Arriving to Work

I used to hear my training supervisor say to me how grounding chaplaincy was. I was new enough to the work and new enough to Peter to listen very closely. Sometimes I think I was a better listener when I was new to the ministry.

I have always been nosey enough, curious really. So I was engaged by what he’d say after being such a long, faithful, pastoral leader at my hospital. He’d say things in the halls on our way to see people that made the visits worthy even before they began. I learned more that I only retain in the pores of my soul than I can re-state.

On one of those days, we were coming off the elevator. I was co-working the medical ICU. He was the chaplain, I was the resident. He was the real spiritual caregiver, I was trying to be. The ICU was not the congregation so I had some learning to do. I loved it and still do.

Peter told me that he hadn’t been on the floors for a while and that he always felt like there was a goodness when he came back. He was managing the department, creating programs, co-working with his colleague Mark, my other training supervisor and my current manager. Back then, I knew nothing of what he was really doing.

I’ve learned more about what took him away from the floors. I’ve lived it over the last few years of being an educator now. A lot can take you away from a patient room or from a family meeting discussing the end of life or from a session with a physician who just needs you to stand there as they cry. There’s an odd goodness in those moments.

One of the good things is the gift of perspective. You show up to work having all the things anyone else has. You carry all the things everyone else does. A soreness in your foot, brokenness in some soul spot, annoyance, heart-rending pain, minor delays about three or four decisions, uncertainty about an important person. And you go to the floor. You get to the unit. You arrive for your patient.

And for a moment or for an hour or for a day, you develop the tools to share yourself with another person going through hardness. You don’t lose your own stuff but you shelve it temporarily. You know exactly where it is. It’s outside on the contact precautions cart. It’s on the counter at the nursing station. It’s spread out like murky liquid on the floor at the door. It’s somewhere, your stuff.

But you bracket it so that you can, rather than shrink yourself, expand into someone better. You place your things where you can find them when you’re done. And you arrive to meet another sacred person.

Leavings

The other day my summer intensive students finished their unit of CPE. We gathered at an Oak Park restaurant and had a great time. It was wonderful to see them together, around a table, laughing, and making fun of each other and of me, remembering their 11 weeks of chaplaincy at the hospital.

They had a way of relating that didn’t include me, and we had a way of relating together that did. We joked over how the Catholic and the Episcopal students were first to order a bottle of wine. Somebody told a good joke about Baptists and beer, and, when it felt right, I asked a troubling question about substance abuse and ministry. I learned more about the six traditions around the table when it comes to the concern. You can tell a lot about a group of people when they gather, when they raise questions, when they sit with questions.

We took pictures, entertained our server, and enjoyed our food. We talked about our patients and our group work. I tried to enjoy their natural rhythm and further minimize my “supervisory approach” as we went about the work of ending.

I asked my students a similar question that I raise each week with my boys. On the morning my week with the boys ends, I ask them what their most favorite and their least favorite part of the week has been. It’s become a ritual for us. In fact, if we’re driving to the drop-off where they greet their mother and I haven’t raised the question, one of them will. The ritual has caught on.

I asked my students something similar and we all listened and joined in to see again the experiences we knew about or a few that we hadn’t known about. We listened and, as one feminist theologian wrote, heard each other each speech.

To supervise students well, you have to have a way to end. You need an approach to leaving and it causes an educator to be intentional about not only beginnings but endings. Even if you don’t do much to finish, end, or terminate, you have to consider it to be good at supervision. How will this end? How do I want this to finish? Where would I like to be when we’re done?

My therapist told me once, when we were discussing the beautiful nuances of introverts and extroverts dating, that everyone needs to leave, not just introverts. She said we practice leaving every time we get together. Extroverts move toward other people naturally. Introverts move in the direction of the individual self. These moves are about energy, the maintenance of a person’s soul. You need to move toward and away.

Everyone comes and everyone goes. It’s a natural part of life. It’s a natural need.

Even when you move toward people, the soul requires leave-taking.

When you leave, may you do so with grace, blessing and laughter.

“good news for all of us”

by Tim Marshall

Walking into a room and meeting another person wherever they are. To show up and shut up and be present. To move through the human desire to say something to make it all okay and just be. To be a reflection of God-in-flesh to those who are suffering.

Also, my patients reflect God to me. People who are dying share visions of angels and whispered messages from the hereafter. Patients who are undergoing intensive rehab therapies after a stroke speak of wrestling with God in the dark hours like Jacob and emerging with a limp, but having touched God.

Chaplaincy is not a cerebral ministry of long hours spent in a pastor’s study in preparation for preaching. It is holding hands through bed rails and wearing isolation gowns and being willing to literally stand in suffering with God’s beloveds. It is not about translating Hebrew or Greek from ancient texts, but about translating scripture into something now that matters to the mother who is delivering her stillborn child or the son losing his father to cancer.

