders, even government departments; you’ll likely find persons who would benefit from the presence and availability of a professional chaplain in most any organization. This is especially true of the funeral home and the funeral service business.

buy-the-bookThe biggest obstacle that the professional chaplain has to overcome when approaching any organization is, of course, ignorance and indifference. Even those institutions in which one would clearly expect to find a professional chaplain — not one of those pablum-puking, whispering, sad-faced, constantly half-grinning, hovering, sorrowful types –, and I don’t mean a social worker (God save us!) but a trained person who has a clear understanding of suffering and does not conflate compassion, empathy and understanding, one who has not been trained in the discipline of so-called “detached concern.” Any chaplain or wannabe chaplain reading this who is not competent in the subject matter of suffering or who cannot distinguish compassion from empathy from detached concern, STOP READING! this article and find a training course!

Ask if the funeral home is still family owned or run by a group.

If you’re looking for an ego boost, don’t look for it in a healthcare or nursing facility. Funeral homes are not much better. Most funeral directors will probably size you up for what you can afford and sell you a tad more. Beware of the corporate funeral homes, those funeral corporations that buy up once family-owned traditional funeral homes, keep the name but run the show. These corporate operations may include 5 or ten funeral homes in a local area, or may be interstate or even international. If your family’s been using a particular local family-owned funeral home,  my best advice is to ask if it’s still family owned or run by a group. Another unfortunate result of the American denial-of-death culture is the funeral factories, large operations with very low prices and running on volume of bodies they can process in a year. If it’s dignity you’re looking for, avoid these places like the plague.

All you have to do is die and they’ll do the rest.

Most of these operations will pick up, process, package, and plant or burn on a budget basis, all credit cards accepted, they’ll to the paperwork. All you have to do is die and they’ll do the rest. That’s how far much of the American funeral service has declined in the United States; the rest of the industrialized world isn’t far behind, either, though they’ve kept some of their self-respect and tradition for the most part.

We discard our sick, our old, and our dead…

But the American way of death hasn’t happened in a vacuum. Funeralization and memorialization of our dead kin has not descended to the present level of discarding dead human bodies as if they were household or hazardous waste. No, indeed. Our pitiable emphasis on the individual, “me” and to hell with you, our fascination with our toys and our aversion to anything that distracts us from our toys, especially death, our own or anyone else’s, has become our new morality. We discard our sick, our old, and our dead with the ease and care with which we discard an old phone or a melon past its prime. It’s a sad but true fact.

The majority of funeral service consumers are simply so deprived of any notion of reality or of tradition…

Who’s to blame for this deplorable state of affairs? Well, to be honest: You are! This is not an accusation intended to offend or to wound but it is true that the majority of funeral service consumers are simply so deprived of any notion of reality or of tradition, that they’ll do anything just to avoid the unpleasant business of facing reality, death, and making it disappear as quickly and cleanly as possible. If the pleasant things in life are to be done without thought or concern as dictated by the popular slogan, “Just do it!” Most bereaved today have their own slogan, “Just make it go away!”

Enter cremation, direct burial, and direct cremation. No fuss, no messy wakes, no distraction from the things you really want to be doing. After all, why be a human being today when you can have the memorial party tomorrow, or the next day, or whenever. No self-respect. How can we expect respect or reverence for the dead when there’s none for the living?

He discusses every detail with the family members and requests a maximum in family participation…

With that prologue, I’d like to launch into a contribution by a veteran bereavement chaplain, who is rather well known for his “beautiful” personalized services. This chaplain really goes over the top in establishing a relationship with the family of the person who has died, putting together a unique service for every case, carefully selecting music and readings, even designing a program or creating a memory token, such as a lapel ribbon, for the grieving family members. He discusses every detail with the family members and requests a maximum in family participation such as by reading, participation in ritual actions, etc. His credentials are outstanding. His motto is, “It’s not about me; it’s about you, the family.” So, you’d think this guy would be in such demand he’d be worn out. You’d think that the families and funeral homes he serves would swoon with gratitude. Well, think again.

Getting back to the featured topic…

I chose the title of this article for a very specific reason. The chaplain I described above recently did a rather exceptional job for an unusual family. The chaplain bent over backwards and went to almost extreme lengths to create a memorable service. He did even did this at extremely short notice, having just returned from a conference, because a very dear funeral director friend had recommended him so highly, and the family was in a very unusual situation. I’m going to give the lite version below using initials instead of names, in order to protect the innocent as well as the guilty.

I limit my practice to bereavement chaplaincy and came highly recommended to the family by the funeral director of a local funeral home client, with whom I have been working for several years. Because of the circumstances, which I’ll outline briefly below, the funeral director couldn’t give many details since the death had occurred suddenly on a Thursday, and, because of medicolegal/forensic formalities associated with the nature of the death, the funeral director would not be able to hold the arrangements conference with the family until that Saturday, but had already informed the family that I would be calling. This meant that the first opportunity for me to physically meet or talk to the family would be late on Saturday. It was really tight because the actual service was to take place on the Monday afternoon. This was further complicated by the fact that I was at a grief and loss conference in Boston when I received the request, and would be returning only on that Friday. Nevertheless, the situation was manageable, given the circumstances.

All things considered, the earliest I could interview the family would be on Sunday, after the arrangements conference. I called the family late on Saturday but the telephone interview wasn’t going very well so I offered to make a housecall that Sunday afternoon, and I met with the family. The young widow, MW, the deceased’s father GW, his aunt CW, and his uncle SM, as well as his young son were all present at the family conference. I asked permission to record the meeting so that I could capture all details without having to take distracting notes. The family agreed and for more almost two hours I collected memories, anecdotes, shared photos, and was able to form a reasonably accurate composite image of the deceased. I was very satisfied with the rapport established with the family and the outcome of the meeting.

