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The College of Pastoral Supervision & Psychotherapy is a theologically based covenant community, dedicated to "recovery of the soul" and promoting competency in the clinical pastoral field.

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October 21, 2007

A Refreshing View of the Clinical Chaplain

George Hankins Hull, a CPSP Diplomate in Clinical Pastoral Education, serves as director of pastoral care and Clinical Pastoral Education at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Medical Center in Little Rock. A recent article, Hospital Chaplains Shepherd a Changing Flock, appeared in the Pine Bluff Commercial on October 21, 2007.

Many will find George Hull's remarks about the role and function of chaplain refreshing. This is especially true in this age of the watered down understanding of the role, training and certification of today's clinical chaplains.

Hull states:

We train folks to engage in an interdisciplinary approach to patient care," Hankins Hull said, noting that chaplains are one piece of the puzzle that makes up a patient's situation.

They also learn to ditch the "Godspeak" used by clergy and theologians.

"Chaplains who are clinically trained speak in the vocabulary of everyday life," he said. "We talk about diagnosis and prognosis, sickness and health, life and death, relationships _ all of these are profoundly theological and go to the heart of all the major faith traditions, so we don't need to slip into a religious vocabulary when talking.

-Perry Miller, Editor

Editor's Note: The link to the story published in the Pine Bluff Commercial was initially provided but the link no longer exist. The PR was able to obtain a document containing the story written by Christie Storm. Download file

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 11:03 PM



Cassandra, the feminine goddess turned the tables on the conversation with Oedipus and
Faust in a debate among the gods where Oedipus was bidding for the lust for Power as the driving force behind the situation of human hubris, and Faust was arguing that the driving force was Passion. Cassandra interrupted their conversation by averring that neither power nor passions were the core-driving issues of life; rather the most constant and neurotic driving force within the human spirit was Certainty. All the gods want certainty; all politicians want certainty, all scientists want certainty, religionists most of all, want certainty.

It is this lust for certainty in the contemporary technocratic culture of western civilization that drives us to the brink of disaster over and over again, until wars, plagues, storms and freaks of nature jar us into the realization that certainty is a sought-after illusion as fleeting as the wind. Our postmodern theologians and philosophers are arguing that even the lust for Truth in the Enlightenment era has proved to yield no certainty in grand and meta-narratives of contemporary multifarious worldviews.

We live in a time in which it is incumbent upon us to find ways to live, instead, with a theological hermeneutic of Proximity and not a theology of certainty. Time is fleeting; time is finite. Brian Childs reminds us that the raison det’re for short term pastoral counseling is that time is finite and we thus must be good stewards of our time even within the economy of the counseling relationship. So what does it mean to embrace a hermeneutic of proximity in a time when the fearful tendencies would have us rush to theologies of eschatology and certainty? What does it mean for us to try to go against our cultural soothsayers who prophesy end times and the need for the gathering of the flock into small circles of certainty? Institutions of certainty, standards, laws, and rules to guarantee certainty are the warp and fabric of our popular culture. To live in a time where we build walls to keep out “foreigner” immigrants for fear that the certainty of our economic and cultural purity will become more certain, what does it mean to embrace a hermeneutic of proximity?

Proximity as it is received in the present day hermeneutic of non-certainty means partialness, incompleteness, limitedness, now-but-not-yet-ness, unfinished-ness. Proximate pastoral/spiritual care means time-limited healing relationships; it means that the pastoral relationship is only a part of the whole constellation of relationships where the subject goes for healing; it means that all healing is not done in psychotherapy exclusively.

Proximity in pastoral care means not fixing, it means living with the ambiguity of not knowing how much of a difference I have made in my healing relationship with another at any given time. It means giving partial input. “I plant, someone else waters, and God or the greater journey gives the increase.” Proximity means salvation is a process and not an event. “Road to Damascus” salvation events are markers along the way, but not the end result of a stereological outcome of life. Proximity is living with paradox and ambiguity; it is “being with” rather than indulging in the Nike Theology” of “just do it.” Proximity means courtesy to the stranger however uncomfortable that may be.

There is an important time/space issue in the hermeneutic of proximity. The efficaciousness of a given experience is not always validated just because given time lines are expected for something to come to fruition. Take education, for example, some education programs insist that a given “formula” of times lines be observed for the educational experience to be efficacious. In Clinical Pastoral Education, for example, some educators believe that if one does not “do” a four unit (1600 hour) hospital CPE Residency that the validity of the learning experience is not valid. Not valid in the sense that one cannot learn in a shorter period of time or within another context how to minister effectively to hospitalized human beings in crisis. This is a false hermeneutic about the efficaciousness of education within a predetermined time paradigm.

Long distance internet education and staggered seminar education events are demonstrating that adult learning can be accomplished just as efficaciously through distance learning paradigm model as it can with an in-house residency.

