Saturday, July 01, 2006

Image .. is it so important.. ? Part 1

So let's talk about image... What is a "pastoral image"? or "pastoral identity"? One definition is

Pastoral Identity - Increased self-awareness and participation in the community process of pastoral participation in the community process of pastoral identity formation through sharing of personal stories

Pastoral identity is largely wrapped up in the issue of authority. I'm not talking about the "do as I say" authority, but rather the authority given by the education or position that one holds. We given certain person authority simply on the merit of their position.. doctors, lawyers, mothers, police, teachers.. and the list goes on. The authority of that person is partly earned, and sometimes given. Nowadays, it seems that our society has little respect for various positions due to the problems with systems. Healthcare is failing, education/class room sizes are suffering, the law has good days and bad.. the same goes for the Church.

The Church or faith traditions don't seem to hold the same respect as they did in days gone by. True, change is inevitable and necessary. The Church has failed to change with the times and in some cases has been the leader in establishing change. (Unfortunately, these innovations were taken over and "owned" by other groups.) One such "innovation" or change that I heard put forth by the Church occurred in my faith based hospital. It used to be operated by nuns. It was the nuns that decided to take in and treat the patients afflicted by AIDS. It was also our hospital that took in the SARS victims as well. Taking the "untouchables". But I'm getting into a new topic.

Let me start with my first introduction to the word "pastoral identity". My first year of my Masters degree was a year of liberation for me in many ways. I was free from scrutiny of family and others who might "report" my actions to my parents. We laugh about it now, but my friends will remind me that I used to dress unbecoming of the profession to which I aspired. I believe one of my guy friends said that when he first saw me, he wondered if "that girl knew where she was. This was the seminary... and you dressed like.." like I going to the bar, or clubbing. One of my colleagues, (we went to the seminary together and later work in the same office. She spoke at my ordination and will officiate at my wedding) said it best. "You looked like a hooker." Our CPE supervisor tried for 2 years to pound into me what pastoral identity meant, and the impact that it had on my ministry. As far as I was concerned, I was still me. Why did I have to put on a false self to minister? Why couldn't I be myself and still be a minister?
Of course we know the answer to that. You can be yourself. You have to learn to censor your full thoughts.. There are some things that cannot be said or done, especially nowadays with the whole sexual harassment laws, scandals and all. ANYthing can be miscontrued and people, even the Church, get sued.

Now that I am ordained. There is even more scrutiny of my behavior. People that I work with, attend church with, people I don't even know will feel it their duty to point out my shortcomings. The fact that I am a Baptist minister working in a Catholic organization, the fact that I am in the sometimes misunderstood profession of chaplaincy, the fact that I am a woman and not allowed to call myself a Chaplain, and the fact that I am me, I don't fit the stereotypes of "what a chaplain is supposed to be like... all of these things frustrate me immensely. Some days it is hard to forget the politics and just do my work. (breathe)

There are times when I know that my presence is valued by my patients. But I sometimes wonder if they understand it all. Am I there as chaplain..Pastorall presence to them, representing God, or am I there as friend? Lines tend to blur when you do the indepth work of pastoral care/counseling. There are funny times/moments and not so fun moments;when I have to talk to people about dying, be it their loved one or their own death, when I meet patients who are entering the world of dialysis and organ failure, when I talk to the man who feels his life when end because the medical team has to amputate toes, or limbs to save their life. The irony of some of the relationships established with patients is that I am the chaplain, I bring God to their life, but often these people are not of the same faith tradition. I had a Jewish lady that was in hospital for a long time. She would get upset if I did not come at lest every second day to see her.

I had an Aboriginal woman who was an ecclecticc mix of Anglican, Buddhist and nativespiritualityy wrapped into one. When I told her that I was to be ordained as a minister in the Baptist Church, she laughed!! Belly aching, loud laugh. Everyone in the dialysis room stared at us. I was mortified!

"YOU? A minister? OH that makes me laugh." she said. "Yes I see that" I replied. "Why is that so hard to believe?" Her response was "Honey, you don't fit the bill. You don't look like one, you don't act like one, and you certainly don't TALK like one." "I can fix that if you would like." I told her. "God, no!" She gave me this look like death. "oh no," she says. "You do that, and I won't talk to you anymore. You are real, you see. Not stuffy and pretentious like some of them ministers I meet." I looked at her.. "so this is a good thing for you? that I am not what you thought a chaplain should be.." "oh yes, oh yes honey. You better believe it". She then went on to tell me of her bad experiences with the Church. I still don't know what she really thought of my ministry. I did walk with her throughout her time with us until her death earlier this year, but I will always wonder what she really thought.

In the end, I would like to pose the question. How much of the pastoral identity has to be owned and how much has to be earned?

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