Where Faith is Flourishing
(Note, Sometimes I am able to clarify something on this blog and subsequently on Facebook about which I was unclear in the earlier newspaper column. In the column, see below, I write about people who are “oppressed.” Even in seminary long ago, I read a book about sin which said sin is two things: first it is the bad we do and the good we don’t do. But secondly, sin is also the spiritual power of darkness which oppresses us. Children who grow up in physical abuse are oppressed as are children who grow up in a home with alcohol or substance abuse. Go to any AA or NCA meeting and you will find people who tell you that, without their higher power, they are “powerless over their addiction”--a kind of oppression they are under. Obviously there was oppression behind hundreds of years of slavery in this country and in the racism that followed after freedom...in some cases even up until now. These are some of the things I mean in the article when I talk about oppression. And of course the devil is still oppressing people today, sometimes using structures and sometimes not.)
(In confirmation I read in the Bible this very morning: “Defend the cause of the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4 NIV)….
Now to the column written earlier, slightly edited: Generally what I write in this column is rooted in scripture and is not so much about me, although there is always some mixture. Though I have been fighting with mantle cell lymphoma for just about the last two years, and although recently the lymphoma has disappeared in most of my body, it has newly appeared in the lining of the brain and in the spinal fluid and I am in the hospital for hopefully just a few more days returning for more chemo in three weeks. The doctors seem guardedly hopeful about this treatment using super strong chemo, and we of course have great hope in the Lord!
In my first few days in the hospital I have noticed again something which I have often seen: that I encounter in a week at MD Anderson Cancer Hospital more people of all conditions and colors, humble backgrounds, more racial ethnic groups, and more people of diverse national backgrounds than I do in my suburban home of Pearland in three months (and Pearland is itself a very diverse community!)
As a pastor and as a Christian I often allude to my faith when I encounter people here. Sometimes it is no more complicated than saying “thank you Jesus” when I am being stuck with a needle! (This is not an attempt to be pious or super religious when blood is being drawn from my body! Rather I hate to be stuck, and it is simply a way of coping by praying!)
Without overgeneralizing I notice that many (though of course not all) of my white brothers and sisters and of my racial ethnic brothers and sisters often seem to resonate with me when I name the name of my Savior. They do not usually initiate a religious discussion but they often join in the subject with a short comment or an “Amen” and show a bit of their own faith once I have shown a bit of my own.
I find this refreshing!
I also notice that as I encounter those who could be regarded by some to be at the higher end of the professional scale and who are probably more highly trained and more highly compensated, that while they are very kind, this sort of encounter appears less likely to happen. It may be that equal faith is there but there is just more reticence to talk about it. I don’t know.
I do have a couple of thoughts. Jesus said that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven a person has to become like a little child. He also said that riches make it very difficult, though not impossible, to enter the kingdom. Finally he said the proud live farther away from God whereas the humble and oppressed tend to be closer to God.
Many humble white and racial ethnic people in America have been oppressed in various (see note on the various kinds of oppression at the beginning), they have been humbled, they have been through pain, and they sometimes have less of the things of this world. According to Jesus these conditions can make it easier for them to relate to him. But there are also highly trained doctors who come from very simple backgrounds who seem to have retained this humility and enthusiasm for spiritual things!
Of course none of this means that either spiritual oppression or the oppressions of race or class or birth are a good thing. To the contrary, oppression is a bad thing. Jesus said he came to set the oppressed and the captives free!
Nevertheless, spending a week at the hospital makes me see that my life in some ways is impoverished because I spend so much time with relatively privileged, relatively well-off people like myself. And I realize that I am not very humble. Though I don’t very much like being in the hospital, in a way it is nice to get out of my ghetto. Faith often flourishes in the hospital.
The Apostle Paul wrote this about the Corinthian Church in the first century:
“Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”
I appreciate all the jobs people do at the hospital, from “top” to “bottom,” but some of those which I most appreciate are the most humble....
Winfield Casey Jones is a retired pastor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.