174–175: The Chaplains on . . . Suffering

Pastoral CareWhen we meet someone who is suffering, whether physically or emotionally, we naturally want to be of service to them. Sometimes our fears overcome us, and we avoid opportunities we’re presented with to “bear one another’s burdens” or “mourn with those who mourn” (Mosiah 18:8–9). Other times we step in but viscerally feel our inadequacies. Sometimes we realize our good intentions have gone wrong, and we have said something or done something that has caused even greater pain. Sometimes this happens without our even realizing it. Even with its many challenges, we are all called to learn compassion, to be with each other even in extremity. How can we do this better?

In this episode, we talk about all of these things and much more with three persons who are extremely experienced with providing care for those (and the families and friends of those) in great pain, mental or physical duress, as well as those dying: LDS military or hospice chaplains Phil McLemore, Nathan Kline, and Jason Unsworth.

Part 1 (Episode 174) focuses primarily upon the “meaning” of suffering, examining a dozen or more views from religions west and east, Mormonism, and secular framings in psychology and psychotherapies. The panelists wrestle with theodicy (well-intentioned attempts to explain why God would allow the world to be the way it is, including all its pain) and its general inadequacies—especially in pastoral situations. The discussion also examines the role of lamentation and protest as paths toward possible healing, as well as emphasizing the key importance of what theologian Stanley Hauerwas calls “communities of care.”

Part 2 (Episode 175) moves to best pastoral practices, the role of empathy and compassion, and how we might learn to “be with” a sufferer in the most supportive of ways without the expectation that we can heal them and take their pain way. Through stories and reflections on scripture, and drawing from their broad training, the chaplains offer a variety of approaches that experience has shown them to be the most satisfying even if situations remain tragic. The discussion also suggests directions listeners might look should they want to learn to read or think more deeply about pastoral care (whether as bishop or some other church calling, or as family and friends) for those in dire stress.

With this episode, we also officially announce our intention to make “The Chaplains
on . . . ” a regular series in which every few months this panel takes on a new topic. Ideally the shows will focus on themes of your choosing. Please suggest ideas for future topics! Feel free to make your suggestions below, or if you’d like, please write to Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon at mormonmatters@gmail.com.


Additional materials:

Mormon Matters Episode on The Problem of Evil and Suffering (More philosophical than this episode but also a much deeper dive into specific LDS scriptures and views.)

Loyd Ericson, “‘Which Thing I Had Never Supposed’: The Problem of Evil and the Problem of Man” (Sunstone, June 2010)

Jacob Baker, “Theologizing in the Presence of Burning Children: From Theodicy to Lament” (Sunstone, June 2012)

“If We Could See Inside Others’ Hearts” (Short video that is not at all subtle but still kind of neat. Focusing on empathy.)



17 comments for “174–175: The Chaplains on . . . Suffering

  1. May 20, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Thank you for doing this audio discussion for the mormon community. I have felt the spirit in this discussion and am glad that this podcast covered both the academic and devotional sides on the subject of suffering.

    • May 21, 2013 at 6:00 am

      Michael, thank you. We enjoy the stimulating conversations even though, in this case, the topic is a heavy one. As it is, I’m writing from Fort Sill, OK, and quite mindful of the intense suffering experienced to our immediate north as a result of yesterday’s massive tornado. May we each discover opportunities to be instruments of peace in his hand.

