This afternoon I was called upon to do what I have done before; to speak in a class of fresh-faced college students about the work I do as a hospice chaplain. The critical difference between today's class and other classes in which I've spoken was that today's class was at the local Bible college, a Bible college significantly more conservative than my social milieu. This should not be surprising, as I do live in Indiana, which is not exactly Diane Feinstein country. But, I am always taken aback when certain assumptions are made about me because I am a chaplain. Mainly assumptions about my belief in Jesus Christ as the only way to heaven, and my understanding of the importance of "winning souls" before people die. Today I was asked, "Is it hard for you to just let people die when you know they aren't saved?" and "How do you feel good about your work knowing that so many people don't come to Jesus before they die? Do you feel responsible for that?" I don't think I gave them the answers they wanted, the easy pat answers, the answers which seem to guarantee a one-way ticket to heaven.
Instead I talked about the power of story as that crucible which holds us. I spoke of the power of being heard into speech and the importance of listening, and then listening some more. I told them that each person has to tell their own story, and find the ways in which grace and forgiveness and confession and guilt and loss and hope and resurrection have all played a part in weaving each person's life story. I talked of a God of love and forgiveness who is manifest in many forms and many ways and with many names. And many of their eager faces seemed to stare at me with blank stares. And then one young woman said, "I have a question for you...how many people in your agency are Christian?" And I wanted to bang my head on the table and say, "Who gives a flying fuck?!? Is it that important to label people into your all-important categories?"
Sometimes I feel like a hypocrite in my work, as if I am the one the least concerned with bringing my patients to kneel before the feet of Jesus. Instead, I would like to imagine Jesus sitting at their feet, washing their mottled toes, and healing their wounded hearts, completely unconcerned with their theological rules.
Perhaps I'll burn in hell for that. But, if that's the case, I think I'll find myself in good company with the other sinners.