This is a book of columns about Christmas and Easter that I put together with the SC Baptist Courier two years ago. It’s still available and I think you would enjoy it!
This is a book of columns about Christmas and Easter that I put together with the SC Baptist Courier two years ago. It’s still available and I think you would enjoy it!
One of the consistent themes that runs all through the Bible is the theme of idolatry. And if we can learn anything from its writers down the thousands of years and hundreds of generations since they lived, it’s that humans are easily deceived by idols of every sort.
It’s arrogant for us to laugh off the idea of stone and wooden deities, and shake our heads at the fish or dragons, serpents or elephants that they represented to our ancestors. (That’s right, all of our ancestors!) Because we’re no less susceptible despite our assertions that we are modern and rational. Twenty-first century man remains a remarkably idolatrous creature.
This is rarely as evident as it is during a presidential election cycle, when we believe that vast power, and all our destinies, rest with the office and person we are electing. If only we elect him, or her, all our problems will be solved and our enemies smitten! We elevate candidates and politicians to places they were never meant to be, not by God, nor indeed by the founders of our republic, who doubtless had a much more suspicious view of human character than we do; else they would never have built in so many checks and balances.
In fact, during elections we also make idols of government in general, constitutions, courts and legislative bodies. We worship commentators and media outlets and anyone and everything connected with the process. We idolize our own opinions and spend far more time in our own personal echo-chambers than we do either worshipping God or (for the non-religious) simply pursuing secular knowledge or simple joy. Pity, as our self-adulating tirades and tantrums change few minds.
But it isn’t only politics. We all have our idols. Thanks to social media, young people take constant photos of themselves in a kind of self-worship. Social media have also allowed Americans to make an idol of the approval of others, whether in likes for one’s selfie, or agreement with one’s views. The disapproval of others is a bitter pill whose side effects include exclusion from friendly society; a kind of excommunication for heresy. How many opinions would be shared more honestly if not for the fear of being shunned or attacked en masse online?
Conservatives often idolize guns or military prowess, as if they could save us from all danger. And yet the Bible says ‘Some trust in chariots and some trust in horses, but we trust in the Lord our God.’ (Psalm 20:7) (The chariot being the main battle tank of antiquity, by the way.) And liberals make an idol of choice, as if replacing the word ‘killing’ with a euphemism makes it less like the reality of killing an unborn child, less like a modern adoration of the dark god Molech.
We idolize the freedom of sexual expression and sexual orientation, as if all that mattered in this life were who could have sex with whom. And on the other side, we idolize morality, as if our sanctimonious attitudes about sexual sin were anywhere as important as the forgivingness and redemption offered in the Bible to those who sin sexually, gay or straight. Grace matters more than moralism.
America idolizes the idea of compassion and charity without understanding the moral and spiritual underpinnings that make it reasonable and possible. And yet, we also idolize the American concept that everyone can simply succeed if they try, which is simply untrue. The deck is sometimes stacked and there are those who need our assistance, personally and through state programs. Some idolize capitalism, some idolize socialism, but both can become monstrous deities when not applied with Godly wisdom and caution.
The Decalogue begins with ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of slavery, out of the land of Egypt.’ And follows it immediately with ‘you shall have no other gods before me.’ And of course, after receiving the Ten Commandments, the people promptly made a Golden Calf and ignored God, the source of all their good things. You can be an atheist and still see the truth in this tale. This is the story of all mankind. The worship of those things we shouldn’t, and the rejection of those things that are truly, ultimately good.
Whether a citizen is religious or not, we can surely agree that we all have idols we should take from their altars. Maybe it’s a good time to start.
It’s an ugly political season. But I still love America! This is my most recent column in the Greenville News. Please share liberally.
Over the Summer I was working in the ER at North Greenville Hospital, doing some temporary work for GHS. I arrived in Traveler’s Rest early one morning to get some breakfast and a drink for work.
