Monday, October 31, 2011

clinical pastoral experience week 5


What’s concerned me most this week is the newest development—that one of my residents is convinced that I tried to kill him while visiting him in the hospital. I’m not worried about legal or ethical repercussions from the accusation—that I didn’t do anything resembling what he remembers, pulling off his nose tube, is pretty clear to me and to others—but I am worried about how this will affect our relationship once he’s been discharged from the hospital and returns to the facility.

It’s possible he won’t remember the incident at all, that it’s a memory caused by his pain medication and just as ephemeral. It’s possible that he’ll return and his first words to me will be, “Isn’t that funny, that I thought you tried to kill me?” But it’s possible too that he’ll become more convinced of the reality of that memory and it will adversely affect the relationship we have and that’s the biggest concern I have. How do I move both him and me beyond that, especially if he remains convinced of it?

The Nurse Manager for my floor has pointed out to me that this experience is good in a sense, as it gives me an idea of what it feels like to the aides and nurses when the residents call them bitches and niggers or accuse them of ignoring them or trying to kill them, and she’s right. From the perspective of ministering to the staff this is an invaluable situation. If anything good could be said to come out of the situation this would be it. I thought I’d had nearly every experience in my group home years but this one is new and I don’t like the feeling much.

Otherwise this has been a good week. I think that as a group our CPE cohort is coming together better, seeing one another as individuals with needs and concerns and less as other people who simply do much the same things as we do, only not as well or in a different way. The conflicts that strained our initial coming together--one person's perceived distance because of his new illness, a threeway misunderstanding—have been addressed and I don’t see any new ones on the horizon.

My relationships with my residents are becoming more solid. Another, older resident has also been hospitalized this week and my visits to him have proved beneficial I think to him and me. After conversation with my floor social worker I’ve determined a way of connecting with two residents in vegetative states that involves simply sitting quietly with them, much the same way as I’d already been sitting with another. I’ve begun to have positive interactions with still a third who’s so self-isolating that I almost never see her, but who I’m certain to approach whenever I see her out. She remains distant but encouraging: she hasn’t yelled or called me a fucker which I take as positive signs. I’ve sat with her only as long as she seems to want, which is usually about four or five minutes, and I think something she likes is that I don’t have any demands of her: one of her first comments to me was, “What do you want?”

I’m concerned about the development of another resident's abscess. Or not his abscess itself but its effect on the staff and to a lesser extent on him. That he’s going to die from it is a given and that it’s probably going to happen sooner than later is something everyone, including the resident, has known, but while he seems to be resigned to it, I think staff members are realizing that the time has come for the actual process to play out. The floor nurse manager very nearly cried when she told me he has bone showing and the consequences of that. I’m watching this development closely and picking my way carefully.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

saturday night reading

in a short essay on the ezine he co-founded, gary kamiya has articulated some of the feelings many of us in the religious community have felt but have thus far been unable to communicate. I am in awe of his ability to simply and coherently wrap up one of the most important ideas about what occupy america is about.

"Yes, the Occupy San Francisco tent village is illegal. Yes, it is unruly. Yes, there are homeless people there. The movement is filled with oddballs and dropouts and nuts, and based on my own visits there, they outnumber the “respectable” types, the unemployed workers and students and housewives. And if real problems arise, violence or vandalism or disease, the city has the right
and obligation to take steps to remedy them. But since no such problems have arisen, it’s impossible to escape the conclusion that the hand-wringing about the tents is all about image. The Occupy San Francisco movement is flawed and unsightly, like panhandlers and street people. The tourist-friendly solution: clean it up.

"But the crazies and dropouts and street people who are part of the movement deserve to be there, deserve to be seen. For they bear inarticulate witness to the inequities the movement is protesting. Of course, they didn’t all end up there because of society’s sins; bad choices and personal responsibility also played a role. They’re not the best spokesmen for the movement. But they, too, are part of the America that the movement is trying to make better. They, too, are our brothers.

"That isn’t liberal swill. It comes from a book called the Bible."

Monday, October 24, 2011

clinical experience reflection week 4

The incident that’s on my mind the most right now, perhaps because it has been simmering for the second half of the week and came to fruition on Saturday, is what I should tell the roommate of one resident who is very close to that person—think brotherly—but who, because of HIPA regulations and privacy concerns, can’t be told that his friend is not doing as well as everyone expected.

