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Monday, February 21, 2011

Wounded Healers and Collective Bargaining

Sharon Stillwater
While 'the unrest' continues throughout the Middle East, some of us have also been watching 'the unrest' in the Midwest of this country. Madison, Wisconsin has been named the "Tunisia" over the debate about organized unions in general and collective bargaining in particular.

This has led to important discussions about treating serious budget deficits 'symptomatically' or 'systemically'. If someone has a cough, treating the patient with an cough suppressant may temporarily take care of the problem. If the cough is due to pneumonia, an antibiotic may be indicated before the cough subsides. If the cough is due to lung cancer, a different, more complicated and rigorous treatment regime is in order.

It's really easy to take out a red pencil as one peruses the budget, looking for the obvious higher numbers and slashing them. That doesn't take a great deal of skill or ability, much less basic education in economics or finance. Any 4th grader can do that.

Programs, and the employees who staff them, are often the first to go - especially when either the program or employee is "controversial" or the program has lost its political expediency. When they're not the first to go, the red pencil seems to have an affinity for their compensation packages - especially things like health care benefits and pensions.

It's 'financial cough medicine'.

It's infinitely more difficult to see the budget as an important statement about what the agency or organization (or state or church) says it believes. If money is being spent in an area that is not part of the core values, then that ought to be circled in red for the first consideration for cutback or de-funding.

A more 'systemic approach' is more difficult but the treatment plan is more accurate, and the possibility of a 'cure' more favorable.

The question to be asked is "What is our mission and how are we supporting what we say we believe in with our time, talent and treasure?"

That approach rarely plays well in politics which relies on various 'favors' to translate into votes. However, what we're seeing in Wisconsin is the people rising up to claim their fundamental right to have a voice at the bargaining table with the corporate players who have the most to profit from the workers.

Wisconsin has also sparked other interesting conversations in ecclesiastical parts of cyberspace raising central questions about the biblical foundational ideas and values about unions in general and collective bargaining in particular.

Should the church become involved in this battle? Why or why not?

These questions, in turn, have raised equally serious questions about the fair business practices of the institutional church.

I have at least some initial thoughts about this, which begin with the fact that our seminaries and schools of theology have trained generations of clergy and lay leaders on the idea of the the "suffering servant" and the "wounded healer".

The "suffering servant" notion comes, of course, from Isaiah, whom Christians believe was speaking prophetically about Jesus.

This concept of "wounded healer" was made popular by Henri Nouwen, a Dutch-born Roman Catholic priest who has enjoyed - and continues to enjoy, even after his death - immense popularity as the author of some forty books on spirituality.

Actually, the concept of the "wounded healer" was first used by psychologist Carl Jung, who derived the term from the ancient Greek legend of Asclepius, a physician who in identification of his own wounds creates a sanctuary at Epidaurus in order to treat others.

Jung used the term to describe a phenomenon that may take place in the psychoanalytic relationship, and warned of the potential danger of this dynamic. He felt that the analyst is vulnerable to being "infected" by his patient's wounds, or having his or her wounds reopened. He cautioned that the analyst must have an ongoing relationship with the unconscious, otherwise he or she could identify with the "healer archetype", and create what he called an "inflated ego".

Using an old rabbinical story about where the Messiah might be found - the leaper who sits at the gate, binding and unbinding his wounds - Nouwen used this archetype to describe his understanding the role of the priest or trained member of the laity in the pastoral relationship.

There is a miraculous paradox in that those with broken wings which have mended can not only fly again, reaching heights they could never before have achieved, they are often the very ones who are best at teaching others to fly.

Unfortunately, the term "wounded healer" sometimes became an excuse for mediocrity or substandard behavior in clerical performance. As Jung pointed out, the analyst/physician/priest must have an ongoing relationship with his/her unconscious and use the places of wounding as vehicles of healing.

If that relationship with the unconscious is not clear, not only can it result in "savior behavior" (inflated ego), but become an excuse for behavior which falls far short of what is expected as at least 'standard' - including inappropriate behavior and serious boundary violations in relationships.

It can also set up a Catch-22 situation of calling those with "broken wings" which have not mended to teach others to fly, setting him/her up - unconscionably but undeniably - to fail.

