Who Are You In The Book of Job

How do we forgive ourselves when we have harmed, even maimed, someone else?

There was a man name Alan I spoke with who went to the hospital for a routine podiatrist appointment. An accident occurred while he was driving his vehicle to the hospital, resulting in a gentleman losing his leg.

“I thought my foot was on the brake. I was putting it in park.”

Alan’s foot slipped, the vehicle kept going. The vehicle struck a hospital worker, resulting in a severe injury to the hospital worker’s leg. Days later, we all found out amputation of said leg was needed.

Alan was angry, ashamed, sorrowful, and suffering of total despair. He couldn’t help but see dark and bitter irony to the circumstance, coming to the hospital for a small procedure on his foot and, in his own words, “at the expense of someone else’s leg.”

In our conversation, Alan repeated Christian motifs over and over, his knowledge of Christ saving us from our sins, forgiveness that comes through Him alone and His sacrfice. Nonetheless, he couldn’t forgive himself, indicating he should have never come to the hospital. It didn’t matter to Alan that this was an accident, and the grace that he believes Christ gives him didn’t seem to address the personal resentment he had for himself for this accident. Alan was furious with himself, calling himself a list of names and regarded his own medical needs—having cancer in addition to diabetes that was affecting his foot—as insignificant in light of the event. I think in part Alan wished he would have suffered bodily himself, to be martyr to his own medical complications rather than suffer the accident. Putting myself in his shoes, I don’t blame him for such sentiments. I can’t imagine living with that guilt, even knowing it was a total accident.

How are we to make sense of such things? Both Alan and the medical worker suffer from immeasurable grief from something accidental, something so blameless. There was no impariment. There was no malice. What is to be said to Alan? What is to be said to the medical worker? What consolation or sense can be made out of this?

We are tempted to offer our own explanation for such things, to provide some answer for the calamity. We offer this both when we are asked and sometimes we offer this unsolicited. But it is a haughty thing for us to espouse a particular meaning or message out of it, and we must be careful as we attempt to offer explanation that we do not become like Job’s friends.

In the Book of Job, we hear the tale of a righteous man who undergoes undeserved suffering. The reader sees in the beginning that Job is tested due to the devil being given certain permissions to afflict Job; Satan seems to think Job will stop praising God once his fortune turns around, and God allows Satan—with some parameters—to afflict Job. Job laments for the lives lost in the calamity, for the illness he endures. He does voice some hard questions to both God and to his friends that come to “comfort him.” But what we find at the end of the Job’s story is that Job is not satisfied with the explanation for his senseless suffering, nor is God satisfied. At the very end, God restores Job and gives Job the holy responsibility to offer prayers and sacrifice on behalf of his friends who attempted to rationalize the calamity. In short, God rewards Job for wrestling with Him and with the calamity, whereas the friends are looked down upon for their poor counsel.

Looking back on my conversation with Alan, I can’t help but see Job shine in him. Alan is a dedicated man of prayer, faithful in reading his devotionals, doing his daily prayers, and can theologize about grace. Alan carries a kind of blameless record that Job had of being an upstanding servant of the Lord. Like Job, there is wrestling for the calamity, questioning as to why he has to suffer such things. 

But no answer will suffice, perhaps because it is not our part to offer the answer and perhaps because both the sufferer and the counselor cannot examine any answer until a due time presents such clarity. In short, empathy does not come in the form of explanation, and answers cannot provide a balm of healing to such pain.

I think of another encounter I had some time ago with a grieving grandmother and her family as they were about to pull life support from a poor teenage boy who had shot himself. Why had the grandmother’s prayers not been answered? Why had this boy not been protected from such a horrible tragedy in spite of all the prayers and devotion the family had to God? 

“What am I supposed to tell my daughter who is grieving her son and my grandson?” The grandmother asked me quite angrily—and understandably irate. “What can I offer her?”

“Today is not a day for answers. You cannot provide your daughter with that answer, and neither can I. And truthfully, I’m not sure any answer will suffice how awful this tragedy is. But here you are, pouring your soul out. You are here for your family, you are here for your daughter, and for your grandson. That’s what matters. That’s what she needs. That’s what this family needs.”

All praise to God for giving that to me in such a harrowing moment.

Similarly, I nor anyone else could give Alan a proper explanation for such a senseless and horrible thing.

That being said, Alan and I did pray, and we prayed for his health and for his needs to be met. But we also prayed for the medical worker who had lost his leg, for his needs to be met. We prayed acknowledging only God’s hand being able to sustain them both in these awful circumstances. Alan cried at that, shaking horribly as we prayed for this man. In closing of the prayer, i saw some hope in Alan’s eyes. He found some hope in this. Further, Alan seemed open to the possibility of becoming an intercessor for this medical worker for the rest of his life, to lift this man’s concerns up in his own prayers each day.

Did this accident happen so that Alan would become a prayer warrior? Did the man had to lose his leg in order to have an intercessor? It’s not for us to pose such possibilities. God has purpose, but it is His and not our own.

That being said, I do believe God uses us to two specific ends when we are witnesses to calamity, when we are Job’s friends:

-Sit in the muck of the tragedy with the Job in our life. Don’t sugar coat, silver line, or wax on about some answer we have little discernment of. Let us not presume to be God or know His will…

-But let us fervently pour our heart out in prayer for God’s hand to be in that calamity. Rather than use our words to imagine meaning, let us ask God to make meaning and make mercy in light of the tragedy.

-Lastly, encourage action, with discernment. While I think it’s not our place to offer answers, I think offering action can provide catharsis. That being said, this is something earned and not granted. We ought not lead our empathy with suggestions. In the case of Alan, at the end of the visit, I suggested the possibility of him praying for this man, and it seemed earned as it came after our prayer together and I could see both grace and hope shine forth. In the case of the grandmother, I had sat with the family for about an hour silently listening, confessing my own powerlessness in the circumstances. When the grandmother asked what she could possibly do or say for her daughter while feeling so powerless, I offered her to see to what she was already doing, to continue doing what she was doing: showing up, being present, and nothing more or less than that.

Brothers and sisters, let us forgive each other and one another and seek out the Lord for forgiveness. Let us acknowledge the suffering each of us endures and provide what Job lacked in his friends. 

Hard Nuts – The Story of Moving a Boulder of an Old Man

There was a gentleman I spoke to not long ago who had trouble with a lot of hardships in his life, mostly of medical issues growing more complicated as he got older. He was already into his 80s, goes to dialysis three times a week, and each time he goes he’s drained of his energy. He told me that he’s pretty sure he slept non-stop for three days, though I’m sure he was disoriented by his stay in the hospital.

I spoke to him because his sister was concerned about his mood, about his attitude. She had become her brother’s keeper though this task had been wearing her down. From the sister, to the nurse, to even what I observed, the patient was short-tempered, bitter, negative, and angry. He absolutely had the right to be too. His life had become this dance of going to the hospital and going back home, of being treated for one thing just for another thing to pop up. He goes to clean his body through dialysis just to spend his body’s energy for the rest of the day.

I’d been tasked by the nurse and the sister to address the depression, to provide some special kind of blessing through either prayer or conversation. Again, from the outright, the old man hardly gave me the time of day. He said he was fine, but if you asked him about the competency of the staff, the quality of the hospital, or anything else he’d tell you what was wrong with the system. Nonetheless, he’d settle down, say everything was fine, say he’d get on with it. 

I do my best to avoid small talk, to get to some big talk, even get people to open up about their history so that people will feel trusting to share more. I asked him where he was from, he said Michigan, and basically left it at that, commenting briefly only on the change of weather but how people were “smarter” up north and how everyone was a bigot in the south. Then we talked about work. He mentioned working for Nasa for a few years, and despite how interesting I remarked that was he said “it was just a job, nothing special, humanity comes up with new stuff, what’s new.” Then i asked about recreation, he bitterly said there wasn’t much for him to do in the hospital and he was resistant to reading. I asked what he’d done for recreation before the hospital, he said “everything you can think of” though when I asked about the most common retirement hobbies (fishing and golf) he spoke negatively of both. Lastly we got to God. He did mention believing in God, and that one HAD to believe in God, but that wasn’t sufficient for me.

“What’s your belief in God look like?”

“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Him.”

“So you’re grateful?”

“I am grateful. For a lot of things, for a lot of blessings.”

“Such as?”

“Well, to be alive. I keep having health problems, and I keep getting back up, all becaues of Him.”

“That must fill you with a sense of purpose.”

“What do you mean?”

“Most people, when they recover or find themselves coping with health struggles, usually ask about a sense of purpose: why does God keep me alive.”

“All I know is that He keeps me alive, and i’m happy about that.”


“Okay, and what about your relationship with God? Do you pray?’
“Sure, here and there, not like three hours at a time.”

“What’s that look like for you?”

“I thank Him for my blessings.”

I didn’t push it. I knew he’d keep me in circles with his vagueness.

