excerpt The Chaplain Skillset Series, Vol 1

[This excerpt is from The Chaplain Skillset Series, Vol 1: The Fundamentals: The Why, What, Who and How of Chaplaincy.  The full e-book is available on Amazon.com]

The Chaplain Skillset Series emerged from the vast amount of resources that I have gathered throughout my own quest to become the best minister and professional chaplain that I can eventually be. The goal for this project is simply to share well-respected resources and learned lessons which any chaplain of any faith background and any ministry setting can utilize quickly and effectively. I will speak from my own experiences and from time to time lean heavily upon my own Christian theology to support various chaplain theories, functions and skillsets. Please understand that it is not my aim to offend any reader from other spirituality or religious doctrines. It is the responsibility of every chaplain to develop their own pastoral identity based upon how their life experiences and their own faith informs them. The contributors of this Series will share their perspectives.

The Series will touch upon the primary points which any minister should consider to become a highly skilled and competent chaplain. I am aware that this series may not be exhaustive for all the nuances of chaplaincy, but I will strive for it to be as comprehensive as possible in forming an effective foundation. The Series has a three-fold purpose. It is designed for: 1) individuals who are unfamiliar with the unique field of chaplaincy, 2) for laity or clergy who are discerning whether or not to go into chaplain ministry, and 3) for seasoned clergy and chaplains who simply want to revisit the tried and true skillsets which produce an excellence in chaplaincy. I will always attempt to give credit where credit is due as well as share the many resources which have been helpful in my own chaplain formation.

The Series begins with this initial volume on The Fundamentals. This first volume will attempt to succinctly answer four basic questions: “Why the need for Chaplains?” “What is Chaplaincy?” “Who can be a Chaplain?” and the most practical question for you, the reader, “How is chaplaincy administered? How does it work?” The last chapter will attempt to succeed in “Bringing the Pieces Together” for you through the presentation of three clinical verbatims.

Future volumes in the series will delve deeper into the challenging topics of Developing Skillsets for Handling Trauma and Crisis Situations, Understanding Spirituality and World Faith Expressions, Understanding the Spiritual Assessment, and a volume of essays on the topic on Religious Perspectives of Suffering. Other volumes will review the unique skillsets needed for various forms of chaplaincy such as law enforcement, EMS/fire, workplace, and hospice, as well as look into emerging chaplain specialties such as the new integrative chaplain.

I hope you enjoy The Chaplain Skillset Series. If you sift through and dig out just a few pearls of wisdom from each volume which you can readily use in your own chaplain ministry, then I will consider my efforts to have been worthwhile. May God’s peace be upon you as well as upon your specific ministry.

Chaplain Keith Evans, Editor

Chapter One: Why the Need for Chaplains?

Do you believe there really is a need or place for chaplaincy or chaplains? If there is a need, then is the need only a perceived need for religious people or is chaplaincy supported by solid anecdotal or qualitative evidence? If there is good information supporting chaplains, what makes chaplains needed? I hope to succinctly answer those questions plus many more in this first volume of The Chaplain Skillset Series.

The Widening Gap from Organized Faith

Have you truly considered, “Why the need for Chaplains?” The most current research compiled by the Barna Group (www.barna.org) reveals that 59% of 18-29 year olds with a Christian background have dropped out of attending a church regularly. In 2015, Barna discovered that 25% of unchurched adults are skeptics of God’s existence, labeling themselves as either agnostics or atheists. This trend is more predominant in younger adults who are more educated, racially and ethnically diverse. Across gender lines, females are noted as more religiously skeptical than males. Barna states, “the three primary components that lead to disbelief in God’s existence [by Skeptics] are 1) rejection of the Bible, 2) a lack of trust in the local church and 3) the cultural reinforcement of a secular worldview.” This information led the Barna Group to develop a “post-Christian metric” which looks at multi-dimensional factors to describe “the rich and variegated experience of spirituality and faith.” Spirituality is indeed diverse and is being defined and expressed in many ways. Anecdotal evidence will also reveal that this trend is also occurring throughout all the primary organized faiths: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, etc.

For ministers and chaplains, this data does not come as a surprise, but as a validation of the changing expressions of faith and spirituality in America as well as across the globe. With this trend, I have found that the topic of spirituality may be the best place to begin any faith conversation. In fact, it might even prove to be quite difficult to find anyone who would not accept the statement that “all humans are spiritual and possess a spirituality, whether they recognize it or not.” If you look around and observe your friends, neighbors and co-workers, you will see individuals who are constantly in search for meaning and purpose in their lives and about situations they experience. With so many of the population not active in a local church or organized faith community, there is a great need for effective soul care to be brought to them in their respective places of work, by their co-workers, friends, and even by professional, workplace chaplains. Chaplains are uniquely qualified to bridge this growing gap in our society which has pushed back against organized religion yet still strives to find meaning and relevancy in their spiritual selves.