As I pulled into a drive-thru, I looked at the nearby gas-station. I was amazed at how busy the place was. And I was suddenly overwhelmed with love for America and her people. It was about 6:45 in the morning, but there were cars and trucks of every variety. I saw utility company trucks and pest-control vans. Those pulling trailers full of lawn-equipment, with mowers and weed-eaters. Electricians, plumbers, contractors, police and EMS workers were getting out of all manner of vehicles. Many essential, difficult jobs were represented, as men and women were headed to work. Motivated by dreams of success, and by love for those they support, they were up with the sun. There were people of every race and ethnicity, many of them working on the same crews, for the same companies, laughing together.
It was going to be a long, hot day, so they were loading up on breakfast, coffee, snacks, water and other drinks. Trucks were being fueled, the staff of the gas station hurrying to keep up. There was an energy there that was quintessentially American. I felt honored to see it.
The wonderful thing is that America and Americans, for all our contentious behavior, remain wonderful. We work and innovate. We strive and create. We educate and parent and look after our loved ones young and old. And despite the reality of bias and discrimination, we are one of the most welcoming nations on earth. We adjust to social changes, we generate and rapidly adapt to technology, and even when it looks bizarre, the average citizen and average politician try to make democracy work.
We are conflicted at times, but usually over means, not ends. We want to help refugees even if we reasonably fear terror. We may worry about immigration but typically enjoy immigrants as our friends and neighbors. We desire to see the poor and their children lifted up. We still, as a nation, want to see justice done. Thus we are equally offended by false imprisonment of the poor and by the way the wealthy and connected sometimes stand apart from the law.
I meet all kinds of Americans in my work. I meet poor, rural Southerners struggling to find jobs, and facing chronic diseases with limited resources. I meet immigrant families trying their best to care for sick children. And even though we live in the South (where popular media loves to paint us as just so hateful), I regularly encounter doting white grandmothers and grandfathers cuddling and adoring their beautiful, mixed-race grandchildren, looking after their sons and daughters-in-law who have different skin colors, and sometimes different languages. I am often amazed at the men and women whose English grammar may not be perfect, but who learn Spanish out of love for a partner; not for a grade in a class or semester abroad.
I see my colleagues care for everyone, with never a thought to treating them poorly because they are gay, lesbian or transgender. I watch as physicians and nurses struggle mightily against the death and suffering of people different from them.
There are churches and pastors, congregations and church groups as well as government and secular organizations (and individuals) who help provide housing for the poor and drive people to work who are battling the nightmare of drug addiction. Those same people adopt children and spend time and money to give food to hungry families.
In America the laborer and the academic are both passionately devoted to fairness and those who never graduated high school are as important to the republic as those with advanced degrees.
Are there exceptions? Obviously. And it doesn’t take many hateful, cruel, manipulative people to cause great damage. ‘A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough,’ said St. Paul.
And yet, the lovely reality is that we remain a great nation, going through a hard time. I don’t know where it will lead. Maybe to darker places, maybe not. But for now in America, the America I see every day that I work, the America that starts the day early and ends it late, working together for common cause, the love outweighs the hatred, the strength outweighs the weakness, every time.
That’s something to celebrate.
This is my column in today’s Greenville News. I wasn’t sure if it was the right column for this week, but I’d been thinking about it for a while. Ironically, I really lost track of the date and wasn’t thinking about the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. But maybe it was appropriate as we consider what evils were inflicted that day. Anyway, here it is. May God deliver you and yours from temptation and evil.
‘And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’ So goes the last sentence of the Lord’s Prayer. (Well, unless you count the later addition, ‘For thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory, forever and ever, amen.’)
The more I think about it as I get older, the more important the ideas of temptation and evil seem. As a husband, as a father, as a physician, I am fully convinced of the moral and spiritual dangers of this world. And yet, those words,’temptation’ and ‘evil’ fall on skeptical ears in a modern, scientific world. Do we believe in such a thing as temptation? Do we believe in evil? And how do we learn about these things in a time when virtue itself seems all too relative? And are they really relative as we search everywhere for virtuous leaders?
