Thursday, January 28, 2010

Goodbye Holden -- and Franny and Zooey

 Even though I rarely think of J.D. Salinger, just the other day I mentioned him -- and his most famous character, Holden Caufield -- in a paper I wrote for a class I'm taking on adolescent development. As an alienated teenager, myself, I took a literature class where we read Salinger's Nine Stories. I had a passionate teacher who helped Salinger's work come alive for me. I wasn't really sure what these stories were about exactly, but, whatever it was, struck me as something very important, something very genuine -- and something worth striving to understand.


Now -- at the ripe old age of 91, many years from the teenager's world of Holden where everything adults did or cared about seemed "phony" -- Salinger is dead.


I am grateful to have had his work as part of my life. It made me feel less alone, especially as a teen, to know others were feeling alienated -- and were searching for something "more."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

When you know it's true, but it's hard to describe - research and chaplaincy

This morning I was reading about ethnography -- especially about the idea of participant-observer techniques -- for one of my classes. This is a area whose researchers believe passionately that there is much more to understanding (the incredible -- and beautiful! -- complexity of) humans and their behaviors than numbers. This is an idea that's not very much in fashion these days. Especially in the wake of the Bush administration and his insistence on "metrics" (which eventually led to the No Child Left Behind act's requirement that educational research involve so-called experimental methods as the "gold standard"), people don't seem to think very much of research that does not have percentages in it. People want research to be "objective."

But my work as a chaplain and chaplaincy educator has taught me that, if you really want to understand something about how the person you're caring for is understanding what is happening to them, you have to be willing to "get in their shoes" for a bit. And you can't really do that without taking a part of yourself there with you. And, yes, you will lose any claim to objectivity (as if there really is such a thing!) when you do that, but it's the only way to really get closer to another person. That's why relational theorists of personality talk about intersubjectivity as an alternative to the subjectivity-objectivity dichotomy. It's really just a more honest way of understanding what happens when we try to get closer to other people -- we inevitably are affected by the other person and vice versa (and so we need to pay attention to that mutual process if we really want to come to a meaningful understanding of the other person, especially an understanding of how they experience their world and make meaning out of it).

Yeah, I know. What I've said above is really complex (and maybe very confusing and not convincing to you). That's the problem I felt in my heart when I was reading, today. On the one hand, I felt this tremendous excitement to have found this community of researchers who speak a truth (the truth about qualitative research methods) that I find so compelling. On the other hand, I felt this sadness (about how hard it has become to convince other people of this truth).

I was also reminded of what one of my old journalism colleagues (Mark Magnier, where are you now?) taught me -- if you want to really get the story, you need to get to as close as possible to where it's happening. So, too, if you really want to get the story about what is happening for an individual (or a group of people) you need to get as close to them as possible. That means (detached) observation will never be good enough. You have to actually interact with others, maybe even live and eat with them. That's ethnography!

Peace, love, nyc, children and (cargo) bikes

Greenwich Village was a children's paradise when I hit Sixth Avenue a little before 9 this morning. Parents and grandmoms were seen walking their excited, happy little ones to school in the bright sunshine. But some of the kids weren't walking This (unhelmeted!) mom has her two little ones on a cargo bike (would you call it a tricycle when it has two _front_ wheels?). I love the flowers and the birds in the _cargo_ basket! (Almost a _hippy_, peace and love touch).

Of course, I really _do_ think bicycles are about peace and love -- it's such a kinder way to treat the earth to be able to live a lifestyle where getting around doesn't always mean burning more hydrocarbons. And it's kinder to your body, too!

I have to admit that I haven't been on a bicycle, myself, in about a month now, although most days I walk to work or school (or synagogue). I need to work harder to motivate myself to get on the "two wheels!"

I also saw one woman this morning on a little two-wheeled, folding scooter with her child standing in front of her (sorry I didn't get a better pic of her, but, if you look real hard, you can see her kid's legs on the front of the scooter in the pic on the right). And, yesterday, I saw a couple carrying their kids (and their gear for work after they dropped the kids off) on two bikes -- one of which was an Xtracyle!

It's really so incredible how bicycles have become a more normal part of New York with all the bicycle lanes and paths and such they've built! ישר כח ("more power to you!") bicyclists of New York!
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Monday, January 25, 2010

Jewish Pastoral Care -- moving beyond the days of the Pioneers

Recently, a fellow rabbi who is aspiring to become a chaplaincy educator contacted me with an urgent question -- how can I prove to the authorities in our field that I am endorsed? I felt a range of emotions at this question -- anger, guilt, anxiety -- how is it that yet another person, just as I had to only a couple of years ago, is again facing this strange question alone, as if it was the very first time anyone had dealt with it? Why was this person being forced to, in effect, reinvent the wheel?

But there was an even more important question here: why was a Jewish person being asked to do something (prove endorsement) that has no equivalent in the Jewish tradition (and that has its roots in the Christian world)? And that question raises another one -- one that seemed to be at the center of so much that was discussed at the recent National Association of Jewish Chaplains (NAJC) conference in Boston earlier this month (where I presented a workshop): How can we make pastoral care Jewish?

You see, the question is no longer whether pastoral care is Jewish or not (although Mychal Springer of the Jewish Theological Seminary, a certified chaplaincy educator/supervisor who is continuing to blaze new trails in the field, shared that she continually has to work to convince some of her rabbinical students of that). This still-infant field has been around long enough that there is no longer any question that the Jewish people need to have their own professionally trained spiritual caregivers, just as the Christian people have long had theirs. But sorting out what exactly we can legitimately borrow from our Christian colleagues and what we need to create out of our own traditions -- and providing established, accepted structures for training and supporting our spiritual caregivers -- that work is only just beginning.