Immediately upon returning to my office I set to work designing the program, selecting readings and music, etc. In the process, I provided the family contact person with ongoing inputs and copies of what was designed or selected. In other words, the family was kept very informed and updated throughout the process and was completely aware of what was going on. I received the family’s approvals for everything.

At the family meeting, the aunt, CM, a retired physician, and apparently the one running things, mentioned that the service was under time constraints because some persons had to “catch international flights”. I suggested 45-55 minutes for the entire memorial service, and CM thought that was reasonable and approved.

On the day of the service, I met with the family just before the service briefly describe what was going to be done, to answer any questions, and to give some short instructions to the family members participating in the service. Everything was on track, and the service itself went flawlessly. Even the music was on cue!

After the service, the father of the deceased, who, throughout the entire process was understandably emotional at the loss of his only son, approached me saying, “That was over the top. I want you to have this.” A bit taken by surprise, I didn’t really know what to think about the father’s words, “over the top”, and initially didn’t notice that the father was holding out his hand to me. The father continued, “That was over the top. It was very beautiful. Please take this.” The father was attempting to hand I something, apparently several bills, but I gently refused saying that I ‘had been paid by the funeral home,” and “that wasn’t necessary.” After several polite refusals, it was apparent the father really wanted to express his appreciation, and so I accepted the gift–and later shared it with the funeral home staff.

While preparing to leave, the uncle SM, approached I and handed me a check. Again I attempted to politely refuse the apparent “gift”, and — now with the funeral director at my side — saying that I had been paid by the funeral director, who nodded in agreement. Nevertheless, the uncle pressed the check into my hand saying, “Take this little extra, you must have spent a bundle on the food yesterday.” (On the way to the family’s home, I had stopped to pick up Danish and bagels as a gift for the family!). Again, I accepted the gift and was astonished at the uncle’s generosity — or so I thought — and again shared the gift with the funeral home staff.

The funeral home staff felt that I had earned the signs of appreciation, given the circumstances and short notice and the work that went into the service, but I felt that the success and the family’s satisfaction was the result of the “team’s” efforts, not just my contributions.

Leaving the funeral home, I was approached by several of the mourners who thanked me and complimented me on the service. The deceased’s best friend approached with hand extended and the words, “That was a brilliant service.”

I was overwhelmed by the response and exhausted by the effort but I was grateful that everything had gone so smoothly, and that the family and the funeral home were both very pleased.

That was the serenely grateful chapter of the story.

What happened next was the wounded beast chapter: The next day, I received a call from the uncle, SM, who started out by saying that the family was having some money problems. SM then launched into a diatribe saying “I can’t believe you accepted my check and cashed it! You took money from GW, too!” SM then accused I of “causing his wife, CW, hurt” and of having “left out important details from the service.” Dumbfounded and aghast, I explained that I had included everything requested by the family in the service and still kept it within the agreed time. I also noted that it was not my practice to accept gifts in addition to the honorarium paid by the funeral home but did so only because both the deceased’s father, GW, and he, SM, had pressed me to accept, and even recalled to SM the details of the moment. The conversation deteriorated into abuse by SM and I gently terminated the conversation, saying I would gladly return the gift made by SM.

Because of the bizarre and extraordinary nature of the call, I immediately called the funeral director to advise him of SM’s call. The funeral director was almost speechless and very, very apologetic. He was very supportive and told me that he had not heard from the family, and thought everything had gone excellently. The funeral director apologized profusely for the experience repeated that he had heard nothing from the family.

A day or two later I contacted the funeral director to follow up on SM’s call, and the funeral director confirmed that he had received a call from SM on the day after I reported the call from SM, and that SM was still rather unhappy.

I noted that the deceased’s next of kin was the father, GW, and the father’s sister, CW, apparently took control of the arrangements to take the burden off of the father. SM was aunt’s husband, an uncle by marriage to the deceased, and really had no standing whatsoever to get involved, since his relationship to the deceased was somewhat remote in kinship and legal terms. I and the funeral director had not heard from the widow, the father or even the aunt! I wondered if SM had gotten into trouble with his wife for being generous, and needed an excuse. Certainly, if he was having financial difficulties and had been honest and said so, the entire incident would have taken a different turn, but was he being dishonest and seeking a scapegoat? Whatever! It didn’t matter at this point.

The funeral director and I agreed that I would write a letter regretting SM’s reaction and offering to discuss the concerns privately. In addition, I requested the funeral director to respond to SM in a letter, and to return SM’s gift to him on my behalf. I expressly asked the funeral director not to mention the incident to the rest of the staff, with whom I had shared the gifts, in order not to embarrass them. For me, at least, it wasn’t a matter of money.

Some time later it was revealed that I had self-disclosed by way of simple conversation during one of the breaks in the family meeting that I, too, was involved in an earlier career in similar fields as the aunt, CM, a physician, and the father, GW, a medical device developer. The uncle, SM, was a non – medical department head in a hospital laboratory; all were retired. One of these had done a sort of background check on me and couldn’t verify my disclosures, scant and vague as they were, not to mention the fact that the events went back more than 25 years! SM even went so far as to impugn my religious affiliations (it was actually at this point the I had heard enough and had respectfully terminated the conversation). Enough was enough. The service was flawless and our conclusion was that SM, or his wife, CW, had reconsidered their “generosity” and needed some way to get their money back. Apparently, the best way to do that was to go after the service and me. So what if the grounds were insubstantial and had nothing to do with the service? They alleged having some “cash difficulties” and reconsidered their generosity. Had they simply said they couldn’t afford the gift and would appreciate it if I had returned it, there would have been no problem whatsoever. I did so even without having been asked.

So why all the pretense? Why, after having been so impressed and happy with the service did this family member make a 180 degree turnaround and attack me 24 hours later? Why was it so important to cook up something just to get $150 back that was initially apparently given in gratitude, despite my several refusals, and even when the funeral director was present and confirmed my affirmation that I had been paid? And Why? when handing I the gift, did SM make the remark about the “food” I had brought. That made the story SM had concocted in the attempt to justify his conduct even more bizarre.

