Monday, July 25, 2005


Interesting article from NY Times Magazine about an orthodox rabbi who makes his living fundraising for Israel using American evangelical Christians as his target market.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


I do another on-call night at the hospital tomorrow (Friday), and my fifth one the following Sunday. Please support me in your prayers, think warm fuzzy thoughts, and call/email to check in. Thanks as always.


First, an article from the New Yorker on Patrick Henry College, a most unusual liberal arts college aimed at evangelical Christians who have been homeschooled. Provoked more than a few sighs from yours truly; as Verbum Ipsum pointed out, Christians on this model seem to combine a radical suspicion of "the world" with a radical trust for government--a combination that doesn't seem quite rational to me.

Second, an article from Rolling Stone on 'the new virginity.' All I have to say about this one is: hmmmmmmmmmm. Via the always thought-provoking Get Religion.

Sunday, July 17, 2005



He’s Latino, 50-ish. Five days growth of beard. He’s got heart and circulation problems. In December, he had one of his legs amputated at the knee.

I stop by to see his nurse before I go in to see him. She sighs. He wants drugs. Specifically, IV pain meds—opiates. When he was up in the ICU, a few days ago, he kept asking to see the doctor, telling how much pain he was in, asking him if there wasn’t anything he could do. After a while, he was getting IV pain meds every three hours. A while after that, they caught on and stopped giving him IV pain meds entirely. Now he gets pain meds alright, but orally—everything via pill. He’ll ask you, she says.

I go in, and sure enough, she’s right. He tells me that he’s in a lot of pain, that these people at the hospital won’t give him any medication, that he’s in a hell of a jam. “This is piss-poor,” he says. He says that he trusted the hospital—he let them operate on him, amputate one of his legs, didn’t he—but now they don’t trust him. They must think he’s some kind of dope fiend, which is crazy: he’s never touched that shit in his life. They gave him plenty of pain meds when he was all paid up with his account, but now that he’s behind, they’re giving him trouble. Medicine is a business, he tells me; it’s a business.

His eyes are blue, like a clear blue sky on a very cold day. He eats cracker-jack in big stuck-together chunks, pushing it around in his mouth with his fingers until he can break it in two with his teeth. He watches TV for the duration of our interview, pausing only occasionally to look me in the eyes. He asks me to change the channel for him, twice.


He’s Jewish, in his 60s. He’s got prostate cancer, and is undergoing chemo—which explains the rather drastic (yet stylish) chrome-dome job he’s got going on up top. One of the chemo drugs was messing with him a bit, all kinds of crazy symptoms—hence the hospital. He doesn’t recall asking to see a chaplain, but he’s happy to talk.

He tells me all this while he’s on the phone, trying to get the kitchen to send him up a big meal, one containing rice pudding. I smile: rice pudding! A kindred spirit! We talk for a while. His father was a rabbi, he tells me. His family were rabbis going back 10 generations. This line of work you’ve picked, he tells me, it’s not so easy. I nod and smile. Nope, I say. His son is a rabbi, he tells me, and he’s very unhappy. He lives in Israel, and to help make ends meet, he’s an electrician in his spare time.

He was a social-work student back at the University of Chicago in the 60s, when Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was there. He watched her interview a dying woman through a one-way mirror. When she was done, she came in and asked the students, how did we know that woman was dying? She hadn’t come right out and said it herself, and none of the students knew. She looked at them and said, because she’s stopped taking care of herself. He smiles. You’ll notice that I’m still taking care of myself, he says, and it’s true: he’s got his watch on, his hair and beard are well-groomed. He looks sharp, except for the hospital scrubs. Yes, he says, still taking care of myself. I want to live, he says, and then he starts crying.

And then his nurse comes in. Most of the chaplains are past irritation at being interrupted by other hospital staff, myself included. It helps that I like this guy’s nurse: big Latino lady in her 50s, smart, funny, and with that peculiar mix of toughness and kindness you see in nurses. She sees his tears and hands him a tissue. She takes some vitals. And she goes over his meds with him: this one is baby aspirin, this one is for iron, this one is this… A big smile, and she’s gone.

I prepare to pick up where we left off. And then, instead of a conversation about how much he wants to live, he starts talking to me about Islam. In his train of thought, he says, he went from thinking about how much he wants to live to how crazy it is for anyone to want to kill themselves and take others with them. You have to be prepared for this in your career, he says. You have to know your enemy. These people are crazy: even Nazis, they killed, they murdered, they raped, they destroyed, but they never blew themselves up. He commends to me the work of Bernard Lewis at Princeton, as well as a work called the Arab Mind, which, he says, details the brutal way Arabs raise their children. He tells me that “Palestine” is a fiction; that “Palestinia” was invented by the Romans as an alternative to “Israel,” which had proved to be such a troublesome province to them. So-called Palestinians, he says, are really Arabs. You cannot even begin to understand the goddamn lies these people tell.


He’s getting over hives, which means I have to put on mask, gloves, and gown before I go into his room, lest I get or give some infection. I gown up awkwardly in the hallway, bright yellow gown billowing behind me as I peek tentatively into his room.

He’s got Crohn’s disease, and he’s been in the hospital with one thing or another since late September of 2004. He was in the ICU twice: liver problems, heart problems, yadda yadda. He had a stem cell transplant on Valentine's Day. He hopes to go home—hopefully for a while this time—tomorrow or the next day. He has a 9-year old daughter.

He has very short hair and an East-European accent. I’m thrown for a bit at the start of our talk by his flat demeanor: his eyes rarely blink, he doesn’t frown, his eyebrows rarely move, he smiles only when we talk about his daughter. He’s projecting a strange mix of boredom, loneliness, numbness, and sadness—which, when I think about it, makes perfect sense for him.

We talk about the difference between Lutheranism and Catholicism, about Poland, Italy, and Europe, about his daughter, about how he hopes he can go home soon, about his religious beliefs. His face rarely changes. Mostly, he says several times, he just wants to go home. It’s a common refrain in the hospital: please, God, just let me go home.

We pray together, and I lift up the image of Noah standing on the deck of the ark after the flood. Every day the water went down a little bit more, and he must surely have known that someday, dry land would return. But oh, the waiting! Can you imagine? How their hearts must have lurched in their chests as they waited: trees! Grass! Plants! But every day, for such a long time, only water. The bird returns with nothing in its mouth.

We pray together, and ask that God would both hasten the day that dry land comes again, and give all of us the patience to endure until that day comes.

Monday, July 11, 2005


Dutch doctors propose criteria for euthanizing babies in New England Journal of Medicine.


Friday, July 08, 2005


Dan (aka America's Young Theologian) is on to something with this post. (Err, rather, L. Greg Jones is on to something. Given that he's the dean of this place, I suppose that shouldn't be too surprising.)

I especially like Jones' point that a renewal of theological aesthetics (i.e., appreciating the role of beauty in Christian life) offers us a way beyond the legalism of both right and left. I can't help but wonder if this is connected in some way to the decline in significance of worship of many mainline Protestant churches. When was the last time you went to a church service where something--besides the sermon--made you sit up and say, holy crap, that's so beautiful. Beauty, I think, breeds generosity of spirit--something that is sorely lacking within the church right now. Furthermore, it seems to me that renewing the beauty of worship might go a long ways towards re-creating the mystery, solemnity, and awe-fulness that ought to characterize it also.

Sunday, July 03, 2005


I wrote about this week's on-call at the Princeton CPE blog. Check it out.