When I was in seminary, I interned as a chaplain in a VA mental hospital. I worked in a locked ward for Vietnam vets. Many were schizophrenics with psychotic features, meaning they heard voices and saw things the rest of us don’t. I’d arrive in the morning as the unit lined up for orange juice spiked with Thorazine, Xanax, or another potent anti-psychotic. As a whole, they were a friendly bunch.
One of the older patients was a man in his fifties who wandered around in a hospital robe. He claimed to have a radio in his big toe, and received different stations at different parts of the ward. As hallucinations go, his was a friendly one, and staff never intervened. He was free to listen to whatever station he wished.
Today, maybe he’d say his toe had an internet connection. Who knows? As crazy as he appeared, we can’t prove he didn’t hear a radio. His primary problem was that people in the normal world found him disturbing. He contradicted our learned sense of things.
I once knew a pastor who regularly saw ghosts. He was a retired Navy officer who became a minister in middle age; to his surprise, interaction with spirits seemed to be a gift. He could converse with them, ask questions, convey messages, and describe the clothes they were wearing.
At first, I was suspicious. But he was completely believable in every other way, and talked about ghosts as if seeing them was an everyday occurrence, like eating breakfast. Unlike others, who had sheepishly confided similar experiences to me, afraid of looking crazy, he didn’t seem to care.
There are a lot of people, of course, who would regard his claims as spurious. Even if souls do exist, we don’t walk around seeing departed spirits, like the kid in Sixth Sense, any more than we get radio reception in our feet. Life isn’t like that.
I don’t get NPR in my big toe, and I don’t see ghosts. But I’m beginning to believe I belong in their company. I keep having these strange thoughts, such as loving our enemies is better than killing them, or people are more important than money, or corporations aren’t human beings. I know it sounds crazy. The world obviously doesn’t work that way, even though I think we’d be better off if we did.
My problem, I suppose, is that I keep hearing God say those things, while lots of other people, who say they hear God, too, don’t hear those things at all. They hear God say, “If someone smites you on one cheek, punch him in the nose,” or “Blessed are corporate interests; they shall inherit the earth,” or “If you love me, you’ll put a fish symbol on the back of your car.”
Which is why I’m starting to feel like one of the nutty ones, along with guys who see ghosts and hear non-existent songs. But that’s alright. At least I’m in good company.