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  • The Waiting Game

    A week from today it will be over - I will wake up having been 'redesigned' the day before and ready to begin the next stage of recovery.

    It's kind of strange to imagine part of me being missing (albeit being reconstructed), to imagine scars where now there is smooth, blemish free skin.  There is a certain sadness about that, as well as a kind of relief that the outward, public appearance will be pretty much unaltered.  Odd really.  The thought of the surgeon "drawing on me" is especially weird, and means of course the last time I see the 'whole' (or 'original') me, I will be covered in black ink.

    I am glad to say that as the day draws nearer the anxiety levels are diminishing rather than increasing.  I am sure this is the effect of the hundreds and hundreds of prayers that are being said on my behalf; I wonder if God is getting fed up with hearing my name so many times?!  I still don't relish the thought of anaesthesia but the foreboding has evaporated (even despite a few unhelpful comments!).

    My house is nearly tidied, the laundry is almost up to date, the perishable foods will soon be eaten up.  A few tasks remain and then all will be ready for my return.

    This waiting is all rather weird - feeling pretty healthy, if rather tired from the last few months, and knowing that I have to feel worse before I feel better again.  I still can't imagine the weakness and stiffness I've been promised; maybe that's a good thing.

    I will be glad when it is a week from now and it's behind me; not that I am wishing this week gone, anything but, just that the waiting game is a weird 'place' to be right now.  In the meantime it's back to the odd jobs...

    Five days to admission, six to surgery, a week to the redesigned future...

  • Incomprehensible!

    I do not understand the nature of wifi... it misbehaves for around twenty four hours then it reverts to good behaviour just after I've purchased a month's worth of mobile broadband... ah well, it may come in useful in the next couple of weeks.

    I do not understand the nature of this blog platform... it stops letting me comment until I post as much then it lets me comment again.

    I do not understand spell checks which seem to miss blatant mis-spellings and wrongly identift correct, if unusual, spellings

    The perverse nature of inanimate objects, as my mother would say.

  • Noun Qualifiers

    The web is clearly conspiring against me this week - between a wobbly wifi connection, a laptop that sulks if I use a LAN connection (though it's on one just now!) and a blog platform that has decided not to let me comment on its blogs for some unknown reason, it is proving 'interesting' trying to do anything online.

    Helen's comments on yesterday's post were quite thought provoking, and served to remind me of the importance, sometimes, of what MS word calls 'noun qualifiers' - they were adjectives when I was at school but there you go.  I did, I checked, refer to "appropriate vulnerability", albeit not quite as directly as that.  This phrase was used when we were being trained in pastoral care, recognising that there is a role being fulfilled and lines need to be drawn somewhere in a 'helping relationship.'

    So, phrases that came to mind as I pondered this were...

    • Appropriate vulnerability
    • Intentional outsider/Intentional Isolation
    • Profession detachment
    • Creative tension

    I suspect each of these needs unpacking, and could I think, be useful avenues of exploration if I do ever get around to researching "Public Christianity and Private Pain."

    What exactly is 'appropriate" vulnerability?  Who determines what is appropriate?  How far is too far?  How far is helpful?  Indeed, what is helpful and when?

    It is John Rackley who I heard coin the phrases "intentional outsider" and "intentional isolation" to refer to the role of the minister within a church.  Whilst the minister is part of the local church they are never completely 'of' it.  Not because they don't love the people but because their calling, as pastor-prophet or pastor-teacher necessitates some degree of separation.  It isn't a kind of wilful "I'm not one of you" but a chosen, or at least accepted, separation, not in hierarchical sense but of 'intention', the 'why I am here.'  But again, what does that mean and what does it look like?

    Professional detachment is something that all people in so-called caring professions have to manage - not getting involved with clients/patients in a way that undermines objectivity.  There are times when ministers certainly need a bit of this, but I'm not entirely convinced it works the same in churches as, say, in counselling.  The minister is not a professional pastoral-care-giver; intentionally outside or not, they are (or should be) in a deeper relationship with church members.  I've conducted funerals for well-loved church members and at such times there is a need to be, temporarily, a bit detached in order to cope (though as I type that I recall Jesus at Lazarus' tomb).

    So, creative tension.  The phrase some people love and others hate!  How do I hold together in some creative sense these three phrases and what they mean?  How do I find a level of vulnerability that is appropriate for one who is to some extent an intentional outsider needing on occasion to exercise professional detachment?  I am sure there is a balance that can be struck that is helpful and healthy, but what that will look like will be different for each minister nad each congregation.  This, what might be termed 'personality' effect on the balance, is why it is so tricky: one size cannot fit all.

    I have a suspicion that it is probably slightly more accepted for women ministers to do the vulnerability - the flip side of the (often mistaken) view that we are intuitivley more pastoral/caring.  Likewise I suspect the detachment is more accepted in men who are (equally erroneously) assumed to be more objective.

    Anyway, appropriate, intentional, professional, creative - these seem like good 'noun qualifiers' to describe the task of a public Christian ministering through private pain.

  • Future Research?

    I will be glad when I am finally able to submit my MPhil, though this is now looking like it won't be until after my surgery.  Some people have asked will I ever go back and finish the work, to which the answer has been 'don't know' (and it's probably wise not to prejudice the pass/fail by saying either way at this stage!). 

    However, my current experiences are leading me to want to explore more thoroughly what I am loosely terming "Public Christianity and Private Pain."  I have been struck by the challenges of being a minister (a public Christian) dealing with serious health issues (private pain), and how my desire for openness and authenticity has had to be tempered by pastoral responsibility and pastoral sensitivity.  Responses to what I have posted on this blog - both via comments and through emails and conversations - suggest that people value the honesty, yet all too often it would be easier simply to collude with the myth of the serene Christian whose peace permanently transcends comprehension.  I think some empirical work, seeing how others have experienced their own public-private tensions could be fascinating and potentially liberating.  I have a hunch that if our ministers could model a more honest, and appropriate, brokenness and vulnerability the people in the pews would find release from the pressure to 'perform' as if nothing was wrong.

    By naming this publicly I am somehow committing to give it some energy in the future - and declaring my faith that there is future in which to explore it.

  • Soap Sensitivity

    Every now and then I watch the odd episode of River City the Glasgow-based soap broadcast only in Scotland.  At the moment they have an ovarian cancer storyline and yesterday this was one of the central themes as the character began to come to terms with her chemotherapy and its inevitable effects on her hair.  I felt it was very sensitively handled and the moments when she was pulling out odd strands of hair had a real resonance.  There was a scene where she challenged the patronising speech of her local MP (MSP? not sure which) and I found myself thinking 'you tell 'em girl!'  (An aside, I think there was a fact error, though I'd have to listen again to confirm this, where they said 1 in 3 women get breast cancer when it is actually 1 in 9).  The most poignant part was the closing scene where the character was having her head shaved by her husband; although it was obvious (to me anyway) that this was fake, the sound of the clippers and the panning around the photos in her home was incredibly moving - and why when I reached that point I chose to have it done at a hairdressers.  Scarlett is a feisty character and I feel a good 'ambassador' for real women facing cancer treatment.

    Ovarian cancer is the 'silent killer,' and has claimed the lives of two women I counted friends, so it is good that it is being made part of a central storyline.  I hope, though, that the script writers are willing to allow the story to unfold in real time - the chemo part ought to last around four months, the hair loss part at least eight and then see her emerge with very short hair.  Too often we are impatient with story lines seeking quick resolution.  Obviously this is one storyline among many and it will recede into the background - but I will be hacked off if in a couple of months time we see the character with her hair long again.

    You can check out the episode here, at least for seven days from this post... English readers may want to campaign for Shieldinch to shown in your neck of the woods (subtitles available if your language skills aren't up to it!!)