Weakness

March 20, 2021

In matters pertaining to healing, the Church has grown notably weak. In order to see that, let’s start by looking at an area where we’re strong.

What Strength Looks Like

We are strong in basic education. We have always had a substantial number of educated people in our ranks, from earliest days:

  • Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin (John 3:1)
  • Many of the priests were early converts (Acts 6:7)
  • Many of the Ephesian magicians burned their magic books (Acts 19:19)
  • A number of Athenian academics were receptive to Paul (Acts 17:34)

In our the first few centuries after Christ, we rapidly emerged as a cultural leader in education. Today, secular education operates at a higher level than it ever has in human history, and the Church remains a major force to be reckoned with. In many places over the globe, the church/mission school is the only school. In many more, the staff of the government schools are largely Christian, because we’re the ones with a personal sense of mission to the downtrodden and less fortunate, and education is a time-tested vehicle for helping people raise themselves up. We’re such a leader in literacy education, for example, that the (rampantly secular) Rosetta Project used the first few chapters of Genesis as its key text across 1500 languages, because that is the most widely translated text in the entire world. For many languages, they literally didn’t have a choice — nothing but Bible had ever been translated into the language.

Even in the U.S. today, where education is everywhere, Christian schools are a strong presence, and not just for Christians. In many communities, the Christian school is by far the best-quality school in the area. And so in many Christian schools, there is a subset of students that don’t come from Christian families; their parents will cheerfully tell you that their kids are enrolled for the good-quality education. Moreover, our people have been on the cutting edge of training teachers for centuries, from the early monasteries to Laubach literacy training.

This, my friends, is what strength looks like. The world comes to us for the primary product, and for education in producing it, because they need to. Because we’re better at it than they are.

What Weakness Looks Like

Now contrast our track record on education to our track record on human growth and healing. Think about the many needs people have: emotional distress, chronic conditions, acute injuries needing emergency care, long-term debilities that require skilled care, and so on. Where do people go for that? Think about the people who work in health and healing: doctors, nurses, counselors, chiropractors, physical therapists, acupuncturists, massage therapists, and the countless techs — CNAs, phlebotomists, and so on. Where do those people get their education?

Now it’s true that historically, the Church started the  modern healthcare system. We created the hospitals, and the ethic that drives them. Even to this day, many hospitals have a Christian affiliation, even in a notably secular city like Denver. As I write this, the hospital a block from where I’m sitting was started by Lutherans. There’s an Adventist hospital less than two miles away, and another Lutheran hospital further north.

But while some of the institutions are still at least nominally Christian, where do you go to get your education in caring for your fellow humans? Some Christian programs exist, but an overwhelming number of Christians in these fields go to schools run by pagans. Even the Christians who are overtly committed to the Church being the primary agent of healing in society do this. From me (got my bodywork and trauma education from unbelievers) to my sister (counseling degree from Northwestern) on up the ladder to folks like David Field (psychodymanic and person-centered psychotherapy training) and Ed Welch (University of Utah) and (quiet as it’s kept) Jay Adams (Mowrer), the majority of our healing practitioners get their knowledge, and often their credentials, outside the faith. Even more telling, do unbelievers come to the Christian programs because it’s the best education available? They do not.

That is what weakness looks like: we go to them to get certified; they don’t come to us.

What If?

What if we lived in a world where everybody knows that if you really want to heal, you need to go see the Christians? That world once existed, but it no longer does. What has happened, and how shall we remedy it?

What has happened is two things, calling for two different remedies.

First, there’s a sense in which we are victims of our own success. We have shamed the pagans into conforming to our ethic. You don’t have to be a Christian to start a hospital anymore; anybody can see that it’s a good thing to do. That was not obvious to anyone in the ancient world. Back in the day, when the plague came, Galen (the famous Roman doctor) ran for the hills. Christians stayed and cared for the sick, even at risk of their own lives. Doctors move toward the sick today because we taught them to. We did such a good job that now, nobody thinks of doing anything else. Part of what we need to do about this is reclaim credit where it is due. Today’s secular charity is parasitic on two thousand years of Christian values, and we need to point that out. We need to know our own history, and talk about it.

Second, we have gotten lazy. Because we won, because there’s so much cultural momentum behind healing that the church doesn’t have to push it alone anymore, we don’t. But that doesn’t mean there are no frontiers we could be pushing. Where is the existing system failing?

  • Indigent patients who can’t get access to care except at the emergency room, and therefore don’t get any care at all until it becomes an emergency. Can we open a clinic?
  • People with mental health needs who can’t afford care or access to necessary medications. Can we find a way to provide?
  • Long-term care for people with debilitating chronic conditions where the existing medical interventions don’t do much good and frequently come with outsized side effects. Can we bring other approaches to healing?
  • What else? Who are the people around you that are falling through the cracks? What are their needs? Let’s get about it.

An Introduction of Sorts

February 3, 2021

A friend of a friend recently asked me to explain a little about what I do. This seems to be what came out…

Greetings X,

Our mutual friend tells me that you don’t quite know what questions to ask. I sympathize; I have the same problem a lot of the time. Let me see if I can help get the conversation started.  I believe she told you her experience with my work. What I can tell you about that experience, from my side, is that humans are used to being looked at, but we are not accustomed to being seen. When I make myself entirely present to another person, I often know more than I “should” know about the problem, and my hands seem to find their way to helpful places. 

