A Time for Weeping and Dancing

I wanted to cry with him, but he wasn’t crying. It was senseless to cry for him because he didn’t appear sad. He was just very matter-of-fact after having spent over 4 decades in prison. Now at age 58 he could breathe air on the other side of the bars, cement and other barricades. He no longer had to ask permission to come and go. He no longer had a schedule imposed on him when to eat. He could dress in whatever fashion he could afford. The only limitations now were the societal norms and the expectations of the few family and friends who are still around and still alive and willing to welcome him home. These were fewer than he expected.

Both of his parents had died during his incarceration for murder. Yes, it was murder. He did not try to assert his innocence. I was sitting in a room a ]lone with a confessed, convicted and formally ivarcerated murder. I felt totally at ease. I would not have believed it possible 25 years ago to have this conversation face-to-face in a private clinical setting. He described the event to me as though it were happening in the moment. He was angry, grabbed the gun and shot his victim several times. This is not the usual medical history for most of the people we serve.

He did not hesitate to relate these facts. he was very clear. I usually ask routine questions about allergies to medications, previous surgeries, ongoing medical illnesses or family history of such illnesses. I have never thought to ask by the way have you killed anybody lately? I have learned over the years to never ask why they are or were incarcerated. If they want to they will tell you. He told me. It was relayed as easily as he told me about having his appendix removed. It’s just what happened he said. He had missed almost half a century for something that ‘just happened’. A lot had changed. He was just happy to be free. He did not want to miss anything else.

As I examined him I could see the scar from his surgery. As I listened to him I could hear the scars from his life. Both had healed. Both were still tender to examination. He did not wince. He did not cry. I know for certain that physical wounds do heal and are constantly remodeled throughout life. Wounds can get large scars even from what appears to be trivial trauma. A pimple can cause a hypertrophic scar or keloid. And yet a gunshot wound or stabbing may leave an unnoticeable small blemish. It may be the results of the instrument or the intent which caused the scar or the individual body genetically determined defense mechanisms. Multiple trauma to the same site can delay and prevent healing.

I could not begin to properly assess in the half hour we were together the depth or impact of the scars in his life. I still have my appendix and I’ve never murdered anyone. I have never been convicted of a crime. I have never been incarcerated. I have always had liberty to come and go as I please and when I violated societal norms and family expectations. It would be pretentious of me to try to display emotions commensurate with what I assume he was feeling. So, I just listened and examined. I did what I was called to do. Listen, examine and order the appropriate tests. After that I schedule him for the next office visit to discuss results of the tests and order any additional imaging studies deemed necessary.

It is important not to probe scars. It is important to discover only what is necessary. I have learned that there is a time for weeping. This was not that time. This was a time to rejoice with him in his newly found freedom and not relive his past 4 decades. This is a time for laughing and dancing.

Ecclesiastes 3:4 A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to dance.

Romans 12:15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

Convenient Compassion

A Difficulty of a Serious Nature

When the founders of the U.S. Constitution in 1787 considered whether America should let the people elect their president through a popular vote, James Madison said that “Negroes” in the South presented a “difficulty … of a serious nature.” http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/electoral-college-slavery-constitution/

When James Madison was writing about the ‘difficulty of a serious nature’, he was referring to the 3/5 compromise which mandated slaves be considered less than fully human for the sake of the electoral process. It seemed a logical stroke of genius for the economic and political stability of our nation.

Before the ink was dry on the signing of the Constitution, it had already spilt and indelibly stained the fabric of the nation. That stain continues to tarnish every decision made when it comes to treating others amongst us as fully human.

People like me of African descent in these United States of America as well as anyone who does not look distinctly European continue to face systematic institutional discrimination. We have always been an ethnic group, a people of color or race of mankind that is either tolerated or accommodated out of convenience. We have been categorized and catalogued based upon the percentage of African blood that flows through our veins reflected in the texture of our hair and the hue of our skin. Because of this we have always been a difficulty of a serious nature in our nation.

From the cradle to the grave we are still deemed a difficulty of a serious nature in this country. We continue to face discrimination in housing, education, justice and very important from my point of view healthcare. As I trained in medicine and surgery I witnessed and participated in the sanctioned use of our black patient and clientele as objects differing only from the cadavers in core body temperature. There were designated hospitals and sections of hospital reserved for doctors in training. There were hospital services and teams solely reserved for people who happen to be of darker skin tone. These discriminatory practices are less overt these days but remain reflected in the life expectancies and quality of care of people like me.

This is an issue from cradle to grave. If our healthcare system and providers could not be trusted and cannot be trusted to exhibit professional integrity and not discriminate when life chances are good, why should we believe it will happen when life teeters on the edge.

