How Shall We Then Practice?

Medicine as Gift, Power and Christian Vocation

by Farr A. Curlin, MD
Today’s Christian Doctor – Winter 2010

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the journal Health & Development, published by the Christian Community Health Fellowship (CCHF), information about which can be found at: www.cchf.org.

What is medicine? Is it a science? Is it a profession? Is it an industry? What has the Christian tradition to say about medicine? And does what the Christian tradition says really matter in the end? In hopes of beginning to address these questions, this essay explores three Christian metaphors which apply to the practice of medicine, namely medicine as gift, medicine as power, and medicine as vocation. For each metaphor, I will attempt to identify errors and blind spots toward which we are prone, point to resources within the Christian tradition for correcting our mistakes, and suggest some very preliminary steps toward what I hope is a way forward.

Click here to read the entire article…

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Grace Prescriptions – Feb 6-7

grace-prescriptions-poster-draft-9-2014

There are limited FREE spots for up to 10 students, click here for student registration.

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Health Care ReFramed

If you missed a week or the whole Health Care ReFramed Series from May and June here is your chance to see what you missed!

Week 1 – Health Care ReFramed 2014 part 1
     Readings: Handout – part 1 – CS Lewis Reading

Week 2 – Health Care ReFramed 2014 part 2 – Fall
     Readings: How_Shall_We_then_Practice;

Week 3 – Health Care ReFramed 3 – Creation
     Readings:

Week 4 – Health Care ReFramed 4 – Redemption & New Creation
     Readings:

Week 5 – Health Care ReFramed 5 – Engagement
     Readings: Basil LR 55 on the Art of Medicine

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Professor Ralph Wood Talks at Vanderbilt

If you missed Dr. Wood’s talk this past March here is a link to watch; please forgive the not so great audio quality!

https://www.dropbox.com/s/qt7kuml30kt9xw0/Ralph%20Wood.m4v

About Professor Wood: Ralph C. Wood has served as University Professor of Theology and Literature at Baylor since 1998. He previously served for 26 years on the faculty of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he became the John Allen Easley Professor of Religion in 1990. He has also taught at Samford University in Birmingham, at Regent College in Vancouver, and at Providence College in Rhode Island and has spoken internationally including the Vatican and Notre Dame and most continents. At Baylor, his main appointment is in the Religion Department, but he also teaches in the Great Texts program as well as the Department of English. He serves as an editor-at-large for the Christian Century and as an editorial board member for both the Flannery O’Connor Review and Seven: An Anglo-American Literary Review.

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“Unless you believe, you will not understand.” Isaiah 7:9

by Dr. Wes Ely

Read that quote again. Notice that most of the world operates the other way around. We first seek to understand and then begin to believe. Indeed, absence of understanding serves as a stumbling block for so many of us in our faith journey. But the instruction above, the truth above, is to believe in order to begin understanding.

When I was a boy, my mother gave me a small bookmark with a picture of Jesus at the top. Below that she wrote, “Wes, Jesus loves you. May you know this and love and serve Him all the days of your life.” I knew immediately it was true, internalized what she had written, and never looked back.  It was a Grace, clearly.  As I told this story to a Vanderbilt medical student last week at the beginning of the year barbecue for the SSCD (Society of Saints Cosmas and Damian, the Catholic medical student association), she recounted how she had been similarly “gifted.” All of us who have made the choice to believe, to walk in faith, have been blessed with such a grace. Yet it must never be taken for granted, and we must nurture this faith daily.

Isaiah 7:9 is used to begin Chapter 2 of Pope Francis’s encyclical letter, Lumen Fidei. During this year of faith, we are called to dive deep into our own personal journey towards God. Fulton Sheen points out that this journey is our response to Him having initially reached down to us. Christianity, he says, is a religion in which God first reached down to man, as opposed to most other religions where man is reaching up towards God.  Returning to this quote, then, what do we make of our own ability to believe even in the absence of full understanding?

