It Was Fear That I Saw

Photo Thanks to Matthew Wiebe

Photo Thanks to Matthew Wiebe

I’ve seen the look in too many people’s eyes. And I don’t say that as a pin of honor or badge on my lapel. It was a dreadful thing when I first started seeing fear so regularly. There’s nothing like the naked, bold, and startling fear in the eyes of a person who watched the slow-coming death of someone they love. Love makes us hold tightly. Love, often, is the enemy of surrender. And I thought about it when a woman asked me, in a way, about my own loves.

When I first started in ministry at Sweet Holy Spirit, my role was primarily administrative. Aside from some relatively small amount of pastoral care, I functioned the way an executive pastor functions, looking at costs, praying about meeting budget, managing operations, getting to know a staff, decreasing that staff, trying to compensate the staff based upon the unique and faithful expressions of ministry’s vocations. I brought an attorney on retainer, developed relationships with insurance agents, learned about wage demands from the IRS, and became a master at explaining differences between exempt and non-exempt employees.

Being an executive pastor who was in the seat when the pastor was away was more responsibility than I was ready for. It aged me. It still does in a way. And I remember seeing fear in those days. But it was a different fear. It was a fear of missing marks that were mostly set in the wide generous room of a large church. I had my own fears. But in terms of the real fears of others, I was hardly exposed to much. I was the person who kept at the overarching system so that the good folks in our church could come and hear the words spoken. But I hardly had enough time with those folks, those listeners. They would have taught me differently about different fear.

When I came to New Community, I came, in part, because it was twenty times smaller than my home church by my conservative estimate. I would be able to pastor in a classical way, and that vision is one that I’ve been able to live. I’ve been in homes, around tables, having conversations and not just at the office or even in my study at home. I’ve been able to search the lives of others at their leadership and invitation. I’ve seen more fears in the eyes of our people.

And still, my church is “relatively young” church. I find myself over the years putting up three or four fingers when I tell people how many times I’ve visited hospitals for the people of New Community. It’s relatively young, I tell them. People don’t ask the pastor to come to the hospital when a baby is born, and twenty and thirty-somethings don’t generally get hospitalized and require pastoral visitation. Where I preached twelve funerals a year (as part of a staff of ministers) at SHS, I’ve done almost as many weddings during some of my ten years at New Community.  Fear looks differently in those congregational contexts.

When I started working as a chaplain, I started seeing fear differently. In the medical center, I saw it all the time. I see it all the time. I can see it daily if I choose. Unfortunately, there is always somebody (perhaps a somebody in 900+ beds) negotiating with fear.

The good thing about being a chaplain who is also in the supervisory education process is that you’re always doing action, reflection, action. Always working in that CPE model of learning. In fact, you have to stop yourself from doing it. At home, in the congregation, in conversation with people who know nothing about this model of learning. Stop being shaped the education and be. Still, it relates to how you see yourself.

You become a process person, loosening your grip on content and becoming more interested in what’s happening, what’s taking place, what process we’re in, rather than the superficial and low-hanging surface of what’s merely explicit. Process is hardly ever explicit. And fear is the same. You have to see it even though it’s facing you.

That’s why relationships falter because it takes a therapist or a spiritual director or a guide who’s outside the dyad to say, “Hey, what’s happening here?” or “This is what I’m seeing.” or “If you keep in this direction, where are you headed?” These aren’t content statements but process ones.

You begin to see your own fears. You make friends with some of them. You give grace to them, gifting them with new understanding because the words behind and under those fears are understandable. They are real just like the fear.

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.

Ways I’m Changing

My clinical supervisor asked me a question a couple weeks ago after I opened our supervisory meeting with an agenda to discuss our relationship and our training work together. As we talked, he arrived at an illuminating-for-me question: how are you changing?

Photo Thanks to Annie Spratt

Photo Thanks to Annie Spratt

Here are some of the pieces of my answer as I consider my supervisory and clinical training:

  • I’m seeing my relationship with those I observe develop as a relationship in itself. I watch what’s happening in students’ experience, and that observation is a relationship itself.

