Thursday, February 26, 2009

A New Frontier in the Market for Organs, page 2

In January I wrote this post regarding the physician who wanted compensation for a kidney he had donated to the wife he was now divorcing. He wanted it seen as a marital asset, one with financial value that could be divided. My concern was that this was a new point – a new low point – in the issue of whether there should be a market for and financial compensation for donated organs.

Yesterday it was reported that the court referee ruled that the “surgeon's bid to seek $1.5 million for the kidney he donated to his estranged wife ‘not only runs afoul’ of public policy, but may expose him to criminal prosecution.”

Dr. Batista's application to put a price on the kidney violated state law, Grob held, citing Public Health Law §4307, which makes it a felony for "any person to knowingly acquire ... for valuable consideration any human organ for use in human transplantation…." (Emphasis mine)

At its core, the defendant's claim inappropriately equates human organs with commodities," Referee A. Jeffrey Grob wrote in Batista v. Batista, Jr., 201931/05. Grob noted that while the term "marital property" is "elastic and expansive ... its reach, in this Court's view, does not stretch into the ether and embrace, in contravention of this State's public policy, human tissues or organs."

So, for the moment, and in this instance, the issue has been put to rest, although the decision is grounded more specifically in law than in ethical reflection. Still, this one’s over. So, now we wait to see how this is raised next.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Even More Good Reading On Line

It's been a great day for discovering good stuff for chaplains. A good friend called to my attention “Faith and Healing: a Forum." It has been published in the hard copy of Time, but it’s also available on line. The participants include George Handzo of Healthcare Chaplaincy, Inc. George is a Past President of the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC), and has been involved the past few years in developing consulting services for chaplain programs. Of interest to us Episcopalians, he's also ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and appreciates his relationships with Episcopalians. It’s an interesting read, and worth your time.

Newer at Episcopal Cafe (And It's Not Mine)

My colleague, Andrew Gerns, has posted a new article at Episcopal CafĂ© on “Hearing the Voices of Healthcare Chaplains.” Andrew, who has is own blog here, was a chaplain himself for a significant part of his career, so he appreciates the value of our work. His post today has a number of links worth exploring (including a reference to “Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside”).

The core of the post is this article at Religion Dispatches by Wendy Cadge on the Sociology faculty at Brandeis University. She has a great interest in chaplaincy, and is doing research for several projects. Her article is worth noting in and of itself. As a practicing chaplain I welcome this article and her interest in general.

So, take some time and take a look.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Newest at Episcopal Cafe: the Christian at the Bedside

My newest piece for Episcopal Cafe is now up. You can read it here. It deals with one of the difficult conversations for chaplains - of the expectations of many who don't understand the scope and practice of professional chaplaincy.

The misunderstandings and inaccurate expectations of chaplains that many Christians have are as difficult as those we experience from patients, if not usually as clinically acute. While I give one example in the Episcopal Cafe piece, it comes more often from the family member out of town, someone who, commonly, hasn't seen the patient in years but has an immediate and acute concern about the patient's status with God, and especially with respect to the afterlife. The call will come long distance: "Hi. My name is ________. I am [the patient's] relative (take your choice: son or daughter, niece or nephew, brother or sister). I just want to be sure that [the patient] has turned his/her life over to Christ. Has [the patient] told you anything? If not, will you go talk to [the patient]?"

Of course I will talk to the patient. Of course I will not try to convert the patient, nor even to convict the patient whose Christian faith may have lapsed. (And, again, the reasons why are in the Episcopal Cafe piece.) Nor will I satisfy the caller with details of conversations with the patient. I may say something - something about the patient's spiritual comfort, about the patient's willing to talk, and about a good conversation - but I won't say, usually can't say, what the caller wants to hear.

And of course I will call the caller to faith. I will ask the caller to trust God to work with the patient as God and the patient find best. Most will accept that, if somewhat uneasily; but whether they accept it or not, that is where I will turn the conversation.

I do often wish folks would trust God more, and feel less responsibility themselves. I often wonder if God doesn't wish that as well.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

If Archbishop Akinola Can't Dazzle Them With Brilliance, Perhaps He Can Baffle Them With - Well, You Know.

You know, one has to hand it to Peter Akinola, Archbishop and Primate of the Church of Nigeria – Anglican. He tries to make his points with strength.

