JESUS’ BRIDE

Was Jesus married?  Does it matter to devout Christians?  The Gospel of Philip is discussed in the recent addition of Biblical Archeological Review (BAR) May/June 2014 Vol 40  No 3.  In this apocryphal text, discovered among the Nag Hammadi Codices in 1945, Professor Karen King of Harvard wrote The Gospel of Philip represents the incarnate Jesus actually having been married (to Mary Magdalene).”   The article references some Greek terms referring to sexual intercourse and marriage.

 Does this discussion offend believing Christians? Very likely it does but I believe it should not.  My extensive study of many religions since my undergraduate college days at Franklin & Marshall College have led me to one conclusion– ALL religions are “man made”.

 Now this does not denigrate the spiritual element of religions.  I believe they represent human insight into another realm of being which follows our physical existence on this plane.  What is created are the practices, rituals, details, religious writings etc. etc.  Was Jesus married or not?  Does it even matter? 

 If any religion offers its followers a prescription for living a loving, compassionate, caring life with service to others then we should all be grateful that it exists.

WHEN GOD WAS A GASTROENTEROLOGIST — Delivering the Ultimate Retribution

There are some fascinating lines of Biblical text from the Book of Samuel I.  In Samuel 4 it describes the capture of the Ark of the Covenant by the Philistines in their rout of Israelite fighters.  As one can well imagine such a catastrophe to the Israelite nation resulted in the shock and death of several leaders and Biblical figures.

 What could be the outcome of such a humiliation?  Well apparently Yahewh, the Israelite God took matters into His own hands (so to speak).  He smote them (love that term) with a beastly attack of hemorrhoids!!  The Philistines were so debilitated by this attack (like the plagues from Exodus) that they returned the ArK to the Israelites with a slew of statues of Golden Hemorrhoids as a recognition of Yahweh’s potency.

 Who knew?  My life’s two passions, gastroenterology and religious studies meet in the anal canal.  The uninitiated might laugh.  How could an attack of hemorrhoids bring the Philistines to their knees (wrong part)?

 Ah, ask a whole bunch of my patients.  They know the truth that the Bible reveals. 

DNR — Is A “Slow Code” Acceptable?

One of the more remarkable articles I have read for my course on Bioethics is one by Lantos and Meadow in The American Journal of Bioetehics, 11 (11): 8-12, 2011 on the ethics of the “Slow Code”.

As they quickly point out there is much in the medical literature and via established medical ethics texts to renounce any effort to resuscitate a patient which is less than 100%. Yet Lantos and Meadow offer their suggestion that there are times, perhaps many times, when it is the ethically preferred method for dealing with the end-of-life.

The article correctly discusses that cultural symbolism associated with CPR and the intense confict which grips families when they are requested to authorize a DNR.  For some families, even those well aware of the futility of performing one and the inevitability of their loved-ones death, the act of agreeing NOT to do something to prolong their life is a decision that they just cannot make.  In those situations the physicians involved may attempt to continue to push the family to agree, unilaterally and willingly confront the family by asserting the right to write a DNR order on their own, or accede to the family’s lack of decision by performing a full code despite their own strong beliefs in its futility.

The fourth possibility which the /authors advocate is the “slow code”.  It is a half-way or partial procedure which may be only symbolic in nature.  It may only last a minute, or less.  It is an act of futility with the emotional and psychological status of the family in mind. It is purposefully an ambiguous act for those patients who are dying but for whom any overt decision by loving family members is heart-rending.

 It becomes a ritual associated with dying, one hospital based and perhaps unsavory from a scientific perspective.  It is ultimately a powerful acknowledgement that physicians should be cognizant of the emotional trauma that the death of a loved-one has on their relatives.  The authors summarize the criticisms of this action.

 I, for one, believe it has a place in the hospital setting under appropriate conditions.  I believe that the options of DNR need to be offered to the authorized health-care proxy/family member when physicans believe it appropriate.  Discussion of palliative care and Hospice should not be avoided when deemed the correct choice.  But when family members cannot bring themselves to make those decisions, this alternative option should be considered.

 Family members should not be brutalized or beaten into submission when they clearly are unable to make the decision to order the DNR.  The “slow code” may be the ethically and morally right choice under such circumstances and I applaud the efforts of Lantos and Meadow to discuss it. 

RANDY’S LAST GOLF TRIP

I just found out.  Ron passed away.  I could have easily written that he died.  But I prefer the euphemism “passed away.”  The word die is too powerfully sad and I am not adverse to using it at times.  And besides, death is not always the worst event in one’s life.  Suffering is.  I have kept a blog posting about Randy unpublished for months now.  I just noticed it.  Now’s the time to complete it.

I did not know Ron very well–yet ironically I believe I did.  What I mean is that I met him two years ago on a golf trip.  He was a friend of a friend– a fellow physician from Connecticut.  We only interacted over a 4 day period in Hilton Head, South Carolina.  I liked him very much. Everyone did. He was extremely bright, witty, could sing a cappella and was a hell of a golfer.

