Monday, January 09, 2012

more than a month has gone by since surgery

I hope to not need cataract removal surgery again, or at least for a very long time.  I could write a bit about the experience, though I'm not sure it would be for the faint of heart.  The part where in the preparation for surgery I got various doses of anesthesia culminated in two needles.  One punched through the base of my eye with a drug to kill pain and something to shut down the muscles around the eye.  The other, though my eye was dilated to the extreme, seemed to be a needle that punched through my pupil to insert a drug that would shut down my optic nerve. 

After a macular detachment and getting cataract removal surgery I have come to realize that I never have need to take hallunagenic drugs.  An old high school buddy was mortified to discover the things he saw dropping acid were things I saw with a retinal detachment while in his case the explanation was the roasting of his brain cells. 

Things have been healing up nicely.  I can still see the incision made in my eye if I move an eyelid and adjust my gaze.  No photos of the surgery or its aftermath.  Almost too bad.  I kind of wish I had photos of me after my scleral buckle operation but my family declined.  I said, "This looks kinda cool.  I almost look like Two-Face this way."  My family agreed, which was exactly why they never took photos because they didn't agree with "This looks kinda cool."  Oh well, such is life, huh?

When I wrote some friends and family to describe what eye surgery was like in more detail they said it came off as grim and scary.  I thought what I was writing was funny but perhaps the humor was dehydrated.  I am altogether glad that the surgery went well and I can see out of both eyes about as clear as one could hope to given my circumstances.  It sticks with me that the field of medicine that has permitted me to see is a practice that is not even a century old.  Obviously I'm not referring to cataract removal surgery.  J. S. Bach underwent cataract removal surgery and it went ... badly. 

I take some amusement from the realization that I have spent a few years working on a big contrapuntal cycle where the work was slowed down and interrupted by some problems that had to be dealt with by eye surgery.  If all it took to be a good composer was sharing J. S. Bach's eye trouble late in life then I'm overdue to be a good composer!  Of course that's obviously and naturally not how things work out.  At least one opthamologist has suggested Bach may have had a retinal detachment.  I'll have to consider that speculative for now. I know that a detachment can be a risk in cataract surgery and that Taylor, though widely lauded in his day, had methods that were terribly sub-par.  After all, Bach did die after two operations.  I'm grateful the surgeons who helped me out were centuries ahead of John Taylor in every respect!  I should probably be able to finish my contrapuntal cycle but can't imagine it holding a candle to Bach's work even on his worst day.

You don't realize how automatically your tear ducts respond to stimuli until you decide to cut four red onions in a cooking project and the tear ducts in one of your eyes ... don't ... quite work.  Normally cayenne pepper plays a substantial role in any of my cooking.  I eased back a bit in the month after surgery.  You don't have to make too many guesses why. 

I'm going to take a little digression here to consider the miracles Jesus performed.  N. T. Wright in his book Jesus & the Victory of God discussed how Jesus' healings restored people who were marginal citizens to an ability to live, work, and worship when they had been barred from participation.  If you go back and peruse the laws there were any number of physical defects that could limit where you could go and who you could be with.  There were also things that made you ceremonially unclean or unclean in a more blunt way, the way that had you outside the camp to prevent the spread of communicable disease and leprosy and all that. 

So while Jesus preached the good news and provide eternal life we can't skate past the economic significance of Jesus healing a man blind from birth, or a leper, or a man who was crippled for decades. People with disabilities, and particularly extreme disabilities, can find it challenging to find work and keep working even today.  Imagine how things would go two millenia ago if you were an otherwise healthy man who got a cataract.  In our day cataract removal surgery is a "relatively" simple affair despite it being a very invasive type of surgery.  If someone spends an hour cumulatively durgging up a third of your face before inserting an ultrasonic drill into your eye that's invasive! 

Some friends of mine have discussed what has to be considered a failure of missionary work in Africa.  The failure is not that nobody converted to Christianity.  No, the failure could be considered that the places where the greatest missionary success occurred in the last fifty years now have the highest incidence of HIV infections and the highest proportion of orphans in a given population.  If Jesus preached "good news to the poor" then exporting Western style Christianity, let alone American style Christianity, seems to have had some disastrous effects.  I could attempt to field what kind of "Christianity" Americans and Westerners exported to Africa but that should properlly be saved for some other time. 