The word ‘temptation’ is dismissed as laughable. Rather than seeing it as a thing to be resisted, an assault on our character, a fork in the road of life, (or worst of all, the actions of Temptation should be embraced, as it invariably leads to fun and to liberty.
And ‘evil’ is even worse. Evil is only evil in the eye of those condemning it. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure; one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. One man’s campaign contribution is another man’s bribe. Evil is passe’. It’s a yawn, a hoax passed down from an irrelevant church through silly preachers and uptight believers. Evil isn’t a thing for modern, educated people. Right?
Personally, I hold with the stark reality of temptation and evil. Reflecting on my own life I realize that I have experienced any number of temptations. Some of which I regrettably embraced.
Media and popular culture, being the principal moral guide-posts of generations, teach us that it’s funny to laugh about temptation, especially when it occurs in youth, and relates to sex, drugs and alcohol. But it quickly turns serious when we realize that temptation also eads people to use ever more powerful, ever more addictive and lethal drugs. Temptation leads men and women to cheat on their spouses, abuse children, embezzle, lie, engage in shady business deals, abuse public office, commit acts of terror, oppress, torment, rape or murder. It causes coups and wars, genocides and crushing poverty, loneliness, broken homes, broken hearts.
It’s common to suggest that such activities are merely the result of mental illness or caused by the frustrations of poverty or oppression. While sometimes true, the news doesn’t bear that out. Many very sane, very capable, very educated and financially sound people fall prey to temptation, a thing which ruins their own lives and those of others.Temptation, then, is the trail-head down evil paths. Evil, that old church bugaboo, that joke perpetuated on children, by ignorant religious folks, in order to manipulate them! But we all, every man, woman and child, believe fully in evil. We just have different words for it. We may disagree about the source. Is it something spiritual? Is it mental, financial or social? But without doubt, we know that there are dangerous forces and wrong things in the world.
Even the most convinced and brilliant atheist (and there are many) will reasonably condemn certain actions and applaud others. We use words like ‘unfair.’ We say we ‘ought to’ or ‘ought not to’ do certain things. We believe ‘that’s just wrong’ about a host of behaviors. Slavery? Bad. Murder? Bad. Greed? Bad. Human trafficking? Bad. Environmental destruction? Bad. Intolerance? Oppression? Tyranny? Hatred? Abuse of political power? Bad, bad, bad. And, to those of us with a more theistic inclination, evil.
And yet we live out a strange duality, in which we reject the idea of temptation’s perils and the reality of evil, even as we want to see virtue blossom. We find ourselves surrounded by crime, war, racism and sexism. We rail against big business, misleading ministers and lying politicians. We desire that our leaders be ‘good’ and ‘just’ even as we vacillate over virtue for ourselves, and can’t help laughing at things like ‘temptation’ and ‘evil.’
We may have to find different words to speak a common language here. But suffice it to say, I still pray that God will lead me not into temptation, and will deliver me from evil. And all those I love. For in a dangerous world, temptation and evil are real. And I’m just too weak to face it alone.
This is my latest column in the SC Baptist Courier. Teens are wonderful! But that transition from childhood to adulthood can be so hard on them. Please remember that they can be afflicted by depression, and watch yours carefully. And their friends! Text follows link.
It’s August, and that means that school is starting. Middle school and high school, in particular, are times of significant emotional challenges. Not only are students adapting to physical changes and emotional growth and maturity, the fact is that depression is a big problem for young people. In 2012, according to government statistics
http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/health4.asp, 11% of kids between ages of 12 and 17 had at least one major depressive episode. These episodes increase their risk of suicide and drug abuse.
All parents know that raising adolescents is a challenge. The complexities of adolescent culture are compounded by their even more complex brain chemistry. In the end it can be very difficult to sort through which behavioral changes are normal and which are pathologic and dangerous.