St. Paul tells us, “One believes with the heart.” (Romans 10:10) and we know that ultimately our faith is a leap of the heart. It will depend not upon our understanding, or upon our “seeing” God, but rather upon whether or not we actually hear what we have been told happened 2000 years ago. Not vision, but “hearing” will be the key.  Jesus cried to us, “Anyone who has ears for listening should listen!” (Mk 4:9 and Lk 8:8)

Later in the second chapter of Lumen Fidei, Popes Benedict XVI and Francis (since they co-wrote the encyclical), recount the story of St. Augustine from Confessions when he heard a voice telling him to “take and read.” He then took up the epistles of St. Paul and, having listened, began to read. Are we listening? His speaking to you won’t be a thunderbolt or an auditory exclamation that others around you can hear, but when we believe, even before we understand, we will be driven to pray and talk to our God. Such conversations, when coupled with adequate listening, will bring us a message of hope, happiness, and joy that should physically produce a smile.

Let me explore one other angle with the same ultimate point.  It is known that Pope Francis loves Dostoevsky. For all of us in medicine, who understand physiology and the rheology of blood flow, Dostoevsky provides another side of belief, without understanding, in his 1869 novel The Idiot. In this story, the character Prince Myshkin, is obsessed with the painting of the body of the dead Christ in the tomb by Hans Holbein the younger, which was painted in the 1500s. The character mistakenly concludes that the visual of Christ on such a dilapidated path towards putrefaction could make one lose faith. Really?

Or is it the other way around?! Seeing that body in such a state, knowing the blood flow has clotted, the organs are filled with edematous fluid, and then believing, even before understanding, that this body was resurrected, alive, eating fish on a beach with friends… It is then, just following Apostle Thomas’s Divine declaration of our Lord (which was incidentally the first of any person in the New Testament), that the words of Christ make the most sense:
“You believe because you can see me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn 20:29)… even without understanding…

“Unless you believe, you will not understand.” Isaiah 7:9

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Whole Person Health Care: Cases and Discussion

Trying to figure out what “whole person health care” really looks like? Would you welcome an opportunity to hear and discuss actual cases in person?

On Mondays in the month of February, The Siloam Institute will be partnering with two medical student organizations at Vanderbilt in a series of case presentations and discussions about the realities of Whole Person Health Care. Below is a description provided by the student leaders of Medical Christian Fellowship:

Striving to see and care for one’s patients as the complicated human beings they are is a difficult thing in the hectic, busy environment of health care. The following series will explore the joys and challenges of practicing medicine in a way that acknowledges and addresses patients and their health problems from a holistic perspective, seeing patients as physical, emotional, and spiritual beings.

Doctors from the Nashville area will share their experiences and lessons learned and engage in discussion on this topic in the format of case presentations. The final session will consist of a primarily discussion-style forum in which participants will discuss the presented cases along with the issues and challenges they raised in regards to Whole Person Health Care, in order to glean further insight into the practical expression of caring for patients as complete human beings in the context of everyday medical practice.

The Siloam Institute of Faith, Health and Culture will be co-sponsoring this series along with the student organizations Medical Christian Fellowship (MCF) and the Society of Saints Cosmos and Damian (SSCD).

These presentations will be held for four consecutive Monday’s at 12 pm, noon in Light Hall, Room 202 on the Vanderbilt Medical Campus and will last for one hour. Lunch will be provided.

February 4th–Dr. Morgan Wills, Siloam Family Health Center

February 11th–Dr. Anderson Spickard, III, Vanderbilt School of Medicine

February 18th–Speaker TBD

February 25th–Dr. Morgan McDonald, Vanderbilt School of Medicine

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A Little about Hebrew Narrative

Here are some tips on reading and interpreting Hebrew narratives.  This is taken from How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart.

