The Taser's Edge

The Problem of Pastoral Perspective
September 6, 2008, 12:16 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Each week of the CPE program, I have to do a reflection.  Couldn't hurt to post them here, right?  Maybe I can even find a picture to match the theme each week:




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This past week, the charge nurse on 4100 directed me toward a room which had not requested pastoral care, but which he thought could use some.  I spent 45 minutes with the patient and his wife, learned some about their lives, and left thinking that while the patient’s wife was very talkative, the couple was overall very nice.  Since then, however, I have had several conversations with staff about this room, and have heard of much more tension.  They tell me that the patient’s wife is incredibly demanding, and that while she does not raise her voice at the staff, she has at least once asked that her husband’s nursing staff be changed.

            Over the summer, I had an experience which was similar.  At C.A. Dillon Youth Development Center in Butner, I worked with teenagers, some of whom had committed terrible crimes.  And I found that when I would discuss a particular student with the staff members who were serving students in their units all the time, the staff and I had entirely different perspectives.

            The difference in perspective has to do with my privileged relationship to whomever I am serving in my role as “pastor.”  At C.A. Dillon, students had plenty of problems with authority (problems that landed them there), may have had no formal religious background in their home lives, but they were very willing to open up and talk to me as “Chaplain Jordan.”  At Duke Hospital, most of the patients I have seen thus far have had vaguely Christian backgrounds, but they lack formal connections to churches back home.  Despite the fact that neither the patients at Duke, nor the students at Butner had someone to call “pastor” at home, they welcomed the opportunity to call and relate to me as pastor.

            In the last paragraph I referred to my relationship with students as “privileged” and this is because it is a privilege to be asked to be pastor to people who, in their more private lives, do not want anyone to be their pastor.  Along with being a privilege, this is a tremendous responsibility.  It is also confusing.

            In my ministry at Duke Hospital, I find myself trying to weigh various perspectives each day.  I will speak to an RN who will tell me that a patient is struggling with a particular family issue, enter the room, feel that I have had a very real, intimate conversation with him, but then leave realizing that he mentioned nothing of what he has spoken to the nurses about.

            It is as if the patients want me to be in their rooms because of my position, but also want to present a particular version of themselves in order to satisfy the role that they assume I want them to fill.  Patients present themselves in one way, staff represent them in another light, I have my own initial impressions, and then I try to smash all these perspectives together and realize that they do not at all fit.  I suppose that this is when experience and discernment begin to play a role in pastoral care.  I am moving forward into this discernment with the assumption that it will be more art than science.  That, to me, is a very good thing.

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