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Free to Be Yourself

By Jérôme Grandet
Tranlation Louise Thunin
I like pop culture, heavy metal/hardcore and rap. I mainly read mangas, science fiction and comics. In these art forms I find my inner resources. I play the beatbox and bass. I don’t care for traditional holidays such as Christmas or Easter. I don’t like to pray. I don’t care for the miles of meditations I have a right to in my work. I’m a hospital chaplain.
When I introduce myself, even superficially, to a fellow caregiver, he doesn’t believe me. When I introduce myself to a fellow chaplain, it’s not unusual for him or her to ask me if I really am one. A chaplain, first of all for the people of a church organization, as well as for those on the outside, is a fervently prayerful person, a « spiritual » person (with all the projections that word can carry), who likes classical music or baroque (Bach is high on the list), who loves the religious holidays on the calendar and dresses soberly.
The job of chaplain nowadays suffers from projections, on either side of Christian institutions. And yet it’s just a question of a function, a role among others. On paper, it’s not a matter of « doing » or of « being like ». (Even if, actually, it really is a question of « being »). What I’m saying is fairly banal. It’s even a well-worn expression. But if you check my list of duties or my references, there are no questions of personal taste or clothing style, but of a function, a role and specific tasks to perform.
When I speak publicly or in the departments where I work, I often hear the same remark : « You don’t talk like a chaplain ! » Several minister friends have even spoken to me about an aspect of their job, that I too have noticed, and that never ceases to intrigue me : the ministerial tone. To you, my minister friends, to my colleagues, don’t hold it against me. But why, when you pray, when you preach, do you always take on that somehow impersonal tone ?
My past and the link I have had with certain coercive institutions have had the effect of vaccinating me today for disappearance into the wallpaper and forgetting who I really am. This refusal to be a shrinking violet causes tension in institutions, because it overturns the idea we have of a chaplain. A chaplain who listens to heavy metal ? Who gets his inspiration from mangas rather than in meditation and the Bible ? And who doesn’t care for Christmas ? My fellow caregivers might almost say I’m a genius, whereas certain ministers would call for help.
Here’s the reality of it : behind the functions of chaplain and minister, first there are people. It’s tiring to have to justify constantly being who one is, to have to pay up every time one goes a bit beyond the usual expectations. And it’s even more tiring to see the distance between this state of affairs and the providential discourse that we offer people perceived as atypical : « It’s great to have someone like you in the institution, you keep us on our toes. » But keeping people on their toes is not what we aspire to. We just want « to be. » And, in my view, « being » is so difficult in church institutions that it’s no surprise so many leave the churches.
Noam Chomsky said this : « If it’s true that a fundamental element of human nature is the need to create, to seek, is free creation without the arbitrary constraints of coercive institutions, it will naturally follow that a proper society will do its utmost so that this need can be met. » So from there, my question is the following : does the church institution as a collective allow this aspiration ? In other words, does it allow people to simply « be »who they are in the depths of themselves without fearing judgment and by feeling unconditionally welcomed ? Does it allow what they create to resemble them truly and not be the product of popular opinion ? My answer to this question is no. The cause is the involuntary (at least I hope) coertion of the institution.
A reason for all of this can perhaps be found in social conformity. This concept, widely studied in social sciences, shows that individuals adopt in most cases behavior that matches what is expected in a group. This is for two main objectives : to avoid conflict and also rejection by the group. It is reasonable to think that when the group in question points its finger at difference, then the mecanism is amplified. This is food for thought for institutions, if they sincerely aspire to to head in the direction of « being » and of freedom.

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a été pasteur à Amsterdam et en Région parisienne. Il s’est toujours intéressé à la présence de l’Évangile aux marges de l’Église. Il anime depuis 17 ans le site Internet Protestants dans la ville.

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