      • JD
        May 30, 2013 at 11:27 am

        HI Nathan, Thanks for your response it is just that the
        Cross has been a taboo symbol for many years in Mormonism and had generally
        viewed as a symbol of apostasy. You would hear statements like: “If someone was
        hung would you wear a noose around your neck?” or “If your Brother was killed by a gun would you
        wear a gun around your neck?” Jehovah’s Witnesses use this same rhetoric when
        talking about the cross. Children have been ridiculed in the state of Utah for
        wearing a cross. As recently as Gordon B. Hinkley the cross was spoken out
        against as he said “The Cross is a symbol of the dying Christ a symbol of death
        and we Mormons believe that Jesus is alive and resurrected.” David O McKay said it was a Catholic symbol
        and Catholic custom and that LDS should not wear it. You are safe though as In
        the new, True to the faith manual it states that only Chaplains should wear the
        symbol of the cross. It seems to me that by Deseret publishing this picture
        they are trying to present yet another move toward evangelical Christianity.
        You may find it interesting that I commented on the Deseret article stating how
        happy I was for Kaylie and that I loved the cross she was wearing. The
        moderator kicked it out (seemed a bit like communist oversight to me but
        whatever). So, they want to call some attention to it, but apparently not too
        much. Just more of the same duplicity
        that we are all growing accustomed to IMO….

        • May 31, 2013 at 4:55 am

          JD, very interesting points. I share your view on each one listed. I am irritated also by the explanation of why we don’t have crosses in our chapels: “We emphasize Jesus resurrection over his death.” This is the same, tired explanation Protestants give when explaining their preference for the “empty cross”over the crucifix. The problem with all of these is that they are reactionary, and void of affirmation. For the record I had NO idea the new True to the Faith manual discouraged wearing the cross. I’m not sure such detailed guidance is helpful. I am sure that the editor if the DN article is failing to see your good point. Anyway, thanks for the meaningful exchange. Peace!

  2. J.A.T.
    May 24, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Thank you so very much for sharing your reflective and very nuanced perspectives on this topic. I learned a great deal from the doctrinal discussion. As a commuter, I have the opportunity to listen to podcasts or audio books for about an hour and a half each day. I have been following Mormon Matters since it began. This podcast has afforded me an opportunity to grow spiritually and personally.

    I listened twice to both podcasts from the Chaplains on suffering in order to take notes and and write down the citations shared. I appreciated just being able to “spend time” with some great minds and persons of faith with messages of love and charity. Your personal stories and discussion surrounding the practical application of these principles encourage me to not give up. I am encouraged to think that perhaps I too can live up to my baptismal and covenants of loving God, my neighbors, mourning with them, and serving them.

    I suppose I am like most others in feeling terribly clumsy in my attempts to help others who are suffering, despite my best intentions. Thank you for providing some guiding principles and empowering me with some basic background information and tools that I can use to prepare for these inevitable moments. It gives me courage and hope. Your podcasts on meditation, grace, the Kingdom of God, Christmas, near death experiences, Easter, and Evil and suffering have all been especially meaningful to me and give me context for these two podcasts.

    Please know that I have found this discussion to be very personally helpful! Thank you for your time and efforts.

    At the end of episode 175, Dan asked the audience to propose topics for future episodes of ‘The Chaplains on . . .” It’s hard to communicate what one doesn’t know one doesn’t know, but here are some simple ideas 1) spiritual gifts from a multicultural and multi-faith perspective. 2) Love 3) the nature of God 4) eschatology 5) healthy boundaries 6) What is the perspective of a pastor? When looking out into a congregation, city, or even a single person, what is most inspirational? most concerning?

    Thanks again.

    • Jason Dean Unsworth
      May 24, 2013 at 9:54 pm

      J.A.T., – Thanks for your thoughtful response and words of encouragement. I am glad you found the podcast helpful! The truth is, most of us, if we are honest, are fairly clumsy when approaching the suffering of another. The goal for me is to is to accept my clumsiness and not let it get in the way of listening with compassion. Thanks for your suggestions for further topics for the chaplains. Hopefully we can do justice to one or more of them!

      • J.A.T.
        May 29, 2013 at 9:22 am

        Thank you!

  3. JD
    May 29, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    Did anyone see the article in Deseret news ‘Former model leaves the runway for her faith’. What’s intriguing is that this LDS “Christian” model is photographed with a cross around her neck. A little subtle PR to help the church look “Christian” you think? For a church that is supposed to be led by a prophet, they sure do allot of following.

    • Nathan Kline
      May 29, 2013 at 8:43 pm

      JD, I’m guessing that is the preference of the individual model and not a strategy of the institution. I don’t get the sense of any “following” going on–rather an appropriation of symbol. By the way, as a chaplain, I wear a cross on my uniform everyday. The symbol might be one of the more burdened and complex (along with the American flag–which I also wear), but I am thankful to have the opportunity to do so. Why do you think the cross is problematic?

  4. Leslie A North
    June 4, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    I am also listening thru a second time and taking notes but
    just on the second half, which I feel is more relevant for practical use. Its like sitting in a class or seminar and I’m treating it just like that. @8d5e2d0d3e5768dda8c71e341f1f7f84:disqus —-Would you post up your notes too? I’m going to post mine in case anyone wants a quick summary of the highlights and stories. I give this podcast 5
    stars. 10 stars. Thank you.

  5. Leslie A North
    June 4, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    Mourn with those that Mourn:
    Best Practices.

    Notes from Mormon Matters Podcast #175

    1. Part one of this episode covers the WHY of suffering from religious, theological , wisdom literature, and eastern and western philosophical
    perspectives. Some of these ideas are hard to hear so the practical conclusion is not to lean to heavily on spouting “words
    of wisdom” to those suffering. Let them develop their own meaning and wisdom from their experiences.

    2. Get over your desire for comfort. You will not be comfortable. Loss and mourning are hard,messy and horrifying.

    3. Be OK with not knowing what to say or how to fix the situation.

    4. Story of dying man and terrified of not knowing what to say or do.

    5. Compassion means suffering with

    6. Story of Oklahoma soldier’s death.

    7. Find a personal connection with the person suffering if you don’t already know them

    8. Often the biggest mistake we make is when we open our mouth and speak

    9. When you are representing God, church or country
    you are expected to speak however, so remember that God is present with us during all experiences of suffering.

    10. Approach suffering with humility, privilege and as a holy event.

    11. Let the one who is suffering set the tone for the words of comfort spoken by careful listening to those who suffer.

    12. Dietrich Bonhoeffer – “What I’m able to do for another person will be shown to me in prayer. Prayer commends the others into the faithful hands of Christ and Christ will deal with them. ”

    13. Story of woman dying and Phil is fearless in holding her hand to be with her at the moment of death and then the son is encouraged to take his place.

    14. Profound experiences can happen if you approach with love, honor, gratitude, and no fear.

    15. “Suffering Presence: Theological Reflections on Medicine, The
    Mentally Handicapped and the Church,” by Stanley Hauerwas. page34, “One’s own sorrow is nothing but the sorrow one has caused to others makes bitter the bread in the mouth.”

    16. Story of soldier and wife and death of daughter by Mother’s hand.

    17. Some situations do not make sense. They are big, confusing and don’t have any good answers.

    18. 3 sweetest words are not I love you but I don’t know.

    19. “Raging with Compassion” by John Swinton gives
    these next ideas of Christ’s reaction to his own suffering on the cross and how we use that for pastoral care. #20-25 And about 1 hour into the podcast.

    20. Lamenting.
    In order to get to the comfort of the 23rd psalm, we must go thru the lamenting of the 22nd. Lamenting is bringing a complaint to God.

    21. Story of retired Sr Officer in hospital with stomach pain. Psalm 13 and 121

    22. Forgiveness:
    However, all the Chaplains were cautious about guiding and recommending forgiveness for those who are in pain from the hurts of others. Be very careful about this step. Better to let the person lead with the forgiveness idea.

    23. Richard G Scott talk about Healing the Tragic Scars of Abuse April of 1992.

    24. Turning to a Community of Care.

    25. Story of the car accident while in residency.

    26. Meet people where they are at. Support people in their anger and lamenting towards God.

    27. Francois Fenelon;” I pray the Lord that we may none of us fall into the torpid state that our crosses do us no good.”

    28. Help people find their own meaning in suffering rather than suggesting your own.

    29. Affirm their divinity and connection to God. They can suffer and still be acceptable and favorable to God. Look for something in them to affirm and validate. Nephi quote

    30. Story of the woman who thought she was not knowledgeable enough to get to heaven even tho she led a life of love.. Moroni – being possessed of love at the last day.

