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Book review: “A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity”

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Alberts, William E. A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, 2012.

This short, easy-to-read book is a series of 54 diverse vignettes that Rev. Alberts shares about people to whom he ministered as a board-certified, CPSP hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center. He has a loving and accepting approach to all of his patients, and he models some excellent approaches and conversations to the “crossroads of humanity” who need medical care. Health care chaplains and all those who minister to the sick will relate to many stories and can learn much from his compassion and wisdom.
The book is full of touching stories and pithy quotes, such as “religion is about the Golden Rule and not about the ‘gold’ that rules,” and a patient who was transformed from “a hopeless dope addict into a dopeless hope addict.”
However, those like myself who have a conservative, deeply held personal faith will likely be distracted and even annoyed that Rev. Alberts favors those who believe that all roads lead to God, which he spells with the small “g.” He emphasizes his theological position as a Unitarian and United Methodist (more Unitarian than Methodist), and stresses his distaste for conservative politics, especially military spending. Thus it seems odd to me, as a less experienced hospital chaplain myself, that he repeatedly tells how he begins a visit by asking a person’s religious affiliation. He frequently reports that people are defensive or confused by this question, yet he continues to ask it. He even reported that patients occasionally responded with apologies for not attending church, thus showing that the question put them on the spot. Since he seems sincerely focused on serving the needs of all patients, why not just ask the patient what is happening in their lives, and let them talk about their religious affiliation if they want to do so?
The Kindle edition has a few minor errors where lines are repeated or words are missing, such as page 138.

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Before you speak against God’s servant, consider this

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Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses? – Numbers 12:8, NASB

I often hear people complain about their pastor and other ministers. They complain about the lack of visitation, or about all the changes being made in the church, or about the style of preaching, and on and on.

Moses was the recipient of complaints all the time from the Israelites. Chapter 12 of the Book of Numbers tells us that his own brother Aaron and sister Miriam got in on it. As a result, Miriam was struck with leprosy, and the Lord asked a penetrating question, “Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant…?” (Numbers 12:8) This is a good question for any church member to ask before speaking against their ministers.

I’m not saying that pastors can make no mistakes. Moses was not perfect. He made excuses at the burning bush, and he lost his temper with the Israelites. He had to suffer the consequences by not leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. But that was for God to decide, not the people.

I’m not saying a church member should remain silent when the pastor is guilty of moral failure or doctrinal error. As Ecclesiastes 3:7 says, there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak.”

What I am saying is that for many church members, when it comes to their opinions about their ministers, there is too much speaking and not enough silence. And not enough prayer. And not enough soul-searching. After all, Numbers 12 indicates that the issue that Aaron and Miriam had with Moses was not really his leadership– their real problem was that they didn’t like his wife. But since they knew how petty it would sound to complain about his wife, they complained instead about his leadership.

So before you speak against your pastor, take a deep breath, and realize the seriousness of what you are considering. Then spend time praying about it, and ask God if there is something else really bothering you that you need to address in your own life. Then if you still feel you must speak, go to your minister privately with your concerns. Go no further, unless the pastor is immoral or heretical.

Just in case the scriptural warning is not enough cause for pause, learn a lesson from history. Eudoxia was the Empress of the Eastern Roman Empire, wife of Arcadius, the Emperor who reigned at Constantinople around A.D. 400. The bishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, boldly preached against the wealthy living in luxury while the poor suffered, and Eudoxia didn’t like it. So Eudoxia had the bishop deposed and sent into exile. Shortly thereafter, she suffered a fatal miscarriage.

It doesn’t matter how important you are in your church, be afraid of speaking against the servant of the Lord. Be very afraid.

 

Guest post: Does a pastor have soft hands?

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Copyright 2017 by Bill Hurt

(Dr. Bill Hurt is the senior pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, Columbus, Mississippi. When he posted the following thoughts on Facebook, I found them so profound that I asked his permission to share it as a guest blog post, and he graciously agreed.)

The other day I shook hands with an individual and they commented on the softness of mine. They went on to say: “I bet those hands have never seen a hard day’s work.”
In some ways that statement is true, and it got me thinking about these hands of mine. They’ve never overhauled an engine on a car. Never plowed a field. Never hoed a garden. Never worked on an assembly line.
There are a lot of hard working activities these hands have never done, but they have taken a lifeless baby from the arms of a broken mother. They have taken a gun out of the hand of a man about to end his life. They have taken a bottle from an individual who was drinking their life away. They have raised and lowered children and adults in the baptismal waters. They have written numerous sermons. They have joined couples in matrimony. They have built churches on foreign soil. They have held the hands of the dying. They have received strangers into the Kingdom. They have dedicated and blessed countless babies. They have wiped the tears from grieving parents, spouses, and children. They have shaken the hands of the upper, middle, and lower class of society. They have held the hands of those who have prayed to receive Christ. They have removed debris from the rubble of destroyed churches. They have welcomed the homeless and offered them a place to sleep. I’m no different from any other preacher out there. Our hands are used quite frequently to serve. The endurance and strength to do these things come from another set of hands which happen to be nail pierced. After all, we’re called to be his hands and feet. I guess these hands are soft, but they are forgiven and ready for service.
Godspeed.


			

Guest post: “What a hospital chaplain learned about ICU waiting when his own father died”

Copyright 2016 by Brian Williamson

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(NOTE: Brian Williamson is an experienced hospital chaplain, but recently he experienced the other side of ministry, spending many hours in the waiting room of the Intensive Care Unit –ICU– as his own father died. In this post, he shares his observations, in hopes that it can help those of us who visit the sick and their families, especially those in ICU.)

These are some notes I prepared from my experiences in the ICU waiting room as a family member when my father was dying. Since I work extensively in this area as a hospital chaplain, the new experience from a personal perspective has given me insights into how I can better minister to folks going through something like this. Since my observations are filled with my own feelings, they could be negatively or positively impacted by what I’m feeling and/or experiencing. I’ve offered them to my friend and co-worker, Bob Rogers to share with others. My hope is that they will be insightful and helpful to others. So, take them for what you think they’re worth.
1. ICU family members (yes, I was guilty!)  are pivoting/hinging on every little idea of their loved one getting better. You want your loved one to “be” better, so if something is “a little better” (such as a lab result, an O2 sat, blood gas, etc.) then you accentuate that and project it to everything else. This may not be the case… (“He squeezed my hand, so I know he’s getting better!” “The kidneys are looking good.” Some nurses might say, “the numbers are a little better today,” or “We turned the O2 down to 60%, so that’s a little better…” {never mind the tea-colored urine, the 9 medicines in the IV bags, the ventilator set on “C-full control” and the doctor is just hoping that you won’t have to turn it back up, etc., etc.})

2. People in the waiting room—family members, staff, pastors, etc.—tell you what to believe and what to say; and you’re usually polite enough to not slap them when they do; or to argue with them, because you know they won’t understand.

3. There is no shortage of people who want to tell you what it’s like for them. They ask you what’s going on with your loved one, but then they interrupt you to tell you “their story.” When they finish, they usually have forgotten that they haven’t heard your story.

4. Very few people really want to hear your story or talk about your memories; or what’s important to you. Fallacious clichés such as, “I know how you feel” and “I know what that’s like” are the status quo. The reality is that people in the ICU waiting room have their own pain and struggles to deal with. You feel connected to them; but, when your story starts to “go south,” they distance from you as if what you’re experiencing is contagious. If you’re loved one begins to worsen, they leave you alone and whisper to other waiting room people about what’s happening with your patient.

5. Many preachers, ministers, etc., form circles with families that block traffic in the middle of the aisles, then pray loudly—and pray, and pray and pray. Most of them leave after the prayer, and then it’s very interesting what people talk about after the minister leaves.

6. When someone is on the ventilator they have to be sedated (usually). The sedation helps keep the person relaxed so the machine can be beneficial. BUT…what I didn’t know is that every 12 hrs, the sedation has to be turned off in order to “let the person wake up a little bit.” This test helps the hospital be aware of mental changes. During the time the sedation is off, the nurse assesses the patient’s ability to respond to instructions like “squeeze my fingers,” “blink your eyes,” “wiggle your toes,” etc. In other words, you awake every 12 hrs to a tube down your throat that makes you cough and gag, you become just awake enough to know you’re not able to breathe. This can be quite punishing to the patient.

7. Silence is golden. Nurses work hard at saying the right thing and “keeping you company,” which is very special and sometimes greatly appreciated; but, I think that being quiet while being with someone is usually more valuable as their loved one is dying. One of the best questions I heard a nurse ask was, “Would you like some privacy or would you like me to stay with you a little longer?” The worst question I heard was asked by a nurse as I sat in a chair in the pod outside my dad’s room, just after his death… “Uh, you’re the chaplain, right? Well, I was wondering, “How do you feel about monogamy in marriage?”

8. Always visiting during visiting hours may not be the best idea for clergy members. Families get precious few minutes every few hours that could end up being the last minutes they have with their loved one alive. Experiment with waiting room visits followed by in-room visits. I suggest taking someone for a walk around the building, to the canteen, to the coffee shop or somewhere outside. If they ask you to “go back” with them, then go. If not, don’t.

9. There’s lots of praying going on, even though you can’t hear it.

(This is Bob again. From reading Brian’s observations, five lessons come to mind for ministry to families in ICU waiting rooms: 1. Be quiet and really listen, 2. Don’t offer pat answers, 3. Keep vocal prayers soft and short,  4. Don’t be afraid of silence, and 5. Don’t abandon them when they hurt the most. What are your thoughts? Feel free to comment below.)