Theosis: Thou Art Becoming

At times I am angry and other times overflowing with joy. Sometimes I'm confused and sometimes I have absolute clarity. This blog will explore our human condition through an investigation of spiritual pain and how to transcend our pain to find peace.

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David Oliver Kling

David Oliver Kling

Rev. David Oliver Kling is a faculty member at Cherry Hill Seminary and a graduate of Wright State University holding a B.A. degree in Religious Studies and a B.A. degree in Philosophy. He has a Master of Divinity from Methodist Theological School in Ohio with a specialization in Black Church and African Diaspora Studies. While in college he worked as Director of Religious Education at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Yellow Springs and while in seminary he served the Delaware Unitarian Universalist Fellowship as consulting minister. He recently finished a chaplain residency at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Huntington, WV resulting in four units of clinical pastoral education. In addition to teaching at Cherry Hill Seminary he currently works as a hospice chaplain in Northeast Ohio. He is ordained by Sacred Well Congregation and his religious background includes esoteric Christianity, Wicca, Druidry, Gnosticism, and Roman Paganism. His academic interests include Black Church studies, comparative theology, and spiritual/pastoral care.

“The very same people who “can’t afford” to donate to a Neopagan temple, community center, website, or other organization on a regular basis have no problem finding the money to buy science fiction books, videotapes, DVDs, game cartridges, music CDs, comics, beer, pizza, cigarettes, movie tickets, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, crystals, robes, capes, etc.  -- Isaac Bonewits.

     In issue #28 of Witches and Pagans magazine columnist John Michael Greer wrote an article titled, “A Bad Case of Methodist Envy: Copying Christian models of clergy is a Pagan dead end.” In this essay Greer recommends against Pagan clergy and specifically full time compensated clergy. I would like to note that I have admired many of Greer’s books especially Inside a Magical Lodge, A World Full of Gods, and Druidry Handbook; however, I can simultaneously admire his work and disagree with some of his thoughts. 

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  • Anna M.H.
    Anna M.H. says #
    While I am, in general, a big fan of Greer's, I really disagree with his point of view on this, and feel you made many good points

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
A Hospice Reflection

I recently heard about the death of Morning Glory Zell, a beloved member of the Pagan community. My first thought on reading about her death was sadness. So many elders within our community are leaving this world. I never knew Morning Glory but I had heard about her and I have read about her life and contribution to the Pagan community and always held her in admiration. Since her death I’ve read many endearing posts on various blogs about her life and work and I’m not going to attempt to mirror those endearing posts; however, upon reading about her death it evoked within myself several emotional reactions that I wish to share with you today.

Working as a hospice chaplain I experience death and the prospect of death on a daily basis. Before I started working as a hospice chaplain I was a chaplain resident learning the finer nuances of chaplaincy and before that I worked as a consulting minister at a Unitarian Universalist congregation. This reflection starts when I was working as a consulting minister. There was a member of that congregation who was suffering from multiple myeloma a type of blood cancer. Her diagnosis and battle with cancer was all pervasive for her and her husband. When I read that Morning Glory died of multiple myeloma I thought about this woman. What really comes to mind is my own inadequacy in trying to help her process the grief associated with her illness and the ineffectiveness of my attempts to minister to her and her husband. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to bring comfort and I certainly didn’t know what to say or learned the value of silence.

I left serving that congregation shortly after I graduated from seminary and moved to another state to start a chaplain residency program. As is typical when a minister leaves a congregation I distanced myself from the congregation to give them time to get used to being without my presence and seeking their own way (since I left they have hired a new consulting minister). This distancing still haunts me today.

While serving as a Chaplain Resident at a Catholic hospital in West Virginia I worked primarily on an oncology unit and therefore I had a lot of exposure to patients struggling with cancer – including multiple myeloma. I was being trained in the finer points of chaplaincy and I was ministering to people with cancer. A couple of months after I started the residency, at about the time I was starting to “get it” as a chaplain, I received an e-mail indicating that the woman from the congregation I had served had died and she had been dead over a month. Once I found out I immediately called her husband to see how he was doing to which he said to me over the phone, “Oh, now you’re calling me.”

When I was serving that congregation I didn’t know how to effectively minister to the dying. I did the best I could but I always felt it wasn’t enough. I didn’t know what to say. What to do, or how to comfort them. I was a bundle of anxiety because I was unaware of just how to provide comfort to the dying. By the time I made that condolence call I knew how to effectively minister to the dying and I found myself much less anxious around death and dying, but it was too late for me to be a source of comfort to him and certainly it was too late for me to comfort her. My opportunity had come and gone. I felt horrible for days after that phone call. I feel like I had failed him while I served that congregation and I felt even worse that he thought I didn’t care and that was why I hadn’t called. I’ve acknowledged these feelings and use them to empower the work I do now since I finished the chaplain residency and now work as a hospice chaplain.

As a society we’re not prepared to deal with death and dying. It’s easy to post “hugs” on Facebook but it’s rough being in the room with someone who has terminal cancer. I learned to be comfortable with silence. To feel okay with not saying anything and to live in that uncomfortable place that the living find themselves in when confronted with the dying. To be able to point out the obvious, “This is a horrifying experience and you’re scared,” with genuine compassion while refraining from saying, “Oh, it’s going to be okay. I’ll light a candle for you.”

I remember an incident when I was a chaplain resident. I had visited with Tom (I will call him Tom, not his real name), a cancer patient, several times and he would often be depressed because his home was over an hour away and his wife had to work and wasn’t able to be with him very often. I had probably visited with him on at least three occasions over the months I was there at the hospital. On one occasion, the last time I saw him, I got a call from the unit’s nurse asking I pay him a visit. I walked into his room and his wife was there. He seemed pleased she was with him; however, she said to me, “The doctor was just in and he said Tom has two weeks to live.” We started talking and I listened to what they had to say about the final prognosis of his cancer. Finally, I said to them, “You have two weeks left. What are you going to do with those two weeks?” She looked straight at me and said, “We’re going to pray for a miracle. We can fight this.”

I looked at Tom. He was stoic. He had been battling cancer for ten years. The miracle was that he had ten years of life after his initial diagnosis. At this point their pastor walked in and I shook his hand and we exchanged pleasantries. I didn’t want to “step on his toes” so I said my goodbyes and passed the proverbial chaplain’s torch to their pastor. As I was washing my hands I heard Tom’s wife say, “Pastor Steve, the doctor was in and said Tom has two weeks to live.” To which Pastor Steve said, “What’s the Lord have to say about that?”

I walked out of the room feeling sad. I knew that Tom was conflicted and wanted to just spend quality time with his wife before he died and didn’t want to focus all of his efforts in prayer for a cure when he knew that wasn’t going to happen. But his wife’s anxiety was too much to accept and there was nothing they could do and that the fight was over.

About an hour after I left their room I got a call from the nurse to visit with them again, they requested my presence. I went back to the room and Pastor Steve was still there and Tom’s wife said, “The doctor was in again and suggested Tom go onto hospice care.” At that moment there was some silence with all eyes looking at me to which I said, “Two weeks. Make that time count, how are you going to spend that two weeks?” Pastor Steve jumped in and said, “We’re going to pray for a miracle. The Lord answers prayers so we’re going to pray.”

I felt powerless in this situation and I felt sad. I felt sad for Tom. He wanted to just spend quality time with his family. He was tired and didn’t want to fight the inevitable. But he was surrounded by highly anxious people who didn’t want to accept his death was coming soon. At this point in my interaction with Tom his pastor turned to me and started making small talk. He was uncomfortable with Tom’s condition that he didn’t want to enter into it with him so he made small talk with me. Eventually, I realized there wasn’t much more I could do so I said my goodbye and that was the last time I saw Tom.

In my work as a hospice chaplain I’ve said many final goodbyes. Each patient and their family are unique and it is a blessing to be able to minister to people at the end of their lives. Recently, our community has had a lot of deaths. Death is a natural transition and yet it has given me an opportunity to reflect upon life in general and my own life in particular. From what I have read on-line it appears that Morning Glory Zell had a “good death,” surrounded by people who loved her and at peace with her illness. I hope this is true because this is my hope for the patients in my care, that I can help them have a “good death” and to be at peace.

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  • David Oliver Kling
    David Oliver Kling says #
    Thank you. It is my hope that I did some good for Tom, but his wife was having difficulty with her own grief and that became a ch
  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ says #
    What a beautiful piece. Thank you for your honesty about your struggle to come to terms with dying, which is a part of life. I am
The Pagan as Professional Chaplain

Imagine the following scenarios…  

  • You have recently finished your education at Cherry Hill Seminary and you’ve been hired as a healthcare chaplain at a local hospital.  The Director of Pastoral Care turns to you and says, “Well, since you’re the newest chaplain you get to preach at our bi-annual memorial service for all who have passed away at the hospital since our last service.” 
  • You are sitting at an interview for a position as a staff chaplain at a prison.  The warden who is interviewing you says, “I expect my chaplain to be the pastor of the whole prison community.”
  • You get a call in the middle of the night.  A Catholic patient of yours is near death and the family can't find a priest to anoint the patient.  You've been asked by the nurse at their bedside to attend to them. 

Good advice for anyone interested in chaplaincy would be to suspend your sectarianism.  Institutional settings that have chaplains need their chaplains dedicated to interfaith ministry.   Chaplains need to be of service to all of those within their institutional setting. Suspending your sectarianism doesn’t mean sacrificing who you are as a minister, priest, or cleric.  It means being open to diversity and being able to embrace that diversity to be of service to others where you find them.  This means being strong in your own religious conviction.  Your identity as a Chaplain should flow from your theology and that theology should be expansive enough to embrace the needs of others both within and outside of your tradition.  Suspending your sectarianism means your agenda is one of service and compassion; and the person with whom the Chaplain serves sets the agenda. 

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  • Carol Kirk
    Carol Kirk says #
    Valerie Cole is my thesis chair, and David Oringderff is also on my committee. I'll be glad to share the thesis with you when it
  • David Oliver Kling
    David Oliver Kling says #
    Very interesting topic. Who is your thesis advisor? I'd be interested in reading it. I'm a Gulf War veteran myself.
  • David Oliver Kling
    David Oliver Kling says #
    Carol... congratulations on your studies! That must have been a lot of hard work. What are you writing your thesis on? I imagin
  • Carol Kirk
    Carol Kirk says #
    My thesis got started because I became interested in the rising rates of suicide among combat veterans...which led me to the topic
  • Carol Kirk
    Carol Kirk says #
    Great post! Like Sandy, I am working as a volunteer chaplain at our local hospital where I primarily do grief work with families

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Practice What You Preach!

Several years ago I was facilitating a spiritual discussion group at the Yellow Springs Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.  I was serving that congregation as their religious education director and one of the duties I took upon myself was leading this discussion group before we gathered for the weekly service.  There was a wonderful gentleman named Chuck who would often attend our discussions and sometimes attend the main service depending on the topic.  One Sunday morning after about a half hour of group discussion Chuck spoke up and addressed the small group of about eight or so at the spiritual discussion group with, “You folks talk about being opened minded and affirming of others yet in the course of this discussion you’ve insulted me several times.  I’m a Christian.  I’m a Fundamentalist.  I teach at a Baptist university, and I regularly attend a Baptist Church.  And I’m a Republican.  Some of you have used these terms like they’re swear words.”  After he spoke his mind there was a lot of back peddling.  Chuck attended these discussion groups because he valued the discussions and he attended the main service when he was able because he valued some of the topics presented.  On those occasions when I was able to preach at the fellowship he would often attend to hear me speak.  He was and is a good man.  He wasn’t the “enemy,” but he was someone who sought to understand others and dialogue for mutual understanding and respect.

But Chuck presented an important dilemma for Unitarian Universalism and also a dilemma that is pertinent to the Pagan community.  How can we advocate tolerance, acceptance and understanding while simultaneously causing alienation and marginalization?

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  • Diotima
    Diotima says #
    Well said, and much needed, David. Thank you.
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    This is excellent, David, and of course it applies to all religious enclaves and all parties in a democracy. I had the same revel

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Theosis

Often, to be free means the ability to deal with the realities of one’s own situation so as not to be overcome by them.” -- Howard Thurman

My personal faith journey has been colorful and has included many joyful and sorrowful memories. At one time in my life, in the early 1990s I was System Operator, or SysOp, for a computer BBS (Bulletin Board System) called Theosis. The BBS was sponsored by the Romanian Byzantine Catholic Eparchy nestled in cozy Canton, Ohio, an I had the sublime honor of maintaining and administering the BBS – albeit for only a short time. The story of my brief sojourn into BBS management seems a fitting story to tell for the first entry of this Blog that holds the same name. You must be reading this blog entry and asking yourself, “What does Byzantine Catholicism have to do with ‘Pagan Studies,’ and why call a blog Theosis?” Both of these are very good questions and worthy of an answer.

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  • David Oliver Kling
    David Oliver Kling says #
    Glad you're liking my posts. I often meditate upon the Buddhist notion of impermanence -- which is similar to what you mention --
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    Referring to the Hindu-Buddhist-Yogic traditions, The two seemingly opposite concepts might be reconciled as a matter of levels or
  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ says #
    I am enjoying your posts. Unlike you I am not pleased to be told (or to tell) Thou are Goddess. No, I am not, I want to insist. I
  • David Oliver Kling
    David Oliver Kling says #
    Thank you for your kind words. I look forward to contributing here and being a part of this community.
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    Reverend Kling, you have explained and expressed these ideas more clearly than I can ever remember seeing them before. Thank you

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