We ended the conversation with him saying his room was too cold, though I was sweating as I spoke to him about nothin in particular for just under half an hour. I told him I’d ask the nurse if we could raise the room temp or get warm blankets.

“Young man, you don’t understand. They can’t get me anything. Their damn hands are tied. You’re not going to get me a blanket. They’re not going to do shit for me. They don’t do anything, they’re so inept.”

We talked a little about his frustration about how miserable it is to be stuck in the hospital, but then he bounced back to his common answer, “but I’m fine, and i’ll be fine. I’m okay,” as though he hadn’t raised his voice or cussed at all.

I asked if I could pray for him, he limply said that would be okay if I did. I can’t remember what intentions I lifted up, but I think I asked for the Lord’s peace and joy to visit him. Then I left the room, and the nurse and the sister looking up at me expectantly.

“Did you give him a special blessing?” The sister asked me.

“We prayed and we talked,” I answered.

The sister happened to also be a medium. Though I disagreed with her sense of spirituality I was grateful that she was transparent of her own difficulty with her brother as well as being transparent about their upbringing. She mentioned that there was verbal and physical abuse growing up and that she felt spirits had led her to find healers in her life. I asked if her brother felt his emotions and voice had been “quashed” in their home environment. She said he kept all his anger inside, always did, and became a bitter person throughout. The sister asked me if I could stop by agian later to check in on him. I hadn’t a whole lot of time that day for an especially hard nut to crack, but I told her I’d try if I had time. I left just as the nurse braved going back into the room again as she said with a belabored look, “here I go to get beat up again.” The sister and I were silent. We’d all been given quiet a bit of grief from him.

I did end up circling back, but this gentleman was fast asleep. The nurse noticed me, looking particularly refreshed.

“Whatever you did in there, it worked.”

I was stunned.

“What do you mean? He hardly gave me the time of day. I worked so hard to get him to share about himself.”

“Well, the three days I’ve had him, he’s been nothing but unpleasant to me. But when i walked in after you talked to him, he was a totally new person. Thanks for giving him the time.”

The nurse and I spoke again about the background the patient came from. Not only did we converse about what the sister said about the hard home they came from, but I learned the patient’s parents came from Communist Romania under an iron fist of a government. The man’s behavior began making sense.

I write this because crochety old men are not individuals in our society we can afford to ignore. I’ve met dozens in my life and my vocation, and in some way I feel as though most are testing us, to see which of us put up with them and can listen without retort why things are miserable. I also mention this because I sometimes find myself challenged to pray, unsure at times how to give petitions before God and wonder/fear how/when God might respond.

This interaction served as a reminder of a few things:

  1. God does all the work. We may be beset with an impossible task or person, and we might feel as though our efforts were in vain. Only by giving the matter to God may we see His goodness, His work, and His intention in our cooperation in that act. For those of us who place all the work and expectations on ourselves and forget to include or consider God as part of whatever work/ministry/vocation we do, He will remind us through the impossible that He will accomplish the great task
  2. We dont always get to see the fruit of our work. it was a total fluke that I got to return to the nurse, a lull in my day that allowed me to hear what the nurse had mentioned about this old man’s attitude totally changing. i’ve often been told my clergy that “God makes us the sower, but seldom gives the sower the pleasure of reaping the harvest…that’s usually for someone else.” Even if we don’t get a glimpse in the rear-view mirror, consider that God will still use our prayer and our efforts for HIS glory (and not our own).
  3. There’s always a story behind the bitter resentment. And it’s our job to listen to it, to hear it out. Unfortunately I didn’t mine deep enough as to the center of this man’s hurt. Next time I point-blank address his frustration and disposition, see where it stemmed from. Maybe he’d tell me eventually, maybe it’d only come through the sister. Either way, sometimes it takes for us to be curious or imaginative to discern a story behind the hurt. By that discernment, we can grow in our capacity of reaching others who otherwise seem unreachable.

The path of least resistance against a boulder is to go around it, ignore it. That being said I believe sometimes the boulder is waiting for us to press long enough and just hard enough—gently really—for it to move somewhere new, for a river to decide to dislodge it from its stagnation. My brothers and sisters, let us allow Christ who is the living water to flow through us that we may be vessels and tributaries of His life giving stream.

A Lawyer At The Judgement Seat

According to Cohen’s model of adult human development, a common theme of individuals as they approach or enter their mid 60s to 70s or retirement age is that of reflection.

But not just any reflection. Deep introspection, a shifting in one’s own priorities, a taking inventory of regrets of things not done and even guilt for things having done.

It’s refreshing when in my work I’ve encountered individuals who seize this moment of their life with contemplation, with taking an account of their whole life. The value in this is not merely to have some clarity about one’s own story, but to see what is left to be done in this twilight of life, to address needs of shifting one’s perspectives, engaging in meaningful and charitable work, and even repentance.

I had the rare blessing of meeting a gentleman whom we will call Michael.

Photo by Huy Phan on Pexels.com

Michael is a retired lawyer, and has been retired for several years. He’s a man proud of his work and seems to have had a strong work ethic and sense of orderliness in his life. He shared how in his 60s he had no intention of giving up practicing law, but his own heart had other plans. He reported getting up early years ago to see to the mundane chore of taking out the trash. He reported everything began spinning in this task, bidding him to return home, too disoriented to get the trash all the way to the curb. He sat in his recliner, and fortunately his wife found him early that morning and advised him to go to the hospital. He’d been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, that fluid had accumulated around his chest that had set him into such a breathless fatigue. They drained the fluid from his chest, he was given a new regiment of medicine, but above all his doctor told him: if you want to live for more than 6 months, quit your job.

Photo by Vidal Balielo Jr. on Pexels.com

Gradually, Michael did. Michael began stepping back and taking what I understood to be more of an advisory role for a younger crowd of lawyers. Within two years, he retired altogether, which he told me was five to ten years earlier than he had hoped or planned. Michael shared that his motivation for work had been in part material as well as motivated by the desire to see his children through college and see to all their other needs.

Michael shared having a feeling of accomplishment, reporting happily that his children were all taken care of, had finished schooling with proud and accomplished degrees and careers. They had their own homes to raise up grandchildren in. He was happy about that, feeling proud and accomplished.

But Michael confessed of his other priorities while he worked. He enjoyed nice things, buying nice cars, paintings, etc. He retired wanting to downsize and to make ends meet for retiring earlier than he imagined. As he began selling his prized possessions, he shared, “things I paid thousands of dollars for, I can only make a few hundred from. I placed more value on things than the things actually possessed any value of.”

As we continued to talk, Michael shared of other revelations and musings he had as he reflected on life. He regarded himself as not all that religious, that he’d received a “Catholic guilt upbringing” which affected his view of God; in part I also wondered if his legal background affected his own theology. He spoke of the challenge he had in this part of his life beginning to think about God. Heart problems provoked the thought of his own mortality—a topic we tend to push off, though not unsuprisingly—and with that he began thinking about God, the afterlife, Heaven & Hell, sin and salvation. Michael confessed feeling unworthy to only now begin thinking about religion and reaching out to God in prayer.

“I’m a hypocrite by my standard,” he confessed. “This late in life, just after getting my diagnosis, I become a man of prayer. And even so, my prayer life seems to be mostly sporadic, addressing only my needs as they come up. Going to God only when I’m afraid.”

Michael was afraid of God and of death as he became reflective of his “motive” for prayer and engaging in a religious life. This is not an uncommon feeling from what I’ve encountered. What’s troubling is when one encounters an individual who has written himself/herself off at life’s crux, of not seeing the diagnosis, the turn of the age, the pause on life, as an opportunity for change. Instead, my heart has broken hearing others bitterly cast off the notion of faith and prayer.

“It’d be hypocritical for me to start now,” I’ve had others confide in me. “I’ve made my bed, and I intend to sleep in it. There’s no use changing my mind now.”

Where my conversation with Michael concluded was on the topic of prayer and grace. I acknowledged the Catholic guilt, the wheres and whys of it, and paired it with what our faith teaches us: of accountability and mercy. We also spoke about prayer, his concern that his prayer life tends to be one-sided and on his own schedule rather than a routine. I leaned on his Catholic faith, acknowledging the Catholic tradition of the rosary—something I comfortably help others lean on as it is a cousin to my own tradition of the prayer rope—and the hours of prayer. He was receptive to these, though in the end, I would have to say I received more than I gave to Michael…but by receiving from Michael, I believe it important to share his story, to have written the account of our conversation.

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You see, Michael is miles ahead of most of us, possessing an insight of something that needs changing, a need of change in one’s own values, living, and habits. Although each and every one of us, at any stage of our life, is welcome to embrace this level of repentance and repurposing that Michael has seized, Michael has not squandered this alarm of his failing heart. While a diagnosis can be a cruel and horrible thing to stare in the face, it’s also an opportunity to pause in life. Again, most of us are relatively healthy, with our needs met, with our loved ones whole and together with us. So we don’t often think about our own mortality, and with that think on our purpose in life and from Whom great purpose may come.

