Here's a post I drafted over a month ago. It looks pretty much done, so I thought I'd put it up...
One of the things that I'm learning in CPE is to work when I am angry. What I mean is, I have two tendencies - want to be aggressive when I'm angry, and in response to that, I've built another tendency, which is to become passive and do nothing. Neither of these is healthy nor tenable.
A couple days ago I got a chance to practice. I was in the middle of quite a tangle - an angry surgeon, an angry charge nurse, an angry unit manager, and a very frightened and angry patient. The situation was going nowhere; it was just getting worse. Everything was cycling around this particular patient, who was, in all honesty, quite a problem in her own right for a number of reasons; I could see that as it kept circling, it was escalating. It was like a textbook case from the conflict resolution curriculum I went through years ago through the American Friends Service Committee.
Except that everyone in the room but the patient had more authority than me. My first response was to be really frightened. I stood there for probably a minute or two, starting sentences and not finishing them, not really being listened to, not knowing what to do. The tipping point came when the surgeon lost the composure he had left and turned to me and called me out. He basically said, angry and sarcastic, "this is your job - if you don't solve it, then you don't love Jesus". He said a few other things and stormed out.
Man, that really pissed me off. So I started doing things. I started intervening. Everyone wanted out of this situation, but they were all caught in it. So I gave them ways out. When the surgeon came back to pick up his loud argument with the patient again, I said, among a few other things "This isn't helping either of you. You're a surgeon - you've got more important things to do. Go do them."
To my surprise, he did. He took the way out.
The whole 'incident' lasted around an hour or so before I could disentangle myself. I came back to the office and unloaded on my colleauges. We went out to lunch, and my blood was still boiling.
Later on that day, my supervisor asked for the story. Apparently the unit manager had come to him and said how well one of the chaplains had handled a situation on the floor she was managing. To my surprise, that was me. (At the time, I had the feeling I was just putting out fires and about one step from screaming at the patient myself).
In talking about this later (believe me, we talk about everything in CPE, over and over again) I realized that I perceived a choice - being angry, or being pastoral. When this was pointed out to me, I realized how tremendously stupid it was, and I also realized how overwhelming the message had been to me from my experience of my denomination and, frankly, of the Church in general.
The image of the pastor is Jesus delicately holding a wayward lamb, or Jesus hugging the children, or Jesus giving soft platitudes by the seaside. I have seen pastors be punished for showing anger, even when it is in healthy, constructive ways. Its ok to be angry at the Iraq war (for some of us) or angry about poverty or angry about abortion - but the message I've received very strongly is that you can only be angry about that outside, general, social stuff.
God help you if you are a pastor angry at your congregation, or your Session, or the Presbytery.
And I think of our 50% burnout rate among Protestant pastors. Which is similar to air traffic controllers or military snipers, by the way. And I think this is part of why. We don't allow pastors to be human beings. Human beings get pissed off. Sometimes they get pissed off and act out of it. And sometimes, as I'm learning, it is the anger, and maybe nothing else, that makes someone move, and claim power so that it can be used to maintain peace and right relations.
I know that this is also my issue - but I'm here working on it and sweating over it and getting all this uncomfortable (and sometimes encouraging) peer and supervisor feedback about it. But as a Church, what are we doing?