More Evidence for the Need of Chaplains

With more and more emphasis on spirituality, spirituality at work, and other faith and spirituality movements, there are less and less individuals sitting in church pews on the Sabbath. This has left a void on who or what becomes a person’s spiritual director, pastor or mentor. It also has left a misunderstanding of what soul care is and what soul care is not.

A definition of spirituality that I espouse and one that has also been widely received and accepted by most in healthcare chaplaincy was proposed by Dr. Christina Puchalski of the George Washington Institute of Spirituality and Heath. She states that, “Spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred.” (Puchalski, 2014) Others perceive that spirituality stems from one’s inner consciousness and is the source behind the outward form of defined religious practices. (Guillory, xi) Religion is more strictly defined as how one’s spirituality is practiced within a specific doctrinal or theological context.

In David G. Benner’s text, “Care of Souls,” Benner states, “The soul is the meeting point of the psychological and spiritual. Its care must, by necessity, include both spiritual and psychological aspects.” In the past century there have been great strides in understanding the human psyche. But at the same time, the ‘experts’ have tended to dissect the immaterial self of individuals and divide it up into distinct components (psychological-spiritual-emotional), with each one standing separate and without connection to another. However, there is a growing understanding that this may not be the case. In fact, a dichotomist view of man may have more merit in this context of soul care when you assess how individuals cope with crises in their lives. Benner states that we should “understand soul as referring to the whole person, including the body, but with particular focus on the inner world of thinking, feeling, and willing. Care of souls can thus be understood as the care of persons in their totality.” (Benner, 22) If the public at large are not engaged in a local church or faith/spirituality community, then who assists them in their journey? Most often, probably no one.

The work of psychologist Kenneth Pargament has been especially well-received within the medical field over the past several decades. Pargament has written extensively on the psychology of an individual’s resiliency based upon religion and spirituality as positive coping skills. Pargament’s behavioral theories and review of literature studies can easily be extrapolated to include individuals under any stress. If you have a scientific lilt to your thinking, then Pargament’s The Psychology of Religion and Coping: Theory, Research, Practice (1997) will be a great resource for you.

The same can be said of the enormous work of medical physician and researcher Harold Koenig. Koenig’s extensive work Spirituality and Health Research: Methods, Measurements, Statistics and Resources (2011) and Handbook of Spirituality and Health, 2nd edition (2012). These more academic tests are replete with many categories of scientific data reviews which support the role and impact of spirituality upon specific physical conditions and mental health issues.

Spirituality has been shown to help a person’s overall resiliency after crisis and stress. The 2011 Balboni Study noted that individuals who have spiritual and religious resources available to them during a time of crisis, such as critical life situations and nearing death itself, these patient’s actually incur less overall medical costs. (Balboni, 2011) I infer from this study that it suggests the individuals became less anxious and more emotional and psychologically relaxed, when they felt more supported and less vulnerable. As this occurred, there was less need for anxiety or pain  medications, which led to the patient’s better comfort and rest, and even increased healing rates because their immune systems improved. When this occurs, the patient will often have a shorter length of stay and better satisfaction with their overall care!

A survey of the American Hospital Association’s database noted a “significantly lower rates of hospital deaths (β=0.4, p<.05) and higher rates of hospice enrollment (β =.06, p<.001) for patients cared for in hospitals that provided chaplaincy services compared to hospitals that did not.”(Flannelly, 2012) The study noted that the results “may be attributable to chaplain’s assistance to patients and families in making decisions about care at the end-of-life, perhaps by aligning their values and wishes with actual treatment plans.” (Flannelly, p. 6)

Spirituality is vastly important to the resiliency and maintenance of emotional well-being and wholeness for individuals while organized religion is being more and more opposed. If this is true, then what or who is the best possible facilitator to assist those in need? From my perspective, the chaplain is the most reasonable bridge builder and available public clergy when much of the population does not belong or attend a church on a regular basis. For the multitude of people with spiritual needs who are also in quest for their own deeper meaning and purpose of life, the well-equipped and skilled chaplain may well prove to be their best spiritual mentor.

Balancing Faith in God with the Reality of Evil and Suffering

My View of Theodicy: Balancing My Faith in God with the Reality of Evil and Suffering

Rev. Keith A Evans, D.C., D.Min.