Because of this, it’s very important to educate yourself, and talk to your kids. And talk. And talk. If you think you’re being intrusive or invasive, that’s not necessarily bad. (In general, they want your attention more than they admit.) Young people will frequently say ‘everything is fine,’ when everything is far from fine and they are feeling sadness and despair.
It’s important to spend a lot of time with the kids. And while you do, to watch for signs of depression, like withdrawal from friends and family, loss of enjoyment of normal activities, expressions of guilt or worthlessness and increasing emotional outbursts. Be attentive to increased physical complaints such as fatigue and loss of appetite. This list just scratches the surface, so I’ve attached a link with more details. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/teen-depression/symptoms-causes/dxc-20164556
Furthermore, as you talk to your kids, don’t be afraid (or ashamed) to snoop. Know what they’re doing, where they are going and who their friends are. Ask who they are texting, what they’re reading, and what they’re thinking about. And don’t accept ‘oh, nothing’ as an answer. They are always thinking about something.
And since most of them seem permanently attached to a telephone, snoop there as well. There are ways to track their phones and to follow the websites they visit and the texts they send and receive. And you can simply tell them that you want access to their passwords. Odds are you’re paying for the thing anyway. This isn’t to be mean, but to be diligent. The texts and searches on their phones can be clues to their emotional struggles and also to dangers or cries for help.
Remember that even kids with loving, attentive families can spiral into dangerous depression. Don’t forget that Christians have brains and depression is a real disease of the brain, not a moral or spiritual failure. So never be afraid to discuss it with the kids, admit that it’s real and seek counseling and medication as indicated.
Your efforts might just be life-saving.
Should our Christianity influence our politics? Apparently only in some situations. This is my column in today’s Greenville News. Not trying to push for one or the other candidate, so I’m not crazy about the title applied to it.
I’ve seen a lot of commentary lately that says Christians shouldn’t vote for Donald Trump. They tell us that he does not, in any way, behave like a Christian. Some of these observations actually come from Christians and are not without merit. But the majority I have seen have been directed from more secular individuals towards Christians.
Instead of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do), the question asked of the faithful seems to be WJVT: ‘Would Jesus Vote Trump?’ And it’s a good question, asked for a bad reason. What bad reason? Manipulation of believers for political ends.
It’s a weird election. I think most of us would like to press the reset button and start all over. But it’s August and these two are the main players in the farce which will raise the curtain on its last act in November. I understand both sides of the argument. In a country sharply divided, Trump and Hillary seem (on the surface) remarkably different. Whether they actually are, we won’t know until later. We’ll have to ‘elect one and see what’s in them,’ to borrow from Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
But I’m troubled by something. The same people who told Christians to take our religion and keep it out of politics (and largely out of public life in general) are now berating Christians who support The Donald because they aren’t properly employing their faith in the realm of politics.
Apparently, Christianity properly applied should be used as a screening tool to decide if a candidate is acceptable based on how closely he or she conforms to the popular notion of ‘Christian’ behavior.
I’m trying to imagine the outcry if, when appointing a Supreme Court Justice, a president opined, ‘I’m really not sure she’s Christian enough for the court.’ There would be no end of shocked citizens, deeply angered by a political decision based on Christianity.
I remember, not very long ago, when Christians applied scripture to the same-sex marriage debate. We were reminded in no uncertain terms that our beliefs had no place in the decision. Ditto for abortion. Christianity, it seems, has no place in policies regarding killing the unborn, and certainly shouldn’t play into decisions about whether or not to provide potentially abortifacient drugs! Take that, Little Sisters of the Poor! Silly Christians, keep your ideas and nutty beliefs to yourselves. This isn’t the year 1000, after all!
That is, unless we’re talking about the current presidential election, which is odd. For the most part, past candidates who were very Christian were also considered very unacceptable in the eyes of the media and the secular world. Candidates, for example, like Mike Huckabee, the Southern Baptist Preacher or Sen. Rick Santorum, the devout Catholic were far too ‘Christian’ to be considered for the presidency. Even Gov. Mitt Romney, Mormon, was just too ‘Mormon’ despite being a very nice, loving husband and father. Good grief, he was the Republican ‘anti-Trump!’
So by now many Christians have learned their lessons. In a grim political and cultural milieu, they have decided that maybe the loud fellow with the bad attitude, who says what many people are thinking, might just be ‘the guy.’ Besides, I don’t really think that Christians voting for Trump are under the delusion that he is representative of Christianity. They just think he might do things that are a little more in line with their beliefs, a little less likely to threaten their values. He might be ‘a little less bad.’ They know they may be wrong, that it’s a gamble. But those of us believers who know our history also realize that our brethren down the ages have been led by far worse (and far less ‘Christian’ ) leaders than either of the current candidates for Commander in Chief. And some of them were quite good for Christians in the end.
I’m not trying to convince anyone to vote for any candidate. Please, vote your conscience. But we should all try to have charity towards those on the other side, who support candidates for reasons probably more nuanced than we believe. (It’s much easier to call our enemies stupid than attribute any intelligent motives to their behaviors.)
And while I believe those who want religion to stay out of politics are ultimately unrealistic, they should at least be consistent. It’s terribly unfair to tell Christians to leave their faith outside the ballot box, but then condemn them for actually doing so.
This is my most recent Greenville News column. Inspired, of course, by my amazing wife Jan. All my love baby!
June is here, and while it certainly isn’t the only month for weddings, it is a popular one. This month, many young men will have a brand new thing called a wife, and many young women a thing called a husband. Both are perplexing, and both are wonderful. As such, I have some insight to share.
Gentlemen, what you have before you after the vows are said and rings exchanged, is a woman of your very own. She has been thinking about this her whole life. In fact, she has been unconsciously (and consciously) evaluating men as husband material since she first realized that there were boys in the world other than her father and brothers. She chose you. (Don’t question it, just be glad…she knows you’re imperfect, trust me.) And what she wants is your love and devotion. She wants you to stand by her and be faithful. She needs to know you won’t run away when things get tough. She needs to know that you still think she’s amazing when her life is a hot mess and her hair won’t do anything right and she just cries for no reason. She does not expect you to figure it out or fix it, as much as you want to do that.
The great wonder is that she just wants you (you among all other men on earth!) to share life with her, hold her, protect her and get old with her. She could have had people better looking, smarter, stronger or richer and every smart husband realizes this. She wanted you to share her mind, heart and body. She probably wants to have your baby. (It’s a compliment of the highest order.) Something about you drew her in to your orbit. Observe this advice, honor her dreams, speak kindly and treat her gently, love her lavishly and you will never in this life find an ally more true or comfort more wondrous.
This beautiful thing before you is yours; and she should be your favorite hobby, best friend, greatest confidant. She will give all of that back and more. But remember what the Little Prince said: ‘You are responsible forever for what you have tamed.’
Ladies? What you have is a man, also of your very own. As a young man, he didn’t probably didn’t think about weddings or marriage as much as you did. But deep inside, he wanted it. He wanted a woman to care for. Good men like caring for things; we protect, we defend, we provide. It’s our wiring. On some level, even as you wove your spell he ‘hunted and gathered’ you. In a hilarious expression of the whole process, ‘he chased you till you caught him,’ as my wife used to say. He is sometimes slow to understand things natural to you. Like feelings. He is sometimes uncomfortable with lengthy discussions of emotions. He is fascinated by your feminine ways, tears, declarations of love and complicated rituals. He struggles with bra-straps and is confused by make-up, skin products and your many shoes. But in all his simplicity, he is far more complex than your friends (or society) lets you believe. He is in awe of you and if you are kind to him, encourage and respect him, he will do anything you ask just to make you happy.
