Monthly Archives: October 2013

Medicine and Forgiveness: How we mistreat our ills

MH900390526My medicine cabinet contains something shocking–medicine. Despite the fact that millions of Americans consume pharmaceuticals worth billions of dollars, we have developed a strange cultural tendency to decry the use of medication as somehow morally inferior. After a lifetime among fellow Christians, I can honestly say believers often share the same aversion to medicine. We might even be worse than the general population in our attitude about the use of medicine for healing.

Recently I listened to a Catholic priest being interviewed on the radio about the many confessions he had heard during his lengthy career. The priest said that a number of Christians he met for confession could not accept forgiveness because they had tethered their sins to clinical maladies. For instance, if John Smith has obsessive compulsive disorder that he believes is somehow connected to the sins in his life, it will be almost impossible for Smith to accept that he has been forgiven. Tragic! Even more shocking was the priest’s revelation that the vast majority of believers with a psychological disorder refused to pursue treatment. He said only 2 out of 20 would ever follow-up on his suggestion that they needed professional clinical help that might include counseling and/or medication. Many of these folks were convinced that their suffering was related to sin rather than something clinical. They refused to get the help they desperately needed. They resigned themselves to the belief that suffering was part of God’s plan for their lives and it was just their cross to bear. To this I say bull$&!#.

Back in my day (stop rolling your eyes, millennials), the medical profession was beginning to explode with new drugs and ways of treating diseases. Many of those diseases had formerly meant an automatic death sentence for people. We called them miracle drugs and we viewed doctors and surgeons with awe. These days I know people who argue with their doctor about almost everything. I am not suggesting that we idolize fallible medical professionals. And certainly the pharmaceutical companies have made grave (no pun intended) errors. But should we default to stigmatizing all medicines and their use?

In Luke 10:30-35, we read the story of the Good Samaritan. Recall that the Samaritan bandaged the victim’s wounds, pouring on oil and wine.

In 1 Timothy 5:23, Paul tells some sick people in the church to stop drinking only water and start using a little wine for their stomach and frequent illnesses. Back then, wine was used like a medicine (today it seems to turn people into snobs). They didn’t have the water purification systems we have today. In essence, Paul was dispensing medical advice for their digestive health.

Here is my point: It is OK to take appropriate medicine for a legitimate injury or illness. We get no moral or heavenly kudos for going the natural route at the expense of our health. There is no glory in needless suffering. Of course it is best to eat right, exercise, and embrace healthy lifestyles. But using medicine does not make us worse Christians. At worst, denial about our ailments and refusing medicine can put us at risk of faulty thinking about sin, suffering, and forgiveness. God’s forgiveness does not require that we choose to suffer. Choosing to suffer needlessly is just obtuse, not noble.

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Blind Faith

MH900427668What should I do if my Border Collie assures me that he will stop stealing bags of potato chips from the kitchen counter when I am out of the house . . . besides ask my doctor to adjust my medication? Should I blindly trust my innocent-looking quadruped? Sure, Border Collies have a reputation as an intelligent breed, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be shifty. In this case, blind faith in my canine friend’s self-control would probably lead to disappointment.

An article titled “Why Partisans Can’t Kick the Hypocrisy Habit,” by Alan Greenblatt, says:

“Although many people like to describe themselves as independent, partisanship has become an important aspect of identity. Some are more loyal to their partisan leanings than their own church, says University of Notre Dame political scientist David Campbell.”

Campbell’s statement about the unholy union between personal identity and partisan ideology is fascinating and disconcerting. By allowing partisanship to become too much a part of our identity we run the risk of being blind to truth. Such blind loyalty can also happen in the church. It used to be that many churchgoers were doggedly committed to their denomination. Some were committed to a particular denomination because multiple generations in their family had been members of the denomination. I’ve known Catholics who strongly identify with Catholicism because their parents and grandparents were Catholic. The same undaunted loyalty occurs in other denominations, as well. Sometimes the basis for the loyalty lies along justifiable criteria such as doctrine or statements of faith. Still, there is an interesting thing happening in the modern church: I see more and more people strongly identifying themselves with independent churches. Of course here is nothing inherently wrong with independent churches. Many of the current denominations were probably independent churches at one point. But many Christians can’t articulate WHY they identify so strongly with independent churches. The truth is there are positive and negative aspects of both independent and denominational churches. But I digress (apparently I’ve allowed ecclesiology to become part of my identity).

The point is that we have a potent, and not always healthy, tendency to let church become part of our identity. I know steadfast Christians who continue to attend ailing churches because those churches are members of their preferred denomination. If they switched to another denomination it would be akin to tearing out part of their personality. A good many Christians attend churches because they strongly identify with the city or neighborhood in which their church is embedded; this is usually a good thing, but not always as we can become shortsighted. But my question is this: At what point does our commitment to a church become blind faith?

Don’t get me wrong, most of the time commitment is a good thing, especially given the church hopping that goes on these days (guilty). But it seems wise to always retain at least a small measure of skepticism when it comes to the church structures and styles we hold dear. Otherwise we run the risk of becoming the dreaded “H” word–Hypocrites. How so? Answer: If we allow too much of our identity to become connected to our local church or denomination we run the risk of blinding ourselves to institutional fails and the flip flopping of our values. After all, church leaders come and go. Styles change. Doctrines and statements of faith can be subject to the whims of new leaders.

Here’s an example from the world of politics. I recall how multitudes of political progressives were vehemently antiwar during the Bush administration. Many of those same progressive partisans are now silent or openly supportive when President Obama gives orders to take military actions. On the other hand, many political conservatives (formerly hawkish) sound almost like antiwar protesters now that President Obama is giving the orders. If we are not on guard, this type of blind faith leading to the compromise of our values can also occur in the church. Don’t be blind. Connecting our identity to Christ is a safer way. Christ doesn’t change.

Thank Google (Blasphemy)

MH900442366Kate Shellnutt wrote an article titled “This is Your Brain on Google” for Christianity Today in which she said: “We instinctually ask our laptops and smartphones to tell us and teach us, things we once relied on other people to do.”

A couple weeks ago I was at a friend’s house after a hunting trip. He’s 87-years-old. My elderly friend noticed that the tie-downs on my all-terrain vehicle (ATV) and trailer were in precarious positions (in other words, the tie-downs had been attached by me) creating pressure points that could fray and break. He had me pull the trailer around back to his shop where we drilled some holes in the steel frame and installed hooks for the tie-downs. This made the trailer safer to carry my ATV. Even though I knew how to drill and install hooks, I listened patiently as he walked me through the project step by step. You never know, you can learn something new even when you think you know a process inside out. I learned it is better to use a bigger eye bolt than you might need for the job at hand because you never know what you will want to haul in the future.

Anyhow, my friend was able to show me a problem and help me fix it BEFORE it actually became a problem. I don’t think Google or Youtube can do that . . . yet. But more importantly, I felt a sense of appreciation for my friend’s willingness to assist me. I thanked him with a grateful heart. He in turn felt good that his expertise was needed by someone else. This was one of those relational exchanges we applaud in the church.

Lets’ beware that we do not allow technology to replace too much of the relational element in our lives. I am not suggesting Christians become Luddites. That would be lewd (I crack me up). Technology is cool and it can, if used wisely, improve the way we live and relate. But we, the church, must love persons more than our technology. Technology provides a tempting mechanism that enables us to avoid letting people see too much of our true selves. Ironically, it is our true selves that God prefers to deal with in our relationship with Him.

I could have gone to Youtube to learn “how to” install trailer tie-down hooks. It might have taught me the functional procedures I needed to know, but it would have felt . . . impersonal. Youtube can’t fertilize my relationship with the instructor in the video, unless I post a thank you comment. Even then he might never read it. Besides, relationships are a two-way deal full of nuance that doesn’t always transfer through technology.

A Women’s Retreat for Men

MH900439274My wife, Cindy, recently returned from a Christian women’s retreat and I’ve been reaping the benefits ever since. I highly recommend a women’s retreat for all husbands . . . well, not for all husbands. If you are at least a C+ husband like me, you won’t regret packing your wife off to a women’s retreat, especially if the theme of the retreat is about marriage. Why? Allow me to elaborate. After more than 25 years of marriage, I still have a few faults as a husband (Cindy can’t fix everything). Some of my faults include, but are not limited to: failing to put a new roll of toilet paper on the empty roller (my philosophy is why bother when you’re just going to use up the replacement roll in a couple of days), neglecting to hang up my shirts after washing, leaving streaks of almond butter on my knife before placing it in the sink, failing to transfer the knife (and all other dirty dishes and utensils) from the sink to the dishwasher, failing to squeegee the glass walls of the shower stall after defiling the shower with my inglorious naked presence, failing to . . . well, you get the idea.

Why was Cindy’s retreat with hundreds of Christian women good for ME? Because ever since she returned, she kisses me more often, hugs me longer, and refrains from mentioning my shortcomings listed in the previous paragraph. I have a clever theory why this is happening. Over the years, Cindy has attended several women’s retreats where I believe she heard occasional stories from other women about the nefarious deeds of their husbands. After hearing such stories, Cindy finally had an epiphany that her C+ husband is actually an A – husband when graded on a curve. Walla! I benefit from lowered expectations. Hey, I’ll take a victory any way I can get it.

Sure, wives have plenty of problems they bring to the table of marriage (I occasionally hear about them at men’s retreats). Fortunately, most Christian husbands are not married to a train wreck, though we regretfully tend to take our wives for granted.

Finally, a word of caution for men is appropriate here. If you are not at least a C+ husband, don’t encourage your wife to attend a Christian women’s retreat unless you are OK with God stepping in to fix problems in your marriage, which can often mean fixing YOU. I’m just saying.