Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Personal Faith Reflections: CPE and Immediacy

Better late than never, one hopes...

There have been a lot of tremendous challenges for me in CPE, and I'm only six weeks into my year-long residency. I've been challenged by facing death in a multitude of forms, as well as by facing my personal anxieties about going out and meeting new people in unknown situations again and again.

One challenge that I've just got done facing is that of immediacy with my peer group. One of the ways that CPE seems to work is that it demands that you process things in a small group of your peers. We are constantly challenged and admonished to be emotionally available to the group. I have found this to be very difficult.

Today we had mid-unit evaluations, meaning part of what I had to do was write a paragraph about each of my colleagues, peers and supervisors, in which I described my relationship with each of them - what was affirming and also what was challenging about them. Each of my peers had to do the same, and each had a paragraph for me.

It was difficult to speak and difficult to hear at times. It is difficult to be present when someone is challenging you on something that hits close to home, that is tender, that is provocative...especially when you just met the person a few weeks ago.

What we're trying to practice is immediacy - among other things it means being in the room you're in and talking about what is going on in that room. This practice breaks down the social niceties that can insulate us from things we need to hear and ways we need to be challenged to grow. Its uncomfortable, and I couldn't possibly do it all the time, but I get that.

What occurs to me is to wonder - if I'm not present in the room, then who is? Do I wish there was a more perfect, even flawless version of me in the room, and failing that, I try to check out emotionally? Do I think that the person in the room has nothing of value to say or to contribute, so I just say nothing, hoping no one notices?

Yes and yes, I'm afraid to say.

But how can I possibly do ministry in a genuine way, with integrity, if I don't even show up? I know that I can do ministry proficiently - that isn't the issue. The issue isn't whether I can develop the skills to function without letting myself be vulnerable. I have those skills nailed, I assure you. But at what cost?

I think of Jesus (seminary wasn't that long ago). Is there any way that God could have possibly demonstrated God's commitment to love us, to be vulnerable with us in the ways we are vulnerable, than to suffer and die at our hands?

How can I possibly be living in Christ's image, yet seeking to be invulnerable? Step one, it seems, is showing up fully. Much as I find CPE uncomfortable and at times contrived, I'm getting that message loud and clear. I can say I trust God, throw out some Greek words and books I've read, but do I really? Do I live in that way?

I don't mean to pry - but do you?


Heather W. Reichgott said...

Doug, you're great. Thanks for your honesty.

I have exactly the opposite problem in ministry. I'm "in the moment" to a fault. Completely focused at the time and place, even if my experience of the moment is "hey, this is boring" or "argh, I don't like what that person said!" But I have a very hard time reflecting on an event later. Those reflection papers in CPE were always a huge challenge... just getting my head back to where it had been a few days previously. And my friends know how lousy I am at keeping in touch with people who aren't in the same room...

I think all of us in the body of Christ need each other. I'm envious of your ability to reflect on experiences at length long afterward. That ability to mull things over, even when something else is happening, is very important for ministry.

Also, I agree with you in that we all have ways of trying to compensate for our vulnerabilities, and often the attempts at compensation are more problematic than the vulnerabilities themselves. What a challenge it is to show up and admit our frailties... "here I am, this is all I've got."
(insert something about the widow's mite here)

Doug Hagler said...

Thanks Heather. (insert complimentary one-upmanship here :)

One thing I'm learning (that'll probably go up in a next post) is that it's a lot easier for me to be present with someone else than to pay attention to myself. For someone who thinks of himself as introspective, I am woefully un-self-aware. Things bothers me and I can't even really articulate why. Things make me nervous but its like a thing that happens to me rather than something that is part of me somehow - which it obviously is. But damned if I can figure it out, seemingly.

Sarahlynn said...

To answer your question: not very well.

Very interesting challenge, and a good post; thank you.

But to ask you a question of my own: what's CPE?

Doug Hagler said...

Sorry for the delay sarahlynn:

CPE stands for Clinical Pastoral Education. It is an educational program whereby I learn about how to be a hospital chaplain and the hospital is provided with an inexpensive chaplain for a year :)

There is a clinical component - my work with patients at the hospital in my role - as well as an educational component, which is the usual lectures/reading sort of stuff mixed in with some group processing and other specific-to-CPE things.

My experience so far is that educational side of CPE is its own thing. It is definitely driven by its own particular culture and practices which I'm still getting used to. They say "trust the process", and I try to explain that I trust people, not processes.

We'll see how it goes :)