Thursday, November 29, 2012

When a low profile means a legacy

Tonight we marked 20 years of Clinical Pastoral Education at Reading Hospital -- a program founded by the man who trained me to be a CPE supervisor, the Rev. Gregory Stoddard. People who know  Greg well think of him as a quiet, but highly influential and respected leader, someone who has done much to shape CPE as we know it through his leadership at the national level and through the many students he has trained, some of whom, like me, are now full supervisors in the ACPE. Many others work as chaplains and bring the wisdom they have learned from Greg into their work every day. Quite a few of them came to the commemoration.

Some might think Greg is quiet because that is just somehow his nature. But, as was clear from his words tonight, it is actually something quite intentional. So often religions and educational institutions are founded and maintained on the charisma and the force of personality of one person. While there may be strengths to this approach, if a program is about one person it won't survive, Greg believes. And so Greg has always worked hard -- including at this commemoration -- to make sure it was not all about him. It's part of his commitment to help make sure that the things that he cares about can last, and that other people can find ways to function on their own without needing to be directed at all times by an over-involved leader.

It's a Torah I take with me wherever I go and that I seek to share with my own students. I think we are all enriched by it.

Monday, November 05, 2012

From Sandy to Obama -- looking for hope, being reminded of the past

When I was a beginning chaplaincy student, there was a horrible accident at a nearby farmer's market where many were injured and killed. We student chaplains went down to the ER lobby to just try and be there for people and be available to talk. I was surprised to hear people tell me tales not of this accident they had just experienced, but of past traumas -- sometimes from decades before.

I've since learned that this is a very common response -- current traumas spark memories of past traumas. And sometimes it is those past traumas that people really need to talk about. It's a way people use to recall how they were able to make meaning from loss in the past -- and how they were able to cope and heal from losses like the one that just happened.

For me, personally, all the current images of destruction in New York City have reminded me of September 11, 2001, and of how deep that loss was for me. One way that process of recalling benefits me is that it helps me to realize that my emotional response to this disaster -- the very deep loss I feel even though I, and my loved ones, have hardly been impacted directly -- is a normal one for me, and says something about who I am at my core. The physical spaces of New York City  -- especially lower Manhattan and the beaches of Coney Island, etc. -- are sources of deep meaning for me, and are places where many of the most formative experiences of my life happened. Like other sources of deep meaning, these spaces help ground me -- they help me know what I care about most, what I think beauty is and what I think right and wrong are. When these sources of meaning are disrupted, I am disrupted. It helps me, at this time of disorientation in the wake of disaster, to be able to recall how those places oriented me -- to be able to recall how they came to be meaningful to me and to be reminded about who I really am.

Tomorrow is Election Day. As we search for hope in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, perhaps we can also find hope in our action at the ballot box. I know I feel trepidation about what will come tomorrow, but mostly I am hopeful -- hopeful for four more years of a president who I think is best prepared to lead us towards becoming the nation of mutual caring we need to be, whether in response to mass disasters or just the everyday, normal struggles of the people of America and the world at large.