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Archive for March, 2016

For me, ‘Faith’ is better understood as a verb than as a noun.  For me, it is a process not a destination.  It is a process of searching and seeking; a process rooted in doubt not in surety.  For me, ‘Faith’ involves not-being-sure of the ‘where’ AND yet, choosing to continue to go there.  The great theologian Paul Tillich reminds me that doubt is not the opposite of ‘Faith’ – Doubt is inherent to ‘Faith.’

I have four intimate friends.  I can’t prove their friendship.  Yet, when I experience their friendship, I don’t have to prove it.  When I do not experience their friendship directly no proof will do.  If I attempted to put their friendship to the test, somehow, the test itself would diminish our friendship.  So it is, when it comes to my ‘Faith’ that God is God and that

I have learned that the five so-called proofs for the existence of God will not prove to the unbeliever that God exists.  One or more of the five proofs, at best, confirm one’s ‘Faith’ that God exists (or one or more might confirm one’s ‘Faith’).

As I reflect upon all of this, it seems to me that almost nothing that makes any real difference can be proved.  For example, each time I hit a golf ball off a tee I prove to myself that gravity exists.  If I am clever enough I can prove that the earth is round.  If I am more than clever enough I can prove that radio waves exist.  Last night we had a thunder storm and once again I could prove that light does, indeed, travel faster than sound as the lightning flashes were followed seconds later with the great thunder-sound.

Sitting here this morning, I cannot prove that life is better than death.  I cannot prove that love is better than hate (although I believe – have ‘Faith’ – that it is).  I cannot prove the ‘great’ in ‘greatness.’  I cannot prove the beauty of the beautiful (it does, indeed, lie in the eyes of the beholder).  I cannot prove I truly have ‘free will’ – I do believe I have it, my ‘Faith’ tells me so.

Perhaps my most noble acts, my deepest love, my most complex thoughts are all just subtle versions of what happens when the doctor taps my knee with her little hammer and my foot jumps.

In the end, my ‘Faith’ cannot prove a damned thing – or a blessed thing for that matter.  For me, this is the thing; this is why it is ‘Faith!’

 

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QUESTION: ‘How do you know it is ‘Faith’?

RESPONSE: ‘You know it is ‘Faith’ because no sane person would believe it!

That, gentle reader, is one way of defining ‘Faith.’  For the ‘People of the Book’ (Jews, Christians and Muslims) this is also one way of defining ‘Faith.’

Consider this: Abraham was one hundred years old and his wife Sarah was ninety years old – they were without child.  One day God told Abraham that Sarah was going to give birth to a baby.  Abraham responded as most hundred year old males who were married to ninety year old women would do – he ‘fell on his face and laughed’ (Genesis 17:17).  He knocked himself out with laughter.  In another version, Sarah is hiding behind the door listening and she, too, nearly splits a gut laughing.  Later on God asks her if she also laughed and she denied it: God, being God, simply informed her ‘No, but you did laugh.’  God, being God, had the last word and the first.

God, it seems, has a sense of humor for God does not hold their outbursts of laughter against them.  On the contrary, God informs them that their baby will be a boy and that his name is to be Isaac.  By the by, gentle reader, ‘Isaac’ in Hebrew means ‘laughter.’  Now that’s a sense of humor.  If God sits around telling stories I can see God retelling this one with great glee to all who will listen (and who wouldn’t listen when God speaks – well, we know the answer don’t we: Many would not listen and many still don’t).

Why would these two elderly folk laugh?  Well, they might have laughed because they knew only a fool would believe that a one hundred year old male and a ninety year old female with one foot walking toward the grave was soon to have her other foot walking toward the maternity ward (now that, gentle reader, is a sight to imagine and brings a smile to my face).

They also laughed because God expected them to believe it anyway.  This reminds me of my opening ‘Question’ and ‘Response.’  They also laughed because God believed it.  They also laughed because they sort of believed it themselves.  Finally, they laughed because if it came to be so then they would really have something to laugh about – laughter also helped them cope.

As the Epistle to the Hebrews notes ‘Faith’ is ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’

‘Faith’ is laughter at the promise of a child called ‘Laughter.’

 

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My father and grandfather were ‘traditional family doctors’ – these doctors are nearly impossible to find in our country today.  The ‘traditional family doctor’ – which I define as a solo, fee-for-service, generalist practitioner who is skilled not just for ‘healing the sick’ but for caring for people, who is familiar with families for generations (my father served at least three generations of the same families – he knew their genetic risks first hand), and who is answerable to no one but his patients and his colleagues – is as close to distinction as the snail darter.

Objective, scientific medicine has torn asunder the special, personal relationship between the doctor and the patient and the patient’s family.  Solo practitioners have mostly been absorbed into group medical practices.  These practices treat doctors as interchangeable for one another – I know people who have rarely seen the same doctor – much less ‘their doctor’ – on back-to-back office visits.  The threat of malpractice litigation has increased many-fold partly due to the loss of the deep doctor-patient connection that my father and grandfather enjoyed.

As I noted in Part I, today, in many parts of our country, health care is not provided by doctors – just as the concept of ‘doctor’ has changed these past twenty-five years.  My hunch is that ‘doctor’ will continued to be re-defined during the next decade or two.  As John Lantos noted: “Imagining such a world of health care without doctors should be no more of a challenge than imagining a world in which we have shoes but no cobblers, trains but no engineers, farms but no farmers, or drive-through banks with nothing but automatic teller machines.  Something is lost but something is gained.”

The new medicine, says Lantos, “is a profession driven by science, technology, reductionist ethics and entitlement economics,” a profession that is both “rigorously scientific and dogmatically closed-minded.”  The new medicine has given birth to a medical professional that no longer much resembles the doctor of myth (think: Marcus Welby, M.D.) or reality (think: My Father and Grandfather) – yet, this new professional carries the same name: ‘Doctor.’

Too often, it seems to me anyway, this new professional is provided helpful technologies that my father and grandfather did not have access to and yet their technical skills are often not as refined nor skillful as my father’s or grandfather’s.   My father and grandfather did not ‘have to make the numbers’ the way doctors do today (perhaps because many doctors today work for for-profit institutions).  My father and grandfather often bartered with a family that had been with them for a generation or more; my father would be paid in ‘produce’ by the farmer (once he was paid with a case of peas….do you, gentle reader, have any idea how many peas are in a case; to this day, I struggle when it comes to eating peas).

I have a good friend, Dr. Bob, who is a family practice doc; for me, Dr. Bob is a little piece of light that is committed to burning bright and hot amidst the darkness that has engulfed the concept of the ‘traditional doctor.’  It is not easy for him to remain a beacon for us. I am also thankful that he continues to stand steadfast as a bridge between my father and grandfather and the ‘new’ doctor.

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COVENANT.  The ‘Old Testament’ is the ‘Old Covenant,’ the agreement that was arrived at between God and Israel at Mount Sinai. The following sums it up pretty well: “I shall be your God and you shall be my people” (Leviticus 26:12).  If you obey God’s commandments, God will love you – pretty clear it seems to me.

The ‘New Testament’ is the ‘New Covenant,’ the agreement that was arrived at by God alone in an upstairs room somewhere in Jerusalem – Jesus was present.  Jesus sums it up with these words: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” (1 Corinthians 11:25).

Like Israel, Jesus believed that if you obey God, God will love you.  Jesus is also saying more.  He is saying if you don’t obey God, that doesn’t mean that God won’t love you.  It means, it seems to me, that God’s love becomes a suffering love: a love that suffers because it is not reciprocated, a love that suffers because we who are loved suffers and suffers precisely IN OUR failure to reciprocate.

Consider, gentle reader, that by giving us the cup to drink, Jesus is saying that in loving us God ‘bleeds’ for us – NOT ‘even though’ we don’t give a care, but precisely ‘because we don’t.’  God continues to keep God’s part of the covenant whether we keep our part or not; it’s just that this way costs God more.

What IS new about the New Covenant is not the idea that God loves the world enough to bleed for it but that God is actually making a ‘flesh and blood’ commitment to do so.  As a father, when my son was quite ill I remember saying: ‘I will do anything to help you get well – I will even change places with you.’  Well, God acts.  What God does is Jesus the Christ.  The cross becomes the central symbol of God’s covenant; God’s covenant made flesh.

I am smiling for I am recalling the story of the Middle Ages Archbishop who was heard muttering over his mutton chop at the grand feast, “This mutton is as hard to swallow as the Lamb of God.”  God suffering for us: There are some who find the whole idea unswallowable – just the idea of GOD, let alone the idea of God in Jesus-the-Christ suffering for us; suffering on the cross for love’s sake.

Yet, for centuries past – and perhaps for centuries to come – there have been countless imperfect human beings, who with varying degrees of difficulty have been able to swallow it and have claimed that what they swallowed made the difference between ‘life and death.’

Jesus suffered not because he brought us ‘news’ from God.  Jesus suffered because he brought us ‘new, good news’ from God.  He offered us a ‘New Covenant.’  God, being a loving God, continues to wait patiently for our commitment to reciprocate.  When I, you, we withhold our response-in-love, God lovingly suffers.

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I love ‘C’ words; my list of ‘C’ words continues to grow.  Two days ago I was reflecting upon three of them: Christian, Compassion & Covenant.   I decided to share with you, gentle reader, some of what emerged into my consciousness.

 CHRISTIAN.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father, but by me.”  Jesus did not say that any particular ethic, doctrine, or religion was the way, the truth, or the life.  He was clear: He was!  Jesus did not say that it was by believing or doing anything in particular that you could “come to my Father.”  He said that it was only by him – by living, participating in, being caught up in the way of life that HE embodied – that was HIS WAY.

Consider then, that it is possible to be on Christ’s way and with his mark upon you without ever having heard of Christ, and for that reason to be on you way to God though you don’t even believe in God (this thought continues to give me pause).

A follower of Christ is one who is on the way, though not necessarily very far along it, and who has at last some dim and half-baked idea of whom to thank.

A follower of Christ isn’t necessarily any nicer than anybody else.  Just better informed.  Just seeking to be better formed.  A Christian is one who seeks to live as Jesus lived – to follow HIS WAY, to follow his example!  People of all ages have chosen to live as Jesus lived without knowing Jesus.  Some who live ‘his way’ do not believe in Jesus as Christians are supposed to believe in him – yet, they still live their life ‘his way.’  We also know that some who espouse to be Christians do not live ‘his way’ as well, if at all, as those who do not espouse to be Christians do.

COMPASSION.  Whenever I reflect upon Jesus and his being a role-model for me/us I inevitably think of ‘Compassion.’  What is ‘Compassion?’  There has been much written about this virtue and hence a number of definitions have emerged.  Here is mine: ‘Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside of the other’s skin.’

Compassion is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace or joy for me until there is peace or joy for you.  If the other (the most or the least of the others) is peace-less or joy-less, then, if I walk in their skin I too will feel their plight.  For me, ‘Compassion’ and ‘Empathy’ are identical twins.  I believe that as humans we are inherently compassionate and empathetic (3-4 year olds continue to confirm this idea for me).  As I noted in my definition, it is potential ‘fatal’ to walk in the other’s skin – to be compassionate and to be empathetic (this thought also continues to give me pause).

 

 

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