I did not have much to say about this except that I was incredibly hurt by the entire incident. I did what was necessary and more, the family and other mourners were clearly delighted, the family participated, the family had shown their appreciation. So Why? I asked, did they feel they had to go to such lengths concocting such a fiction just to recover their gift. What’s more — and in line with my character — I was more concerned for the impression and effect that SM’s conduct would have on the young widow and her impressions. Overall, I felt that SM’s conduct was spurious and inconsiderate; it was insensitive and devoid of any compassion for the immediate family.

I concluded that this was a manifestation of a grief reaction, and chose to reflect on it, journal it, and let it go. At this time the residual effects are not clear, and time will tell whether SM’s conduct will adversely affect my relationship with this or other client funeral homes. The lessons learned are complex and compound, as will be the ramifications of the incident. What I can say is that neither the funeral director nor I have received a response to our letters. Is that the end of the matter?”

Editor’s Commentary

Those of us in pastoral care, and who invest a big part of ourselves in relieving suffering, can commiserate with this chaplain and with the funeral director as well. We can appreciate the chaplain’s concern not for himself but for the funeral director, who also put his heart and soul into serving this family, and most of all for the young widow and her son, now suddenly without a life-partner and without a father! Fortunate indeed are those of us who have not been made to suffer unjustly like this chaplain. But all things considered, we can reflect on the chaplain’s response to our inquiry:

“It had to happen some day. You can’t serve as many families as I do over time and not expect one to really knock your socks off. You can’t do this work and have your head in the clouds and expect to shine in everyone’s eyes. You have the gentle grateful lambs and you have the wounded beasts who lash out at anyone. That’s grief; that’s how some people are. You have to live in hope, not expectation.”

Bravo, Chaplain!

Internet ambush is not uncommon these days…Enter

cybersniper

Those are heroic words now but what if SM’s conduct adversely affects the chaplain’s relationships with client funeral homes or his reputation overall? What if SM went beyond just calling the chaplain and then calling the funeral director? Internet ambush is not uncommon these days and can have a devastating effect on one’s life’s work. But how would the chaplain know? What would he be able to do?

This incident drives home the unfortunate fact that grief can make beasts of even the most refined people. According to our information, the principal characters in this vignette are all professional, well-educated persons. True, they are retired, but given their backgrounds certainly are not impoverished. On further inquiry we learned that they live in a rather upscale suburban neighborhood, travel frequently to Europe, Turkey, where the young man lived with his wife and son. The deceased and his wife and son were here for a reunion of friends, when he unexpectedly died. The aunt had already allegedly announced we are “spiritual but not religious; we believe in God but not organized religion.” That’s a statement we often hear and it’s not a problem. What was important is that they wanted a spiritual service for the deceased. What we didn’t mention in the narrative above was that the wife is Turkish and culturally Muslim. There were, according to the chaplain, a variety of faith traditions in the assembly, including at lease one Orthodox Jew. According to the chaplain, he attempted to respect all faith traditions present, and even opened the service with a Muslim reading accompanied by traditional Turkish flute music. Noting the presence of the Orthodox Jew in the assembly, the chaplain remarked that he on-the-fly edited out of his prayers and homily any direct reference to Jesus Christ or the Trinity, and substituted “Lord” or “God” to keep it within acceptable parameters and inclusive.

We also agree that SM’s conduct was the ultimate in bad taste and totally insensitive. There were apparently a number of family system background issues that could have incited this unusual and unfortunate behavior, and we should all be on alert for any such red flags during the family meeting. Let’s not forget our training in human development and let’s keep in mind that what happens in childhood may have ramifications in adulthood. The chaplain mentioned SM’s childhood experiences in the RC tradition, and his wife, CW, actually referred to him as a “recovering Catholic.” Was there an element of anticlericalism at work? Let’s also not forget that some of our clients have lived a life in the culture of Cartesian dualities, like this family, and we, as helpers, have to recognize their limitations, while responding with biopsychocultural sensitivity and deep spirituality.

Given the information we have on the family system and the background of this family, we cannot discount the possibility of a fractured assumptive worldview, which may have arisen painfully to the conscious level simply in virtue of the narratives that were shared in the course of the family conference. That fractured assumptive worldview may have been aggravated by the composition of the memorial service and its liturgical elements, as well as by the content of the homily, which revisited some of the narratives of the family conference. The fractured assumptive world view compounded by the tangible and intangible (symbolic) losses may have taken SM over the edge, so to speak.

We are sometimes the authors of our own misfortune. This may be the case with the chaplain. First of all, self-disclosure is appropriate only when and if it is for the good of the client. Unless I missed something in the telling, the chaplain self-disclosed inappropriately. His past career had nothing to do with his role as chaplain to this family. In all fairness, though, and emphasizing that the chaplain’s past careers or history had nothing to do with his role as chaplain, the question does arise as to the truth or the motivation of the family in doing what is tantamount to a background check. That sort of behavior under the circumstances is plainly bizarre and certainly raises questions regarding the family’s priorities. If they were so bereaved under the circumstances and given the time constraints in this case, who on earth would have the time or the energy to do any checking? Why? What would be the motivation? How on earth did the focus move so acutely from the deceased to the chaplain? Such behavior is strange to say the least. But, again, the chaplain should have known better not to have self-disclosed. Period.

