Ummm….But You Don’t Look Like A Chaplain.

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.

Well, dang, I guess I don't look like a chaplain.

Well, dang, I guess I don’t look like a chaplain.

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.”

Chaplain Rudy Huxtable?

Chaplain 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.

 

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Break Every Chain

http://dailyoffice.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/holyspirit-430.jpg

 

There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain.

I heard these lyrics rising from an iPhone in a room of at least two dozen people gathered to say their final goodbyes to a beautiful 23 year old man.
The crowd was full of stunned, grieving, loving, young people. Shocked that their friend, brother, cousin, and son was meeting this untimely and unexpected death. He was dying of AIDS, a diagnosis that most were not aware of prior to his hospitalization. Many whispered to me “But I just saw him” or “We were just talking on the phone” or ” He just updated his Instagram.”

Others pulled up his Facebook page for me to see him. They wanted me to see him at his best, not like this. They scrolled through photo after photo of him dancing, smiling, being the life of the party. “See,” they would say, “Isn’t he gorgeous?” And he was.

Another young woman pulled me aside to tell me how he took her in after her mother threw her out for coming out. She cried as she told me how he was the first person to ever show her what pride truly meant. When the nurse pronounced his death, this same young woman let out one of the most haunting screams I have ever heard.

In the midst of the sorrow, tears, and shock, someone’s phone continued to sing out “Break every chain, break every chain, breeeeeeaaaak every chain.” I was touched by how this song felt like a prayer, an invocation. Another rendition of ” Come, Lord Jesus, Come!” Bring us divine liberation from the oppression, the injustice, that took the life of our friend.

I was so touched that I downloaded the song when I got home. But upon listening to the live album version, my sentiments turned to rage. Tasha Cobb, the singer, asks Christ to break the chains of homosexuality, the first thing she names in a list of “sins” for saints to be delivered from.

While I imagined that she was asking God to proclaim a new eschatological reality where all were liberated from oppression, she was actually reinforcing the current reality of prejudice and homophobia. Affirming the same spirit that tossed that young woman out into the streets when she expressed her sexuality, not the one that took her in from the cold.

Prior to my work in hospice, I was naive enough to believe that the war against HIV/AIDS was being won.

And then in one week, I watched the deaths of four black men in their twenties from AIDS.

And then the next week, I sat with a 24 year old black woman with a diagnosis of End Stage AIDS, as she took her last breath

And then the following week, I prayed with a 21 year old Hispanic man, using my elementary Spanish to try to communicate that he was not alone, as he succumbed to AIDS complications.

I believe that Jesus is calling us to break the chains of inequality, poverty, injustice, and homophobia that prevent people, especially young people of color, from getting the AIDS/ HIV treatment, education, care, and love they deserve.

Yes, we must break every chain.

Patches of Godlight

Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures are “patches of Godlight” in the woods of our experience.

CS Lewis

bursting

Sometimes walking through the halls of the hospice inpatient unit feels like walking through the woods. Everyday I see how easy it is to get lost. Lost in grief, fear, anger, the what ifs, the shoulda…

But just when it seems like you can’t find your footing, there are the “patches of Godlight” streaming through the trees and lighting a new way.

I am so blessed by the Godlight that shows up all the time. Dark moments illuminated by laughter, reconciliation, grace, memories, kindness, and love.

This week, a woman came in to be extubated. She had suffered a devastating stroke. A vibrant, healthy and beautiful woman whose loving, husband cried as he told me he had to remember to call and cancel her hair appointment scheduled for that weekend.  She had just been working, caring for her family, and being her remarkable self on the day the stroke happened.

And just a few days later, here her family waited, surrounding her bed, for her last breath. Adjusting to new way of life. Adjusting to the reality that they would be leaving this place without her. The room was overflowing with sorrow, fear, anxiety, and nervous energy.

And then her daughter- in-law starts to stroke her hair. And asks for a comb. The woman’s hair, a gorgeous and shiny copper color, was tangled and mussed with a small shaved patch from an emergency brain surgery.

Her husband pulls a comb out of his front shirt pocket and the daughter-in -law combs the patient’s hair. It was such a tender moment.

The patient’s sister says through tears and a smile. “Honey, thank you. She wouldn’t have been able to stand having everyone seeing her hair looking like this!”

Then what starts as a stifled chuckle erupts into raucous laughter throughout the room.

After this, the whole family began to share with me how much pride this woman took in her appearance. I had the honor of hearing stories about this woman: her deep love, her mama bear protectiveness, her delicious Brunswick stew and her fantastic snakeskin pumps.

And just like that her light, Godlight, streamed into the sad room.

Of course, her family still grieved her loss very deeply and will continue to do so for a long time.

But in those moments they were able to grieve her impending death, while celebrating her life.