Michael, in this twilight of his life with a fragile heart, has seen through the veil of the world and observed the futility of storing up earthly goods. He has found greater purpose in presence with his family and presence with God. He reflects on his life rather than taking it for granted. He lives with no appreciation and consideration for each moment never knowing when it will be his last, and with that appreciation and awareness works towards a holy life.

May we all learn to repent and reevaluate our lives like this holy lawyer.

Taken For Granted: The Perspective of Sickness

The other day, I met a woman waiting to die of her stage 4 colon cancer.

Her name is Antonia.

She’s in her 50s, was diagnosed 6 years ago, and initially given just months. Her cancer spread to her kidneys and has caused reoccurring infections. She finds herself making monthly visits to the hospital, and she fights herself each time she does. She’s tired of the medical dance she’s constantly forced to participate in and there doesn’t seem to be anything the doctors can do about her condition.

Antonia is on palliative care at home. She has a pain management routine, though she’s described this as taking her medication in order to feel “half-alive”. She also requires home health to assist her with showers; she has tubes in her body which can’t have water getting in. Not only does this mean she has been without the simple luxury of taking a shower on her own, but she’s also had to stop a favorite hobby of hers: swimming. She laments not being able to take a lap around the pool, not being able to plunge into the ocean from the beach. Her everyday pain has forced her to slow down, to be less active, to be stuck inside the house.

While she does have the support of her children, she finds it hard to talk to them about what she’s feeling and what she’s hoping for. They talk to her about miracles, but she wants to talk to them about not waking up one day. She prays every night for God to take her.

“I’m tired,” she told me.

She’s tired of the hospitals. Tired of the medication. Tired of “not living life” as she reflected on the things everyone else around her enjoy that have been taken away from her by her disease. She seemed to light up as she spoke about the things she misses, about swimming, about eating, about waking up with a fraction of the concerns she wakes up with today.

We spoke about purpose. This is a common and needed theme among those who question why they are still alive, why disease has not taken those who suffer from a marathon of illness. For Antonia, this itch to understand her purpose in living is acute. She recalled a friend of hers diagnosed with colon cancer years ago. The man was initially distraught from the diagnosis, absolutely shocked.

“It’ll be ok,” she recalled telling him, “you’ll learn to live with it.”

The cancer took her friend 6 months after he received his diagnosis. She reflected, 6 years into her own diagnosis, why God still allows her to live in light of how short a time her friend had to live with his diagnosis.

“Why does God still have me hear? What more does He need of me?”

The conversation then ventured towards what things filled Antonia up, what things that brought her joy or peace. She spoke about where she used to live, close to the heart of the city, not far from a homeless shelter. She mentioned her passion for cooking, and she spoke how early into her diagnosis she’d started a practice of making warm meals for the homeless. She’d ask her children to take the warm meal as they went out to work, to find someone on the streets who looked like they could use the sustenance. In a short while, she had many homeless individuals come up to her porch where she didn’t even need her children to deliver the meals. She mentioned at times this would bring her some trouble. A credit card stolen here, medications there, an intruder sneaking into her garage just to find someplace safe to sleep.

Antonia shared all this fondly, warmly, the good with the bad. 

“Even the days where I felt like someone was taking advantage of my kindness, God gave me a blessing.”

She mentioned how she’d get some gift or money in the mail, a random act of generosity from a neighbor, different blessings that would come her way immediately after she extended her kindness even to her own detriment. She had faith in God’s protection over her, that God wouldn’t let her be at a deficit for being generous.

As our conversation continued to circle around the topic of purpose, we revisited something that shifted in her as she spoke about the things other people could enjoy that she couldn’t. We spoke about the new perspective she received with the diagnosis, a kind of cursed gift. She is able to see the blessing of a clean bill of health others are able to enjoy, even if it is squandered or unappreciated. She sees the trivial quarrels of those around her as she lives each day at war with her own body. She lamented how much she has lost to her disease and, more than that, how others struggle to appreciate what they have.

In short, the simple pleasures, comforts, and even means of life should not be assumed or expected. Her wish is for those around her to not take a drink of juice without giving thanksgiving first, for one not to lay their head before they can acknowledge the luxury of rest. In this new perspective, she sees how important it is to pair—even marry—gratitude with every luxury, every action, every basic need. The two cannot, should not, be inseparable.

Antonia seemed to find some possibility in finding purpose by sharing her perspective, through telling her story, with the hope that it would enrich and edify others.

“You have a story to tell. I can tell it’s important to you to tell it, and I believe God sees it as important for you to share it with others. I think people can really benefit from your perspective. You have a story to tell, and I hope you’ll continue to tell it.”

“I will.” She said.

“Can you tell it too?” She asked me.

So often I think we are quick to dismiss our own troubles and circumstances as misery, to snowball all our small issues into something bloated. It’s unclear the exact reason why we do this, but I wonder if it’s done because we think we are Antonia, because we think we have a disease that warrants pity or curative measures. And yet Antonia seeks neither pity nor curative measures. Yes she receives pain management as she reconciles with the fact that her disease is actively killing her body, but she sought no pity from me in our conversation but rather wanted to share with me her new cursed gift, the gift of perspective, in order to enrich the lives of others.

Antonia is like salt in this regard. She is pure, stinging yet curative to our superficial wounds, but most of all drawing out the flavor of our own lives, enhancing the blessings we possess but sometimes do not acknowledge. This is her cursed gift, but it is a profoundly purposeful one.

As a daily exercise, let us totally join gratitude—a mere acknowledgment of something we have that others cannot—with all that we do, with all that we enjoy, with all that we have. Let not a single person in our lives, a single gesture of our healthy bodies, a single crumb of food or drop of drink go unacknowledged, unappreciated.

Let us marry thanksgiving to everything we have, and more than that, let us act charitably as though we have everything. Because we do in fact have everything if only we stopped to count our blessings.

Putting On Pathology: The New Age Placing Band-Aids on Psycho-Social Wounds

I had a rather interesting conversation with a man who openly shared struggling with being schizophrenic. Our conversation went everywhere, to his childhood, his family dynamics, his views on God and Grace, to the thoughts that constantly plagued him, and even the voices that haunted him inside his head.

This gentleman, Huey, shared how he always felt morose growing up, inextricably depressed and dark. He shared feelings related to shame, how he rough-housed at home a little too hard and played tricks on his siblings. But what Huey confessed was his most plaguing feeling was his lustful thoughts and actions. He shared how he believed he had these from a very early age that continued to manifest in his late adulthood.

Huey shared that he wanted some clarity as to why he felt so shamed, depressed, and “broken”. Interestingly enough, Huey did not first seek out a counselor for answers, but rather he first visited a psychic. He mentioned that he had gone to a psychic with the hope that they would see something in his past buried, something hidden or secret that could account for his lustful behavior and thoughts. Huey suspected abuse, though he hadn’t any memories of being abused.

At the end of his session speaking to this psychic, the psychic told Huey he’d been sexually molested by his father. I didn’t ask for Huey for details how the psychic discovered this. But in Huey’s own words he said, “so I put this on, I wore this feeling, this feeling like I’d been abused by my father.” Somewhere in his 20s he confronted his mother about this mother, though his mother was in disbelief—perhaps she herself was skeptical of the source of this so-called revelation. Huey shared he felt ashamed—even unworthy of God—because he firmly believed to the end of his father’s life that his father had abused him. Both his parents had passed about 10-20 years ago, when Huey was in his 40s/50s.

I was struck, though, how Huey phrased the whole thing. He didn’t share with me point blank that he was abused, but rather how he felt abused. He mentioned specifically how he “put on” the narrative the psychic gave him. He said it felt like it fit at the time, like it matched what he felt inside. But in the present, he knew it wasn’t true, and in fact, he felt bad for adopting the belief and conducting himself as though it were truth.

“So, today, do you believe your father did this to you?” I asked him.

“No,” Huey answered resolutely.

Huey again lamented having this opinion of his father and never reconciling with him, to see his dad to his grave as an abuser who had hurt him, for believing the psychic’s narrative.

As mentioned, Huey does suffer from schizophrenia, and in our conversation, I could see how at times this impaired some continuity of his thinking, though the severity of his diagnosis seemed not as acute as I’ve seen among others I’ve talked to with this disease. Huey was dialogical, relatively cohesive, could elaborate on the questions I asked for clarity, and seemed to be able to understand traits of himself that we might call as “rough edges”. 

But Huey’s clarity, his ultimate statement about this identity and narrative that he “put on” as though it were a jacket, I think it speaks to a broader phenomena that we see in our culture today. We are in a kind of new age of gnosticism wherein complicated and inner feelings are being addressed without a great deal of psycho-social curiosity. If someone is having any type of identity dysphoria, the popular narrative seems to be the most prescribed one: we need to prescribe you with a narrative that fits what you’re feeling. To be frank, I’m speaking about gender dysphoria and how quick we are to create or affirm a gnostic narrative rather than doing real psycho-social work: exploring concrete synapses, real experiences, and family dynamics that underlie the complex feelings.

Huey’s story is not much different than many who are experiencing gender dysphoria. Perhaps many are not also stricken with schizophrenia itself, but how many of our people are assigned to an affirming “psychic” who prescribes a fabricated narrative rather than getting curious of the real ailments of a person. How often are our people told to “put on something” like a new identity or narrative instead of teaching a person to become comfortable in their own skin, and more than that, to give them a path to become whole, formidable, and noble? Huey today doesn’t believe that his dad or anyone really abused him, and I imagine there are some who might critique that there may have been real trauma to lead him to subconsciously adopt it in the first place. Be that as it may, his story conveys that we need to walk away from the witchdoctors of everything new age (the magicians, psychics, and gender-affirming so-called “therapists”, all the same). Instead, we ought to seek help and therapy that, as the medical field should aim to do, works diligently and patiently to identify the underlying malady with objectivity, and provide either curative or palliative measures to address that malady so the person can live a life, chiefly of, purpose and growth…instead of giving the emperor his new clothes that feigns empathy only to humiliate the subject.

Hard to Believe Heroes (Short Story)

Hard to Believe Heroes

Chaplain Wallace let out a long sigh as he made his long walk through Nymphis General’s barren corridors in order to reach the hospital’s Behavioral Health Unit. His arms strained carrying the stack of Gideon Bibles on top of his clipboard of patients charts, and his glasses slid to the end of his nose as sweat ran down his face. Though he enjoyed the exercise of walking the long hallways of the hospital and ascending its seven floors, the march toward the very remote psych ward was an especially long one, lacking of any pleasant images of sign, windows, or anything but the white wash walls.

Wallace was called to Behavioral Health perhaps once a month at most, more accustom to running to real emergencies on the spectrum of death, be it imminent news or expiration. On eerily slow days, he’d round in the ICUs to introduce pastoral care, and on the brazen days he’d visit the always overpopulated ER that had no shortage of victims and perpetrators of violent crime and nefarious deeds that seemed to as of late plague the city. He had made sure to specifically avoid the ER on his double shift of Halloween—or the Harrowing, such as the city preferred to call it, a name he personally disdained—knowing no such profitable work could take place among the droves of lunatic and self-righteous “Masks.”

Wallace stopped at the locked, double doors leading to the unit, strained to press the page button near the door, and obediently looked up at the camera.

“How can I help you?” A disgruntled and annoyed voice asked him from the speaker just above the button.

“Chaplain Wallace, Pastoral Care, here to see that new patient.”

Wallace winced hearing a long sigh unmuted over the speaker.


“That’s the one. Bill Henny,” he said, remembering the name without looking at his chart.

“One moment please.”

After a few moments, the door gave out an alarming whir before popping open, and standing at the threshold to meet Wallace was a tall and burly nurse technician. He looked down at Wallace at first with an unimpressed glance before squinting and narrowing his eyes at the stack of Bibles.

“They’re for the other patients,” Wallace explained. “Your unit requests them every time I come up, just after I leave.”

The nurse tech snorted and gestured Wallace inside, holding the door open just enough for Wallace to squeeze inside with the Bibles, thereby promptly closing and locking the door behind them.

Wallace was well enough acquainted with the unit despite his few visits to the removed side of the hospital. The first room was a kind of “checkpoint” of two sets of locked doors, monitored by an aged and aloof security guard behind a booth. Beyond that was a U-shaped unit of patient rooms, each removed of their doors, each with a chair stationed just outside each room for a rotation of sitters. The U-shaped unit was always short staffed and manned by a handful of nurses and nurse techs, who behind the desk watched over the rooms and “lounge” of the unit where patients freely roamed about, read, or watched TV—strangely always tuned into the dismal local new channel. At the other end of the unit was a communal cafeteria for meals and sometimes used for support meetings varying in topic and utility.

The security guard waved the two through with flat affect, and the second set of doors swung open for Wallace and the nurse tech. The unit was as “busy” as Wallace imagined for a late afternoon, with patients shuffling and pacing back and forth through the unit, few stopping to talk to one another, save to exchange a mistrustful glance or mutter a subdued curse under their breath. Maddened chanting and muffled cries echoed out of only a few patients who had cloistered themselves either to their beds or to the communal couch and sofa; Wallace had felt relieved that the stereotyped ambience of madness befitting of an asylum was surprisingly absent, though he chalked the phenomena up to the unit’s chief psychiatrist…

Once Wallace approached the nurse’s deck, he could feel all eyes rest upon him and heard the shuffling of feet towards the desk. He plopped his stack of Bibles on the desk while the head nurse, a petite and older woman, looked up at him with a sweet smile. Wallace looked over to the young and overweight nurse tech that had answered the comm, seeing her tiredly glance up at him once before returning to her newspaper, flipping through headlines of turf wars, child kidnappings, and the rote dismal article published on their crime-ridden city; whereas Wallace tended to steer away from such content, he couldn’t help but notice how hungrily the nurse paged through it, as though the depressing stories echoed with something inside of her. The two nurses were a perfect pair of yin and yang, of hopeful optimism and burnout respectively that Wallace had experienced often in the healthcare field.

“Thank you for the Bibles, Chaplain,” the head nurse beamed.

Wallace could feel a drove of patients hovering about him and the desk. His first time up on the unit he’d naively interpreted the interest the patients gave to him as an opportunity to provide care. That day he’d left the unit with an hour of unpaid overtime, unable to leave, as a line of patients referred themselves to Pastoral Care. It wasn’t that Wallace thought their stories didn’t matter, or that their pain wasn’t real…

“They’re just bored,” the other nurse grumbled, taking the stack of Bibles and beginning to pass them out to the patients.

Wallace sighed to himself. He knew she was right. But that didn’t mean he blamed the patients for wanting to schedule impromptu visits with him. It was just impossible to give himself to every single one of them on a whim when his daily referral list always barely got done by punch out, to say nothing of the sporadic emergencies that were called over the loudspeaker that he was required to see to.

“I’m here to see—”

“He’s in your room,” the pessimistic nurse groaned, flashing her eyes down the other half of the unit.

Wallace cringed hearing it referred to as his room, as though there was an asylum reserved for him. That being said, the room, opposite of the chief Psychiatrist’s next to the cafeteria, was relatively unutilized save for the chaplains who visited the unit. It was a small room, exposed by a large window for passerbys and the front desk to see into, and one of the only rooms with a door. It had a table with two chairs, and between the chairs hung a simple painting of a potted flower.

“He’s quite pleasant,” the older nurse reassured with a smile. “Have a good visit.”

“Thank you, nurse.”

Wallace kept his eyes forward and passed through the lingering patients. He did not celebrate the fact that he’d learned to be so direct and unapproachable, though he knew how one simple greeting could lead to a rabbit hole of a visit for a chaplain who had trouble setting a boundary and saying, “I’m sorry, I have to go. Goodbye.” That being said, he marveled as the patients parted before him in a way of knowing, as though they anticipated he had to see someone, as though recognizing the need of one of their own above their own loneliness and listlessness.

On his way to his room, Wallace glanced left, spotting the lead psychiatrist, Dr. Christine Pax, through the window of her office which conveniently looked into Wallace’s meeting room. Dr. Pax kept her head down in her papers, paging through reports and charts with feigned focus. However, Wallace could feel her divided attention, having been hunted after by her each time he visited one of her patients, interrogated for his report.

Wallace turned to his room, surprised to see his referral sitting and staring blankly forward, not at all looking out the window in anticipation for him, wearing a blank and only slightly woebegone expression. He was a lean, middle-aged man, his head recently shaved with a bristle of hair sprouting from his receding hairline. He wore an enveloping blue hospital gown that overlapped his body once, free of strings, wholly covering the patient’s backside—Wallace preferred that design. Just outside the window, Wallace could make out scuffs and marks of bruising around the man’s crooked nose and bony knuckles, the tells of a brawler that Wallace had learned to pick up on.

Wallace ceremoniously knocked on the door despite knowing he was fully visible to the patient.

“Pastoral Care, may I come in?”


The patient’s voice was hoarse though full of life, and as Wallace entered the room, he could see the man’s eyes light up and grow wide as though to take Wallace in fully, though the creases of his mouth did not move.

“My name is Chaplain Wallace. You are Bill?”

“You can call me, Billy,” he said warmly, his eyes still peeled wide open. It was hard for Wallace to tell if the man’s alertness was indicative of excitement, his medication, or merely a baseline of some condition.

“May I have a seat, Billy?”

“Please, chaplain.”

Wallace sat down in his seat, folded his hands together, and shot him a subdued smile. Unless the patient or family of the patient were visibly distraught, Wallace usually began the visits with his routine introductions, “How are you feeling? What brings you here? How has your experience at the hospital been thus far?” In that particular unit, Wallace preferred to steer the conversation himself, knowing how fast a patient could spin such a question into a rabbit hole of an unrelated story.

“I apologize, I didn’t think to bring a Bible for you. Your residents probably have taken them all by now.”

Wallace knew it was an unconventional way for him to begin the visit, though his introduction had a method to it. The apology began to screen for the patient’s general regard towards others and their capacity of extending grace, the Bible was to explore the patient’s faith background or foundation of meaning and purpose, and the mentioning of the other residents was to establish he reality of the patient not being alone and explore how that patient was adjusting with his new environment.

“That’s alright. They’ll probably sell them all once they get out.”

Wallace blinked, subduing his surprise for such a candid response. He learned more from the patient with such a line that a medical chart simply could not communicate.

“Forgive me, Billy, but that sounds a little cynical. Is there something wrong?”

“You can’t give me a Bible, chaplain,” Billy responded flatly, though keeping his pleasant and lively tenor. “You can’t, because you and I both know they won’t let me keep one.”

Wallace waited before answering, and Billy held up his arms as though referencing his unique gown. Wallace knew that the stringless gown was indicative of patients with a history of violence or suicidal ideation. And the patient was right that Wallace knew the nursing staff wouldn’t let Billy keep the Bible, or any possession for that matter.

“What brings you to the hospital, Billy,” Wallace asked, gently gesturing to Billy’s gown with his eyes.

“You know why I’m here, chaplain,” Billy said, still in a pleasant voice.

“I don’t read the charts of my patients before visiting them, Billy.”

That was only half-true. Wallace read only the charts of patients he visited outside of that unit. He knew reading the notes of the medical staff tended to paint his view of the patients and their story.

Billy raised his eyebrows in an expression of what Wallace interpreted as commendation.

“What brings you here, Billy?”


Wallace raised an eyebrow.


“Yeah. Justice. Serving justice.”

“Care to elaborate?”

Wallace was surprised by the level of eye contact Billy employed as he told his story. He was used to patients staring off somewhere, looking up and about as they shared their story—fabricated or otherwise true, Wallace still had difficulty discerning which was which.

“My wife was killed a year ago, on Halloween, on the Harrowing. Ended up here in this hospital actually. She looked so bad they had trouble identifying her. I wasn’t notified until days later when they moved her to a nearby funeral’s morgue. When I reported to the police that she had gone missing, they finally identified her, and then they called me. The Russian mob, the Spades, they did it.”

Wallace leaned back in his chair, squinting with some suspicion as his patient told the story without any affect whatsoever.

“You lost your wife a year ago,” Wallace reflected. “I imagine that grief is fairly raw still, Billy.”

Billy shrugged only slightly.

“I deal with it in my own way. Like I said. I’m serving justice.”

Wallace stopped himself as he was tempted to pry into Billy’s writing off of grief, of crowbarring open his soul to get the man to cry. But the man seemed intent on the word ‘justice’, and Wallace decided to oblige.

“What do you mean serving justice?”

“Retribution, chaplain. I’m making those who killed my wife pay for their sins. I’ve been taking down the Spades, their sex trafficking rings. And I need your help, chaplain.”

Wallace put up a hand and squinted.

“The Spades killed your wife?”

It was hard for him to ask without a sliver of suspicion coming through in his question.

“They did,” Billy answered matter-of-factly. “Killed her, chaplain. She was going to uproot their whole system. Save a bunch of the girls trapped in their brothels and sex rings, put the dirty traffickers on trial. She was onto something big.”

Wallace felt silly for his curiosity, wondering if asking would only enable the fantastical tale. Though as he put his curiosity to words, he knew where his curiosity stemmed from; he knew the outset of the patient’s story was a gripping one, even if he suspected it to be fabricated.

 “How was she going to do all this, Billy?”

Billy broke eye contact, his eyes looking down and off to the side in what Wallace perceived as shame. He pursed his lips as though hesitant to answer. Wallace suspended his misgivings of the expression as a dramatic ruse, and leaned in.

“She got herself into trouble. Gambling problem. We were loaded with that debt. I didn’t approve, chaplain, but she gave herself up to them. Stripped and slept to pay off the debt. I was going to take another job, or two, to pay it off, but I couldn’t talk her out of her indenturing herself.”

Billy looked back up at Wallace, his eyes perking up with the familiar wideness.

“But maybe there’s a silver lining in there, chaplain? Maybe she was able to uncover the truth through her sin? Neither of us would have known how bad these poor girls had to suffer if she hadn’t worked in the trenches with them.”

Wallace bit his lip, knowing how far out of the room the two were. He did not enjoy talking about other people in his visits, not when the patient was the one stuck in the hospital with their own particular condition that required addressing, confronting, and even lamenting. Wallace composed himself, and wove his way out of the weeds of the tale.

“How does this relate to you being here? Is any of this connected to justice?”

Billy finally smiled, just a little.

“It is, chaplain. Almost a year after losing her I decided to do something about it. I decided to get justice for my sweet Mary. So I put on a mask, I took to the streets, and I went after the Spades.”

Billy closed his eyes so as to roll them behind his eye lids without incurring judgment.

“You’re a Mask, Billy?” Wallace asked flatly.

Wallace was familiar with the movement though wholly uninterested with it. He found it hard to follow which Mask was on which side, which one took money and which didn’t, which killed people and those who didn’t. Worse of all, Masks on both sides seemed to increase the patient population in the hospital, and that was just more unnecessary work for Wallace and the rest of the hospital.

“I am, chaplain. I was busy pummeling the Spades during the Harrowing, and I kept at it the next couple of days…until they caught me.”

“What’s your vigilante name, Billy?” Wallace asked, punctuating Billy’s own name in the question.

“The one I gave myself, or the one everyone gives me?”

Wallace blinked with surprise.

“You’ve been given one? Sounds like you’ve earned notoriety?”

“I’m afraid to say it. Maybe you’ll know then who I am.”

Wallace suppressed a chuckle at the insinuation.

“Billy, if I may be candid, I don’t pay attention to the Mask phenomena in our city. You can tell me whatever name you’d like, and I still probably won’t know who you are.”

“They call me Whitie.”

Wallace feigned a guttural chuckle for a cough.

“What was that?”

“Whitie, chaplain. They call me Whitie.”

Wallace blinked. Though the man was Caucasian, he knew there must have been more than race that had to do with the patient’s alias.

“How’d you earn that title?”

“Every Mask and vigilante in this city has a fancy costume, looking to either impress their fans or scare their enemies. Not me. I’m trying to spread the message. I want the naked truth exposed to this city of what’s really going on.”

“Do they call you Whitie because you do your crime-fighting in your skivvies?” Wallace asked pointedly.

“Well, my mask and my cape are also white. Tennis shoes too.”

Wallace closed his eyes and bit his tongue. He’d heard some crazy stories before on the unit. He was sure no subsequent visit to the behavioral health unit would top his visit to Billy.

“Don’t vigilantes need to cover up in order to do what they do, Billy? For protection?”

Wallace wasn’t quite sure why he’d asked the question, but he knew he’d been fully caught and trapped in the narrative.

“Well, I’m really hard to catch when I grease up.”

It was perhaps the most sane thing Wallace had heard in the course of their conversation.

“Again, chaplain, the message is what’s important. Our wives, sisters, and daughters are enslaved in this city to vile men who demand they take off their clothes. Once they get into the Spades’ strip joints, gentlemen’s clubs, and brothels, there’s no way out. They extort them, trap them, and give them debts they can never pay off. So I show them something—I admit—not so pleasant to look at, but the circumstances of our city are far much uglier than what people see when they look at me.”

Wallace nodded slowly. He hated to admit how poetic it sounded. Still, he needed to get the two of them off the streets and back into the hospital room.

“Why are you in the hospital, Billy?”

“Because I got caught.”

“Unless you’re here for those cuts and bruises, I’d imagine you’d be put in jail instead, where the rest of the caught Masks have been going.”

Billy sighed uncomfortably and looked up at the painting of the potted plant.

“They don’t think I’m right.”

“And what do you think, Billy?”

“I think I’m in the right, chaplain.”

Without breaking eye contact, Wallace could feel Dr. Pax peering in at the two of them. Wallace felt his watch ticking towards the end of his shift, which also happened to tick to the end of their visit. He knew the rabbit hole went much deeper, but he knew venturing much further would put him in a place in the conversation much harder to leave from.

“There was a consult to see you, Billy,” Wallace said directly. “You requested to see a chaplain. So, what can a chaplain do for you today, Billy?”

Billy put up two fingers.

“Two requests, chaplain.”

“I’m listening.”