The theology of the cross is particularly apparent to me in my hospital work. This theology holds that God’s love for all of creation is most clearly seen in the act of dying on the cross.  That God did the most human thing of all, which is to die. The theological conviction that shapes my ministry as a chaplain is that God knows what it is to suffer and to die, and there is no place that God is unwilling to go, even death. This is good news for all of us who feel immersed in suffering, our own or that of others.

Read Amy Hanson’s full post here.

Quote of the Day

Photo Thanks to Javier Calvo

Photo Thanks to Javier Calvo

A midwife teacher helps half-baked ideas and perceptions develop in dialogue to fuller maturity. What is important is not to begin with perfected thought, but to encourage creative thinking that is pushing the edges and discovering where novelty becomes possible. A midwife helps life come during the moment of intense labor by helping a woman focus in, to concentrate on the essential, to relax into the moment. A midwife teacher does the same by guiding one to see what needs to be focused on and attended to and creates the kind of space where one can become relaxed and be oneself.

Midwife teachers know that to bring new life and truth into the classroom, they must ask questions that do not have predetermined answers, but search honestly for the revelation of truth in a community seeking truth.

From Images of Pastoral Care, 219-220.

“What You Are Really Choosing”

Photo Thanks to Annie Spratt

Photo Thanks to Annie Spratt

No one creates your feelings. No one is to blame for your situation. You are the author of your condition. Whatever you have been doing is what you are really choosing, whether or not you consciously want it. The alternative is to see yourself as a victim of people or circumstances and real change becomes impossible. Taking responsibility always leads to a revelation of what your next step needs to be.

(From How to be an Adult, p. 24-25)

Friends vs. Strangers

Photo Thanks to Kevin Curtis

Photo Thanks to Kevin Curtis

In a day I spend time working with three people: participants in mission at church; patients in a hospital setting, usually in medically intensive situations; and students preparing for continued ministry. All of those people are experiencing some thing in life that is calling out to them, emerging within them.

In the church, we are hearing and speaking to one another around an old and almost common event, reflecting upon the life of Jesus and what that life means now. In the hospital we are generally responding to the crisis of the medical moment and the myriad of ways hospitalization matters to people. In the learning environment (and I’m in three of them in one way or another), we are inspecting the materials available to us for preparation, refinement, and formation.

All those settings are identity shaping settings. In each place, we question—and I do this as a leader or caregiver or teacher—what’s happening and how those happenings turn us into the people we are. Jaco Hamman said, “Many of us live most of the time as strangers to ourselves” (From Becoming a Pastor: Forming Self and Soul for Ministry, p. 10).

When I read Hamman’s words, they struck me because they were a reminder that most of the time, we can be distant from our selves, strangers to ourselves. We can be strangers to the things that shape us and to who we are as shaped, identified people.

How do we get to know who we are? Where are the places in life that reveal, construct, critique, reform, affirm, and embolden identity? I’m paying attention to how my working worlds are more than places I go; there are places I’m made. The same is true for home and circles of friendship. Those are the contexts where identity happens. When we sit in those places with open eyes, we get closer to ourselves. We become friends to ourselves.

Letter of Intent

Photo Thanks to Jon Ottosson

Photo Thanks to Jon Ottosson

I have to send a letter of intent to sit before a committee soon. The template is on one of my desks. I see it everyday since I printed it out as a reminder that sending the letter is an important step in one of my growth processes.

It’s a simple form, but it’s a staple in my process and in the batch of materials which it indicates will follow. My committee is tied to it. My conversation happens after it. My effort in between is also linked.

I haven’t had time to blog the last couple weeks but I’m thinking about writing a letter of intent for myself for the new year. People write resolutions. I don’t. But here are some of my intentions in the random order I think of them.

I intend:

  1. To see something beautiful and memorable with my wife at my side
  2. To love the church, the class, and every context in which I serve others
  3. To write something that other people will use
  4. To keep that monthly meal with the Swansons for 3rd/4th year
  5. To become a supervisory candidate this spring
  6. To be accepted and to accept myself
  7. To create, to lead, to stay close to myself
  8. To be a better father with both my sons
  9. To watch Dawn cry when our second is born–ha
  10. To be a great son and brother
  11. To share and be generous while being more patient
  12. To help creative people become/stay grounded
  13. To be the friend who shows up when needed
  14. To cook more
  15. To advance in my physical care/exercise/training
  16. To be undoubtedly and unmistakably relentless, especially while loving
  17. To update my advance directives
  18. To revise my blogs
  19. To locate resources for a writing project
  20. To start something new

What about you?

Living the Intersection

I appreciate that my training in clinical pastoral education is giving me reason to enter into a beautiful reading list. I’m covering by necessity pastoral arts, theology, history, and supervision. I’m spending my time becoming a better minister, a slower thinker, a deeper educator of servants, and hopefully a person more responsive to these gifts in a clinical encounter, whatever form it takes.

As I’ve mentioned on my blog, I’m reading, and in an effort to “keep more of what I’m reading,” this review is, in part, in order for me to see again some of the words of the writers I’m encountering. This book, Living the Intersection: Womanism and Afrocentrism in Theology is a book on theology, particularly womanist theology in contradistinction to afrocentricism.

The contributors draw upon their reading of Molefi Asante’s use of Afrocentrism. His conceptualization is widely read and has been a persistent critique to Christianity and Islam with regard to black people. The description of the concept is in the book, so I won’t completely summarize their rendering of Asante. Still, one of Asante’s basic assertions according to the editor of Living the Intersection is the mistaken notion that Christianity is a historically acceptable religious option for African Americans. His basic critique is the mismatchedness of the Christian faith and the better natural fit of, presumably, African Traditional Religions. His notion of Afrocentrism is in conversation in this book with thinkers from the womanist theological posture.

Womanist is a term from Alice Walker who in the novel The Temple of My Familiar “has taken some of her womanist ideas and tried to run them through narratively.” As Gilkes says in the collection, Walker gives writers a rich term to capture her own artistic attempts to debate humanity and reject racism in order to push “for a larger, relational, humanist vision.” Walker used a word (i.e., womanist) started something. Note that she was moving toward a vision. I think that’s an evocative theological motive: vision.

Photo Thanks to Esther Kang

Photo Thanks to Esther Kang

To be fair, most will tie Alice Walker’s literary genius to the conceptual offerings of others before her. Living the Intersection does the same. Deborah E. McDowell does this in her chapter on “Slavery as a Sacred Text.” McDowell reminds us of the tenuous relationship between black people and already-determined-and-already-decided-principles-of-somebody-else’s-interpretation, saying, that “Scripture is not sacred as an untamperable given; it is rather a set of texts to be questioned, negotiated with, and variously interpreted” (p. 82). Womanist interpretation is tied to the experience of a slave being told what to think and how long to think it relative to being “free in Christ.”

Youtha C. Hardman-Cromwell connects womanism to the wealth of poetic contributions written by black women. She decorates her chapter with pieces from Alice Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Maya Angelou among others. She’s doing what the biblical psalmists did: pointing to the poetic, musical expression of a sister in order to underline some truth about life and God. Womanist theology comes out of poetry.

Given their nod to the historical connections leading to womanism, the contributors in Living the Intersection give much respect to Walker for snatching up the spirit of such fruitful work in Walker’s careful word choice. Edited by Cheryl J. Sanders, these writers are connecting language with spirituality and theological reflection in order to pursue a vision of beauty and wholeness. “We are here because we believe we have a story to tell to the nation, and our experience has something special to say to the world.” (p. 22) I wish that was on a t-shirt worn by all the people I love: I have something special to say to the world.

Living the Intersection is an anchoring text for those interested in listening to tones and songs of black women teaching foundational theology for the purpose of telling a story of faith which changes lives and builds people. This book, among those I’m reading as I study in CPE supervisory education, is about how we understand God, how we understand the lived experience of black women, and how we take cues from those two understandings for life.

Theology is God talk, language we use to express who we think God to be. It is necessarily risky. After all, theology is language about God. It relates to us, to those God has made, but it starts in relation to the One for whom words could forever be written and read. Eventually that linguistic effort ends in wholeness. Kelly Brown Douglas in the book delineates that wholeness is about triumph over oppression “so that the individual is whole even as she or he struggles for the community’s wholeness.” And “wholeness for a community indicates that it is not divided against itself and that is free, liberated from oppression.” (p. 68)

Photo Thanks to Esther Kang

Photo Thanks to Esther Kang

As students, we draw from our various sources to unearth, examine, and interrogate the ingredients of faith, to critique forms of faith, to inspire better uses and practices of faith. In the language of Sanders, our work is about the “survival and wholeness of an entire people” and about the “affirmation, assertiveness, and actualization of women.” The book says enough times for the reader to get that the affirmation of women is never akin to the diminution of men. There is a holistic vision that womanist theologians are pushing us toward, one that names the general and boldly wrong unnamededness of women. Encouraging the regular procurement of black women’s identity from themselves (Hardman-Cromwell), we are “moving the black community toward wholeness” (Douglas).

In this book, womanism stands next to afrocentrism, and the sister theologians–from a decidedly black, feminist, ethical, theological, and literary sphere–offer us an introduction to the foundational elements of womanism as a way of doing theology.