The chaplain played by the book in most of the encounter.

play_by_the_rulesAnother point I’d like to make regards the axiom that even otherwise rational people can behave irrationally in an irrational situation. We can all agree that the sudden loss of an only son in the prime of his life is traumatic and tragic in human terms. SM, the deceased’s uncle by marriage to  CM, the deceased’s paternal aunt, were childless and according to information provided by the chaplain, had doted on the deceased. With the death of their nephew, and under such conditions we are clearly dealing with an irrational situation and with a family that may not be playing with a full deck. We are constantly teaching that no big decisions should be made in an acute grief situation. Some people should even avoid making small decisions that may run counter to their day-to-day character. Obviously, the chaplain played by the book in most of the encounter. And it’s not uncommon for a family to offer a “little extra” to the officiant when they feel that the job was well done. Under the circumstances, I can’t fault the chaplain because he did refuse the gifts, until it likely became embarrassing to continue to do so. But it wasn’t out of greed, since he proceeded to share the gift with the other staff! While I am not one prone to making excuses, and the chaplain did handle the situation appropriately, whether he felt that the family was genuinely appreciative [and could afford it], that he had put in such an effort he appreciated the recognition, or he was simply too exhausted to put up a bigger fight all can play into the discussion. The bottom line is this: both the father GW and the uncle, SM, felt that the service was well done, even “over the top,” as the father said. The response of the mourners was also very positive. Accordingly, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that the chaplain’s performance or the service was unsatisfactory in any way whatsoever. Given the facts, the comments allegedly made by SM that the service failed in some way is, at best, a ruse.

Bereavement… is irrational and those affected by the death behave irrationally

shizoid1Again, bereavement, especially in an event of untimely death, is irrational and those affected by the death behave irrationally, that’s why our role as level-headed professionals is so important. But if we forget that the bereaved may be irrational in both their thinking and their actions, we are asking for trouble. If we don’t keep in mind that the bereaved can be thinking or acting one way now and do a complete 180 in a New York minute, we are asking for trouble. If we stop expecting the unexpected, we are asking for trouble. Again, the chaplain handled the situation appropriately prima faciae. He could have played tit-for-tat and the situation would have likely become inflammatory, even explosive. Everyone would have suffered. The chaplain responded appropriately. If SM chooses not to acknowledge that or to respond, that’s SM’s choice to burn bridges. If SM hasn’t yet responded it would be unfair to fault him; he may yet respond more sensitively when the time is right.

When a family member attempts to hand me a cash gift after a service…I will usually thank them very graciously for their generosity but decline it.

I personally feel very uncomfortable when a family member attempts to hand me a cash gift after a service. I do realize that they can be very insistent to the point of being embarrassing but I also recognize that it’s their only real way of expressing their gratitude. When it gets to that point I will usually thank them very graciously for their generosity but decline it; instead and in order not to appear arrogant or ungrateful, I tell them that I would really appreciate a card when things simmer down or a letter of appreciation to the funeral home for the service. That usually works, although sometimes the card or the letter never comes. But that’s all right, too. I’ll likely follow up with a card or a letter in a month’s time or at the holidays, anyway.

business-ethics-code-of-conductWe all should adopt a professional code of ethics…and stick to it.

Finally, we all should adopt a professional code of ethics. I use the ADEC code of conduct. As to self-disclosure, I use the APA guidelines. I also recommend that if you are providing services like the chaplain, that you have a personal policy regarding gratuities and either address that during the family conference or ensure that the funeral director mentions that you do not accept gratuities. And if you have a policy, stick to it.

We have to have the awareness and wherewithal to recognize the red flags

No matter how well or how badly the mourners behave, we are not there to judge. If we can’t handle the situation perhaps we shouldn’t be in it. Realistically, we find ourselves in infinitely complex situations, every one of which is unique, and we have to have the skills to cope with each and every one of them if we are to avoid doing ourselves and our clients a disservice. We have to have the awareness and wherewithal to recognize the red flags and to adjust our approach accordingly. We have to be constantly vigilant at all stages of the relationship; we need to identify and respond to very subtle verbal and non-verbal communications. We need to read the symbolic language accurately. My rule of thumb is to hear the question behind every statement and the statement being made with every question. But most of all, be authentic, sincere, gentle, and sensitively compassionate. Whatever you may be or have been in the past, you are in this moment the chaplain. That’s all. So in your chaplaincy be in the moment and make sure it’s all about the family and no one else.

May you all be passed by unnoticed and unwounded by the SM’s of the world; if you happen to cross the path of an SM, follow the example of our chaplain above. Your character will be your best response; SM will likely not be swayed by your wisdom; like a wounded beast he will strike out at the most vulnerable.

Good work, Chaplain, you did well. Learn from the experience and drive on.

Peace and blessings!
Rev. Ch. Harold Vadney
Interfaith Chaplain/Thanatologist

Post scriptum:
The chaplain wrote back to let us know that the funeral director was a true champion in the face of this crisis, and was very supportive of the chaplain. In fact, as a sign of solidarity, the funeral director sent the chaplain this short prayer, which we would like to share with our readers (with the chaplain’s consent):roys-prayer

 

 

 

 

Wounded Helpers: A conversation about death.

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


The experience of a death brings with it a host of emotions including anxiety, loss, sadness, depression, and anger, and many more. You need to talk to someone about these experiences but it has to be someone who is nonjudgmental, who knows how to listen, who has had similar experience and wants to share your pain. We call that person a wounded helper.

heart to heart


When my husband was killed, I felt an overwhelming sense of isolation, anxiety, anger. As I made my way through my daily and weekly routines, I felt weighed down by something I really couldn’t put my finger on it. Then I heard about Thanatology Café and decided to give it a try even though I was never one to sit and share in a discussion group. Now I am amazed by how much I look forward to the monthly two-hour gathering and to the occasional “extraordinary” session when I can sit in a room with others who truly understand are want to hear about what I am going through. We wounded healers have met have become so special to each other and share such strength and support. I don’t feel so alone because I realize others suffer, too, but differently. In this room with our facilitator and my companions, I have the courage to face life and death, to talk about it, to heal, and to laugh again.” [Anonymous]


The quote above describes a very common sentiment, one that you may be experiencing when thinking about joining the Thanatology Café group. The death of someone close to you suddenly and violently changes your life. You are faced with a multitude of emotions all at once, with unpleasant experiences, hard decisions, and unexpected changes that need to be confronted and managed; the unthinkable has to be assimilated into what was once a normal life but is now a life changed forever.

