Monday, June 30, 2008

The death of the milk crate

I thought the New York Times' story on a new style of gallon milk jugs really missed the headline: It's not that people will have to learn to pour their milk a bit differently; it's that the change will lead to the disappearance of the milk crate -- that nearly indestructible construction of plastic that generations of college students and others have used (often after a creative acquisition) to create low-cost furniture and other useful things (note the pic on the right for one interesting example).

Of course, I'm sure we will still be able to buy milk crate-like storage crates at Office Depot and alike, but I will still be sad a bit for the loss of the real thing.


Here's the Times's graphic explaining the change:

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Starting to get real? (Midpoints and CPE)

I surprised myself this morning when I found myself banging my fist down on the table during a meeting with my summer chaplain students. "No," I said. "I want to hear what it was like to sit here in this room with this person and listen to this" traumatic experience the person had shared with us!

It's actually a pretty standard part of how I work as a chaplaincy supervisor/educator to bang my fist on the table, although I don't think I've done so much of it with this current group yet. My normal demeanor with students -- especially this group -- is one of a quiet gentleness (imagine a cuddly bear). But I have this other side of my personality that I (carefully) share when I feel a need to make sure a point is heard. This time, I wanted this students to get real. I wanted them to stop avoiding what I thought was the heart of the matter. I wanted them to confront their own experience-- their own (sometimes difficult and painful) feelings.

I would explain later in the session that this is a big part of what we do in clinical pastoral education -- we try and get real by confronting our own experience and feelings. . . . .Because we believe that meaning arises not from thoughts or intellectualizing, but from starting in our guts with the feelings -- the ones we can feel in our very bodies -- that arise with the concrete details of our experiences. . . . . Because the real task of pastoral care is about forming relationship with patients and families. . . . . . And if we don't show a willingness to inquire into their experiences -- and face our own experiences -- we have no hope of forming those relationships.

Another way of characterizing my table banging is as what Pamela Cooper White would call a use of the self. That is, there was some genuine feeling -- in this case some anger and frustration -- behind my words and actions. But it wasn't an uncontrolled release. Rather, it was a very intentional use of what was going on for me genuinely in the moment.

I've noticed that I'm starting to do more of this getting real -- or use of self -- in recent days with my students. About a week ago, I first noticed myself doing it in a group session (I'm writing a longer blog post about my 'roaring like a lion' there that I hope to -- finally! -- finish and post soon). And I've been doing it in my individual sessions with them also, being willing to share things like "I feel pushed away by you just now". I feel that the sessions are now starting to go to a deeper level.

I'm not sure why that is happening. It might be my greater use of self. Or it might just be that we're now in the fifth week of a 11-week program. Maybe the students are just now ready to start getting real.


As I said above, I have a blog post (well, really more than a few!) that I have started writing that I have not posted, yet. With the intensity of leading this program, It's been really hard so far to find time for blogging and other reflection. For a person who is committed to a learning model that emphasizes action and reflection, this is obviously not a good thing. But I'm trying to be compassionate with myself about it. This is my first time leading a summer CPE unit solo and things have really been going well with the students. . . . Maybe my reflection (and the learning that comes from it) will just have to wait until it's over! :)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Comedian as hero

I was saddened this morning to hear of George Carlin's death. I didn't always love his work -- there was just a bit too much bitterness in much of his stand-up comedy for my taste -- but I always felt deep respect for him as an artist. These words from the The New York Times' obituary express some of what's behind my feeling:

Although some criticized parts of his later work as too contentious, Mr. Carlin defended the material, insisting that his comedy had always been driven by an intolerance for the shortcomings of humanity and society. “Scratch any cynic,” he said, “and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.”
And that's really what he was -- an idealist. Comedy, for Carlin, was not just a way to make people laugh, it was a way to try and change the world. A way to expose injustice and the absurdity behind the bureaucratic systems that allow injustice to thrive.

George, we'll really miss ya.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Keeping the frame, keeping your cool

I learned a lot in my first full week with my summer chaplain students (this past week). I had some anxiety going into the week as I had not really scripted out minute-by-minute exactly what I was going to be doing on each of the five full mornings of educational program that we had together. I knew that it is very important to give students some sense of a stable and predictable frame, especially in the early weeks of a program, and I was afraid that if I didn't have such a scripted program prepared for them there would not be enough of a frame.