Take the example of endorsement. This is a concept born out of Christian, especially mainline Protestant, traditions about their clergy. You see, most of their clergy cannot take any position without getting permission -- getting endorsement -- from a bishop or other ecclesiastic authority. This fact is rooted in their theology and belief practices, where God's authority is mediated through some kind of structure and/or priesthood (the most salient example being the Pope's position as a kind of chief priest of the Catholic church). But we have no such structure or priesthood (at least not since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE!). So, as a proud Jew -- proud to be part of a faith tradition where any Jew, for example, could officiate Jewishly at a wedding -- it offends me to be asked to do a Christian thing like prove endorsement (and that's where the anger I mentioned above comes in).

But here's what makes it, and many of these other is-it-Jewish issues, more complicated: the chaplaincy education authorities have mixed the religious part of endorsement in with something that is not religious -- the need for me and other folks to prove that we are held ethically accountable (about things like, God forbid, sexual harassment) by some body. This requirement is perfectly legitimate, and I have no reason to feel angry about being asked to fulfill it.

So, why did I also feel guilty when I heard from my colleague? Because I could have been a part of preventing him from having to go through this. I could have been part of an effort, for example, to put together a pamphlet for Jewish folks called, for example, "Things You Need To Know If You Want To Become a Chaplaincy Educator/Supervisor," and that could have had clear answers for my colleague about endorsement.

Although, of course, I shouldn't really feel guilty about this -- it's not my job to fix all things for all Jewish people interested in chaplaincy, pastoral care and Clinical Pastoral Education. I can't hold all the responsibility for that. But, we -- we meaning all of us who are the Jewish leaders in this field -- bear a communal responsibility to do the work to build foundations for those who are following behind us. The days of the pioneers -- the days of our Avot and Imahot -- have to come to an end in our field and the days of the nation builders have to begin. That is why the NAJC conference -- and the work wrestling with important questions that was done there -- is so important. I was so pleased to see important pioneers/nation_builders like Rabbi Springer taking leadership roles there and was cheered to see my fellow chaplaincy supervisor -- and doctoral classmate -- Rabbi Naomi Kalish elevated to president-elect during the conference.

Rabbis Springer and Kalish -- as well as myself -- are all supervisors certified by the Association of the Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE), the leading US group for certifying and training chaplaincy education supervisors. While I have at times been critical of aspects of the ACPE (note my words about its endorsement requirements, above), I am extremely proud to be associated with this organization and consider it to be an amazing force in the worlds of pastoral care in general and of Jewish pastoral care in particular.

But the NAJC conference raised my awareness that much work in Jewish pastoral education is being done in other ways. I was excited, for example, to hear about work Rabbi Fred Klein, the Director of Community Chaplaincy at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation and the Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami, is doing to train lay people to visit patients. Rabbi Klein says he is borrowing techniques from Clinical Pastoral Education in that effort. There are also pioneering efforts to bring Clinical Pastoral Education and other forms of pastoral training to Israel (there will be another chaplaincy conference in Israel -- only the 6th (I was at the 5th last, year, where I gave a workshop) -- this coming May 4-5; more info in the December NAJC newsletter). Another example of alternative means of educating people about Jewish pastoral care is the kind of conference Hiddur put on back in November on the spiritual journey of Jews after midlife. [I was sad, however, to hear Hiddur is scaling back its activities -- another "ripple" from the national financial crisis that has hit the Jewish service world so hard, I assume. I heard that Hebrew Union College's Kalsman institute has also scaled back dramatically as well.]

It's an exciting time!

Monday, January 18, 2010

We have our dreams -- Midrash, Jewish chaplaincy and MLK

I have Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, now president of Boston Hebrew College, to thank for showing me that Martin Luther King day can be more than just a day the banks are closed: we can treat it in the ways the Jews treat all their holidays, as an opportunity for study -- for study of Torah. Implicit in this kind of Torah study is an assumption that Torah goes far beyond the canonical texts of Judaism like the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud. It can extend to anything that connects us with wisdom and Ultimate Meaning -- that feeds our dreams as Jews of a pursuit of a more perfected, more just, world. Even to the works of an African-American preacher from Atlanta, Georgia.

King's work -- especially his famous I have a dream speech -- is certainly once such source of Torah. But, as you can see if you really study it as Torah, King gives us an example in that speech of a particular kind of dreaming much akin to our practice of Midrash. That is, King does not just put forth dreams in some way disconnected from his tradition. Rather, he spins his dreams using the images and language from that tradition -- subtly paraphrasing and quoting from the Bible and his other foundational sources to make his points, his dreams, clear.

Last week, I gave a workshop -- entitled Working the midrashic muscle -- using images to uncover the Holy in the mundane -- at the annual conference of the National Association of Jewish Chaplains. In that workshop, which I'll write more about here soon, I made the case that in order to create our own new Midrash from our own spiritual experiences, we need to bring those experiences into dialogue with our tradition -- with God, Torah and Israel.

That's really what King did, from his own tradition(s) in the I have a dream speech. Five years, ago, I created the handout you see a small version of on the right (a full pdf version you can use yourself is freely available here) for a study session I led as part of the MLK Day activities Rabbi Lehmann had organized at the Gann Academy where he was then the head of school. In the center of the handout is the text of the speech itself. On the edges are the many sources that King borrowed from in the speech, including Amos, the Declaration of Independence and Shakespeare. It's fascinating to see how he used these things to construct his speech!

[If you are going to use the study handout, I recommend you enlarge it about 1.5x onto 11x17 paper.]

On this MLK Day, I hope you can find the courage to dream. And that, in doing so, you will not be alone -- that you will have the full force of the rich traditions of your people(s), and their Holy Texts, behind you -- true dreaming, true pursuit of justice, is a shared experience!