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APC Forum Resource Reviews December 2018


APC Forum, Decemberr 2018, Vol. 20 No. 8



A Christian Theology of Chaplaincy
John Caperon, Andrew Todd, and James Walters, eds. (Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2018, 178 pages, paperback, Ebook)
 
A Christian Theology of Chaplaincy is a compilation of essays from chaplains and Anglican priests serving a variety of settings across the United Kingdom, ranging from health care organizations, prisons, schools and universities to local congregations.  The main premise of the book is chaplaincy is a vital ministry of the Church (here the Church of England) engaging the society at large.  The book uses practice-based theological reflections in demonstrating how chaplaincy engages people where they are. As such, chaplaincy stands not as an ancillary ministry but is on the vanguard of ministry.
 
The various authors offer theological reflections encouraging a chaplaincy practice which is prophetic, pastoral and inclusive.  Rather than seeking a “generic chaplaincy” (75-76), the contributors encourage owning one’s theological distinctive while engaging honestly with others, looking for common ground while engaging and valuing differences.  This brings forth space for the richness each chaplain brings from his or her own theology and tradition while engaging in honest dialogue with others from differing perspectives.  They encourage the reader that this be done with both open hearts and minds while not being afraid of respectful disagreement.  They see this disagreement as a space for growth of all involved. 
 
The contributors make the case for chaplains to stand in the crossroads both spiritually and institutionally in engaging both people and powers to facilitate the human awareness and growth in the Sacred and in meaning and spirit.  A quote from the conclusion captures this space, “It is little wonder, therefore, that chaplains often refer to themselves as ‘liminal’ people… [who] often negotiate between different forms of religion and between them and other dimensions of the diverse context…, enabling significant dialogue, debate and boundary-crossing… for themselves and for those they serve” (163).
 
This book draws contributions from spiritual care practitioners from a wide variety of settings and experiences.  These contributors then write on a number of aspects of practical Christian theology, including missions, the Church, pastoral theology, incarnation and evangelism.  They do so resisting narrow definitions and models for what each of these may look like in general and in chaplaincy specifically. 
 
A limitation of this book is all contributors are connected with and bring the theological influence of the Church of England to their writing.  This theological perspective is evident to the point the book could be retitled An Anglican Theology of Chaplaincy.  The book assumes a ministry context of present-day England. 
 
A Christian Theology of Chaplaincy is best suited for those who are serving in England or have something of an Anglican connection.  It may also help chaplains of other Christian traditions reflect on their own traditions for a theological richness for their practice.   
 
Reviewed by Jay Fulton MDiv MA BCC, Chaplain, UK HealthCare, Lexington, KY.





Critically Loved:  A Bible Study for Parents of Chronically and Critically Ill Children
TyiaLynn Mikels (Little Elm, Texas:  Electio Publishing, 2018, 91 pages, softcover)
 
The author of Critically Loved:  A Bible Study for Parents of Chronically and Critically Ill Children is an evangelical Christian who writes as one who has been with God, has gone through significant struggles herself and been found faithful in caring for her critically-ill child Celia.  TyiaLynn Mikels wants to make a difference in the lives of parents and others who have the major challenge of coping with children who have chronic illness.  Lynn’s book is deeply Christian with a worldview that God can be known and God can help those who call on God.
 
I have seen and read many different types of Christian Bible studies, and I have yet to see one that deals with helping parents to gain knowledge, attitudes and skills to cope with the challenges of caring for chronically-ill kids.  This book will and can help parents who are Christian and want to be helped in the context of Christian scripture and is therefore a resource that is needed for sure.  However, because it is rooted in deep, conservative Christian theology, this Bible study book is not for everyone.  In fact, I would suggest it be used very carefully so those from other faith groups are not offered something that they could find too sectarian for their needs.  More books like this are needed, especially ones that could speak to parents in a more spiritually-universal manner.
 
The book is written and structured with eight weekly (five days a week) Bible studies.  Very grounded in the Bible, each study highlights verses to deal with parenting challenges such as exhaustion, fear, and hope.  The writer touches on the topics of faith, stillness/patience, anger, independence/ interdependence, self-reliance, building character, children as teachers, and new beginnings following total devastation.    At the end of each daily Bible study, the writer gives scripture references so that readers can find more comfort and peace amidst parenting stresses as they study the suggested verses.
 
Critically Loved:  A Bible Study for Parents of Chronically and Critically Ill Children is very user friendly for a devotional piece, a Sunday school class, or as a resource (appropriately placed) for parents who are trying to learn new ways to cope with children who have chronic illness.  This book could help a parent in the context of the pediatric ICU who is seeking biblical wisdom and guidance in the midst of tremendous medical challenges. It would also be helpful to pediatric chaplains or any chaplain who cares for families in churches or hospitals.  Finally, clinicians like nurses who are trying to empathize with parents going through major caregiver struggles could benefit from its spiritual strengthening.
 
Reviewed by Rev. George M. Rossi MA MDiv BCC, Clinical Chaplain, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina.




The God Problem – How a Godless Cosmos Creates
Howard Bloom (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2014, 708 pages, softcover, hardcover, Ebook, Audiobook)

Bloom’s magisterial tome is a dramatic overview of six thousand years of mathematical inquiry from the building of Babylonian walls to Mandebrot’s fractals. It is the history of scientific explorers’ journeys to understand how nature works. Bloom argues that not only science but the cosmos itself is a creative process.  What they have found is that the rules that work in galaxies are true at every other level of reality.

How has this been accomplished? “By looking at what is right under your nose and looking at it as if you have never seen it before and then proceed from there” (3).  And ask questions, many, many questions.

Bloom suggests four basic rules that drive this creative cosmos:

1.    Iteration (billions of repetitions),
2.    Recruitment Strategy (persons are attracted to answering the new questions),
3.    Translation (rules are applied within a new medium), and
4.    New Awareness of a bigger picture—with even more questions.
 
Significantly, for Bloom, this is how the cosmos works from the subatomic to the galactic levels.  So do humans. We are not other than the cosmos—we are cosmic!
 
For Bloom, the cosmos is far from static: it is moving, compulsive, wanting to be known, and to have meaning made from its mysterious and wonderful existence. He wonders if we not only want to know how things are but also that the cosmos itself wants to be known.
One of his most interesting suggestions that has relevance for spiritual care is that “the meat of the matter [that information theory left out] is meaning. Meaning comes from your place in a big picture. From your place in many big pictures. And most important, meaning comes from your place in a web of cosmic gossip. Meanings come from your place in a cosmos that is profoundly ‘relational,’ profoundly social…and profoundly conversational” (561).

Note: One does not have to be a math or science major to understand much of the book. It is written to ask questions and explain the new answers that have developed over time. Given its length, doctoral students, supervisors, and academics are mostly likely to take advantage of this wonderful book.

Reviewed by Steven Spidell DMin DMin BCC (Retired), Baytown, Texas.




Night Comes: Death, imagination, and the Last Things

Dale C. Allison (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016, 174 pages, softcover, Kindle)
 
Dale Allison is the Richard J. Dearborn Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary. His book formed the basis for the Stone Lectures, delivered at Princeton in 2014. It offers a broad-ranging consideration of death and the afterlife. Topics include such subjects as resurrection and immortality, judgment, hell, and heaven. He provides a brief history of the topic, including scripture, historic understandings, and ways understandings have changed over time. Writing from a Christian perspective, the author draws on sacred texts, philosophy, church history, cultural anthropology and medicine to inform his discussion.
 
Allison describes his book as “…a personal theological exploration…. It’s partial and incomplete at every turn. My purpose isn’t to offer a full or balanced treatment of any topic but rather to share scattered observations and suggestions on subjects that continue to absorb and vex me” (ix). Yes, there are places where the writer speaks in the first person, all modesty aside; however, it is a thoughtful and well-documented work that derives from a lifetime of study and reflection. It is not a book for light reading, but a scholarly work with endnotes for research and further study.
 
This book will benefit chaplains, pastors, and counselors, who will hear the voices of patients, parishioners, and clients in its pages. Its value lies in the way the author takes a subject and explores it from a multitude of angles. For example, Allison discusses the changing views of resurrection and the ways ideas of immortality have become prominent. He also describes the evolution of thought regarding hell in light of the historic and cultural ways our understanding of torture and incarceration have changed. The author does not provide resolutions, but in many ways presents a “state of the question” treatment of his topics, concluding chapters with a treatment of the current state of the issues.
 
Allison admits that many pastors and practitioners avoid the topics he writes about and that other voices have risen to fill the void, yet he encourages us to speak of them:
…[Y]et we can still converse about death and the hereafter, and some people may still want to hear what we have to say. Why disappoint them? Why be eschatologically bashful? Why not strive to offer some input about and beyond the popular culture? Why not contribute to people’s stores of ideas as they go about blending their inevitably eclectic mix of eschatological hopes? If we abdicate this task, we run the risk, when it comes to death, of reducing ourselves to psycho-therapeutic bereavement counselors who have little distinctive to offer. (86)
His book provides not so much a denigration of the psycho-therapeutic, as a challenge to remember the distinctive hope our faith tradition offers.
 
Reviewed by Vicki G. Lumpkin PhD BCC, retired hospice chaplain and bereavement coordinator living in Greensboro, NC.
 



Prayer Seeds: A Gathering of Blessings, Reflections, and Poems for Spiritual Growth
Joyce Rupp (Notre Dame, Indiana: Sorin Books, 2017, 205 pages, paperback, eBook)

Rupp opens with the metaphor of sowing spiritual seeds, recalling the farm life of her childhood in Iowa. She is a member of the Servite (Servants of Mary) community and a well-known retreat leader and conference speaker. Prayers offered at these events were offered in her first resource book, Out of the Ordinary.

Here she offers excellent resources including prayers, poems, blessings, readings, musical suggestions, and guided imagery meditations. Exhibiting empathy and compassion worthy of the best spiritual caregivers, they revolve around the seasons of the church year and ministry opportunities. Chapter headings include Advent and Christmas, All Saints/All Souls, Celebrations, Compassion, Difficult Times, Easter, Grief and Loss, Lent, Marriage, Mary, Meditations, Ministry, New Year, Pentecost, Thanksgiving and Transitions. While some are appropriate for individual meditation, they are primarily designed for use in communal settings and include directions for leaders.  

The traditionally Christian offerings would benefit parish pastors in homily/liturgy preparations and in the provision of spiritual care. Yet many offerings are appropriate or easily adaptable for interfaith settings. These resources would benefit any retreat or small group leader and chaplains in residential communities. Some meditations could be adapted for use in spirituality groups. (For more secular resources for guided imagery meditations see 30 Scripts for Relaxation Imagery & Inner Healingby Julie T. Lusk, Guided Imagery for Groups by Andrew E. Schwartz or Guided Imagery for Healing Children and Teensby Ellen Curran.)

This sample titled “Litany of Affirmations (for the one who companions another)” is taken from her chapter on Ministry:

You will set aside your own story to listen fully to another’s.
You will hear revelations that evoke tears in your heart.
You will listen to joys that make you want to cheer.
You will be silent when speech would only get in the way.
You will witness amazing strength in those who have suffered.
You will speak with the wisdom of the One who breathes in you.
You will draw strength from knowing you are not in charge.
You will watch how growth happens in surprising ways.
You will wait patiently while deep healing takes place.
You will be aware of your ego when it wants to take over.
You will be inspired by seeing how the Divine moves in another.
You will offer compassion to those who find life difficult.
You will affirm those who choose fresh ways to inner peace.
You will be grateful for the privilege and gift of companioning others.
 
Listener of our Deepest Self, the ear of your heart is forever attentive to us. We call and you respond. We turn and you embrace. We look and you gaze. We search and you lead. We lose and you find. We wander and you return us home. Grant us the grace to be a reflection of your presence. Remind us often to let go of vain ambition when it pushes us to control or impede what you are stirring within the one whom we companion. Thank you for the privilege of walking with those who desire to set their hearts on you. Amen.  (129)
 
Roy F. Olson DMin BCC, endorsed by the ELCA, is mostly retired but continues to work as an on-call chaplain at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Illinois.


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