Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Vengeance and the Chaplain

The Fresno Rescue Mission does many good things.  Generally, this blog will not focus on them.  However, because I'm always grubbing about in the grotesque, the absurd, and the plain old bat-shit insane, I'd like to mention something I like quite a bit, without any snide or ironic overtones: the Mission's Chaplain Jay. 

Dapper, balding, gray-haired, slightly paunchy, not too tall but strikingly upright in bearing, Chaplain Jay projects none of the thuggish sharky slickness or covert arrogance cloaked in piety I associate with many of the pastors who preach at the mission.   He's a very skillful old-school black preacher, effortlessly calling on hoarsely shouted fervor, falsetto whinnies, a roller coaster repertoire of high and low vernacular, genuine warmth, earned jokiness, and perfectly-timed jolts of "Better wise-up, boy!" fear.  The Chaplain appears before us about once a month to preach a sermon or substitute for a pastor who fails to show.

He knows his audience well, having paid his dues years ago in the Mission program.  Many of the men are hardened, mortally tired, clinically depressed and murderously angry.  Eyes smoke with a reptilian menace that comes from time in the joint.  Thus Chaplain Jay's frequent focus on the theme of vengeance.  He tells a harrowing tale of being stomped as a youth by four of his fellows in a Detroit parking lot.  Consumed by a rage for revenge he took his daddy's gun and got one of his assailants in his sights.  God stayed his hand, he says, and he did not kill.  

"Let God take care of it," he tells us, and it's striking and frightening to see his gaze penetrate the audience and pin down their emotions.  "You're angry at the men who've dogged you.  But vengeance belongs to the Lord."

Another night he tells us about one his current projects--an attempt to befriend his suspicious-looking neighbors and their vicious pit bulls ("They got four pit bulls or maybe it's three pit bulls and Chihuahua") a scheme he calculates may take months, but he has the kind of patience normally needed for coldly served revenge.

I have no religious convictions, cannot share Chaplain Jay's Christian world-view, but he seems the real deal, a man tempered and transformed by his life and religion.

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