The New Christians

The New Christians

What Is Practical Theology? Part Seven

OK, this is the final part of what was meant to be a brief tangent. But Jimmy brings up an important caveat in his comment
below. My not-so-hypothetical situation of a troubled teen in the
school counselor’s office was sanitized of the real-life complications
of power. Being a trained
social worker, and a special ed. teacher, Jimmy knows the power
dynamics at work in a situation like this. It should come as no
surprise that the pediatrician will come out on top in this hierarchy;
not only does she have the most schooling, but physicians — and the
scientific reasoning they employ — are highly regarded in our society.
In contrast, social workers, psychologists, and youth pastors are often
seen as dealing in data that is “soft,” over against the “hard”
scientific data of a physician.


However, the postmodern, hermeneutic turn has done a great service,
for it has leveled the playing field. Even the “hardest” scientific
data is rife with agendas and money from pharmaceutical companies. In
other words, no one is capable of delivering a straight, objective
account of what’s going on with this boy.

There’s been lots of good work done by postmodern theoreticians about power dynamics. The most famous theorist of power is Michel Foucault; I think that Pierre Bourdieu
also deserves serious consideration. Both attempt to deal honestly with
power dynamics at play whenever human beings are attempting to
negotiate a situation, and both are downright pessimistic about the
possibilities of getting through power to the other side. Of course,
they’re both lacking the Christian hope that God might have a hand in
this negotiation…

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Alan K

posted March 26, 2009 at 1:54 pm

When going through ordination, I was required to do Clinical Pastoral Education. I found myself placed in the cardiac unit of an urban hospital in a downtown Canadian city. Like Jimmy, I was part of a team where doctors were certainly at the top of the hierarchy (this was a hospital, after all!) followed by nurses, administrators, social workers, psychologists, and (at the bottom) chaplains. I found myself wanting to know more about the heart so I could feel a little more, shall we say, powerful. I told my supervisor this and he gently but firmly reminded me that I was the chaplain, not the doctor.
But then he also reminded me that the chaplain was the only member of the team who could understand the patient in the totality of who they were as a person. Granted, the patient who was needing a bypass operation was going to appreciate the wisdom of the doctor much more than the hand holding of the chaplain. Nevertheless, my supervisor, bless him, reminded me that patients needed prayer and presence every bit as much as stents and cumadin.
I remained on the bottom of the hierarchy for my entire stay at the hospital (chaplains will forever be there), but I discovered that practical theology in no way is required to play the hard data vs. soft data game for it to do its work.
I will tell you one anecdote. A woman a few hours away from heart surgery was freaking out in her bed that the devil was trying to get her. The doctors and nurses did not want to do anything chemically to improve the situation since she was soon due in the OR. The psychologist wasn’t sure what to do with the devil so they called in the chaplain. I came in the room and saw crosses on her bracelets on both arms as well as a big cross around her neck as well as a crucifix over the bed (it was a Catholic hospital). I simply reminded her what she had learned as a little girl regarding the power of the cross, that Jesus was indeed the Victor. She was calm in twenty seconds and a smile broke across her face. I walked out of the room, reminded of Paul’s dictum: “…and not with eloquent wisdom so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.”

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posted March 26, 2009 at 6:02 pm

I like tghe story that was told ,it always makes me feel better when i hear stories like this ,especially now when I am down in the dumps. I feel my own faith wavering at this time and it feels as if GOD does not hear me at the times of my prayers. I need more strength at this time in my life , I am down and I need to get up . I have to finish this story later.

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