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Friday, March 29, 2024

Good Friday thoughts on Moral Injury

I was today years old when I learned that Abraham Lincoln's assassination took place on a Good Friday.  In the excellent annual Biola Lent devotions, I took this poem "The Martyr" by Herman Melville (of Moby Dick fame) to be about Jesus . . . but it turns out to be about Lincoln:

Good Friday was the day
    Of the prodigy and crime,
When they killed him in his pity,
    When they killed him in his prime
Of clemency and calm--
    When with yearning he was filled
    To redeem the evil-willed,
And, though conquerer, be kind;
    But they killed him in his kindness,
    In their madness and their blindness,
And they killed him from behind.

 Lincoln was walking another path of the cross, of personal risk and suffering and loss to right the wrongs of centuries of a country fuelled by the enslavement of Africans. 

The path of Jesus was costly to him, and continues to be costly to those who listen to the "take up your cross and follow" injunction, to his "love your neighbour as yourself" teaching. As Pilate questions him, he confirms that his new truths do not take hold by political wins, by overpower others, by visible awards. 

Good Friday procession in front of our house, with singing and crosses

I think the juxtaposition of Good Friday and the Scriptures from Hebrews, Isaiah, the Gospel of John .. . with then opening news and email to find one from the doctors' association purporting to represent American physicians of faith, a jarring discordance.  The leaders of the doctor association sound a bit  self-congratulatory because they went to the Supreme Court to argue that medication approved decades ago by the FDA now should be disapproved. It's a medicine that can be used in early abortions, but also one that is also used to treat dangerous bleeding and ulcers and other things. The argument was that IF a woman took this medicine for an abortion and THEN had to seek medical care for a complication, a Christian doctor might be called upon to care for her,  arguing " that our members will experience harms, such as conscience violations, when they end up being forced into treating patients suffering from complications of chemical abortion". 

As a doctor, I find arguing against treating patients because their behaviour "violates my conscience" a very troubling line of reasoning. Will we now not treat gun shot victims, if they were in a gang that fights with guns? Not treat motor vehicle accident injuries if they were driving too fast? Not treat hypertension or diabetes, if they were in our opinion gluttonous? Not treat cancer, if the patient was a smoker? Not treat liver disease, if the patient was an alcoholic? Not treat a child with AIDS, if the father was promiscuous? The human condition, per the creeds of our medical organisation, is riddled with sin. We've all made bad choices, harmful decisions. When the injured, bleeding, gasping patient presents, we don't first assess the violence to our conscience. We don't weigh whether treating them will enable them to continue a lifestyle we deplore. We assess their need, and our care can be an opening of the door of love into a life that might need some.

I lost three children by miscarriage, and thankfully no one refused me treatment because they worried I could have intentionally killed my babies. I've cared for numerous others where the causality of the fetal demise is not clear, here in a country where abortion remains illegal but still happens as it has throughout history. Medicine is a strenuous calling. So is love. So is faith. I applaud the 21rst century attention to the impact of endless need and limited capacity to meet it on the care provider. The world is a broken territory, people do wrong things, and the the unseen spiritual realm includes evil intent. All these make for doctor stress, but I struggle to make the story about us, as if it justifies withholding care if we can give it.

Loving this shattered world is a dangerous choice, and for Jesus it led to crucifixion. He was killed in his kindness, because of our blindness. Lament, small steps towards repair, thankful attention to the persistence of good, commitment to community, all these shine a path through the post-resurrection reality of the "already" and the "not yet". Lord help us to be a people of sacrificial love more than a people of righteous indignation. Especially me. 

The boys of WHM-U with their home-made crosses as our Good Friday service starts

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Giving up winning for Lent? Football and Easter in Bundibugyo.

 The entire secondary school local football (soccer) season was compressed into a single week in Bundibugyo. Our sports committee planned it this way, perhaps to spend less of the fees they extract by paying referees and security for fewer days? 21 schools entered boys' teams and were assigned into 5 groups, and 8 schools entered girls' teams assigned into two groups, so that the plan was one day for simultaneous group stages (4 teams each play each other in six slightly abbreviated games), one day for quarter-finals for boys and semifinals for girls, one day for finals for girls and semis AND finals for boys. If that sounds impossible in a district that is in the grip of an East African heat wave (90+ degree weather making playing multiple games per day unhealthy), and in a place where transportation and communication and regulation-size pitches are in limited supply, and in a place where an 8 am start is considered timely if it happens by 10-11 am . . . well you have the picture.  Nothing went quite according to plan.