In 2001, a young chiropractic doctor had been in private practice for twelve years and then his life took a dramatic turn. He had sped through his education process and post-graduate work in order to reduce the large amount of school loans required. He desperately wanted to begin living out his dreams. After graduation, he moved to a new town with his new wife of ten months, borrowed even more money, and dealt with contractors for several months as they built out a clinic space. He finally opened up his private practice in December 1989 built upon his faith in God’s direction for his life, earnest prayer and a promissory note to the bank. His back was up against the wall and life was stressful. But he was driven to succeed and not fail. He made $100 in 1989. But one patient at a time, his practice grew and grew and his hard determination was blessed and he developed one the larger and well-respected chiropractic clinics in Southeast Texas.

At the peak of his practice success, God began speaking to the young chiropractor and he yielded full control of his life over to God, to truly be his Lord and Master. How would this affect his life and career? He did not know, but he had a deep sense that things would drastically change. But the young doctor was determined to follow God’s leading despite how his future life may differ.

In the summer of 2001, the young doctor suffered a freakish but significant injury that resulted in multilevel cervical disc herniations. The herniations produced prominent left sided arm and leg weakness and cardiac arrhythmias due to the resultant spinal cord irritation and central canal stenosis. Life changed for him. Former dreams were shattered. This is my story.

           “‎We may not always understand what God is doing, why He leads us down a certain path,

or why He allows things to happen. But we can be certain that He is not making

any mistakes. His wisdom will not allow it.” – Roy Lessin

The following is my applied theology of pain and suffering, of evil and loss, of death and dying. This theodicy was forged in the furnace of my own physical and emotional suffering. Ground up and formulated in the crucible of my own pain. I had never really emotionally dealt with the concept of God’s sovereignty and providence over His creation. Sure, I had heard the intellectual Sunday School and sermon line and I agreed with it. But now in the realness and rawness of physical pain and even more by the emotional pain of career loss and shattered personal dreams, I was literally forced to discover the true and real meaning of suffering.

Due to the strong Christian upbringing and influences in my life, I knew that I did not want to re-define my understanding of God and His mysterious ways from my own distorted thinking. I was in crisis and didn’t even know where to begin searching for answers to the age old question, “Why God? Why?”  So I began reading the Bible. I had always been told by teachers and preachers that God’s Word was His message to me; a manual for life which included answers to all of life’s difficult questions. I knew in the mind that that was true, but I needed to own it and know it in my heart. I wanted to base all my discoveries and understanding upon the firm anchor and unalterable truth of God’s Word. So I kept reading and praying, reading and praying. Reading and praying.

          “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains;

it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” —C.S. Lewis

I have come to learn that the real test of human character comes when the bottom falls out of our lives. It is in those moments and how I respond and react that reveals what I truly believe and place my trust upon. While in my selfish humanness, I would never desire for a problem or struggle to come into my life, but they do come and will continue to come in the future. Some have been huge and overwhelming to me in the moment. But as time passes I have noticed that I tend to forget the pain but begin to see the residual scars of the revealed life lessons left to better equip me and guide me through the next challenge of life.

We are like flowers that grow, bloom and then fade. For most of us, we will live a life that will exist between two hospitals. One for birth and one for death. Between our birth and death we all will live a life full of experiences, good and bad. Why do some struggle, overcome, and flourish while others struggle, become overwhelmed and lose their faith? For me, how we each handle those experiences is based upon our attitude and views of God, evil, and the issue of death.

I absolutely know evil exists. All I have to do is to look internally at my endless selfishness and pride that I fight against. We all have the free will to make right or wrong choices. Consequences to those choices may lead to intense suffering of ourselves and may involve others as well. We all can choose evil over good.

          “Satan is on the prowl, but God is on the throne.” – Brad Bigney

I believe that Satan is real and full of hate. Satan can be wickedly scary or he can approach with all the deceitful beauty and allure that can confuse the most righteous person. I believe that the triune God does allow and has unleashed Satan to have power in this world. Looking at the evening news each day validates that Satan has been allowed to kill, steal and destroy. His resources and handiwork seems endless. But according to the biblical record of Job, Satan and his demons cannot do what God forbids them to do.

          “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity,

I am the LORD, who does all these things.” – Isaiah 45:7

Some theologians state that God is not all-powerful and therefore He is not in control. If God is not in control, then who is? If God is not in control, then the truths and promises of His Word are made worthless. If God is not in control, then the death, burial and resurrection of Christ is but a mockery and was all in vain. If the Gospel message is meaningless, then my faith is placed upon sinking sand and my life will eventually be in shambles. If God is not in control of yesterday, today and tomorrow, how can anyone really have any lasting hope at all?