HEBREW NARRATIVE

Principles for Interpreting Narratives

  1. An Old Testament narrative usually does not directly teach a doctrine.
  2. An Old Testament narrative usually illustrates a doctrine or doctrines taught propositionally elsewhere.
  3. Narratives record what happened— not necessarily what should have happened or what ought to happen every time. Therefore, not every narrative has an individual identifiable moral application.
  4. What people do in narratives is not necessarily a good example for us. Frequently, it is just the opposite.
  5. Most of the characters in Old Testament narratives are far from perfect— as are their actions as well.
  6. We are not always told at the end of a narrative whether what happened was good or bad. We are expected to be able to judge this on the basis of what God has taught us directly and categorically elsewhere in Scripture.
  7. All narratives are selective and incomplete. Not all the relevant details are always given (cf. John 21: 25). What does appear in the narrative is everything that the inspired author thought important for us to know.
  8. Narratives are not written to answer all our theological questions. They have particular, specific, limited purposes and deal with certain issues, leaving others to be dealt with elsewhere in other ways.
  9. Narratives may teach either explicitly (by clearly stating something) or implicitly (by clearly implying something without actually stating it).
  10. In the final analysis, God is the hero of all biblical narratives. [1]

More info…

Narratives are stories— purposeful stories retelling the historical events of the past that are intended to give meaning and direction for a given people in the present.

There is a crucial difference between the biblical narratives and all others, because inspired by the Holy Spirit as they are, the story they tell is not so much our story as it is God’s story— and it becomes ours as he “writes” us into it.

All narratives have three basic parts: characters, plot, and plot resolution.

Three Levels of Narrative

  1. The top (Third) level – the story of redemption or the “metanarrative.”  When Jesus says that the Scriptures “testify about me” (John 5:39) this is what he is talking about.
  1. The second level – the story of God’s redeeming a people for his name. These people are constituted twice— by a former covenant and a “new” covenant.
  1. The bottom or “first” level – the hundreds of individual narratives that make up the other two levels.

Characteristics of Hebrew Narrative

Narrator –

  • Seemingly omniscient
  • A point of view – perspective from which the story is told

The Scene

  • Not character driven, but scenic

Characters

  • Visual appearance is rarely mentioned… ask why? if it is.
  • Status or profession are much more important
  • Characters often appear either in contrast or in parallel.
  • The predominant mode of characterization occurs in the characters’ words and actions, not in the narrator’s own descriptions.

Dialogue

  • the first point of dialogue is often a significant clue both to the story plot and to the character of the speaker.
  • contrastive dialogue often functions as a way of characterization as well.
  • very often the narrator will emphasize the crucial parts of the narrative by having one of the characters repeat or summarize the narrative in a speech.

Plot

  • the narrative must have a beginning, middle, and end, which together focus on a buildup of dramatic tension that is eventually released.
  • You will find that the plot in Hebrew narrative moves at a much faster pace than most modern narration— even that of the “short story” genre.

Features of Structure

  • Meant for hearers, not readers
  • Repetition, lot of it!
  • Inclusion – chiasm (A-B-C-B-A) or foreshadowing

Things to Avoid

There is a tendency to “flatten” everything because we assume that everything God has said in his Word is thereby a direct word to us. Thus we wrongly expect that everything in the Bible applies directly as instruction for our own individual lives. The Bible is a great resource. It contains all that a Christian really needs in terms of guidance from God for living. And we have assumed throughout that the Old Testament narratives are indeed a rich source for our hearing from God. But this does not mean that each individual narrative is somehow to be understood as a direct word from God for each of us separately or as teaching us moral lessons by examples.

  • Allegorizing.
  • Decontextualizing.
  • Selectivity
  • Moralizing
  • Personalizing
  • Misappropriation
  • False appropriation
  • Redefinition
  • Monkey-see-monkey-do.  No Bible narrative was written specifically about you.

 


[1] Fee, Gordon D.; Stuart, Douglas (2009-10-14). How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

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