I’ve been reading about alleged mistreatment of Taliban leaders detained at Guantanamo and I was sure that those allegations were groundless until I heard that detainees would be receiving dental care.
I know Amnesty International would agree – dental treatment is torture. There is no place I hate to be more than the dentist office, but here I sit in his waiting room – once again.
I have a triad strategy for facing pain – denial – deflection – or distraction. In this case, I chose distraction. I’ve pulled out my Palmtop, docked it to the portable keyboard, placed in on a borrowed clipboard and begun typing solicitation for your sympathy.
Divine power brought me into the waiting room, but I will leave it a weak-kneed shell of a saint. I sit in the waiting room both before AND after an appointment. I wait now, because even a man of God waits for a doctor and I wait afterward to recollect my halo as my nausea wears off.
I come to this proving ground of faith to put my spirituality through the paces. If my faith is going to breakdown, it will be here – I know it and the staff knows it too. They enjoy watching the chaplain slink into the office, sink into the chair and be pushed to the brink.
I feel them mocking me – I imagine them asking, “Where is your God now?” Where is the peace you claim to be “beyond understanding”? I dunno, maybe my peace choked on the nauseating cardboard they stuffed in my throat.
Maybe my faith is jerked out of me with that fishhook the hygienist uses to clean my teeth. If I had a choice of letting him put that hook in my mouth or letting him shove a rake into my mouth, I think I would choose the rake. It would all be over so quickly.
But it is never over quickly. The super-size bags of starch I buy at McDonald’s take their toll on my dental health by forming a bullet-proof shield of plaque. My cleanings sometimes take two sessions. My only consolation is that I use these sessions to release my hostilities.
This is the place that I can swear freely. I figure that it doesn’t count if it remains unintelligible. It’s like the old adage about a tree falling in a forest making no sound. If a chaplain starts swearing, but no one understands him, it doesn’t count. Right?
Publicly demonstrating our faith so that it becomes a reasonable facsimile of what we had planned is a constant spiritual struggle. Even though I know that my desire to maintain the “facade” comes from my own vanities and not from God, I cannot help trying to be the person people think I am.
Fortunately, there is always someone who seems to be looking to strip us of our angel wings – to reduce us to being human just like everyone else. For me that thing is the dentist.
Recently my daughter had an oral surgeon crawl inside her mouth to repair a birth defect by breaking her jaw six times. This past week, I began to obsess – imagining the worst of possibilities. So, I called the surgeon to grill him about my daughter’s recovery process.
The surgeon heard the fear in my voice. He heard a lack of faith from this person who is suppose to be a person of faith. He saw right though my weak exterior and saw the scared dad. I don’t think he ever saw the God I so strongly desire to reflect.
It’s funny how hard we have to work to project the image of what we imagine ourselves to be. When it comes to judging others, we count ourselves too smart to be fooled by their facade, but we are certain that others are too dumb to see through our facade.
However, the x-ray machine does not give the dentist exclusive insight through my facade. My wife, children, friends, and colleagues see through it too. They can hear the tree that falls in the forest, because it sometimes falls on them. They can hear the rage that sometimes erupts in me, they see the inconsistencies, and they sense my wavering faith that sometimes impairs the vision I wish they had of me.
Yet they keep loving and accepting me in a way that reflects the love and acceptance of God – who even more so, sees our most secret flaw and continues to love and accept us.
While I know that the dentist is not the only one who can see through my façade, I keep hoping he will be the last one. He seems to know that the words to Amy Grant’s song are really true – “This warrior is a child.” Maybe that is why the dentist talks to me the way he does.
“Now, this might hurt, just a ency wency bit, “ he warns.
“Are you a pediatric dentist too?” I ask.
“Why, yes, I am. What makes you ask?
“Maybe your Mr. Rogers voice,” I suggest.
“Pardon me, Chaplain?”
The Bible mentions that God does not prefer unclean lips but it says nothing about unclean teeth. If it was so important, you’d think God would have mentioned it somewhere.