Monday, August 4, 2008

different waters

Upon those who step into the same river different and different waters flow. They scatter and gather, come together and flow away, approach and depart.

-- Heraclitus of Ephesus

Already the water has changed. I said I am a hospice chaplain. My byline still says that I am a hospice chaplain. But the time I do this again, I may not be a hospice chaplain.

Our numbers – our “census” – keeps plunging. We can’t find new patients to replace the ones who die. But it’s not our fault; it’s not the fault of chaplains and other clinicians. Our bosses tell us that we are doing great work and are fully “compliant.” (Translate that into English and it means that we are not only spreading the love but also meeting the demands of bureaucracies.) The approval of our bosses is cold comfort, because it means there’s nothing we can do. We’re doing everything we can and the ship is sinking.

Some of us were laid off last week. Some will be laid off this week. But even before these amputations the numbers have plunged again. It’s not easy to spread the love from a lifeboat. But – say I, in writerly consolation – who isn’t in a lifeboat? The world is always breaking up and bound for the deep, and if we’re lucky we drift in a shell on the boundless main. Each clinging to his own flotsam, we call each other’s names. With ropes and hooks we grapple our wreckage together and make a greater vessel of it. I learned this from my hospice clients. For a few more days at least, I am a hospice chaplain.

Enough self-pity. Let us draw a larger circle, a circle wide enough to include deaths that are violent rather than inevitable. Two of my siblings in faith were martyred in Knoxville last week. Two Unitarian Universalists died at the hands of a man who undertook to extinguish us. His plan was foiled in part. He wanted to shoot people until he was shot – suicide by cop. Parishioners wrestled him to the floor and preserved his life until police and ambulance got there. This man will now face the judgment he most feared.

Now doesn’t that say something about us? Not every bloodied group would deliver their assailant so tenderly into the hands of the law. We now turn our eyes away from him. We focus on healing. The space that was so violated has already been resanctified.

And yet I hear around me an argument about this man, whose name I will not honor by repetition. 

One voice from the assaulted church says “I can assure you this person is not mentally ill. . . . This was a hate crime, carefully planned.” A wise man in the suburban congregation where I worship, in courteous disagreement, says “The gunman was mentally ill. . . . Had he not been ‘rescued’ . . . [he] was on his way to self destruction, suicide.”

Don’t liberals always assume that a person who commits violence is sick? But neither the psychological nor the forensic distinction between sanity and insanity is within my competence. I’ll listen to what the experts say. This debate, meanwhile, shows something about us. It speaks about who liberals are and what they value in the face of death.

One voice warns that there are people who want to kill us, and it’s na├»ve to think that we can “all just get along.” Another voice warns that, if we don’t try to love our enemies as Yeshua taught, we will become their mirror image.

This is our smaller 9/11. Once again something stares us in the face, something liberals don’t talk easily about. Evil. A prayer is posted in the social hall where our children worship: “Help us to know how other people think and feel.” But sometimes other people feel a desire to kill us, and there are people who grow wealthy by inciting them to do so. One of Murphy’s Laws is that if you try to please everybody, someone won’t like it. Yeshua’s life teaches that, if you love righteousness and do justice and walk humbly with your God, someone will hate you for it.

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Karen Freeman said...

I've always wondered if "love your enemies" wasn't a mistranslation. But if we pay attention to the (what to call it -- public prayer?) “Help us to know how other people think and feel,” and we actually go some distance along that road, then, I think, we can forgive our enemies. And that's a different thing.

heartpeace said...

"Maybe not transformation, but definitely transportation; I'm now further down the road." - my 75-yr-old father's response to his first Actualizations workshop.