It’s not as if the resident is dying (although all of us are dying), but when he went in for routine surgery it was expected he would be discharged after a few days and all would be well. His roommate could be told he was doing fine, he sent his affections, he’d see him soon, all that. The roommate has a tendency to take into himself the concerns he has for his friend and internalize them, apparently fixating on his worries, until it absorbs him. When I saw him last, early Saturday afternoon, he was in a pretty cheery mood, smiling and saying, “Tell him I’m glad he’s okay and I’ll see him soon.”

The truth, on the other hand, is that the resident is not doing as well as everyone hoped. His blood pressure is lower than it ought to be. He’s being fed oxygen by a tube which is strapped to his head. He reports he’s in a lot of pain. Mentally, he’s more alert than he was the first day I visited him, but he’s reduced to answering “yes/no” questions by shaking or nodding his head. He remains in intensive care and his nurse tells me it will be at least several weeks before he’s allowed to come home.
Given all that, what’s my response when his roommate asks, “How is he?”

Sunday, October 23, 2011

is nick hornby writing about jubilee?

I argue that David, the husband of Nick Hornby’s protagonist Ann in How to be Good, is acting out a private, individual jubilee. I don’t know that Hornby is doing this purposefully, that he wrote David’s actions to be a comment on the Christian idea of jubilee. At best it is an interesting coincidence. Firstly, it’s important that David himself would deny that he’s doing anything Christian:

…I don’t think that David has become a Christian, although it is hard to fathom precisely what he has become. Asking him directly doesn’t really clarify things. The evening after we got the letter…Tom [their son] asks—mournfully but rather percipiently, I thought—whether we are all going to have to start going to church.

“Church?” says David—but gently, not with the explosion of anger and disdain that would have accompanied that word in any context just a few weeks ago. “Of course not. Why? Do you want to go to church?”

“No. Course not.”…Tom says. “Just, I thought, that’s what we have to do now.”

“Why now?”

“Because we give things away. That’s what they do in church, isn’t it?”

“Not as far as I know.”

Later, alone, Ann points out to David, “You do give off the air of someone who has undergone a religious conversion.”

“Well, I haven’t.”

“You haven’t become a Christian?”


And while Ann can’t put her finger on exactly what it is David’s become, she agrees that it isn’t a Christian.

But Tom’s connection between “we give things away” and “people who go to church” is important. This is the idea behind Jesus’ idea of jubilee, particularly in the parable iterated in Luke 16:1-13. The corrupt manager there, once he is found out, decides to remit to his debtors the actual sums they owe by wiping out the graft added for his share. He does this, not to escape judgment, as his master has already taken his position from him, but to be welcomed afterward into their homes, so he may rely on their largess and friendship. Jesus’ explains that “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much…[If] you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters…You cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:10-13).

John Yoder’s definition of biblical jubilee in The Politics of Jesus—leaving the soil fallow; remission of debts; liberation of slaves; and the return of family property to individuals—while not corresponding exactly either with David’s behavior is near enough to suggest that we can read his actions as a genuine attempt to do jubilee on a personal level.

For instance, David’s newspaper column and novel, both of which he has decided to scrap because he’s simply not angry anymore, although to which he might someday return (perhaps writing columns as “The Least-Angriest Man in Holloway”), are fields of endeavor that lie fallow. While David doesn’t have debts to remit, per se, or slaves to liberate, he does in a sense attempt to do something similar by finding rooms for local homeless kids. In that sense he’s doing both: he attempts to cancel out those who are indebted to him by selflessly taking on the work of matching up homeless and those with extra rooms, and he attempts also to ease the burden on those homeless—liberate them from slavery, as it were—by doing the same. Finally, of course, his misbegotten attempts to give away the family’s roast dinner and Tom’s computer can be seen, if not as returning property to their original owners, then as ways of redistributing his family’s wealth.

I’d argue that, while David is not participating in biblical jubilee—that “redistribution of capital…accomplished every fifty years by faithfulness to the righteous will of God and in the expectation of the kingdom” according to Yoder—he is participating in the spirit of what Jesus calls for in his parable of the widow who “out of her poverty has put in [the temple treasury] all she had to live on” (Luke 21:1-4)—that is, as Yoder writes, “a jubilee ordinance which was to be put into practice here and now, once…, as a ‘refreshment,’ prefiguring the ‘reestablishment of all things.’” Yoder is justified in his conclusion that “Many bloody revolutions would have been avoided if the Christian church had shown herself more respectful than Israel was of the jubilee dispositions contained in the law of Moses.”

Saturday, October 22, 2011

teach naked

below is an essay defining my concept of religious education that I've worked on the past week. if it seems to follow a pattern, that's because it does. the idea is that we define religious--specifically xian--education in the 1st part, expand on that definition in the 2nd, and then give implications of it in the 3rd. that wasn't really very hard but it took me several days longer than it should have because of a cold that knocked me flat on my back all day tuesday, necessitating not only the length of time it took to finish the essay but also, as tuesday is a 6-hour day for me at my CPE site, requiring me to pull extra hours the rest of the week to make them up.


Part I: Based on my experience and on the books we’ve read for this class, I’d offer the following as my current definition for the way I see religious education. It’s a way of teaching children and adults how best to affect their world in order to make it more reflective of the type of world where they would want to be citizens. It reflects how they think a world of justice and equality ought to be (in Christian terms, bringing about the realm of God). Religious education determines the communities children and adults want to be a part of, discerns what is holy and how to talk about it, and most importantly, what the ethics, morals, and behaviors the members of such communities should participate in.

Part II: The church, any church (or synagogue or mosque or temple or coven or any spiritual gathering, and for simplicity’s sake I’m going to mean all of these groups when I say “church”), is a community, an ecclesia in church terminology. It’s a community made up of individuals but of individuals who, unlike a geographical community or a working or public school community, choose to associate with one another. Their connections with one another are outside place or livelihood. There are some geographical considerations that might complicate that—while an individual living in the rural Midwest might have several Lutheran congregations in a 20 or 30 mile radius to choose from, including choices between which ELCA or WELS congregation to attend, whereas a Unitarian Universalist or a Muslim or Jew might have only one choice, while the options might be the reverse in urban areas or on the coast—for the most part one chooses which church to attend out of consideration of the congregation more than anything else. Craig Dykstra notes

[Faith] communities have formative power in the lives of people, nurturing faith and giving shape to the quality and character of their spirits. Spirituality deepens in community, rather than in individualistic isolation. The beliefs, values, attitudes, stories, rituals, and moral practices of a faith community are the human forces most powerful in shaping a person’s spiritual journey. (83)

More than one researcher has noted that, all other elements being equal, what determines which church a person chooses to attend is his or her fellow congregants.

Once we’ve determined the ecclesia we must determine the message the ecclesia intends to spread. Dykstra writes:

The life of Christian faith is life in such intimate relationship with Jesus Christ that, as Paul says, we may live ‘in Christ” and that Christ is ‘in you’…Similarly, we are now free to live ‘according to the Spirit,’ so that ‘the Spirit of God dwells in you’…This is contrasted by Paul with life ‘according to the flesh’…The contrast is not one between life after death and our life on earth. Both life according to the Spirit and life according to the flesh are forms of present, daily, bodily, human living. But life according to the flesh is life aimed at and directed by things that have no ultimate lasting value and power. ‘Life in Christ,’ ‘life according to the Spirit,’ is life-oriented, empowered, undergirded, and sustained by the Source of life itself. (23)

Modifying Dykstra’s message, it’s in the gratitude for what is bigger than ourselves, bigger than mere individual “birth-school-work-marriage-children-death” life itself, that we find a purpose that can bind us together. For Unitarian Universalists it is in the recognition that two people together are somehow greater than the sum of their parts. For Muslims it is in the adoration of the gift of life Allah bestows on each of us. For pagans it is in the interstices of the web of life of which people are themselves only one part.

