Monday, October 25, 2010

Book Review: Taking on the gods: The Task of the Pastoral Counselor

As Chaplains, what all is involved in the endeavor of being a pastoral counselor to our Soldiers? Today’s pastoral counselors often integrate modern psychological thought and method with traditional religious training in an effort to address psychospiritual issues in addition to the traditional spectrum of counseling services. But, have you ever considered that our true task in pastoral counseling is taking on the gods? This is exactly what Author Merle Jordan is suggesting in his book: “Taking on the gods: The Task of the Pastoral Counselor.”

Taking on the gods explores a clinical and theological approach to the treatment of individuals, couples, and families suffering from neurotic styles of life. Merle Jordan exposes the origins of neuroses in idolatry: the substitution of false psychological gods for the true God as the center of ultimate reality. In attempting to earn the approval of these false gods and to escape their harsh judgment, one enters into a second idolatry: becoming one's own Messiah, parts of the self are sacrificed to placate the false gods. The resulting personality distortions are the source of many emotional difficulties.

Jordan discusses not only the role of pastoral counselors in helping clients confront their idols, but also the counselors’ responsibility to recognize their own false gods. Topics covered include: Pastoral Counseling as the Encounter Between Gods, The Implicit Religious Drama in Marital and Family Counseling, The Operational Theology of the “Common Cold” - Depression, and Self-justification Versus Justification by Faith Through Grace.

Jordan would say that taking on the gods is a significant responsibility of pastoral counseling. That we must confront those psychic structures, forces, and images which masquerade as God in the lives of our Soldiers, their families and in our own lives. Once these false gods have been exposed; our task then becomes bringing love, faith, and hope into the lives of our Soldiers and the family members which we serve and being an extension ministry of Jesus Christ walking in the hells of human existence. Jordan would say these are all ways of expressing the true evangelistic purposes of pastoral counseling.

According to Jordan, helping people to “take on their gods,” to free themselves and to experience the loving God; is the heart of the pastoral counselor's task. Imagine, just as Elijah did some 3000 years ago, you can take on the gods of this age and show the power of the true and living God. I confess that the thought of taking on the gods in the lives of our Soldiers and in our own lives may seem like arrogance or a very humbling and awesome challenge. Nevertheless, taking on the gods is at the heart and soul of pastoral counseling. May our prays today echo that of Elijah’s prayer on Mount Carmel: “LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that You are the LORD God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again” (1 Kings 18:36-39).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming - by Henri Nouwen

A story you may or may not have read before and a classic painting you may or may not have seen before are brought to a new light in Henri Nouwen’s book, The Return of the Prodigal Son: a Story of Homecoming. Nouwen develops a chance encounter with Rembrandt’s painting of the same title into a personal spiritual odyssey. Inspired by the painting, he skillfully dissects each section of the powerful gospel drama of the Prodigal (or “Lost”) Son in the light of his own personal life journey.

From the back cover: "The themes of homecoming, affirmation and reconciliation will be newly discovered by all who have known loneliness, dejection, jealousy or anger." The New Oxford Review says, "The Return of the Prodigal Son is a beautiful book, as beautiful in the simple clarity of its wisdom as in the terrible beauty of the transformation to which it calls us."
Drawing on years of pastoral experience and insight, Nouwen passionately reflects on his own spiritual journey as he became "more and more aware of how long I have played the role of observer." For years he had tried to get students and parishioners to see the importance of actually living the spiritual life, "but had I, myself, really ever dared to step into the center, kneel down, and let myself be held by a forgiving God?"

As the painting took on a personal resonance, he began to see in it the heart of the story that God wanted to tell him. The Prodigal Son became, for Nouwen, a mysterious window that exposed the kingdom of God in an intimate way. He was now able to see the fallen world through the eyes of God’s redeeming love. This introspection as he pondered Rembrandt’s portrayal eventually led him to living with and ministering to the mentally disabled.

Nouwen says: Each little step toward the center seemed like an impossible demand, a demand requiring me to let go one more time from wanting to be in control, to give up one more time the desire to predict life, to die one more time to the fear of not knowing where it all will lead, and to surrender one more time to a love that knows no limits.... I would never be able to live the great commandment to love without allowing myself to be loved without conditions or prerequisites.
Herein lays the essence of the gospel: God is for us! It confronts us with the fact that … "truly accepting love, forgiveness and healing is often much harder than giving it. It is the place beyond earning, deserving and rewarding. It is the place of surrender and complete trust."

The Return of the Prodigal Son expresses Nouwen’s personal "homecoming" journey that answered his lifelong question of identity. He discovered that he is the one Jesus loves unconditionally. His book carries the hopeful message that God’s healing love for us is always available, He searches for us and even runs to embrace us – all we have to do is receive it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why I Became An Army Chaplain

I was asked this week why I chose to become an Army Chaplain and after some thought, here's what I cam up with...

I was adopted by the late Russell and Bonnie Donley of Pleasant City, Ohio. Both my father and his brother-in-law, my uncle, served in the Army during the Korean War. I grew up hearing stories and accounts of their time in service as a Soldier in the United States Army. As a young child, I would play “Army” with neighborhood friends and I believed in my heart that someday I too would be a Soldier as my father and uncle were before me. However, during my High School years, I was lead to Christ by a peer and during my senior year in school I felt the burden and the call from God to serve Him as a minister and evangelist of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Upon graduation I attended a Christian College where I trained to be an evangelist and minister in the Churches of Christ. I grew greatly in the grace and knowledge of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ during my years in college. I then spent the next ten years doing the work of the evangelist and preaching in the Churches of Christ. Although it was obvious that God’s Hand was upon me and my ministry; I felt there was a void in my ministry.

After 9/11 transpired, I felt the patriotic call to serve my country and my childhood desire and dream of serving in the Army was revived in my heart. When I learned of the Army Chaplain Corps, I knew right away that this was the missing element in my ministry. I could now have the astonishing ability and opportunity to fulfill my calling to the Lord while in turn fulfilling my desire to serve my country as a Soldier in the United States Army.

There are some who feel called to serve their God and there are others who feel called to serve their Country. Then there are the few who feel the call to serve both God and Country…we call them “Chaplains!” I became an Army Chaplain because I genuinely feel the call of God in my life to serve Him and He has placed within my heart the desire to serve the men and women of the United States Army. My God has blessed me with the talents, abilities, gifts, training, education and experience to devotedly serve as a Chaplain. I became an Army Chaplain to bring God to Soldiers and to bring Soldiers to God. I became an Army Chaplain because I cannot see myself doing anything else. I know beyond a doubt that God has blessed my ministry as an Army Chaplain and that He will continue to bless and to equip, train and qualify me to be His Man in the United States Army Chaplain Corps.


“For God and Country.”