Something that keeps becoming more and more apparent in the CPE experience as well as my formation process is that a big piece of my theology involves letting go of as much dualism as I can. This is more difficult than one might think. Dualism seems to be hard wired into the human brain.
Part of the problem, I think, is that so much of the Bible is couched in dual terminology. Righteous/wicked. Righteousness/sinful. Good/bad. Part of the problem for me is that medicine is also fraught with dualisms–in fact, algorithmic protocols in medicine work because of dulaism It’s how we make protocols, such as the ones for stroke and cardiac events. We count on it being an either/or choice.
The Jesus story, however, is a story that smashes, morphs and bends dualism. Divine and human? Transfiguration? Resurrection? Through the lens of the Jesus story we are invited to the world of both/and–and when we move to the world of both/and, we might actually discover we have empathy for people and situations we don’t fully understand.
One of the biggest changes in my life in the last couple of years is moving away from needing to feel certain. This is a slow, painful and difficult journey, but one with unexpected blips of grace and periods of deep joy. This becomes more and more true in my relationships with other people. I have relationships that are strained at best. In the past, I used a diagnosis model on it–“Here’s what I see, and here’s my diagnosis…of what’s wrong with YOU. You need to fix that.”
More and more these days, I see my insistence that I knew how to fix the problem was part of the strain in those relationships. Yet at the same time, that’s not to lay a guilt trip on myself but simply to acknowledge my piece in it. What letting go of the dualisms has done for me is to help me understand why the other person might be acting the way they are. I don’t have to agree with them, I don’t even have to like them–but I can at least discover where their woundedness comes from and connect to that.
The CPE experience also teaches us what tends to hook us, and hook us into returning to places in our past that are unhealthy places, and unhelpful places when providing pastoral care. It’s about turning our internal spears into pruning hooks and the swords we once needed for defense into plowshares. What I learn from the lifetime of experience in my family of origin is that all of us have a collection of meathooks in our psyches, that reach out and grab certain people and places as swiftly and surely as my little toe grabs the furniture when I get up to go to the bathroom in the dark.
I am learning–slowly–how to unhook myself without getting the barb caught under my skin, and mostly it involves embracing both/and rather than either/or. But oh, my, it is soooooo slow.