Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Chaplains: Men and Women of the Cloth and the Uniform
are part of the corps, but they answer to a higher power. Chaplains necessarily
navigate tricky positions in the institutional sphere, but their efforts
inspire trust. As a result, their inspirational work is often inspiring—even to
non-believers. Martin Doblmeier surveys the breadth of contemporary chaplaincy
in the two-part, two-hour documentary Chaplains
which premieres this Monday on PBS WORLD.
you hear “chaplains,” most people think military, prisons, and hospitals.
Doblmeier has them covered, but he also includes a wider range of chaplains,
including the relatively new but growing corporate chaplaincy. However, he
starts with the classic military chaplain service, focusing on Rev. Paul
Hurley, the senior chaplain serving in the Afghanistan theater of operations. A
Catholic priest and U.S. Army colonel, Hurley oversees the rest of the
chaplains attached to the U.S. military. It dangerous duty, because they face
the possibility of suicide bombers and other hazards, just like the soldiers
they minister to. Of course, military chaplains have their own unique moral
challenges, but Rev. Hurley has no trouble explaining how the Afghanistan
conflict conforms to the Catholic Just War theory. However, he hastens to add
it is not for him to decide whether it is worth fighting from a
the military segment is probably the high point of Chaplains, but there is still plenty of informative material to
come, such as the extent of Tyson’s Foods’ commitment to corporate chaplaincy.
At the time of filming, they had one hundred and twenty full and part-time
chaplains on staff. You can save the jokes about giving all those chickens their
last rites, because the Tyson chaplains address that issue head-on. They admit
the realities of the poultry business can be difficult, which is something they
try to help employees deal with.
hospital segment captures the nobility of faith in action, but it largely fits
our positive preconceptions of what chaplaincy is all about. Likewise, the
prison segment is certainly well intentioned, but the sight of a prison Wiccan
service could bring out a fit of rightwing snark from Michael Moore.
the other hand, the sequences following Billy Mauldin and the Motor Racing
Outreach as the minister to the drivers, pit crews, and fans following the
NASCAR circuit are a fascinating and respectful exploration of the large and growing
subculture. Yet, probably the most charismatic chaplain is Rabbi Arthur
Rosenberg of the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s retirement home and health
services, but he ought to be, considering he was once an actor himself. (He was
Kevin Bacon’s uncle in Footloose, so
he is only six degrees removed from everyone else in Hollywood).
There is lot more to chaplaincy than most viewers
probably realized, but there is also the selfless commitment you would hope
for, as well as considerable professional training in many cases. Although
Doblmeier starts to repeat himself late in the second half, most mainstream
audiences will find it highly rewarding. It is also represents unusually
faith-friendly programming from PBS, which should be encouraged. Insightful and
sometimes quite moving, Chaplains airs
this Monday (12/7) on PBS WORLD.
Labels: Documentary, PBS World