Monday, September 29, 2008

In supervison

In my field, we call the person who does the kind of work that I do a "supervisor." That's kind of a confusing word because I'm really an educator -- I educate student clergy and others about how to be a chaplain or how to go about the task of providing spiritual care to hospital patients and others dealing with crisis, grief and loss.

And sometimes you really find me in front of a classroom, looking a lot like a teacher or a professor. But you'll also find me meeting with my students individually behind a closed door for 45 minutes or an hour and discussing with them in depth the struggles -- often deeply personal or spiritual -- they face in their work with hospital patients. The skill sets I use at those times look very much like that of the psychotherapist. Listening intently -- and helping the person I am listening to examine and understand their own thoughts, actions and feelings -- is most of what I do there.

Popular culture has tended to favor professions like police work or medicine for its television characters, but the pschotherapist is finding a place in a new hit HBO series called In Treatment.

It turns out this show is based -- quite closely from what I understand -- on a much-praised Israeli television show called בטיפול/Betipul. Minna and I have started watching it and are really loving it. It's a particularly appropriate show for me to watch now because I'm at a stage in my studies where I'm working to figure out how exactly the insights from the world of psychotherapy and psychology fit into how I think about the work that I do. And, I'm especially focused on figuring out how to integrate elements of Jewish and Hebrew culture and language into my thoughts. So, it's great to have this opportunity to see how the ideas and concepts of psychotherapy -- and the things that come up in psychotherapy sessions -- are expressed in Hebrew.


The gift of being able to be here in Israel while I engage in this thought and study is just one of the many gifts that have come to me this past year. It is only about 11 months ago that I first met Minna. In March, I crossed a major hurdle in my pursuit of full certification as a CPE (clinical pastoral education) supervisor. I've been able to do some great learning in my career and have had some great students; I was really enriched by my encounters with those students. . . . Something really Holy happened there sometimes. . . It's just such an incredible thing to be there with people when they are really struggling to find their way to serve God and to grow into the most of what it is that God has granted them the possibility to become.

I was able to do some exciting bicycle rides this year, including three really interesting ones in and around Jerusalem so far (especially this one). The best ride of the year, was touring in Rhode Island with Minna, but it was also great to do a century. I also had a ton of fun this year building and experimenting with an Xtracycle.

There was some traveling to chaplaincy conferences that really led to some great thought, fellowship and growth. The best was having a chance to be a part of a meeting of the new ACPE Jewish supervisors group in Dallas, but I was also really to go to the Racial Ethnic Multicultural networks's conference in Memphis on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's assasination.

May it be the will of the Blessed Holy One that you will have the sweetest of years ahead. A year of health and joy.

Shannah Tova.

[x-posted to smamitayim]

On the edge

I wrote the below last week and posted it on another blog, but, with the holiday approaching this evening, I think it's still worth repeating here.

The last time I lived in Jerusalem, I took a walk one hot day from the Old City back toward the south where I lived. I stopped in a little park on the top edge of a steep ridge not far south of the Old City, and sat down to look at the beautiful view of the valley and heights to the east. I took my computer out of my backpack to write. But, suddenly, I realized somebody was behind me. I looked up to see a young Arab boy with a donkey laden with goods. He spoke to me. I didn't understand his words, but after a bit I came to understand he wanted the soda I was drinking. I handed him the bottle. He drank what was left in it, threw it on the ground and then, with his donkey, disappeared over the steep lip into the valley and the village below.

That brief, almost surreal, encounter has stuck with me and often comes to mind. It's a reminder that Jerusalem is a place of edges -- a place where many different things meet. It is not just the most intimate and complex of borders between Palestinian and Jew. It is also, very much, a place where First World and Third World meet.

The heights around the Old City, and the stunning views from them, are a powerful visual reminder that this is indeed an edge space. Yesterday, I rode my bicycle up to one of those heights -- up to Mt. Scopus, the site of Hebrew University where Minna was having her last day of Ulpan . After spending some time with Minna, I rode the bike to the east side of Mt. Scopus and took in the views -- of desert, of Arab towns and even of the Jordan and the Dead Sea -- that one can see in the deep valley and the mountains beyond. Here's some of what I saw:

In the last picture, you see a monument that dedicates the area there on the east side of Mt. Scopus as a National Forest in the name of a Canadian donor. There are many such monuments and forests around Israel in beautiful spots like Mt. Scopus.

But, as you can see from the trash in the foreground of the below picture, you often find garbage and disarray in the same spots.

I understand this as another manifestation of how Israel is very much a place of edges and boundaries -- ones that are also very much still in flux. What might be a National Forest, today, may be a housing development or a place for a highway tomorrow. A Jewish settlement might become an Arab town, tomorrow and vice versa.

After leaving the area around Hebrew University, I headed south to where this hospital just north of the Mt. of Olives.

It turns out to be run by Lutherans, which is a reminder of home (where my boss and two of my co-workers are Lutheran Clergy).

After leaving the hospital, I descended from the heights of Mt. Scopus and the Mt. of Olives down to the deep valley that runs on the west side of the Old City. I was a bit confused when I got down to the bottom and took a wrong turn into the heart of an Arab town (Bab Ez' Zahara). I was conscious that tensions are fairly high right now. Ramadan is still going on (it ends this coming Monday, the same evening that the first of the Jewish High Holidays -- Rosh HaShannah -- begins). And just the other day there was an attack where a Palestinian driver rammed his car into a crowd of Israeli soldiers at the northwest corner of the Old City. I wasn't feeling frightened but I decided to turn around, nonetheless.