 Ron was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor but showed up last fall for another golf trip, this time to Greenbrier in West Virginia.  He had changed.  His personality was different.  He was now introverted and quiet.  He could still sing but with less vigor.  His clever sense of humor was unexpressed.  All of this was a consequence of the cancer advancing on his brain tissue.  Everyone else on the trip understood the situation.  No one spoke of it until John, an old friend of Randy, a former golfer arrived.  We had never met but did speak briefly about Randy’s condition.  John showed up just to see Randy and the other golfers. 

I had the opportunity to spend a brief moment with Randy on our last day when we had to rush to make the flight back home.  By chance he was sitting next to me in the golf cart as we hurried to avoid an incoming storm.  Although on this trip he never initiated conversation, now he did.  ” I had a really great time.”  It was a brief but spontaneous remark.  I was stunned.  I’m not sure how I responded.  Perhaps I said, “yeah, me too.” 

Randy died this week. There, I wrote it.  I didn’t know his condition before his passing but suspect he was comatose, no longer conscious and certainly not who he was.  Perhaps he was suffering, hopefully not, but I’m sure everyone who knew and loved him were.   He is at peace and I pray his loved -ones will be soon.

 Our annual golf trip is coming up.  It will be named after Randy.  I know he will be there.

THE FIRST DAY OF SPRING

Although April  2 is not the vernal equinox, and therefore not the official first day of Spring, for those of us in the New York metro area, it feels like it.  I was in the City for another class in Bioethics at Cardozo Law School in Greenwich Village.  Getting off the subway on the upper west side of Manhattan I felt the lingering rays of the sun, rain free air, and a sense of optimism long hidden by the abysmal winter just completed.

 After  dinner at a French bistro I felt drawn to Central Park.  It is an oasis of nature in the heart of NYC.  Of course it is still early in the season but the part pulsed with life.  People were out.  Joggers, bikers, people with a myriad of different sized and shaped dogs.  Fathers hit baseballs to their sons, young men played soccer.

There was an unmistakable sense  we all silently shared that the the worst was behind us. For a moment we could put aside our worries, fears and concerns.  We had survived another winter.  And it wasn’t easy.

WAS MARX RIGHT? Human Nature Might Disagree

A recent NYTimes article (March 30)  debated the virtues of Marxism.  A powerful utopian philosophy Marxism/Communism has been rarely seen in practice.  Based on philosophical, political and economic theory Marx predicted the eventually destruction of capitalism by virtue of the uprising of the working class.  Socialism would be government organized and supported, eventually to morph into a stateless, classless, humane society based on the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

Of course it is unfair to reduce its complexity to a few paragraphs but in truth Marxism has never truly worked as a political/economic system.  The main reason–it fails to take into account human nature.

 I have little doubt that we possess an empathic, compassionate side to our nature.  We feel the pain of others, try to reach out to the less fortunate, offer charity.  But when there is a perception among the average citizen that hard work is no longer recognized, that benefits accrue to those who know how to work the system, when remuneration can be obtained without hard work, resentment ensues.  In effect when rewards are not proportionate to labor, there is trouble.

On a personal note I witnessed this phenomenon within my own practice.  We all work at our own speed.  No one dictates who should work what hours, take how much vacation, accrue expenses.  No one is concerned about what the other partners do or don’t do because our income is essentially based on our individual productivity minus our expenses.  It is fair so no one complains.  There is NO resentment among the partners.

The utopian concept that everyone will benefit from the labor of others presumes that everyone will produce nearly equal work.  This is not reality.  It does not recognize the differences among us.  Some of us are ambitious, driven, obsessed with obtaining material possessions and the vehicle by which they are acquired–money.  Some of us are extremely creative, talented, skilled.  Those are attributes which can often produce enormous wealth.  Others among us lack skills, motivation, ambition or just don’t desire money and material goods.  All of this reflects the world we actually live in.  

Recognition of these differences results in fair distribution of the products of such efforts.  Failure to maintain a system which rewards effort is…..lack of effort, or resentment.  Communism is a utopian dream which can work in small groups of like-minded individuals.  It can offer its offshoot socialism to balance raw, unrestrained capitalism (which can be devastating and damaging to society).  But only a mixed picture can balance concern for those who cannot produce, with recognition of those who do.

With all its imperfections, the American economic system comes closest to balancing all these factors.  Communism never did and never will succeed.  

DEATH STUDIES — College Students…Dying to Get In

Death studies for college students.  Now that is an uplifting thought.  

But actually it is.  As members of a death-denying culture the introduction of THE subject that makes us all uncomfortable is absolutely necessary.  It seems natural to avoid pain and the subject that we choose to distance ourselves from only takes on more importance and power through our denial.

 There are stories about Buddhist priests who are novices.  Apparently there were placed into rooms with corpses in varying states of decay.  The shock was intentional.  Once they faced up to the reality that our physical bodies are temporary and impermanent, they could move on to explore the world of spirit.

 Kean University in NJ is at the forefront of such classes.  Besides visiting cemeteries and coroners offices they are required to write letters to deceased loved-ones and compose their own eulogies.  