I may not understand why or for what reason God allows things to occur, but I hold on to the truth that He is actively holding everything together (Hebrews 1:3) and is working out everything according to His will (Ephesians 1:11). To me, this view is personally freeing to know that I do not have to make sense of it or even try to control matters. All I need to do is simply trust Him, worship Him, and attempt to live a life that is pleasing to Him by the power of Christ in my life.

Many people just can not fathom that God can let unthinkable things happen to decent people. People struggle with the issue of pain and suffering from both an emotional and intellectual level. Some are emotionally repelled by evil and suffering that seems so contrary to the nature of a loving and caring God. Some cannot intellectually wrap their mind around the contrast of their God who also allows the evil and suffering that is occurring all about them. If God really does allow such awful things to happen, then they are repelled by God himself. If a person is repelled by God, then how can they relate to or trust a God like that? (Hicks, 148)  If this is the case then they may actually begin to re-define their concept of God. A revised definition in one’s mind that helps them settle their confusion about God, does that change the reality of who is the great ‘I AM?’ When this occurs, I believe the reverence and awe of the one and holy God is minimized.

To the chagrin of many, the Holy Word of God teaches that evil is a part of His plan (Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28; Acts 4:27-28) but this does not mean that God is the author or cause of sin.  God even permits evil in order to accomplish His purposes (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:6; Job 1:12-22; Matthew 23:37; Acts 14:16).  God prevents evil on some occasions, but restrains it at other times (Genesis 20:3, 4, 17, 18; Romans 13:1-5; 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8).  The world and all that is in it is constantly under the watchful eye and rule of God, who controls all things in such a way as to bring about His own eternal purpose and plan without failure.  But it is also God as the Holy Spirit that controls and throttles the intensity of Satan’s evil. And fortunately of me it was God the Son who died for ultimate victory over evil. This is God’s providence.

As a football coach, my grandfather would stand on the sideline and order the next series of plays which would lead the team to victory. But God is active and not simply on the sideline like my grandfather. God has already made the winning call offering redemption to all of mankind. The game of life and mankind on this earth just has not ended yet. The day of ultimate reckoning is approaching. If one believes in the Gospel and are spiritually maturing as Christ followers, then I believe that their belief and faith will help them endure and persevere the cruelest of evil and suffering in this world.

          “Pain is inevitable – misery is an option.” – Tim Hansel

God’s providence is evident in the lives of His people (Genesis 37:26, 27; 39:15-18; 40: 9-23; 45:5).  Jacob thought the evils that had occurred were against him alone, and not to help save the nation of Israel from famine.  This is evident in the rise and fall of nations (Isaiah 14:24-27; 45:1; Zechariah l:18-21; Proverbs 21:l). This is evident in His use of natural evil when nature is harmful (Deuteronomy 28:17 Numbers 14:36, 37; Acts 5:5,70/7 Corinthians 11:30; Isaiah 5:6).  This is evident in His control over Satan who is an agent of moral and natural evil (Job 1:12-19; 2:5-8; I Chronicles 21:1; 2 Samuel 24:1; Luke 13:10-17; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10; 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7, 10-12).  God is sovereign and provident and I have fully submitted to His Lordship.

Is God all powerful? Is God holy and pure? Does evil and suffering exist?  I believe the answer is yes to all three questions and the personal journey is to discover within oneself how to strike a balanced theological position between each. In all the moments of my life, I have learned that God has been there right there beside me. The truth of God’s love is not that bad things won’t happen. But it is His promise that He will be right there with me when they do.

          “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” – Romans 8:28

I believe that suffering is relative. It is based upon one’s attitude toward it. How can one patient with pancreatic cancer be thunderstruck with fear and depression, while another patient with the same diagnosis be coping relatively well? An illness experience is shaped and strongly influenced by culture. Disease is a medical paradigm, but illness may be more about the bio-psycho-social-spiritual interactions. I have become much more aware this summer that a patient’s culture (their traditions, religious beliefs and emotional behaviors, etc.) has an incredible impact on how an ill person mentally approaches their sickness.

Of course in our suffering, we want nothing less than the immediate alleviation of suffering.  But God wants to give us so much more. He wants to give us things that will last all eternity. Has God rigged us to experience personal crises in order to get our attention? Through our suffering, God wants to give us a new obedience to His word (Psalm 119:67, 71), holiness which will lead to righteousness and peace (Hebrews 12:10, 11), perseverance, character and hope (Romans 5:3-5), and a knowledge of His presence in our lives by His Spirit (John 14-16). In short, He wants to give us His kingdom.

