Differences in Worldview


Photo Thanks to Ryan McGuire

Working across cultures can provoke strong negative responses and reduce trust. The outsider or stranger may appear even more strange and untrustworthy. Those of us with training and expertise in communication skills, such as pastoral care providers, may find it hard to bridge certain cultural gaps and resist becoming siblings in a common struggle when differences in worldview appear to threaten cherished beliefs and values. The differences in worldview may appear insurmountable when there is a single, limited, or exclusive focus on one’s own cultural group. Where this is the case, it will be impossible to build trust and face the complex issues of interethnic group oppression.

(From Siblings by Choice, 28-29)

Supervision Helps

She needed to turn aside and name what was unexamined and unfinished in her own life story as she continued in ministry to this woman. Were she simply to react to her as she had to her mother, she would have seen clearly neither her own story nor that of the patient, who was different from her mother in important ways. These parallels can be named and examined or referred for therapeutic work. Particular themes of grief or abandonment or abuse may provoke anxiety in the minister who has these themes as parts of his or her own history. Supervision helps the minister to learn to walk between the perils of overidentification and detached aloofness. Ministry in depth will always raise themes for the sensitive and reflective minister that are in need of attention in his or her own story. Recognizing these themes and remaining responsible in pastoral relationship are the goals of supervision that looks at life stories of parishioner and pastor.

(From Steere’s The Supervision of Pastoral Care, pg. 122)

Ways I’m Changing

My clinical supervisor asked me a question a couple weeks ago after I opened our supervisory meeting with an agenda to discuss our relationship and our training work together. As we talked, he arrived at an illuminating-for-me question: how are you changing?

Photo Thanks to Annie Spratt

Photo Thanks to Annie Spratt

Here are some of the pieces of my answer as I consider my supervisory and clinical training:

  • I’m seeing my relationship with those I observe develop as a relationship in itself. I watch what’s happening in students’ experience, and that observation is a relationship itself.


  • I’m noticing how it feels to observe myself. In CPE words, I’m observing myself as an observer.


  • I’m developing another identity. I’m many things, one of which is a supervisor of pastors, and that identity is in particular development these days.


  • I’m using clinical materials differently. I’m developing the ability to read a person from her/his “application materials,” the renderings she/he offers in a moment.


  • I’m seeing myself. As I keep going, I’m growing to see the many parts of me and to value those parts, to evaluate those parts, and to elevate those parts of me.

I hope you are in relationship to people you trust who can ask you, in their own words, how are you changing because the question itself is a gift.


Something I’m Thinking About

Photo Thanks to Tim Swaan

Photo Thanks to Tim Swaan

As I see one semester end (at seminary) and one unit end (in CPE) and one year end (at the church), I’m reading over a book that will likely find its way into one of my theory papers. It’s a book Dr. Scottie May introduced me to in grad school.

Parker Palmer is such a helpful teacher and guide. Here’s a taste about education but that can be said of preaching, speaking, parenting, and any other way of learning/educating:

If you want to understand our controlling conception of knowledge, do not ask for our best epistemological theories. Instead, observe the way we teach and look for the theory of knowledge implicit in those practices. That is the epistemology our students learn–no matter what our best contemporary theories may have to say.

…If this is the case, then as a teacher I can no longer take the easy way out, insisting that I am only responsible for conveying the facts of sociology or theology or whatever the subject may be. Instead, I must take responsibility for my mediator role, for the way my mode of teaching exerts a slow but steady formulative pressure on my students’ sense of self and world. I teach more than a body of knowledge or a set of skills. I teach a mode of relationship between the knower and the known, a way of being in the world. That way, reinforced in course after course, will remain with my students long after the facts have faded from their minds.

(From To Know As We Are Known, pg. 29, 30)


Thanks to Jazmin Quaynor

Thanks to Jazmin Quaynor

I participated in a readiness consultation Friday before last, which in a sentence is a meeting with my clinical supervisor and a small circle who’ve read more than a hundred pages about me and my ministry for the purpose giving me feedback on my ministry as a pastoral educator, particularly as I start supervisory education. It was a consultation that was as much for my supervisor as it was for me. We attended and participated together.

I’ve been a pastor for nearly fifteen years, serving my current church for just over nine and my first church for five. I’ve taught in two seminaries, including my own seminary for the last seven years. I’ve led small groups and taught others to lead them. I’ve been in peer group consultations as a CPE student. I’ve been in individual therapy and couples counseling. Of course, I’ve been around the table with people who know me. I’ve developed and practiced clearness committees in my own life. And I have not had an experience like a readiness consultation.

