Take Your Medicine

I’m not sure how many of you still do the Santa/Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy thing with your kids so, before you read this, put the kids to bed. Personally, we have Krampus visit the kids every year on December 5 and beat them with a stick. It’s a nice contrast to the happy-happy-joy-joy atmosphere hanging over the season. I digress…

Hellboy II: The Golden Army is a great movie. You could disagree with me, but you’d be wrong. Yeah, I know, the fanboys disliked it. But a scene early in the movie portrays tooth fairies as ravenous little creatures that devour humans entirely. And they do it to get to the teeth because teeth are their favorite food. It’s a great scene. But these tooth fairies are in stark contrast to the tooth fairy we tell our kids about. The tooth fairy who visits my kids is a nice fairy who quietly replaces a tooth with money. Well, that is when the tooth fairy doesn’t go to bed too early and forget to visit the kids. You see, when someone mentions the tooth fairy to me, I have a whole lot of thoughts, feelings, and imagery attached to “tooth fairy”. If I sell the tooth fairy as the Guillermo del Toro creatures in Hellboy, my kids are never going to sleep. Ever. In fact, they would likely burst into tears every time they lost a tooth. But, because I’m not a complete monster (save the December 5 appearance of Krampus), the tooth fairy is something to anticipate with eagerness. The words we use to describe things like the tooth fairy have power; the power to entertain or terrify. Sin is really no different. Now look, I’m not saying there’s no such thing as sin. But I am saying that the way we talk about it has power to heal us or poison us.

One way spiritual fathers are described by the earliest Church Fathers is, “Doctor.” Sts. John (of the Ladder), Symeon (the New Theologian), Athanasius, and John (Chrysostom), to name just a few, favored the term iatros (γιατρός) to describe those who provide spiritual guidance. This imagery comes to them from the scriptures, primarily from Jesus’ own mouth. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” That’s the Gospel of Mark 2:17, in case you’re interested. If sin is sickness, then what is needed is a doctor, not a prosecutor bringing charges against the sinner.

I would very much appreciate it if my Christian brothers and sisters would start conceiving of sin as a virus. As with a virus, we aren’t aware there is a problem until the symptoms begin to appear. The stuff that we consider sin (behavior) is symptomatic of some more insidious disease. Addiction is not a primary issue. It is always a symptom of something deeper, be it pride, shame, or anger. Telling an addict to stop using because it’s a sin does nothing to fix the problem. More often than not, it eventually causes the user to double down on their addiction. Humans are complicated creatures. We all get out of whack. Sometimes it’s something that is done to us and sometimes it is something we have done to ourselves. Getting well is not just good for us but for everyone around us. Our sickness will inevitably infect others if we don’t treat it.

Funny thing about epidemics, when the flu is being passed around and we see our coworkers suffering with coughing, sniffling, and every other misery, do we tell them to stop being sick? Of course we don’t. Mostly, we bitch and commiserate. We share our own tales of woe and perhaps share some ideas for easing the suffering. And if we’re really empathetic, we even offer to help those who are sick. If sin is sickness, we can see it in ourselves and perhaps join with those who are suffering. Perhaps we commiserate. Perhaps we offer some comfort. At the very least, we can empathize with the suffering because we suffer too.

If your minister, priest, spiritual director, yogi, or whatever, is not getting to the root of your pain, demand better medicine. If you are a person who holds some spiritual authority, be careful to take your own medicine (“Physician, heal thyself!”) or find someone who will give you good medicine. Oh, and for the record, judgement is just shit for medicine. Try mercy. That’s about as close to a panacea as you’ll ever find.

 

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