Tuesday, November 9, 2010

When The "Gospel" is Used to Devalue the Self

Denise is a nurse at the local hospital. Frequently they have patients who enter a phase of crisis (like facing death) and they ask for (or the staff recommends) a chaplain.

Like the on-call medical staff, a large group of ministers take turns covering "chaplain call." This spectrum covers from the most conservative evangelical to the mainstream churches, new-age spiritual churches to Catholic and Buddhist groups.

Denise commented that it is sad, but when she sees one of the evangelical chaplains on call, she knows that by calling him, it is worthless to the patient or their family. He comes in, hands them his business card. Asked them if they have any questions about Jesus and leaves. He spends 5 minutes with them, that is, if they are not interesting in hearing the gospel.

On the other hand, the Buddhist chaplain is their favorite. He is soft spoken. Has no message or product to sell anyone . . . but he deeply values the life of the patient and their family. He sees his time as his gift. So he comes into the room, pulls up a chair beside the sick person (who is often alone) and sits with them . . . for hours. He is willing to listen to anything they want to say. He will get them a Kleenex or help them, but no big message. There is a lesson for us Christians to gleam from this . . . an important one.


Don Hendricks said...

And which one was the friend to the dying person, we ask?

Great post.

PRS & ALS said...

So true in many cases. I do have a friend who is a chaplain and happens to also be evangelical. She works in a hospital that has people of a variety of faiths. She is so sensitive to all faiths and is like the Buddhist chaplain who sits and listens and is a comforting presence to all people. we need more people like that.

Eagle said...

I think we need to remember that the evangelical church functions and operates as a business model. Just as in business, time is money and quotas need to be met. It just so happens that evangelcals can operate on the same principles and instead of sell 200 widgets, they have to meet with so many people or pass out so many evangelism tracts such as CCC 4 Spiritual Laws. (On a side note this is why evangelicals don't practice discipliship... it takes too much time!!!!) This is the mass marketing strategy that they employ. Think of it...TV ads, radio ads, college cmapus blitzes, ralleys, etc.. make sense because it's about the numbers!! What does that mean..100 people are more important than 1. And then what happens to that 1 person? %^$& them!!! That's how the evangelical thinks...

MJ said...

If a Christian sat in a hospital room for three hours, just holding the hand of a very sick person, who was barely conscious (so they couldn't say anything to the sick person about Jesus), who was also a stranger and not a Christian . . . would that Christian feel like they spent their time wisely? I would hope so.

Anonymous said...

Amen. Great post.

What happened to Christianity that brought it to this point? And, if we do have the "real" truth (the full truth) and the "others" don't, why are we so very lost?

I'm really questioning just how legit our claim to having the one true gospel is. When you see love and beauty and, really, divinity, manifested in the ones who are SUPPOSED to be "lost" and "fallen"....and when the ones who are supposedly the "saints" are more like wolves (or just really confused and clueless, despite years of "sound Bible teaching"), I just really wonder.

Out of the evangelical ghetto these past couple years, I see so many people who are supposed to be lost/fallen, showing the fruits of the Spirit in abundance. It was easy, back in the day, to be told that the Christian way is the One True Way...because I was surrounded by Christians. But outside of the ghetto walls, I'm seeing a lot of beauty...a lot of people working to walk in love.

It's confusing.

Becky said...

As I've mentioned before, many years ago, I collapsed from clinical depression. Something that caused a faith crisis was how helpful people who were influenced by Buddhism were to me ... while simultaneously being very supportive of my own Christianity and my search to resolve the doubts I was having. My secular psychologist was one of these people influenced by Buddhism. ( His parents had dragged him to an Episcopalian church when he was a kid, but it never took.) He was probably my biggest encourager that I needed to work through my turmoil about my Christianity - because it had been a big part of my life - rather than just chuck it. The other influence was a book called Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Again, he is a native-born American, but Buddhist. The book doesn't push Buddhism, but is about one technique from Buddhism - mindfulness meditation - and the scientific trials involving mindfulness meditation that were done in the pain clinic of a big Boston hospital. They had quite good results with pain patients who were helped by nothing else - counter-intuitively by having them pay a specific type of attention to the pain, rather than trying to ignore it or deny it. I've seen hospital-based stress-reduction programs that are based around mindfulness meditation in hospitals in my area, so I'm guessing that the program is now in wide use.

The fact that the people who were acting the most Christlike to me weren't Christians, and the fact that my (mental) pain was most concretely alleviated by those "Eastern" techniques that I had been so warned about (plus medication), really turned my good-little-Evangelical brain into a pretzel.

All that is a long time ago, and I've mostly come to terms and peace with those particular issues, while remaining Christian.

But I did conclude that part of the attractiveness of Buddhist techniques/approaches in medical settings is that Buddhism was founded by someone who had a crisis over the issues of suffering. And Buddhism has spent the last 2500(?)years developing ways of looking squarely at suffering.

American contemporary culture - and the American contemporary Christianity that is very influenced by that culture - is terrible with the issue of suffering. Prosperity/health & wealth/emotional health & mental wealth "gospels" are far more pervasive than I think most American Christians realize - and it all seems to completely at odds with Jesus and his life and teachings.

In the end, that is what my encounter with Buddhism taught me: it refocused me on Jesus, rather than church culture. (Then the struggles about Jesus have come, but that is a somewhat different struggle.)

MJ said...

Becky, very provocative statements.

There was a saying around LAbri, "Christianity works because it is true, it isn't true because it works."

I do know what they mean and actually, I've seen Christianity work beautifully. I've seen broken marriages healed . . . and not just pretend healing . . . when both sides depended on Christian principles of forgiveness, and repentance and etc.

But I've also seen Christianity outdone by those who are not. It does leave one scratching their heads. There is also something inherent with the way that many of us think about Christianity that makes it prone to disappointment.

I, and I know I sound like a broken record, do believe that when you believe that some kind of perfection is achievable by using Christian growth (but in reality it is not) then you start to live in the "magical" world of pretend. Where a tract can radically fix all that ails your life and anything short of it (even a kind person listening to you for hours) is worthless. That you can overcome all your problems by the magic Christian jelly beans . . . I digress.

Eagle said...


The health/wrealth prosperity gospel is ingrained, very engrained in modern American evangelical culture. You don't have to look to the televangelsits for perverse teaching, go to your local Bible based church, parachurch ministry, and small groups. What was taught there wouldn't help with any of the following situations I knew of...

1. A person who lost their job in the recession who has been unable to find employment.

2. Friend dealing with homosexuality where prayers were unanswered and he was angry and overwhlemed with why.

3. Myself being single, being told that it was a sin to be single, yet my frustrations of not being able to find the right person yet.

3. Relative dealing with depression and paranoid schizophrenia for 15 years.

4. In one small group I was in this "prosperity gospel" was believed even when one of the members brother died of cancer in his mid 20's.

Bottom line....it's all over the place.