The Face of Religion

Wayne Drash recently wrote an CNN Opinion article, When ‘God’s will,’ rape and pregnancy collide.”

One of the quotes was from Phoenix police chaplain John South:

Do you know who the father is?” South recalled asking her.

“She said, ‘Yes, it’s my biological father. He’s the one who hooked me on heroin so he could continue to rape me whenever he wanted to.’”

The Protestant chaplain has consoled about 50 pregnant rape victims – typically girls raped by their fathers – in his years working with the Phoenix Police Department.

South describes himself as “pro-life,” but when it comes to dealing with a girl or woman impregnated by a rapist, he keeps his personal views to himself.

I don’t give them a lecture or preach at them,” South said. “I’ve seen crimes beyond comprehension.”

That last comment really stuck with me. And the nature of faith itself, “What makes a good Christian?”  I mean what makes a good Christian?  As we head to the polls in a week, what will our decision, more specifically our vote, really say about us?

Will our concept of Christianity be similar to that of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock who during a debate in Indiana said pregnancies from rape are “something that God intended to happen.” What’s intriguing is that Romney did not actually pull support from Mourdock.

Maybe our faith is like that of Todd Akin who was quotes as saying:

It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Mr. Akin said of pregnancies from rape. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.

Religion tends to be a personal issue. And in being personal, we don’t stand up for others’ rights as well as we should. Yet, when stuff happens, we want the community and nation to rally around. In truth, we were never there for others, so others are not here for us.  That’s how I look at Tim Tebow , who recently trademarked his ‘Tebowing’ prayer stance, where there was little to none of Christ.

In my travels, I have seen Kawangware. Kawangware is one of Africa’s biggest slums, home to a population equivalent to that of Bristol or Toulouse. Most of the 600,000 residents live on less than one dollar a day and over 65 percent of them have no permanent job. Without access to education, some teenagers forget their dreams and turn to prostitution or crime to earn money; others fall pregnant and face a continuing struggle to survive.

Likewise, I have driven through and visited some of Chicago’s most notorious ghettos. A “ghetto” generally means a low-income area with high crime. Most of the locals hold down jobs, or at least make money illegally, but about half of the population lived below the poverty line. In the days I drove past, these areas were worse than ghettos, but were also more limited in size. Over half live off welfare or other government assistance and crime is the highest in the entire city. Only the poorest lived there and most criminals tend to stick to the ghettos since there’s little worth stealing.

In truth, Romney, Obama, Richard Mourdock, Todd Akin nor any good Christian from the Catholic’s Respect Life Apostolate would visit such places. That’s not their style. In truth, all of them really know the poor have little hope. A third of families headed by single mothers are in poverty and single-mother families are nearly five times as likely to be poor than married-couple families. Yet while we beat our chests for the love of Christ, the Romneys’, Obamas’, Mourdocks’, and Akins’ of this world offer little to those in such dire need. I have yet to a serious politician visit these areas.

If you want to see true Christian faith, then visit the Community Hospital of Huntington Park, a 29 room hospital bed facility crammed with three beds per room. Huntington Park is also home the seedy. Several years ago the Los Angeles Times reported that under orders from the Mexican Mafia, Huntington Park gang members allegedly patrolled this neighborhood to “cleanse” it by assaulting and killing members of rival black gangs. At the same time, the Latino gang also allegedly sold large quantities of drugs, and in some cases guns, to blacks, including Crips gang members. In short this is the complex and contradictory picture of life in which race, drugs and gangs endlessly crash.

This intersection of this life meets at the crossroads of Pacific Boulevard and East Slauson Avenue. This intersection is home to the Community Hospital of Huntington Park. The Community Hospital of Huntington Park is not pristine and suffers from a lack of modern technology commonly afforded to more affluent communities. Its lobby is a hallway with chairs. The cardiology room also serves as both the doctor’s lounge and storage. A nurse’s station is housed in an abandoned hospital room and has single bed where one can quickly nap between the uneven flow of medical emergencies. Guards represent the ying and yang of life, as they are the final barrier between the day’s hardened push and the life saving medical professionals dedicated to this community. It is within these unassuming walls that medical professionals dance to life’s seemingly absurd beat.

From my perspective, most rooms were really space with curtains sectioning off areas containing three beds. On this day, room 12 piqued my curiosity, as only two of three areas were filled. Yet it was the section on the left which caught my attention. Therein lay a young woman, whom I’ll call Maria. Maria was a young beautiful Latina, long brown hair with evenly toned skin. She should have been filled with life, yet barely clung to life. Beside the aged equipment registering her vital signs was a nurse who sat attentively, but gently holding Maria’s hand. Every other minute, she would lean in and whisper words of love, “You are important to me,” “You are loved” and “You will always be here in my heart.”

From an initial perspective, one would presume this nurse was simply a friend or family member. As I did with much of life, I quietly sighed and moved on to other medical units, including cardiology, physical therapy and crisscrossed back. The return trip drew me once again past room 12. Looking in, I came to a sudden stop. This time, there was a different nurse, doing the exactly the same as the prior nurse.

Curious, I queried passing medical staff. It appears Maria was an immigrant and had no known family. And while I do not know all the details, she was dying. Regardless of the reason, it’s not uncommon for the staff to attend such individuals in shifts so the severely injured will always have someone with them should God call. But for these nurses, it seemed to be a personal motto that no one died alone … no one!

I passed room 12 one final time. My last visitation saw several nurses holding hands together, softly singing Maria:

There let the way appear, steps unto heaven;

all that thou sendest me, in mercy given;

angels to beckon me

nearer, my God, to thee;

nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

 One of the reasons I am Buddhist could be manifested in Brendan Manning’s brilliant quote :

The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians; who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

I’m amazed to find how God still found a way to love Maria. In the end, there was no deathbed visitation, no miraculous cure, no awakening. There was no one waiting, no family members, no friend or known lover. All there was were these three nurses, joining hands, singing to Maria a 19th century Christian Hymn, with a true sense of compassion straight from the heart with the only faith they knew.

These are Christians, the Muslims, Buddhists or atheists we need to be.



Categories: Faith & Doubt

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