Saturday, August 11, 2012

Loose Ends

I’ve just finished reading a book by one of my favorite authors, Alexander McCall Smith, called The World According to Bertie.  It’s part of his “44 Scotland Street” series.  Many of his books started out as weekly serials in a Scottish newspaper, and I enjoy imagining what it might be like to read the book in installments.  The way life has been for me this year, that’s about how I’ve read it anyway.  There are several different story lines in these books, all connected because they happen in the same building, even though the characters in each plot thread rarely interconnect.  As with most works of fiction, you can tell when you’re near the end because the plot lines start to resolve, so that the book comes to a close having tidied up the loose ends.  We prefer our movies this way, too.  When the studios have tested movies in focus groups, they have found that audiences don’t like stories that don’t resolve.  We want to have things settled, so we don’t leave wondering.  We can deal with some open-ended questions, but there can’t be too much of that or we won’t recommend the movie to our friends, and it’s the buzz that makes for big box office numbers.  What’s funny to me about this today is that real life isn’t always so nicely resolved.  This is one of the things I noticed working as a chaplain at the hospital this summer.  When someone is in the hospital facing death or the potential of it, all the loose ends in their lives come into sharp focus.  All the family messiness comes with them to the hospital.  One of the ways chaplains help take care of some of these loose ends is to help patients execute healthcare power of attorney forms.  Never got around to getting married?  Ok, but you can still give your significant other the authority to make life-or-death decisions for you—just sign here.  Don’t get along with your next of kin?  It’s ok, you can override their authority over you by appointing someone else as your legal agent.  What I find highly ironic now as I reflect on this scenario is that I started down the path to ordination largely because of my belief that no matter what other answers might be helpful, the ultimate solution and resolution is Jesus.  In the ecumenical environment of the hospital, I could not offer that solution.  Worried about death?  It’s ok, because Jesus has conquered sin and death.  Do you know him?  Can I tell you about him?  I prayed for peace and comfort with many people, and for those who were already Christian, I did this in Jesus’ name.  I could help them to remember what they already knew, but if someone answered the question, “How do you find strength” with something other than Jesus, I had to work with what was already there.  One of my fellow chaplains would frequently ask, “Do you feel like you helped this person?  How did you help them?”  I would usually answer “yes” because I had given the patient the opportunity to talk about whatever was troubling them.  But I know that any help that didn’t have Jesus at the center was going to be short-lived.  So there was perhaps short-term resolution in my conversations with patients, but long-term resolution was out of my hands.  Really this is what happens with the characters in the “44 Scotland Street” series—there is short-term resolution, but the long-term resolution is outside the scope of the book.  And frequently this is how life is.  We get a snapshot, a glimpse, but so often the bigger picture is beyond our field of vision.  And that’s why we need God’s resolution—Jesus.

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