I’ve gotten feedback before. I’ve been in spiritual direction and been supervised during clinical pastoral education, which are the closest experiences to a readiness consultation. But the purposes of those moments are distinct.

Spiritual direction is a monthly time where my director listens to me, hears me, and helps me hear me as we listen for the “grace that I need.” I’ve gone to direction for seven years and it’s a jewel in my spiritual life. I wouldn’t be in pastoral ministry if I wasn’t in direction.

In my experience, clinical supervision is based upon the agenda that I bring and for the purpose of my growth, learning, and strength as a minister to people. I have supervision weekly, and it’s based upon my needs for my work. It’s a gift because the feedback, the Q&A is directly applicable for what I’m doing, thinking, and processing.

My readiness consultation was a compressed combination of both those types of experiences. Readiness was this huge collection and assembling of myself in order to present myself to chaplain and supervisors in order for them to help me prepare for what’s next.

Since every consultation is unique, my sense is that their questions for me were their questions for me. These meetings are tailored to what materials are sent and to the questions the presenter raised when thinking through the materials. So it was an individualized time of conversation. I led it based upon where I needed things to go.

Even though we only got through 4-5 questions in the hour and a half time, the words spoken went deep. It wouldn’t help for me to post them because you didn’t read my materials or the presenter’s report. Still, they were well-written, reflective comments and questions which had me thinking about me, about others, and about the ministry of supervision.

I will be reflecting on that consultation for a couple weeks. Really. But here are a few immediate takeaways that I expand to you even if you’re not in CPE:

  1. Having assembled myself in written form, I’m only clearer about my work as a pastoral leader in multiple contexts. I serve the church and I serve the hospital, and I have a greater sense of why.
  2. Writing is an indispensable leadership act. Leaders should be asked to, and able to, articulate critical things about themselves such as a brief history of her life, a theology of ministry, and a statement about his motivations.
  3. No matter how much you prepare, being aware of (and being able to tell) your stories will always connect you to another person. Stories are human tools, and the more we share them, the more human we become.
  4. Experiencing something like a readiness consultation is important for pastoral leaders, be it in a clergy group, a therapy support group, a circle of trust, a gathering of church elders or trusted friends. We need people–whenever we serve–to raise quality questions about us, about our plans, about our readiness.
  5. Driving to a meeting a few hours away provides needed space to prepare beforehand and to reflect after upon words graciously spoken. Most of my time in the car is productive or destination-based and doesn’t leave room to think, and traveling to Wisconsin was contemplative space.
  6. Process is more important than content. Attending to what’s happening in us is more interesting than the obvious stuff.
  7. Talking to people is a gift. Being heard and being seen are gifts too, and I’m more thankful for spiritual direction, for quality supervision, and for slow, considered words when they’re spoken.

CPE: Supervisory Education Student Training

Thanks to Danist Soh

Thanks to Danist Soh

I finished my residency in clinical pastoral education at the end of August. As part of that ending, I was in transition to stay in training by beginning work in supervisory education. I needed to stay on somewhere since the church was keeping me part-time. And an opportunity opened.

In effect, my life will continue to look like it has over the last year. I’ll continue to serve my church as one of the pastors, and I’ll continue to serve my patients as a one of the chaplains.

Most people in my church seem surprised when I mention my CPE training. They don’t feel the impact of my work. They don’t notice the differences in how I spend my days.

As a church that focuses its mission on twenty and thirty-somethings (and certainly not exclusively), most of our people are involved during their days. They aren’t coming to a church, meeting with pastors, or attending ministry meetings. That was very much the culture of my last church. At New Community, people I meet with meet me at night or on weekends because they work, study, or otherwise occupy themselves.

So, attending weekend activities at church, while working during the day at a hospital and working at night to see our church people, lends to a congregant’s surprise when learning that I’m also working in CPE. But I am continuing that work. And I’m glad to be doing so.

It’s been an interesting mix of experiences starting my program these last weeks. I’m still serving as the primary chaplain in the medical intensive care unit. I’m observing the work of my supervisor as he works with a new set of interns, starting to see supervision from a different ledge. I’m preparing didactics, reading a lot, still seeing the ups and downs of people’s lives in a busy level one trauma center that sees death daily. I sit with people going through hard spots. I pray all the time. It seems that way. It’s getting easier to sit quietly.

I’m not sure how that’ll impact my posting. I’ll still post quotes of people I read. I’ll write reviews of some of the books I’m appreciating as a way to keep my mind engaged in a number of ways with the authors of those books. I may not be able to post as much as I like.