To the point: he has written an Open Letter to Archbishop Williams. The gist of the letter is to point to significant failings on the parts of the Episcopal Church and of the Anglican Church of Canada that to his mind demonstrate at least indifference to the Communion, and at worst true perfidy.

To that end, he has linked an attached report with the impressive title “The Episcopal Church: Tearing The Fabric Of Communion To Shreds,” prepared by his American friends of the American Anglican Council that purports to show all the actions taken in the past year in the Episcopal Church that defy and/or undermine the moratoria against consenting to election to the episcopate of partnered gay persons, or against blessing the unions of same sex partners. The report is indeed extensive – all of 45 pages. One could hardly imagine that the Archbishop has time to go through it.

Which, is unfortunate. I quickly found at least one mistake in the information gathered. Beginning on page 36 of the report there is a list of actions taken in diocesan conventions in the Episcopal Church. This is how the writers of the report describe the resolutions:

TEC non-compliance with Anglican Communion requests for moratoria on same sex blessings and consecrations to the Episcopate of persons in homosexual relationships, by Diocese

The following data was compiled by the pro-homosexual group, “Integrity.” It documents chronologically diocesan resolutions which defy Anglican Communion calls for moratoria on same sex blessings and consecrations to the Episcopate of persons in homosexual relationships by (1) calling for the repeal of General Convention 2006 resolution B033 which calls upon “Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion,” (2) weakening the definition of traditional Christian marriage, and (3) promoting the creation of rites for same-sex blessings. The full text of the resolutions can be found at the site:

Among the resolutions cited is one from my own diocese, West Missouri. Now, the text of that resolution, as found where they cite, is as follows:

Whereas in 1998 Lambeth 1.10 (c) called for those in the Anglican Communion to listen to the experience of gay and lesbian persons, and

Whereas the Windsor Report ¶135 speaks to the need to forward the Listening Process as called for by Lambeth 1.10 (c) and

Whereas The Listening Process section of The Anglican Communion Official Website states that “the object of listening is not to have one’s mind changed, but to hear the joys as well as the struggles of following Christ as a gay or lesbian person. Listening is about hearing the struggles of individuals as they seek to follow Christ and this will change our hearts and how we speak. Listening is about seeking to understand the way the speaker understands the Bible, tradition and reason. Listening is about hearing the experience of parents, children and friends of lesbian and gay people.” and

Whereas the Listening Process section of The Anglican Communion Official Website also states that “A listening process concerned with human sexuality has to include lesbian and gay people and ‘straight’ people. All have something to share in the process. People who find they are attracted to people of their own gender are present in all our churches and have a range of opinions. Each of their diverse stories is significant” and

Whereas The Listening Process section of The Anglican Communion Official Website also states that “successful listening requires a commitment to creating safe places, to owning common ground and to sharing the sense of vulnerability. It does not require us to commit to changingour theology.” and

Whereas matters of Human Sexuality will come before the 2009 General Convention, and much conversation will take place about those matters, therefore be it

Resolved, that the clergy and people of the Diocese of West Missouri commit themselves toengage in such a Listening Process during 2009, and be it further

Resolved, that the Bishop appoint a Task Force of clergy and lay persons to develop appropriate content and process for such a Listening Process, and be it further

Resolved that the Task Force be composed of straight, gay, and lesbian persons, and be it further

Resolved, that in every case such listening shall occur in safe places, with an honoring of our common ground as persons united in Holy Baptism by which we are all made one in Christ, and with a pastoral attentiveness to the vulnerability which is essential to honest and heart-felt listening, and be it further

Resolved, that the Task Force make a full report on the Listening Process in the Diocese of West Missouri to the 2009 Diocesan Convention.

Now, I do remember voting for this resolution. On the other hand, I don’t find anything in there that matches the description of the writers of the report. There is no reference to B033 at all, nor to blessings of couples, gay or otherwise. Instead, there are quotes from Lambeth resolution 1998 1.10, which we are reminded again and again expressed “the mind of the Communion;” from the Windsor Report; and from the Anglican Communion web site. The point is to endorse and localize the Listening Process – a process we have been asked to enter for more than ten years now, and that, by the way, the Church of Nigeria – Anglican has said is not worth their while.

Perhaps this is a simple oversight on the part of those who wrote the report. I can imagine that the mere fact that the folks at Integrity were pleased by this resolution, perhaps coupled with the determination that gay and lesbian persons should participate in the process (what a concept!) would so infuriate the folks at the American Anglican Council that they would overlook the facts regarding this resolution.

