One day a numÂber of conÂcerned mothÂers met with the minÂisÂter to express their frusÂtraÂtion and anger over the unseemly conÂduct of a parÂticÂuÂlar boy in SunÂday School. They did not want their chilÂdren exposed to this child and feared what he repÂreÂsented. For it seemed that this boy was modÂelÂing â€œbad behavÂiorâ€ â€“ verÂbal outÂbursts that someÂtimes involved proÂfanÂity, a lack of senÂsiÂtivÂity to other childrenâ€™s perÂsonal space (occaÂsionÂally bitÂing them when irriÂtated or proÂvoked) and an unpreÂdictably vioÂlent imagÂiÂnaÂtion when playÂing with toys. No SunÂday school is equipped to hanÂdle probÂlems of this magÂniÂtude. So upon expressÂing their indigÂnaÂtion, the mothÂers requested that the minÂisÂter call the childâ€™s parÂents and ask that he not return to SunÂday school. ObviÂously, there were famÂily issues that needed seriÂous and immeÂdiÂate attention.
The â€œprobÂlem childâ€ was ours. My wife received the call early one mornÂing. The minÂisÂter was deeply apoloÂgetic and pasÂtoral in his approach. But the damÂage had been done. What were we to do? Where could we go? Over the years, we had been through behavÂioral proÂgrams, famÂily counÂselÂing, and psyÂchiÂatric care. At this point, we were just beginÂning to come to terms with our sonâ€™s recent diagÂnoÂsis: Touretteâ€™s synÂdrome. Later, he would also be diagÂnosed with Aspergerâ€™s synÂdrome, bipoÂlar disÂorÂder, and obsessive-compulsive disÂorÂder. But at this point he was about seven years old, and we knew only of the Touretteâ€™s. We stopped attendÂing this church. In fact, we stopped attendÂing church altoÂgether. â€” Thomas E. Reynolds, VulÂnerÂaÂble ComÂmuÂnity: A TheÂolÂogy of DisÂabilÂity and Hospitality (Brazos Press, 2008)
Engineering does not often apply directly to faith, but one method that has transformed the way I view community is a commitment to statistical honesty. In reading papers and critiques of clinical trials, one thing that comes up repeatedly is the question, “Is the community they engaged in this trial one that is diverse? Does it represent society in general? Can it translate into meaningful implications for the people I treat? Or were these participants selected in a biased way to favor a certain outcome? Is there a skew that limits how we may interpret and understand the world?”
One day it struck me to think about my own community with a similar critique. If I took a random sample of my friends from work, my neighborhood, and my church, would it look like it was truly random? Would there be an overrepresentation of certain types of people or a paucity in others? Would that statistical bias be a reflection of intentionality or a revelation in exclusivity?
I did a brief mental estimation and was not happy with the results. It is my natural human tendency to surround myself with others who think like me, talk like me, and act like me. What I have been grateful for in the work of medicine is being forced into contact with those who are very different from me, those whom, I am ashamed to say, I would not ordinarily choose as neighbors, associates, or friends. Through this means of grace, in the past year alone I have encountered former drug dealers and drug addicts, millionaires and mansion owners, wheelchair riders and deaf academics, judges and janitors, Holocaust survivors and pedophiles, saints and sinners. Though my coworkers (and myself) have often varied in expressions of compassion, we were obligated by both law and ethic to work with them in seeking their greatest benefit.
And so I found myself wondering, “Who is my neighbor? And have I shaped the courses of my encounters, friendships, and associations to suit their needs or my own?” I found that I did not like the answer: that my friends were mainly from certain ethnic groups, certain socioeconomic demographics, certain intellectual capacities and predispositions, certain persuasions of personality and even certain sects of faith. I had groomed and self-selected myself into becoming a statistical outlier in ways incompatible with the gospel, and it grieved me to think of those I had hurt in my exclusivity.
In this season of Lent, it is both sobering and encouraging to consider Christ’s disabled state, the divinity of he whose statistical cross-section of acquaintances included fishermen and Pharisees, tax collectors and political zealots, Samaritans and the blind, lepers and the governor’s wife, Centurions and servants:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not conÂsider equalÂity with God someÂthing to be grasped,
but made himÂself nothing,
takÂing the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearÂance as a man,
he humÂbled himself
and became obeÂdiÂent to deathâ€”
even death on a cross!
About the author:
David graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Electrical Engineering and received his medical degree from Rutgers - Robert Wood Johnson Medical School with a Masters in Public Health concentrated in health systems and policy. He completed a dual residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at Christiana Care Health System in Delaware. He continues to work in Delaware as a dual Med-Peds hospitalist. Faith-wise, he is decidÂedly Christian, and regarding everything else he will gladly talk your ear off about health policy, the inner city, gadgets, and why Disneyâ€™s Frozen is actually a terrible movie.