Meanwhile, this keeps the "suffering servant" in a situation of disempowerment and, oh by the way, poor compensation packages.

So, it becomes a matter of sending ordained leaders into congregations to "dream the impossible dream, fight the unbeatable foe," tilting swords at windmills and then paying them a pauper's salary while criticizing them for not doing a good job with any tangible results.

Wendell Berry once said that the goal of all Christians is to "plant Sequoias".

We love the poetry and romanticism of that, but the Sesame Street generation that was brought up on "Minute Rice" can quickly loose their taste for the complex maturity of poetry and romance - especially when it comes down to "the bottom line" and decisions have to be made and negotiations discussed about budgets.

Of course, the "wounded healer" clergy/staff person is often ill equipped to negotiate/bargain. Which was precisely the point - consciously or subconsciously or unconsciously - of hiring said broken-winged clergy/staff person.

"Aw, but, it's the church!" has become the statement which, like wall paneling, covers a multitude of the sins of our romantic notions about everything from vocation to poverty.

Years ago, a male clergy colleague said to me, "I never got it before, but now I understand what it means to be a 'wife'. That's how the institutional church treats clergy. They make us dependent upon the system. Some of us are living in substandard housing with salaries that qualify some of us for food stamps. As bad as that is, it doesn't come near to the injustices done to my staff who are laity. And, we're supposed to be 'grateful'."

That priest left parochial ministry years ago. He's doing wonderful ministry in a community-based organization where his salary is not much better than in the parish but, ironically, he says, the principles of justice embedded in the organizational system are more deeply honored and lived out than his experience of the church.

There were some interesting comments over at Episcopal Cafe which posted an ENS story about COO's Linda Watt's recent report to Executive Council. You can find the link to that story here.

Allow me to quote the cogent piece:
Episcopal Church Center Chief Operating Officer Linda Watt . . . began by saying that a human resources consultant hired by the Episcopal Church Center (located at 815 Second Avenue in New York) in 2006 "reported his impression that we were a place of broken wings where the primary focus was placed upon caring for individual staff members and less attention was paid to the work those individual staff members were accomplishing."

She said that "this inward focus was troubling" to Jefferts Schori, who was just beginning her term, and who "also recognized that there were dangers inherent in a staff that consisted in considerable part of individuals whose working style was fundamentally isolated in silos."

"Many mission staff considered themselves to be in charge of an area – to be the expert – individually in control of events and budget and information," Watt continued. "Bishops and others in leadership positions around the church expressed annoyance and even hostility toward 815, and some staff members exhibited some patronizing attitudes. There was really very little accountability on how money was spent, or if events had to take place or if goals were met, if indeed goals were set."
While I'll not quibble with Watt's desire for greater accountability - indeed, I'll strongly support it. Her dismissive, snarky tone, however, is deeply troubling and disturbing. As one commenter noted,
"One thing you can say about corporate America is that it has some etiquette around reductions in staff: chief among the norms is that you don't blame people who lose their jobs in a reorganization. Particularly distasteful to me is that those who were let go are now publicly shamed five years after the fact. "
And, another:
Ah yes, "The church is the only army that shoots its own wounded." Sad.
Hmmm . .. .didn't Jesus say something about eyes with splinters and logs?

Granted, there are those clergy who do quite well, but that is becoming less and less the norm. In the circles of the Episcopal Church which I travel, it is often quoted that the average salary for clergy is somewhere around $84,000 per year.

Sounds shocking, doesn't it? I would argue that this number reflects the cost of the total compensation package, which includes salary, housing, health care benefits, pension and travel/business expense.

That presents a very different picture, doesn't it?

Are there clergy who make - as salary - $84,000 per year? No doubt some make that, and more. Don't get me started on the salaries expected by and ascribed to those in the episcopacy. The huge discrepancy in clergy compensation is part of a larger problem which needs much closer examination.

As this conversation about unions and collective bargaining and the role of the church continues, don't be surprised to hear more and more bits of it filter through the church in ways that may surprise you even more.

The slogan of companies like Target may be "Expect more for less" but I don't recall those words coming from the lips of Jesus. As I recall, He said stuff like "the worker being worthy of his wages."

Justice is one of the foundational cornerstones of the church. Perhaps it is time for the church to manifest that sense of justice in the bottom line of its budget, lest its own 'profit and loss statement' becomes a statement of the loss of the authenticity and effectiveness of its prophetic voice.


Mary-Cauliflower said...

Hi Elizabeth. Glad you are devoting a post to this. I am Commenter #1, and I was hoping my comment said everything I'd meant to say. Just as a first response, I thought it was unbelievably cruel to cite the consultant's words from Two Thousand Flipping Six. As I read those words, I pictured some of the people I knew from 815, now a few years out from the trauma of layoffs, perhaps finding new ministries, perhaps feeling some of the humiliation and pain start to ebb. Then with this unnecessary disclosure, laid off employees are traumatized again.

I'm a lay person, but I feel empathy for this situation because I've done some mission work *and* because I have burned out on the job and then moved on. So the question of "broken wings" (awful expression) and "success" versus "failure" are concepts that I've carried around for a while. Even in the material/materialistic world, we sometimes need a little failure before we can succeed.

In mission, where we cross cultures, build relationships, and work in a reality that constantly shifts, those definitions of success and failure are even more slippery. A project that looks all bright and shiny two years out may distract its beneficiaries from other work and create long-term dependency. Another initiative that seems to bear little fruit may inspire local people to redraft it on their own terms and so become empowered.

Stewardship considerations are certainly important, and it's important to keep reevaluating where we put our time and treasure. But mission is as prone to trends and fads as any other field. What seems particularly unjust about the layoffs is that those who were let go were probably doing their best within the institutional structure they were given.

I have worked in corporate America since 1979 and have been laid off twice. It wasn't fun, and I felt a lot of anger in the aftermath. But at least I was free to rebuild my life. The fact that it was overtly All About the Money was actually a consolation.

The current state of affairs, where unemployed clergy have no benefits, beyond "favors" from their bishops, adds further insult to injury. I've seen ordained friends asked to withdraw from active ministry due to personal crises (not wrongdoing), with no source of income.

My faith in God remains unshaken, and I still delight in the relationships I've formed through the church, but I have less and less patience with the contrast between the painted picture of the church and the reality.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

MC - Well, first off, I didn't get your first comment. Hmmm . . .I'm glad you came back and said what you have said. There seems to be a real mean spirit which has taken up residence at 815. I've heard people talk about the incompetence and "organizational flab" at 815 since I first heard about 815, and perhaps some "trimming" needed to be done. It's just this stuff is unnecessary cruelty.

I think we're going to look back at this time in history and see that God is reforming the church to something that more resembles the Ancient Church. I think we're going to see fewer and fewer "corporate" models of the episcopacy, too.

I welcome the change and believe it to be necessary. I pray the "new model" that emerges is infused with a greater sense of justice for all God's people - including the "wounded healers" in our midst.

Mary-Cauliflower said...

Oops! When I said I was Commenter #1, I meant that I wrote the first quote you cited from Episcopal Café. And I agree that we constantly need to evaluate and reevaluate where we spend time and treasure as a church. But I do think that we all need to think through the next steps for people who move on. Also, as a survivor of burnout and corporate misdirection, I can testify that "those incompetent people" are sometimes, um, me.

Hutch said...

I have worked in healthcare and as a manager all my professional life. It has never failed to amaze me the "unprofessionalism" in the church. People fired so badly they remain scarred for years, no follow-up or follow-through on any number of issues, often no obvious care for the people in the pulpit or in the offices. I feel that what the church needs is an administrative person - a CEO - who helps run things with the Bishop. And send everybody to a Dale Carnegie course and any management growth conferences out there - it is much needed.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, MC. You had me confused there for a minute. Good comment, BTW, at EC.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hutch - I agree. The church can be absolutely cruel to "their own".

Matthew said...

Perhaps I live in a different world, but 84k just as salary alone sounds dreadfully tiny to me. Heck, I made that much in salary alone as a librarian and never needed to work overtime. And made that early in my career at age 40.