To read, print or download my complete essay, click this link A discussion group_who needs it_handout.

Thanatology Café Rev. Ch. Harold Principal Facilitator

Thanatology Café
Rev. Ch. Harold
Principal Facilitator

As interfaith chaplains, it is becoming increasingly necessary to acknowledge the failures of institutionalized religions as regards the real and existential spiritual needs of their adherents and their conspicuous success in alienating them either by dismissing revered doctrines to court political correctness and decadence, or populating key leadership positions with careerists in lieu or pastors. The role of the interfaith chaplain/spiritual care provider is becoming more and more in demand as and educated public seeks and develops hybrid spiritualities from a plethora of faith and belief systems, making it necessary for the interfaith chaplain to become an interfaith scholar in order to competently and professionally serve the faith-unbound faithful. We are providing in this article an account of the plight of a Brooklyn family trying to find an interfaith chaplain who could competently and compassionately serve them.

It seems that it’s very difficult to find a competent, experienced, professional interfaith officiant in the New York Metropolitan Area. Even the historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn reports that they frequently cannot fill the need for officiants at funerals and memorials.

The beautiful historic chapel at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY

The interior of the Green-Wood Cemetery Chapel. A beautiful venue for a beautiful service.

The family of a victim of violent death was searching in vain for an officiant for the memorial service and ennichement of their loved one and finally found Chaplain Harold Vadney, who initially deviated from protocol to compassionately provide a memorial service program for the family. The family was so impressed with the program and with the service and support they received from Chaplain Harold that they insisted he travel to Brooklyn’s historic Greenwood Cemetery to officiate the memorial service and the ennichement.

Chaplain Harold initially encouraged the family to take some time to think about their request and to consider the cost involved to bring him from Albany, New York, to Brooklyn. The family made their decision: they wanted Chaplain Harold.

Although the family insisted on the chaplain’s comfort when traveling and wanted to bring him in by train, the chaplain suggested rather that he travel by bus at less than a third of the cost of a train ticket and, noting Amtrak’s reputation for unreliability, suggested its was the most reliable mode of transport. Chaplain Harold’s slogan is: “I don’t waste my resources and I won’t waste yours.

Chaplain Harold made the trip and had the privilege of celebrating the memorial service,a special Christian-Muslim hybrid ceremony, and ennichement rites in the beautiful and historic Green-Wood Chapel to the family’s complete satisfaction.

For more information on the beautiful national historic site, Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, please click this link: Green-Wood

“The administrative and support staff at Green-Wood couldn’t have done more to accommodate the family and the celebration; they were some of the most compassionate and helpful cemetery staff I have ever experienced!”, says Chaplain Harold.

Chaplain Harold Vadney is a professional bereavement chaplain and provides interfaith, non-denominational, and humanistic (non-religious) pastoral care services and funeral/memorial services in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy-Greene county region in central New York state, and travels to other areas to provide services to families in need. Chaplain Harold can be reached at compassionate.care.associates@gmail.com or through your comment on this blog.

Another Beautiful Service! Thank you! Chaplain Harold

Another Beautiful Service!
Thank you! Chaplain Harold

Where Have All the Mothers Gone?

One of the Take-home Points of Genesis (Both Books of Genesis I & II read together, not separately) is the Distinction of Male and Female, and Their Naturally Different Roles in Creations.

Yes, this is a Pastoral Care blog and I want to make a clear statement at the outset that my vision of pastoral care is holistic and very straight-forward; those who are familiar with my preaching and writing know that I shoot from the hip with a penetrating accuracy. I tend to pick things that are right before our eyes, and illuminate them so you can’t deny them.

We as pastoral and spiritual care providers, clergy, chaplains, pastors, ministers, lay ministers and religious have been called—whether by the Holy Spirit or by another spirit—to serve as exemplary disciples and servant leaders—although, as you will see, some are in the self-service business of leadership, if their ministries can be called “leadership”. We not only teach and preach sacred scriptures but teach and preach morality and ethics, appreciation of tradition, and humility when it comes to questioning the mystery of what makes our faith communities.

Some more or less recent events have drawn attention to the role of women in today’s world, and how they have not managed very well to handle the roles they have precociously demanded, and how they have managed to make a travesty even of their natural prerogatives and functions.

While this blog appeals to and is read by a very broad spectrum of traditions ranging from Orthodox Catholic to Buddhist and Hindu spiritual care providers, and some of our readers will be women who will take extreme offense at what I am about to discuss, while others will strongly agree with my observations, I will ask at the outset that readers, both male and female,  bracket their personal agendas and cast a seeing objective eye on the world around them.

Lets begin with a couple of images:

Yes! You are not seeing things. They are Vaginas carrying signs.

Yes! You are not seeing things. They are Vaginas carrying signs.

Now, think for a moment. Here are a bunch of women dressed up in vagina costumes, parading around in public and representing their most intimate parts. Is there a spiritual statement that can be made on this image?

How about this going down Main St?

How about this going down Main St?

We’d like to think that human procreation is analogous to Divine creativity. Indeed, for thousands of years the woman has been celebrated, even worshipped as the Earth Mother, as the giver of life. So where did this go awry and the outrage of commercialized abortion come on the scene (which implies reasonably, a promiscuity that is unparalled in human history).

Very, very ugly.

Very, very ugly.

Some of us can actually remember when women had some self-respect.

Would I want my mother, sister, daughter includedin this bunch?

Would I want my mother, sister, daughter included in this bunch?

For thousands of years women have had very important roles in community and family, and in ritual cultic life, too. While the notion of women as “priests” has almost universally been the subject of prohibitions—whether for reasons of cultural paradigm, ritual purity, or doctrinal reasons (such as the teaching that women as officiants reminisces of pagan practices)—women are not content with being honored and worshipped as carriers of new life, heads of home and hearth, and maternal figures—in fact, they almost insist on making parodies, if not making complete monsters of themselfs (vide supra).