He needs a little space sometimes. And honest to goodness, there are times when he says ‘I’m not thinking about anything,’ and is telling the absolute truth. We men go to that place sometimes, even though your multi-tasking brains can’t fathom it. Let the man have it now and then. Just a little down-time. He’ll be back.
Your husband, properly treated, will love you and the children with a devotion that comes fairly close to worship. And when he says ‘you’re beautiful,’ don’t tell him no, don’t deny it. He really believes it because you are his, and he’s amazed that you agreed to marry him in the first place.
Husbands and wives, his whole process is an incredible mystery. Two people, two complex creatures, with dreams, hopes, wounds, bad habits and all the rest come together and make, as the Bible says, ‘one flesh.’ Two humans who barely know themselves choose to know another and love them for life.
As you pass through the portal of the wedding into the new life called marriage, may you never stop discovering the unfolding, life-long wonder that is your spouse.
Graduation is upon us once more. All across the area high, schools, trade schools and colleges are releasing their eager, bright eyed students into the the next phase of their lives. My wife and I have graduated several times, and have graduated two sons. It’s an emotional, beautiful time when Pomp and Circumstance turns moms into weeping messes of mascara and tissue, and dads into great, red-eyed lumps who choke back tears and say muffled things like ‘I…I’m fo prd ov you. I lvvv you,’ sniff, sniff.
The kids are emotional but boy, are they ready. They toss those hats into the air (as parents try to grab them as keepsakes) and they head off to jobs, or to parties or sometimes to pre-loaded cars headed off for the beach. Some go to their own weddings and some go to basic training, or their first overseas deployment with the armed forces. Big stuff all around.
But as I thought about the whole process I realized that one of the great dangers of a successful society (and by any measure of the world at large or history ours qualifies), is that we are capable of investing all of our worth as parents into the activities and successes of our offspring who are now springing off on their own.
As such, we forget something very fundamental. Once the kids grow up, they can largely do what they want. Just like most of us did. But what does that mean exactly?
Well, first of all those graduates with all of their dreams, like ’I want to do forensics,’ ‘I want to be a marine biologist,’ ‘I want to be attorney general,’ etc. may or may not do those things. Their dreams are useful guiding stars at first, but most of them will change course for a variety of reasons. Thus, I am not a full-time magazine journalist as I originally intended. Nor an Air Force navigator…probably good given my tendency to get lost.
We love to brag about what our kids will do. I certainly do. They are hints of the future, and sometimes we believe their successes will somehow atone for our own shortcomings, our own failed dreams. But it’s important to step back on occasion and realize that the future may look very different from what they, and I, and all of us, think it will be for them.
Second, they may decide that the educational path we hoped for them to follow isn’t right. These days, many college majors are a poor economic bet compared to heating and air or welding. My professional friends in medicine and law are particularly stricken by this. When one says to another, ‘Tim dropped out of USC. He’s decided he wants to be a contractor,’ there’s an almost palpable tension and a pat on the shoulder. ‘Well, he may go back to school later.’ Or he may be a wildly successful contractor. Or he may just like building things more than thinking about things that don’t interest him. Who knew?
Third, they will love and marry people we didn’t expect. Just like we did. We can have all kinds of plans for betrothal and hopes that they’ll find this girl or that guy. But in the end, as Pascal said, ’the heart has reasons of which reason knows not.’
And now the hardest, dear weeping parents, and many of you know this. They will make their own mistakes. They will lose jobs and ruin relationships. They will set themselves back. They will violate, sometimes, the law of man and often the law of God. This is called being human. For Christians, it’s tough realizing your kid is a sinner too. (In the secular, world, the equivalent might be realizing your liberal family raised a Republican and you have to love them anyway. Cheer up! Prodigals do return!)
Allow me to review: the kids will study what they want, work at what they want, love whomever they want and make big mistakes. The best we can do is show the grace and love throughout all of it.
But to love them well, we have to take them off the altar. Our worth as humans cannot be wrapped up in our children. That’s a terrifying and overwhelming idolatry and it holds them to far too high a standard.
So as they get those certificates and diplomas, remember they’re humans. Hope and fear, success and struggle in dynamic tension.
And love them.
Many young physicians in training have asked me, quietly or by e-mail, ‘is it possible to be a Christian and practice emergency medicine?’ I think that they ask a good question, and likely for good reasons.
In their rotations they have witnessed, first hand, life in the ER. They are uncertain, perhaps, because they see the frustration that boils over in the words and actions of otherwise compassionate and caring doctors and nurses. They hear the bitterness and sarcasm, the profanity, the unkind words spoken behind the glass window that separates professional from patient.
They also see, hear, touch…and often smell…the humanity that pours through the doors of trauma centers, academic emergency departments, community ER’s and all the rest. There is suffering and loss, and the long, piercing wail of the bereaved down the hall, receiving the worst news of all. They experience the addicted, the drug seeker who will tell any lie, contrive any store to get the pill or injection he or she so needs and desires. They witness the poverty and need, the hungry, empty eyes of neglected children. The may witness, or experience, the explosive violence and cruelty of the drunk, the criminal, the wounded. In such a place, between suffering patients and suffering staff, what young, wide-eyed Christian wouldn’t ask, ‘Dr. Leap, is it possible to keep your faith and work in the emergency department?’
So here is my short epistle on the topic:
‘To the believers in the hospitals and emergency rooms, the church medical, across the land, around the world. From your brother Edwin, who these years has fallen and gotten up over and over and who loves you and wishes to encourage you.
It is my prayer that you have strength to face the sickness and pain into which you plunge yourself every day. All around you come victims; victims of disease and accident, victims of violence and neglect, cruelty and hatred. The drunk and addicted, the angry and the sad, the suicidal and lost, the rejected and abused, the healthy and also the dying; and all are among the dying in the end. Remember that all of them, and all of us, are also victims of sin, for it was in our separation from God in ancient times that all of this pain began, and in which death took hold of those originally destined for life.
Remember that the guilty and the innocent alike suffer from this, and that our Lord came to be an intercessor, high priest and atoning sacrifice for all. Your struggle is against the infirmities of the flesh, but also against the wounds of the spirit that underly all suffering in this veil, until we reach the kingdom where death has no power…and you will be out of work for all eternity. Amen.
Look around you each day, and consider that the emergency room, the hospital ward, the clinic, the operating room, these are places where the gospel is shown forth to you in power, a great gift from the Father so that you may understand by the example of others’ troubles what spiritual truths lie beneath it all and undergird it all.
Although we are all poor reflections, destined to one day (as the word says) ‘be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is,’ we are still his dim but ever growing likeness. And we are His hands, feet, mouth, eyes, mind. Like Him, we who go day in and day out among the lost, the suffering and those who (despite their willfulness) are hostages to evil.
And although we may have sin in our hearts, although we judge and are angry and frustrated, we do His work. That is, brothers and sisters, we bring love and touch and healing and comfort to those who frequently have done nothing to deserve it, who exhibit no gratitude or intent to change, but who need our love, need the love and redemption of Jesus. And like Him, we will show it seventy times seven, through temper tantrums thrown our way, complaints, cruel words, irresponsibility, patient satisfaction, EMR (the devil’s work) and every other difficulty.
Dear ones, in the ER, grace is at work, and a model of grace is there for you to enact and understand. You give undeserved love and care for everyone all day, every day. The Spirit gives you strength in hardship so that you may be bold, whether rested or tired, prepared or unprepared. Also, remember that the spirit works in your sinful heart, to your salvation and holiness. Those your treat are no worse than you and you no greater than them. There is a great gift of holy humility in that truth.
