Caught Being Weak in the Garden

Okay, it happened again. I was reading some commentary on a Biblical passage. This one was from when Jesus said to His disciples in the garden,

“My soul is consumed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me.”
Going a little farther, He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

The commentary argued that Jesus was not under great stress. After all, expressing a wish to have “this cup” removed might suggest that Jesus wasn’t fully committed the Father’s will and plan. The same commentator suggested that when Jesus on the cross expressed “My God, My God. Why hast Thou forsaken Me” He was simply quoting Scripture to (allegedly) fulfill prophecy.

I have a lot of problems with this, and it makes me have a few questions:

  1. Is it possible that Jesus was fully committed to the will of the Father, while still being absolutely horrified at the path ahead? I mean, do we ever commit to something because we know it is right while overcoming the fear and stress associated with the plan?
  2. Did Jesus need the support of friends in a time of psychological and emotional stress? Is asking for help a sign of weakness…. or a sign of strength?
  3. Could it be that Jesus in time of great pain and distress felt a sense of abandonment from the Father… much as many of us can feel abandoned in times of great trials? And if this is so, does admitting this demonstrate a lack of faith, or show emotional honesty?
  4. Is it possible that the story of Jesus in the Garden was placed there to help us understand that the path of God is not easy, but we have the example of one committed to faithfulness no matter the cost? Would the story be more inspirational if Jesus was immune to sorrow, dread, stress, and pain?

I struggle understanding the motivation of undermining the pathos of the Crucifixion story. What is gained (logically, exegetically, narratively) in suggesting that Jesus did not feel the pain He quite understandably would feel, but was instead quoting lines of Scripture that were disconnected with His situation?

Generally, I think it comes from the discomfort many theologians or expositors have with feelings. Feelings are unreliable, untrustworthy. Weakness is to be denied. Many a Christian Theologian appear to prefer a Gnostic Jesus– one who is disconnected from humanity, human emotions, and physical pain.

I am reminded of the quote by B.B. Warfield

Our Lord’s emotions fulfilled themselves, as ours do, in physical reactions. He who hungered (Matt. 4:2), thirsted (John 19:20), was weary (John 4:6), who knew both physical pain and pleasure, expressed also in bodily affections the emotions that stirred his soul… Not only do we read that he wept (John 11:35) and wailed (Luke 19:41), sighed (Mark 7:34), and groaned (Mark 8:12), but we read also of his angry glare (Mark 3:5), his annoyed speech (Mark 10:14), his chiding words (e.g. Mark 3:12), the outbreaking ebullition of rage (e.g. John 11:33 and 38), of the agitation of his bearing when under strong feelings (John 11:35), the open exaltation of his joy (Luke 10:21), the unrest of his movements in the face of anticipated evils (Matt. 27:37), the loud cry which was wrung from him in his moment desolation (Matt. 27:46).”
-BB. Warfield

Paul said in II Corinthians 12 that God allows us to remain weak so that we can experience God’s grace. Strength is found in overcoming the weakness, not denying the weakness.

I have likewise heard similar words on Elijah where a commentator expressed shock that God would call such a “weak” man as Elijah… one who WHEN THREATENED WITH DEATH… runs away. I wonder whether that is the point. God works with lots of weak people. I don’t think God created any strong people, and if He did, I doubt He ever would work with them.

God only works with weak people.

Roles of the Chaplain

I know that people tend to think of chaplaincy as decidedly different from missionary. However, both come from a missional spirit, as one embraces the calling to serve others outside of the church setting. Well, I was supposed to give an commissioning address for some chaplain trainees at our center a couple of weeks ago. Sadly, our neighborhood was locked-down due to illness, Thefore, I could not speak. I decided to share the first draft of my message here. It is more finished at the beginning than the end. Hopefully, I will finish it soon… but what I have done is pretty useful, I think.

CPE has been found useful for many people in Christian ministry, as well as people in other forms of service. However, there has been a tradition of CPE used for chaplains. Chaplains are ministers whose congregation is not the church. This can include the military, a hospital, a jail, a community, a corporation, a government agency, at iba pa. So I will tell my first experience with chaplains.

Many years ago, I graduated from college and I decided to join the United States Navy. I went to Officer Candidate School (OCS)

During the fist week is Indoctrination Week. Our heads our shaved. We have to get up early for exercise, we do everything as a group. We have almost no individual freedom. We C.I.s yell at us and give us orders and emotionally abused. This is supposed to develop a group identity and a feeling of belonginess. I am not sure that that worked for me. All I could think of was that I completed a bechelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, and now I am being treated like people treat a stray dog.

However, during Indoc week, we were scheduled to meet the Navy Chaplains. I think that one was Southern Baptist, another United Methodist, and a third Roman Catholic. We were marched to the Navy chapel (“Chapel of Hope”), and told where to sit. The chaplains welcomed us. They thanked our company instructors (our motivational abusers). Then the chaplains told the instructors to leave the sanctuary. After the instructors left, the chaplains went back and ceremoniously closed the back door of the sanctuary.

At that point, the chaplains told us to relax. The chapel is a refuge, a chapel of hope… there is no rank in the chapel. Chaplains will talk to us as people… not rates, paygrades, divisions, and ID numbers. They will also do their best to minister to everyone… even those of a different faith.

This is a liberating concept. My experience with Navy chaplains has been that they practice what they preach (a good thing). I enjoyed going to the Chapel of Hope on Sundays. Later, on my ship we had a chaplain. He was Southern Baptist. When he left the ship, he was replaced by an Assembly of God chaplain. Truthfully, I never met a chaplain I did not like. In the military, we were separated from our home churches, and often could not connect with a church group. Chaplains helped in this situation.

Chaplains have numerous roles. There have have been some attempts to describe these roles. I will describe some of these roles here.  See the Table at the bottom of this post.

First. A Chaplain in a sense embraces the role of an Apostle. An apostle was one who went out from the church to share God’s message of hope to those who are not part of the church.

