No one laughs at God when he’s in a hospital, chants Regina Spektor, a popular Russian-American singer. As I preview Hospital Chaplains first episode, which airs on ABC at 6.30pm tonight, these words are a vivid reminder of my thoughts. The God in this series isn’t an abstract theological concept that can be use academically. This is the God for those who suffer, and those who are near death in hospitals intensive care units or public wards.
Geraldine Doogue, the narrator says that forty thousand Australians end up in hospitals each day. They need to taken care of in terms of their bodies as well as their souls. Chaplains are those who care for souls. This is a major problem in a country that is primarily secular and non-believing, such as Australia.
In deference to Australia’s multicultural and secular nature, the series quickly attempts to draw a line between religion and spirituality. The Royal North Shore Hospital’s intensive care unit’s doctor explained that chaplaincy is not about preaching or ‘you must repent’. It’s about listening to patients and helping them understand their spiritual and emotional side.
Dr Ray Raper is referring to Di Roche, his non-denominational chaplaincy, who does indeed practice an open and non-sectarian style. Patients and their families are introduce to her by a disclaimer. I’m no God-botherer. She makes patients and their families feel comfortable and trustable.
Primary God Concern Of Culturally
Suspicion of religion is so great in Australia that the primary concern of culturally-sensitive, intelligent chaplains is to get on the same wave-length as patients. This means that you should not come across as being too religious.
Di Roche is not the only chaplain who is open-mind and adventurous. We are treat to a touching encounter between Graham McKay (Anglican chaplain of Liverpool Hospital) and Neville, a former driver of earth-moving machinery who is dying from cancer.
Neville says, I know that I’m dying, in a quiet and contemplative moment. There must be something I should do. Although the chaplain appears to be helpful enough, it seems to me that he is a God-bother who is too happy to assist with old-fashioned remedies.
This is where the series reveals its cliched and hackneyed side and the division between its claims, and its practices. McKay finds that Neville hasn’t been to church since Sunday school. He speaks to him in a condescending manner, as though he were still a child.
He is instructed to put his faith in Jesus Christ, that’s how we prepare to die. Is that something you have ever done? The chaplain is honest, but sanctimonious. Neville isn’t convinced and appears to have some surprises for his traditional chaplain.
Muslim Man God
He said, My step-daughter got married to a Muslim man and she’s now converted to Islam and I can’t fault anything they do. He’s not a Christian, so I can’t claim he’s bad.
The chaplain nods but with apparent unease and embarrassment. Neville claims that his son-in law wanted him to convert, but he refused. He claims he wasn’t able to convert and that he didn’t feel motivated. However, he insists that his son in law is a good person.
He emphasizes that he doesn’t think he is wrong. The chaplain is looking uncomfortable again, hoping for a quick and easy death-bed return back to Neville’s absolutist Christianity. The chaplain declares that he is an absoluteist in his faith, saying My way is God’s way.
This is not what we meant to hear, dear. Graham McKay holds the key to God’s ways. What happen to the God in all traditions, the God who is not divided, the God who transcends religions? In our current spiritual complexity and difficulty, this is not good television.
McKay offers some tepid consolation: We can have great regard for people with other beliefs but in the end, we have to figure out what’s right. Who does McKay’s royal we refer too? We Australians, Christians, moderns, Buddhists. His ministry in multicultural west Sydney should have taught him something about a bigger God, a god of all people, and a God who cares for the human suffering community.
Although Neville might not be very knowledgeable in his statements, he has learned important lessons about living within a multi-faith community. He isn’t going to repeat what the chaplain wants him say, namely that Jesus is the only one who can save souls and bring them to eternal life.
If only chaplains would pay more attention to the patients’ concerns, they might be able to learn from them about how to put into practice the bold new rhetoric of caring for the body, soul, and spirit.