Physician-assisted suicide is seen by many as a compassionate response to relieve pain and suffering. I have yet to meet or care to meet a colleague who takes pleasure in seeing someone suffer. We were trained to relieve emotional, physical, psychological and even spiritual pain. Not all of us practice our profession on the front line, face-to-face with families and friends of someone who is suffering. However, I am cautious of being swayed by the wave of emotions that would drown out my professional decision-making.

To actively participate in the death of someone in front of me is a difficulty of a serious nature. Convenient compassion would certainly justify doing so. But I know that this compromise can often be made for the economic and even familial politic. I understand how good intentions signed in black ink for the sake of the individual and family will stain forever relationship between physician and patient. One never knows who conspires with whom to end life.

Suffice it to say that I do not trust in the healthcare system and its providers to make nondiscriminatory choices when dealing with a difficulty of a serious nature. This is especially true if one’s practice is made up solely of helping people die. I can imagine that one would need to be certified in killing. Proper protocols and ethics would be established. But if the practitioner were not paid adequately those boundaries can always be pushed and violated.

Pain and suffering are difficulties of a serious nature. When people of color have historically been denied and continue to be denied adequate healthcare, why should we entrust those same institutions and systems to rule and decide in our best interest? Of course, being of darker skin hue is a permanent, life long, pre-existing condition which all the actuarial tables note. The banks, the justice system, the education system all take note of this pre-existing condition. Should I trust my doctors to determine when I should die?

Physician-assistant suicide represents to me yet another way to rid ourselves of someone no longer holds value. These are 3/5 persons. Putting them out of their misery, taking away their breath allows us to breathe easier. We call it compassion. I call it convenient compassion. My fear is that once we embrace this way of ending life for the isolated few, we will find it necessary to redefine suffering. We will once again have designated hospitals with designated services for designated people. We can harvest their organs at the same time the rifle through their belongings.

I see this as a boon for insurance companies which would rather that I die from my pre-existing condition than use up the benefits that would go to their profits. Families likewise cannot be trusted to rule dispassionately when there are potential financial benefits. Convenient compassion allows the governments to balance their budgets on Medicaid and Medicare and it takes non-compliant, disruptive and complicated patients off of my office schedule. It is convenient for all of these entities and disguised as compassion. It serves the decision makers who can easily coerce even those who are conscious that it is within their best interest. After all, if I am near to death, I can easily be convinced that I should sacrifice my last hours, days, weeks or months for the sake of people who really love me and just want me out of my misery and out of their way.

This is a difficulty of a serious nature. When seen through the eyes of someone who has experienced and even participated in treating people as less than equal, I see where this will ultimately end. I will actively pursue defeating any agenda that seeks to address a difficulty of a serious nature by dehumanizing and killing the person in front of me no matter who advances this convenient compassion. I urge you to do likewise.

Kept From Things: Don’t Hold Your Breath

Our Father keeps some things from us in order to keep us from some things. He has the eternal foresight to protect His children.

Here is one threat you can’t hold over the Creator. You won’t get your way by telling Him you will hold your breath…, unless He does, ____________ you fill in the blank here.

Indeed it is senseless to threaten God with holding your breath, because after all He is the only One who actually holds it.

So to complain to God that He does not give me what I want when I know I really, really, really want it is senseless if He decides that I should not have it. If the Almighty decides to keep some thing from you, think of it as He is keeping you from some thing.

That is the very thing you want so badly is the very thing that so badly wants to control you, dominate and even destroy you. That something can become a habit, an addiction, a dangerous friendship or relationship.

I rarely if ever note what God has kept me from. I only note what He has kept from me. In keeping some things out of my reach, He also kept me out of reach of those things.

When I complain to God about what he kept from me, it is to ignore the fact that He saw the dangers coming with my request for more attention, more freedom, more excitement and more pleasure.

Your Father loves you too much to give into your tantrums. He is keeping you away from some thing or even someone in order to keep some thing or someone away from you.

Matthew 7:9-11King James Version (KJV) 9 Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?

10 Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?

11 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

Psalm 84:11King James Version (KJV) 11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.

I Can Always Buy Dirt

Whenever I am overwhelmed by the constant sight of the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing vicious militias, I go buy some dirt. That is one of my favorite options. It is too much to take in seeing pictures of people traveling barefoot across deserts, oceans, mountains and seas. They are hungry, scared and wearing threadbare clothing. They have been chased from their homes because to stay behind would mean more rape, torture and beheadings. Starvation is constant because even when they have the option of planting in the blood stained mine fields they used to call their farms, there is no time to harvest. No matter how rich their dirt may have been before the war, gardening, farming is not an option.

