June 22nd, 2016
The medical profession would be very different were Abraham Verghese in charge.
Serving for a year as a hospital orderly before beginning his own medical practice, Verghese discovered how those of his prestigious ilk could stand to learn from the very people who entrusted themselves to their care. Too much of the practice of medicine, he discerned, failed to comprehend the full humanity of patients–the methods and protocols in service to something other than the ultimate good of the whole person.
In fact his perhaps greatest frustration centered on how medical technology advanced with a proportionate abstracting of the person’s condition from the person herself. Now people were reduced to their maladies. There was no time to hear the full case history–no interest in assuring the patient of the doctor’s care or concern. What had been fundamental to a doctor’s “office” in an earlier era had been lost in the modern interest of efficiency and detachment–that of a doctor’s “touch.”
Verghese became so convinced of the need to recover the lost art of true patient-care, that he ended up founding the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Now he travels the world–and even writes fiction–extolling the virtues of true medical compassion.
Dr. Verghese’s abiding appreciation for bringing the whole person into the conversation about healing is something of a metaphor for why the PCA might take some time to assemble each year as a whole denomination. Bound by a common purpose, yet employed in a variety of roles and contexts, any institution is in need of a regular wellness check. Little problems can become larger. Ostensibly innocuous habits can cascade into something far more deleterious. Clear mandates can become obscured by lesser loyalties. And some maladies, long in the festering, can finally be detected, requiring a correspondingly dramatic remedy.
For three days now, we’ve at times been engaged in the tedious–taking our “vital signs” with respect to our compliance with those practices that keep us in proper order. But there’s been no shortage also of reflecting widely and deeply–taking an extended “case history” if you will–on matters we either have never confronted before or have become insensible to over time.
The issue dominating our attention this assembly (as we’ve alluded to before) involves our denomination’s “corporate and historical” failure to recognize its complicity in racial prejudice. There have been blatant expressions of such in the earliest days of the PCA–enumerated in overture 43* that stands as the consensus document we’ll consider as a whole assembly later today. But what matters most in this full body scan of our spiritual health is becoming aware of the more subtle forms of prejudice to which we are prone–forms which don’t require you to be personally prejudiced in order to be effectively so.
If you happen to read this soon (around 2pm Thursday), and have some time to give, you can listen in on the deliberations about what it means to repent–personally, interpersonally, and yes, institutionally–of failing to appreciate God’s interest in a church united in its diversity.
We’ll share more upon our return this weekend, and in the weeks to come. This surely isn’t the only matter we’ve taken up as an Assembly. So we’ll have more to say about more issues also. But because the above represents a condition that will require a kind of sustained attention for years to come, it’s worth devoting this brief comment to what has been our primary focus these several days.
Any diagnosis of a systemic issue is cause for alarm. Wondering how it can be excised is as preoccupying as wondering how it ever came to be.
But a new appreciation for one another’s uniqueness has begun to take hold like it hasn’t before. A new anthem has begun to ring out with hope that we can live in a more genuine unity. The lyrics of the song below look to William Cowper, a poet and hymn writer whose whole life was plagued with depression and yet sustained by the hope of the gospel. But as you’ll hear, his words been placed in a new setting that still retains the same deep cry of the heart Cowper inscribed. Listen. It will grow on you quickly. Who knows–you might hear more of it soon! May it become part of our heart’s song.
(A behind the scenes look at how the song came together can be found here.)
* the linked document is a report of our Overtures Committee. While it does not contain the entirety of Overture 43 it does include the particular sins we as a denomination find it necessary to repent of, as well as of recommendations for the shape of that repentance, beginning on page 224 of the report)
Thank you for sending us here to participate in the work of this Assembly. We look forward to seeing you all this Sunday.