There is a sense that the American culture feels that some suffering is okay, but too much pain and suffering is not fair. Is there a difference between the level or intensity of suffering that makes it unpalatable to many? Are there unspoken rights or entitlements of human life that only a certain amount of suffering is alright, but if it crosses over some imaginary level of intensity the suffering becomes inhuman or improper? These are areas in which I still seek answers.

I have intellectually and emotionally chosen to believe in God’s Word as objective and absolute Truth. It is the true north that I set the journey of my life upon. If I acknowledge God as governing the flight of a sparrow (Matthew 10:29), then how can I not acknowledge that He also governs the flight of bullets, cancers, and spinal injuries? Is not this the basis of every Bible story about the victory of God? That everything and every action belongs to the Lord? God is my All and He is not small. This is the solid foundation of which I ground my spiritual comfort in the midst of any and all calamity, because it is mediated through the Truth of God.

A few years ago I listened to a sermon which included his poem by Martha Snell Nicholson:

I stood a mendicant (beggar) of God before His royal throne

And begged him for one priceless gift, which I could call my own.

I took the gift from out His hand, but as I would depart

I cried, “But Lord this is a thorn and it has pierced my heart.

This is a strange, a hurtful gift, which Thou hast given me.”

He said, “My child, I give good gifts and gave My best to thee.”

I took it home and though at first the cruel thorn hurt sore,

As long years passed I learned at last to love it more and more.

I learned He never gives a thorn without this added grace,

He takes the thorn to pin aside the veil which hides His face.

How we use our thorns are totally up to each of us.  To me I want to try to find the richer meaning and purpose behind the circumstances of life. If it takes chronic back pain and surgeries for me to become closer and have a more intimate relationship with my Lord, then I say ‘bring it on.” Considering the alternative, I will gladly take that thorn in my side. And I do not have any regrets or bitterness about my present aches and pains. It might strike some that my theodicy has emerged as a bit “high in the sky”, or “holier than thou”, but I would like to see it as “being holier with Thou” as I believe the Christian life should progressively be.

          “One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.” – G.K. Chesterton

Using this theodicy has helped me well personally and in ministry to others. It has given me great confidence in a hope that can change the attitude toward any situation. As I make clinical rounds as a hospital chaplain, I have looked deep into the eyes and hurting souls of people in pain. Many are families who have lost a spouse or loved one, patients with horrible diseases that will take their lives, and I have seen them crying out for comfort and solace which is well beyond any human or medical capabilities. It is in these moments that I know that God hears their cries and He hurts with them in their torment. Whether it is in His will that their situation will change course or not, I do not know, nor do I have control. But I can relax in knowing that He has heard their prayers and understands their hurts. So many times as I have prayed with patients, I have truly felt the presence of Almighty God in the room with us. To that I am blessed to have experienced.

One may ask why would a loving God shatter a person’s dreams, career and create physical suffering? I hope this brief article helps to answer that question. I do not regret any of my pain and suffering as it has been God’s tool in reshaping and molding my life for His glory. But He also worked on me on His own timing. He used a physical thorn to replace my shattered dream of professional success with an enhanced avocation of my spiritual vision and hunger for righteousness. He then drew me to a ministry career that exists on the daily front lines of spiritual battle with souls of men and women who are struggling in their physical, emotional and spiritual pain. While I am aware that there will be more valley times in my life, I look forward to seeing the blessing and beauty of God’s hand on hurting souls.

          “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding,

for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.

She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her…

She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed.

– Proverbs 3:13-15, 18


Hicks, Peter, “The Message of Evil and Suffering”, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2006.

Lewis, C. S., The Problem of Pain, San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1949

Piper, John and Justin Taylor, eds., “Suffering and Sovereignty of God”, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006.

Piper, John, sermon address to Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis MN, “To be a mother is a call to suffer”, May 12, 2001, http://www.desiringgod.org.

Welch, Edward, “Exalting Pain? Ignoring Pain? What do we do with Suffering?” The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Volume XII Number 3, Spring 1994.

