Sunday, March 27, 2016

Faith healing

A couple of weeks ago, my preacher spoke on faith healing in his sermon.  He hedged his bets appropriately, and used the word 'moderns' to refer to people who accept science and don't look to supernatural explanations for phenomena.

It was a safe sermon intro, which then launched into a talk about what faith can and should do.  At a safe distance from all that healing stuff.  He never really challenged whether it COULD happen. But only admitted that he was willing to laugh at those who gain power and money through faith healing.

And he mentioned something that has troubled me for a long time - the problem of which miracles to accept.  He said that he has seen earnest prayers for healing go unfulfilled, and people who have been the subject of intense prayers have died. It makes it hard to ask for an exception in this case, when the previous ones have not been granted.

Simple truth? I want my God to protect those I love.  Heal them.  Allow them to stay with me. 

I also understand that it is not so simple. But I have also seen things that defy simple, natural explanations.

In 1978, the first medic ever in the area came to Lawton Madeiras da Amazonias, Limitada, in Olaria, Para, Brasil.  His name was Luis, and he had a high school education, combined with two years of medical training.  We hired him to live in our compound, to act as the on-call medic for when emergencies occurred.

When you are seven hours from the nearest hospital, it is important to have that reassurance nearby.

But to trust the lives of your family to a medic with so little training?  That is kinda tough.

Luis, was different, though, and we saw that from the start. Luis had the gift of healing.

He was a leader in the local Evangelical church, and when he was done with each procedure, he laid hands on the person and prayed with them.  Or over them, if they were not able to participate.  Time and time again, he executed a minimum of medical intervention, prayed over the patient, and then discharged the patient.

A man came in, four hours after a snakebite.  His skin was grey colored, with all of his natural coloring gone.  His wife, knowing what had happened, had already started to wail, because he was dead.  His friends carried his lifeless form into the room, where Luis waited.  No antevenin, nothing.  Just an oversized hyperdermic needle (I was terrified of that thing), some antibiotics, and faith.

An hour later, the man walked out of the clinic and arranged  to pay for the services. 

A three-year-old girl, carried in by her older brother.  She had toddled her way into the path of a swinging machete, where the older brother had not seen her.  Severed her Achilles tendon, anklebone to anklebone.  Luis stitched her up, prayed over her....

...and within six months she was walking without a dropped foot. 

Lest you think he was just a careful surgeon, let me explain a little about his approach.  He stitched me up once.  Playing in the river, I split my forehead on a viga (8x8 board) that was carefully submerged just beneath the surface of the Rio Jabiru.  The resulting cut was about two inches wide - blood everywhere.  Four stitches was all he used.

Four stitches.  One inside, three outside.  And, of course, his oversized hyperdermic needle.

In the absence of a sterile environment, without potable water, with minimal education, and with every possible strike against him, Luis managed to heal people.  Over and over again.

Was Luis special?  I have no doubt.  Did he have the gift of faith healing?  I cannot argue against it.  (That doesn't mean that it is proved.  But absence of proof is not proof of absence.) I believe he did.

I have also seen healing of a different sort. A young man of whom I am very fond had seizures when he was a kid.  And they were terrible, and inexplicable.  The family prayed every day - my family's morning service included him every morning.  Every single day. 

He was not healed of the seizures. 

But a number of years later, he spoke up, when a group of people came together to ask for healing of another.  As the family members gathered in my uncle's living room, my friend took his turn.  His prayer went something like ths:

Thank you, Lord, for these people praying for Bennett and his family.  Praying to you does make such a difference.  You know that these same people have prayed for me all my life.  We know that you are not responsible for the results, but it helps for us to ask you.  You haven't healed me here on earth, but you have blessed me enormously through the prayers of these same people.  Please do the same for Bennett and his family.

The healing we all prayed for - the cessation of his seizures - was not forthcoming for my friend.  But he showed me - showed all of us - what real healing can look like.  It was not at all what I thought it was. 

And, sure, my pastor is right.  That kind of healing looks nothing like Crespo Dollar or Benny Hinn or any of the other healers who offer to sell me a prayer napkin (available for a small donation).  That healing might not be available to us 'moderns', because of our faith in the germ theory of disease, the importance of innoculation, and our denial of the mysterious.
Ernest Angley, performing an act of healing.
Maybe the only change we can expect is in ourselves - the blessings we receive as a result of our prayers for each other.

But maybe, just maybe, we should be open to the workings of the divine.  And accept the possibility that our science does not cover all of the potential outcomes.  That we cannot predict everything with perfect precision, once we know all of the inputs.

And then, maybe, armed with the belief that all things are possible, maybe we can see miracles.



My internal map is pretty good.  I usually can figure out a new place pretty quickly.  I take roads I have not been down, with some level of assurance that at the end of the route, I will be pretty close to my destination.
Photo of neuron by Grazyna Gorny. Stolen from U Mich website.

Vicksburg, Mississippi has now been my home for the past two months, and am continuing to find roads that I have not yet driven.  It is exciting to me to find those spaces that are not in my mental map, and fill them in.  Sometimes, they are truly empty spots on my map.  Other times, my map has compressed those spaces out, made other angles more acute, and I have lost actual area that I have never accounted for.

Finding those interstitial areas, for me, is a little bit like finding a hidden closet in your house.  I didn't know the space was there, never missed it before, but I really love finding it and exploring it and expanding the previously empty space in my mental map.

Vicksburg is not exactly a booming metropolis.  It boasts a population of 23,542 23,544, so it always comes as a pleasant surprise when I find one of these little spots.

I am finding much the same thing happening in the social sphere within Vicksburg.  When Kathe and I first arrived, it seemed that everyone we met was a friend of a friend, that the degrees of separation between any two people was zero.

The funniest of the instances happened even before I came to town.

I had done a short detail at the Corps offices a few years ago, and had stayed in an apartment down the street.  I called up Sue, and asked her if her apartment was available again, at least until would could get something else set up.  "No, Crorey, I already rented it.  But I will ask around and see if there is anything else nearby."

What was nearby was her next door neighbor, Janet Fischer.  I had known Janet as a next door neighbor before, and was pleased to have the chance to rent from her.  Having my lodging settled was a really good step, and I was pleased to have it locked in.  And I was pretty happy to talk about it.

So when I was introduced to a Vicksburger the Sunday before I left New Orleans, the conversation naturally flowed to where I was planning to live.  I told him, and he said, "Oh, yeah.  I know that house."

A week later, I learned that he had almost swallowed his tongue when I told him.  I had rented the apartment of his ex-wife.  And he couldn't talk about her in front of the woman he is dating now....

Interstitial distance decreases, in the blink of an eye.  Since Kathe has arrived, she has made friends of dozens of people, all of whom are integrated into the fabric of the small town in different ways. The shop owner sits on a historic preservation committee with the restaurant owner, who is the next door neighbor of the policeman who patrols the downtown area.  The title lawyer was married to the retired dentist who is next door neighbor to a retired Corps employee who has an apartment that she rents out to visiting Corps employees.

And everyone is kin to a Corps employee somehow, current or retired.  And with each person we meet, that interstitial distance gets smaller.

I think I will have to be on my best behavior.

Thursday, March 24, 2016


Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos.

"A new command I give you, that you love one another, as I have loved you."

Baby bath?  Space heater not included.
Kathe and I have been looking at houses in Vicksburg.  Today she will have been here a month, and it seems that every spare moment we have spent going through other people's closets.  It is a strange thing, to be looking up people's chimneys.  Opening their cabinets.  Turning on their water.  Flushing their toilets.  But there is still a bit of a voyeuristic thrill, even so.

Several of the houses we went through were old homes - one dating to the 18th Century, several pre-dating the Civil War, and some around the turn of the century (20th, of course). We admired the amazing plaster work, we marveled at the intricate detail of the moldings and the mantels and the hardwood floors and the sweeping staircases.

But in two separate houses we found a very peculiar feature in the bathroom.  It was a basin made of old porcelain, with a drain in the bottom, and with a set of pipes that seemed to feed water to the basin.  It was low - the top only reached about 18" off the floor - and was a little larger than a microwave oven.  Looked like a bathtub for an infant. 

We looked at it, stared at it, talked it over, and shrugged our shoulders.  I took a quick, low-quality picture, and put it up on social media to see if we could figure it out.

My post read:

"FB hive mind: Kathe and I walked through an old house yesterday, desperately in need of repair. But we're both baffled by the appearance of this in the WC. What is it? Footwashing station? Baby bath? Bidet?"
Footbath with claw feet.  Existentialist porcelain?

The hive mind predictably replied with a bunch of suggestion - some appropriate for public comment, some not.  But the consensus was that it was some sort of footwashing station. My friend Julie even provided a link to a picture of one, remarkably similar to the one we saw.

What, exactly, do you do with a foot bath?  Why is it necessary?

The next older house we visited ALSO had a foot bath. 

What in the world are these Vicksburgers doing that they needed to wash their feet so often?

In a not unrelated note (I'll make the connection in a bit), today is Maundy Thursday.  It was not one of those holidays we celebrated when I was growing up, but I have grown to love the beauty of it -  especially the  idea that it was on Thursday during Holy that Christians were given The Command (mandatum) that we love one another. 

And it comes from one of the best stories in the whole Bible.  The characters are just so real, you can feel them.

That command was given to us, not from a pronouncement from on the throne, but from the most humble of positions.  Jesus was washing the feet of his companions, reminding them that they were to love one another, just as he did them.  My favorite character, Simon Peter, told JC to go take a flying leap.  "You are not washing MY feet.  No way, no how.  Not gonna happen."

And JC told him that it WAS gonna happen.  Refusing was not an option, if Pete was to remain part of the group. Pete, in typical fashion, said, "What I meant was, wash my head and hands, too."

Then Jesus said something that really got me thinking, especially in light of the whole foot bath discussion this week.  He said, "If the rest of you is clean, you only need to wash the feet."

That was the missing piece from our discussion.  The footwashing takes care of the only place on you that will get dirty from one bath to the next.  You cover everything else with clothes, but no matter what you do, your feet are going to get dirty.

It was at that point that Kathe put together one of the coolest insights ever.  She saw a bit of sun-faded flooring, and she reminded me about the floor in our house in New Orleans.   

The floor in the center of each room - where a hundred years ago they used to have a rug - was raw wood.  Everything around the rug was stained with use and treated with oil.  Without moving the rug, the Collins family would treat the floor by oiling it, making it shine. 

The difference between the two areas of the room were shocking - even after refinishing the floor, the color was so much deeper and richer in the area that had been oiled.

"And walking barefoot on the wood would have left a residue on the feet. And if those feet had made it into bed....  Hence the foot bath."  Kathe, Order-Muppet extraordinaire, makes sense of the feature.

Getting clean.  Sharing love with one another.  Serving the needs of one another.  Is there anything that makes a better foundation?

The three lessons of Maundy Thursday.

Go wash somebody's feet today.  Share some love.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

My Favorite Paul Simon tune.

Saturday morning, Kathe and I were driving around Vicksburg, windows down, breathing in the Mississippi clean air, taking pictures of the town.  One shot she particularly wanted to capture was the side of the old NABISCO building (it now houses a restaurant called The Biscuit Company).  She pulled off the side of the road, handed me the camera and let me out to get the shot.

A tree was in the way.  I walked down the grassy slope to get a better angle on the building.  It had been raining and the grass was a little slick, but I am pretty sure footed. Keeping an eye on the angle of the building, wanting to get it just right...

Both feet went out from under me, and I smacked head, butt and back simultaneously on soggy turf.

I staggered to my feet, took a quick inventory to see what was broken (phone, check, tush, check, skull, check) and took a step up the slope...

And planted myself, face-first in the grass, sliding back down the slope three steps.

From that point on, it was war.  I threw myself at the slope, it threw me down.  I crab-walked, I walked parallel to the slope, I used my free hand - the one not holding the phone - to help pull me up. The slippery slope threw me down as many times as I got up -  I must have fallen a dozen times.

Meanwhile, Kathe watched in horror... from the safety of the car.

My first reaction, after the fear that I felt at that first moment before the impact of the first fall, was anger. I was mad that my legs had failed me, that gravity had grabbed me with such inexorable force of 9.8m/sec/sec, that the grass was slick, I was just mad, mad, mad.  All of that happened in the first and second fall.

And then I started laughing.

As I was falling out of the sky for the third time, it finally had sunk in how funny it was.  And just as the ground was about to, the hilarity of the situation began to hit me.  And I could not stop laughing. Suddenly I was the actor in every slapstick scene ever devised.  I was Lucille Ball with the chocolates.  I was Curly.  I was Cleese doing a silly walk for the Ministry.

I fell again.

And just that quickly, the anger just dropped away, and I began to enjoy the challenge.  Nothing changed about my situation.  I was still twenty feet down a slick slope I was having difficulty scaling.  I was still getting grass stains in places that would be hard to explain.  I was still in very serious danger of wrenching a knee.  One more shot to my head, and Kathe was going to have to check me for a concussion.

But my attitude about it changed.

I have decided that I am going to carry that thought in with me to work this week.  It is not my situation that makes me mad.  It is just how I frame my situation, with me in it. Am I the victim?

Or am I - just maybe - the star of the scene, enjoying the roar of approval from the crowd, as I try to get up, one more time?

Maybe seeing my situation differently will change my situation more than standing on even ground would.

I finally got my photograph.  It actually came out rather well.  And the slope in the picture doesn't look nearly as steep nor as slick as I know it was.  But I can't look at it without just chuckling to myself, and deciding again to change my attitude.

About everything.