Sunday, February 6, 2011

Meeting God in the Margin

Holistic Salvation and Hospice Care

I knew it would be hard; it was something that I had hardly experienced and something I never really wanted to think about. Of course dying has never been popular, and death is something that brings a reflex of sorrow and fear and loneliness, so when is it popular to share these emotions with complete strangers? As a volunteer at Hospice I’ve been given the opportunity to meet firsthand the staggering seclusion of looming death and I’ve looked into the eyes of a soul trapped behind the bars of a broken mind. I say these words not to sound poetic or pretty, they are the raw emotion that I felt when I was introduced and subsequently tapped into their stories.

Who I was the day I first recognized the mercy of God and the man I am today is different. I asked God to show me how He sees people and as a result I have had to forfeit my right to judge any man. I have had to recognize that in each person is an individual who has a history that I can never know completely, scenarios in life that I could never weigh or comprehend but God does have that ability. He is the Just Judge and for every sin that any one of us commits, God, who knows fully, can and does see the root cause or affliction that leads to the symptom or sin. This realization hit me in the way a movie does when there is a really good twist at the end, my internal voice says “Wait. Sin isn’t the bad guy?” I grew up thinking that if only I didn’t sin so much than I would be loved by God. But sin is only a symptom of the deeper problem; there is a darker bad guy behind the sin. Sin is the henchman standing between what is good and what is the real problem. The real problem is hard to define, it could be described as corruption, or brokenness, or simply fallenness.

The real problem is at war within every choice, not just when we sin but how we live, how we communicate, how we do or do not love. I believe that the bible tells us that man has a choice in every decision, the choice to choose life or death. When we choose life (which is following the way that embraces humanity), we become more human. And when we choose death (which is the way of denying humanity), we become less human. So in essence, life is a series of choices in which we decide to embrace humanity or reject it. When we die we will enter into the choice that our life has continually made, we will either become fully human or fully inhuman, it has been our choice the whole time and we have been making it not with one decision at one time but in every decision at every time.

So why do I write of choices in life when writing about my hospice experience? It is because I have come to see salvation not as a spiritual decision alone, but as a conversion of the whole person in relation to God and to others. Salvation has always been about humanity. I have found that what I choose to do matters. God invites me not to save the world but to be a part of His saving the world in my community. That series of changes in my understanding of salvation has developed over six years now and has brought me to another place of decision, I have to decide if I’m going to act accordingly or not. If I take this seriously I have to act, without action what am I doing? And looking back now I am astonished how God has led me to this place, reshuffling my landscape to facilitate the decision to embrace this view of salvation. What is really interesting is that He has taken me out of professional Church ministry to do it. I was a Youth Pastor with a new family and plans that I thought honored God but instead He led me on a path that striped me of my title, put me in unemployment, taught me humility (on the verge of humiliation), and set me (and my young family) on a path that had few smooth patches. I still find myself acting like the wandering Israelites asking God why He brought us out of our security in Egypt and into the desert.

I went back to school in the summer of 2010 and began pursuing a degree in Mental Health/Social Work. This field of study became apparent to me as a way to pursue salvation for the whole person in my community. A way to help God bandage the wounds that brokenness causes and of which sin festers. A way for me to promote life as a choice toward restored humanity. Which brings me back to Hospice, Hospice wasn’t my first choice when picking my internship but it may well have been my only choice. I sent my letter of interest to multiple fields of Social Work: Department of Human Services, Oakland Family Services, Foster Care and to a Hospice facility. Hospice was the first and only call back I received and it was then and with a conversation with a friend about the reach Hospice has to families in need that I realized this is the first experience that I needed as I plunged into this new field. I understood it would be difficult, even uncomfortable; working with dying patients and their families, I didn’t realize how drastic a wound to humanity I would be introduced to.