One day, on that Great Day, you will see that each act, every stitch, every comforting hand, every EKG, every airway, every psychiatric commitment, each and every weary step into the same room with the same patient and same complaint, every unkind word for another physician restrained, every patient act, these were all acts of grace that molded you. And the Father, Son and Spirit will welcome you, veteran of ten thousand daily trials.
And it is in this way that one can be a Christian in the ER, in the trauma center, clinic, operating room, delivery suite and all the rest despite the trials, temptations and bitterness that the enemy of our souls inflicts up on us in our work.
May the God of all peace guide you and strengthen you in your difficult work, and fill you with radiant, overwhelming love.
And may you have a quiet shift.
When I was a resident in training, I spent a day working as a physician at the Indianapolis 500 race, with my lovely bride accompanying me. It was an impressive spectacle. In fact, at least then, it was the largest single day sporting event in the world, with some 300,000 attendees. (And coming around again next month by the way!)
Although I admit to never attending a NASCAR race, I’m sure it’s a similar feeling. The press of humanity, the sound of engines, the smell of gasoline, the rivers of soft-drinks and beer. The inappropriate clothing…but I digress. The whole thing was simultaneously exhilarating and overwhelming.
I sometimes reflect on the enormity of that place. And then I think, oddly enough, about loneliness and isolation, as if in stark contrast to the race. One of the worst things in the world is isolation, actual or perceived. Many people suffer enormously because they feel utterly alone in life. And worse, they feel alone in times of trial.
I wonder what would happen to the hearts and minds of those people if we had special days when everyone with similar problems could meet in a vast stadium for a day. If, from every small neighborhood and farm community, every big city, every subdivision, people could come together with others who shared their trials. Can you imagine? In order to help envision it, I’ve done a little research.
According to the CDC, about 3.5% of American adults suffer from Major Depression. Since we have about 314 million persons in the US, that comes to almost 11 million adults. (I’m not even counting children and adolescents afflicted with the same). If the Indianapolis Motor Speedway holds 250,000 persons (50,000 more in the infield), it would take 43 stadiums to get all of those folks into stadiums to come together.
How about that endless specter, cancer? The National Cancer Institute of NIH reports that in 2014 there were 14.5 million people living beyond their cancer diagnosis. They also report that it is estimated that in the US there will be some 1,685,000 new cases in 2016. That would require 138 stadiums the size of Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor to get the survivors together; many of whom still suffer anxiety and side effects of their treatments.
The Partnership for Drug Free Kids website says that there are, in America today, 22 million individuals addicted to drugs or alcohol. Since Clemson’s Death Valley only holds some 81,500 Tigers and other species, it would take a lot of similarly sized facilities to manage all of those with addiction issues. In fact, it would take 269 such stadiums, to be precise.
Sadly, about 800,000 persons are widowed each year in the United States, of which 700,000 are women, the remainder men. (From the website widowshope.org. ) While it would take fewer stadiums, it would still require the equivalent of eight versions of LSU’s Tiger Stadium.
In 2012, 1.25 million American adults and children had type 1, insulin dependent, diabetes. This from the American Diabetes Association, who should know such things after all. Getting them together for some low-carb food and fun would require 13 stadiums the size of Wembley in London. (For all of those fans of the ‘other’ football…)
It sounds like I’m trying to bring everyone down. But I’m not. My point is exactly the opposite. For all of the loneliness that all of these people may feel, the larger reality is that they are part of much larger groups. It’s all too easy, alone in the hospital, the doctor’s office, the same chair at home, the same lonely church pew, to feel completely alone.
This is, of course, the reason for support groups. It is also point of friendship, love and outreach. While we may not share all the same afflictions as others, we can certainly be with them, listen to them, comfort them in their trials. And to the extent that we have the same problems, we can be even greater reassurance. This is why we were instructed by St. Paul to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.’
We mean something entirely different when we quip, ‘misery loves company.’ But the truth is that it does. It craves company. Those in pain and loss, those struggling or afraid, need to know they aren’t alone.
And it needn’t take a trip to the Indy 500 to make that a reality.