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Last Friday at 1pm my body was in Sioux City but my mind was up north in Sioux Center – the home of Dordt College. I knew there was a celebration…a gathering of the Dordt faithful for an important announcement. But I wasn’t there. I was walking the halls of Mercy hospital on my way to the Behavioral Health floor. As a nurse opened the locked outer door I looked at the clock. 1:05. The festivities were under way. People of influence and status were stepping up to the microphone ready to announce the person who would be the next college president. At 1:10 I knocked on the door of a young 20 something patient who had been admitted earlier that morning. About the time the news was being announced at Dordt I was in the middle of a conversation with a patient who’s life had drastically changed. Just as one person’s dream was becoming a reality, as an academic institution was celebrating a transfer of power, I sat in the midst of 15 – 20 people who’s minds, and lives, had become badly broken. I left the floor the same way I came in – escorted through a set of double doors by a nurse who told me to have a good day. I’ll admit – as I walked off of the behavioral health floor that day I couldn’t help but think about the contrast. For one hour I was torn between two worlds – one a world of status, influence, and relevance, and the other a world of people whose lives have been knocked off track, left to live on the margins outside the structures of power.
This is not a self righteous diatribe against higher education. Of course I believe there are moments that call for ceremony and celebration – the transfer of leadership being one of them. And I’m certainly not trying to pat myself on the back for spending an hour on the behavioral health ward. Placing oneself among the poor and hurting to meet a “requirement” doesn’t fit my idea of sainthood. I was overwhelmed with the contrast… that’s all.
Which makes me wonder about the propensity of the Christianity community to work so hard to “fit in” to the structures of power. We speak of cultural engagement or cultural transformation as if we’ve got something to prove to those in positions of power. We want to play. We want to show the world that we can play just as well as they can. So we train our young men and women to take their place within the structures of power. I know, I know… we do it differently, for a different “end” – for the “glory of God.” We speak of grace, sin, structure, direction, integration, faithfulness, discipleship, Lordship, etc, as we race to the top. Power, wealth, influence… and faith?
In some way we’re all Cardinal Glick. We laugh at the Buddy Jesus, use it as some self righteous example of what OUR Christianity supposedly is not, while we inhabit our “normal” lives deeply grounded in structures of power and influence. Of course we want our lives… our Christianity… to “pop.” Yet, from time to time we are confronted by the the “crucifix” – the crucified Christ. For me, it’s the encounter of my neighbor on the Behavioral Health ward. Since last Friday I haven’t been able to get Jesus words to the Pharisees out of my head – “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”
Maybe Jesus did come to give us the “willies.”