Of Chaplains and Samaritans

(This is the manuscript of a recent message I gave at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Casper, Wyoming)

I believe each of us present today were divinely meant to be here. And I also believe each of us possess a spirituality which allows us to connect to others, to meaning and purpose in life, to crisis situations, to nature, and even to the Sacred or Divine. Dr. Christina Puchalski is the medical director of the George Washington Institute of Spirituality and Health. She has led large research and panel discussions on spirituality and its effect upon a person’s, (mine and yours) health and well being. Spirituality can be a difficult topic for many, yet so easy for others…but its definition to concisely and succinctly describe what this vast topic is, has been very difficult. Why? Because each of us will bring to the discussion our own cultural, as well as our faith, religious and theological perspectives to how we describe it. A few years ago, Dr. Puchalski and a large biomedical field of experts, finally agreed upon a definition that would lead their research and expand the perception and understanding of spirituality to the watching and eager world of healthcare. Their definition reads, (and maybe you will agree with it):

“Spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred.”

To me this definition states that spirituality is at the core, the very foundational level of every person’s existence. In my theological perspective, this is how God created life and is the foundational basis which causes each of us to innately search for meaning and purpose.

For me, this is where the journey begins to find ultimate meaning and worth—but through God. It is what allows me to connect to individuals of all walks and situations of life, as I simply respect and honor them as another created being from God. This is what helps guide me as a Chaplain and gives me the ability to be with people who many times are experiencing the worst possible moments of their lives. I’m not sure if I could work as a trauma chaplain if I did not have this connection and personal experience with my Lord.

As a hospital chaplain, I am around and observe the many medical specialties. As you might imagine, the medical pathology field is complex and highly important. But it allows a treating physician to discern what treatment approach may be the most appropriate and with the highest level of success for a patient. Yet for the patient, this requires some trust, it requires sacrifice and discomfort, because it almost always requires a tissue biopsy. Once a biopsy is taken from the human body, that tissue sample is taken to the pathology department and prepared. Often this complex preparation requires an instrument like a micro-dissector. The micro-dissector could be described as a double-edged, laser sharp, computer assisted photon energy knife which makes ultra-thin slices of the tissue. Anything thinner than a piece of paper seems radically precise to me. But often the thickness, or better word, thinness of the tissue sample is only a single cell layer. This is then placed under a microscope where a medical pathologist critically examines the cells and tissue and renders a diagnosis. In this context, it could be said that the success of modern medicine rests upon the ability of this precise micro-dissection to effectively slice and lay open the tissue in order for the physicians to assist in the proper healing and wellbeing of the patient. A large part of my well-being involves my spirituality, my psyche, and my emotions. What can serve as a micro-dissector for my soul? Your soul?

In the Ancient writings of scripture, there is a passage that states that the inspired, divine and most wise words of God are also like a micro-dissector for each of our souls. The passage infers that simply reading, hearing and listening to the active and living word of God can open up and lay bear our souls for the careful examination of Our Great Physician, the Jehovah Rapha. In doing so, the divine Great Physician can miraculously heal and transform us with unlimited peace, inner joy and well-being. This has been true for me. For me, God has not been a distant and non-caring God. For me, God has been very active, engaging and the ultimate enlightenment.  From the Book of Hebrews, the ancient words state,

“For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

It is from this perspective which I have had to learn, but also to willfully choose to filter all of my life. It has been said that the Word of god, the Holy Bible can be used in 3 different ways: 1) you can be above and superior to it, using God’s Word to complement your own worldview, 2) you can be beside it, using the ancient Scriptures as support your thoughts as appropriate, or 3) you can be below and reverently respectful to it allowing the passages and principles to guide you in life.

I have chosen #3. I confess. I do not fully understand the great mysteries of God. And I do not understand the fullness of God’s deity. But I have decided to choose to keep learning about God, but also to let God be God and to use His Word to filter my thoughts, desires, and viewpoints…so that I may be closer to that of my Creator.

An ancient story is often told about a traveler on a deserted and barren road. This traveler was walking the twenty or so miles, the twenty or so hard and difficult miles from one town to the next.  As the landscape of this story is normally described, it seems to me that it would be like spending the day walking through Hell’s Half Acre where the movie Starship Troopers was filmed.  Arid, craggy, unknowns behind every shadow and curve. As this man made his way along the road, he was eventually stopped and threatened by a gang of thugs at their proverbial “Hole in the Wall” hangout, and they robbed him of all his possessions which he was carrying with him. The gang then beat him to an inch of his life, punching him, kicking him, spitting on him, and left him for dead in a ditch. A few hours go by, the hot sun is beating down on him as he continued to lay there not moving. I can imagine the ancient listeners of this story much have been thinking “Has he died? Has he suffered traumatic head injury? If he is still alive, what will his outcome be? Will he have long term physical or even cognitive impairments from his injuries?”   Yet, the Man in the Ditch still laid there motionless.  

