Saturday, July 23, 2011

Power, Politics and Healing

They sent some Pharisees and followers of Herod to bait him, hoping to catch him saying something incriminating. They came up and said, "Teacher, we know you have integrity, that you are indifferent to public opinion, don't pander to your students, and teach the way of God accurately. Tell us: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"
He knew it was a trick question, and said, "Why are you playing these games with me? Bring me a coin and let me look at it." They handed him one.
   "This engraving—who does it look like? And whose name is on it?"
   "Caesar," they said.
 Jesus said, "Give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his."
   Their mouths hung open, speechless.
                                                                           Mark 12: 13-17 (The Message)
God's various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God's Spirit. God's various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God's Spirit. God's various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful: wise counsel, clear understanding, simple trust, healing the sick, miraculous acts, proclamation, distinguishing between spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues.  
All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when.
                                       1 Corinthians 12: 4-11 (The Message)
In a recent reports from Bahrain, physicians and nurses are being jailed for treating protesters in that country who have been participants in the “Arab Spring” protests - CNN Report and AMA request.  
The responses are arguments for “medical neutrality” of physicians and nurses in responding to any injured persons in times of violence.   Others have made the case for a social contract between medicine and society.*  It would appear that both of these arguments  have failed in Bahrain.
I have previously argued that the “telos” of healing agents does not include sponsoring state agendas even when the goals are laudable (December 24, 2010).   It seems even more obvious that the “telos” of Christian healing agents does not include torture and the denial of  care to the injured even if they have opposed the state’s agenda.  What should we do?
This brings me to modern Christian voices that opposed the state. The most instructive for me is  the writing of Alan Paton in his novel, Cry, the Beloved Country, and the challenge to the church in responding to apartheid in South Africa.  The book addresses the issue of racial violence in the struggle for justice.   The good news, despite the acquiescence of the church, is that God was at work to change an underlying evil.  I particularly love the last scene in the movie version of that book when in the face of death, Fundisi (James Earl Jones) goes to the beautiful mountains of South Africa to pray.  
As healing agents we need to look to the example of Jesus for models of response to the demands of the state.  Like Fundisi, we need to pray to the God of Abraham for relief to those who suffer for their practice of acts of healing and believe that God will be at work. 

*Moreno, JD (2003) In the Wake of Terror: Medicine and Morality, MIT Press.
 Cruess SR. Professionalism and medicine's social contract with society.  Clinical Orthopaedics & Related Research.  449:170-6, 2006 Aug.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Minds, Bodies, Machines and Souls

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.  
                                                                                     Genesis 2:7 KJV

da Vinci’s Last Supper
In the course of their meal, having taken and blessed the bread, he broke it and gave it to them. Then he said, Take, this is my body.  Mark 14:22 The Message
Western thought has struggled to integrate our minds and bodies.  Leonardo da Vinci became the personification of this integration as inventor and artist.  Now, we have come to a new depth of integration of machines, bodies and our minds.  The recent PBS Newshour looked at bionic research and we are confronted with some amazing responses to disability and limb loss - Bionic Bodies
How can we understand the implications of what we make and how it alters who we are?  Two recent and different responses give some important answers.
Ann Patchett in her recent novel, State of Wonder,  explores unintended consequences of fertility research in the Amazon.  It is a complicated story that tells a cautious tale of acting on our abilities to make new compounds.  
Allen Verhey in his recent book, Nature and Altering It, addresses the underlying assumptions about who we are in relationship to the the science and technology that have changed our worlds.   He uncovers the mythos that surround the ethos of our scientific endeavors.
The question then is not so much whether we make new tools and use them, it is more about the unintended results and how we become the “machines” that we make.  There are many examples and some with names like “da Vinci".
My summary is that our science and technology are not what is at stake, but our souls.  What we make and our bodies are not who we are.  So now, the task is too find ways of asking more hard questions about a world that we are creating and the bodies that we are altering.