So a chaplain does exactly this. A chaplain serves outside of the church being the carrior of hope to the hopeless and grace to hurting.

But a chaplain is not an apostle. A chaplain is not really a proselytizer… A chaplain is not a churchplanter. A chaplain’s ministry is much broader… serving those who accept the message of God and those who reject the message of God.

Thinking of Chaplain as Apostles, I think of St. Francis. He served in the streets not the cathedrals. And like St. Francis, preaching the gospel through actions… if necessary, use words.

Second, A Chaplain in a sense embraces the role of a Prophet. A prophet preaches the word of God, The Prophet served God, but also served the people by being an advocate for the people. Commonly, a prophet sought to express God’s role as an advocate of the people against the government.

As such, a positive role of a chaplain is that he or she can act as an advocate of the people— hospital patients, inmates, military personnel, and so forth— to help the institution.

But there is a bad side as well. A chaplain may serve as an advocate of the people, but is also a servant of the institution. A chaplain should never become a pawn of the institution (a “court prophet” in the worst sense)  but should not see him/herself as an enemy of the institution. He or she must work with institution, seeking to transform it, not overthrow it.

The metaphor of the “Wise fool” applies. A chaplain is like a jester, who works in the court, but is also an outsider. He can say what needs to be said, when others cannot.

Third.  A chaplain may be seen as Pastor.

The chaplain can provide a church (or church equivalent) for cannot be with their church (such as in hospital, jail, military, etc.) The chaplain can provide a community of faith where there is none.

Negatively, a chaplain may make the error of simply becoming a churchplanter. The role is much broader. It is not simply to provide a church for those away from home.

The image related to this role is the Shepherd.

Fourth.  A chaplain may be seen also as a Deacon.

A chaplain is meant to be a servant. He or she should serve all those who are in need. Frankly this draws from the earliest images of chaplaincy. Chaplains were those who helped travelers on their pilgrimmages.

However, chaplains are not just do-gooders. It is nice to be nice. But a chaplain must do more.

At it’s best, it is as Jesus who humbled Himself and served, or Martin of Tours— the founder of chaplaincy

Fifth. A Chaplain may be seen as a Priest

A chaplain serves as a priest in the sense of one who brings the holy into the mundane or secular setting.

However, much like the rest, this can be taken too far. A chaplain should not simply be the purveyor of symbols— a professional pray-er, or a dispenser of wafer and wine.

The related metaphor for this is “Circus clown.”  He or she connects the people (the audience) with that which is stunning or awe-inspiriring, while still being ordinary.

Sixth.  The final one is the Chaplain being a Monastic. Back in the 4th century, Christianity became a favored religion and finally a State Religion in the Roman Empire and in Armenia. The church became popular and as people flooded the churches and small gatherings became great basilicas, some were repulsed by what was happening in the churches. They left the church and moved into the deserts and wastelands to be alone with themselves and with God. Strangely, they started meeting other people who had experienced the same thing. These people who were trying to be alone began to gather together, and eventually started reaching out to others who were outside of the church.

A chaplain works with people who rejected the church or who were rejected by the church, or those who have rejected God. There is a pretty well-known story of a chaplan who served in a university. As chaplain he was scheduled to meet with all of the new students one at a time. Over and over again, a pattern would happen. The chaplain would meet with a student. He would introduce himself to the student and talk about the programs and services available through the chaplain’s office. The student would respond with, “Well, it is nice to meet you Chaplain, but you aren’t likely to see me very much.”

“Why is that?” asked the Chaplain.

“Oh because I don’t believe in God.” replies the student.

“Okay. Tell me about it.”

          Good. The chaplain can provide a church for those who rejected the church or those for whom the church has rejected them.

             Bad. The chaplain can become a Cultist. Just as the the chaplain challenges the secular institution without going to war with it, the chaplain challenges ones own church or denomination without rejecting or going to war with it.

Chaplain As Is Is not Example
Apostle Sent out to Give Hope Just a proselytizer St. Francis
Prophet Advocate for the People At war with institutions. “Wise Fool”
Pastor Church for the unchurched Just a Churchplanter Shepherd
Deacon Servant of All Just a Do-gooder Martin of Tours
Priest Bringing the Holy into the Mundane Just a Religious Symbol “Circus Clown”
Monastic Ministering to those who rejected the church or the church has rejected. A “Cultist”– rejecting or replacing the church Jesus

In conclusion, __________________________________________

The Murky Waters of Ministerial Restoration

I chose not to name names here, but as the stories/charges from my former school have multiplied since I first wrote this narrow somewhat even-handed post, I invite you to read more on your own… https://rightingamerica.net/rape-sexual-harassment-and-more-the-cedarville-stories-are-multiplying/?fbclid=IwAR3w4PvmDPtu5fcnddvHU_EtiR1P534Vdd3PsOu0NVUvx5ZfJlSsFNt5CUQ

A Christian college I attended years ago has been in the news lately. It recently fired a professor (I will call him “Dr. Smith”) for sexual misbehavior. Technically speaking, it wasn’t for sexual misbehavior— there had been no documented sexual misbehavior during his time as professor. Rather, it was discovered that some of his sexual misbehavior that was known from the past had been covered up. The college had accepted Dr. Smith as having made “one mistake” when later it was discovered that he had actually had a pattern of misbehavior, at least in the past. Essentially, he was accepted “warts and all.” However, he intentionally allowed things to be kept undisclosed during the hiring process, so such a cover-up can suffice as a basis for being let go.

The professor is a married man but had videotaped one of his assistant (male) ministers taking a shower in the nude. The school had accepted this as an admitted area of struggle for Dr. Smith and something he was repentant of and seeking to grow beyond. The school gave him a list of probationary limitations, as well as disciplinary and accountability actions, towards restoration. However, when the school found out that the problem was much bigger with past actions closer to stalking and coercing over a long period of time, the school felt they could not accept this and let him go.

I can understand the school’s position. If someone (we can call him Tom) told an employer that he once stole $10 dollars from a neighbor when he was in college, that employer can accept this information and address it. But if it was later discovered that Tom had been a habitual thief for years, the employer may be perfectly justified to let him go, even if he hasn’t been found to have stolen during his employment there. The justification would not be because of theft, but because of lying/deception.

There are so many issues that come up in this tiny little story.

First… Many people have called for the resignation of the president of the school— we can call him “Pres. Jones.” I personally can’t call myself a supporter of the president. He is a Complementarian and I am not, so I must admit that I don’t like his actions that have continued to move my former school more in that Complementarian direction. However, it seems like the school was already well along moving in that direction without the help of Pres. Jones, so I am not too motivated to hold that strongly against him. I do, personally, respect a leader who supports forgiveness and restoration (with appropriate discipline and accountability measures inplace). I don’t think ministerial roles should only be given to people with zero marks against them from the past (either because of no major moral failings, or because the failings have been well-hidden). Paul and David were given second chances ministerially after sinful activities that most everyone would have trouble ignoring. Peter denied Christ (much in line with the activity decried during the Donatist controversy. Two disciples of Christ wanted to ask God to call down fire on people who refused to show them hospitality.

I like the fact that President Jones was willing to give Dr.Smith a chance. I also like the fact that there were disciplinary limitations put in place. Of course, there are still reasons for concern.

  • Concern #1 was that it sounds like the issue wasn’t well-researched. It even sounds like the school did not speak to the victim. If that is the case, it is hard to say that Dr. Jones applied due diligence to the matter. If this is true, then the situation is, indeed, partly his fault.
  • Concern #2 was that there was some suggestion that the decision of Pres. Jones to hire Dr. Smith was because of Smith’s connection to “Pres.. Johnson” the former boss of Pres. Jones. Pres. Johnson has a bit of a spotty record known by many for an attitude that could be described as “Boys will be boys, and girls should just keep quiet about it.” Was the decision to hire based on old boys network or based on genuine concern for restoration. I have no idea.
  • Concern #3. If one reads all of the things the school set in place to provide disciplinary support and accountability for Dr. Smith… well, they sound a bit fake. When I say fake, I am not saying the list was not actually drawn up. It might have existed. However, I have seen this sort of list made before, and rarely if ever are they actually carried out. Often the list is little more than a cynical way to “cover one’s own back side.” I would prefer to be wrong on this concern (as well as the others). I want to think the accountability/disciplinary structure was set up to EQUALLY protect the student body, and help the professor. But that might not be the case.

The Second issue is about whether one should hire a person who has sexually acted out in the past at all. For some, sexually acting out is a greater sin than other sins. As such, it can’t be overlooked. Others may see sexual sin as pointing to problems that simply do not go away. Recidivism is so high that one cannot take the risk on the person ever again.

I don’t really see sexual abuse as greater than other forms of abuse. Many bosses and teachers abuse emotionally, or maintain abusive power dynamics in their leadership. Or they cheat, or are unforgiving, or are corrupt. Churches and schools often give these a pass while see sexually acting out as being beyond restoration ministerially.

And you know what? I get it. I long felt that way. One of the articles I read included the comments of a sex abuse expert in Christian ministry. I will call her Dr. Wilson. Dr. Wilson seemed to hold the view that once a sexual predator, always a sexual predator. As such, there should be no restoration ever. I can understand this opinion, and can even give anecdotes that support this. I have a colleague who had done counseling with a minister who had sexually acted out (I won’t share details here for many reasons) with a number of women in his youth group. The church decided to cover it up (the usually response, frankly). The women decided to cover it up as well either due to pressure from family, or because of fear of public shaming. My colleague did counseling with him, but because of the church’s unwillingness to act, the counseling could be no more than advice listened to voluntarily. There were no teeth in the discipline. That minister went to work in a Christian school (one that did not background check). The minister, now serving as a teacher, sexually acted out. Then he left and went to another school, also with no background check done, and repeated the same behavior. I don’t know where he is now.

From stories like this and Donn Ketcham scandal (you can look that one up if you want), it is easy to see why some would say, “Never do restoration…. it traumatizes the victims and gives the minister a new opportunity to start acting out again.” Since many people who have failed sexually (or in other ways in the past) do not in fact repeat their actions, I am guessing the views is really “They could act out again, and we can’t take that risk.”

But what failings are so bad that one cannot be restored ministerially? Abuse involving Sex? Money? Power? It is hard to draw the line.

I rather like the standards in the Missions Community that have circulated in recent years. It applies a ZERO TOLERANCE policy to sexual misbehavior, and a REAL referencing policy for new work. That is, if a person applies for a new job, the former employer will give a real report of why that applicant was let go. This seems reasonable. In the end the new potential employer has the freedom to decide what to do about this. The new employer should make an informed decision… but ultimately it should be their own decision.

In the end, as to this second concern, I can respect two different views. If a Christian ministry says, “We can’t risk our membership or students by hiring this person,” I can actually respect that. If a Christian ministry says, “We have researched the applicant’s past fully, and we have decided to bring them in but under well-controlled circumstances,” I can respect that as well. I can’t respect the middle ground that ends up making decisions based on how one “feels” about the situation, based on rumors rather than on what is merciful AND just, and based on good research.

My Third concern was something that was said by Dr. Wilson. She said something to the effect that even if Dr.Smith did not act out again, it would be based on the external limitations placed upon him rather than internal controls. I am not sure one can say that definitively, but I hardly see why guilt should be the only social motivator that is found acceptable, not valuing shame or fear. Frankly, pretty much everyone has areas in their lives in which they don’t do what is wrong because of fear (of punishment) or shame (reduction of social capital). It seems to me to be bad Evangelical theology to see guilt as the only one that should be considered valid.

I have dealt with a number of ministers who have struggled with sin (sometimes sexual and sometimes not). They can be separated loosely into three broad categories.