Facing death does not mean becoming obsessed with it.  It does not lead to morbid thoughts or actions. It can allow us to experience the death of loved-ones with a deeper understanding and acceptance.  What cannot be changed must be accepted.  Of course death can be tragic.  We tend to categorize deaths by cause and age.  Of course we can accept the death of a loved-one more readily if they lived a long life or were suffering towards the end. But ultimately we need to keep the prospect of death in its proper place–acknowledge its inevitability and use it as a tool to embrace the gift of life.

How do we ascribe value to the intangibles in our lives. They  must be ephemeral, not guarranteed.  Love and life are like that.  The awareness that physical life is temporary gives it value. Death does just that. It also opens us to explore the world of spirit.  Death has less sting when it is viewed from a greater perspective.

 

 

GOOGLING FOR INFO — Are Professionals Obsolete?

In an age where information is but a touch away, is there still a need for professionals?  What I mean is simply this…..If I can get unlimited medical information from the internet, if any legal question, tax question can be answered, if I can use etrade, legal zoom, turbotax, online real estate, investment advice etc. etc…..do I  really need to pay a professional to advise me on any of it?  The truth is—it all depends.  There are simple legal issues, tax issues, medical issues, investment issues which can be handled directly by the consumer.  But when the situation is not so simple, when too many opposing opinions are obtained or when the issues are technical enough that the layman clearly is over their head, that is the time to rely on the professional.

The internet does empower all of us.  Knowledge IS power.  The problem is that the internet offers information, unlimited information.  It does not guarantee accurate, useful, wise information ie. knowledge.

  This is why I encourage my patients to present whatever information that have gleaned from websites.  I only recommend that they hear my interpretation of what they present.  If I know  my business I should be able to convince them that my position is one they should follow.  For this interpretation of information I deserve to be paid.  I would suggest the same is true of other professionals who have the training, certification, experience and knowledge.  

RELEASE OF ATTACHMENTS — Re-Stated

The February 12 NYTimes article by Christy Wampole effectively re-states what my two prior posts have done.  Entitled “In Praise of Disregard” she advises the reader to learn to analyze their life’s challenges, difficulties, criticisms, take wisdom from the ones that can help and disregard the rest.

 This is an active process.  As I have written about previously, the Serenity Prayer sets the model for dealing with life’s adversity. Serenity is a term like happiness, peace and contentment.  It represents an ideal state of being.  It is the goal of spiritual leaders since the  dawn of time.  Wampole states, ” it is possible to subdue those ideas that do violence to us.  Ideas are given credence only when they are entertained. By disregarding them we can erode much of their influence.”

 A crucial aspect of this willful act of disregarding is to recognize the nature of the mind.  Essentially we can only hold one thought at a time.  Contrary to the belief that we are engaged in multitasking on a continuous basis, the truth is that when we believe we are multitasking, we are merely alternating thoughts rapidly.   Once we realize that thoughts and feelings can only be experienced one at a time, we can appreciate why being able to disregard, or practice nonattachment through conscious action or the meditative state leads to healing.

It is necessary to distinguish this activity from denial.  Ignoring real world problems because they are difficult or painful is just foolish.  But having acknowledged them, made every reasonable effort to deal with them, we need to let them go.  It is the obsessive rumination, the constant worry, the resultant fear of the future and the  unknown that leads us to suffer in the present moment. When suffering and tragedy find us (as they inevitably do) we can experience them then, in that moment, and hopefully not too soon.

SERENITY & THE RELEASE OF ATTACHMENTS

We are attached rather deeply to our feelings.  We are beings of strong beliefs.  We worry about our loved-ones, friends, our careers, our finances and our health.  The attachments to these fundamental aspects of our lives can bring us joy and suffering.  More often than not they are the source of our suffering.

 To quote Yoga-Vasishtha, the whole concern of our lives is to desire and to be doing, and then back to desiring again;  but when all restless craving is rooted out of the mind, it becomes free from all anxieties…..Our desires our dislikes are two apes living in the tree of our hearts; while they continue to shake and agitate it, with their jogging and jolting, there can be no rest for it.

Ironically we are often obsessed and attached to aspects of life over which we have no control. This leads to an understandable frustration.  Our minds are the source of  this pain.  When we let go of these obsessive fear and worries we can find peace.  Because we habitually and naturally slip back into this mental and emotional turmoil we need to remind ourselves of its futility.

 Letting go of attachments is not the same as ignoring or not caring.  Because we care too much we need to be our own gurus.  Sometimes we need to “overcorrect” our tendencies in order to establish a balance in our understanding.

So letting go should not result in feelings of guilt for not caring enough.  Some of us live under the illusion that only by worrying will we prevent misfortune or adversity from occurring.  That fallacy of thinking leads to the constant suffering that we seek to avoid.

Life will take us on a journey which is only partially within our control.  Once we have examined our situation and done our best to set into motion our corrections and fixes, we need to release our attachments to the outcome.  

Serenity comes with this awareness.  It is the ultimate healing.