That phrase was a favorite of my Pastoral Care professor in seminary. It was almost universally applicable to all problems raised in pastoral ministry, because pastoral ministry is about human beings. It isn't about communities, or groups, or neighborhoods, or societies, or cities, states, or nations. It isn't about ideas or theologies or even zeitgeists. It's about people. You are only and always and ever just dealing with individuals.
And individuals have lives all their own. And life is messy.
I look out for any little indication that other people get this. It shows up on blogs like this. And sometimes people at blogs like that try to bring this salient fact to the attention of those in power, those who supposedly should be able to do something about some problems, but for whom the major problem in life is getting re-elected.
Or in the case of healthcare, making a profit.
This blog post by Ezra Klein is one about the latter subject. It's about the fact that we still want a pill, or a program, or a system, to take care of things for us, so we can get on with living our lives just as we see fit. We condemn the Puritans because we think they were always in everybody else's business; that all of Ne England as lived like a Hawthorne novel, or in the context of witch trials. But the rough and rude democracy of the Puritans put God directly among them (and their response to that mysterium tremendums was not all that it could be), and meant God cared for every one of them.
It was God that led German immigrants to build hospitals and orphanages and mental care facilities in the St. Louis area without the wealth of industry behind them, without captains of capitalism to finance the buildings and the operations. They understood, intimately, that life was messy, and that the mentally ill and the orphan and the sick were their brothers and sisters, their charge and their responsibility and their blessing to serve, even if those people only spoke the same language they did, and otherwise had nothing in common with them.
And today, after all our progress? Hospitals are for profit and medicine works when it makes money:
In 1895, 14 women came together to form Doylestown’s “Village Improvement Association,” which was dedicated to “the health and beauty” of the community. The association actually owned Doylestown Hospital, and its mission was the hospital’s mission. “I did get some heat from my senior management team,” Reif says. “When you’re doing annual budgets you see reduction in revenue. But I could always come back and say, ‘Wasn’t that our responsibility?’ ”Because the "current business model" serves Mammon, not God.
But not all hospitals are run by the local Village Improvement Association. Many seek to turn a profit. That makes models like Health Quality Partners something of a threat. “If we scaled what Ken is doing,” Brenner says, “you would probably shut down a third of the hospitals in the country. It’s a disruptive innovation. It just guts the current business model.”
When was the last time we dedicated anything to the "Health and Beauty" of the community, and it wasn't just a public park or an arena with a corporate logo attached to it, open to those with the money to afford entry?
Read Ezra's post. It's long; it will take time. Just the length alone might mess up your day. Life is messy. Caring for others is messy. We can't reduce it to a pill, we can't make it convenient to our needs to shop and watch TV and play on the internet and update our Facebook status or keep our job by working from home even if we work at work. Life is messy.
And in our quest for efficiency and the perfection of the machine, of the computer, of the path of least resistance to what end we really don't know because it would take too long to stop to consider, we are making it messier.
But we don't have to.