We tend to agree with one traditional Church spokesperson: Vatican says women priests a ‘crime against faith’. The ordination of women as Roman Catholic priests has been made a “crime against the faith” by the Vatican and subject to discipline by its watchdog. When I am confronted by “disgruntled” women who want to be priests in the RC Church, I remind them that it has been tradition in the RC church that only celibate men be sacramentally ordained; if women can’t accept that, perhaps they’re in the wrong place.

While some may say it’s an overgeneralization, it has been my personal experience that the women who have been ordained in Protestant and Calvinist (note the distinction!) are generally post-menopausal, loaded with baggage, have an extreme feminist agenda (in many cases they have had failed marriages or have been abused as children or adults), are misfits anywhere else. One classic example is the popular Britcom “Vicar of Dibley”, an anglican clergy woman who is lonely, unattractive, judgmental, severely troubled, and sex-starved. Ring a bell ladies?

What you see is not what you get!

What you see is not what you get!

One Presbyterian clergy-woman I trained with came to work with clerical collar and multiple hues of clerical blouse, tight-fitting clamdiggers, and heels or slippers. Another, a Canadian Anglican, came from an alcoholic home, was abandoned by her husband, overweight, smelled like a whorse, tended to get weepy when complaining of her “suffering”, liked to tell male clergy off. What is your spiritual assessment of these pictures? What is the message being sent? Reverence? Humility? Psychopathy? Discordance?

A real mixed bag of tricks!

A real mixed bag of tricks!

In the photo above, center, you see Joy Carrol Walls, the real-life vicar of Dibley. Show me the company you keep….

A woman [?] priest.

A woman [?] priest.

As for women lay religious a.k.a. “nuns”…You know, the powdered and painted women who dedicate themselves to Christ among other pursuits (they used to be called temple prostitutes in the past). No not the ones we remember in the religious habits who stuck to the convents, the hospitals and the schools; they’re now extinct! We’re talking about the ones we write about at Renegade Nun… (it’s a longish article but it makes my point).

The questions we should be asking ourselves as pastoral and spiritual care providers is why this depravity is happening. How has the situation deteriorated to the point where sacred tradition, human dignity, biological prerogatives, even nature has been cast to the winds and gender has become ambiguous and all but disappeared. Why is it that God has to be male or female? Can’t we agree that whatever you call the Divine, it is pure spirit, ethereal, and purest mystery? What have we gained by dragging down our Divine differences that imbue us with dignity, created male and female, and even dragging the Divine down to our decrepit and miserable level?

Where some deranged women’s groups today are complaining of abuse and disparagement based on sexism, we see a myopic one-sidedness. Never before in the history of humankind has the male been made so ridicuolous as he has been made in the American entertainment media, especially American sitcoms. Women have set out on a massive conspiratorial campaign to castrate and enthrall American males to the point of reducing them either to sex toys or absolute morons. And the American male is allowing this to happen. Why is that, I wonder?

Living the Stereotypes We've Created

Living the Stereotypes We’ve Created

Duality, Yin and Yang, male and female are complementary, not antagonists; why can’t we leave it at that. And as PC providers are we providing more artificial and artifactual Political Correctness than spiritual Pastoral Care? Which PC are YOU providing?

Meeting the Monster We've Created Face-to-Face The Editor

Meeting the Monster We’ve Created
Face-to-Face
The Editor

Chaplaincy Sunyata Before Chaplaincy Nirvana

I rather enjoy reading what some of the contemporary pundits of professional chaplaincy have to say about the current status of the professional chaplain and state of affairs IN professional chaplaincy as a healthcare discipline.

George! Do you really mean that?

George! Do you really mean that?

 In a recent posting on a popular forum for professional chaplains, a renowned personality, albeit from the podium of a branded accreditation organization, George Handzo, in a post “Lack of Integration for Chaplaincy is an International Issue” (that links directly  to his Handzo Consulting blog article) preaches some disputable notions about the profession and the burden of responsibility attaching to the community of professional chaplains (“we” per Handzo), and ipso facto to the individual professional chaplain.

In this posting I take issue with three of the venerable George’s distillations of statements made in two published texts cited by him (Wendy Cadge, Paging God: Religion in the Halls of Medicine, University Of Chicago Press (2013) ISBN-13: 978-0226922119 and an article by Ian Macritchie appearing in the Scottish Journal of Healthcare Chaplaincy (not more specifically cited by Hanzo)).

While George Handzo is generally more or less on target in most of what he exposes to the professional community of [healthcare] chaplains, and while one cannot discount his allegiances, especially to the ACPE, he sometimes appears to preaching from his cathedra of laurels than from a more praxis-oriented position of insightful compassion for the frontline, in-the-trenches chaplain.

In general, I found his comments to be facially insensitive, almost indifferent to the actual obstacles facing the institutional chaplain, and he fails to note fairly that those obstacles have little to do with the professional chaplain but with the larger picture of institutional models and cultures, not the least to do with how we educate, train, and form the hierarchs running those institutions. Here my responses:

Handzo Point: “1. The responsibility for the lack of full integration and lack of growth of professional chaplaincy in health care rests mostly if not entirely with us as chaplains.”

This is placing an inordinate and unrealistic burden on the shoulders of professional chaplains and does not take into consideration the real fact that developments in both “professional” (viz. interfaith) as opposed to “denominational” chaplaincy, socio-cultural changes, and models of healthcare in the past half-century. Whereas prior to the most recent five decades chaplaincy was generally the purview of the ordained cleric or, in the hands of “religious,” it is now, like spiritual guidance, up for grabs, if you will, for just about anyone discerning a “calling” to serve the suffering. This, compounded by the problem of over-marketing of certification and the suspicion associated with the process. Some of that suspicion granted is pure envy and professional lassitude but some is factually based.

