Thursday, September 3, 2009
Incarnational Pastoral Care
Good morning God,
How are we to bear one another's burdens if the person with the burden doesn't want to share - or more peculiarly, doesn't believe they have a burden to share?
How are we to build one another up in love, if the person we want to build up, doesn't seem to think they have fallen down?
My blog on Ordination is for Life has posed many questions for Christians who take seriously their call to pray for the sick and those in any form of distress, and to offer what support they can. It has hurt some who genuinely believe that they are doing their best to care for me, to respond to 'my situation' in love and with grace. There is puzzlement and pain at the extent of my anger and distress at what was offered in pastoral care for my benefit.
And in helping me to see that God, you have graciously given me the pivot I needed for my anger so that it could be realigned to combat the negative theology and belief systems that cause such problems in the first place.
I'm pretty sure that that at the root of the problem is a tendency to offer projective pastoral care instead of incarnational pastoral care.
There is a tendency for all of us to project our fears, dread, pity, and sorrow onto the person we think is in some need based on what we know of the need, and on how we think we would react if it were us. This is often compounded by presumptions we make based on our experience of how those we have known in the past dealt with a similar situation (or didn't!).
This leads to us thinking that we know what is best for the person, by which we really mean - what would be best, what we would want - if it were us. So we 'well' people - do what we can for the 'sick' people. We draw boundaries around ourselves, and the first step in caring for 'others' is making them realise that they are 'other' than us.
The reason that YOU are such good news however, is that you didn't and dont do that. You modeled a very different way of caring and building one another up. In Christ you shattered the boundaries we like to build between clean/unclean, well/sick, whole/broken, pure/impure. Christ made a point of touching and including into your kingdom those who were outcast and untouchable in the opinion of others. In Christ You taught us the true meaning of 'com-passion'. We are all called to stand with those who suffer, not apart from them.
Christ's earthly ministry showed us what equality means - for all fall short of the glory of God - we are ALL less than we should/could be - BUT - in Christ we can have LIFE.
Incarnational ministry frightens us because it pokes and prompts us out of the ancient heresy of docetism - you didn't just appear to be human, in Christ you really were human. You chose to be with us as one of us. That equality was a step too far for some..
But it makes all the difference in the world, because it means you didn't do our salvation TO us, you invite us, as Wesley said - to work out our own salvation WITH you.
You never impose your care, even though you alone have the ability to truly see what is needed in each and every situation. You simply offer your presence, your life-giving, life-affirming, truth that we are who we are with YOU.
Incarnational pastoral care is different because it does not do things for the other person, but with them. It is different because it makes no judgements based on the knowledge of how others have been, but sees each person as your unique child. It is radically different because it is an invitation to be compassionate rather than an imposition of presumed suffering. It is a statement of equality which transcends false boundaries and restores the dignity and value of common humanity.
It is not care which is imposed by the 'well' on the 'sick'..
it is the interdependence of equals who build one another - not just the other - up - in love and which makes no attempt to carry some people's burdens as though they have none of their own.
So where does all this leave me God, and those who want to care for me?
It leaves me where I was before - a whole person.
My diagnosis has not changed who I am before you. I refuse to be defined by an illness. Cancer is a part of my life because it is buried in my flesh, but it is not all that I am.
So I deny the idea that my cancer is a burden to be borne - or a trial to be endured - my life was and is a gift from you God - all of it. I also abhor the very idea that some seem to have that You have given me as a 'burden' for anyone else to carry - or that you have somehow laid my needs on the hearts of some individuals.. you least of all, see me as a burden, and the idea that you would be so particular and specific about my needs when there are thousands upon thousands of nameless, faceless children, men and women suffering in the world is so offensive I lack the words to articulate it-
BUT you have invited some amazing people to stand alongside me, to be with me, to share life with - and for that, for the knowledge that I do not stand alone, that I am not made an outcast - I give you my thanks and praise.