Friday, July 5, 2013

The Dreaded Pastoral Phone Call and some advice from Bukowski

I recently reopened a few of the poetry books of Charles Bukowski I have about the place (I used to have more but I think many have wandered away in the hands of friends). In them I am finding, once again, a really relevant and purposefully dangerous voice. This one truly struck home with me when it comes to the concept of the late night “emergency” pastoral calls those of us preparing for ministry are told dread stories about.

the telephone

will bring you people
with its ring,
people who do not know what to do with
their time
and they will ache to
infect you with
from a distance
(although they would prefer
to actually be in the same room
to better project their nullity upon

the telephone is needed for
emergency purposes only.

these people are not
emergencies they are

I have never welcomed the ring of a

"hello," I will answer

"this is Dwight."

already you can feel their imbecile
yearning to invade.
they are the people-fleas that
crawl the

"yes, what is it?"

"well, I'm in town tonight and
I thought..."

"listen, Dwight, I'm tied up, I

"well, maybe another

"maybe not..."

each person is only given so many
and each wasted evening is
a gross violation against the
natural course of
your only life;
besides, it leaves an aftertaste
which often lasts two or three days
depending upon the visitor.

the telephone is only for
emergency purposes.

it has taken me
but I have finally found out
how to say

don't be concerned for them,
they will simply dial another

it could be

"hello," you will

and they will say
"this is Dwight."

and then

the kind

Now to be clear from the start I am all for being available at all hours for true emergency phone calls. One of the most intense emergency phone calls I have ever taken was at three o’clock in the morning from a couple in the throws of intense mourning on the two year anniversary of the death of an individual who I thought at first had been a young child but, twenty minutes into the conversation, turned out to be a pet dog. By some criteria an hour-long pastoral conversation over the loss of a pet in the early morning might seem frivolous but the crisis and mourning was exceptionally real and clear. I would not have forgone that phone call, especially for something so readily found as a good night’s sleep, because it was readily and apparently real.

There is another type of phone call and another type of conversation that is not quite the same thing. It is a type of trap, I will call it “the kind understanding soul trap”. The components of the trap are relatively simple. A chaplain wants to “be the kind understanding soul” and places internal value on whether or not they enter into pastoral conversations, especially with people they find draining. Broken and needy individuals seek out the chaplain seeking “the kind understanding soul”. The chaplain feels that saying “no” would be unkind and takes the phone call and has the conversation.

All of this is allowed because of a theory that taking the phone call, having the pastoral conversation, being “the kind understanding soul” is an absolute moral good. This does not account for the fact that a chaplain and those being served can become enmeshed. I, as the chaplain, can bring myself to ignore all of the internal signs telling me that something is wrong with a pastoral relationship on the altar of “I have to take this phone call or I am a bad chaplain”. While those under my pastoral care can actually be enabled in their brokenness and neediness by my constant openness not to their actual needs as individuals but to my need to define myself as “the kind understanding soul”.

Which does not mean I plan to stop taking phone calls, nor that I do not strive to be kind and understanding. What it means is that I step back and discern. What is my gut telling me about these phone calls and conversations? In my attempts to be kind and understanding am I actually being enabling and ignorant? Am I here to make myself feel good about being a chaplain or is this part of the abundant life with God Jesus is calling me towards? At the end of the day it goes back to the fact that the Love of God is about compassion but it is also about challenge. As chaplains, as people of God, we have to be about both.

No comments:

Post a Comment