Doing theology is important. I can’t recall what I first meant when I started using that phrase, just after my seminary days. When I use the phrase now, I intend to mean that theology is immediately and always practiced. It is reflection with a purpose. It is considered and expressed language that is Spirit-empowered, generative, constructive, and prophetic. Theology is ethical because it meets the practice of our lives; it tutors us, trains us to be. We don’t simply write theology. We do it. We live it.

This beautiful book is full of my sisters and aunts and mothers, and they are all writing me into becoming…

The Reflective Practitioner

An epistemology is a way that we know. It is about how we know what we know. The Reflective Practitioner focuses on the ways in which professionals of varied sorts know and do. Schon is offering an alternative to the “traditional epistemology of practice.”

It’s worth pointing out that the language is a little distant, the examples stiff; the book was published in 1983. Still, his broad attempt to get “professionals” to think about how they think and how they perform is critical for anyone who wants to work well. His book opens by naming the “wavering confidence in professional expertise,” a seemingly dated observation now where the world is nearly if not entirely postmodern, where most work circles are touched, shaped, and impacted by millenials who always and already suspect things like professionalism however defined.

He puts forward reflective practice where professionals are aware of their “frames” for problems, their particular ways of viewing problems and, eventually, their unique theories (i.e., ways of seeing) for addressing those problems. A lot of what he says assumes that you can solve problems without knowing how you’re solving them. Your epistemological structures would be, in a word, weak. You’d be less reflective. He wants to suggest that there’s merit and strength in learning about our theories, in becoming aware of them, and in our making them public and, therefore, open to criticism.

He advocates for professionals turning their knowledge-in-practice into a public display of that practice. Knowledge that people go get in schools and specialized training programs, for him, becomes subject to inspection. Professionals become accountable in their openness to the public. They become more capable of expressing their “artful competence,” transitioning from not knowing how they do their work to examining how much they know, how they solve problems, and how they know what they’re doing.

Re-reading my sentence, I’m struck by the heady nature of those words. The book is somewhat heady; he explains the influence of “positivism” for example, a word that makes me question my own intellectual capacities. But the examples are concrete and helpful. His goal is entirely practical. The subtitle is “How Professionals Think in Action.”

He writes about action and response, thinking through a theory of response, a knowing-in-practice, which seems different from knowledge. He says that “A practitioner’s reflection can serve as a corrective to overlearning” (p. 61), and he works throughout the book to illuminate the gifts of appreciation, action, and re-appreciation, concepts that are at the bottom of clinical pastoral education, an environment I’m swimming in currently. I can definitely see why it’s a recommended text for the supervisory education students.

Photo Thanks to Szolkin

Photo Thanks to Szolkin

Back to the emphasis on practice–in CPE language, it’s action-reflection-action, Schon points to use of self in our work. One quote captures how Schon says our experience is worth our using in our work (p. 140):

It is our capacity to see unfamiliar situations as familiar ones, and to do in the former as we have done in the latter, that enables us to bring our past experience to bear on the unique case…

He lifts up the powerful way we inspect the “materials of a situation” and use the examples of others in order to grow, “thinking from exemplars.” He’s all about having reflective conversation with the situations we find ourselves in, a particularly striking way with words.

For those interested in language, he talks about the idea of generative metaphors and how they generate new perceptions, explanations, and inventions. He is pressing his reader to reflect. For those who “cannot easily make his assumptions public or subject” to public testing, he says, that that person’s “sense of vulnerability discourages reflection” (p. 229).

I kept thinking that I want to be the kind of person whose vulnerability doesn’t discourage me. I identified with him there, the resistance, the pain, the problem of vulnerability. I kept hearing the words of my clinical supervisor and my readiness committee as we discussed fragility which has been a guiding and problematic metaphor for my ministry lately.

Even while he presses his reader, his approach is invitational. He’s writing as a scholar and consultant more than an evangelist of his theory. He says that “An individual is more likely to feel internally committed to a freely made decision.” In his writing you sense his conviction to what he says and you sense softness.

Finally, he writes about theory, something I know I’ll come to appreciate in upcoming months as I think, draft, present, and revise my theories on theology, education, and personality. He says that “an overarching theory does not give a rule that can be applied to predict or control a particular event, but it supplies language from which to develop particular interpretations” (p. 273). I think about these words in terms of educational theory and teaching but also in terms of how we engage in the work of the church. How much of what we say is about giving a rule for predictive or controlling purposes? How much is about supplying people with language from which they can develop interpretations which may or may not mirror our own?

He says that bureaucracies and stable organizations resist reflective practice. My spiritual director said something like that to me years ago. We were talking about contemplation but the same principle applies. For Schon, reflection-in-action threatens stable systems. In church language that means that contemplatives and prophets are always on the periphery, usually subject to soul-torn isolation, and generally fighting against some solid resistance. “The freedom to reflect, invent, and differentiate would disrupt the institutional order of space and time” (p. 333). And it’s true; the order a system needs is completely threatened when the people in those systems consider.