On the other hand, I would encourage anyone to look through the list, and if one of those resolutions was passed in his or her diocese, check it out to make sure another mistake wasn’t made. This may not be such an exception. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some resolutions that met the criteria stated by the writers; but all of them? That seems unlikely.

My fear, you see, is that the difficulty for the Archbishop and his staff to read all this stuff is precisely the point. I fear that the idea is to bury the truth beneath a pile of paper, and hope that poorly substantiated assertions will not be examined but simply accepted. That would be a disservice to the Archbishop and to the Communion as a whole. It would be in keeping, of course, with the GAFCON/FOCA perspective that Canterbury isn’t really all that important anymore; but it would hardly be in any sense reflective of the call for reconciliation in even the most recent Primates’ Meeting.

Of course, if one’s purpose were to justify rejecting reconciliation, then it wouldn’t matter, would it?

A New Friend and Colleague

I have commented before that there are few chaplains blogging in the first place, and not many of them Episcopalians. I have discovered another colleague, and in this case close in several senses. She's an Episcopal Priest, and a hospice chaplain, and she's even in the same state. Check out Carrol Davenport's pictures and reflections at Staying Awake.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Windsor Continuation Group and Rowan's New Anglican Ecclesiology

The Primates have met, and have issued another Communique. This is from their meeting in Alexandria, Egypt, this past weekend.

There’s a lot in the Communique, but the largest portion deals with the Report to the Archbishop of Canterbury of the Windsor Continuation Group, which was received at this meeting of the Primates. That group, formed by the Archbishop for the Lambeth Conference, has as its task “to advise the Archbishop on the implementation of the recommendations of the Windsor Report, how best to carry forward the Windsor Process in the life of the Communion, and to consult on the ‘unfinished business’ of the Report.” So, the assumption they begin with, taken from the Archbishop himself, is that the Windsor Report is the fundamental consideration of how the Communion should pursue “the highest level of communion possible,” and as such has taken on a quasi-canonical status.

There are already a number of comments out there on the Report. You can check out all the usual suspects. However, there are certainly comments in the report that caught my attention.

Paragraph 2 is interesting in and of itself. It begins by saying, “The Anglican Communion is a family of autonomous Churches.” On the other hand, it ends with, “It remains to be seen if the circumstances in which the Communion finds itself today - externally and internally - might require over the years a shift of emphasis from 'autonomy with communion' to 'communion with autonomy and accountability'.

We really see what this means in an entire section on “Addressing the Ecclesial Deficit.” What becomes clear, despite some continuing ambivalence, is that the deficit arises because the Anglican Communion as we have known it is not sufficiently ekklesia: that is, because the Communion is not a Church. It starts with this sentence, identified as a paragraph by itself: “The way in which the moratoria have been challenged or ignored in the life of the Communion raises a painful and sharp question: how can any decisions or recommendations be given authority or force in the life of the Communion?” (Emphasis mine) This is the shape of a deficit that is hypothetical at the beginning of the section, but is very real by the end. The point is to be “a communion, as opposed to a federation or association.” To that end, there needs to be more structure, more mutual accountability, and clearer limits to diversity. So, “Guidance is at times required, and also decisions have to be made for the sake of unity. Organs of authority must be present and recognised as able to speak for and to the Churches of the Communion.” And so, “It is this necessity which led the WCG to articulate the move to ‘communion with autonomy and accountability’ as being a better articulation of the ecclesiology which is necessary to sustain Communion.” Clearly, “communion with autonomy and accountability” is a tighter relationship than “autonomy with communion.” Or, as Canterbury himself said at the press briefing after the meeting, “The need for a shift of focus in the life of the communion from autonomy of provinces with communion added on, to communion as the primary reality with autonomy and accountability understood within that framework.” (Again, emphasis mine)

Now, a move from “Instruments of Communion” to “organs of authority” is a big jump. However, there are recommendations regarding each of the four Instruments of Communion that might prepare for that leap. For example, there is the suggestion that the Archbishop of Canterbury might make “appointments from the local episcopate to represent the interests of the Communion along the lines of the apokrisarioi….” Now, that term is not really new, if quite exotic. Blackwell’s Dictionary of Eastern Christianity defines the term as the “title of [a] Byzantine imperial ambassador, or of the representative of a hierarch to a higher authority; now used as the title of the legate of a patriarch.” And so in fact there are apokrisarioi representing the Ecumenical Patriarch to Canterbury, or representing Canterbury to the Russian Patriarch.” Still, that concept that Canterbury might have a legate or nuncio sounds more patriarchal, and indeed more papal, than has been our Anglican history, especially in a recommendation that they be legates not outside but within the Communion.