    31. Joint heirs with Christ is that he is willing to suffer with us if we will allow him to do so. Be open to that.

    32. Bhagavad Gita says “When a person responds to the joys and sorrows of others as if they were his own, he has attained the highest state of spiritual union.”

    33. Story of the question: What does love look like? The black woman who was sick and was served and cared for by her white unassuming HomeTeacherBishop.

    34. What can lay leaders do for training to help their pastoral care skills? Look for resources in colleges, communities, online and books.

    35. Practice the process of learning from life by using Action/Reflection

    36. In order to practice reflection and evaluation,we must be thoughtful and self-aware.

    37. A smattering of thoughts from the class about mourning and loss: #38-39

    38. Story of Nauvoo temple open house and Jewish man
    felt some of important Mormon history was now being hidden from future
    generations because the temple was rebuilt as an almost exact replica.

    39. We use architecture, art, music, ceremony to commemorate and memorialize times of great loss and suffering.

    40. Take care of yourself as the care taker. Use the team based approach to care.

    41.We are not alone.

    • Nathan Kline
      June 7, 2013 at 8:33 pm

      Leslie, sharing your notes is a creative way to show appreciation and contribute to the conversation–what a great idea! I don’t know about Jason and Phil–but I sometimes fear we drag out the conversation. You help assure me that import topics deserve thorough sifting.

  6. LilyTiger
    June 6, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    I loved this podcast. It could not have come at a better time for me and my family. I’m looking forward to more of “The Chaplains On . . . ” series.

    • Nathan Kline
      June 7, 2013 at 8:35 pm

      Lily–thanks for taking the time to post. Be sure to request (either on here, or in a email/message to Dan) any topics of interest to you.

  7. Jenne
    June 25, 2013 at 1:11 am

    I have been looking for a discussion like this! So glad that you did it and are continuing this series!

    I was really hoping to learn that there are more resources out there to help lay people learn the finer points of pastoral counseling and was a bit disappointed when there wasn’t a book/reading/class list shared at the end. It seems that its more because there is not a resource like this for the general public?

    As I listened, I was reflecting on the cross over between psychology and ministering. I was recently introduced to the concept of holistic peer counseling with seems to meld the two areas in a way that is very compatible with a lay church where individuals are ministering to other individuals. I know that I hunger for church training activities that transmit some of the lessons and skills taught in divinity school so that leadership and teachers (instructors/home/visiting) can employ those skills in their ministering, because we are all acting as ministers in those capacities. Its almost enough to make me want to audit divinity school classes but it seems that there should be a more accessible way for individuals to access this information.

    Also, I am late to the Chaplain series game, but I am wondering if there has been talk of adding a female chaplain to the panel? There are a few within the Mormon Feminist community, including Maxine Hanks and Emily Clyde Curtis. I felt myself missing the female perspective in these episodes and how the topic relates to the female half of the church.

    • Jason Dean Unsworth
      June 27, 2013 at 6:27 pm

      Jenne, I think a female chaplain would be a fantastic addition. Currently, Church policy is to have priesthood holders endorsed as military chaplains, but, as you mention, Maxine Hanks and others have worked as chaplains in other contexts and could add to our conversation. Thanks for the feedback! Regarding suggested classes – that could be tricky depending on where you live. Some seminaries/divinity schools offer classes that non-degree seeking students can take (not sure if there are online classes that I would recommend at this time). Another option is to look at what volunteer opportunities your local hospital may offer through their department of pastoral care. Some hospital chaplains run volunteer programs for lay people and offer some training in basic pastoral care and listening skills. Something to think about at least. As far as books go “Pastoral Care: An Essential Guide” by John Patton is my favortite introductory text that is very friendly for lay people as well as professionally trained ministers. Also, Henri Nouwen’s books “The Wounded Healer” “Reaching Out” and “Return of the Prodigal Son” are very helpful for those interested in pastoral work. Thanks for listening and responding!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *