Ok, so I'm not really a flight attendant. But sometimes I want to pretend I am....or something that our culture deems more "gender-appropriate." As one who often corrects people at the hospital when they exclusively refer to nurses as ‘she’ and doctors as ‘he,’ you should know that I don't believe there are gender-specific jobs. But some days, when I just don’t have the energy to explain my life story, I think that saying I’m a flight attendant or a teacher or a nurse would be easier than explaining that I am a pastor. Let me give you two examples.
Example #1: Today, I was at Publix (Thursday is the start of the new shopping week for coupons – I saved $60! I digress…). I was in the checkout line when the bagger started to wheel my cart like he was bringing my groceries out to my car. I truly believe that shopping at Publix is a pleasure and I love their customer service; however, sometimes I wish they would lighten up on the whole ‘Which way to your car, ma’am?’ talk. I actually enjoying bringing my groceries to my car and loading them myself. There, I said it. But the guy today was insistent, stating that he had to go outside to get the carts anyway. And thus began the awkward small talk…
Him: “Are you on your way home from work?”
Him: “Cool. What kind of work do you do?”
Me: “I’m a hospital chaplain.”
Him: “What does that mean?”
Me: “We’re like pastors for the hospital.”
Him: “Oh wow…so what kinds of stuff do you do?” (ugh, where to begin?)
Me: “Ummm, we provide support and prayer for people, help families at the time of death, held identify people in traumas....”
Him: “Well, a job’s a job in this economy, right?” (he awkwardly laughs almost out of pity)
Me: “No, I actually love my job. It gives me life.”
Him: “Oh…ok. Have a good day, ma’am.”
Why, whyyyyy didn’t I just tell him I was a flight attendant??
Example #2: I remember how much I hated getting my hair cut in college because I never went to the same person twice. Who needs a personal stylist when all you do is cut your hair in a straight line? So every time I went to get a haircut, the conversation led to something like this:
“What are you studying at UF?”
“I’m studying music education.”
“Are you going to be a music teacher?”
“No, I’m actually going to seminary after college.”
“Seminary, is that where you go to become a chef?”
“No, that’s culinary school. Seminary is where you go to become a pastor.”
“You’re going to be a pastor??” (HOLD THE PHONE. SHE’S YOUNG. AND SHE’S A….SHE.)
Why, whyyyy didn’t I say ‘Yes, I’m going to be a music teacher and wear denim dresses and own lots of cats.’ End of story.
During one of my haircuts in college, I had a man debate me on the meaning of baptism and was insistent that in order to enter the gates of heaven, one must be baptized twice, once in water and then in the Holy Spirit so one can speak in tongues. I am certainly respectful of other opinions and practices of religion, but WHY are we debating this during MY haircut? The manager came over and asked him to stop questioning me. I should’ve given my tip to the manager instead.
There are definitely times in life when I want to be in discussion about my work as a pastor. I even find it fun if people bring it up to me on a first encounter. I am in no way ashamed of what I do – I LOVE what I do and truly believe I am living into God’s calling in my life. But sometimes, you just want to get your hair cut in peace. Your nails done in peace (yes, pastors get pedicures). Your grocery shopping done in peace. Sometimes, you want to fly in an airplane without the person sitting next to you questioning your ability to be a female pastor (yes, in seminary I was seated on a plane next to a Southern Baptist minister who pulled out his engraved, red letter edition Bible and talked scripture with me while I frantically tried to study for a Hebrew quiz I had the next day).
I guess it’s ironic that I am in a field where every day I meet new people. I still get the occasional “I ain’t never met a lady preacher before!” and “Wow honey, did you hear that? This nice little girl came to pray with us.” But in almost all my visits, patients/families are grateful for support, for an empathic listener, and for someone who can lift up their deepest needs to God through spoken words of prayer. We must remember Jesus was dead by 33 – so by Jesus’ standard, I’m in my prime years!
I guess I will continue engaging random people about my work as a chaplain. It really can spark some interesting conversation. But in case I’m not in the mood, I can at least locate the nearest emergency exit.