Thursday, May 02, 2013

"Life is Messy"

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?’ ”

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.”
 Because the "current business model" serves Mammon, not God.  

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.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you mentioned mental health. As you know doubt know, mental health care is a huge issue in this country.

    Minor problem in the grand scheme of things: you have anxiety and stress issues compounded by a time consuming job ... you get a recommendation for a specialist who is perfect for your needs but doesn't (yet) accept your insurance. You have the time and mental reserves to deal with getting your insurance to pay when you already are short of time and under stress?

    More major problem: your friend is deaf, mentally ill and feeling isolated, which feeling is compounding his mental illness. You would love to reach out to your friend who has been admitted for inpatient care but the hospital refuses to even connect you to the behavior unit citing patient confidentiality. Patient confidentiality is understandable, but they can't even connect you to the unit so you can leave a message? -- and then, if appropriate, the unit can respond with "yes, so and so is ready for a visit" or "we can neither confirm nor deny so and so is a patient here because of patient confidentiality".

    And then what about people who are mentally ill (and have physical issues besides) and cannot live on their own, are too high functioning to take up one of the very limited spaces available in a residential mental health facility but are prone to outbursts for which residential care facilities -- more and more geared toward the increasing population of elderly, infirm individuals -- are ill equipped to handle? Where do they go?

    Meanwhile, more and more the police have to deal with the mentally ill: but you cannot expect any policeman who may get called to the scene to have specialized training in dealing with a patient experiencing a psychotic break, and most departments I reckon don't even have (and cannot even afford) to have such a person on their staff on call 24/7.

    Now this is in a society which is one of the most incredibly rich societies in the history of civilization. But yet, in general, when it comes to the question of whether or not we can manage to do things that benefit us all, the answer is "no". The sad thing is that even politicians running on campaigns of "yes we can" seem, when elected, to spend too much of their efforts trying to make bargains and deals than actually just saying "make it so" and figuring out ways to get stuff done. And these are the same politicians who, when it comes to "national security" will move mountains for a little bit of security theatre and un-constitutional power grabs, but when it comes to actually harnessing our unprecedented wealth to actually build something better for everyone somehow cannot even manage to give money to co-op and condo owners to fix storm damage even though the relevant legislation doesn't say that they cannot do so -- it merely doesn't say they can.

    Pardon my rant here, but sometimes I'm just tired ... and I'm too young to be already so cranky ...