A well-known Priest walks by. He sees the unconscious fellow in the ditch – and without breaking stride or even checking on the man – kept walking by. Maybe this religious leader was late for a meeting or afraid to begin caring for him and not have time allotted to finish what he started? We do not know his true reasoning, we only know that the religious giant kept on walking.

An hour or so later, A second passer by approaches. This second individual is well-respected business man and a regular church attender. He even is a respected elder in his church fellowship. This gentleman sees the unconscious man in the ditch, walks over to him, stops and pokes him with his walking stick to see if the man’s even alive. The church man observes that the man in the ditch is at least breathing, but is in a dire physical condition. The church man cautiously looks around to see if he himself is in danger from attack and then decides to keep walking along the lonely and barren road, deciding to quickly leave the dangerous area and to get to his next appointment at well. Hmmm.  Why do you suspect he went on his way? Maybe the business man would contact a local agency to come give aid to the man in the ditch, bring him some clean clothes and spot of coffee?  We do not know why he left or why there wasn’t any follow-up to his partial concern.

The sun continues to beat down on the unconscious man in the ditch. If you’re like me, in my own mind, I believe I just heard a Western Movie’s theme song (whistle the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly). A sage grouse sneaks by. Time passes. The shadows slide by. Tumbleweeds do what tumbleweeds so, they tumble by. And on the horizon a third passer is seen approaching.

Who do you think the next character in our story will be? Maybe you think it will be good ole’ average Joe-citizen? The people who originally heard this ancient story thought so. But it’s not. In fact, the third character approaching was their most vile, despicable enemy. Who would that be to you? Is it a terrorist? Is it an abusive family member or ex-spouse? Is it a business partner who has made poor decisions and led you to financial ruin? Is it a former religious leader who you have lost trust and faith in? Maybe it’s a fourth cousin to one of the Hatfields and McCoys which your family has longed had hatred against…so long ago that you’ve actually forgotten why you detest them so much!    For those who heard this story first, two thousand years ago, this third passer-by was an ethnically and racially mixed individual whose ancestors had defiled and desecrated their religious temples and most sacred or sacred objects. This third character represented everything evil the listeners could imagine. It was their most vile enemy that they would probably rather kill then to ever help out – .  As this person who the story calls a Samaritan sees the robbed, beaten, unconscious, helpless man in the ditch, the Samaritan stops. Gets down in to the ditch, renders first aid, cleanse his wounds and then places the man on his own horse or donkey that he had with him… and backtracks back to the town he came from and takes the wounded stranger to a local inn. The Samaritan couldn’t attend to all the wounded man’s needs, but he did arrange for his care, personally sacrificed and paid for several days and nights lodging as well as his hospitalization if need be and then personally stated that if more money was needed, that he would be back in a few days to settle any remaining expenses. This Samaritan showed compassion and empathy to a complete stranger in desperate need.

Did the Samaritan preach at the wounded man, scolding him to not travel alone on unfamiliar roads? No. Did the Samaritan leave a card of a rescue agency that the wounded man could go and get help? No. The Samaritan was neighborly and assisted the man to the fullest extent of his abilities and then arranged for other resources that he might need.

This ancient story was told by Jesus the Christ, as a responsive answer to a question by an expert in the Jewish law. It is recorded in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10 verses 25-37. The Jewish lawyer wanted to trick Jesus and had asked what he must do to have eternal life?

Jesus answered the sneaky lawyer’s question with a question. Jesus simply asked him what The Jewish Law stated. The Lawyer quoted the Jewish Shema, the foundational precept of their spiritual faith. From the Word of God in the Book of Deuteronomy, the lawyer expertly quotes “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength, and with all your mind.” He even added another passage from the Torah, “And love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus probably nodded, and affirmed him as being correct and then said, “Do this and you shall live.”

But the Jewish lawyer wanted to know actually what to DO rather than what to BE or BECOME. This is when the ancient story of The Good Samaritan was told. At the end of the story, Jesus asked the attorney who he thought was the best neighbor for the man in the ditch. The attorney replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

I’d like to believe Jesus also mean for him, for us to “Go and BE likewise”

This story is what I believe and what I hold dear as one of the theological precepts for what I do on a daily basis in chaplaincy ministry. Chaplaincy for me, is Being a neighbor to those in true need.  In this story, I have been every character. Maybe you see yourself as one or more as well?

I have been the busy Priest not wanting to stop and help.

I have been the curious but cautious church member and business man who really wasn’t quite willing to sacrifice or take on the responsibility and accountability of helping the man in the ditch.

I have probably also been the gang of thugs, who has robbed people of their joy, happiness or dreams due to my own selfishness or insensitivities.