“I wanted to ask if you think it’s wrong what I’m doing, if it’s sinful what I’m doing.”

Wallace chewed on his lip and stared pensively at the painting of the potted flower. His mind steered towards not entertaining the thought at all, to turning the question on its head, but he already knew Billy’s answer; Billy had already indicated he believed he was in the right. Perhaps, Wallace thought to himself, the man was merely looking for affirmation.

Wallace chuckled to himself as he was about to open his mouth to entertain the idea, realizing how uncouth it was to entertain what almost certainly seemed like mania. He knew answering would only fan Billy’s flame, perhaps billowing a real paranoia or delusion that existed behind the story.

Wallace looked back at Billy who waited patiently, eyes still large though with a starved look rather than true mania. Wallace sighed doing the simple math in his head. He was not a clinician, and therefore did not need to prove Billy’s sanity. He was not a judge, and did not need to pry into Billy’s conscience. He was a chaplain and asked merely to hold a mirror to the circumstances before him.

“It’s a hard to believe story, I’m going to admit, Billy.”

Billy nodded slowly, still staring wide-eyed, hungry for the rest of the answer.

“But assuming everything you’ve said is true,” Wallace began. He stopped himself and went through the story once more in his head and laughed to himself. “I suppose it’s hard to deny that our city has a crime problem, a kidnapping problem, a lot of problems. One only needs to turn on the news to see that. It’s frustrating at times, seeing it happen, feeling too powerless to do anything about it, except keep watching the news and getting bothered…”

Wallace paused, cringed as the headlines and newscasts replayed in his head from the nurse’s newspaper, from the morning radio. He shocked himself, feeling something begin to burn in his chest, his face unconsciously burrow into a glower of indignation. As he looked up he saw Billy’s eyes come alive, as though the man began to see something turning inside of Wallace.

Wallace blinked, imagining Billy no longer in his gown, but in his underwear, his face hardly covered by the white mask he spoke of, staring wide-eyed and vigilant in the dead of night while the city was asleep.

And then Wallace laughed.

“What is it, chaplain?”

“Whitie is a refreshing thought to all the madness, isn’t he? A half-naked man who runs through the streets beating up criminals. It’s admittedly a little crazy, isn’t it Billy? But that kind of crazy is oddly refreshing to what’s happening outside, isn’t it?”

Billy laughed limply.

“I suppose it is, chaplain.”

“I apologize. I’m probably being uncouth, Billy.”

“I appreciate your honest thoughts on the matter, chaplain.”

“Well, you asked for something else too, Billy?” Wallace said, looking back at his watch.

Billy leaned in, folded his hands over his mouth—as though also cognizant of the two being watched—and whispered.

“Help me get out.”

Wallace stiffened back in his seat.

“Billy,” Wallace began, the words coming out of his mouth in a robotic, programmed manner, “you’re in here for your health, wellbeing, and safety.”

“I’m not though. The Spades could have taken me out like my wife, and they chose not to. They suspected I might have information on them that could ruin them, the information my wife had collected. They knew calling me in, not to jail me, but to hospitalize me would undermine any testimony I could bring against them. They knew another body would just raise suspicion.”

“You don’t think your testimony is undermined by running around in your underwear, Billy?”

Billy shook his head.

“It’s about the message, chaplain. But I need your help. Please. Get me out of here.”

Wallace bit his lip. He’d heard the plea before. He’d heard it from not just patients in that part of the hospital, but from the confused, the elderly, from those waiting on a doctor or some tests who simply could not get out even Against Medical Advice.

“I’m a chaplain, Billy. I can’t discharge you. You and I both know that.”

“I know that, chaplain. But she will talk to you.”

 Wallace didn’t need to ask who he meant, nor did he need to look over to feel Dr. Pax’s stare.

He was undecided as to his recourse, but he knew failing to give Billy a positive or hopeful word would only keep him in the room that much longer.

“I’ll do what is in your best interests, Billy, as I do for all my patients.”

Wallace anticipated some resistance, some pressing from Billy as to what exactly the answer meant. Instead, he saw Billy nod slowly, and eventually lean back in his chair.

“I believe you, chaplain.”

“Good,” Wallace said, rising from his seat. “It was truly a pleasure talking with you, Billy.”

“Wait, chaplain.”

“Yes, Billy?”

“Aren’t you going to pray for me?”

Though it came as a given in his profession, Wallace had become accustom to not forcing prayer on the end of his visits. Such was especially case in the behavioral health unit where Wallace feared an intention or petition could unknowingly serve as fuel for a deluded narrative or distorted sense of reality based on how his patient heard it.

And yet, Wallace could never turn prayer down to those who asked for it with sincerity.

Wallace sat back down and saw Billy reach his hands to the center of the table. Against his instincts and reservations, Wallace allowed himself to place his hands in Billy’s.

Wallace closed his eyes, and bowed his head with Billy.

“Heavenly Father, we thank you for this opportunity of fellowship. Lord of mercy, look down upon us, your servants, and especially on your servant Billy. We ask that you liberate us and loose us from all infirmity and weakness, and that you speak wisdom into our minds and hearts for our edification and healing…”

Wallace paused, hearing Billy not audibly but in his heart repeating and chanting the word: “justice.” Though he was unaccustomed to the petition, he decided to speak towards his heart’s inclination.

“And, Lord, we ask for justice…for…for justice, Lord.”

“Amen,” Billy responded.

Wallace looked up, shocked to see tears streaming from Billy’s eyes. Wallace smiled sweetly. He’d always been told that tears at the end of a visit were indicative of a job well done. Though he felt at a loss for any more adequate words to pray on Billy’s behalf, he was warmed to see the man weep.

“God bless you, Billy.”

“And you as well. Thank you, chaplain.”

Wallace left Billy as he held his face in his hands, as the streams of tears continued to flow. Wallace walked stiffly and hastily through the U of the unit, feeling the eyes of every patient and staff member tracking him. He felt their looks, however, not in the usual way, indicative of those looking for something, but rather looking with awe. He couldn’t be sure how much could be heard outside the closed door of the room, or interpreted through the glass of the room, and yet he felt the staff and patients knew the nature of the conversation, and the nature of Billy.

“Oh Chaplain!”

Wallace paused and grit his teeth, hearing the shrill voice of Dr. Pax follow after him just as he reached the checkpoint of the unit. He turned seeing her smile at him, a feigned kind of smile of pleasantry and formality, a toothy grin that served as a façade of welcomeness behind a want for favor and control.

“Yes, doctor?” Wallace replied neutrally.

“Thank you for seeing Mr. Henny today.”

“I think he prefers to go by Billy.”

“Actually, he prefers to go by something else,” she said with a forced chortle.

Wallace smiled limply back.

“I’m not sure if you are privy to his history, chaplain?”

“I don’t read patient charts,” Wallace replied briskly. “Not unless I have to.”

“It might be good for you to do so, chaplain,” she said, her voice growing slightly sharper. “The man is likely a paranoid schizophrenic and has persisted in a narrative that the mob is out to get him. The police suspect a history of vandalism and assault as well.”

“Suspect?” Wallace asked.

“Nothing that’s been confirmed in court yet. I’m sure he told you about his little ‘crime-fighting esquepades’.”

Wallace refrained from answering directly.

“Why isn’t he in jail?” Wallace decided to ask.

Dr. Pax beamed.

“He came in Baker Acted by the police when they found him streaking in his underwear—again, something I’m sure he’s already shared with you. They found him in a state of madness, only confirmed when he shouted accusations at the cops that they too were connected to the mob. No charges have been pressed yet, despite having been picked up out of a porn shop wielding a crowbar. It’s a miracle he didn’t end up in jail. He seriously needs help.”

Wallace nodded, not so much in agreement as much as to indicate he heard the psychiatrist.

“Forgive me, doctor, but my shift is about up and I need to chart. Anything you need from me?”

“Anything you might have for me that might provide important insight into the patient’s condition?” Dr. Pax asked, cocking an eyebrow.

Wallace spun on his heel to leave.

“Nothing that you won’t see in the notes of my chart. Good day, doctor.”

Wallace took his time descending from the psych ward to his office, his finger glued pensively to his lip, considering what he truly thought, felt, and believed about his conversation with Billy, deliberating what he might log in his chart. He cringed as he played through the conversation again in his own mind, embarrassed at the thought of another staff member listening to him entertaining the story presented to him.

“I got sucked in, didn’t I?” Wallace grumbled to himself.

It was a rookie move. Unbecoming in his work to let the story outside the walls of the hospital to become the topic of discussion, to get away from the diagnosis and how it affected their sense of meaning & purpose, to explore relationships and means of coping in strife, to be nothing more than a pastoral presence.

