Sunday, May 21, 2017

Respecting Vulnerability on Mother's Day

Art by David Hayward
Read the previous post HERE.

One of the most painful things that I've seen in the Quiverfull Movement and in Shepherding has been the way each group dispenses resource to help those in need. To be given aid, you have to be a source of gain and you have to have followed all of the right rules to merit receiving anything.
I found a similar pattern when doing foreign missionary work with a large denomination. While I have no problem with explaining to people why we were doing what we were doing (to show a tangible element of God's love for them), when I was assigned to “keep statistics” near the end of one trip, I developed a whole different perspective. We kept records for local churches to follow up with people, but I was also counting the heads of numbers of people who allegedly “got saved” when they prayed with volunteers. I knew that many people were politely compliant to reciprocate us for the care we offered to them. They weren't converting to Evangelical Protestantism, and I think that everyone knew that.

It doesn't mean that we had no effect on the hearts of those who received care, but I knew that the numbers I counted could not possibly reflect true conversions. However, the numbers that I collected were turned into the denomination's headquarters to justify the effectiveness of offering medical care as a means to fostering conversions. I know that the volunteers did not exploit individuals to whom they showed care, but that denomination certainly exploited those “statistics.”

That experience laid the groundwork for what I now refer to as the selling of “hell insurance policies.” In that sense, for many people, though people received vital healthcare, a good bit of what was done served the egos of the people who went on those short term missions trips. Corporate could also boast more headcounts that turned real people into tic marks on a form.

The Importance of Personhood

Quite recently, I watched an old rerun of M*A*S*H which explored the rationale of offering medical care to wounded North Korean enemies. Hawkeye's character demonstrates the competing ethical duties that he owes – one to his country as a drafted soldier and the greater duty to render life-saving care to those who are fighting to survive their immediate injuries. Who people are and how they were injured does not outweigh the duty to care for the wounded.

It really resonated with me concerning the displaced children who are in need of immediate resources to help them survive.

As a nurse, I was trained and have years of practice at offering the same level of care to all people, regardless of who they are or what they've done – or how I esteem those things in my personal life. I think of it as something of a holy trust where we who care for the vulnerable in their illness or injury carry their dignity for them until they can manage it on their own – after tey are well enough. My interests or beliefs become secondary, and I'm even taught to support the belief systems and whatever that person leans on as a support until they are healed. My only goal in that setting becomes whatever helps the person find wellness and safety until they can provide those things for themselves. Their misfortune, grief, and pain are never an opportunity for me to advance my own personal causes. For a time, my only interest is that which is in the best interest of that vulnerable person's survival and stability. And all people are worthy of that respect in my understanding, as all carry the Image of God in them.

I once had a meltdown at a nurse's station when caring for the wife of the canter at the local Orthodox synagogue. She required a kosher meal tray, and I think that I was the only person there who understood how significant it was for the woman. Everyone around me kept saying, “It's just food! Give her some other tray. What's the big deal?” I think that after the second day and several meals without delivery of a kosher tray, I raised my voice and said, “If she eats anything other than a kosher meal, she's effectively damning her soul at which point, her survival of heart failure becomes a moot point.” It doesn't matter to me, but it might mean everything to her – and it's probably more important than her own physical life . I was quite shocked at the disregard that most of the other staff showed, and they should have understood. As many on that M*A*S*H episode displayed, not everyone thinks about such concerns. Sometimes, they are critical to the person in need.

Discussions about the specifics of what a person does with their lives becomes a discussion for another day. As Americans, we are all afforded the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And I find it important to note that Thomas Jefferson who penned those words borrowed them from John Locke whose original statement included the right to own property which Jefferson changed to “the pursuit of happiness.” I've heard it said that the right to life is foremost among them all.

When people are in a position to think clearly for themselves when their bellies are full and they have a warm bed to sleep in with a pillow under their head, and when they've had time to process and recover from what they've been through, things change. I'm more free to listen to them and to meekly offer to tell them why I do what I do. And even then, I question how appropriate is is to talk with children about beliefs that I know that their parents would oppose. I can talk about the own hope in my heart, but with patience and kindness without expecting anything.

Respecting Vulnerability

A person who lacks basic needs to help them survive makes them vulnerable – very much like illness does. If a child has to spend a night outside in the desert where I used to live, they face a good number of challenges. An infant can die from three stings from a tree scorpion. Snakes and all of the other critters that come out at night also make sleeping in the desert a real challenge. I never sat outside on my patio at night during my seven years in Texas for that reason!

I understand why and how water (through rain) lowers a person's body temperature and how body heat conducts into the ground when sleeping on it. People need fresh, clean water to drink. They need to have some kind of a plan for dealing with human waste. They must be able to procure and cook food. A mother must keep watch over her children during the day too, and she needs things to keep her them occupied so that they are not consumed with the stress of trying to live without anywhere to go. Our bodies suffer the effects of stress which makes them vulnerable to illness as well.

People without anywhere to go, especially children, face concerns of basic survival.

Christian Kindness

The Apostle Paul wrote that God woos us to repentance through His kindness. The word repent literally means to “change your mind.” The process starts with kindness and care. I can cite dozens of examples of offering love and care to others – because while we didn't deserve it and were strangers to God, He gave up His life to help us – through the greatest act of love. He laid down His life for His friends.

But here's the rub: I was not his friend then. I'm the lamb that wanders away, and He's the good shepherd Who comes to find me – rescuing that naughty lamb again. There was nothing about me that merited His care or sacrifice, save His love and compassion. How can I ask more of others than God asks of me?

The Book of James says that the religious people who aren't impressed with the outward things about a person who comes to church for help just say empty words to people in need, then turns them away.

It also says in that letter James wrote that true religion, pure and undefiled before God is this: 1.) To visit the widows and the fatherless in their suffering and 2.) To keep unspotted from the world. I miss the mark on many Christian beliefs and practices and can be a lousy example. But this is one thing that I really want to get right. These families need help and a time to rest and recover.

More to come about
pillows on Mother's Day