I hear the phrase “But you don’t look like a chaplain” at least once a week. For some reason, I have been hearing it with more frequency lately. Is it possible that the longer I am a chaplain, the less I look like one?
I wonder what picture people have in their head of what a chaplain looks like. Let me Google Image that.
I can take this phrase so many ways and I do take it many different ways, sometimes depending on the tone and perceived intent of the speaker, sometimes on the other pressing pastoral issues to attend to, and sometimes on my mood.
Most often I wonder which of my identifiers the speaker is questioning the most: my race, my gender, my age or the intersection of all three.
Sometimes the intent is all too clear, especially when it is uttered by someone’s lecherous, inappropriate uncle who hasn’t stopped trying to ogle me since I walked in the room. Other times, the statement is tinged with amusement, curiosity, suspicion, disgust, or pride . Sometimes there is a combination of all of the above.
My favorite “You don’t look like a Chaplain” moment came when one of the patient’s looked at me quizzically and said “I never imagined that I would have a chaplain who looks like Rudy Huxtable.”
But my non- chaplain looking self has never been thrown out of a patient’s room. I am blessed by the fact that each time someone begins our encounter with “Umm, but you don’t look like a chaplain” they are at least engaging me. I am blessed that this is not the end of our conversation, but the very beginning.
By the end of the conversation, I look more like a chaplain or maybe not. Perhaps I look more like a friend, a listener, a confidante, or a comfort in a difficult time.
I am thankful that my presence presents an opportunity for me to change the way people view a chaplain. Now if only I can get my picture as a top hit on Google.