Yet another problem is posed by the fact that the practically inexhaustable availablity of unqualified volunteers being welcomed by ignorant volunteer coordinators with the blessing of indifferent institutional hierarchy is not even broached, despite the fact that it is an insidious affront to professional chaplaincy and its institutional and public image!

The decline in membership, rather active participation, in mainstream faith traditions, the aging of faith communities, the declining availability of qualified and formed clergy and religious, and the various popular theologies espoused by overzealous agendas have fostered, and nurtured, a climate of “apostolic missionary ministries” and programs, volunteer programs are the most culpable, that welcome the half-baked, baggage-laden, “chaplains” and pastoral care associates responding to nebulous “callings” into nursing homes and hospitals. Why? Not because professional chaplains (those with professional degrees, appropriate life experience, necessary acquired skills, and an understanding of the organization and dynamics of their chosen or preferred work environment) have shirked their duty of “evangelizing” hierarchy in institutions that would benefit from the ministrations of professional chaplains and well-organized pastoral care departments, but because the hierarchy is generally inculturated with the focus on institutional efficacy and efficiency in a fiscal, technical and regulatory sense, rather than in a customer-centered wholistic sense.

While I do not disagree that the chaplain, as a professional minister, bears some responsibility to guide and to educate institutional hierarchy, we are also inculcated with the notion of boundaries and avoidance of making and impression of overstepping, trespassing. We are admonished against proselytizing, evangelizing where inappropriate; so, too, we are admonished against proselytizing the important role of chaplaincy in an institution that feels expanding the gift shop has priority over providing the chaplain with a respectable space. This requires an attitude shift not in hierarchies that are focused on corporate business objectives but in the very early stages of education of the individuals who will later become the board members, the vp’s of quality, customer relations, public relations, etc.

Healthcare delivery models have changed. No longer is there the family physician or event the primary care physician at the bedside. The hospitalist model has taken the lead. In some respects this is good for chaplaincy because the chaplain has a finite number of physicians to deal with and a chief hospitalist to recruit to the cause, with whom to communicate, and from whom to gain access to the inner sanctum. Analogous models can be found in other institutions benefitting from the ministry of spiritual support such as jails, long – term care facilities, colleges, etc. Indeed, no amount of theology or scriptural studies, nor human developmental theory, nor spirituality and prayer discipline is of practical value when attempting to communicate and to work in such an environment.

The bottom line here is to first of all to access the decision-makers of the institution, to speak their languages (sometimes also their institutional dialects), and to make the impression of understanding the culture and the concerns (especially the institutional strategic mission and how chaplaincy plays an integral role in that mission) of hierarchy.

Handzo Point: 2.  To the extent that our status in health care is due to the lack of understanding by others of our capabilities and possible contributions, we need to bear full responsibility for that situation.”

Vide supra (the above is included here in its entirety by reference).

The status of the professional healthcare of the professional chaplain is that of a healthcare provider. Period. Again, I beg to disagree with the venerable George on the point that we (I am assuming George is referring to the community of professional chaplains) “bear the full responsibility for lack of understanding by others of our capabilities and possible contributions.” That statement is not wholly true and if not wholly true, is false.

Neither the individual chaplain nor the various corporate entities that claim to advocate for the individual chaplain can claim to bear full responsibility for the general, regional, and local understandings of attitudes towards the capabilities and contributions of chaplaincy. First of all, the statement is overly broad and overreaching in its scope. Acceptance of chaplaincy in general differs widely from locale to locale, from institution to institution. To homogenize this understanding to positively affect the overall acceptance and admittance of the role, competency and contribution of chaplaincy would be an almost impossible task. It would have to start at a national level, preferably in the form of recommendations, regulations, and legislation. This is, in fact, in the making when one considers more recent HIPA and JCAHO statements and provisions, and while I may rightly be accused of strong criticism of the various chaplain accreditation organizations, I do admit that they may have a role in a sort of lobbying activity to nudge legislators and key bureaucrats and other influential pundits of healthcare.

Again, I must make a point that chaplaincy can be advocated and promoted only early in the formation of the hierarchs or, in the alternative, with an organized authoritative presence in places where the hierarchs convene to discuss their agendas such as at conferences and congresses. If recognized authorities in chaplaincy–not branded accreditation schemes or representatives of such agendized operations–are admitted a place at the head table or on the discussion panel, then we may gain certain ingress to the minds of those hierarchs, and through those sacred spaces, to their institutions as bona fide healthcare providers.

Handzo Point: “3. We have failed to make the case about how we ’help address larger institutional issues’ or how dispensing with chaplaincy would be a ‘great loss to healthcare outcomes.’”

Again, I must take issue with this statement, and again, vide supra.

I take umbrage that venerable George uses the corporate “we,” or in the alternative that the “we” is intended generally to embrace the community of professional chaplains. Here, too, we cannot go where we are barred access or where we are not expressly invited. It’s a long haul to move beyond the first level caregivers (nurses, techs, support staff, even physicians) to get to the boardroom. Nor do most “chaplains” have the credentials with which to impress hierarchs that what the chaplain has to say carries reliable business weight.

Take, for example, the hospital: How many chaplains can say that they have an adequate knowledge of the structure and organization of the hospital? Or of the myriad regulations that affect the hospital? Is the hospital a too  complex example? Take, then, a prison, if you will. What does the generalist chaplain know about prisons? About the regulations affecting prisons and their operation? So, absent specific, specialist training in specific and particular institutions, how does the chaplain addresss “larger institutional issues?” Without such training, knowledge, experience how does the chaplain address “larger institutional issues?” Does the professional chaplain have to have a degree in theology, in pastoral care, in business administration, public administration, and social work to do that? Or, in the alternative, does s / he forge inter –  or multi – disciplinary networks or support resources to do that? Does the professional chaplain need to be the epitome renaissance person or just know how to finagle and kibutz?As to the suggestion that “dispensing with chaplaincy ‘would be a great loss'” I must comment that to experience loss you must first attach value to the thing lost. And so we make full circle.