This is being in community that acknowledges all of what one is rather than simply a part of what one is. It is looking for a community of challenge over a community of comfort. As Mary Elizabeth Mullino Moore points out, “Truth-telling is not easy to hear, and it demands a response, whether by individual action or social policy.” Her example of one such hard-to-hear truth-telling comes from historian Vine Deloria, Jr., who charges in “Open Letter to the Heads of the Christian Churches in America” that his addressees have “forced ‘opinions, myths, and superstitions on us…You have never chosen to know us. You have only come to us to confront and conquer us.’” Mullino Moore further notes that this “echoes the cries of South Africa and elsewhere, where generations of people have been denied basic human rights” (all quotes, 82).
Religious education should prepare people in the ecclesia to hear such questions, whether from Native Americans, the descendants of African slaves, undocumented workers and their children, the homeless and underemployed, and any of dozens of potential other aggrieved groups. It may not prepare them to answer those questions—it may be that the best answer is that they don’t have an answer—but it must give them the basics of what the aggrieved parties are referring to and that they have a right to be sore. It is in recognizing the legitimacy of these questions that religious education helps prepare citizens for the world of justice and equality they are trying to bring about.

How do we determine what is holy? And once we’ve determined what it is, how do we talk about it? It’s generally assumed that holiness differs according to the beliefs of individual faiths and to some extent that’s true. But while some of the particulars might differ—an icon is venerated by an Eastern Orthodox Church member while it is unconscionable to a conservative Muslim—the point is to find an agreed-upon perspective for all the members of the faith community without lapsing into lowest-common-denominatorness. Mullino Moore cites Orthodox tradition for her determination of what holy is (emphasis in the original): “[That] all of life is sacramental, that the church’s sacraments make visible the sacramentality of God’s creation, and that the human calling is to participate in the sacrament of life…[The] power of sacramentality and its interrelated movements…reveal holy presence in the rhythms of life” (217). My only modification to this otherwise excellent definition would be a change from “God’s creation” to “reality.”

Religious education, in order to make plain the opportunity for learners to hear the questions that should be demanded of them, must emphasize the holiness of life and experience. Everyone’s life and everyone’s experience. Dykstra notes exactly the sorts of questions that we ought to be prepared for: “Of what value are human beings, and how is that value secured? What is worth dying for? What is worth staying alive for? How should our lives be spent?” (7). If, as Mullino Moore points out, holiness is found in the very “rhythms of life,” the stuffness of daily, average life—and I think it is—then it’s in that very experience of everyone’s daily life, its celebrations and atonements, that learners begin to articulate what holiness is.

Finally, it’s in putting together these elements that religious education teaches learners what it is that their communities of justice and equality ought to look like and how they ought to behave. Dykstra’s retelling of Philip Haillie’s book Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed provides an excellent and realistic example of the way these elements can be melded and the use to which that melding can be put. It is, he writes,

a story of how the gospel can be taught when the church comes alive to face both the dangers that beset it and the concrete needs and hungers of the specific world in which they live. It is a story of youth groups and schoolchildren, of classroom teachers and adult Bible study groups. It is a story of how worship and preaching and studying and acting all come together to make a community into a people of God. It is a story of how people read the Scriptures, lived their life with one another, and opened their doors to strangers as essential elements in their being the church in the world. But most of all it is the story of what happened to and in these people and in the world in the midst of what they themselves did. (57)

Part III: We can never be certain how our best intentions are going to be received—rather than flowers in the streets we may be greeted with looting and an endless war—and there’s no certainty that religious education delivered in this way will have the results we want. But there’s something to be said for trying and here are my hoped-for implications for this type of religious education.

Teaching religion this way, focusing on the ways, for instance, displaced people are treated by society and religion in order to provide context to understand the complaints of the aggrieved and, hopefully, a way to change it, can lead to greater participation by oppressed people in that church. Churches, especially in the US, have a long history of complicity in the way minority peoples have been treated as subjects rather than as persons by the majority. Being a place where such a history is addressed opens the church, and thus people, to healing. “People do not come to church in a vacuum; they come out of the totality of their lives. They bring the forces and experiences and needs of those lives to church” (Crain 1997, in Seymour, 101). When visitors feel addressed by church, that the church has something at stake regarding them, they become congregants.

The question of what’s holy is, for many churches, a matter of tradition rather than a matter of experience. We venerate the Bible not because of what it says to us but because our ancestors did. We venerate God in prayer not because of what God does in our lives but because we have been taught to punctuate services that way. Locating holiness in the everyday experiences of people lends those experiences not only familiarity but a sense of purpose outside routine. As Elizabeth Caldwell writes, in Christian terms, “Religious education seeks primarily to educate Christians for faithful living, for finding a balance between the sacred and the secular, between the holy and the ordinary, between the sacraments in liturgy and the ways we live in response to our baptisms as we move out from the table where Jesus Christ is the host” (in Seymour, 80). Her example points up the benefit to be realized when the link between a duty and a sacrament (for instance) is bridged: “[learners] frame their lives in terms of a new way of seeing, hearing, sensing, being, and finally doing…” (80).

