Posts Tagged chaplain

A Chaplain’s Hope for Furman University* – Rev. Maria Swearingen

IMG_3487 (4) - CopyThis summer, two days after nine African-American men and women were slaughtered by a white supremacist in Charleston, Furman-Lake-autumn600thousands of people gathered all over the state to hold hands, process outrage, and acknowledge communal sins. As I watched 350+ people from all races, creeds, and religious traditions pour into the Chapel that afternoon, I was hopeful about what a collective response to racism and xenophobia would look like for our country, for the state of South Carolina and for this campus.

I was hopeful then. I am hopeful now.

Even so, I must be clear. That hope is not borne out of ignorance. As a chaplain and as co-chair of Furman’s presidential committee on diversity and inclusion, I carry a host of stories that pain me to my core. I know Catholic students who have been told they are going to hell, Muslim community members who have been told that their tradition is inherently violent, gay and lesbian students who have suffered slurs and blatant disrespect, international students told to go back to where they came from, and the painful list goes on. Perhaps we like to think these things do not happen here, but unfortunately, they do.

We have much to be proud of. We have a long way to go.

Amidst my awareness, exhaustion, and outrage over moments like the ones I just described, I hold to the seemingly outlandish conviction that it is within spaces of great difference, personal, religious, social, and ideological, that the real project of the university comes to life. Homes for higher education were never meant to merely conceptualize democracy for textbook consumption. The real project has always been to facilitate space, learning, and opportunities for the enactment of democracy. This enlivens and enfleshes discourse, calling us into one another’s lives and stories. Here, we sit at tables and live in residence halls and actively listen in classrooms with people who help us grapple with our bias, re-imagine community beyond our well-worn contexts, and embrace the complexity of difference we all pose for one another.

My hope for “what’s next” at Furman is that we will intentionally and joyfully choose to be a place that presses into this grand experiment with equal doses of fervor and care. We must believe that the project is worth our time, and even at the cost of overdramatizing, the grounding force for civilization.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  Reverend Maria Swearingen is in her sixth year as associate university chaplain at Furman University. Originally from Texas, she graduated from Baylor University and received her master of divinity from Duke University. She offers pastoral care and interreligious engagement to Furman’s faculty, staff, and students, along with alumni and friends of the university.

*This article first appeared in the Spring issue, Vol.59 issue of The Furman Magazine and is used here with permission.


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Take the Pledge and Say Something Nice – Norris Burke

Last week, I was sitting in my hospital office when I received an e-mailed news release from First Baptist Church of Charleston, S.C., asking me to encourage readers to participate in the eighth annual “Say Something Nice Sunday” on June 1. You’ll not yet find the day on your calendar, but event organizers are hoping to encourage people to use the day to take a two-part Civility Pledge. Participants will promise first to “Refrain from saying anything ugly, demeaning or derogatory to anyone in my workplace,” and second, “to say something nice, uplifting or encouraging.” Well, I thought as I left the office to visit patients, ‘this should be easy.’ After all, chaplains get paid to avoid derogatory comments and promote uplifting things. I stopped by the bustling nurses’ station, where I saw an opportunity to kick off my pledge drive. Behind the desk sat a familiar doctor wearing a bright, checked shirt. “I like that pink shirt, doctor,” I said. He responded with a flippant glare. “He doesn’t think it’s pink,” his nurse said in his defense. “He says it’s orange.” “Aren’t those red squares on a white background?” I asked her. “Don’t red and white make pink?” “I tried to tell him that,” she whispered. The doctor dismissively swiveled his chair away from us. This “nice” stuff wasn’t as easy as the news release made it sound. I was beginning to wonder if nice guys really do finish last. An hour later, I was back in my office charting patient visits when my email program chirped. Hoping the Baptists were sending revised instructions, I quickly checked my inbox. The e-mail was from Rev. Christopher Flesoras, a Greek Orthodox priest and a newly commissioned chaplain in the Air National Guard. Flesoras is in line to replace me when I retire, and his e-mail contained a nice thank you for my mentorship. He sounded as if he could be bucking to become grand marshal of the Say Something Nice Sunday Parade, even. But his note, like his recent life, took a solemn turn. Flesoras asked for prayers for his 41-year-old wife, Krissy as she undergoes more clinical trials for lung cancer. “Please ask your readers to pray for Krissy,” he said. “Every prayer lifted up and intercession with God is a blessing for her, and by extension, for our family.” This athletic mother of two had been battling lung cancer for the past two years. And, before you ask, she never smoked cigarettes. In fact, she’s the one of out every nine lung cancer victims stricken through apparently no fault of their own. Wow. Here was a guy who took a moment, literally on his way to the doctor’s office with his sick wife, to say something nice to me. His words were a true reflection of Apostle Paul’s admonition in Colossians 4:5-6. “Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out” (The Message). At the end of the day, I’ll be taking the “Say Something Nice” pledge because people like Flesoras inspire me to believe that being nice to others just might help our world. But just to be clear, I’m thinking we’ll need more than a Sunday. Visit my website where I’ve posted a link to download free promotional material for “Say Something Nice Sunday.” I also provide a link to Krissy’s blog, which documents her saga and provides great resources for those who support people with lung cancer.

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Thankful Thursday – The Rev. Bruce Jayne

On this Thankful Thursday, I am grateful for the gifts that Bruce Jayne brings to my life. Bruce is a native of Mississippi and a graduate of the University of Mississippi. After graduation he entered the Navy for five years and served as the protestant coordinator for the chaplain. He met wife Sarah Turner while stationed in Florida. She is a Carson Newman University graduate. After his navy tour he entered the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he studied with renowned professors including Dr. Glenn Hinson,  who spoke at the Hamrick Lectures. He was a classmate of the Rev. Dr. Thomas McKibbens, who also spoke at the Hamrick Lectureship. Bruce and Sarah are tireless community workers in the areas of social justice and poverty issues. He is a licensed pastoral counselor and both are active at Circular Congregational Church. Bruce retired as director of the pastoral counseling program at Roper/St. Francis Hospital. Bruce is a mainstay of the Monday Lunch Bunch at the S&S Cafeteria. I get the privilege of prodding him with many thorny theological questions which he always answers with grace. On this Thankful Thursday, I am very blessed to have Bruce Jane in my life.

Thankful Thursday is a day set apart to recognize the importance of someone to our lives and to let her or him know of our gratitude. Develop an attitude of gratitude. Say Something Nice; Be a lifter. You will be glad that you did.

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Thankful Thursday – Carl Tolbert

On this Thankful Thursday, I am grateful for the gifts that Carl Tolbert brings to my life. Carl is a retired U. S. Army colonel and chaplain. He grew up in Texas and is a graduate of the University of Texas and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He served all over the United States, Europe and Asia. He and wife, Pat, are active members at the United Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ Church in West Ashley. Carl is a member of the Monday Lunch Bunch at the S&S Cafeteria. He and Pat are great travelers and have been everywhere including many fabulous cruises. They have a camper which sees lots of use. Carl has enjoyed a teaching career both before going into the Army and during. He has great stories about his experiences, but the stories he tells about his father, one of the first Texas highway patrolmen, are even better.  Carl has a deep and seasoned faith that combines his deep Texas roots and his worldwide experiences. I always come away from our discussions with some spiritual nuggets as well as some good stories. Pat, a librarian, is a whiz with the computer and with numbers. On this Thankful Thursday I am happy that Carl Tolbert is a part of my life.

Thankful Thursday is a day set aside to recognize the importance of someone to our lives and to let her or him know of our gratitude. Develop an attitude of gratitude. Say Something Nice; Be a Lifter. You will be glad you did.

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