Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

The Well-Grounded Chaplain
distributed 8/10/01 - ©2001

Rebecca works as a hospital chaplain.

Every day, she is caught up in some of the most profound questions that humans can face. She helps people talk through issues of life and death, pain and suffering, joy and grief. She encounters people coming to grips with the extremes of hope and fear.

She does her work in a setting that is high-tech, fast-paced, and often dehumanizing (for both patients and staff). Many of her relationships are fleeting -- lasting only hours or days. It is necessary to get to the heart of the matter quickly.

Her work is demanding, stressful, and profoundly pastoral. Her ability to do the work, and to love it, is a testimony to her caring spirit and her deep faith.

Earlier this summer, Rebecca met with a denominational committee to be examined as a candidate for ordination. She was called upon to outline her faith and theology, and to relate those to her ministry as a chaplain. It was an occasion that called for honesty and consistency.

It was wonderful to hear Rebecca speak of how her faith and her chaplaincy are deeply grounded in a theology of creation.

In a setting that is so intensely focused on human needs and crises, in a medical context that often tries to be separate from and in control of nature, Rebecca's faith proclaims that humans are inseparable from the rest of God's creation.

Her ability to deal with the extremes of the human condition does not come from a sense of how special humans are, of how we are different from all of the rest of creation. Rather, it is by seeing humans as part and parcel of the creation that she is able to speak compassionately about death and suffering, birth and hope, and the struggle for meaning.

The hospital is not a place where people reflect on "environmental" issues like wilderness preservation, logging policy, or endangered species. Clean air and water are considered because of their impact on human health. But even in that place, a theology grounded in God's love for all of creation is profoundly appropriate. It "works" in centering Rebecca in her ministry, and in offering insight to those with whom she ministers.

If pastoral care in a hospital can gain so much from an awareness of how humans are embedded in creation, then the same should be true for ministry in a local church. The folk in the pew wrestle with the same questions as the patients and family in the hospital (although, perhaps less intensely).

Understanding our place and purpose in creation is an essential part of understanding what it means to be human. Whatever the setting for ministry -- a hospital, a church, the mountains or the streets -- that ministry will be richer when it locates the human issues in the larger context of creation.

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I don't watch TV much, but the other evening I did some late-night channel-surfing. I was astounded by two ads that I saw.

One was for disposable baby bibs. They made a big deal about the way you can just throw it in the trash when it gets dirty. In case we didn't get the idea, they even provided pictures of the happy mom dropping one in the waste basket.

The other was for a disposable razor. Not those light-weight ones, but a good solid model. What do you do when the blade gets dull? Throw out the whole thing!

Both stressed how "convenient" it is to toss out stuff that is dirty or used.

The ads didn't claim that these are good quality products. Being disposable was their only marketable characteristic.

Both struck me as a flashback to the mindset and marketing of the 1950s. Haven't we learned anything?

Wouldn't it be wonderful if the tycoons of industry and advertising had even an inkling of Rebecca's awareness of how we are embedded in the creation?


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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