Ultimately, what may happen may be the actual discovery by adult and child learners that the world of justice and equality may actually be within their grasp, that it may be something they can actually bring about. Jack Seymour and Donald Miller articulate this hope:

While the problems of the world we address are complex and immense, we must address them through coalitions of people who are often very different from ourselves… Education empowers us to move from conversation to faithful living…[Religious] education fosters a movement theologically informed by the witnesses from the past to address the crucial personal and social issues of our day with faithful current analysis and a vision that is informed by the long-term history of God emerging in a people. [Religious] education provides open spaces to practice God’s presence and to share our lives and vulnerabilities in hospitality and love. (in Seymour, 120)

There is, of course, no guarantee that defining religious education in this way, as a means by which a church teaches its adult and child members how to make a world that’s more reflective of the just and equal world they want to be citizens of through determining the content of their communities, locating the holiness in those communities, and deciding on the appropriate behaviors and morals of its members, will lead to heaven on earth. But it’s certainly worth the attempt.

• Caldwell, Elizabeth. (1997.) “Religious Instruction: Homemaking.” In Mapping Christian Education: Approaches to Congregational Learning, Jack Seymour, Ed. Nashville, TN; Abingdon.
• Crain, Margaret Ann. (1997.) “Listening to Churches: Christian Education in Congregational Life.” In Mapping Christian Education: Approaches to Congregational Learning, Jack Seymour, Ed. Nashville, TN; Abingdon.
• Dykstra, Craig. (2005.) Growing in the Life of Faith: Education and Christian Practices. Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press.
• Mullino Moore, Mary Elizabeth. (2004.) Teaching as a Sacramental Act. Cleveland, OH; Pilgrim Press.
• Seymour, Jack and Donald Miller. (1997.) “Agenda for the Future.” In Mapping Christian Education: Approaches to Congregational Learning, Jack Seymour, Ed. Nashville, TN; Abingdon.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

clinical pastoral reflection 3rd week


My friends Mandy and Mel have a daily dinner routine for their extended family and guests; each person must voice a concern and a joy from the day before the meal. This week I’ve had two concerns and one joy. I’ll tackle my concerns first.
I’m not at all in agreement with the statement reported in her verbatim by a fellow CPE-er. I’ve got serious reservations about a Sister-Mary-Sunshine theology which insists heaven is a wonderful place full of light where elderly women are capable of doing cartwheels once there. I’m certain my fellow intern is sincere in her belief. But I am equally certain that, at the very worst, telling a dying woman what is at best an educated guess is some form of pastoral malpractice and, at the very least, fails to take seriously the questions the woman has about her death and the impact it will have on her husband and family and friends. It also may suggest to the woman that having such qualms is anti-God, since who wouldn’t want to hurry up to join such a lovely eternity? How selfish and spiritually ugly must be the doctors and nurses and husband that have tried to keep her in this horrible condition for so long.
My other disturbing situation was with a woman I spoke with about the death of another resident. She started our conversation by asking if the person for whom we’d had last Friday’s memorial was really dead (and this says something about the way people appear and disappear and sometimes reappear without explanation as the people caught up in the healthcare system, especially its mentally ill members, must experience it). We discussed his death and then her parents’ deaths and her own experience of God and trust issues, and I ended our time together by asking if she’d like me to pray with her. It seemed what she expected. I asked her to do the praying but she said she’d rather that I did, and that’s what left me discomfited. I’m all right in communal prayers but as I don’t pray on my own I’m not at all comfortable with one-on-one prayer. I gave it my best shot, stammering out some phrases she’d said and adding my own takes on them, and she seemed sincere when she thanked me. A few days later I spoke with my Christian wife who is more at home with this sort of thing and she suggested that what someone really wants in that situation is the sense she’s been heard and her concerns noted. She also suggested that I try praying out loud on the drive in each day to get myself in the mindset of doing it for other people. I’ve tried that now and confess that I feel a little self-conscious doing it but she is right about my feeling more at ease the more I do it. I’m not about to become an advocate of intercessory prayer or of praying away the disease, but I am better understanding the peace people feel when they hear their fears or their wishes vocalized.
What I feel good about is a short interaction I had with one resident on my floor who, after he’d refused my invitation to join a 7th-Day Adventist service on Saturday, wanted to explain why he’s “pissed off with God.” He was pretty angry about the deaths of his parents and the suicide of his brother, going into detail about the extreme measures his brother had taken to kill himself, all in the space of one year. “Where was God in all that?” he demanded. I said, “I don’t know. And it sounds to me like you’ve got every right to be pissed.” He immediately calmed down and said, “I’m sorry to get so angry, but it still hurts, y’know.” I said I’d have been surprised if it didn’t hurt and that we could talk about it if he wanted. He said maybe later but he was in a much better mood as he left than he had been a few moments before. It seemed a good end to the week.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

