Sunday, January 26, 2020

Ron's pastoral care 3) Five distortions

Ron quoted James Stewart: 'Human sin is a clenched fist in the face of God' - an affront to love.  Since personal worth is in loving and being loved, sin devalues the person, His 5 signs of sin's devaluation and distortion:

  • Deprivation.  The love-less child is likely to be beset by feelings of worthlessness all his/her life (Matt 18:1-6)
  • Moral judgementalism. Religious in-groups have their categories for acceptance and rejection - a constant point of conflict between Pharisees and Jesus (Matt 9:10-12; John 8:1-11). Pastoral care is not a reward to being 'good' or conforming.  He asked us the question:  How far do we match with the pattern of Jesus - 'I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners.' Is there moral bias in our pastoral care.
  • Self-interest.  Priest and Levite, the unforgiving servant, the rich man with a beggar at his gate etc....all have their modern counterparts. 'I can't afford the't take the risks...I mind my own business....will it be to my advantage to bother about this person? How useful is he/she to me?
  • Rivalry.  We cannot eliminate competition but when children have to compete for love, (as in some families), or for recognition (as in some schools), the perpetual losers are devalued.
  • Self-destruction. Judas Iscariot is a symbol of the self-destructive power released through sin.  But much self-destruction is less dramatic, a slow erosion of self-worth, a creeping fear of inadequacy, failure and rejection.  And what about prolonged sickness, handicap, redundancy, old age?
After these five signs he asked us to be honest about in what circumstances we been or felt devalued.  What challenges lie here?

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Ron's pastoral care 2) The value of one

I recall the stillness in the room as Ron began Session 1.  Partly, because of his gentle voice but mostly because line after line required such heart-searching from us all.

I think Session 2: The value of one best sums up the core of Ron's presence and ministry.  He used that phrase as no one else has in my experience.  This session involved class discussion at the beginning, asking us to respond to two questions:  In our society, what are the criteria for valuing an individual?  What gives us personal value?  

Then he taught about the scale of oneWith only three years in which to complete his world-wide task on earth what plan of campaign would we expect from Jesus. Cover as much ground, meet as many people as possible? Success depends on numbers? The shock is that he works on the scale of one. Gospel writers give so much of their limited space to his encounter with individuals eg. see all the different people in John 1-4: Andrew, Peter, Philip, Nathanael (ch.1); Nicodemus (night hours) ch 2; woman of Samaria (day hours) ch.3; paralysed man ch.4.

He quoted John Watson (The Mind of the Master): Jesus lay in wait for the individual. this was not because he undervalued a thousand, it was because he could not work on the thousand scale; it was not because he overvalued the individual, it was because his method was arranged for the scale of one.

And John Mott (The Present World Situation): Some missionary methods are more highly productive than others. The most important and productive method of all is that of relating people one by one through reasonable and vital faith to Jesus Christ. This individual work for individuals was the method most constantly employed by Christ himself and has ever been given a large place in the activities of the most highly multiplying work, the most enduring work. 

Ron acknowledged just how difficult such Christian caring is in practice. We are influenced by public opinion and social pressures, have our own fears and prejudices, and there are inbuilt tensions in many situations. For example in church, tension between the needs of the whole congregation and needs of one person. And in business, between need for profitability (for survival) and the welfare of individual employees (possibly unprofitable).

Monday, January 20, 2020

Ron's pastoral care 1) Listening to a great

Last October I posted about dear Ron Messenger' funeral. As I am disposing of old papers (a long tedious process) I have just come across yellowing copies of a course he led for our Cambridge church over eight Wednesday evenings in 1992. Titled: Introduction to Pastoral Care  it was open to everyone and 45 people enrolled.  I marvel at that!  Such was his love among us that a large group signed up.  Commitment involved everyone not only promising to attend the whole course but also to write 1500 words on one of three areas: loss, conflict or loneliness.  This was the real deal.

I can hear Ron's voice as I turn the pages. Isn't that a tribute to him?  Did we realize at the time the privilege of listening to a saintly practitioner distill his life's learnings.  A practitioner who had devoted his life to giving pastoral care, who really modelled his teaching. Yes, he talked the talk but walked the walk in a very demanding, costly area of life - humans meeting other's needs.

In recognition of this special time I need to share a little from these notes before they disappear alongside many other old files. Sadly my notes are not complete.  I only have full notes of Session 1. Beginning where we are, Session 2 The value of one. and Session 4. Pooling our resources. Hopefully you find it worthwhile dipping into these three.  Sometimes I am able to quote directly (in italics). At other times I may edit.  There are many more Bible references than I include.

Session 1: Beginning where we are (Lk. 10:25-37) Jesus refutes a religion that is just an academic, theological or devotional exercise. His focus is on human need. Love has no meaning apart from persons. Pastoral care is not something one person does to another, but rather experiences with another, entering into another's world; interaction at a point in need.'  We must begin where we are with honesty.  There is no room for pretence or idealism.  Our motives 'are not to be perpetually introspective but it is helpful sometimes to stop and ask: e.g. Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this course?  What is it about pastoral care that attracts me?  Our understanding of our motives may change but we need to submit them to the Spirit of truth and love'.