Or take the thought that “Exploration could be given to the idea of refocusing the position of Secretary General of the Anglican Communion as the executive officer of the communion….” To have need of or make use of an executive officer, the communion – the Communion – must be an institution with single and central program to execute. That is far more than could be said of “a family of autonomous churches.”

There are similar recommendations for the other Instruments – similar in that they result in more centralization. Lambeth might meet more often, if perhaps with a smaller group, say, only diocesan bishops. The Anglican Consultative Council is largely displaced in authority by the Joint Standing Committee of the ACC and the Primates Meeting. Of course, “The JSC needs to be [re]constituted in a way which is seen as fully representative; at which the primatial members are fully participating, and at which the Archbishop of Canterbury is fully present throughout its meetings.” Of particular interest is the clear “yes, but” in the conclusion regarding the Primates Meetings: “When [the Primates] speak collectively, or in a united or unanimous manner, then their advice - while it is no more than advice - nevertheless needs to be received with a readiness to undertake reflection and accommodation.” (Emphasis mine)

To accomplish the growing centralization, the Windsor Continuation Group endorses the Covenant process. They also endorse

The Bible in the Church Project, which is being commended to ACC-14 next May.
The Principles of Canon Law Project, the first fruits of which were published at the Lambeth Conference. A process of study, education and reflection is now needed on this project so that it nature may be properly understood and its applicability to the life of the Communion correctly discerned.
The recent establishment of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO) by the JSC as a body in succession to IASCER and IATDC to advise on ecumenical engagement and on key issues of faith and order within the life of the Communion. The agenda for such a body is already extensive and pressing.

After all this, there are recommendations for a Pastoral Forum and for Pastoral Visitors to be appointed by Canterbury to assist with mediation and communication. Oddly enough, they are envisioned has having no meaningful authority of their own. They are, instead, intended as a way to keep everyone talking, a goal Archbishop Williams has maintained from the beginning. That is indeed a laudable goal, as long as they’re not intended to keep everyone distracted, talking while other developments behind the scenes bring us to this “communion with autonomy and accountability.”

The Report does take time to examine the issues raised by the “Anglican Church in North America” (ACNA), the new body formed of groups within the Common Cause Partnership. The Report is very much in keeping with the approach Archbishop Williams has sought to take: keep everyone at the table talking as long as possible. Thus, the ACNA is neither explicitly accepted nor explicitly rejected. Rather, the Group recommends “a professionally mediated conversation at which all the significant parties could be gathered… to find a provisional holding arrangement which will enable dialogue to take place and which will be revisited on the conclusion of the Covenant Process, or the achievement of long term reconciliation in the Communion.” And what might that “holding arrangement” look like? In a very optimistic statement, the Report says “WCG believes that the advent of schemes such as the Communion Partners Fellowship and the Episcopal Visitors scheme instituted by the Presiding Bishop in the United States should be sufficient to provide for the care of those alienated within the Episcopal Church from recent developments.” Perhaps; but these schemes have already been rejected out of hand by a significant number of those who have chosen to participate in ACNA. And since, as the Report notes, “the leaders of ACNA state… that the approval of the Instruments of Communion or recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury are unnecessary for them to proceed with the formation of the Province,” it is hard to imagine that they would be all that interested in such a “provisional holding arrangement” at the behest of authorities they have themselves implicitly rejected.

I have commented before that Archbishop Williams is uncomfortable with an Anglican Communion that is a “family of autonomous churches,” and would instead prefer a tighter Communion, perhaps without a new patriarchate, but with just about everything else to increase conformity. It appears that the Windsor Continuation Group is of the same mind – or has at least sought the same direction. That was the tenor of the Group's second report at Lambeth, and this is expansion on the theme. I have also wondered whether the Episcopal Church is sufficiently “episcopal” for Canterbury, as well as others in the Communion. Now I might wonder whether, in light of a covenant draft that sought such centralization, the Episcopal Church might be sufficiently “Anglican” to fit a new definition for the Anglican Communion, one of “communion with autonomy and accountability.” But then, with this direction, one might ask the same question of such a Communion itself.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Resources from Summit '09

I've made a couple of posts from the recent Summit '09 of the Spiritual Care Collaborative. Now handouts from the many Conference and Preconference Workshops are available on line. They may not represent the entirety of the workshop, but in most cases they will give a flavor, and enough information to contact presenters. Take some time and browse the available resources.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

On Becoming "Research Informed"

I have been attending Summit ’09 of the Spiritual Care Collaborative. It has been an interesting experience, and mostly good.

It will have come to the attention of regular readers that I’m interested in research. It turns out that so are a lot of other chaplains. At Summit ’09 there were three separate 90-minute workshops on research for chaplains, not to mention any number that were in one sense or another were informed by research.

I like the concept of being “research informed” as a profession. I took the phrase from George Fitchett, expressed in one of the workshops mentioned above. He speaks in that phrase of a situation in which a few chaplains are actively involved in research, whether as primary investigators or collaborating with others; but all chaplains are aware of research and able to read and consider it critically.

I think this is a worthwhile goal. It’s not something we learn in our theological training. Oh, we do see the results of two sorts of research. We see the results of academic research – the results of extensive studies of articles and critical reflections. However, that research is, essentially, literature criticism. That is, it’s not quantitative, or even qualitative research resulting in numbers. (That’s not to say it’s not quality research; just that research done by an historian is usually different from research done by a physician; and for some important purposes chaplains need to be more in the second group.)

That said, I shared in the workshop my own concern that there are two resources for research that we need to attend to and work with. The first is research about spirituality and health care done by folks in other disciplines. Nurses, physicians, and social workers are publishing research related to spirituality. We as chaplains need to be looking at it for two reasons. First, some of it is actually useful, and we need to know about it. Second, some of it is really not good from our perspective, and we need to be responding critically to it. If those other journals started getting clear and reasoned responses from chaplains, our visibility would rise.

Second, and sadly, we haven’t really read each other’s research. I’m aware of that when, year after year, some of the same topics keep showing up – a new model for spiritual assessment, or a justification for demonstrating our work with numbers, for example. We need to be reading and reviewing one another’s work, and responding critically. Even more important, we need to be reading one another’s work and seeking to replicate studies. In any field, it is the replication that demonstrates that the work is valid and useful. It is also replication that allows us to meaningfully respond and perhaps tweak tools, categories, and hypotheses. If we want to discuss our work as “evidence-based” in the evidence-based world of health care, it is precisely that replication that will confirm the usefulness of our evidence.

This has been a worthwhile conference over all, and I will have other things to say or to point to. However, these thoughts came up in the context of a valuable workshop, and I wanted to get them out. It’s not enough for us to talk about being “evidence-based” or “research informed,” if we’re not making use and sense of the research already out there.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

One of Their Own: Reflections on the Lessons for Epiphany 4, Year B

Preached at the Episcopal Eucharist at Summit '09 of the Spiritual Care Collaborative.

“Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” So Mark tells us. Jesus clearly made an impression.

In a sense, perhaps it wasn’t so hard. He taught, they noted, “as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” I find myself imagining the difference between a well written and engaging sermon, contrasted with the dry, academic Bible study that sometimes gets substituted.

At the same time, I find myself wondering about that sentence, “they were astounded at his teaching.” I wonder if perhaps we might also appreciate it as, “They were astounded at him teaching, for he taught them as one having authority.” I can imagine they might have been pleased. They might even have been impressed. But, why were they astounded?

Perhaps it was because, as near as we can tell, at first appearance Jesus wasn’t really all that impressive. For the all the subsequent history of Christian art, with all its sublime faces and gilt halos, from what the Gospels tell us neither Jesus nor his disciples were all that impressive at first appearance. Oh, the spirits knew Jesus. They were all too ready to call his name. But to anyone else, he probably looked like the carpenter he had been raised as; or like any other wandering preacher – dusty, disheveled, and down at the heel. Oh, he got a reputation, beginning with the exorcism in today’s lesson. But otherwise, he just didn’t look so special. Think how he was rejected, even ridiculed, in his own home town; or how the woman at the well initially saw little but annoyance in this strange man. Even after the resurrection, when Peter and John healed in his name, everyone was struck that they were uncultured, unlettered. No, they were astounded because, before they actually met him and the authority came through, he just didn’t look like much.

It didn’t help, I think, that they had a clear idea of what to look for. They had heard one speak with God’s authority before, and they looked to hear it again. They had been promised a prophet, one from their own people, but like Moses. The promise had been given in the text of Deuteronomy; and when they imagined Moses it was the Moses of Deuteronomy that they saw. They saw the Lawgiver, the experienced Leader. They saw the man who stood before them and instructed them for hours, holding them almost spellbound.

And in doing so, I think they missed Moses. That is, I think they confused the Messenger with the Message, the Lawgiver with the Law. They forgot Moses as we know him in Exodus. Here was no great orator, no great leader. Here was a wandering shepherd, who had fled from the people he know and been adopted by a Bedouin tribe. When he saw the burning bush, he came, not with a sense of destiny, but with sheer curiosity. When called to his great mission, he tried every excuse he could think of to talk God out of it. He would never have gone forward had God not provided him with a Bronze Age media system – Aaron for a loudspeaker, and the staff as a visual aid. And even with those, he didn’t look like much at first. Neither Hebrew nor Egyptian saw anything special in him, until they actually saw him in action and the authority came through. Israel in Jesus’ day remembered Moses in Deuteronomy, illuminated and highlighted by all those years of receiving and relaying God’s presence. They didn’t remember the small frail man, too weak, too frightened to speak until God spoke through him.

And so in the synagogue in Capernaum, they weren’t confused about the authority: Moses had spoken God’s word long before. Instead, they were astounded: astounded that it came from someone who looked at first glance just like them, like the Moses who encountered the burning bush, and not like the Moses they remembered.

This is an important point for us, I think - for us as chaplains. If there is any word that seems to dog us, literally to follow our process like a bloodhound, it is that word, “authority.” Early in our training we discover we have an “authority issue.” We all have it. It’s just a matter of how we live it out, whether how we express authority, or how we respond to the authority of others. We are called to claim and express our own “pastoral authority,” certainly as part of our growth in ministry, and ultimately as an integral aspect of our professional practice. That’s true of every person in ministry, of course; but we’re especially self-conscious about it.

And that’s important because we know – we’ve seen all too often - how pastoral authority can be abused. I sometimes pick up on that old joke about the pastor who was asked to pray for good weather, who responded, “You’ll have to take that up directly with Management; I’m just in sales.” My own response is that I’m in Maintenance, working to support the repair and rehabilitation of bodies and minds and spirits. I’m particularly aware of those times when the spirits need rehabilitation because of the damage done by colleagues who misuse authority to shame or reject or abuse. And time after time, it has happened because ministers came to believe their own press, to see themselves as special and set apart. They saw themselves as later Israel saw Moses, as later Christians would see the Apostles: great proclaimers, great law givers and leaders, complete with sublime faces and gilt halos.

When those ministers did that, they lost track of how God worked, of how God amazed and astounded, proclaiming through those who were, really, one of the people. The Hebrews, and ultimately the Egyptians, saw God more clearly precisely because Moses didn’t look like much. The folks in Capernaum were astounded precisely because Jesus didn’t look like much. It was when people heard and saw God in folks just like them, heard and saw God all the more clearly because the messengers weren’t themselves a distraction, that the people realized the amazing, astounding power of God. Ministers who do harm do so, time after time, because they come to see themselves as having solely their own authority, rather than letting God’s authority speak through them.

Which brings me to the bedside. I think this speaks particularly to the vocation we have as chaplains. We work in an environment where, all too often, we feel little authority. Certainly, we don’t have the authority that comes to those who can quote lab values and parse differential diagnoses, not to mention generate revenue. We rarely even have the authority that can be attributed when we speak to someone from our own faith community. But, if we’re clear about where our authority lies, that’s to our advantage. For those we serve each of us can become the one like them, one from among their own people, who can reflect and relay the love and power of God. And the love and power of God can continue to amaze and astound and convict, not because we’re special but precisely because we’re not. We can enter into relationship with another, and allow God to shine through despite the fact – indeed, because of the fact – that we’re not a distraction, not special and set apart.

Jesus went to teach in Capernaum, and they were astounded at his teaching – they were astounded at him, teaching – because he spoke has one having God’s authority. When we allow God’s authority to speak through us, we, too, can share with those we serve in experiencing again the amazing, astounding, convicting love and power of God.