jesus does not belong to the oppressors

"as long as the religious leaders and scholars of the dominant culture continue to construct ethical perspectives from within their culural space of wealth and power, the marginalized will need an alternate format by which to deliberate and, more importantly, do ethics. through critical social analysis, it is possible to uncover the connection existing between the prevailing ideologies (namely, the ethics of the dominant culture) that support the present power arrangement, with the political, economic, and cultural components of the mechanisms of oppression that protect their power and wealth. anchoring ethics on the everyday experience of the marginalized challenges the validity, or lack thereof, of prevailing ideologies that inform eurocentric ethics.

"for example, the fact that once upon a time in US history the 'peculiar' institution of slavery was biblically supported, religiously justified, spiritually legitimized, and ethically normalized raises serious questions concerning the objectivity of any particular code of ethics originating from that dominant white culture. at the very least, the marginalized are suspicious of the ethics of those who benefit from what society deems to be xian or moral--then, as well as today. although hindsight facilitates our understanding of how unxian and unethical previous generations may have been, we are left wondering whether perspectives considered by some to be morally sound today might be defined as unxian and unethical by future generations."


"jesus can never belong to the oppressors of this world because he is one of the oppressed. the radicalness of the gospel message is that jesus is in solidarity with the very least of humanity. the last shall be first, the center shall be the periphery...the blessed and the cursed are separated by what they did or did not do to the least among us. specifically, did they or did they not feed the hungry, welcome the alien, clothe the naked, and visit those infirm or incarcerated? is the ethical lifestyle of individuals in solidarity with the marginalized demonstrated in liberative acts that led others toward an abundant life? so that there would be no confusion about god's preferential option, jesus clearly states, 'truly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of these, the least of my people, you did it to me.'"

--from doing christian ethics from the margins by miguel de la torre

Thursday, October 13, 2011

a brief report from a (brief) time on the barricades

I spent a couple hours on one corner of government/people's plaza in downtown minneapolis, heart of the hub, last evening with an able complement of fellows from my liberal ecumenical seminary and luther seminary. I dubbed us the amen corner, as all of us are future pastors in our different faiths. we were representative of the faith contingent of people in solidarity with the 99%, a crowd of which we are both members and to whom we minister. (neither were we the only ones; several other pastors and students, some in collars, had been there earlier in the day and earlier in the week.)

I had to leave earlier than I'd intended as the fellow clinician I'd taken responsibility for had another obligation. but in my time there we were constantly and consistently honked at and waved at and given thumbs up and shoutouts by commuters in agreement with our signs--most of which had been penned by 2 women, one lutheran and one uu, and most of which were biblical quotations--without a single negative response to them. I was told the only time any of my compatriots had gotten a negative response was on the previous sunday and it seemed to all be from people wearing vikings paraphernalia. I hesistate to repeat that was not the reaction of everyone in vikings paraphernalia.

I had a couple especially good conversations. one was with a young bhikku in a knit cap and pajama trousers who had graduated high school last year and made arrangements to fly to africa and from there to ship out as a cook on a mercy ship. he wasn't a xian he said, or at least not a very religious one, but he wanted to be part of something bigger than himself and he was frightened and excited by what he expected and hoped for. the other was with a sister who works parttime for a tax preparation company and operates her own online design business. she was just overwhelmed by the number of people in plaza that week--her parttime job was in the tower in front of where we were standing and she looked out on the plaza several times a day--and had also felt overwhelmed by the ways life had gotten tougher and less friendly (my words, I can't remember hers) and knew she needed to make some comment on them. she'd been playing around with making a design but that would make no impact, so she'd been inspired by the protesters on the plaza to decide to come down each day she was at work and join them for a few hours a day, just to be there in support, maybe to hold a sign, maybe to march, maybe just to be there among other people.

on our way off the plaza I swapped thumbsup with several of the people who are actually sleeping under the concrete buttresses and overheads of the government building and told them, "stay warm." because of other responsibilities I may not be able to rejoin them physically, unless the occupation goes on as long as the main one in wall street does, but I will be there in contemplation and spirit and solidarity.

Monday, October 10, 2011

clinical pastoral reflection 2nd week


The past week has been exhilarating and exhausting. Beyond my visit east, my summer was taken up entirely with work at home, reading, walking dogs, visiting friends, and napping. I knew that a semester of full time CPE hours and classes and classwork would make me tired, but I’ve been a little surprised at how tired. It isn’t a debilitating tiredness, I want to stress, so exhaustion might be hyperbole, but it is one that’s taking me some time to adjust.

I’m glad to be on my unit although I’m frustrated by the amount of time it’s taking to receive my clearance to work one-on-one with residents. As a result, my time on the fourth floor is spent entirely in the public areas like the nurse’s station and the dining room. I’ve made the best of this by using the time both to study resident charts from cover to cover, focusing on psychological profiles, care conference notes, incident reports and social history surveys, as well as their spiritual assessment surveys, and by having prep conversations with the staff. Given the amount of time it’s taken to go through resident charts, I’ve only made it through roughly a third of them, but I think I have a pretty good feel for those residents’ histories.
Staff conversations have yielded some information that may be important as the move to Robbinsdale necessitates downsizing of their force and the resulting anxieties that will produce. For instance, most of the evening nursing and housekeeping staff are sub-Saharan African and have come to the US only in the last decade and will be concerned about future work since most of them brought their entire extended family with them. I am proud of having been asked by the Thursday night staff to share the pizza one of them brought in to celebrate his birthday. (Custom requires that at some point I also need to bring in something to share with them.)
I think I was most affected by the memorial service done on my floor on Friday morning for a former resident who died in early September. Contrary to my expectations, I counted 26 participants at his service, only 9 of which were floor residents. Aside from a few staff who’d worked with him on the floor, the rest were either staff from other organizations or friends from outside the system. His youngest daughter and son from different relationships were there as well and I witnessed an especially moving reunion between a woman he had once dated and who had stayed in touch with him through the years, and the daughter to whom she had been a tutor but who had not seen her for nearly a decade. We make a lot of noise about the need for people after they’re in the social services system to retain outside links and relationships, but too often that’s just not what happens. It’s too easy for them to get subsumed into the anonymity of the system and lose all contact with anyone outside it. But for this resident that didn’t happen. His outside relationships stayed strong and his friends from prior to his illness not only hadn’t lost touch with him, he made new ones as he moved through the system. Those friendships, both with caregivers and peers, had strengthened during his illness.
This was in marked contrast with the experience of my most recently deceased aunt who spent nearly a decade in nursing care and because of her dementia slowly lost contact not only with friends but even with the people, including her son and my parents, who saw her daily. Her death was noted only by her immediate family and current caregivers. While I was growing up her life had been vibrant, loud, and marked by the constant comings and goings of people through her house. Her death was a repudiation of what her life had been and it made me sad. Friday’s memorial service touched me and I recognized my hope that when I reach the same point in my life my own death will be more like his than like hers.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

did jesus die for klingons too?

this fascinates me and I've started a conversation about it in the past which I will doubtless talk about again.

Monday, October 3, 2011

I don't have to be wounded to not be xian

an interesting observation from today's clinical pastoral seminar. at 1 point after having, on the advice of my wife--who is pretty keen about these sorts of thing--come out to my seminarmates about not being a xian, 1 of them, in response to 1 of my proposed learning goals about being better able to be with xians in prayer and christlanguage, made a comment suggesting she understood my having been wounded by xianity.
and I don't think she meant it this way but I think the unspoken assumption that lay behind her comment was unless I'd been wounded I would see the truth of xianity. I haven't, as it happens, been wounded by xianity, certainly not as much as some people have and not the way some xians who have decided to remain with it have been. while I should applaud the recognition she had that some people can be harmed by what she sees as the ultimate good thing, what it also suggests is an inability to recognize that someone can be faced with the best aspects of xian practice and thought and still, definitely, refuse to accept them. my take on xianity is that, like mark twain's definition of golf as a good walk spoiled, xianity takes a good teacher, jesus, and adds more bricolage to his shoulders than any human should have to bear. whoever or however many people jesus may have been he or she or they could only be human since other than plant and animal and mineral life that's all we've ever seen and I'm not about to ascribe causation to the invisible ghost someone else sees in the room. I don't have to be wounded by the invisible ghost to decide I don't believe in it.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

clinical pastoral reflection 1st week

this has been an exhausting week of seminars and meetings and trainings as I begin my newest work of CPE, or clinical pastoral experience, at a rehabilitation center and nursing home in the center of the hub. it's been a greuling schedule of meeting staff at the site, discovering the peccadillos of the different populations, choosing the floor and the population we are going to work with, learning the legal and ethical limits we must adhere to, and for our small group of 7 students, all but 2 of whom are affiliated with seminaries but all of whom besides me are mainstream xians, it's been a week of trying to learn about each other and each other falls into the scheme of things. to that end we are tasked with writing a short reflection each week and I've posted my 1st below. I want to note that, while the reflection isn't due until tomorrow, since it's the 1st writing I've done all week, I'm posting it in its rough draft form as that's where I'm leaving it tonight.


I think what I like best about Sundays is the opportunity to take a family walk with my wife and our dogs. Today’s was good although it wasn’t for as long a distance as I prefer. Even so, it’s Sunday night, the first after the first week of CPE, and what I’m most often thinking about tonight is how much the woman next to whom I sat in service this afternoon looks like my sister. Or how much she looks like my sister looked twenty years ago, which is probably closer to this woman’s age. The woman is, I think, a resident on the floor devoted to Huntington’s patients, although I could be wrong about that, and after she fell asleep during the service I happened to look over at her and her relaxed face nestled against the pillows she was propped on so struck me as my sister’s face—even down to her double chins and slightly concentrated frown—it was all I could do not to reach over and startle her awake to get that image out of my head.

But I suspect it’s that sort of connection I should welcome, seeing the people I serve as if they were family members or at least as if they were familiar. All the years I worked in group homes or as a companion I never felt that way. I felt close to them, that’s not the issue, but as if they and I were family, and it’s in that distinction that I’m coming to terms with what I’m most often dealing with: the sense I had then of being overused and underappreciated by administration, the lowest on the pole and so given the worst, most labor intensive duties because more senior staff didn’t want to do them, much of which I was untrained to do, often left to flounder under the resentful stare of a client who knew I didn’t want to be there and didn’t want to do whatever I was doing and he certainly didn’t want me to do. I have had to remind myself constantly this week as I toured the floors and met people and listened to them that I was not there to dress or bathe or feed them but there to listen and talk with them.

It was because of a fear of this that I took so long to get my ducks in a row regarding setting up CPE and almost missed the cutoff date. For several weeks in July and August I knew I had to get my paperwork in order, but I always found something else to do. My wife, who’s also undergoing CPE, insisted I bring the fear up with my counselor, himself a minister, who pointed out the incredible differences between the shitwork I had had to do years before and the pastoral work I was entering. His arguments won out but I remain a little wary of the sense I often give into of doing things because they need to be done whether it’s my job to do them or not. One of my biggest concerns at the start of anything new is how anxious I get on thinking about the site when I’m at home and doing something I enjoy (like walking the dogs). I’ve noticed I don’t feel any anxiety about this at all.

Beyond this it has been a good week. I feel competent about learning chaplaincy and I’m excited to start work with the population on the fourth floor. I hope that the week we’ve spent in meetings means we won’t spend nearly as much time there once we get into gear: I’m not much of a meetings person and one seminar day a week will be about as much as I can stand. Aside from the above, if I feel any anxiety about this process at all it’s that, as my wife points out, I may not have completely come clean about not being Christian but remaining willing to pray and speak the language the residents are most comfortable with.