The process before me is faith-filled. Like any growth process, the most constructive parts are unseen. The strongest impacts ahead aren’t written in a description. And I couldn’t tell you all the gifts I’ll receive as I step into what’s next. There will be love there though. There will be people that love me and people that I’ll love.

There will be learning and I’ll necessarily make more mistakes. My average has already gone up this year for mistakes! I’ll require more from my family and friends, and I’ll return the gains I’m getting from one work environment toward the people within the other environments I’m placed. I’ll deepen my conversations with my spiritual director. Me and Dawn will speak and listen more meaningfully. Bryce will get a better dad. And we’ll see what else there is.

The Blessed Child

Thanks to London Scout

Thanks to London Scout

I was listening to Rev. Emily Rosencrans the other week as she spoke to the chaplaincy staff about blessing. She talked about family systems in particular and how blessings are passed on to members of families.

It was a remarkable session, partly because I get a lot out of (family) systems theory and partly because of the ways Chaplain Rosencrans handled us. Her manner was gentle, precise, and perceptive. Plus, it’s fun to watch chaplains teach other chaplains because, as some theorists suggest, how we are with one another is how we are with our patients.

Nonetheless, we learned that usually mothers bless their sons and fathers bless their daughters. We talked ins and outs that I’ll keep from the blog but which really will impact, is impacting my pastoral and clinical skill since the session. We were learning about the work of Myron Madden who I’ve gotta put on my ever-expanding reading list.

Blessings are spiritual things and they come in the form of words, gifts, and permissions given. Such a clear capturing of a well-used word–blessing–or a worked over phrase–God bless you.

One of the most important things she told us was that we can get what we need and that we can encourage others to get what they need. Even if you weren’t the blessed child; even if your role was the rebel and troublemaker or the responsible caretaker; you can get what you need.

The other critical point was about how we can bless each other without regard for–or because of–who the so called blessed child was. Everybody can be a blessed child, and we have a role as spiritual caregivers in reminding people of that. In other words, we can bless and facilitate the blessings of others.

I thought about this quote that I used in a chapel meditation a few months back from Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved:

It is remarkable how easy it is to bless others, to speak good things to and about them, to call forth their beauty and truth, when you yourself are in touch with your own blessedness. The blessed one always blesses. And people want to be blessed! This is so apparent wherever you go. No one is brought to life through curses, gossip, accusations or blaming. There is so much of that taking place around us all the time. And it calls forth only darkness, destruction and death. As the “blessed ones,” we can walk through this world and offer blessings. It doesn’t require much effort.

So what do you need? Who needs to bless you? Go to them. Get it. Get what you need.

And don’t forget that you can bless others. Look for the moment. Take the opportunity to bless.

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.


Complications, Surgeons, Care, & “Undeniable Power”

Thanks to Leeroy and Life of Pix.

Thanks to Leeroy and Life of Pix.

This is an intriguing report about patient choice, public information about doctor’s records, and surgeons teaming up to prevent complications and errors even though they’re paid less for it. Here’s a quote that made me hopeful–and there were a few:

There was undeniable power in putting the information out there, where everyone could see it.

“When you get that grade, if you don’t like that grade or think you can do better,” Kaplan said, “you either study harder or go to the teacher and ask, ‘What can I do better?’”

Being a unit chaplain for surgical floors and a medical intensive care makes me particularly interested in this report which you can read here. Of course, your disagreements, your considerations, the comments after the report, and so forth are just as helpful in learning about all these things. And I’m grateful that Marian Wang shared this.

Stories of God Question Dominant Directions

This summer I’m starting a practice of quoting or reviewing most of the books I read. I want to keep more of the materials with me, remember words, and appreciate what I’m learning, so I’m putting in a bit of effort to capture things in a few hundred words.

I just finished John Shea’s Stories of God. I was introduced to John Shea (in thought and writing, not in person) by my first clinical supervisor, Sister Barbara Sheehan at Urban CPE. She told us that according to John Shea, “Our feelings are the word of God to us.” I heard that and immediately liked John Shea.

This is the first of his books I’ve read. It develops the idea that when Christian people get together, we tell stories and that our stories are our ways of making sense of the world that God has created. Stories are “inevitable companions of people bounded by birth and death.” They are not incidental to life, but essential. Stories are the inescapable ways we talk about the Mystery that is itself inescapable.

Shea says that we relate to five relational environments as human beings, the first and most baffling of which is ourselves. The second environment is family and friends, those who are continually near us and with whom we have sustained interaction. The third and fourth are institutions in society and the nonhuman universe. The last environment is the relation with God or the Transcendent (or commonly Mystery in this book), which is known by diverse “acknowledgements of its presence.”

We are made for these environments, made by them. When it comes to Mystery Shea says that there is an immediate, intense desire for communion in us. “We perceive the dimension of Mystery” through feeling, and we perceive feeling through dialogue and communion. He says on p. 25,

The human person comes to be through dialogue with others. Out of this ongoing dialogue, people develop a sense of who they are and where they are going. People speak to each other words of acceptance and love, but they also speak painful words that call for conversion and new lifestyles.

Communion means love and acceptance; it implies freedom. But human communion goes beyond humanity. It facilitates our awareness of Mystery. In other words, being in relationships of love and acceptance open us to the One who accepts and loves us into freedom. At times this is not a delightful path but a dark one, filled with disenchantment.

But “Disenchantment is an experience of Mystery reasserting itself.” In darkness God comes. In pain we are freed from an idol’s hold upon us and we reach into Mystery. Shea does a lot to describe relationships with Mystery, gives it qualities that anyone “walking with God” can meaningfully relate to.

He writes the second part of the book into three types of stories: 1) Story of Hope and Justice; 2) Story of Trust and Freedom; and 3) Story of Invitation and Decision. When he speaks of stories and, I’d suggest, language broadly, he says:

Although the only way to the unknown is through the familiar, there is a danger. Titles and stories are not the reality. They only serve the reality. They are the way into the Mystery revealed in Jesus Christ, but they are not the Mystery.

For the first story, he discusses two ways of reading the stories of Mystery regarding justice and hope: an interventionist interpretation and an intentional interpretation. The first views historical activity as chaotic and separate from the mythical activity of God. An interventionist view sees all of life from the future, the eschaton, the moment when all things will be redeemed. Justice or hope look ahead to a future which frames life now. “It is this future, always-impending moment which shapes consciousness and directs activity.” Though it leads to a privatized eschatology and, perhaps, a privatized ethic, everything hinges on an invading God who comes after we’ve waited.

Waiting happens in lament, through provocation of the reluctant God to act, and by engaging in “presumptuous activity” that looking upon our works, “Christ will recognize as his own when at last he comes.” This interpretative view of God’s story is characterized by increasing anticipation, purposive waiting, patience, and practice that’s framed by a future vision. I see a lot of this view in practice in the church of my upbringing and the church I currently serve by the way.

The second way of seeing the story of Mystery is an intentional interpretation. This approach is about God’s reasons for interacting rather than God’s ways of interacting with the world. God’s values are present and experienced.

Rather than coming from “a future act of God,” this approach is from “God’s present nature.” God moves toward justice out of a heart of love and compassion for creation. Justice is “an act of respect” and, while its demands are absolute, its forms vary.

In the chapter “The Story of Trust and Freedom,” Shea works with the “combination of stories which attempts to uncover the meaning of Mystery which was revealed in Jesus,” particularly “Creation, Fall, Incarnation, Crucifixion, Spirit, and Church.” He discusses common renderings of those moments and then offers a compelling alternative of relating the symbolic elements of the events in terms of an “inner theological logic.”

He talks about dignity, friendship, and the common aims of Christian events which intend to underline the presence and indwelling of God in the world. He does considerable biblical and theological work in the chapter, touching upon the strong above-mentioned events, quoting folks like Walter Brueggamann, Leonard Bernstein, and biblical authors. Here’s a quote that may capture a chunk of the chapter’s themes, and I love that I hear echoes of James Cone:

The cross is the grounding of the Christian community, its symbol of realism, and its ongoing principle of critique. It is often noted that ecclesiology has its roots in Christology, but it is often overlooked that Christology brings us back to theology. The foundation of the Church is the experience of God symbolized in the crucified Christ. The cross reveals God’s self-giving love which frees us from our self-serving apathy. Out of God’s total acceptance comes the freedom and power to form community, to belong to each other in a life-giving way.

God has taken into divine reality all that is worst about us and turned it toward good. The law of the cross is not that evil has been eliminated but that it has been transformed into possibility…

The last chapter is about a story of Invitation and Decision. In this chapter Shea focuses his vision on the parables of Jesus.

Underlining what it means to proclaim and live the kingdom of God, the parables (and the scriptures as Shea writes) keep God as the plot of the stories. They press forward “invitations into the life of God” and don’t stop at allegorical interpretation where we have examples or particular paths to live. ” A vision of God active in human life is the home of the parables” (pg. 142).

Shea goes through interpretative methods relative to these central teachings of Jesus and leaves us hungry for participation in life with God. We are met with an invitation from and by Mystery to make decisions to neglect or jump into life with God.

He says that the parables focus on immediacy of action, rather than contemplation or morality. Response is critical. Decision is integral. A final quote to capture the sustained thought of this chapter will close my review well (pgs. 152-153):

Put in another way, every person has a faith, a set of presuppositions which are tested out in everyday life. If this foundational structure is too conscripted or self-centered, a crippling lifestyle develops. Attitudes and behaviors become destructive of both self and community. The depth of sin, therefore, is not in the destructive activity itself but in the consciousness which encourages and validates that activity…Parables take aim at these presuppositions and dominant directions. Their goal is subversion. They are meant to penetrate to the core of what we unquestionably hold and question it. In the realm of parable, nothing is safe.

Cost in Human Dreams

I read something the other day about how illness, particularly chronic illness, costs more than we can see. The article said that statistics could only tell us so much. “They do not tell us about the cost in human dreams and endeavors…”

I thought of a patient whose stories had been twirling around in my head like a song. I kept seeing her face from the four or five occasions we spoke. The movement in my memory from her spunky, particular manner to the more resigned countenance she had when we last spoke. She was leaving the hospital for home hospice, to die in her home. Even though I had seen her leave and return within a week that previous week, I knew that this ending was a final one for us.

And I’m thinking of her and her illness and its costs. How the world has seen her dreams in shrunken form if at all. Disease costs. And we hardly count those costs, hardly inspect them in an effort to keep managing day-to-day, without the care and love of somebodies telling us to take good care of our selves so that we can live into all those dreams.

And even when we do our best to care the best for our whole selves and when disease rips us apart, we still need people to come by our sides, to take us close, and to tell us in clear language that we can still dream. Of course, sometimes we tell others of our dreams.

So go to bed. Rest. Dream. Wake up. Live them.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

The year we got married we made a lot of decisions. We purchased a fixer-upper. We had to get a car. We built a garage and searched for a lawn mower at the hardware store my father sent me to over in the Back of the Yards.

We also completed a budget together, elected an executor of our estate, little estate that we had as twenty-three year olds, and chose agents to make healthcare decisions for us if and when we couldn’t make those decisions for ourselves.

I selected my brother Mark, both because I trust my brother and because I didn’t want my wife to be in that situation. Mark will answer his phone and talk through the implications with a medical team, with my wife, with a cool demeanor. Mark will make sure I’m cared for.

I wanted to plan ahead and put that responsibility on my brother’s shoulders. That advance directive is still in place. Mark decides for me if I can’t decide for myself. He communicates for me if I can’t communicate for myself.

At a recent family dinner I reminded everyone of this. We were actually celebrating my mother’s birthday last fall, and I took the moment to nudge my loved ones to plan in advance. I told them that I didn’t want to live in a prolonged state if I had been oxygen-deprived for longer than 10 minutes. I gave specific instructions, in the presence of my family, to my brother and to the others. Mark’s the agent but they all heard about my decision. Again and again, I will remind them that there are wishes I have regarding my medical care. I will refine those as I go and certainly the longer I’m in healthcare as a chaplain.

Today is national healthcare decisions day. I went to a program about it here at the hospital. Randi Belisomo spoke about her organization, Life Matters Media, and talked about the simple and important process of choosing an agent. Of course, as a chaplain, I walk through the steps of this simple process with people. I witness their completion of the healthcare power of attorney form. And sometimes I get to tell people how vital it is to do this simple thing.

If you don’t choose a person to speak for you, the law has answered your lack of choice. The law puts surrogates in place when you have not chosen. Someone always speaks for those who don’t speak for themselves. So, today, if you haven’t chosen a person to stand in your place, to communicate for you what your medical care should look like, and how aggressive those interventions should or shouldn’t be, consider it. If you need to update your form, the form generally opens with something like, “This Power of Attorney Revokes All Previous Powers.” You can change it at any time.

Consider your feelings and thoughts on these matters, taking the opportunity to involve your family in your thinking, in your care, and in your planning. Communicate your wishes to your loved ones and to your agent, and realize that this is a good way to communicate what you want so that that doesn’t have to be decided for you. Document it on your state’s version of the healthcare power of attorney, and these don’t have to be notarized or done by an attorney, as long as you have a witness who isn’t named as the agent. You’ll want to consult your state’s version because every state is different, but they should be similar from one to another.

If you’re in Chicago today, Life Matters Media is working with the Chicago Public Library at two locations this afternoon to explain these advance directives and to help people fill these documents out. For more information, look here at Life Matters Media.

For the Illinois form, you can visit my hospital’s page and print off a copy.