In the same way you can get someone to wash their own face by putting them in front of a mirror, sometimes the human body fixes itself when it’s invited to notice itself. It is very often the case that when I lay on hands and make myself truly present, without doing much of anything, my client’s system responds by reorganizing itself in more healthy ways. There are certainly techniques and disciplines and lots of practice time involved, but how much is human ability and how much divine intervention I couldn’t really say. But then, God never intended us to exercise our abilities without Him, did He?

As to how I might be able to help you, or what your session would look like, I’m afraid I don’t know for certain. Here’s what I can tell you: I will be present. You will of course be present. God will be present. You will be involved, and you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. I am not a mechanic and you are not a car; this is not something I can do to you; this is something we will do together with God’s help.

The value of direct obedience to biblical teaching is hard to overestimate; I expect to pray, lay on hands, anoint with oil. I usually work general to specific, so I’ll likely begin by establishing contact with your system at your shoulders or your feet, noticing the pulses and rhythms in your body, looking for unusual tensions or movements in your visceral cavity or anything out of balance or that draws my attention for some reason. 

From there, we will proceed as seems best to us and the Spirit.

I know that’s not a particularly satisfying answer. It would be nice to give you a definite protocol, some kind of road map for what comes next. But the people with protocols are telling you they can’t find anything wrong. I’m the guy you call when you’re off the edge of the map, and still have to navigate the territory. I don’t have a map either, but I live here, so that’s something.

I didn’t set out to be this person. When God called me into ministry as a junior in high school, I had a picture in my head of what that would entail: an expository preaching ministry in a suburban Bible church. To that end I earned a bachelor’s in Bible, then a Th.M in New Testament. During seminary, I interned in a suburban Bible church in eastern Washington, training in exactly the kind of expository ministry I expected to pursue for the rest of my life. Upon graduation, I worked as a pastor and seminary instructor.

Then Jesus mugged me, and not for the first time. The first time was when He gave me to faithful Christian parents. I came to know Him early, and hardly remember a time when I did not know Jesus as my Savior. The second time was when, as a very angry 16-year-old, I found my life unlivable, and God taught me to forgive. I came to know Him then as a worker of miracles, the one who made me able to forgive when I simply didn’t have the ability.

This time around, the mugging took the form of a surprise: the small suburban Bible church I thought I was planting turned out to be an exit ministry for people leaving a cult. By the time I realized what I had gotten into, I had bonded to the people and didn’t want to quit. Getting the people out of the cult was hard, but doable. Getting the cult out of the people…well, that was another matter. Fast-forward several years, and this teaching pastor and professor had become, of necessity, a pastoral counselor, worship leader, liturgist, and church history teacher. God was just getting started. 

He brought me next to Englewood, and over a period of years and a series of gigs in youth and city ministry, He taught me to obey some verses that, although I’d known them all my life, I’d never quite seen, if you know what I mean. I learned to sing the Psalms. I learned to pray in the manner of the Lord’s Prayer. I learned to tangibly love my literal neighbors. I learned to rejoice, for real, when people slandered me. 

And then God began drawing my attention to a series of passages that talk about laying hands on the sick, praying for healing, anointing with oil. I’m sure you know the passages as well as I do, but for me suddenly the question bubbled up: why don’t we do these things? What would happen if we did? 

Not too long after that, He led me to enroll in massage therapy school. The entire endeavor was ridiculous; I couldn’t afford the money or the time for even the shortest, cheapest program. I told Him “If we’re doing this, then You’re paying for it, and since I know You can afford anything, I’m going to the best school in Denver.” And you know what? He made it happen. 

Massage therapy led to Trauma Touch Therapy, Cranial Sacral Therapy, and an assortment of other modalities, and along the way I learned a few very important things. 

  1. Human attention heals. When one person–the whole person, body and spirit–sets all distractions aside and rests the full weight of their attention on another person, it is amazing how people can heal, even before anyone does anything. It seems that our systems adjust spontaneously in response to being really seen. 
  2. God shows up. His priorities are not mine; He doesn’t always do what I want Him to. But He always shows up, and He always works.  
  3. American Christians need a radical worldview revision. 

That last one was a real kick in the teeth. Most of us live like the world is what the materialists say it is — matter in motion — and then we add an overlay of heaven, hell, biblical miracles, resurrection, and so on. We’re basically materialists with a whitelist of exceptions that allow us to be meaningfully Christian. But no. The world was spoken into existence and is upheld by the Word of God’s power. Even matter isn’t what the materialists think it is; still less the human person. 

Genesis 2 says God made us out of dust and breath; we are a divinely forged union of body and spirit. When I lay my hands on another person, I’m never just touching a body. That fact raises an interesting question. If you have a sore back, obviously my body can work on your body for your benefit. Can my spirit work on your spirit? The materialists think it’s a nonsense question, but it isn’t, is it? 

I pray. I lay on hands. I anoint with oil. God shows up. This is either the church’s first and worst attempt at healing, a primitive medicine long since overshadowed by modern science, or it is a healing ministry God gave to the church, something we should never have stopped doing. 

I think it’s the latter. I invite you to come and find out for yourself.

Blessings, 

Tim