  • Category #1. This group feels great remorse/guilt over what they have done as well as shame for what they have done. They express openly what they have done and desire to live out a full repentance. This is a very small group. It is possible that this group does not actually exist. This type of person is exactly the type of person who should be restored. Sadly, they can be hard to identify. Geneerally, however, they don’t miimize their own role. They don’t try to shift blame. They tend to accept discipline and want to have accountability. They want to change, or be changed.
  • Category #2. This group feels great shame that they have been caught. They want the situation to go away. In some cases, they do want to not return to their past sin. Ultimately, however, they don’t want to make any major changes to bring this about. In other cases, any statements on repentance are just words to get people off their backs. These people are often (but not always) easy to identify. They tend to minimize their role and shift blame. They will agree to a lot of steps for restoration but then find ways to get out of doing them.
  • Category #3. This group is like Category #1. This group feels great remores/guilt over what they have done as well as shame for what they have done. They express openly what they have done and desire to live out a full repentance. In all of this, the group sounds like Category #1. The difference is that there are seeds of destruction in them. It is like an alcoholic who really really really wants to step away from his addiction— but then a trigger comes along and the person falls again into the addictive cycle. This category of person can be restored, but needs outside help. This person needs external accountability support and rules to keep from falling back into past mistakes. This category is a large number of people. It is hard to say whether Category #2 or #3 are larger. In my experience, they are close to the same size.

So if category #2 should not be in ministry, what about #1 and #3? #1 and #3 should be treated the same. Unless the individual tells us, we cannot know for sure which one has triggers or situations in which they cannot help backslide into. In fact, the individual may not know either.

But when you think about it, everyone of us is in one of these three categories as well. We all sin in one way or another. The wall of separation between “us” and “them” is porous, separated only in terms of seriousness, scope of, or type of sin. We all need accountability and social restraints.

That is my problem with Dr. Wilson. Fallen pastors are not a unique category of person that cannot be restored. They are like us— that is a good thing and a bad thing. If they need outside social motivators to keep them doing what is right and not doing what is wrong… that is not a valid condemnation.

Ft it was a valid condemnation, pretty much all of us will have to join in being condemned.

…..

So should Dr. Smith have been fired. Well, by now it has long since shifted from being an ethical issue to being a political issue. Politically, he had to be let go. If it is true that Dr. Smith covered up and minimized much of the wrongdoing, this may well point to the fact that he is racked by public shame more than embracing his own responsibility and need to change. Those that cover up tend to repeat the same thing later. But that is a lot of guesswork on my part. Obviously, I am not privy to the what on behind closed doors… and even less what is going on in different people’s hearts and minds.

Can You Do Good Pastoral Counseling With Bad Pastoral Theology?

I decided to move some articles from an old blog of mine on Pastoral Theology. That is why some of my posts here are more about pastoral counseling and theology rather than “classic” missions. But since I am in missions and am an administrator at a pastoral counseling center, it is not NOT missions. 

I think this is a good question. I believe the answer to this question is YES!! I have certainly seen people who do a good job with pastoral counseling whose pastoral theology seems… inadequate. Pastoral Theology is Cyclic, Reflective, and founded on a good Theological base and on Experience.

So what are a couple of risks to pastoral counseling when one has poor pastoral theology?

  1. One’s pastoral counseling role is limited. This is if the reflection side is limited by poor or limited theology. Consider the case of Naaman the leper in the Bible. In the story, the servant girl of Naaman was able to give some wise guidance to him through his wife that there was a man in Israel who could help him. It seems as if she did not know much more than this. She did not know his name, or location. Possibly she did not know that much about the Mosaic Law or of ethics… but she knew what she she needed to tell in that specific occasion. Later in the story, other servants of Naaman also give some wise counsel. They were not even people of the Jewish faith, presumably, but they drew from good sagely wisdom that was well established in the Near East at that time. If Naaman was willing to do great tasks on the uncertain hope to be healed, why not do something easy if asked (that may take just a wee bit of humility)? These people were able to give good (pastoral) counseling but most likely their range of effectiveness would be limited.
  2. If one was doing something wrong in pastoral counseling, it is likely that one would perpetuate the mistake over and over again. The inability to learn and grow in this case would be due to poor reflection. One does not learn and grow. The story that comes to mind was a church I used to attend where at the prayer meeting, different ill people would be brought up to be prayed over. Many of them were considered to be “terminal cases.” However, in the prayer the request was that they be fully healed (not healed through death, but healed from death). The prayers were actually not so much a request but a demand. “God you said that you would do whatever we ask you to do, so we declare _________ as healed by the power of your name.” Ironically, several of these prayers were followed in a matter of days by that person’s death. I kept waiting for the members of the group to dwell on the fact that their seemed to be a powerful disconnect between their theology of God (the idea that God has obligated Himself to subvert His will to our will whenever we choose) and what God actually did.

So, Yes, good pastoral counseling can be done by those with poor pastoral theology. However, I believe that good pastoral theology increases the range of one’s pastoral counseling skills, and decreases the amount of repeating the same errors.

Developing a Theological Thanatology

Let’s just face facts for a moment.

 

EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS ARE UNCOMFORTABLE WITH DEATH

 

Isn’t that a crazy thought? We embrace a future and hopeful orientation. How could such an outlook ignore perhaps the most important milestone that each of us go through in the path into the future– death?  Let me give a few anecdotal evidences of this:

 

  • So many Christian books written on the Rapture. Considering that the Pre-Trib conception of Rapture is Biblically shaky at best,  it really makes one wonder why there are any books on this topic at all.  If there were 1000 books on Rapture, there should be 100,000 books on death— a certain concept and the most likely end of this part of our existence for the vast majority of potential readers.
  • So many books and websites trying to identify the day and hour of the return of Christ. I know so many people who pray that Christ will return really really soon. Why? Not sure. If one really wants to leave this earth before God is done reaching out with mercy to mankind, one should find solace that we are very much mortal and can leave well before God is finished with what he is doing.  If it is true that Christ can return any day, it is equally certain that our heart could stop in any second.
  • I have talked to a number of Evangelicals who lost a loved one. I would ask the surviving partner if he or she had talked to the other about death,  preparing for death, and addressing issues of the family after death. On several occasions the answer was something akin to “No we never talked about death. We always talked about how God was going to heal even up to the last moments.” That actually makes me a bit sad. I hope I can embrace death when the time draws near and help my family to embrace my passing as well. But if the one dying chooses to live in denial— that is their right, it should be honored I think.
  • I had been a member of a church that would pray over and over again for people to be healed. When someone got better, members would praise God. When someone died… SILENCE. No reflection on it… Did God fail? Did we fail? Is our theological perspective on death faulty? Is death a natural inevitable part of life? There was absolutely no reflection. That pastor told me that Filipinos don’t like to think about sad or difficult things. I have not seen this to be true… but I could be wrong.
  • Over the years denominations have struggled strangely with connecting Resurrection with their “Christian burial.” Does cremation (or aquamation or “natural burial” or mummification or enbalming) serve as a good or necessary Christian death or does it somehow desecrate the body. Does it draw into question resurrection or affirm it or have no relationship positive or negative to it at all. Does one need to be planted in sanctified soil or mausoleum? <I recall someone asking the former President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary when he visited the Philippines his thoughts on cremation. He stated that theologically speaking there is nothing wrong with cremation. However, then he went on for maybe 5 or 10 minutes explaining how burial of an uncremated body treats the body as more “sacred” than other methods. I really think he should have stopped after his first statement. The rest did not make any sense as far as I could see. Are worms and bacteria more dignified and sacred, really?>

 

I don’t know… maybe it is just me… but I think Christians need to have a better understanding of death.

 

 

 

 

  • Death is a natural, normal part of the living process.
  • Death is not a failure. It may be a result of The Curse, but it is not necessarily itself a curse.
  • Statistically speaking (and historically speaking) the most likely way that Christians have ceased and (presumably) will cease their  corporeal functioning on earth is through the stopping of the heart rather than being called up into the clouds.
  • It is healthy to talk about death in the family.
  • We need to realize that praying for someone to recover from an illness, prolonging the death process, may not only be acting in opposition to God’s will (one of the few things that we know is God’s will for everyone is that we die) but it may also be cruel. I could be wrong, but I think that if I was near death and struggling, it would be a comfort to have loved ones around me and affirming that it okay if I let go.
  • While many say that we should not speak ill of the dead, we do in fact speak ill of them when we lie about them. People are a strange combination of good and bad… of joy and pain… of the transcendent and the mundane. The dead deserve a gentle truth-telling (and perhaps even moreso the living). <I was thinking that it was Robert Heinlein who described a role in future funerals where a person would deeply study a deceased person’s life and then share it, warts and all, at the funeral. It was seen as honoring and cathartic. Maybe it was Orson Scott Card, not Heinlein. Card wrote a book called “Speaker for the Dead.” Maybe that was it.>
  • Funerals and burials are still a place where secular people often draw on religion or at least religious rituals of passage as a coping aid. As such, the church should come up with better ways to address this important transition more reflectively than “Oh good. We can plug a gospel presentation to this group of trapped grievers!”
  • We need to find ways to express our faith but also honor the cultures we are in.

 

I was raised up in farming country where we understand all too well that our survival comes from the death of animals and plants, and that death is part of a very normal and healthy life cycle. My father (although professionally an engineer) served as the sexton for our community cemetery. I helped out there. He was also a bit of a local genealogist and would spend freetime often visiting cemeteries to record data from headstones, as well as digging up census data to work out family trees. I would help him maintain the cemetery and once or twice even helped dig a grave. Although my connection with death is not overly deep, it is strong enough for me to realize that a body (embalmed or not) in the ground would need to be resurrected through miraculous means every bit as powerful as that needed to resurrect cremains, aquamation remains, mummified remains and the like.

 

Anyway, don’t want to drag this out too far. But as Christians we need Theological Thanatology.

 

Thanatology is “the scientific study of death and the practices associated with it, including the study of the needs of the terminally ill and their families.”

 

But we need a theological Thanatology that is systematic, practical, and pastoral. And it should not be hidden in the confines of dusty library shelves, or seminary lecture halls. It should be practiced in the presence of death and dying, and taught in the churches.

 

<I noticed that the Youtube Channel “Ask a Mortician” has several hundred thousand subscribers. While she does do a good job of coming up with interesting topics to pull in “death enthusiasts,” I can’t help but think that part of her appeal is that she answers the questions that people avoid talking about, and normalizes a process that many are trained to think of as abnormal.>

Updated Book, “Dialogue in Pastoral Counseling and Training”

Celia and I have gone through our most recentfront art-27357538485030309008..jpg book, Dialogue in Pastoral Counseling and Training, and made a few modest changes. Some of these were fixing small glitches. Played with the structure in spots as well. I think the book is stronger now.

Yes, I know that this blog is MOSTLY about missions, and this particular book is more for training chaplains and pastoral counselors. I have noted that there is a strong overlap of pastoral care and missions, despite the seeming opposite goals. Several of the chapters are quite relevant to missions. The most obvious one is doing pastoral counseling in different cultures. However, theological reflection, group dynamics, family dynamics, and supervisory relations are just a few of the topics that are quite relevant.

As of January 6, 2020, the update of the book has already taken effect for the Kindle version on Amazon. I assume that the paperback version will have its changes approved and available no later than January 9th.   The Book is Available by CLICKING HERE.

By the way, the next book, I think, will be back to being more formally missions. The topic would be Mission to Samaria. The overarching theme of the book is on missions that focuses on the neighbors we tend to ignore. Anyway, that is enough for now. Hopefully, it will happen this year. Still need to work on the online courses for Pastoral Care, and for Cultural Anthropology. I probably should do that before I work more on the new book.

 

Is Righteous Anger Righteous?

Before getting into the topic, I would like

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Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

to share with you my view of anger. I think anger is neither good nor bad. It is an emotion and emotions are not good or bad. Emotions begin to take on ethical concerns when tied to motives and actions. In this sense, then, I believe that anger itself is neither righteous nor unrighteous. Thus, the term “righteous anger” is neither self-contradictory, nor even paradoxical. But it may not be a useful term.

“Righteous Anger” seems to have come out of the cultural belief that anger is in itself… bad. Some prefer the term “righteous indignation. Of course, to some extent indignation can be seen as a different emotion, or perhaps a more nuanced emotion. Often indignation suggests anger that is motivated by injustice. Thus Aristotle saw it as a healthy state— between envy and spite— a golden mean. Therefore, righteous indignation is anger motivated by the injustice at the success of the undeserving. (Are there, however, people who deserve to be successful and people who don’t?)

In Christian circles, I think indignation is usually just a euphemism. A person who is clearly angry may choose to defend himself by saying… “I am NOT angry… I have righteous indignation.” That has the double problem to me as it seems to be both emotionally dishonest, and suggesting false virtue.

For Christians, it is big concern since the Bible describes God as angy at times. The dominant emotion of God in the New Testament is Love, the dominant emotion used to describe Jesus in the Gospels is compassion, and the dominant emotion ascribed to God in the Old Testament is mercy. The latter two, compassion and mercy, could perhaps be better said to be emotions tied to motivation and action. Nevertheless, anger or wrath are certainly described as emotions of God.

Some would argue that God doesn’t have emotions. Emotions are neurochemical responses that we have as biochemical lifeforms. God is spirit not flesh so emotions are not really part of His nature. From this view, God could be seen as not having emotions as we do (impassibility), and the emotional descriptions of God are simply attempts to make God make more sense to us (anthropomorphisms). I would argue oppositely. I would argue that God does have emotions, and created us with a biochemical analog of this characteristic of God.

That being said, I do think that sometimes the anger of God is used in the Bible to help explain something about God to us, rather than explain His actual emotional state. A good example of this is in the theological concept of Propitiation. The concept is drawn from a term in the Bible meaning to assuage or satisfy the wrath of God. As it is used by some theologians, it says that God is full of anger because of our sins, and the only thing that can fully satisfy or remove that anger is the blood (death) of Jesus. I personally, think the language is more metaphoric than literal. My main reason for believing this is that Jesus was able to walk around for over three decades on earth without appearing to be full of rage about people’s sinful behavior. Many Christians like to use the expression, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” In the case of Christ, it seems more like “Love the Sinner, Inspire the Good.” The term “propitiation” seems more like a metaphor for salvation, much like “justification,” “redemption,” and “adoption.”

Additionally, in some places in the Bible, hate or anger appear to be emotion-laden terms that actually refer to a much less emotional activity. When it says that for God, “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated,” this seems to be less about emotion, and more about choice. After all, God actually chose to bless both brothers. However, the salvific history of God runs through Jacob.

Other places, it is not that simple. Jesus showed a wide range of emotions that have the spontaneity of the emotions we are familiar with. In Christian theology this should not be surprising since we see Jesus as fully human. However, such genuine emotions does not seem to be out of touch with the description of God’s quality. Thus, Jesus as fully God is not inconsistent with his emotions.

I like the quote of B.B. Warfield in this regard,

“Our Lord’s emotions fulfilled themselves, as ours do, in physical reactions. He who hungered (Matt. 4:2), thirsted (John 19:20), was weary (John 4:6), who knew both physical pain and pleasure, expressed also in bodily affections the emotions that stirred His soul… Not only do we read that He wept (John 11:35) and wailed (Luke 19:41), sighed (Mark 7:34), and groaned (Mark 8:12), but we read also of His angry glare (Mark 3:5), His annoyed speech (Mark 10:14), His chiding words (e.g. Mark 3:12), the outbreaking ebullition of rage (e.g. John 11:33 and 38), of the agitation of His bearing when under strong feelings (John 11:35), the open exaltation of His joy (Luke 10:21), the unrest of His movements in the face of anticipated evils (Matt. 27:37), the loud cry which was wrung from Him in His moment of desolation (Matt. 27:46).”

When I was young, I was told that anger was okay, ONLY if it was directed in support of the holiness of God. Jesus expressed anger at the sellers at the temple because it lowered God’s glory by turning a place of worship into a den of thieves. But is this the only time that anger is good?

Years ago, I was driving in Baguio City, when I saw a small girl walking on the sidewalk. She was carrying her books close to her, was hunched over, and appeared to be crying or on the verge of crying. Right behind her were two boys slightly larger than her. They were saying things that appeared to be derisive (although I could not hear them) and were tossing small pebbles at her. I also noticed that others who were around were ignoring her situation. I felt angry. I stopped my car in the busy traffic got out of my car and yelled at the boys to stop what they were doing immediately. Was that unrighteous anger. I don’t know. Perhaps it was. It certainly wasn’t directed towards defending God. But I would argue that God has called on us to focus more attention on defending the weak, the innocent, the disempowered, and the marginalized, than on defending Him. God can defend Himself quite well if the need arises. I think this type of anger is quite appropriate.

Since anger is built into our limbic system to trigger quickly, even though it is a “secondary emotion,” almost before we can identify the trigger, it seems as if God designed us to be angry… at times. Overcoming anger is not always a virtue.

That being said, in missions one must also realize that in many cultures, anger is seen as almost always wrong. It is also true that many people have used “righteous anger” as a justification for unspeakable evil at times.

So where are we? My post has been pretty convoluted. However, it seems like the answer is that we should throw out the phrase “righteous anger.” Anger is anger. It can be triggered by appropriate things as well as inappropriate. It can motivate one to good actions or evil actions. It can be healthy to express anger in some environments and unhealthy to express that same anger in another context. In the end, I just don’t see it as a useful term. The guidance of St. Paul in Ephesians 4 seems appropriate:

Be angry, but do not sin.

Intercultural Counseling

It has been a slow process, but the book that Celia and I are working on is kind of done. That is, it is done in terms of content. It is called “Dynamics in Pastoral Counseling” and is to serve as a textbook for some of our training. Of course, there is still editing, adjusting format, and finishing bibliography and index. So don’t know when it will be done. But getting closer. Here is a pre-editing section.

 

Caring for those of another culture is a challenge. David Hesselgrave describes several dimensions of culture that impact effective communication.

 

  • Worldviews (How we perceive the world)
  • Cognitive Processes (How we think)
  • Linguistic Forms (How we express ideas)
  • Behavioral Forms (How we act)
  • Social Structures (How we interact)
  • Media Influences (How we channel the message)
  • Motivational Resources (How we decide)5

 

All of these (with the POSSIBLE exception of Media Influences) are very relevant in pastoral counseling. There are too many different combinations of cultural possibilities between the counselor and the client to list here (or anywhere). It is not the responsibility of the client. There are some basic rules.

Figure 10. Cultural Distance in the Counselor-Client Relationship

 

 

Rule #1. Lessening of the Gap is the Job of the Counselor, NOT the Client. Refer to Figure 10. This may seem obvious after one thinks about it for a bit. However, culture is not so much a matter of thought as much as habit. We develop habits of behaviors, interpretations of experiences, and ways of communicating that are reinforced by those we share a culture with. The counselor needs to make a conscious effort to override habit and adjust himself or herself to the client. The language used should be language comfortable to the client. The style and manner of the counselor should be correctly interpretable by the client.

 

Rule #2. The Gap is never erased. While it may be the job of the counselor to reduce the cultural gap, it is not realistic to reduce that distance to nothing. Sherwood Lingenfelter has suggested that a missionary serving in a cross-cultural setting for years probably will become acculturated perhaps only about 75%. If that is true, there would be a 25% cultural disconnect between the missionary and the host culture. The cultural distance between the counselor and client should be acknowledged. Identifying it is a good first step to be sure that there is good communication feedback to reduce miscommunication.

 

Rule #3. The Gap should be honored. People tend to have a natural reaction of rejecting the reasonableness of situations that are caused by cultural situations that they don’t understand or value. So if a counselor is talking to a young woman who is struggling with the fact that her parents are pressuring her to marry someone that she doesn’t like, much less love, it counselor may feel the temptation to say, “Well this seems simple. Just tell your parents that your are a grown woman and certainly don’t need their help to find a proper spouse.” Such a response is ill-considered when the woman is in a culture where family and shame are given more importance and the parents commonly arrange marriages, not just “bless” them. The counselor needs to bracket these feelings. On the other hand the counselor should not simply embrace the common ground approach. “I understand exactly what you are going through?” Attempts to minimize the differences can come of as condescending or manipulative. The differences should be honored, and even disclosed. It may be appropriate to say, “In my culture we tend to do things differently, so I struggle to understand your situation. Please help me understand.”

 

Rule #4. Healthy in the Client culture may appear different to healthy in the Counselor’s culture. A counselor speaking to someone in the military may struggle with the fact that a healthy person in the military places high priority on employment hierarchy and on subordination. A healthy person in a very family-centered culture or a healthy person from a very egalitarian open society may look considerably different from this.

 

This is not to say that all there is not room for challenges. A culture that establishes well-being or success in terms of accolades from strangers (as opposed to affirmation from loved ones or achieving a one’s own sense of calling) may need to be challenged. Challenge should, however, be cautious. The temptation to fall into judgmentalism of what one doesn’t understand can poison the therapeutic relationship between the counselor and the client.

 

Rule #5. Despite differences, there are universals. An enduring image in the West has fit under the label, “The Inscrutable Oriental.” The term “inscrutable” means “impossible to understand or interpret.” This was the stereotyped view of some that people from Asia think and behave in ways that are impossible to understand by Western minds. But were they really inscrutable? Most likely not. Rather, people of the West did not make the time and effort to understand. We are all human. Our commonality as humans allows us to understand, at least on some significant level, others even where there may be sizable cultural differences.

 

Rule #1. Lessening of the Gap is the Job of the Counselor, NOT the Client. Refer to Figure 10. This may seem obvious after one thinks about it for a bit. However, culture is not so much a matter of thought as much as habit. We develop habits of behaviors, interpretations of experiences, and ways of communicating that are reinforced by those we share a culture with. The counselor needs to make a conscious effort to override habit and adjust himself or herself to the client. The language used should be language comfortable to the client. The style and manner of the counselor should be correctly interpretable by the client.

 

Rule #2. The Gap is never erased. While it may be the job of the counselor to reduce the cultural gap, it is not realistic to reduce that distance to nothing. Sherwood Lingenfelter has suggested that a missionary serving in a cross-cultural setting for years probably will become acculturated perhaps only about 75%. If that is true, there would be a 25% cultural disconnect between the missionary and the host culture. The cultural distance between the counselor and client should be acknowledged. Identifying it is a good first step to be sure that there is good communication feedback to reduce miscommunication.

 

Rule #3. The Gap should be honored. People tend to have a natural reaction of rejecting the reasonableness of situations that are caused by cultural situations that they don’t understand or value. So if a counselor is talking to a young woman who is struggling with the fact that her parents are pressuring her to marry someone that she doesn’t like, much less love, it counselor may feel the temptation to say, “Well this seems simple. Just tell your parents that your are a grown woman and certainly don’t need their help to find a proper spouse.” Such a response is ill-considered when the woman is in a culture where family and shame are given more importance and the parents commonly arrange marriages, not just “bless” them. The counselor needs to bracket these feelings. On the other hand the counselor should not simply embrace the common ground approach. “I understand exactly what you are going through?” Attempts to minimize the differences can come of as condescending or manipulative. The differences should be honored, and even disclosed. It may be appropriate to say, “In my culture we tend to do things differently, so I struggle to understand your situation. Please help me understand.”

