The Chaplain and Pastoral Counseling Ministry supports chaplains and pastoral counselors working within the Antiochian Archdiocese. Under the coordination of Fr. George Morelli, the department organizes retreats, workshops, and courses, as well as posting pertinent articles and web links on this page. Personal consultation by phone and e-mail is available for those seeking more specific, situational guidance as they practice in the fields of mental health and pastoral care.
Because ministry takes place in a complex, pluralistic world, this department provides clear archdiocesan guidelines to help Orthodox chaplains and pastoral counselors adhere to Orthodox teaching, spirituality, and healing traditions, while also knowing when and how to incorporate scientifically sound clinical interventions.
The world is awash with people in all walks of life making excuses. No one in any level of society, government, military, the corporate world, educational, health and religious institutions is exempt from making excuses. Clinical psychologists consider ‘making excuses’ a form of psychological defensiveness. Albert Ellis (1962)i puts it this way: “psychologically, therefore, rationalizing or excusing one’s behavior is the opposite of being rational or reasonable about it.” (p. 433) He then points out the untoward consequences of such defensiveness: “to rationalize or intellectualize about one’s self-defeating behavior is to help perpetuate it endlessly.” (p. 344)
While writing this month’s Chaplain’s Corner, I took time out to cook dinner, during which I watched an episode of the Food Network Show Restaurant Impossible. Chef Robert Irvine goes into an appallingly failing restaurant with his design team with the goal of turning around, in a short time and with a limited budget, failures that can include filthy, outdated interiors, abysmal service, subpar menus and cooking, but, most often, severely dysfunctional interpersonal problems among the owners (many times married and/or family) and between owners and staff (who are often also relatives of the owners). Common to owners, staff and chefs are a myriad of excuses for poor performance. In this particular episode, Chef Robert, with his usual military bearing and tone of voice (he was a former chef in the British Royal Navy), had a one-liner to solve the problem that hits the bull's-eye. He told owners and staff quite dramatically: “Step up and own it.”
‘Unlikely’ in the title is not used without reason. ‘Likely’ heroes, in classic historical traditions, are found among either the spiritual elite, such as great legendary mythical gods, outstanding religious teachers, like those considered Hindu heroes, and great ascetic masters who renounced the material world, as in Buddhist chronicles, or among the nobility or warrior elite.i
However, in modern times we have learned that another type of hero can be recognized; that ordinary people perform in extraordinary ways and thus earn the designation of being ‘unlikely heroes.’
In San Diego as recently as early this year, 2014, we underwent a conflagration of near epic proportions way before the start of the usual California fire season. My own house was surrounded with raging fire and smoke a mile east and west of me and I was subsequently officially “sheltered in place” in my own home for two days amidst deadly smoke and blood-red skies.
A number of aphorisms inspired by popular wisdom are especially applicable to this age of instant global communication. I immediately think of one of my father’s favorite instructional sayings: “The wisest word is the word unspoken.” What brings this to my mind are recent media accounts of some notable individuals making some quite unwise statements that they think are private comments, but which later end up being publically broadcasted. Often the individuals themselves are adversely affected, and when they are associated with others, be they corporations, governments or sport teams, the untoward effects extend to many.
Would it not be ideal if “the word unspoken” were not just motivated by desire to avoid the inauspicious consequences of making unwise statements, but, rather, sprang from the habits of a truly virtuous mind and heart? Buddhist wisdom is particularly apt in this understanding: “Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.”[i] When one has acquired such virtue, then wise silence should follow because it is built on a solid foundation.