So rather than continue to focus on their misery, I go buy some dirt. I shop with discernment. I am careful to pick out the best kind of dirt. It must have the nutrients and moisture included in a well-sealed, attractively designed bag. It must not be too heavy for me to carry because, after all, I don’t want to work. This is supposed to be fun.

I then choose the seedlings and a nice part of the backyard to plant my vegetables and my mood is better. I don’t have to worry about mines, dead bodies of mass graves. If my plants don’t come to harvest because the summer sun is too hot, or if I forget to water them, I can just go to my freezer or even easier to the supermarket a few minutes away. Buying dirt is a nice hobby for me.

I suggest the next time you feel overwhelmed about the news of refugees, genocide, mass starvation and all the other bad stuff going on….., go buy some dirt. You may feel a whole lot better.

Proverbs 21:13 “Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.” 

King James Version (KJV)

Christmas Slaughter Comes Soon

Let’s Put the H back in cHristmas

To most people this is extremely insensitive and even irreverent. But truthfully, the slaughter never really stopped. We ignore the ever present, ongoing ‘massacre of the innocents’ that unfolds daily before us.

In her book entitled Accidental Saints Nadia Bolz-Weber asserts that we need to put the ‘H’ for Herod back in Christmas. “…in a world where suffering is as real as Herod and Boko Haram and Sandy Hook, where people are longing for something to help make sense of their suffering. Pretending that everything is fine isn’t helping anyone…The story about Christmas is as much about comfort and joy as it is about how messed up our world actually is”

We need to tell the whole Christmas story and that story includes the horror and hedonism of Herod.

In the gospel we have this record Matthew 2:16 When Herod saw that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was filled with rage. Sending orders, he put to death all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under,

It is the story of the massacre of the untold number of infants that were killed in an effort by King Herod to rid the world of the Christ child.

As the Christmas season approaches, we still do our best to ignore this fact by numbing ourselves in our hedonistic culture.

We hear of children drowning as they try to escape wars. We hear of them starving to death, being bombed, being stolen and sold as sex slaves and a host of other horrors. So instead of thinking too deeply about it, we start planning for Christmas.

What kind of cards will we mail? What will we cook? Who did and did not get a gift? Have we paid off last year’s credit card yet? What did I do with all of the stuff I got last Christmas?

I suggest, we keep the ‘H’ in Christmas. Let it not be Herod and Hedonism. Let it be Hope, Healing and Holy Ghost Hallelujah.

Think about this please. The slaughter is before us and God will hold us accountable for how we ignore or meet the needs of those innocents.

The Invisible Sin of Pride

I hated to admit it so I just kept on driving. I even picked up the pace to prove my point. I was not going to admit I was lost nor that I had noticed I had missed the well- marked exit. I was hoping my dear wife would fall asleep and I could make a U-turn and make up lost time.

Pride is an invisible sin. When it becomes apparent it is still tough to try to conquer. When I think I have it under control, I take pride in the fact that I have done so.

My pride I can’t see. My humility I shouldn’t see. I have it in reverse, so I just keep driving and hoping she will fall asleep. I brag about my humility. I deny my prideful spirit. God doesn’t sleep during this trip. He notices my persistence in prideful sin.

Pull over and say I am sorry. You are right. I was wrong. We are heading in the wrong direction. Let’s do it your way God.

Proverbs 16:18-19 Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. KJV

Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death. NKJV

I shouldn’t see you until I see you

I shouldn’t see you before I see you. That’s what I wanted to tell her. She came into the office and sat in the waiting room. What should have been a skirt looked more like a napkin. A very tiny napkin.

But she was not concerned. In fact she was proud to be revealing what only God, her mother or a spouse should see. Flaunting her body as the beautiful asset it was seemed as natural as the breath she took…, away…,from those who gawked at her…., like me.

But wait a minute. I am the doctor here. So when the Medical assistant announced: “the doctor will see you now” I was thinking of responding “He already has”.

It seems as if some women of today are lacking mothers, morals and mirrors. Perhaps this is an oversimplified and very biased, judgmental statement. But as a physician I am supposed to say remove your garments and put on this paper robe. I feel like saying, please put on this robe to cover that face cloth, or napkin or whatever it is.

Well I am getting older and it may just be that it is really time for me to retire. However, I still believe that women who display modesty in their attire in public are the most attractive.

I shouldn’t see you..,, until I see you.

Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that fears the Lord , she shall be praised. Proverbs 31:30 KJV

Unacknowledged but not Unnoticed

Borrowed feelings are like borrowed clothing. I can slip out and out of them very easily. So I borrowed his feelings. I pretended for just one moment to feel as he felt. That way I could record it in my mental notebook as another good deed done.

This was a nice mental selfie of me standing next to a man who would just as soon remain unnoticed because he was used to being unacknowledged. Then once the pretend shutter of the camera in my mind had opened and closed, in an instant, I shed my pretense of empathy.

I wore this borrowed shirt, this sense of moral outrage and Christian compassion, just long enough to impress myself that I am a good person. Usually I rush pass these begging bums on the street, fearful that they will ask for the $5 I have in my pocket. I could easily give them $10 or even $20 without noticing it. But since they don’t give change, I won’t pull it out so I can give the single $1 I feel they deserve. After all they would waste that in a way worse than I would waste it on myself.

Wait a minute. I do have some coins in the bottom of my pocket. Ooppsss! He dropped some of them and the light has changed. Gotta go. Don’t hold up traffic.

I notice them, I just don’t acknowledge them. Borrowed feelings are easier than borrowed clothing to remove.

Proverbs 21:13 He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor Will also cry himself and not be answered.

This Moving Mountain

A reading of Psalm 125 without a look at the current geography of the nation of Israel would leave one to believe that Mount Zion is an actual set in stone place. It is true that we can actually point to a site that is presently designated as Mount Zion. However, according to the very trusted (???) source Wikipedia: The name Mount Zion referred successively to three locations, as Jerusalemites preserved the time-honored name, but shifted the location they venerated as the focal point of biblical Jerusalem to the site considered most appropriate in their own time.

In other words, their view of this depiction of the holy mount shifted with time. So when the Psalmist wrote Psalm 125: 1-2 “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever”, he had not read Wikipedia.

He was unaware of what the future would hold as far as political entities and nation states. He knew only one thing for sure. Though mountains may shake, they don’t move. Though volcanoes may blow their tops even implode, they remain where God has planted them.

God is our immovable mountain. We are swept along with events, the seasons and fashions. Wikipedia will define what is culturally normal today as what is right. And in the next millennia, next century, next decade or next week will define another shift in what is socially and morally acceptable.

God is an unchanging, unmoving mountain. If we trust in the cultural shifts as found in the Wikipedia oracles of the day, we are like the scepter of the wicked…. That the righteous use their hands for evil (verse 3).

We have a God who is un-moveable and unshakeable. The living God is moved with compassion, not fashion. He surrounds us and protects our hearts and minds even when it feels we are alone. We feel this un-moveable mountain only when we; trust in mount Zion.

Prayer

Father help us to trust in you and know that you are moved with compassion to protect us from the evils that surround us in this day as we grow closer to you. May we know without doubt that you will do good through us and in us as we desire to be upright in heart v.4

This Fight Is Fixed

The phrase “God helps those who help themselves” is a popular motto that emphasizes the importance of self-reliance and self initiative. However, nothing could be further from the truth. God does not delight in self reliance. He takes pleasure when His children feel defeated without His presence. He enjoys our dependency on Him not just as a resource, but as the actual source. In other words we seek Him not just to find provision, but as the actual provision itself. We don’t need more of this or that. We need more of Him.

That is the setting of Psalm 124. It is the Psalmist declaration and affirmation that without God, we may as well give up. We are defeated not just by the enemy without, but the enemy within. Our victories of the flesh bring with them pride and a sense of being better than our foes. Our victories in Christ bring with them a sense of humility and thankfulness that God has done marvelous things in our lives. We praise our Father and tell others to look at Him and take their eyes off of us.

Our failures in the flesh bring a sense of worthlessness, and frustration. Self dependence is an anathema to God. It is sin because it tells God we cannot and dare not rely on Him. He is untrustworthy. I must worry and figure this out for myself.

The truth is God helps those who cannot help themselves. That is those who totally rely upon His grace and love rather than their own strength and cunning. That does not mean God helps those who will not help themselves. We are required to show up for the fight. But once we are on the battlefield, or in the boxing ring, the fight is fixed. The battle is won.

Psalm number 124 encourages me to stay on the battlefield because the fight is fixed. The battle is won even though the enemy refuses to leave the field of battle. It is not for me to figure out how to win. I am not called upon to be successful nor even a cheerleader. I am just called upon to stand my ground and acknowledge the Savior is victorious.

Prayer

Father help me to resist the temptation to run from the battle in fear or stand in self reliance. Help to acknowledge that You alone are my strength and shield and that without Your presence any fleshly victory is defeat.

Psalm 124:1-3

124 If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, now may Israel say;

2 If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us:

3 Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us: