By Norris Burkes Feb 18, 2024

Aa recent staff meeting, my boss tossed white plastic bags on the conference table and asked us to take one.

You may find it odd to hear me say that I have an earthly boss. Even the nurses will point heavenward and mutter something like, “I thought . . . well, you know . . . I thought that he is your boss.”

“Yes, but,” I’ll say with appreciative warmth, “My earthbound boss is Lisa Nordlander, and she’s the smartest boss I’ve ever had, thereby making her the best I’ve ever had.” (I’d say that even if it weren’t time for my annual evaluation, but putting it in print can’t hurt).

In addition to Lisa, our Spiritual Care Department consists of a secretary, three staff chaplains and a handful of chaplain interns.

Our interns split their time between patients and teaching seminars, but sometimes Lisa will merge their “teaching moments” into our joint Monday morning staff meeting. And that was the case this week.

I’d like to tell you we often perch on the edge our chairs like 12 Jedi Knights waiting for divine wisdom from Obi-Wan Kenobi, but usually our meetings look like a collegial chat.

This week, however, was different. Lisa brought us to the edge our chairs, straining at our curiosity, as we reached for the bags she’d tossed out.

Raising my bag, I spilled its contents onto the conference table — a toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, tongue brush and dental floss.


Lisa’s husband works in the dental field, but given her typical professional demeanor, product endorsement seemed a little beneath her.

“This is a friendly reminder,” she managed to say among the giggles filling the room, “that good dental hygiene is a part of good spiritual hygiene.”

Yes, apparently when it comes to spiritual care, oral cleanliness is next to godliness.

Our boss continued her “teaching moment” even as her words slurred into guffaws.

“We work in close quarters,” she said, struggling to smother her erupting smile. “We whisper to nursing staff and lean close toward some very sick patients. These patients may be sensitive to certain odors, so please make sure you are well acquainted with these hygienic products.”

We all had a side-splitting laugh over Lisa’s artful presentation of such a personal matter, but I couldn’t help but remember another gathering of 12 — it was the Last Supper when Jesus predicted one of his disciples (Judas) would betray him.

Just as those disciples exchanged accusing glances and muttered, “Is it I, Lord?” so we at the conference table blew into our cupped hands, taking a quick whiff and wondering, “Is it me, Lisa? Am I the reason you are saying this?”

The truth is there are times in life that we are pretty sure something stinks. On those occasions, what is our first reaction? Do we lean close to our friends and examine their smell first? Or do we check our own breath?

We’re not perfect and we certainly won’t always smell perfect, but our imperfection gives us two choices. We can deny it and make others suffer or we can celebrate that we are all in the same boat.

We’re all human and we all have the potential to, well, there’s no other way to say it . . . to stink.

The truth is we are pretty human and the spirit we breathe on people may not always be the freshest one. So this week while the holidays bring you in close quarters and you notice the imperfections of family and friends, take a hard look at yourself, check your breath — your underarms if need be — and ask “Am I the one?”

It’s a good question and it must always be the first question. Which begs the question, “Do you think Judas had bad breath when he kissed the Lord?”