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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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In 1973 I was privileged to begin working with doctors. My father and grandfather were ‘old time’ small city doctors who did it all. They were truly family practice specialists. They were almost always ‘on call’ and they served multiple generations – they truly ‘knew’ the families they served. My father made house-calls and farm-calls. He delivered babies (mostly in the homes of farmers or folk who lived in the country); he performed surgeries (my father and his father were both Fellows in the International College of Surgeons); and he set broken arms and legs. He practiced the art of medicine until he turned 82. Today it takes a number of specialists and sub-specialists to do all that my father and grandfather did.

In 1997 John Lantos wrote a book – the title contained the question: ‘Do We Still Need Doctors?’ Given my own family history and given my forty-three years serving doctors, Lantos’ question does not strike me as odd. His question is not ‘Will we get sick?’ His question is not ‘Do we still need health care?’ His question is: ‘Will doctors provide the health care we need?’

Consider this, gentle reader: If you were to have a stay in a hospital today you would be treated by a diverse team of specialists and sub-specialists – the vast majority of these folks will NOT be doctors. Here is a short list of the specialists and sub-specialists that might well darken your hospital door: nurses, nutritionists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, social workers, clinical psychologists, physical therapists, pastoral counselors, music therapists and respiratory therapists. . .

Oh, by the by, when the doctor visits there is a good chance that more than one specialist or sub-specialist will visit you and if you are lucky to be a patient in a teaching hospital you will be blessed with visits from a variety of interns/residents/fellows. Oddly, what seems to be missing is the visit from the Family Practice Doc (at one time, the Family Practice Doc was the key doc in the system – today the Family Practice Doc resides at the bottom of the totem pole).

When you are not taking up a bed in the hospital you will have access to your ‘personal doctor’ – which is not always as ‘personal’ as the term implies. Outside of the hospital you will have access to many health-care professionals who are not doctors: psychoanalysts, homeopaths, personal fitness trainers, chiropractors, podiatrists, acupuncturists, aroma-therapists, and massage therapists (to name a few).

Then you have another diverse group of specialists, some of these folks will enter your life after you leave your life; here are a few of these specialists and sub-specialists: pathologists, radiologists, neonatologists, anesthesiologists, geneticists. Some of these folks spend many more hours learning how to master operating complicated machines than they do mastering their ‘people skills.’

As I reflect upon this growing list – and this list will only grow; it will not shrink – I am thinking that a world without doctors might not be such a strange place. At least it might not be any stranger than it is today. The kind of practice undertaken by so many of today’s doctors is so radically different from the practice undertaken by my father and grandfather – the type of ‘doctoring’ that I grew up with – that we might well call ‘doctoring’ by a different name (and, we often do, even today).

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ST. PATRICK’S DAY. . .

My siblings and I attended St. Patrick’s Grade School. I do not recall that any of my other 24 class mates were Irish – most of us were of Polish, German or English heritage (there were few racial minorities that lived in our city of 18,000). St. Patrick’s Day was a day of celebration at our school. We all gathered in the gym/auditorium and each class put on a skit or sang a song or two; I do remember that when I was in the first grade our class sang ‘I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover’ – we were standing behind these large cut-outs of four leaf clovers (some of us who were shorter could barely peek over the top of the clovers). I can still see my oldest brother, who was in the 8th grade, standing on the stage reading something and swaying back and forth as he read from his script (I have no idea what he read but I can still see him standing and swaying gently back and forth – side to side).

St. Patrick, the story goes, drove the snakes out of Ireland. Here is my favorite image of St. Patrick driving the snakes out.

stpatrick

There are many things I like about Ireland and at the top of my list are Irish Blessings. So, gentle reader I offer us two Irish Blessings (both written by John O’Donohue – you will find these in his wonderful book, ‘Anam Cara’).

A Blessing of Solitude

May you recognize in your life the presence, power, and light
    of your soul.
May you realize that you are never alone,
   that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you
   intimately with the rhythm of the universe.
May you have respect for your own individuality and
    difference.
May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique, that
    you have a special destiny here,
that behind the façade of your life there is something
    beautiful, good, and eternal happening.
May you learn to see yourself with the same delight, pride,
    and expectation with which God sees you in every moment.

A Blessing

May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the
    secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light, and
    renewal to those who work with you and to those who see
    and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment,
    inspiration and excitement.
May you be present in what you do.
May you never become lost in the bland absences.
May the day never burden.
May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your
    new day with dreams, possibilities and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered, and protected.
May your soul calm, console, and renew you.

May you, gentle reader, have a blessing-full St. Patrick’s Day.

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