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Resource Reviews for Continuing Education and Reference March 2016

APCForum, March 2016, Vol. 18 No. 2
Books, films, recorded webinars, journal articles and other media provide continuing education opportunities and reference material. To help you use your time most efficiently, our review section will evaluate media for professional or personal usefulness. If you would like to join our resource review panel, please contact our Resource Reviews editor, Tamara R. Flinchum BCC. Reviewers may select from a list of potential resources, receive a free copy of the publication or media to review, prepare the review according to guidelines, and submit reviews for editing and inclusion in APC Forum. Serving as a reviewer provides you with continuing education hours and the satisfaction of serving APC. Feedback, questions and suggestions are welcome.

Tamara R. Flinchum BCC serves as the APC Forum Resource Reviews editor. She is a chaplain at AnMed Health in Anderson, SC and may be contacted at

Accidental Grace: Poetry, Prayers and Psalms
Rami M. Shapiro

(Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2015, 176 pages, Kindle, softcover)

How does one speak to a timeless God in contemporary time-centered language? How does one relate to ancient sacred texts containing language and concepts significantly different, and perhaps alien to the modern mindset? This is the starting point for Rami Shapiro’s new book.

Shapiro is a gifted 20th/21st century poet whose love of ideas and language pervades his writings. He is also a rabbi who actively wrestles with the complex relationship between God and humans (and even more so that relationship between God and Jews and the Jewish people.) This book divides into three sections: Psalms, Poems and then a short Parable at the conclusion.

The psalm section rewrites several of the psalter’s collection, including Psalms 23 and 90. Shapiro expresses much of the essence of the original psalm, yet God is more accessible, less the object of a near-powerless supplicant to an all-powerful deity.

The prayers section is patterned on the traditional order of a Jewish prayer service. Yet Shapiro adds his personal touch, universalizing their message. He adds several poems addressing the Holocaust. In one, “To the Right, to the Left” Shapiro deftly echoes a prominent prayer from the Jewish High Holy Day liturgy, a supplication which suggests that during that time one’s life (or death) is set for the year ahead. His juxtaposition of these items makes the poem both disturbing and challenging.

A poem that easily resonates with chaplains working in health care settings is titled “For Healing”:

There are moments when wellness escapes me,
moments when pain and suffering
are not dim possibilities
but all too agonizing realities.
At such moments I must open myself to healing.

Much I can do for myself;
and what I can do
I must do.
But even when I do all I can do
there is, often,
still much left to be done.

And so I turn as well to healers
seeking their skill to aid in my struggle for wellness.
But even when they do all they can do
there is, often,
still much left to be done.
And so I turn to You,
to the vast Power of Being that animates the universe
as the ocean animates the wave.

And when I turn to You
I discover through pain and torment
the strength to live with grace and humor.
I discover through doubt and anguish
the strength to live with dignity and holiness.
I discover through suffering and fear
the strength to move forward into healing or unto death,
for both are You.  (69-70)

The last 27 pages are a revisioning of the book of Job.   

In the Introduction to his work, Shapiro explains that he reads “traditional [Jewish] texts and becomes furious over how close they come to the truth without ever actually articulating it” (xi). He then takes those words, shreds them, and tosses “the bits into the air and grabs at those [he] can grasp” and “ties them into sentences” and offers them back to us as his powerful psalms and poetry (xii). Shapiro terms himself as a “Zen Rabbi,” and offers an explanation for that description. I still do not understand what a Zen Rabbi is, but I do know this is sacred and special writing.

Reviewed by Rabbi David J. Zucker PhD BCC (retired), North West Surrey Synagogue, Weybridge, Surrey, United Kingdom.

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Differentiation of Self: Bowen Family Systems Theory Perspectives
Peter Titleman, Editor

(New York & London: Rutledge Taylor & Frances Group, 2015, 428 pages, softcover)

If you recall the days of your childhood and long for the time of coloring inside or outside the lines, then Family Systems Theory is a tool that you would grow to love, when you understand the concepts behind the theory. Drawing circles and boxes, connecting lines to represent people and their relationships, really telling a story through symbols, is a way to visually describe a family system. In this book, Editor Peter Titelman specifically embarks on an exploration of one of the features of Bowen Family Systems Theory: differentiation of self.

The book is divided into four sections and, in turn, each section has three or four authors to further hone the impact of this element. Part 1 is focused on the theory of the differentiation of the self. Part 2 describes how the therapist (or in our case, the helping professional) experiences differentiation in his or her own life. Part 3 is focused on the clinical practice of family systems and the role that differentiation of self plays into the whole theory. Part 4 deals with research and how one might engage this area of study.

The intended audience appears to be practicing counselors, for those with direct counseling interactions would have a greater opportunity to practice these concepts. A chaplain who is involved in a family conference, where the patient is critically ill and family members are not getting along, may not have the time to analyze the family system as thoroughly. However, when end-of-life choices have to be made and 40 sides must be brought together, I find drawing a genogram of the situation and identifying the role of each participant in the decision-making process extremely helpful. As another example, when I am asked to officiate at a wedding, beforehand we sit down and explore the genogram and all it has to say to the prospective newlyweds. In the book, this process is illustrated with examples of the genogram applied to clinicians in the expression of their own differentiation.

