Friday, June 29, 2012

Little League

Tonight is our last Little League game of the season. It has been awhile since I coached a LL team. Our sons are all grown up now. But, there are grandsons and granddaughters. One of my sons and I decided to coach his son's team in the division a notch above t-ball. I never could get the sense of playing t-ball. It was like trying to organize a herd of cats. So, how about the next league up? When my sons played there was no machine or coach pitch leagues. So this coach pitch league for six through eight year olds was new to me. At our first practice I could see that baseball at any level was new to most of the kids on our team. They would stand on home plate when they got up to bat and hold the bat cross handed (wrong hand on top). If they somehow hit the ball, they were unsure of what to do next. In the field, they didn't know how to hold their mitts to catch a ground ball and a fly ball put their lives in mortal peril. If a ball - by chance- found their gloves there was no chance they could make a throw to first base (or had a clue why you would want to do that, anyway). Base running was a futile effort even after we established which way to run the bases.

Trying to explain why baseball is played the way it is (the rules) took an even greater effort. I realized again how many rules there are to the game. It is a highly organized game played with very strict boundaries. After 14 games and a number of practices, I think, they know how to tell a fair ball from a foul one. They now know which way to run the bases and they always try to get the batter out at first base when the ball is hit to them -even though the throw is often wildly off the mark. They are learning how the game is played. I never read a baseball rule book but I have played and watched baseball for many years. This is how "learning baseball" begins. I hope this first year for many of the kids planted a seed to play and know more. I hope all the "good jobs!" and "nice hit" and "good idea" will translate into "I love this game!" someday for them as it has for me.

I realized, as well, as we are about ready to end this season that the kids have made progress. No one stands on home plate and nearly every kid gets a hit every game and runs to the right base. They still get picked off when they run on a caught pop fly or when they overrun a base. They do make some plays in the field but the logic of base runners having to run or not having to run and whether you can just touch the base or have to tag the runner eludes them.

There are not scores kept in these games. Each team gets to send up nine batters or until they get three outs. Each batter gets seven chances to hit the ball. The coach pitches from a much shorter distance than the regulation distance from the pitchers mound. The idea is to encourage success. It's hard enough to hit a baseball. I was impressed with how well our kids did. They reminded me of something else. Sportsmanship. It was not unusual for them to encourage players on the other teams. Our little second baseman one night echoed the other teams shouts of "good hit, Max" and then put his hand over his mouth and looked at me, and said, "oh oh, I shouldn't have said that!" "It's ok", I said, "it was a good hit". So, no one knows who wins or loses and they refer to runs as points. They line up when the game is over and high five the other team and then they look for the parents who have the snacks. Tomorrow is the season ending picnic. They are looking forward to that. Like baseball, it's another chance to get together and have a good time.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

High Wire Faith

It sure can be confusing to be a Christian sometimes. Imagine what it must be like to be on the outside wondering what this "Jesus" stuff is all about! Last weekend I watched the ABC Wallenda spectacle - three hours of video coverage of a 30 minute walk across Niagara Falls. Of course, I watched it. I lived near there once. It was the place we took all the people who came to visit us. It is a very impressive place. From time to time we would hear of someone who went over the Falls in a barrel. Some even lived to tell about it. But there hasn't been anyone walk across the Falls on a tightrope for over 100 years. In fact, its illegal. Until ABC got involved. It still took 2 years to get all the paperwork done. But what was good for tv ratings was also good for the local economy which has tanked of late. So, it happened. Live, except for Alaska where the screen said Live but we could have peeked at a news source (some of us did) to find out if he made it or not ( I let my wife live the suspense though). Other than all the 5 minute commercial breaks it was an impressive video event. The shots were spectacular. To think of someone walking across the Falls in the mist and the wind - we were reminded constantly of the wind speed and the rain - it was remarkable.

One of the story lines was Nik Wallenda's faith. In fact, it was so prominent no one could have missed it. He prayed with his wife and kids beforehand. Did anyone else wonder - wife and kids - why is he doing something so foolish, so unnecessary? I was reminded of a recent visit to my son and daughter in law's home. They have three children. Our son was talking about the time he hang glided. His young son was not impressed. Didn't you think about your family, he asked (even though he wasn't even on the scene yet - still he had a point). What would Wallenda's kids have thought if he had not made it safely across? Was it worth it?

He did make it safely across. For some reason his father was in a control booth talking to him the whole time. I have never tightrope walked anywhere but I was wondering isn't that distracting? Wallenda credited his concentration as one reason for his success so why was he talking to someone?

He was talking to God as well. And being miked we could all hear what he was saying. It seemed like he was praising God mostly but he was asking for help too. In the end, he said prayer helped but it seemed like it was mainly there to support his training, his concentration and his focus. He said the applause of the more than 120,000 people watching live helped him a lot too. He mentioned a couple of times how extraordinary it was to be the only person in recent memory to accomplish this feat and how much more impressive it will be in the future. Next, he has his sights on walking the Grand Canyon. ABC is already dreaming of the ratings.

In this year of the Christian athlete, Jeremy Lin, Tim Tebow, U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson, R.A, Dickey one could say that there was no more high profile Christian testimony than Wallendas'. It caught the attention of millions around the world as we were continually reminded by the ABC newscasters.

But to what end. What if the story ended differently? ABC made Wallenda wear a tether because they did not want to televise a prime time Live tragedy. O ye of little faith! How would Christians and non - Christians have handled it? Certainly, it would have raised questions and doubts. But, then is it ok for Christians to go out on a limb or on a wire and expect God to hold us up? Wallenda only said God gave him emotional peace; he credited his intense preparations for his success. As he should. Only a fool would climb up there over the Falls with no training and trust God to get him across. Still I have to wonder if many people don't make that leap and believe that somehow faith in Christ means we should be able to pull off any stunt.

Monday, June 18, 2012

God's Hotel

The last time I saw a doctor the admitting nurse took my blood pressure and then escorted me to the room where I waited for the doctor to come in. After a few minutes he popped in and a few minutes later he popped out. He did one procedure on one part of my body and answered one question, smiled and left. I put my shirt back on and showed myself out to the receptionist who handled insurance and co-pays and scheduled next visits. It was a fairly customary visit to the doctor.

God's Hotel is a book about another world of medicine. That is no longer practiced anywhere in the country. When Victoria Sweet started practicing medicine at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco it was a throwback to the old concept of almshouses, God's Hotels, long term care facilities where someone could stay until they died or got better and went home as some did. Many hospitals were started by Christian monasteries in the middle ages. Physical care giving was seen as an extension of the care of the soul, the person. St Hildegard of Bingen was one such nun who started a monastery and a hospital and wrote a 12th century medical text. Dr Sweet was interested in premodern medicine and especially in St Hildegard. She pursued further studies in the history of medicine and did her thesis on Hildegard. She went to Europe to study Hildegard in context finding an old wall of her monastery and reading her original manuscripts (Hildegard wrote other theological and devotional and mystical works as well). While Hildegard's medical works were typical of the times, Sweet found the ideas of premodern medicine intriguing. She called what Hildegard was doing "slow medicine". Hildegard emphasized taking time with a patient, learning the history of his or her life. She would treat patients with a variety of herbs and interesting procedures but her big idea seemed to be getting out of the way so the body could heal itself. She wanted to remove what was preventing the healing. She wanted the patient to take the time needed to rest, to get on a proper diet, and recover a sense of happiness.

Dr Sweet was in the right place and at the right time, at first, to take what worked in a more modern setting and test it out with her patients. Most of the patients she saw were at the end of the line. Laguna Honda was the last resort in health care and they had come there to die. So, Dr Sweet had time to work with them, to be with them, to learn their histories, to look them in the eyes and carefully examine them. She found clues to what was ailing them as she saw the whole picture of their lives. At Laguna Honda they could rest apart from their toxic surroundings outside the hospital. Many of them were alcoholics or drug users or homeless or all three. Most of them had been sick for a long time. At Laguna, Dr Sweet could practice slow medicine and try to remove the toxicities from their lives.

Of course, time marches on, and health care had to enter fully the modern world of efficient, technological treatment with all the new drugs and tests and specializations. Government bureaucrats in the name of protecting the rights of patients mandated shorter and shorter hospital stays and more and more residential treatment centers. Eventually, Laguna was torn down and a modern rehabilitation center (no longer a hospital) took its place with far fewer nursing staff but many more computers and technicians.

God's Hotel is the story of the modernization and depersonalization of health care. It is the story of how slow medicine became fast medicine driven by intensive drug therapies and specialization. That's an important story in itself. But this book is not a critique of modern medicine by any means. This is a book of stories, of patients Dr Sweet knew and treated and learned from. And it's a story about taking time to be with people and the healing that takes place in those relationships.

I was thinking as I read this book about the parallels to the Church. That is the one place we have time for people. In our busy, noisy, distracted world the Church is a sanctuary in time and place. We don't have to accomplish anything. Programs need to serve people not the other way around. We need to practice the "cure of souls" to use another premodern term. But, the idea is to get to know people and their histories, to look them in the eyes. To stay with them for a long time.

 St Hildegard's idea of health care being  the removal of what is preventing good health is a good model of  soul care or spiritual health. What needs to go in our lives that is preventing a growing relationship with God and other believers? What is distracting us or working against what God wants to do in our lives and relationships? The walk with God is often a long one. God seems to have all the time in the world for us. We need to be patient with people, too. It takes a long time to heal a body especially one that has been poisoned by toxins but it will heal. It takes just as long or longer to heal a sick soul.