And yet, he couldn’t shake the prying eyes of Dr. Pax from his mind, couldn’t help but sympathize for the patient after being interrogated by her. Wallace had learned the psychiatrist had extended the stay of many patients by her own orders, had made under functioning prisoners of the weak-willed patients that she’d sunk her talons into. Wallace had seen it before in ministry, a kind of toxic savior complex that sought to keep the flock nice and close for the reward itself of having others becoming dependent on you.

Wallace fell exhaustedly back into his chair once he arrived at his office, and he stared silently at the computer screen instead of immediately going to the hospital charting system. Though he was tempted to explore the patient’s chart, he felt nauseated by the thought, as though prying into the details would suddenly deflate and paint the story in an instant, that the psychiatrist’s verdict would suddenly become his gospel truth.

Instead, Wallace opened up his browser and searched “Mask Whitie.” Sure enough, multiple articles accompanied by stark photos popped up on his screen. Wallace leaned in, seeing Billy Henny, wielding a humble crowbar, wearing nothing but his underwear, a white domino mask, a pair of white tennis shoes, and a cape made of a strange fabric. Wallace leaned in and zoomed into the photo, studying the cape with some scrutiny, interpreting the cape as some fine fabric, something light and fluffy almost like scrap fabric belonging to a wedding dress. Wallace scrolled through the articles, seeing stories of a half-naked Mask vandalizing porn shops and liquor stores, causing bedlam in casinos and strip clubs, even assaulting individuals with Slavic sounding names befitting of the Red Spades recruiting pool.

Not all of it seemed as innocent to Wallace as Billy portrayed it, but Wallace had been in chaplaincy long enough to know man’s proclivity to portray details that either dignified or victimized the teller rather than self-incriminate. And yet, he knew there was even more to Billy’s story that he needed to know.

Wallace turned to his charting program and searched not for Bill Henny, but Maria Henny. But after a quick peck of the keyboard and click, he sighed and shook his head, seeing no such name come up.

Wallace drummed his fingers on his desk in annoyance, displeased to see a hole in the story that he admittedly wanted to be true. Without the dead wife, in Wallace’s eyes at least, Billy wasn’t just a maniac without a motive, but worse, a liar spinning tales to get others to join his crusade.

Just as Wallace was about to type in Billy’s name to write up a damning note, he stopped himself, considering one other alternative. He ran a report of the ER’s patient list on last year’s Halloween and scrolled through the names. Wallace scrolled through the “H’s” first incase the patient had gone by a different first name, but to no avail. And then he went to the “D’s,” and as he had suspected, a handful of “Jane Doe’s” popped up. He clicked through the different charts until he found one that had been pronounced dead, and Wallace eagerly opened the ER Physician’s note:

“Female patient in 30s admitted to ER with violent hemoptysis, acute repertory distress, and multiple injuries sustained to face and body. Patient’s pulse was in decline at emergency admittance. Compressions were administered for 32 minutes. Patient was unable to be identified, and staff could not establish an emergency contact or health care surrogate. A pulse could not be achieved. Time of expiration: 21:33.”

Wallace reclined back in his seat and let out a heavy sigh.

The skeptic in him told him that such circumstances were common enough to fabricate a story around, or that Billy merely could have been privy to the poor anonymous woman’s demise and wrote into his own mind a narrative that she was his dead wife. Believing Billy, on the other hand, that this woman was in fact his wife also required some mental gymnastics as he considered the grandiose nature of the story, considered the flat and manic-looking affect of his patient. Both conclusions required a leap for Wallace.

Wallace opened up Billy’s file and began to write his note. The cursor in the text box blinked annoyingly at him, begging him to pen his observations, his purpose in the visit, the outcome of the visit. As he stared at the blinking cursor, he thought of the still heart of the Jane Doe that came in, and the beating heart of Billy Henny. He couldn’t help but wonder how Billy was still alive after so many bold ventures, after chasing after criminals without any armor or proper weaponry.

The fact that Billy was still alive, the message his comical appearance conveyed, the spirit in which he spoke his story…it wasn’t in itself compelling, but it made him want to believe the story.

Wallace sat down at his desk, and penned his note:

“Pastoral Care visited patient per patient’s request relayed by nursing staff. Pastoral care provided pastoral and listening presence and explored patient’s feelings towards hospitalization and patient’s coping strategies. Patient shared feelings of discomfort being in hospital. Patient seems to use humor to cope hard circumstances. Patient communicates concern for those outside of himself and seems to find purpose in helping others. Patient requested prayer. Chaplain prayed with patient. Outcome of visit seemed to provide patient with solace and emotional release.”


The Next Day…

“Alert! Alert! Alert! Code Grey, East Seven!”

Chaplain Wallace stepped out of line for his coffee and shuffled off to the west side of the hospital, the immediacy of the PA’s alarm hardly coherent to hear what floor of the hospital in which the emergency took place. Code Greys—physical altercations started by patients or guests against staff—warranted no more than a check-in from a chaplain to touch base with the staff, to provide a sense of calm after security had wrestled down the culprit. Still, Wallace forced himself to check in on it, finding an excuse to see to the emergency for the sake of enjoying the sunrise over Nymphis’ bay.

Wallace took the stairwell instead of the elevator, knowing it would take some time for the lift to return to him after security was done ascending to whatever floor the code had been called. Wallace whistled to himself, taking in the morning sun as he passed by each floor’s window, the sun refreshing him with its rays as it pierced through the glistening towers of a morally decrepit city.

Wallace paused as a clamoring set of footsteps descended towards him, and a man dressed in what he thought he remembered to be the garb of another patient from the psych ward brush past him.

“Excuse me, pardon me.”

Wallace reached out and grabbed the man’s arm, and spun him. The man wore a pair of jeans and plaid shirt of a patient not under a Baker Act, and although an N-95 mask covered a great deal of his face, his bald head and large eyes did not get past Wallace.

“Billy?” Wallace asked.

“Chaplain,” Billy groaned, his body falling slack, as though surrendering under Wallace’s grasp. “Look, I can explain.”

“Please do! You’re responsible for that code?!”

Billy shrugged, and he spoke in a spirited way.

“I told my story. Again and again. A lot of other people are trapped up there for who knows how long, feeling like life is slipping by them. They wanted to do something. They liked the story. So they helped me get out.”

“How, pray tell?”

“They all became Whitie,” Billy said. “Got in their skivvies, wrapped bed sheets around their necks like capes, put on masks like these to cover their faces. Meanwhile, my next door neighbor leant me his clothes. Said he was going to watch for me every night outside his window till he got out or I got back in.”

Wallace shook his head.

“You disapprove, chaplain?” Billy asked.

“Your craziness is contagious, Billy.”

Wallace saw Billy look down at his feet sheepishly.

“Not a real fair way to talk about those guys and girls up in that unit, chaplain.”

“Not what I meant,” Wallace said, letting go of Billy. “You’ve got me sick with your story too. Get the hell out of here, Whitie.”

Billy returned to meet Wallace’s face, wearing his same flat and wide-eyed expression, giving not even a coy smile to the absurdity of the moment, but rather a dutiful nod as though he were being sent off to fight a new war.

Wallace heard the ground level door spring open and slam just as he heard a familiar and similar commotion a few floors above him. Wallace looked up, seeing two winded security guards hustle down the steps with Dr. Pax in tow.

“Chaplain!” Dr. Pax huffed, looking surprised to see him.

“Heard there was a code, doctor,” Wallace answered flatly.

The guards pushed past him and trampled down the stairwell. Dr. Pax took a moment to catch her breath, and paused to meet him at his level, her usually forced pleasantry smile suddenly narrowed with a look of betrayal.

“Your note was not very thorough for what appeared to be a significant conversation,” she snapped.

Wallace shrugged.

“They’re all just bored up there, ask your own staff. They just want someone to listen to them.”

“As it turns out, a lot of people listened to Mr. Henny,” she hissed, stepping inches within his face. “Turned out to be a kind of insurrection if you can believe it, chaplain.”

“Hard to believe, mam.”

Genesis 10-Relationship As Identity & Family Systems Theory

Genesis 10:1-32

These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth; sons were born to them after the flood.

2 The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. 3 The sons of Gomer: Ash′kenaz, Riphath, and Togar′mah. 4 The sons of Javan: Eli′shah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Do′danim. 5 From these the coastland peoples spread. These are the sons of Japheth[a] in their lands, each with his own language, by their families, in their nations.

6 The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. 7 The sons of Cush: Seba, Hav′ilah, Sabtah, Ra′amah, and Sab′teca. The sons of Ra′amah: Sheba and Dedan. 8 Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went into Assyria, and built Nin′eveh, Reho′both-Ir, Calah, and 12 Resen between Nin′eveh and Calah; that is the great city. 13 Egypt became the father of Ludim, An′amim, Leha′bim, Naph-tu′him, 14 Pathru′sim, Caslu′him (whence came the Philistines), and Caph′torim.

