In college I was a member of student government, which often meant that I found myself in situations where people knew my name without my knowing theirs. During those years, I learned to rely on something I called the “Buddy System.” It sounds glamorous, but all it really came down to employing the use of the term “Buddy” whenever I would blank on the name of a person who was saying hello. In the world of college relationships where being casual is a value that is held in high esteem, it often seemed to carry me through many a social situation. But something deep inside told me that that was not going to be as effective this past summer as I began my summer assignment as a hospital chaplain.
If it was not obvious before, hospital rooms are dramatically different environments. On more than one occasion, I found myself utterly forgetting the patient’s name when praying for or with the patient. Somehow praying for “Buddy’s” recovery and for God’s presence in “Buddy’s” life in this time of trial seemed less… personal. I guess some theology could be developed that the use of such terminology that causes patients to view God as a friend who would not leave them hanging—after all, Kevin Smith introduced the idea of “Buddy Christ” in the 1999 movie Dogma.
By the second day, however, I began to notice a pattern. It is not as though I consciously employed a “checklist” mentality when walking into each patient’s room, but in that time in the hallway, it is sometimes difficult for me not to look at my census as a “To Do” sheet, a set of tasks by which I could evaluate the success of the day. And it was only the times when I set aside my “tasks” and prayed over the names of the patients I would be encountering that I ended up remembering their names when it came time to pray. In other words, it was usually the times when I checked in with my good Buddy Christ that I was able to go beyond generic nicknames.