As Patricia Hanes Mayer, one of the contributing authors, suggests,

The process of developing a more solid self requires learning about extended family history and emotional patterns, one’s own emotional patterns, nodal events and their impact, and the triggers within self that launch the flow of immaturity. Such knowledge makes it possible to recognize the difference between facts and feelings, and to be able to act on facts in the presence of intense feelings. (279)

If the reader is not already familiar with some of the basic tenets and history of Family Systems theory, I would recommend first reading a detailed description of the theory itself. However, these authors have done well in continuing Bowen’s mission to create awareness of one’s capacity to separate thoughtful, goal-directed response from reactive response.

Reviewed by Ermanno A. Willis MDiv BCC, Mayo Clinic Hospital, Phoenix, AZ.

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Mere Spirituality: The Spiritual Life According to Henri Nouwen
Wil Hernandez PhD Obl OSB

(Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths Publishing, 2015, 121 pages, softcover)

Wil Hernandez, a scholar and spiritual director who has studied and taught many courses on the work of Henri Nouwen, set out to write a text that would provide an in-depth look at Nouwen’s work on spirituality. Nouwen wrote many books on the theme of Christian spirituality. He intended to appeal to those who are from both ends of the Christian theological spectrum — from the very conservative to the very liberal. He worked hard to create a safe space for all.

Nouwen wrote on the theme of spirituality by dividing it into three primary sections: Communion, Community and Commission. By Communion, he meant that humanity is called to a sense of belonging with God and with one another. He added that we are also called to be at home within our own hearts (4-5). He wrote about Community that it is “first of all a quality of the heart. It grows from the spiritual knowledge that we are alive not for ourselves but for one another” (41).  Nouwen’s understanding of Commission is that “God’s commission for us is to engage actively in ministry to the world.” He added that there is there is a “priority of being over doing…we are called to connect, not so much by what we do, but by who we are” (69-70).

The intended audience for this text would be any person who has an interest either in spirituality in general or in Henri Nouwen in particular. Nouwen wrote more than 40 books in his lifetime, and 49 books are listed in the “Key Works of Nouwen” at the end of this text. The author is able to adeptly structure the main themes of Nouwen’s work so that the organizational pattern makes sense both to new readers and to readers who are familiar with some of Nouwen’s other writing.

The strength of this book is that the reader experiences a mini-retreat. Each chapter includes suggestions for further reading (using other texts by Nouwen), Living It Out exercises (varying from something specific to do, something about which to pray or something on which to reflect, etc.) and finally a written prayer. These exercises deepen the already rich material in the book.

The weakness of the book that I noticed was that the author chose to discuss a personal relationship that caused great pain in Nouwen’s life. I thought that this discussion was not necessary to the topic and likely should have been deleted in editing.

The author definitely met his goal of trying to help a reader to understand a theologian who produced a massive number of theological works in his lifetime. Hernandez has written a book that will provide a chaplain or pastoral counselor some moments of respite and nourishment for the spirit.

Reviewed by Rev. Marcia Marino DMin BCC, minister affiliated with the Church of the Larger Fellowship (Unitarian Universalist), Boston.

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Multifaith Care for Sick and Dying Children and Their Families:  A Multidisciplinary Guide
Paul Nash, Madeleine Parkes and Zamir Hussain

(London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2015, 224 pages, softcover)

The writers of this book have the goal of helping chaplains and religious/spiritual care (R/S) givers to gain an in-depth summary of the R/S care needs of the six major faith groups (Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh) of pediatric hospital patients and their families in the UK. The writers present a thorough picture of the specific cultural and religious needs of pediatric patients with special attention to palliative care and dying patients. Their five-principled approach for multifaith care includes (1) Creative, focused competence; (2) Global, inclusive community; (3) Courageously challenging; (4) Sustaining, accessible compassion; and (5) Celebrating and championing diversity.

A few sections are very helpful for the chaplain department needing a handy resource for the six faiths. Appendix 1, “Palliative, End-of-Life and Bereavement Issues in the Religious Care of Children,” has a very nice table which includes specifics such as “Care of the dying and end of life” and “Visit from the religious leader.”  This table could be used when a chaplain encounters a faith group with which the chaplain is less familiar. Guidance is also provided on sensitive topics such as “Organ Donation” and “Post-mortem.” All of this information is worth the price of the book itself.
Some of the book is focused on understanding cultural specifics such as “names and greetings,” “family life,” and “languages“ (121-23); because of these items, the title could have easily included the subtopic of “Cultural Nuances of Faith Groups.” The current title includes the words “Sick and Dying Children,” but rest assured that the book is full of cultural and religious helps that concern the entire healthcare treatment team from routine care to palliative and end-of-life care. “Multidisciplinary Guide” is also an accurate description, because the book is truly a resource for all bedside clinicians, including professional chaplains, nursing, medicine and other therapeutic specialty clinicians, too.
Each chapter focuses on care for a child and family from each of the faith traditions. A Buddhist mother’s reflection on spiritual and religious care needs during the premature birth of her twins was particularly enlightening and informative. Then in the final chapter, Paul Nash does a nice job of highlighting spiritual assessment tools and setting up spiritual care that is reflective of pathway care. For example, he suggests chaplains focus on Communication, Personal Care, Diet and Food, Religious Support/Artifacts, and Environment. These five headings are then tackled in the four stages of treatment such as Day to Day, Palliative, End of Life, and Bereavement. An example of a pathway, “Islamic Faith,” is found in one of the five helpful appendices at the end.

This book will help new chaplains and seasoned chaplains who need a thorough resource and guide for pediatric palliative and end-of-life care, and the care preceding those difficult and trying times.

Reviewed by George M. Rossi MA MDiv BCC, clinical chaplain, Pastoral Care Services, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC.