Archive for February 28th, 2010

Violent past

I think Sunday afternoons are there for a reason. Sofas and books.

At only 100 pages Living violently in a gentle world is a good afternoon’s read.

Stanley Hauerwas is becoming a firm favourite of mine.

The book covers the work and theology¬† behind l’Arche communities, largely the work of Jean Vanier.

The basic thrust of their work has been to develop communities of people with and without intellectual disabilities to share a mutuality of care and need.

The attempt has been not to provide service to those with disabilities but to provide a community where both benefit.

All of this is founded on some of the most basic gospel principles – that the gospel breaks down divisions amongst our humanity, and significantly that the gospel inverts the who’s who of our society.

There is a story told in the introduction of a deaf woman who re-tells a dream where she meets the risen Jesus in heaven and the incredible powerful experience it was. But the most exciting comment she made was that she was really excited that Jesus signed exceptionally well.

I have always held the belief that I, in all my functioning physiology am normal. That people with disabilities such as deafness are abnormal. I believe that the gospel tells us that GOD plans to restore us, that he is making all things new and that the state that I know as abnormal will be no more.

But one read of the story that Jesus signed in the dream turned things on its head – who am I to think that I am normal? Who am I to think that when GOD makes someone who is deaf new – that he will make them like me?

Without doubt the new creation will end the negative implications that go along with the term disabled. Partly because I will finally realise my own disabilities.

But if the new creation only has the power to make someone like me then I’m going to be really disappointed.

Hauerwas and Vanier describe people with disabilities as holy because they represent GOD’s character, they represent Jesus. In these people they find the gentleness that comes with powerlessness that the church so desperately needs.

It is a well argued and perspective shifting book.

I’ll end with a prolonged quote from Hauerwas because it’s health care related and states more clearly than I could a lot of what I have been saying about medicine for a number of years.

After all, “progress” we assume means eliminating what threatens to kill us or at least slow us down. You can cure cancer without eliminating the patient. You cannot “cure” the mentally handicapped without eliminating the patient. L’Arche stands as a reminder that “progress” should not mean eliminating all that threatens us.

Modernity gets us caught up in some funny contradictions. For example, in the US we now spend between 15 and 17 percent of the gross national product on crisis-care medicine, which of course has little to do with the health of the population. If we’re interested in the health of the population, the most important things to focus on are windows, sewers and good nutrition. Crisis-care medicine is not going to keep us alive. It may keep someone alive for 6 months but it is not going to improve the health of the population.

This is controversial stuff no doubt. This is writing myself out of a job. I am crisis-care medicine. But my job has little to do with health, little to do with living life dare I say it.

I love my job. I am just sceptical of the role society (and the profession itself) has given it.

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