Time/space issues differ culturally in terms of how time and space make for contributions to good learning. Native Americans are oriented more toward space, places and land; Anglos are oriented more toward linear understandings of time. Time is not the primary criteria for the validation of human experience for the Native American; rather space and sacred places are a more important criteria: the sweat lodge, the Hogan, the Kiva; whereas for Anglos it is the linear goals and objectives as demonstrated in “outcomes” that ware important. Raymond Lawrence observed that contemporary outcome education “might better focus on establishing the criteria of everyone become idiosyncratically different.” Every learner is unique.

In 1848 the great European Depression was brought about in part because the rail system in Europe was overbuilt in response to increasing industrialization. Industrialists rushed to accommodate the needs of conserving time in getting their products and raw goods to the market and as a result over utilized the resources to build railroads thus creating a crisis in the marketplace. The rush to conquer time, created a crisis of another sort.

A Theology of Proximity would be a corrective to the Theology of Impulsivity so present in our contemporary culture. It would be a corrective to the “Just do it” Nike “theology”, the fix-it Evangelism theology. Fix-it theology is fixated on the epiphany event. It places abiding trust in the orgasmic, transformational moment or experience. Did you ever try to talk someone out of their orgasmic salvation conversation experience? Did you ever try to get a CPE student to talk to you into a different dynamic descriptive language about what happened to him/her when they had the transformational conversion experience? Even to try to talk about it, for some, brings on another “crisis of faith”. When all religious experience is expected to be a “spiritual high”, what happens to how we deal with the “dark night of the soul” religious experience? Can anything good come from the darkness? Can we stay with a person in their darkness without growing impatient about their filibustering with our problem solving, crisis intervention methodology?

So much of contemporary mega-church culture theology is like Wal Mart marketing. Everything for everyone can be found under one big airplane hanger roof. Take your pick. No sacrifice. Low cost. The ladies and children go the sanctuary for worship and healing and the men go into a big movie screen room to watch the Dallas Cowboys and eat KFC while they wait on their wives to finish worship. Sound bite theology. The purpose driven life/church. One formula does it all. Jesus is your personal friend, the spiritual cozy Other. Duct tape theology replaces “Fear and Trembling” and “Sickness unto Death”. Everything can be taped back together with prayer and fasting. As Thomas Keating commented, when he was young he could drink his friends under the table; now that he found God he could fast others under the table. Who’s got the most readable and facilitative contemplative practice? The wanna-be native American Buddhist, the wanna be out of body experience seeker. Impulsivity seeps its way into our quick fix culture. We have instant coffee, instant credit, instant sex and why can’t we have instant God and instant spirituality. Ask the people who suffered through Hurricane Katrina.

So Proximity theology is a paradox for quick-fix approaches to understanding the human condition.

Within our CPSP community, a theology of Proximity keeps us less anxious about forming our organization around what others might think about us if we did not copy their model. We trust our indigenous creativity that is happening in our Chapters instead of trying to monitor everyone closely to make sure all conform to some bureaucratic standards. We are watchful that we not create Standards that would impede our phenomenal International growth as an organization. Unlike the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) we avoided the trap of drawing up Standards to satisfy the Department of Education (DOE) as a source of external validation. Many would agree the Federal Government’s DOE is a questionable body to be identified with for external validation. Also, our International CPSP members and their Chapters do not adhere to the DOE in their countries. CPSP knew if we moved in the direction of the DOE as has the ACPE, we would not only be setting up a Western Imperialistic paradigm for understanding the culturally diverse needs of all CPSP members but also those in other lands who would want to become a clinically trained pastor by participating in clinical pastoral training programs.

We of CPSP take seriously our motto to “travel light” by making it more amenable to attend annual national conferences by spreading around the locations at which we hold these conferences. In addition we are now creating Regional Gatherings of the CPSP Community that are being held in various parts of the country.

Proximate living is tenuous and tentative. As William James once said, faith is like that. “Faith”, said James”, is living with tentativeness, doubt and ambiguity.”


Foy Richey
is a Past President of the CPSP

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 10:41 AM

October 14, 2007

Practicing The Wounded Storyteller by Alexis Versalle


What happens to us at any moment in our life is much more than just the factual event. For example, a nurse knows that a physician suspects a patient has an aggressive terminal illness. This isn’t just information that she has that the patient doesn’t. It’s her story about the helplessness that sees the train coming and wants to yell, “Get out of the way!” An illness in an elderly man’s life is not just a collection of symptoms, it’s his story about a force that may uproot him from his home and leave him abandoned in a facility somewhere.

The story is the way we create our lives. It’s how we tell ourselves who we have been, who we are, and who we might become.

The author of a book I read recently, The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics by Arthur W. Frank, talks about the types of stories that people with serious illness tell. One is the restitution story. In this story, the person comes up against some adversity that threatens to undo them. By diligent effort and the favor of the gods, the adversity is overcome and everything returns to normal: Tests show that the patient did not have an aggressive terminal illness after all. The restitution story is the one with the happy ending! The patient is diagnosed with an illness, treatment is effective, health is restored. The person becomes the conquering hero of their own story: “I beat this illness!”

As we all know, though, restitution isn’t always possible. Sometimes a devastating event occurs that leaves the person facing a future with no map and no sure destination. The author called this the chaos story. The chaos story can be seen in the face of the person who came in for minor surgery only to have the surgeon discover a malignant mass. Chaos is the story of the man who’s just been told that his partner, with whom he’d just been talking moments before, didn’t survive that heart attack. Everything is suddenly unpredictable and out of control. Hospitals hate chaos stories, because they taunt us with our helplessness.

The final story is called the quest story. It’s the story of the great myths. The hero is called to accomplish a feat: bring back the holy grail or slay the dragon. Along the way he encounters obstacles and setbacks. And no matter how successful he is, he pays a price—he comes home to find his wife has married someone else or he himself has turned into an old man. The quest story is different from the restitution story because life never returns to where it was before; it’s irrevocably changed. But the hero doesn’t return empty-handed. He brings back something new to be used for the betterment of the people. It’s hard won, but it’s an accomplishment worthy of the struggle.

A quest story might look like a young woman I visited with who came to see her illness as a call to show that God can be trusted in all circumstances. She became a tremendous inspiration to other people with her illness. Even her eventual death felt like a victory. I have to admit that I stand in awe of her ability to turn her personal tragedy into a quest story. Sometimes a quest is more subtle. A man with a debilitating, chronic illness comes to a sort of gentleman’s standoff with his pain. He manages most days to persevere in spite of it, with some humor and not a little grace.

The trouble with everything I’ve said so far is that the process of creating our life story is never as straightforward as all this sounds (and the author was not implying that it is). I’d like to think that people can move neatly from chaos, to restitution, and if not restitution at least to quest and some meaning and value in the difficulties they undergo. But our lives aren’t nice and neat and linear. A moment of restitution may turn into chaos the next, and quest may be out of reach for many. I can’t turn someone else’s story into a quest, no matter how much I want to (I’m still trying to get my own story straight).

But regardless of where we are in our stories, there’s something that I, as a hospital chaplain, have experienced that echoes Frank’s book.

Every story demands a teller and a listener. No story is complete unto itself, because no life is complete unto itself. We are most truly ourselves when we stand in relationship to another person.
Whether the story is about restitution, or chaos, or quest, or somewhere much messier in between, something remarkable often happens when I can really be present with someone telling their story.

For that moment, they offer me their vulnerability, and I offer what strength God gives me. Somewhere in the telling and in the hearing, the vulnerability they’re offering me becomes mine, too, and the strength I’m offering becomes theirs. We reflect back to each other our vulnerability and our strength, our sadness and our joy, our fear and our faith. Maybe all the masks that we use to hide our true selves fall away, and for an instant, we both become more whole than when we went in. Maybe for a minute we become the people God created us to be.

At some point, I leave the room and each of us goes on with our stories, and only God knows where they’ll lead. But each of us takes with us, into our continuing stories, that moment when we both glimpsed another story: of unity and connectedness, of wholeness and profound healing, of life and love. A story of sheer grace in the midst of chaos. That’s the story that keeps me coming back to this ministry day after day.

Alexis Versalle, Chaplain
Margaret R. Pardee Hospital
800 N. Justice Street
Hendersonville, NC 28791

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 2:38 PM

October 4, 2007

Mid-South Regional Fall Chaplains Conference October 11-12, 2007

Chaplains from across the South gather next week (October 11-12, 2007) for the Mid-South Regional Fall Chaplains Conference in Greenville, MS. In the spirit of collaboration and collegiality, the event is sponsored by the Little Rock Chapter and the Deep South Chapter of CPSP along with the four state chaplain organizations in Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee. The conference has also been approved for 8 hours of Continuing Chaplaincy Education credits by the Association of Professional Chaplains.

This event is truly a “broad tent” including registrants who are members of CPSP, APC, ACPE, AAPC, and NAVAC as well as a few non-affiliated chaplains.

Headlining the conference will be Dr. Larry Burton, past president of APC and long recognized as a leader in professional chaplaincy. He will present Thursday night on the topic “When Religion Becomes an Ethical Issue.” Other workshops on Friday include “Encountering the Sacred through Organ Donation,” “Internal Family Systems,” “Turning Death into Healing – the Perspective of Palliative Care,” and “The Long Journey Home – Working with Troops Returning from War.”

More information can be found at the website for the Arkansas Association of Chaplains and Pastoral Counselors (click on the “Continuing Education” link and scroll down).

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 3:09 PM