And a key section: Strengths, weaknesses and needs.   Call to Christian service is not because we're strong, clever, wise, experienced. They may be assets but they are fragile (1 Cor. 1:26-2:9) The Strong One etc. is often a fantasy fostered by ourselves or by those who need us to be unfailingly like that.  Pastoral care is not the ever-strong serving the weak, nor the wise telling others what to do. As human beings we are a mixture of strength and weaknesses. To acknowledge that, and not to reject or distorts either strengths or weaknesses is an essential step in realizing our potential and understanding our vulnerability and finding common ground with the person we are helping.
And needs? Don't confuse them with weakness. The root human needs - to love and be loved and to be useful are present in all of us, fulfilled or not. Every carer needs to be cared for.
Beware the big self-deception: 'I don't need anyone' 

The session concluded with Boundaries and BalanceIn caring for others some hard truths quickly emerge like: No one can solve all the problems, carry all the burdens, meet all the needs...that's clear in the calling of the twelve.  Every carer must observe boundaries of time, responsibility, energy, involvement and the balance between general care and particular care, input and output, work and rest.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Where's your beard?

Last night I attended the 55th reunion of those who began as students at Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1964.  Sadly, only eighteen of us were present and being the oldest in the joint reunions (years 1964-67) we were placed on High Table.  Those who have experienced reunions will know the mixed feelings about meeting up years later - who will we remember (and even more - who will remember us?)  Will we recognize anyone?  At all?

After evensong the reception before dinner thrust us together in a packed room where I recognized no one, but I was quickly into fascinating conversations with men who came to college later than me.  Wearing occupations and life experiences lightly, conversations  immediately sparked all over the place.  Going into dinner I had no idea who I would be placed next to.  Three hours is a long time if you only have small talk:

On one side the (young) college chaplain had been sited with prior notice of my ministry. He proved to be a sheer delight with conversation ranging widely. On my other side was someone I had not seen for 52 years.  He greeted me explosively: 'Where's your beard? You had a magnificent full beard...I don't recognize you! You were always such a happy chap!' Asking about my painting he said that he claimed to still have a picture of mine!  You can imagine how this all led into lengthy enthusiastic conversation in which I caught up with much of his news.  When he asked me what I did on leaving college I used some short-hand: 'I went into the church' I said.  He looked aghast. 'What!  I can't believe that of of all people! You!'  True, when I threw myself into college I had no thought of Christian ministry but it was as though my beard and extrovert pretensions would rule it out completely.  I also wondered how woeful my witness must have been.

The whole evening proved immensely enjoyable with a rolling back of the years that did my heart and memory good.  The next reunion is scheduled for 5 years' time - I wonder how many 80 year-olds will make it?

Monday, January 6, 2020

Who's a good boy?

A friend whose hobbies include collecting medals kindly gave me one some time ago.  Thinking about this last decade and how I have behaved I was reminded of this small medal. It was given at school to reward a boy's good conduct.  Apparently it was initially used from 1843 to 1869, though some schools used it later on.

One side shows a school boy (complete with cap) walking along a country path. Above him it reads: The Good Boy.  He holds a book in one hand - a sign of his schooling.  In the near background (on the left) a beehive is alive with buzzing.  On the right hand side in far distance are houses clustered under a tall church steeple. The coin's other side says simply: A reward for good conduct.  

My friend gently asked me what I thought the beehive and church steeple stood for.  I had no trouble with the steeple and piety.  He then told me that the beehive was a common image for industry.  These two criteria - piety and industry were key to being a good boy in 1843.

How appropriate are these two to being good in 2020?  I guess that industry - a strong work ethic - is still up there as a respected quality.  But for most people the idea that piety - a reverence for God with love, duty and humility - is equally important as industry is deemed utter nonsense.  Today, how you think of God, if you ever do, is considered the private matter for (the few) religiously minded people.

This little coin made me think. I recognize that my work ethic has been part of seeking to live for God and his ways.  I admit that in 2019 it's been patchy and falls far short of a good boy reward but this twin track still matters as I look ahead, doesn't it?

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

A very happy New Year

As we enter a new decade (though, because there is no year zero, 2010 is actually finishing off a decade!) I wish you a fulfilling good New Year.  I was struck by some reflections by the theologian Karl Barth on Ps. 31:15 My time is secure in your hands (German trans.)

There is a point where....the question of God's hands becomes quite literally serious - that is where all the deeds, works, and words of God have their beginning, middle and end...these are the hands of our Saviour Jesus Christ. These are the hands which he held out stretched when he called; 'Come unto me, all you that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.' They are the hands with which he blessed the children. They are the hands with which he touched the sick and healed them. They are the hands with which he broke the bread and shared it out to the five thousand in the desert place and then again to his disciples before his death. Finally, and above all, they are his hands nailed to the cross, so that we might be reconciled to God. These my brothers and sisters, these are the hands of God:the strong hands of a father, the good soft gentle hands of a mother, the faithful helping hands of a friend, the gracious hands of God , in which our time is secure, in which we ourselves are secure.
That's a great promise for the New Year, isn't it?