I then managed to get my bearings and ascended a steep and congested road to the very northeast corner of the Old City. The marketplace that iscentered around the Damascus gate spills out all along the road there. I had to get off the bike and walk through the crowds. Finally, I got past the crowds and took a little rest around the New Gate, where I entered the Old City briefly and headed for the Jaffa Gate. The picture at the top of this blog post was taken not far from the Jaffa Gate. That's the Tower of David on the right above the woman's head. A bit of my trusty bicycle is visible on the left.


There was a 'border dispute' of another sort not far from our apartment last night as well. Someone -- presumably a right-wing Israeli extremist -- set off a pipe bomb outside the house of a left-wing Israeli historian. The historian Zeev Sternhell was, thankfully, only lightly wounded. So called Jew-on-Jew attacks are relatively uncommon here (and usually not fatal), but they are far from unknown. (Here is a New York Times story giving some of the background.)


Another edge we are on here is the one between seasons. I did not see it (even though I was only a few blocks away!), but Minna saw rain, today (even if only the lightest of drops). It is a sure sign that the long (rainless) summer is over.

It is no accident that the High Holidays come at this time of the turn of the seasons. Rain -- or the lack of it -- was a life-or-death issue for the ancient farmers of this little land that, unlike great Egyptian empire to the West and the great Babylonian empire to the east, has no great rivers to irrigate the crops even when the rains fail. So, it is not surprising that the themes of life-and-death that characterize Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur found a place in those ancients' minds and hearts at this time of year.

Just being in Jerusalem -- just being in this place characterized by edges -- brings those themes to life for me. Life seems so much more precious to me here. More intense. It's the thing I love most about being here.

May it be the will of the Blessed Holy One that the journeys to the 'edges' that you make in this New Year be ones that bring you to the side of life. And to growth and joy.


Here, by the way, is the approximate route of my ride:

Bigger map

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seven years

Seven years ago, today, I was newly returned to the United States from my rabbinical school Israel year. Watching the destruction of these towers -- towers where I worked for some 10 years of my life -- on a dorm lounge television screen in Los Angeles was a surreal and unspeakably painful experience for me. I felt so disconnected. I didn't understand why I was in Los Angeles. Why wasn't I there? In New York, my beloved city?

That feeling of disconnectedness stands in sharp contrast to the feelings of connectedness I have now . . . . now that I have finally been able to return to Israel after such a long time -- much longer than I would have imagined when I left here seven years ago.

One of the things I believed in the moments before that first tower fell was that the towers were indestructible. I knew, of course, that what was inside could be consumed by fire but -- in the wake of the buildings having survived that first bombing in 1993 -- I thought the steel frame could withstand anything short of a nuclear blast.

Jerusalem also gives a feeling of being indestructible. Especially, when you look out from a distance at some of the neighborhoods built on hilltops (like then ones you can look up to from around the mall). The state of Israel, as a whole, feels even more solid to me than it did seven years ago. It does not have the feeling of being a bold experiment, but of something solid and thriving.

But the World Trade Center reminds me of how tenuous even the most solid-feeling thing can be. . . . and of how important it is to be grateful for what we have while we have it.

May it be the will of the Blessed Holy One that all that is strong for you stays strong and that you should know safety and peace.

[X-posted to smamitayim]

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

More Jerusalem riding

Here's a map of my latest excursion (in the green):

View Larger Map

You can read more about it here.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Growing to be connected? (can there be a reconciliation?)

Living in a more communitarian place (see this about one of my shopping experiences in Jerusalem), has reinforced for me how important community is for me and how I understand both education and pastoral/spiritual care. Community is the primary vehicle for making both education and for pastoral/spiritual care happen, in my view.

But, I've also been spending some time with the developmental theory of Robert Kegan. I'm finding his theory very compelling, but it's been a bit troubling to me that I'm finding myself attracted to a theory that seems to value the opposite of community -- Kegan's theory holds that a more developed person will be "self-authorizing" and more "self-differentiated" (as opposed to respecting the authority of the communities one belongs to).

Kegan recognizes this problem and tries to address it in the 6th chapter of his book In over our heads. He writes (221-2):

"Increasing differentiation" may indeed be part of the story of everyone's development, but "increasing differentiation" can itself be the story of staying connected in the new way, of continuing to hold onto one's precious connections and loyalties while refashioning one's relationship to them so that one makes them up rather than gets made up by them. "Increasing autonomy" does not have to be a story of increasing aloneness. "Deciding for myself" does not have to equal "deciding by myself."
I'm not sure if I buy Kegan's effort to reconcile his theory with the feminist and non-Western critiques of his theory as being too individually focused (and, thus, irredeemably Western and male). But if I can find some value in his effort, I might be able to extend this "reconcilliation" method to help me incorporate other interesting theory into my own approach. For example, the family systems approach of Edwin Friedman gives us some great ways of thinking about a clergy person can manage some of the more challenging dynamics that come up in congregational life. But, I also find myself feeling almost a sense of revulsion to his theory -- it seems to suggest that a clery person must separate his or herself so much from his or her congregants that he or she doesn't really care what those congregants feel or say.

I haven't looked at Friedman for a long time, but he's on my reading list. . . As are more community-focused thinkers like bell hooks (here's an interesting video of her). My hope is that I will be able to come up with my own theory that will be able to reconcile elements of both these kinds of thinkers -- and be able to articulate a value of both community and of the growth of the individual.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Jerusalem riding

Here's the route (in the blue) of an exhausting -- but fun! -- bicycle ride I took in Jerusalem, yesterday.

View Larger Map

You can read more about it here.