By Norris Burkes Jun 2, 2019
As the political signs fill my neighborhood, I’m aware that our country remains divided on issues like abortion, medical care, immigration and gay rights.
While I recognize valid points on each side, I’m rarely able to declare these issues to be as black and white as the signs they are printed on.
My preference to examine both sides comes from my years as a chaplain in the health care community. Working in this world requires an ability to straddle the chasm between certainty and uncertainty, between clarity and obscurity.
In the medical world, you’ll quickly discover that uncertainty is the only form of certainty available. If you seek moral inevitability or religious certitude, you’ll run headlong into insanity.
For instance, if you believe that hell is reserved for those rejecting your specific brand of faith, then follow me to the hospital bed of my Mormon stepfather. My Baptist upbringing taught me that Mormons go to hell, yet Bob declared an inarguable faith until his last breath.
But if you are confident that there is no hell, then come with me into the treatment room where I’ll introduce you to a child who’s been ritualistically abused. Or sit on a chair with me beside a child beaten into a comatose state with a coat hanger. When you encounter these victims, you’ll likely pray that there will be a hell for those who did this.
Once you step out of your certain world, you may never find anything indisputable again. For instance, if you’re convinced that the Affordable Care Act is a bad thing, then come to the emergency room where the elderly clog the length of two hallways for 10 hours seeking relief for a persistent cough.
But don’t be too sure that universal health care is the end-all either. In that same ER, we’ll stand beside able-bodied people seeking treatment on the taxpayer’s dollar and you’ll be tempted to scream, “Get a job, get a life and pay for your own damn medical insurance!”
If you want to march against abortion, then march with me into our hospital chapel where I sit with a couple agonizing over her choice to abort her Trisomy 18 baby, an infant that will certainly die in his first weeks, if not minutes, of life.
On the other hand, if you’re pro-choice, then return to that same chapel where the weeping father begs his wife to deliver that baby. Or come to the Neonatal ICU where I’ll introduce you to the nurses that sustain a 26-week-old baby that was small enough to be aborted hours earlier.
If you’re clearly against the use of dramatic interventions to prolong the life of the terminally ill, then stand with me while the miracle of resuscitation gives a man his last chance to see his daughter.
Or if you think we ought to fight for every inch of life and use machines to keep people alive in whatever way possible, then come with me to visit the wife who lost everything as she kept her nearly brain-dead husband “alive” for a few more months.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not promoting any of the above positions. I’m just saying that the hospital constantly prompts me to see that life is rarely black and white. The healthcare community reminds me that we don’t have all the answers and I need to listen more before I impose my beliefs on others.
During my days in health care, I’ve witnessed hospital miracles capable of converting atheists, but I’ve also seen tragedies that would cause a minister to tear off her clerical collar in disgust.
I’m grateful to God that on most days, I’ve kept most of my faith.
So allow me this opportunity to thank all those who choose to work in the health care world. Thank you for facing the unanswerable questions and never backing away from the fight for life.
Contact Chaplain Norris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 10566 Combie Road, Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail 843-608-9715.