 

  • I’m noticing how it feels to observe myself. In CPE words, I’m observing myself as an observer.

 

  • I’m developing another identity. I’m many things, one of which is a supervisor of pastors, and that identity is in particular development these days.

 

  • I’m using clinical materials differently. I’m developing the ability to read a person from her/his “application materials,” the renderings she/he offers in a moment.

 

  • I’m seeing myself. As I keep going, I’m growing to see the many parts of me and to value those parts, to evaluate those parts, and to elevate those parts of me.

I hope you are in relationship to people you trust who can ask you, in their own words, how are you changing because the question itself is a gift.

 

Something I’m Thinking About

Photo Thanks to Tim Swaan

Photo Thanks to Tim Swaan

As I see one semester end (at seminary) and one unit end (in CPE) and one year end (at the church), I’m reading over a book that will likely find its way into one of my theory papers. It’s a book Dr. Scottie May introduced me to in grad school.

Parker Palmer is such a helpful teacher and guide. Here’s a taste about education but that can be said of preaching, speaking, parenting, and any other way of learning/educating:

If you want to understand our controlling conception of knowledge, do not ask for our best epistemological theories. Instead, observe the way we teach and look for the theory of knowledge implicit in those practices. That is the epistemology our students learn–no matter what our best contemporary theories may have to say.

…If this is the case, then as a teacher I can no longer take the easy way out, insisting that I am only responsible for conveying the facts of sociology or theology or whatever the subject may be. Instead, I must take responsibility for my mediator role, for the way my mode of teaching exerts a slow but steady formulative pressure on my students’ sense of self and world. I teach more than a body of knowledge or a set of skills. I teach a mode of relationship between the knower and the known, a way of being in the world. That way, reinforced in course after course, will remain with my students long after the facts have faded from their minds.

(From To Know As We Are Known, pg. 29, 30)

Lessons from Exile

by Leeroy2Having been outside the mainstream for years, African American churches have learned valuable lessons that have given special meaning to spiritual practices and ideas. White Christians may be familiar with them in theory, but to know them from the underside, from the outside, and from the margins is an exercise in growing in new grace.

Silence is the anchor of speech

It’s easy for Christians to speak. We fill our ears, speak truths, and proclaim the gospel. We have good reason for our proclamation. But we hear less. It’s harder to be silent.

Silence is a corrective. For black and brown people, silence is a deepening, strengthening, and centering discipline. It is a discipline that was learned as black folks were taken from West African shores, unable to communicate in their native tongues, and pushed to find a way of hearing themselves, hearing their God, and, eventually, speaking about their pain.

It is learned still when life in the United States is unfair and unjust and when the rules for black and brown people are set to maintain injustice. In her book Joy Unspeakable, Barbara Holmes says that silence and contemplation bolster the interior life of a community, and ultimately sustains it.

Silence doesn’t remove the power of speech. It anchors it. The quiet is constructive because it narrows the focus on what needs to be said. It opens us to seeing what is real. It enables us to say what is wrong and, of course, what is right.

When we’re quiet, we have an opportunity to confront the pain of another. We learn to openly and realistically face our losses. We hear, reflect, and see what has set us apart from our Christian relatives.

The black church is instructed by the presence of God through other folks and notices in the silence those who are as concerned about speaking truth as we are.

I’m thankful to the folks at Leadership Journal for publishing my piece and for David Swanson’s earlier framing and partner essay. Read the full piece here.

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.

 

 

 

Why Pastors Should Take CPE (2 of 2)

There are several reasons to take CPE units. I started reflecting on some reasons in the previous post, addressing preliminary but powerful gains in the early process of CPE, in the application components, and in the readying work which comes with the structure of the program itself. Here I want to comment on a few of the guts of the program to answer why CPE as an education is vital:

Thinking takes time. It takes time to consider people and things and influences and connections. The education needs that time, requires that time of you, but it does so in a pervasive way. You don’t feel like you’re doing CPE work one minute and cutting it off the next. So the work pervades your other life areas–in a good way. You slow down, giving the education permission to alter the other parts of your life. The time you’re learning extends, and, hopefully, you are able to apply your lessons to the rest of your life.