CSB 2024 Boys' Team

CSB 2024 Girl' Team

Girls' team again, just for fun    

We have spent most of the last week either cheering our teams on from the sideline, waiting hours for referees or officials, or trying to follow the late changes to schedules and teams. As usual, two teams were disqualified for having hired non-student players (the only two our coaches raised questions about . . . no doubt there were others). As usual, we were often the school to beat, the school to cheer against, because we are the top academically and have a long history of sports success too, plus we have the nicest pitch and campus, and the most outside help with things like microscopes and computers .. . we stick out, which is hard in a place that values conformity. As usual, there was a tense morning where students from another school disagreed with a referee's off-sides call and stormed the pitch to attack the ref, and even the coach physically pushed a ref (that team was NOT disqualified, but when they didn't get their way they took a forfeit in protest). Our western rules-based cultural values, and values around planning and timeliness, made us feel self-righteous this week. But in a place where power is an antidote to fear, winning is a sign of safety. And in a place where so little can be controlled, people don't expect a schedule to predict reality. So, this is just football. It generates deep reactions.


Scott snapped this but I love the way it encapsulates the week ... praying for BOTH teams prior to the Final Match, for no injuries, for good sportsmanship, for enjoyment and for peace!

We field actual students, and our coaches are actual teachers. Our teams had no real "season", only the 3 group-stage games and the playoffs. Our boys went to semi finals where they lost a very close game, honestly they played very well with better passing and control and strategy than the old days, but any team can lose on any given day. Our girls went to finals where they also lost in a close game .. . but since two teams get to go to regionals, they will move to the next level in spite of not winning the district. It's probably good for football that four different schools progress, St. Mary's Simbiya and Bumadu Seed for boys (both government-funded schools); Haven and CSB for girls (both private church-based schools).

Everyone would rather win, and win big, and feel powerful and competent. I would too. But being immersed in this intense little season has me thinking about Football and Easter. 

Our coaches Alex and Michael, who wisely embody all the truth below .. . . 

The value of the sport for these kids? Physical exercise and skill, community effort and teamwork, learning to listen to a coach and follow rules, feeling the delight and admiration of the crowd, the fun of being outside, belonging and identity. But also the way sports become a microcosm of life, because all of that does not add up to sure-fire winning. They have to struggle, and often meet injustice in the form of adults making harmful choices for them, or using money to subvert the fair play. They have to face failure and disappointment with character, own up to mistakes. They have to trust that they are loved whether things go their way or not. They have to choose whether to obey rules or to react with violent anger. They have to give up some comfort and ease and rest to stick with their goals. As do we all.

Certainly even though Jesus told his followers repeatedly that he was going to be handed over to harm, that the way to victory involved costly sacrifice, that sitting on his right and left was a path that passed through death . . . we still find it hard to grasp that the painful sorrow of Good Friday was the redemptive path towards the grave-exploding norm-shattering joy of Easter morning.

So, we head into "holy week", the Palm Sunday to Passover to Good Friday to Easter Sunday stretch of remembering the turning point of history. Giving up winning . . . the way to glory.

Our bench

Bodas waiting for the post-game rush to take spectators home

Former players coming back to support

Cheering with staff!!

Forrest family cheering on the team.

Another day, our mission school cheering our Ugandan school

Topista's daughter Ingrid is now like my daughter Julia was on the team .. . mom solidarity

TEam support for the games

Another day, all the team women supporting the CSB women

The trophy we didn't win

Bonus for reading this far, we have had some hard days in the last couple weeks, and not a lot of time to keep up the blog. But we also had some great joys last weekend:

Newest member of Serge East and Central Africa, Zemirah Jean Opedun!!

Byanga Ivan graduated  at the top of his class with an MPH from Clarke International University. He grew up with our kids, was Jack's close friend, graduated from CSB, and was a Kule-scholarship nurse. This is a glimpse of the post-Easter reality.
Below, the post-graduation party with relatives and friends.

And last but not least, the faithful Bible Translator who now consults from America, Waller Tabb, in country for a few weeks!