It’s amazing how so many of my new relationships with people now are totally one-sided.
Over the weekend, I went to a friend’s birthday party. I love going to parties at his place because my wife and I are usually the token Christians there. Once people discover that I’m in seminary, the questions come out. “Wait, you can get married?” “Do you have to dress funny all the time?” “When you finally get a job, are you going to actually live in a church?” The questions are great and I love being able to explain some of the nuances of the whackiness that is Christian culture since so many of them have only experience ministers through the tv show 7th Heaven. It also doesn’t hurt to have medical residents and fellows who, when they find out what I’m doing, are impressed. For example, a person training to work in the emergency room thinks that I’m the one who is entering an intense field. It’s a nice ego boost.
One other party goer, after learning that I’m in seminary, decided that they needed some pastoral care. They looked at me, exclaimed”I think you can handle this,” and began to speak. So, in the middle of a loud party, with Mamma Mia on the tv, and the drinks flowing, I sat on a couch with this person and began to listen to their story. It was neat because my wife, who was sitting next to me, got to actually watch me “do my thing.” It wasn’t my advice that was sought but rather merely my presence. I’m a stayer, so I stayed awhile (it was already past my Saturday night bed time – working on Sunday kinda kills my Saturday night) and, all in all, I think it went well.
As I was leaving the party, I debriefed myself and talked to my wife about what happened, what I could have done differently, and gave my frank opinion about the situation. She thought I did a great job at being an active listener and I made the comment that, if this had been a question posted on ask.metafilter.com, I would have been way more frank, opinionated, and maybe even a little harsh. Not that I think my advice would have been wrong but it wouldn’t have been pastoral.
And that got me thinking about how many of the skills I’m learning as a future member of the clergy club go against what would be good advice in the real world, specifically when it comes to relationships. In most relationships, there should be some give and take. You shouldn’t be friends with someone who cares little for your opinion, doesn’t listen to you, and who only focus on themselves. If I wrote a little online blurb about the overall framework for some of the pastoral care relationships that I have had, people would tell me that I need to end those relationships. They would appear non-healthy. Some might think I’m being used. Armchair psychologists would be outraged.
But so few of the relationships I’ve established in pastoral care settings have been mutual. Once I’m placed in the role as a “member of the clergy,” the rules change. It’s probably what therapists and bartenders learn to adapt to after awhile. Every once in awhile, when I think that some self-revelation might be helpful, I’m never surprised when the subject quickly changes back to themselves, ignores what I said, or their eyes start to glaze over while I’m telling my story. From a normal perspective, with people as supposed equals, that wouldn’t be kosher. In fact, that would tick me off. But, so far as a member of the budding clergy, this isn’t abnormal. In fact, this happens all the time. I am Marc and the Sounding Board and, to be honest, I don’t mind.
I’m starting to get why a bunch of the clergy I respect and study don’t reveal much at all. There really isn’t much need to. In fact, it can delay a conversation and not create the level of intimacy that, in other situations, it would. Just by labeling oneself as a budding clergy ends up creating that level of intimacy and trust, if the other person believes that. It’s one of the (freaky) superpowers that the label gives me – and I don’t even have to wear a collar for it to show up. I think, in terms of the game that is clergydom, I am not at level 2. BOOOOOPPPPPPPPP. *POWER-UP*