Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?

Like millions of other people, I’ve spent the past few months obsessed with the soundtrack to the Broadway musical Hamilton. If you’re not familiar with the play, it dramatizes the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton, telling the story through modern American musical styles. It is brilliant and funny and moving. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve listened to it, and I still cry every time. Before he puts young Hamilton in charge of a battalion of soldiers to fight a crucial Revolutionary War battle, General George Washington sings words of paternal wisdom and caution: Continue reading “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?”

The Case for Chaplaincy

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Have you ever met someone who thought that what you do for a living was a waste of resources? Someone who questioned whether your job should even exist? It’s not all that uncommon for me. Some people just don’t get why having hospital chaplains on staff is a justifiable expense, especially in a public hospital like ours, with no religious affiliation. “Those visits should be taken care of by local clergy,” they often say, or, “Lots of patients these days aren’t religious and don’t have any use for chaplains.” Others suggest that nurses could be trained to provide spiritual care, since they spend so much time with patients anyway. This all results from a fundamental misunderstanding of who chaplains are and what we do. One of the reasons I started this blog and wrote my first book was to clear up some of those misconceptions.  Continue reading “The Case for Chaplaincy”

Living in Imaginary Worlds

Recently I discovered and fell in love with a podcast called Imaginary Worlds. Host Eric Molinsky explores many of the fictional worlds we know from pop culture, but often with a unique and very intelligent spin. It was his five-part series on Star Wars that hooked me (which will come as no surprise to anyone who knows my lifelong devotion to that franchise), and made me think about the movies and expanded universe in new ways. In one episode, historians and Star Wars scholars discussed the cultural/political factors in 1977 that led to the original movie becoming such a phenomenon. Subsequent episodes delved into the “Han shot first” controversy from an ethical standpoint, asked whether the Empire saw itself as evil or was taking what it saw as reasonable steps to bring order to a chaotic galaxy, featured a rabbi who compared the Star Wars expanded universe to the rabbinic commentary on the Torah called midrash, and debated whether “Slave Leia” could be seen as a symbol of female empowerment or was a misogynistic wrong turn in the character’s journey best left forgotten. I listened to those episodes multiple times, then went back and listened to every episode since the podcast began in 2014. It got me thinking about how much of my time is spent in imaginary worlds, not just when I lose myself in fiction, but when I do my job as a chaplain. Continue reading “Living in Imaginary Worlds”

Q is for Quiet

(This post is part of my ongoing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

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Working in a hospital is sometimes enough to make you superstitious (though, like Michael Scott, I try to be only a little stitious). Full moons really do seem to bring out more of the crazy stuff. If someone mentions that we haven’t had a gunshot wound all day, ER staff members would bet that one will arrive within the hour. And whatever you do, don’t say anything to the effect of, “It sure is quiet around here.” In my book, I tell the story of how I got on a nurse’s bad side by jinxing her shift with the Q word. Continue reading “Q is for Quiet”

Loosing Hope

This can be a tough time of year for hospital work. As a chaplain, I often see the most tragic situations, and they take on an even sadder air around the holidays. Nobody wants to remember Christmas as “the day Dad died” or “the anniversary of Gramma’s stroke.” But it happens. It’s easy to get pulled under by the seemingly hopeless situations. So I wasn’t surprised when I saw a dear friend and fellow chaplain post her status update on Facebook: “Christmas Eve in a Level One Trauma Center may cause me to loose all hope.” Continue reading “Loosing Hope”

What Chaplains Don’t Do

Because this is Pastoral Care Week, I’ll be part of an event at my hospital which includes a reading from my book, and a question and answer session on the role of healthcare chaplains. The event is co-sponsored by our Pastoral Care department and the hospital’s Humanities Committee (of which I am a member), and has been advertised all over campus. Someone who saw the flyers was concerned that in a hospital committed to diversity and inclusion, we were promoting Christianity. I had to laugh at the irony. Such misconceptions of what chaplains do are exactly why such an event is needed! Continue reading “What Chaplains Don’t Do”

P is for Prayer

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(This post is part of the ongoing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

“Why do we look down?” I asked my grandmother one Sunday after prayer time in church. “Isn’t God up in heaven? How come we don’t pray looking up?” My childhood question was a sincere one, but I don’t worry so much now about the right posture for praying. As a hospital chaplain, I have seen and participated in countless forms of prayer. I no longer think that God would be more likely to hear us if we looked in the right direction. Anytime we pray — and I believe we all do, whether or not we call it prayer — we are somehow looking for, reaching out for God.  Continue reading “P is for Prayer”

“A Must Read for Those Who Work in the Healthcare Setting”

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Some of my favorite reviews of my book are from readers who perhaps stumbled onto it or didn’t expect to enjoy it. The latest one on Amazon (where you can buy the Kindle version only; the paperback version is available here) is one of the best so far. It’s from a nurse with the screen name london68, who headlined it, “A must read for those who work in the healthcare setting.” How’s that for a recommendation?! The reviewer writes: Continue reading ““A Must Read for Those Who Work in the Healthcare Setting””

O is for Operation

Dr. James Patrick Kinney performing early anesthesia procedure at Sisters of Charity Hospital, Buffalo, NY

(This post is part of my ongoing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

Did you ever play that board game as a kid, the one where you had to use the little tweezers to reach into the tiny, metal-lined spaces of the cartoon man’s body to remove the little bucket of “Water on the Knee” or the very literal “Butterflies in the Stomach”? It made me a nervous wreck, and my hands would shake as I anticipated the inevitable Bzzzzz when the tweezers made contact with the metal. I was terrible at the Operation board game, so I suppose it’s a good thing I never wanted to become a surgeon. But I do spend a lot of time near the operating room at our hospital. Continue reading “O is for Operation”