10 November 2010

A Conundrum

A good friend of mine and I have the ability to turn just about any topic into a major policy discussion.  We became friends when we were both employed by the federal government.  He still is, albeit in a different department, and well, you know where my life has taken me.  I think at heart we both love the nitty gritty of policy, love the arcane nature of speculation: if we enacted policy A, then policy B would become a problem.  Inevitably, we come to one of two troubling rhetorical situations: where are we going to get the money for this particular project? or "wow, we [our country, state, town, county, baseball team] is really in deep trouble.

Last night our discussions centered such varied topics as prison reform, narcotics policy, addiction services and our fantasy football team.  During the conversation I hit a major road block.  Was I thinking about the issues with an eye on individuals or the overall situation?  Uh-oh.

During my year in the novitiate, I largely viewed world events with a healthy (perhaps too healthy) detachment. I attempted to read the paper each day and used several news feeds to keep up on what was going on in this or that particular locale.  

This year, I've been thrust directly into the messiness of lives while working at the Shattuck.  Each patient is a story -- more than a story, in fact: they are people; most register as tragic.  Surely, this or that patient has done some truly heinous things in his or her life.  And now, they are in a hospital, tubes running in and out of their legs, arms and abdomen.  When I walk into a room as a chaplain, I'm not very concerned about their guilt or culpability.  The calculus on my part is rather simple: I'm a Capuchin, they're sick: I do what it is I do, end of story.  I realize this is an indelicate description, largely insufficient for the topic, but there are times when things seem this blessedly simply.  Sick people needs doctors and care; chaplains provide pastoral care.

And then I come home.  I sit down in my chair, fire up the laptop and read about the news of the day.  And I swing back to the macro view of the world.  There are bad things happening, bad people are doing them.  How do we stop event X, Y or Z from happening?  What is a just punishment?  How can we toughen this policy or border or tax code to create justice?  Surely it's easy to look at a person in a hospital bed as a child of God; try doing so when they're leering at you across a store counter with a shaking trigger finger pointed in your direction is markedly more difficult.

Thus, my conundrum.  We are called to serve the poor.  Sometimes, the poor are vicious.  It is exceedingly difficult to separate the good and bad of people, if ever we desired to do so. 

In other words, how can the Christian maintain sane, rational and seemingly conflicting views of marco- and micro-sociology and theology?

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