(sorry this is long…but it been a long journey and its stunning conclusion is coming to a blog near you this FALL!)
I have a perfect evangelical pedigree. Born to evangelical parents whose faith was forever changed by the birth of their child who was initially somewhat funny looking, possibly dying of a unknown genetic disorder and definitely a testimony in the making (really I am not being sarcastic this is my life…). When I was 22 months, my neck became unstable and I needed a somewhat dangerous procedure to fuse it. My Mom and grandmother started a phone prayer chain around the country, 1 month later when I showed up for my pre-op appointment, my neck was better without any medical explanation.
I grew up, learned to walk, learned to talk despite everyone’s prophetic doom. I went to Sunday School and loved it. I made various creations out of Popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners. I was in Children’s Choir and I sang solos all while sitting on my little stool on the front row. I was in church musicals like GO GO Jonah, PSALTY and things themed with music by Stephen Curtis Chapman and Amy Grant. I went to vacation bible school where we made sun visors with foam pieces and sung more musicals. I went to missions education class where we had fiestas, made God’s eye (more Popsicle sticks), learned about missionaries who were great adventurers for God. My sisters and I always won brownie points because our real live Aunt was an old school missionary in China and Malawi, we made care packages for her filled with curtains, MMs and more things made out of pipe cleaners…
And don’t get me wrong, I found God here, I found hope here. I prayed the sinner’s prayer with my Dad at 5 and was baptized and I say that not ironically.
I went to youth group where I learned that true love waits, alcohol and evolution are evil and that my life as a high schooler should be cultivating a Christian worldview despite the evil public school system AND then sharing Christ with everyone I met. From salvation bracelets, testimonies (which true to my birth prophecies, I was often asked to give being gimpy and inspirational and all), tracts and Christian T-shirts that said things like “He with the most toys, still dies” or “Got Jesus?” or the ever popular, “If you died right this very second, Where would you go?” I went to church camp where we stayed up late, cried the last night when everyone got saved and did various ridiculous tasks like cover our selves with shaving cream in the name of Jesus… I was on state and local leadership for campus ministry in college and graduate school…
And don’t think it was just the kids in my family. My grandparents taught the young couples’ class. My Dad was a Deacon, my Mom taught women’s bible study and the missions education classes.
I have the perfect evangelical pedigree but I haven’t felt welcome in evangelical circles in some time.
How did this happen? Why is it a problem now?
When I was 14, I got a letter from a parent with a child with my genetic disease, enclosed was a free plane ticket to attend a conference for people from all the over world with my disease. I went and saw health care inequality, poverty, and prejudice in a completely new way. Already the grating language of healing and being specially blessed had been making me cringe in church since about the age of 8. Then being confronted with reality of injustice took me out of the bubble world of the bible belt. It changed the course of my life and (ironically) called me to work among my natural kin (not evangelicals but others who were different and oppressed and sick). Oddly, that next summer was my last church camp experience, I vividly remember sitting on the lawn in bible study furious because my mentor from the previous summers had been kicked out of camp and our denomination after requesting to be ordained while kneeling next to her husband….in the same church that had recently celebrated their wedding… The façade was breaking but I could not have told you that at 16.
In college, I found redemption through like-minded people who put aside the crazy for sake of Jesus. Even my parents and sisters found grace, we all left the crazy behind, found new churches, new communities and freedom in Christ. Going to Romania with a somewhat liberal although mostly tolerated in evangelical circles group at 19, affirmed the calling to medicine and the poor and my people (disabled folk) and I found wonderful support from my the community of friends in college. I was so excited about my life plan! Then I entered another temple entirely….and sort of fell off the church map because I was well…busy. (I went to church but I not in the same way I did earlier in life, God and I confronted life differently)
Medicine, particularly training, is an insular world of its own with its own cults and Gods: achievement, humanism, quality improvement and the ever popular customer satisfaction (this is sometimes code for MONEY). I plodded through this world touched by compassion and grace that I learned at the hands of my profession. But never at all sold on this faith particularly when I watched human suffering in the name of well meaning humanism who put the number of days above the quality or another protocol in the name of science at the cost of futile pain on the behalf of a real human being. (Good intentions but falls short in the extraordinary moments of life). SO I am not surprised when my potential employers in this sphere want to know how I am going to advance the cure of malaria, raise the number of publications their institution has or their national ranking, over how I feel about community development or sustaining my self by educating nationals…likewise they are extremely uncomfortable with my relig…er background, it might be divisive in the temple of political correctness.
But my tender, little naviee heart is somewhat crushed by the state of the church as I emerge from my required time in the land of medicine, what the heck happened in the last 7 years people?
It seems there is no room in the inn of missions or church ministry on the eve of finally being ready to do what I have worked so hard and so passionately to do. While I have been learning about the art and science and healing, poverty reconciliation, peace and community and am so excited to apply all that I have learned…it seems the questions my potential employers (on both sides of the spectrum) want to know:
Who I am boycotting (OR not)?
Naviee Little Me: my response: Um I try to avoid places that notoriously use child labor or exploit women in the developing world…
Potential Employer: But so and so contributed to such cause…
NLM: But they exploit little children?
Where I eat fast food?
NLM: the hospital cafeteria?…I have made friends with the single Mom who serves me my sandwhich!
PE: tisk, tisk they say…even when they find out there is very little of the offending/redeeming fast food joint in OHIO
Who I voted for in the last election?
NLM: um it was the lesser of two evils…and I voted absentee because I was working an overnight, what does this have to do with my ability to be a good doctor in the developing world?
PE: it has everything to do with you passing our magical litmus test…
NLM: I prayed about it ?
PE: hmmm…sure…obviously if you did you would have voted for…
What I watch on TV?
NLM: whatever the nurses have on in the break room, then again I don’t usually know whats actually going on…I didn’t even have cable for the majority of the last 7 years, my last two years of medical school we didn’t even know where the cable hookup was in our apartment…But I just read a really wonderful memoir about a women’s time in the Congo…
PE: Yes but how do you feel about the portrayal of certain key leaders…in the Church? or the portrayal of key issues?
NLM: I have serious concerns about the corruption of various developing world governments leading to the break down of the health care infrastructure?
PE: Huh? What about Glee’s stance or your thoughts on the bias of the media?
What do you feel are the biggest issues facing the Church today?
NLM: (BIG SIGH of relief…what I want to talk about) Poverty that compounds exploitation of women and children, HIV and that the inequality in basic human rights that are a barrier to the gospel!!!….
PE: STOP Dr….let me repharse the question…How do you feel about abortion and civil unions?
NLM: What does my thoughts on civil unions have to do with this job?
PE: How do you feel about marriage?
NLM: I am for it! (not the right answer apparently for anyone)
The following quote articulates the heart of my problem: “…Both the [evangelicals] and the [humanitarian aid workers] are WRONG but in different ways, The workers seek the kingdom without the king and the evangelicals seek the king without the kingdom… (When Helping Hurts!)”
SO here I am naively standing holding out my CV and my testimony looking back and forth between two halves of a whole (the king and the kingdom) that are in the mist of a cultural war with each other…and for my soul…
…well trained both spiritually and medically
… even a little inspirational…
… yet utterly unemployable in the job I actually want.
SO NEW LIFE PLAN:
It seems from what I read emerging from my educational cocoon, the solution is to complain about this war, live with other people who are refugees from said war intentionally and open a coffee shop together: selling fair trade coffee, offering random wisdom from obscure 14th Century Christian mystics and vaccines (my own special touch)…I mean that’s what all the other lost called people are doing of my generation…
MD turns barista.
Obama will give me free insurance.
Life will be good.