“…who live by faith.”

Thanks to Rowan Heuvel

Thanks to Rowan Heuvel

We have imaginations, intuitions, and moments of awakening that disturb us into awareness of dimensions of circumambient reality that we can only name, on our own, as “mystery.” And yet our feet mire in the clay of everyday toil–getting and giving, spending and being spent–in the struggle for survival and meaning. In the midst of contingency, suckled on uncertainty, we spend our blessed and threatened years becoming selves through relationships of trust and loyalty with others like us–persons and communities. We attach to one another in love; we struggle with one another in fidelity and infidelity. We share our visions of ultimate destiny and calling, our projections in hope, our moments of revelation in awe, and our fear in numbness or protest. We are language-related, symbol-borne, and story-sustained creatures. We do not live long or well without meaning.

That is to say, we are creatures who live by faith. We live by forming and being formed in images and dispositions toward the ultimate conditions of our existence.

From James W. Fowler’s Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian, pg 39.

Reasons I Read bell hooks

Thanks to Startup Stock Photos

Thanks to Startup Stock Photos

I have books by bell hooks on my shelves, and I try to read something of hers every year. This has been a habit of mine.

I’ve cradled her words about writing, savoring her observations back when I started writing curricula when I was finishing seminary.

I’ve read and listened to her about relationships, about being a man in a relation to women, about her criticism of culture and how culture misshapes us to believe bad things. Of course bell hooks doesn’t use the phrase bad things. You have to pick up her work to see her turns of phrase.

Nonetheless, I read her because I don’t think I can be a good pastor without her influence upon my life, my work, and my practice of being a man who is a husband to Dawn, a father to Bryce, a pastor to people, and friend to women and men.

I think bell hooks is a great teacher of men on how to be a man-in-relationship. She’s been a splendid, hard-hitting, loving addition to my collection of “teachers through text” for more than ten years.

I heard her speak at Hampton University when I started college. I heard her again at Northwestern when I was in seminary. I have no idea what she said during those speeches. I remember rooms full of black and white people–mostly black–and I remember feeling at home in the presence of this woman I was a stranger to.

Her readings are that way. I feel embraced and checked, loved and corrected, and that marks a good writer, a loving one, particularly when you’re reading about love in response to patriarchy, race, gender, and oppression.

I just finished one of her earlier books, Sisters of the Yam. It’s a book about black women and self-recovery. I should say that all of bell hooks’ books are about black women, and all of them are about all the rest of us too.

Her work is accessible and generous, and if you love black women and if you (want to) love yourself, you should get any of her work. She blends her experiences of being a woman/daughter/lover/writer/sister/teacher/truth-teller, and she offers us inestimable lessons on being.

I am blessed with many mentors. I was reminded of that when putting together materials for my current clinical pastoral education exploits. I’ve named those men and women and each time I revise those types of documents, I’m reminded of the treasure they bring me. And there’s a section in my writings where I name mentors through words, teachers through texts, and bell hooks is in there. She should be one of your teachers too.

Work Fully Done

Thanks to Startup Stock Photos

Thanks to Startup Stock Photos

The difference between work and play is only a matter of attitude. Work, fully done, is play. When the body works, it is dancing. When the mind works, it is dreaming. Appreciating the joys and sadnesses of both, one moves within the process of life.

From Gerald May’s Simply Sane, pg. 87

“Something Must Be Said”


Thanks Aaron Burden

Thanks Aaron Burden

Parents of black male children know that the world poses a much greater danger to our sons than they do to the world. We raise our black sons to be aware of their surroundings and to know how they are being perceived–whether they are shopping in a store, or walking down the street with a group of friends, or even wearing a hoodie over their heads. After hearing what happened to Trayvon as he was walking home from a store wearing a hoodie and carrying Skittles and ice tea, I was once again reminded of what a dangerous world this is for our sons. And I thought about Trayvon’s mother. She sent her son on a trip to visit family, only to have him fall victim to the unfounded fears and stereotypes grafted onto black male bodies. Something must be said, I thought, about what is happening to our black children, especially our sons. This book is my attempt to do that.

From Kelly Brown Douglas’ Introduction of Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God

Heeding Our Lives

Thanks to Micah Hallahan

Thanks to Micah Hallahan

If we give heed to our lives, and live long enough, we come to understand the things that eluded us earlier because of our youth and the dogmatic posture of our religious teachers. We come to know how the Yahweh-God works in the world, and we come to appreciate the dream of the Kingdom, God’s commitment to and presence in all of humankind. The divisions melt away and we finally understand the meaning of ancient Israel’s claim: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one.” Once our experiences bring us to this point, we can no longer be parochial. We can longer say with conviction that one must be a Catholic. Rather, we rejoice in our own Catholicism, for we see it at its best, incarnating what the God of life has finally revealed to us in our experience, what in fact is revealed by God’s presence in all of humankind: It really doesn’t matter.

From A Theology of Presence, pg. 112

Transformed by Struggle

It is a fool’s hope to review Joan Chittister. So I won’t. But I wanted to capture my reading of her book Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope, and the best way to do that was to locate her own words for the task. Her book is both a small view into a painful experience for her and a series of articulations about struggle and the accompanying gifts which come from those respective struggles.

I think this quote snatches the book in a bite. I hope you find it enticing enough to pick up a copy:

The important things in life, one way or another, all leave us marked and scarred. We call it memory. We never stop remembering our triumphs. We never stop regretting our losses. Some of them mark us with bitterness. But all of them, can, if we will allow them, mark us with wisdom. They transform us from our small, puny, self-centered selves into people of compassion. For the first time, we understand the fearful and the sinful and the exhausted. They have become us and we have become them as well. We recognize the down-and-out in the street who mirrors our despair. We commiserate with the anger of the marginalized. We identify with the invisibility of the outcast. We can finally hear the rage of the forgotten. We are transformed.