 

Rule #4. Healthy in the Client culture may appear different to healthy in the Counselor’s culture. A counselor speaking to someone in the military may struggle with the fact that a healthy person in the military places high priority on employment hierarchy and on subordination. A healthy person in a very family-centered culture or a healthy person from a very egalitarian open society may look considerably different from this.

 

This is not to say that all there is not room for challenges. A culture that establishes well-being or success in terms of accolades from strangers (as opposed to affirmation from loved ones or achieving a one’s own sense of calling) may need to be challenged. Challenge should, however, be cautious. The temptation to fall into judgmentalism of what one doesn’t understand can poison the therapeutic relationship between the counselor and the client.

 

Rule #5. Despite differences, there are universals. An enduring image in the West has fit under the label, “The Inscrutable Oriental.” The term “inscrutable” means “impossible to understand or interpret.” This was the stereotyped view of some that people from Asia think and behave in ways that are impossible to understand by Western minds. But were they really inscrutable? Most likely not. Rather, people of the West did not make the time and effort to understand. We are all human. Our commonality as humans allows us to understand, at least on some significant level, others even where there may be sizable cultural differences.

Your Greatest Strength is….

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We do a number of tests at our counseling center. We have partners in our work who are psychometricians, but we generally have little to do with tests that are built around DSM-V.  We tend to focus on tests that are more valuable in pastoral counseling, and ones that lead more towards conversation than formal diagnosis. Nevertheless, tests are often seen as valuable for self-awareness and making changes for the future. But what changes?

We like to do some simple tests in terms of relationships, conflict management, personality types, and leadership style. Most of these don’t measure linearly a certain pathological quality. Most of these look at categories that have both good and bad aspects to them. So if one looks at personality type tests such as Enneagram or Myers-Briggs, the presumption is that each type has strengths as well as weaknesses, and that the world is ultimately a better place because of the diversity of types found in society.

So what do you do with this information?  Here are three possibilities.

  1.  Work to Your Strengths. When a person takes a vocational aptitude test, or perhaps one in “spiritual giftings” or spiritual temperaments, one is often instructed that the strengths should guide one in what to focus on in terms of job, ministry, and self-growth. It kind of makes sense. If one is good in math and science, then one’s career should probably be one that utilizes and hones this aptitude.
  2. Work on Your Weaknesses. This takes a more holistic view, and can apply to certain types of tests. With NCD (natural church development) the theory is that the weakest area of a church is the limiter to growth. Focusing on strengths will do little. For humans, we may be healthy physically, psychoemotionally, and spiritually, but weak in terms of socialization (for example). To be a healthy human being, we should be healthy in all of these aspects, and so working on socialization is important.

I would like to add a third perspective.

YOUR GREATEST STRENGTH… IS YOUR GREATEST TEMPTATION

One could argue that this is a bit of a mix of the previous two. It addresses the fact that strengths are important and need to be directly acknowledged and worked on. It addresses the fact that weaknesses are also important in that over-reliance on strengths may ultimately prove harmful.

By what do I mean by the statement “Your greatest strength is your greatest temptation?”  I will start with a personal example. I am an analytic type. Being the administrator of a counseling center, I would like to say, “I minister to papers so that others can minister to people.” This was a similar view that I had when we were organizing medical missions events. While the three Rs (Reading, ‘Riting,’ and Research) may be my strength (Paperwork over People), I allowed that side to dominate my activity. I avoided dealing with people and doing counseling, and focused on activities that involve being in front of a computer (like now).

But I had to grow. Growing wasn’t to focus on my strengths, allowing areas of weakness to languish more and more. At the same time, neither was it ignoring my strengths to focus on my weaknesses. I looked at my strengths as important, but also a temptation to be unbalanced. To embrace balance I value my strengths but be careful not to focus too much on these strengths alone, but invest time and energy in my weaknesses as well.

This perspective has importance of other areas as well.

  • Consider the Love Language test. It seeks to demonstrate what is one’s primary way in which one identifies love in self and others. The five are:  Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Your primary “love language” tells you how you best identify loving behavior of others and how you generally show love to others. None of these are wrong. In fact, all of them have value… at times. The problem is that in relationships one may find that the two may have very different love languages. So one really needs to become love “bilingual.” This neither rejects one’s strength, nor fully embraces it. Additionally, in a work environment, physical touch or quality time may not always be helpful or practical to encourage employees. One may need to learn to value words of affirmation, for example. One’s strength is neither good, nor bad… but it can be a temptation.
  • Consider Conflict Management. There are different strategies for addressing conflict. Some may typically work better than others, but all work okay in certain situations. Sometimes combating is best while at other times compromising, collaborating, acquiescing, or even avoiding may be the most successful. The issue is not which one is best, but the risk of utilizing one’s preferred method indiscriminantly. It is good to be good at what one is good at (a truism certainly) but being good in one area may tempt one to use it at inappropriate times.
  • Ministry. We teach chaplaincy (CPE) at our counseling center. We teach seminarians how to utilize basic pastoral care skills to provide care for those in the hospital (and other settings). But often trainees fall into temptation and utilize their own strengths inappropriate. We had a trainee from a Charismatic Christian background who would go around praying over the dying and declaring them healed. (This was problematic to deal with when the patient would die— giving false hope and confusion for the family.) Another from an Evangelical background, would start out trying to do pastoral counseling and active listening, and then quickly drop into a canned evangelistic routine. (I can assure you that having a chaplain talking to a sick person who is undergoing diagnostic testing is not being helped if the chaplain suddenly says, “So where do you think you will be if you die tonight?”) We have had nurses take chaplaincy, and they struggle to avoid focusing on medical symptoms and giving medical advice.

Learning one’s strengths can be useful… but only if one learns how to utilize that knowledge.