But, in the end, I decided two things as we were entering the week:
  • 1) More important than having a scripted frame for these students, was having a supervisor who was not wracked by anxiety (and who could therefore be able to be present for them and be able to listen -- and respond -- to their concerns).
  • 2) That a frame could be set just by having predictable start and end times for the educational program.
So, what I did was throw away my the expectation I was putting on myself that there should be a scripted program. Instead, I had a list of important things I wanted to get to during the week. Each day, I decided which ones I would try and get to during our time based on what we had been able to do the day before. I think it worked pretty well and maintained for the students both a predictable frame and a supervisor who was able to be present to them.

It surprised me that I was able to do it this way. I had often witnessed my supervisor taking this kind of (relatively) unscripted approach, but I thought I would be different from him in this regard when I took on this kind of task on my own. It turns out I was more like him than I thought I would be. But, I was, as I wrote in my last post, different in one important respect -- I used the group, rather than individual setting, much more for the initial work of asking students what they wanted to do and how they hoped to do it.

The next two days are the holiday of Shavuot, and I will be unable to be with my students. This will -- in congruence with my theory of supervision -- give a good opportunity for much needed צי מצום/tzimzum from me for them.

I look forward to hearing from them about their experiences when I get back.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Exhausted . . . and having a ball!

We are approaching the end of our second week of our summer chaplain intern program (the first I am leading) and I am finding myself feeling quite exhausted. At the same time, I am very excited. This week, especially, has been fun for me. I decided to make this a week of special focus on the educational side of Clinical Pastoral Education, so we're are spending all of our mornings engaged in the business of an introduction to the ways we do learning in CPE. This is shaping up to look a bit different than I've ever seen CPE done before. For example, we're doing things in group (we have five students) that I've always seen done individually between student and supervisor in the past -- like, today, when we talked through the student's goals in the group.

I won't be meeting individually with my students in a formal way until next week. The first session is an important one because it sets the framework for the relationship. I believe it is important for that framework to be one characterized by mutuality. I plan on following a pretty standard agenda for that first session to try and make that happen:
  • 1) Explain to the student what I think individual supervision is about.
  • 2) Tell the student that, for that to work, we having to have a mutual understanding (or covenant).
    • By the way, I think this business of 'covenant' is particularly important to me in supervision. It relates back to how important I think the issue of 'consent' is in doing pastoral care with patients. We believe in not trying to care for anyone without their consent. This is partly for ethical reasons, but it is also about maintaining quality in pastoral care -- if the patient has not truly consented to be care for, then he or she will not truly share of themselves. And, if they don't do that, then the chaplain has not chance of coming to truly understand their experience, and thus be able to care for them. . . It is the same with the student, if you don't truly have their consent, then they will not share with you. They will hide their 'pastoral care dilemmas' from you, and thus you will not have an opportunity to help them grow and learn. . . . This really becomes an issue because their are many students who do CPE under a requirement from the denomination from which they are seeking ordination. . . Can a consent from such a student really ever be a true one?
  • 3) And so, I need to ask them two questions
    • How open and honest about your experience are you willing to be with me?
    • How open and honest do you want to to be in my feedback to you (especially, about how I experience you)?
  • 4) Tell the student they have a right to "I don't want to talk about that now."
    • I think this relates back to the core issue of consent.
  • 5) Conclude by focusing the conversation on the student's learning by telling them it's important to understand their goals. Ask them what you want to accomplish while you're here?
    • This final question has the potential to transform an _involuntary_ situation (that is, of the student who doesn't want to be doing CPE, but is required to do so) into one that can feel voluntary to the student. That is, once you've both acknowledged that the student is going to be there even if he or she does not want to be, you can say, "ok, now since you're going to be here, anyway, what would you like to do with this time?"
I feel confident that I have a good chance of forming meaningful relationships of genuine mutuality with all of these students. The key issue at this early point in a program is trust. I think that these first two weeks have created an environment where trust is possible. We've done that by taking a team approach to orienting our students and getting them started in their clinical work. This is very different than the way I experienced my first unit of CPE. Then, the only people we had meaningful contact with during our orientation were our supervisors. But, our students this summer have had regular and meaningful contact from the git-go with our staff chaplains and our chaplain residents. I think that's hugely important and is the reason I assess our orientation -- led by our chaplain residents (thank you, chaplain residents!) -- as having been highly successful.