From Scarred by Struggle (pg 102)

History of Pastoral Care in America

Thanks to Patrick Fore

Thanks to Patrick Fore

I finished E. Brooks Holifield’s A History of Pastoral Care in America: From Salvation to Self-Realization. The book has been a grounding or a re-grounding for me since my seminary days. As the title tells, it is a history of pastoral care and pastoral theology in the United States of America.

Holifield walks through several Christian theological lanes, surveying and summarizing some of the major figures in pastoral theology broadly and pastoral care more specifically. He intends the book to be narrow in the sense of covering Protestant pastoral counseling and ministry.

I found it broad in how it went about telling that history. The author named several primary voices in pastoral work, drawing out the thoughts and conceptions of thinkers and preachers and teachers who shaped the practical ministry of pastors and the academic institutions who trained ministers. Holifield wanted to show specifically how the “self” was revealed in history, how attitudes about the self developed in American religion, and wrote in that direction.

Any history that covers centuries has to be clear in its scope and intention. Holifield told of theological traditions and how they dealt with (i.e., defined, taught, and constructed meanings for) sin and spiritual development, two primary foci of pastoral care and those seeking such care throughout history. How a church defines sin directly relates to how a person in that church develops him/herself, whether they develop at all.

I appreciate learning names and dates that I was not thoughtful of. Holifield named preachers and leaders who framed debates that I know of but didn’t know the progenitors. One criticism is that the historical debates were framed around churches and communities which regularly disallowed the names and thoughts of non-white people.

That lack of voice is loud in Holifield, and I found myself wondering why he wrote about the influence of Jonathan Edwards but didn’t discuss with equal precision the thoughts and impact of Richard Allen or Alexander Crummell, the Episcopal priest who started what was essentially a society for African American intellectual and theoretical development. The omission is both honest from the historical perspective–since Allen wasn’t “invited to the debate” in his time–and discouraging because I don’t note Holifield walking through his work with the sense of loss with which I read him.

He presented a lot of philosophical material that made me feel informed, and he made the connections to keep me interested because he used several local church pastors to offer what could have been, simply, heady stuff. A central event in American history of the Protestantism Holifield writes about is the Great Awakening. He writes of the psychology of the Awakening and how with the best of intentions, leaders disagreed (meaning argued) about conversion and cure.

He notes the remark of one historian who says that the central conflict of the time was not theological but psychological, about opposing views of human psychology. Holifield points to how misleading that comment was, but it as helpful as it is misleading. As he says, “the theological context of any clerical assertion about psychology profoundly affected the interpretation of the psychological claims” and “the antagonists had far more in common than any such dichotomy might suggest.” Both are true then and seem true still.

The book covers material that can’t, or shouldn’t be covered in a review. There’s stuff about will and affections, comfort, cure, accountability, capitalism, and urban culture which I hardly would relay as urban in contemporary sense. He develops in solid detail the early therapeutic movements which we see but don’t see in pastoral counseling and therapy offices. He documents the beginnings of the Emmanuel Movement, explains less popular figures like Harry Stack Sullivan (whose work I appreciate), and points to how clinical focus moved from adjustment to insight.

He opened up for me a connection between mainstream culture in the US post-Civil War and the accompanying shifts of emphases in counseling and ministry and which established the primary contexts for the 20th century pastoral care movement. The same was true after World War 2. National violence, world violence directly impacted the needs for, methods of, and providers for pastoral care and mental health. Power and achievement and success were foci. Warlike metaphors abound from that time in clinical history, and the residuals of that period are still with us.

The last half of the book was much more relatable. He employed names and methods I have been introduced to, and the book did a good job unearthing the nuanced theories from which today’s approaches in pastoral theology stem. He dealt with the ever popular client-centered therapy and its large reception among pastors, as well as the derivative therapies thereafter. He mentioned early to mid-twentieth century pastoral heavy weights like Hiltner and Boisen and Oates and Wise.

I remember thinking about something one of my Bible professors said. Perhaps they are words I put in a professor’s mouth: the people who write our texts are the people whose stories stuck. Their stories endured. In other words, those we quote continue to be those we hear.

I felt Holifield reminding us of good historical stuff while also, in my view, choosing certain voices and neglecting others relative to a history of United States of American pastoral care. I certainly am developing a personal project to augment Holifield’s good work, thinking through whose voices are missing but shouldn’t be.

In summary, as good as this history is, it is short-sighted in the direction of white, male perspectives which is nothing surprising. Most of theological scholarship bends in that direction. Certainly most recognized histories bend there too. I could see more complementary texts coming alongside this book in order to illuminate the less-told stories of women and people of color. Indeed, I know the work of folks like Carroll Watkins-Ali and Archie Smith should be read with Holifield’s book.

Now, I’m on the hunt for another pastoral theological history that captures and enriches the story by adding the voices that Holifield didn’t include. That said, this quote, pages from the end, summarize well the good ground the author did cover and offers a kind of vista into the next places historically minded theological scholars may next dig:

Pastoral conversation–whether understood as counsel or as counseling–has never been a disembodied activity, isolated from social and cultural expectations and ideals. The strategies of pastoral discourse, the tone and vocabulary of private communication between the minister and the person in distress, always have borne the dim reflection of a public order. One begins to understand something about pastoral counseling by looking closely not only at prevailing conceptions of theology and psychology but at popular culture, class structure, the national economy, the organization of the parishes, and the patterns of theological education. And one must also look at the past.