Your sphere of ministry grows. I don’t know that ministers look for more responsibility, but my sense of things is that chaplaincy brings an entire zone of ministry that we were, before the experience, outside of. You begin to see yourself as a minister to a larger congregation, if that language helps. You see yourself and your ministry as a chaplain and, therefore, as bigger than the parochial zone of the congregation.

Praying for people changes you. You become more empathic when you pray for others. Pastors are used to this, but we aren’t used to really thinking through those prayers, thinking through those people, and CPE pushes you to consider your approach, your words, and how you pray. In CPE we think about the people and the prayers. We’re thinking about whether to pray or not to when it comes to a particular person. It reshapes what prayer is and isn’t, what it can be. You consider the God to whom you direct your words and the people in the room listening.

You’re pressed to write. You don’t write for publication in CPE, but you write weekly, at least, once a week in process notes. You write verbatims where you recount a portion of a conversation and includes non-verbals, impressions, thoughts, interior questions and impulses when you can. You’re writing but you’re doing a big kind of writing, writing where you mine an event for the sociological implications, the psychological considerations, the theological connections and so forth. You write and it touches how you start seeing. So you interact with these views, these sections, until they become how you are in the world. It’s just starting to happen to me where this shaping is taking place.

Peer groups empower you. One of my friends in the previous group said something to me that I’ll never forget. In fact, everyone in my previous group has said at least one thing I’ll never forget. How many times can a pastor say that truthfully, that someone said something you won’t forget? It doesn’t happen because we live in a world where we talk so much that we don’t hear ourselves much less take the time to truly hear another. We probably never feel truly heard, particularly because most pastors are afraid of therapy and unfamiliar with spiritual direction. Being listened to might scare us! The peer group opens you up to the possibility of holiness encountered through the care-filled presence of others. And it makes you think you’re capable of doing the same.

Recognizing your junk becomes easier. This can be frightening and very informative. You begin CPE by thinking about your origins. You’re asked about that stuff sometimes, particularly when you act out and people who’re just meeting you ask you questions about why you do what you.  This recognition enables you to see conflicts with people in a new view. It calms you because you’re more aware of you and more aware of when something is “all you” or not you at all. The beautiful thing is in your ability not only to see your stuff for what it is but also to get the tools to address your growing edges, to ask yourself “Is this working for me?” and to change however slowly you need to.

You start the practice of being gentle with yourself. This started for me with spiritual direction, but CPE echoes this lesson. In CPE we’re focusing on the clinical method and reflecting on our ministry to others. But as part of that focus, we learn how to give ourselves a break, how to care for ourselves in concrete and specific ways, even when those ways are not dramatic and when they are, simply, going home and sleeping after 4 deaths on your unit. Of course, the learning extends to other places. Because we learn how to be gentle with ourselves, we teach out of that. We live out of that. We tell other people the same and it sounds right because it comes from a place of close integrity rather than a distant pulpit.

You see death differently. Most ministers are acquainted with death. Christian ministers proclaim a Savior who is acquainted with our sorrows, whose skin is dressed in our grief, and who, sadly, dies as part of an unfolding picture of grace. In CPE, you start seeing the small and grand openings of death. You have to start saying how normal death actually is. You make some sense of it theologically and press yourself to make faith sense of the event that’s been happening forever. You see death as a respite for the woman who has been in and out of the hospital for years because she was praying for it to come. You embrace the death of the old man who sang aloud and always laughed and who saw death as a passage to the door of heaven. Death becomes broader than what we mourn. As uncertain as it is, it is different.

Life has a lift to it. You hear words differently. You realize that two cardiac events for the same person almost always means a soon-coming death. But you walk away from the hospital and you want to live in response to what you saw. You want to hug your mother tighter or you slow down to listen to your son even though you have no idea what he’s talking about. You linger with your spouse or call your friend to hear their voice mail message all the way through. You live and laugh at things you see on the street. You look like you’re foolish. You are a little.

What would you add?