15 Canaan became the father of Sidon his first-born, and Heth, 16 and the Jeb′usites, the Amorites, the Gir′gashites, 17 the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, 18 the Ar′vadites, the Zem′arites, and the Ha′mathites. Afterward the families of the Canaanites spread abroad. 19 And the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon, in the direction of Gerar, as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomor′rah, Admah, and Zeboi′im, as far as Lasha. 20 These are the sons of Ham, by their families, their languages, their lands, and their nations.

21 To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born. 22 The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arpach′shad, Lud, and Aram. 23 The sons of Aram: Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash. 24 Arpach′shad became the father of Shelah; and Shelah became the father of Eber. 25 To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg,[b] for in his days the earth was divided, and his brother’s name was Joktan. 26 Joktan became the father of Almo′dad, Sheleph, Hazarma′veth, Jerah, 27 Hador′am, Uzal, Diklah, 28 Obal, Abim′a-el, Sheba, 29 Ophir, Hav′ilah, and Jobab; all these were the sons of Joktan. 30 The territory in which they lived extended from Mesha in the direction of Sephar to the hill country of the east. 31 These are the sons of Shem, by their families, their languages, their lands, and their nations.

32 These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations; and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.

What’s Important About Generations?

Just as I am tempted to skip over chapters of the Bible that have only to do with generations, I was tempted to skip over writing on this chapter. That being said, I will use this chapter of Genesis to speak on an important part of our human condition, and that is how our identity and behavior is largely shaped by our relationships, especially that of family. For those who want to dig deeper into this dynamic of behavior and family I recommend checking out Family Systems Theory. 

There’s a part of Genesis 10 which I think some of us are tempted to call as Ancient Israelite propaganda. In Genesis 9, we read how Ham was one of Noah’s three sons who perhaps was not as prudent or discerning. Ham announces the sight he sees of his father drunk and naked, sharing this shameful sight to his brothers and then taking no part in covering his father up. Ham promotes scandal in the family, whereas the other brothers are very prudent about covering their father up and making sure not to see him.

What we read in Chapter 10 is how Ham’s descendants are named after Israel’s greatest enemies: Egypt & Canaan. This part of the family tree is depicted as mighty and strong hunters, whereas the other two brothers’ lineage aren’t really given any remarkable details. Not to depict Ham’s descendants in caricature, but the two groups that come from Ham come across as adversarial throughout the Old Testament, as the chief enemies of Israel and devoted to their pagan beliefs.

Perhaps this chapter and the example of Ham’s family isn’t the perfect example to bring up identity and family systems, but the listing of this genealogy does stress a particular importance for all humankind to “know their roots”. For us reading the genealogy today it might seem as boring, but what I’d like for this chapter to evoke in us is a curiosity of where each of us come from, and who we are based on those origins.

Ghost In the Shell?

When we think of the most tangible piece of our identity, we cannot escape our own flesh and blood. Most people know us based on our appearance, what they see, hear, perhaps even feel and smell. It would be unwise of us to assume a worldview that we are mere “ghosts within a shell,” a gnostic assumption that our bodies are mere vessel that have no impact on our identity or behavior at all. Ask any physician, and they will tell you that respiratory diseases and blood pressure can have a big impact upon mood and temperance, and this is just one example of something we have no control of that we essentially inherit. Setting aside the “unseen” elements of our selves such as our organs and hormones, even the seen elements of our bodies play a role in who we are. Our nose and facial structure affects how we sound, and how others will perceive us based on appearance and tone–again this is just one example.

Whether you love your body or hate it, you are it. It’s what people smile at, frown at, embrace, recognize, speak to, the list goes on. Love it or hate it, it’s what makes up you, contributes to more than what we give it credit to. We are psychosomatic beings–the body and the soul entwined rather than one thing filling into another like water and a bucket.

This is important to establish because our bodies come from communion: they come from two people joining together. While luck or fate may have had a hand in what genes would be expressed, the building blocks worked with were your mother and father. You are the unique intermingling of their DNA, unrepeatable in that your genes borrow from each–to say nothing of mutation in all of this–though still harkening from those two people.

Literally, our flesh and blood is from them, a fragment of each of their portraits, perhaps even a fragment of their parents’ portrait. Our identity is built up of these genetic building blocks, which makes identity inescapable to heritage, to relationship.

Spiritual Genetics

Given what we have established as our identity relates to relationship/heritage, it is a logical step to say that even our personality is made up of these formative figures. One can make arguments how our genetics have some sway (even if it is small) on our behavior and personality. Perhaps if addiction or depression exists somewhere in the pedigree that it is somewhere on the genetic radar and therefore at least a pre-disposition. 

But we are not merely speaking about hard genetic personality traits that are passed on, but rather dynamics, roles, habits, norms, taboos, and the whole spectrum of human behavior that we witness and are groomed by. Our most immediate family has the greatest impact in this regard, this being our parents and siblings, and perhaps even extended family based on whether they live in the same residence or vicinity a us. There is so much nuero-plasticity and molding that takes place in youth, so we cannot write off the psychic imprint our parents and siblings have on us in these formative years.

For example, we might learn coping strategies from our family. Perhaps you are the type who flees or retreats from combat–physically or cognitively/emotionally. This strategy of retreat is not necessarily instinct or random. But perhaps one or two parents were overbearing when they saw us do something wrong and gave little room for us to disagree or express our emotions. Perhaps we witnessed in our mother and father a “stone-walling” behavior of one person shutting out the other when conflict arose, rather than talking about feelings.

This is just one example in the spectrum of coping strategies, which is just one subject in the wide discussion of personality. 

Because our parents are the culmination of our physical identity, they assume perhaps the most foundational role of our spiritual identity as well. Symbolically they represent to us structure and nurture, safety and autonomy, and when they fail or misrepresent in these it informs our worldview of such topics. They are at the top of the hierarchy of our personality development.

This is perhaps a hard message to hear, especially if we might harbor some resentment to them or perhaps if we like to think of ourselves as a maverick and our own person. If it still seems implausible that your parents hold such weight on your personality, I invite you to take some more inventory of your ticks, tendencies, peeves, and proclivities.

Rebellion or Evolution

That being said, there is hope for all of us. Some of us might find the notion that our parents hold the most weight of our personality and identity as constricting, hopeless, doomed for us to repeat the sins of our fathers. 

And yet we saw in previous genealogies how good individuals broke out of perhaps bad cycles, broke the norm of worldly, corrupt, and sinful lives. Enoch broke the pattern, Noah broke the pattern, we can break the pattern.

But how?

We tend to think of the rebellious period of teenage life to be a nuance of our current culture or a wholly negative thing. I believe this period of development is built into us, an invitation to cast off let’s say “negative spiritual genes” so as to grow in our identity, our personhood, our individual selves. I would say most of my rebellion against my parents was superficial, a rejection of their music for my own, their politics for my own, etc. 

That being said, in college, the “rebellion period” lessened in intensity without fully dissipating. College granted me awareness–through my classes and through my classmates–of my own personal ticks, nueroticisms, and inherited behavior, as well as insight into the dynamics and personality of my parents as it related to our family system. I began to identify unhelpful behaviors and patterns, and in so doing recognized how some of my rebellious tendencies related to a feeling of discontent in regards with negative behaviors I had inherited–namely through observation and developed coping skills within hard dynamics. 

To put it simply, we can use our time of rebellion as an introspective checklist of what we inherit from our parents, to decipher what is a part of us that we can place some attention on and grow out of. This is not to say that we develop resentment for our parents or lose a sense of gratitude for what good they gave us. However, I think it important for every teenager and adult to take inventory of what we inherit spiritually from our parents that needs to be identified and left to the wayside.

This transformation that happens, however, is not done so easily alone. It takes good friends, wholesome characters, who are willing to help us smooth out those rough edges and to imbue us with something new, good, and holy. We cannot think to create something out of this void of what we lose when we distance ourselves from bad habits or ticks from our parents, for this void will naturally seek something or someone else to fill it, and any attempt to conceive of our own identity in this void will lack any anchor or grounding.

We cannot hope to carve out our own personality; to do so is like attempting to comb one’s hair, apply make-up, or pop a zit without a mirror. We need mirrors in our lives to show us who we are (objectively) and what we need to work on. But as we choose these mirrors we are also choosing models, and we ought to reconcile with whoever we stand face-to-face with will affect our identity, will shape and mold our faces, our persona, our identity.

Today, consider the following:

  • What are five noticeable traits each of my parents have (and even my siblings have)?
  • What are some traits, after some consideration, that my parents and I share in common that are not so noticeable?
  • What do people tell me I need to work on? Do I ever ask others to give me feedback? How do I receive feedback?
  • How do I identify myself in five words? Would those five words be the same thing a friend, a co-worker, a family member would use?
  • What do I need to grow out of that I inherited from home?
  • Who are the positive influences that sculpt me, that I “spiritually” borrow from, consciously or unconsciously emulate? Why do I choose them (consciously or unconsciously)?