But what is pristinely clear to me is the fact that, like efficacious chaplaincy itself, the response, if not the answer, lies in an early access to the core decision makers…

The basic question to be answered, far from heaping the burdens of responsibility on the community of professional chaplains, as George Handzo appears to be willing to do, we must ask ourselves: At which point and how do we inculcate the much touted holistic healthcare model (spirit, mind, body) in the hearts and minds of the seculars who call the shots? It’s a very complex question and, since chaplaincy is such a variegated ministry and the cultures in which the ministry is done are so myriad, I personally doubt that there is really one answer. But what is pristinely clear to me is the fact that, like efficacious chaplaincy itself, the response, if not the answer, lies in an early access to the core decision makers, effective formation of the decision makers, comprehensive education, training, and formation of professional chaplains (after an appropriate period of reflection and ongoing discernment), frequent, open, and affordable continuing formation for chaplains, and express support from mainstream denominations of the ministry of chaplaincy based on a spiritual rather than a traditional model.

If I commit the offense of overgeneralization by making the statement that in the past chaplaincy has been its own arch-enemy, I humbly apologize. But chaplaincy must advocate itself as a professional healthcare discipline both internally and ad extra.

If we fail to communicate or document “outcomes” might it not be the shortcoming of the CPE programs themselves and not of the product they churn out as “chaplains”?

Handzo continues his editorializing by noting the problem of outcomes in chaplaincy. According to Handzo, “We often still resist the idea that outcomes are something chaplains should have. We don’t have commonly understood sets of outcomes, we don’t train our students to work toward outcomes, and we often don’t document outcomes so other members of the health care team know what we do.” Again that ubiquitous, corporate “we,” that contributes only to the ambiguity of what Handzo is writing. Who is this “we?” It certainly cannot be the in – the – trenches professional chaplain, or can it, George? It also seems a bit misleading to hear an apostle of the CPE movement, a board member of the consulting firm Healthcare Chaplaincy and a past president of the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC), would make such a statement, especially in view of the reasonable prestige that Rev. Handzo allegedly has in the chaplaincy movement. If “we” have not established “commonly understood sets of outcomes,” and we “don’t train our student to work toward outcomes,” “and we often don’t document outcomes,” that is, we do not communicate to other members of the inter –  or multi – disciplinary team members, whose fault is that? Might it not be the shortcoming of the CPE programs themselves and not of the product they churn out as “chaplains.”

Handzo is describing a lack of community, a lack of consensus, a lack of fraternity among professional chaplains –  – could this be attributable to the plethora of competing “advocacy” or “standards” or “certifying” organizations and competing “outcomes”

Handzo continues, “I am convinced that one of our greatest barriers is our own infighting and the time we waste debating internally whether professional chaplains should have outcomes, demonstrate value, and have measurable outcomes. I find myself increasingly disinterested in engaging those questions.” I am appalled that a leader in the chaplaincy movement and a leader in the CPE movement should be “disinterested” (I am somewhat at a loss what Handzo intends to mean by “disinterested.” Does he mean “indifferent?” “Impartial?” “Dispassionate?”) in engaging such questions! It would seem that Handzo is describing a lack of community, a lack of consensus, a lack of fraternity among professional chaplains –  – could this be attributable to the plethora of competing “advocacy” or “standards” or “certifying” organizations and competing “outcomes.” I’m also having some difficulty with the notion of “outcomes” in spiritual support, and wonder where that one came from. Handzo conspicuously avoids any further elaboration of what are the outcomes to which we should aspire, or how we demonstrate value and to whom. I have not problem demonstrating value to the suffering nor demonstrating value to my contributions to staff education, institutional image, community outreach, service retention, etc. but my point is: How many readers understand these to be values to be demonstrated?

My further point is that Handzo fails to define his terms like “demonstrate value.” Measurable outcomes poses another problem. From the administrative, management point of view I can appreciate the the board or the corporate director for quality might be so limited as to grasp only PowerPoint depictions of measureable outcomes, metrics, etc. If that’s what Handzo is meaning, does that really fall on the lap of the in-the-trenches chaplain? True, the professional chaplain very frequently wears the administrative, managerial hat, too, of director of “pastoral care” (Ugghhhh!) but does the in – the – trenches provider have the time, energy, inclination to start recording “measurable outcomes?” I think not, especially when the professional chaplain, if the institution even has a professional chaplain, has the burden of impossible numbers of patients and the responsibility to triage who gets the visit and who doesn’t. There seems to be a serious disconnect between Handzo’s statement and the real world.

There are many saints that are locked out because of the rigor of artificial and ambiguous certification agendas; likewise, many individuals with more temporal than spiritual / apostolic aspirations gain access to sensitive precincts and cause much damage…

Regrettably, Handzo’s concluding statement: “I continue to rejoice that this is a large and growing group both in the US and abroad that I hope and trust will continue to make a difference in how spirituality is integrated into health care” does not lend much lucidity to what he attempts to share with us. In fact, it reveals a deplorable lack of sensitivity to the complexity of chaplaincy, especially when considering chaplaincy in terms of international models. Which group? The wannabe’s or the professionals? The branded certificated or the natural vocations? The international organizations’ membership censuses or the invisible ministers of spiritual support to the suffering. I’m not quite clear what Rev. Handzo’s point is, really.

There are many saints that are locked out because of the rigor of artificial and ambiguous certification agendas; likewise, many individuals with more temporal than spiritual / apostolic aspirations gain access to sensitive precincts and cause much damage. As impractical, even impossible as it may sound, we must self-police, inter-form, and inform each other as co-disciples, and then corporately police, form, and inform our target institutions. We can do this only if we are humbly authentic and emptied of self-interest and attachments. In other words, we much attain chaplaincy “sunyata” before we can attain chaplaincy “nirvana.”

plant in hand