But most of all, I’ve been the Man-in-the-Ditch. When I look back in my life, I see that I’ve been in great need of a Rescuer. I’ve been in great need of a Protector. I’ve been in great need of an Advocate. I’ve been in great need of a Caring Healer. I’ve been in great need of a true Peace Giver who can provide me with deep inner peace and inner well-being.

As being the Man-in-the Ditch, the Great Neighbor (point up) has rescued me from myself, the Great Neighbor has transformed me from the inside out out of my own selfishness to a possess a heart for others.

As being the Man-in-the-Ditch, the Great Neighbor has been a micro-dissector for my life. Through my scripture readings, my self-reflection, my meditations and prayer, God has been the ultimate spiritual micro-dissector helping me to identify and remove the ugly pathologies from my own life.

But as a Chaplain, I’m honored to serve as the third Passer-by and be that Neighbor in need to Others who have needs, To serve them in their emotional needs, as well as with their spiritual needs.

God was, is and will be my source for strength as I am drawn to people to assist.  As a chaplain I have been a front-row witness to glorious miracles and have personally experienced God’s presence and power in so many patient encounters. I have witnessed a catholic seminarian student essentially left for dead with skull fractures and brain fluid seeping out his ears, only to arise and speak to me without any deficits just 48 hours later, without surgery. I have witnessed the Breath of God come into a new born infant’s lungs and heart after an hour of no pulse. The power and presence of Our Almighty Creator should never be diminished or dismissed.  

Personally I do not believe we each can ever achieve and accomplish our own true self-awareness, humbleness and good neighborly qualities on our own without the intervening Hand of God. We each need an intervener, a spiritual micro-dissector, someone who can dispense a never ending amount of grace as well as a limitless level of internal peace that we have never felt before.

As a minister I hope that I never get calloused to the fact that I am privileged to represent the Divine. But everyone here can do this as well, through your own spirituality and through your growing faith in the Divine God who is our truly Great Neighbor and friend.

May God’s peace and love be felt within you,

Thank you.

What is Chaplaincy?

Chaplaincy is public ministry. A public ministry which serves others in who are in spiritual and emotional need. While each chaplain will possess their own theology and be endorsed by their specific faith tradition, chaplaincy ministry is not denominational or faith-specific.

Chaplaincy is not about converting others to the chaplain’s faith, but for the chaplain to “emotionally and spiritually connect to,” “be with,” and “serve” the other as appropriate and permitted. This often requires relationship-building and is permission-based. For example, I am a hospital chaplain. I possess the authority to walk into any room and introduce myself and speak to employees, patients, family members and physicians. But it will be the relationship, rapport and trust with others which develops beyond my initial “authority” which gives me continue permission to stay and minister.

I asked a close chaplain friend, who is of African ethnicity and trained in hospital and hospice chaplaincy, how he would answer the question, “What is chaplaincy?” Chaplain Zacarias Buhuro gave a great, succinct description:

“A Chaplain is someone in the journey with the patients and families. A Chaplain is not a fixer nor an answer giver. A Chaplain provides a unique presence to patients and families; a presence that allows them to show their deep vulnerability of being humans while facing a diagnosis that may lead to terminal illness. A Chaplain should be able to approach patients and families simultaneously with an agenda and without any agenda; an agenda to engage patients and families in distress situations or facing terminal illness and after they have been told “you have six months or less to live…” Without any agenda because a chaplain, though is a religious /spiritual representative, he or she should not assume and “bring” a God, religious and spirituality agenda to patients. God and hope are already there before the chaplain encounters patients and families.

A Chaplain is a pastoral and spiritual counselor, advocate and a guide. A chaplain should start from where the patients and families are here and now and use their religious beliefs, after an assessment, to articulate hope, despair and coping mechanism of patients and families. A Chaplain should not judge a patient’s of a family’s religious beliefs or non-beliefs, sexual orientation, race and origin; but facilitate the expression of feelings and provide active, empathetic listening to patients and families. A Chaplain should provide an assuring presence to families that may be feeling guilty that they did not do enough for their loved ones or allow patients to die while assuring them that their loved ones will be “ok” and that it is “ok” to die. A Chaplain has to be comfortable to talk about death and dying while some families and patients may be reluctant to touch the “elephant in the room”- Death. A Chaplain is a liaison with local churches, synagogues and mosques. Ultimately, a Chaplain should be open minded, flexible, cross culturally sensitive and understanding.”

I believe Chaplain Zac has an excellent grasp on what chaplaincy is to him and should be to others. Maybe you agree as well?