Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dehumanizing The Dying

I just scrolled through a pictorial of famous people who have died in 2011. There were many I recognized - Harry Morgan from MASH, Andy Rooney the sardonic commentator, singer Amy Winehouse, and Elizabeth Taylor were among them. As I read their cause of death, I wondered what they looked like in the last months . . . how unrecognizable they might have been to the public because of the illnesses they suffered.

I met Judy (not her real name) about three years ago. She was a hospice patient, and I her hospice chaplain. Several months after her death, I happened upon the program they produced for her memorial service. Her picture was on the front, but I did not recognize her. I thought I did not know the woman pictured until I opened the folded piece of paper and recognized her from the names and information from her family. I had only known her when she was sick.

I wonder if there is not a tendency for us to think that when people are sick, gaunt from cancer, swollen from liver failure, emaciated from some long-term lung disease . . . I wonder if there is not a tendency for us to treat them, or at the least think of them as less than the people they are?

The Bible tells us that by the time Jesus was crucified, he had been beaten so badly that he no longer appeared human. Yet, He was still fully Himself, fully God and fully man. It is so easy for us to accept what our eyes tell us, and not look beyond. The next time you see someone in a hospital bed, or in a nursing home, or some chemotherapy patient suffering from the poison of their medicine, remember that the illness has not diminished who they are. They are still a human being who God loved with the life of His Son.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

If I Dishonor Man

As I finished reading a chapter on the Discipline of Friendship in a book by R. Kent Hughes, I began to think about building cabinets. The job God provided for me to get through my under-graduate work was building cabinets to furnish the university.

A few years ago, I took my family to my college campus for a home-coming weekend. My wife and I gave our children the grand tour. We led them to the dorms we lived in, the concrete bench where I stole my first kiss from their mother, and dozens of other places that were important to us. And, everywhere I went on that campus, I was proud to show them the work that I and the young men in my shop had completed. I was proud that so much of it was still there more than two decades later.

Many of the cabinets were my creation. I had measured, designed, and built them from rough lumber, boxes of wood screws, bottles of wood glue and gallons of finish. Cabinet making was a joy to me. Unlike working with people, where the work is never done, cabinet-making brought with it a great sense of accomplishment. A part of me was in each piece. So, if you insulted my work, in a way you insulted me.

When God made man, He made us in His image. He did not put a part of Himself in us, for He was and is always complete and whole in Himself, but He apparently took great joy in our creation. He said that we were good. Now, there is no doubt to any sane and rational mind that we are no longer the good things He created. We know that sin has marred us. Yet, we are still His creation, not unlike a fine, hand-made oak desk whose mirror polished top has been scratched deeply by a thoughtless act.

One day Jesus described the worth of people to God when He said, "But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So don't be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows." (Mt.10:30-31) So, I wonder how He feels when we, through our words and our actions, dishonor His highest creation . . . man.

French philospher, Blaise Pascal, wrote, "I set this down as a fact, that if all men knew what each other said of the other, there would not be four friends in all the world."

May we who are members of the body of Christ no longer dishonor, with word or deed, any man . . . for each is a creation of God.