What I do want to round up with is an observation that the healings Jesus performed were on people who would have been poor, in many cases, because they had physical deformities and troubles that fenced them out of normal society.  Hearing about "eternal life" was not necessarily the only reason people flocked to Him.  They heard He cured people.  A person born blind who is able to see is able to work in ways that weren't possible before.  A person crippled for decades would not be in a position to work.  We live in a society in which people with disabilities can work jobs. 

Rewind back two millenia and imagine what a bum leg could do in an agrarian society.  In a society such as ours that takes medical breakthroughs for granted we will tend to want to camp out on the "spiritual" and doctrinal implications of Jesus' healing work as a sign that He was God, from God, and teaching the truth.  We do not necessarily appreciate that the evangelists may have been explicitly linking physical healing with good news being preached to the poor as a unified campaign.  The physical freedom to work the kinds of jobs you could not have done before is still good news for the poor.  Is that a problem because that leads to "works"?  No, not unless you're such a Pharisee about "works" that you paradoxically have to shift attention away from an obvious implication of Jesus' life and work, that there is a freedom to work for the blind and deaf that would be able to lift them up ever so slightly from being poor. 

Yet there are Christians who can take a rather dim view of the medical profession.  I don't wish to get into all the reasons for that but it will suffice for me to have implied the various reasons why I don't hold to that view myself.  Jesus healed the blind and the blind were able to stop being beggars.  Eye surgeons have kept me from going blind and that has helped me (though not lately, I must admit) spend many years being gainfully employed.  It's not the fault of eye surgeons the job market is sketchy.  The physical healing that is part of the good news being preached to the poor goes beyond just words like "Your sins are forgiven."  Jesus Himself said that anyone could say "Your sins are forgiven." but to prove that He could truly do so He physically healed a man. 

Able-bodied people so often take that ability for granted they may not always appreciate the significance of bodily limitations.  Some may discover this at some point and lean toward an open theism in which God has a handicap so He seems more relatable when what is going on is that they are facing down aspects of mortality.  Others may go in another direction, discussing the spiritual significance of Jesus' teaching being the core of His message while forgetting the economic significance of Jesus' healings.  If Jesus had taught He was the Way, the Truth, and the Light and yet healed no one would this have been good news preached to the poor? 

Would such a Jesus who was unable to heal but preached what Jesus is shown preaching in the Gospels have garnered a following?  Well, maybe but given the claims attributed to Jesus by the evangelists Jesus would have been killed a whole lot faster.  Or Jesus would have been an ineffectual nobody.  Atheists, of course, have at times pointed out no third-hand independent evidence for Jesus exists but I'm not here to go into those various rabbit trails.  I'm here simply considering a problem in attempting to frame Jesus' life and teaching in a way that can overlook what the evangelists are implicitly telling us about the nature of the good news preached to the poor.  As James put it in his epistle, if you see a brother in need and in poverty and say "Be well fed, and keep warm" what good is that?  If Jesus had said "I am the Way, the Turth, and the Light" and healed no one what kind of light, way, and truth would He have been? 

Now that I have had two different kinds of eye surgery on two eyes I've had some time to mull over how the healings of Jesus sometimes seem to be a springboard for at least some Christians jumping straight from the healings to Jesus being God.  The bit about good news to the captives and good news for the poor ... that's a nice theological abstraction to share from the pulpit.  That good news for those captive in the frailties of their own bodies and good news for those made poor by those frailties is not simply a matter of saying, "Oh, well, believe on Jesus and after you're dead you get a resurrection body." Jesus did something.  We, as Christians, should be willing to do something, too, if it is in our ability.  I here refer not to supernatural means, obviously, but to a disposition to help those when we are able.  We may have to be careful about how, when, how often, and the like, but nobody said discerning those times would be easy. 

I don't intend this as a political or economic statement but American Christians who would like to talk about the spiritual significance of Jesus' healings and only assess that in purely doctrinal terms may forget that Jesus was giving people the power to work.  I'm biased, yes, because I'm unemployed and because I've had vision troubles that have precluded me from certain types of work. So I'm not going to pretend I don't have an agenda.  If Jesus' healings gave people in His day physical restoration that would let them work I'm going to steer you toward an understanding of what that could mean now. 
Good news for the poor" may not be "economic justice" in the way the left or right might use the term, but if I recast things by noting that the physical healings Jesus performed had economic consequences in the lives of those He healed that might at least be something to think about. 

No comments: