Diagnosticians, Clinicians, and Cheerleaders

May 29, 2022

I have waited, watched, and listened as much as possible over the past couple of weeks, following the shootings at the Topps Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York, the shooting at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, California, and now at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.  

I have listened for the facts of each case – some ‘facts’ less factual than others once the chaos came to order.  Oh, the diagnosticians are out there; the diagnosis runs the gamut from mental illness, to heightened age requirements, to background checks, to imposing liabilities on parents and gun shop owners.  Everyone seems to have a linear and specific diagnosis.

I have listened to the cries of anguish wrenched from the hearts of the bereaved and have listened to the clinicians in their expressions of sympathy, candle-light vigils, building of flowered and stuff animal filled shrines to the victims, thoughts and prayers, platitudes and promises.

I have listened as politicians and activists’ groups cheerlead their particular ‘teams,’ grabbing microphones and placards to vent their frustration and rage in an effort to upend each other and throw blame at anyone but themselves.

I have watched and waited…watched to see what would happen next…waited to see if people would actually take their diagnoses, their clinical compassion and their cheerleading and collaborate on a solution; something requiring the setting aside their agendas, egos, and excuses and actually listening to each other; it has proved only to disappoint.

Because, you see, though we diagnosis, offer solace, and cheer our ‘cause,’ no one is willing to assume responsibility for what has happened.

And the truth is, these tragedies are on all of us.  

It reminds me of a particular incident in John 5:1-15.  

The man in the account had been sick for 38 years!  His friends had faithfully carried him to the pool of Bethsaida within the five porticoes of the Sheep Gate probably for most, if not all, of those 38 years.  They apparently would just drop him off and leave. The may even have cheered him on: “this time is your time!”  “you’ll make it this time”. “we’ll see you later – good luck!”  And the man was on his own. 

I often wondered why the friends didn’t do more.  

Why didn’t they place him closer to the pool?  Why didn’t they stay to help him get into the water in time?  Surely they must have known there was a problem – I mean 38 years and no change?  But they did what they could, right? And probably felt righteous about their efforts…

Then Jesus comes along…not only is He the diagnostician but He is also the clinician.  He knows the man has been there a long time.  He knows the man desires healing.  He knows what needs to be done.  He also knows the man needs to do more than just lie there complaining and making excuses for his illness.  

So He asks the man: “do you want to be well?”  

Are you kidding?  Seems like a no brainer!  Of course he wants to be made well! And the fault finding and whining begins!

What is Jesus’ response? Stand up!  Take up your mat and walk!  

He ignores the excuses and instead commands personal empowerment!

Take action.  Be accountable for your own healing.  Don’t blame your condition on others.  Stand up!  

And the man did!

Now this isn’t the end of the account!  Later Jesus saw the man again and acknowledged his healing – yet the acknowledgment came with a mandate: basically, live differently; don’t let your guard down and become apathetic, so that nothing worse happens.  We can only hope that the man heeded Jesus’ words!

Why does this story come to mind in light of recent events?

We as a people have failed to claim our own responsibility for the tragedies threatening to overwhelm us.

We know we have a problem, we want something different, but no one seems to be doing anything.

Rather than assuming personal accountability for healing the paralyzing violence rocking our nation, we blame others.

Oh, sure, we have cheerleader friends who will protest, write letters, and the like, but at the end of the day, the letters are discounted, the placards left trampled on the ground, and civic protest becomes just so much more white noise and an irritation to the other side which makes ‘those people’ more entrenched in their own positions.

We have expert diagnosticians who make arguments in the best interest of those who fund their efforts.  There are expert clinicians who assume authority over situations without ever spending meaningful time listening to the victims and perpetrators.  Since all the ‘experts’ are at odds, their credibility is lacking.

Even compassion seems biased as some make excuses for the perpetrators; others use the victims as ‘pet rocks’ in their clinical debates.

And Jesus asks:  Do you want to be well?  

Jesus’ ministry of healing and transformation is a ministry of active listening, empowerment, and personal accountability.  

You want to be healed – then stand up!

For us, the standing up and accountability piece involves active participation in the selection of our leadership and a willingness to come alongside those in need of our support. This is not the time to whine and make excuses that we can’t possibly make a difference – after all, we are just ‘one person.’

Nothing will change if ‘those at the top’ remain there because, though the populace might be unhappy and frustrated with their leadership (or lack thereof), those folks know constituent complacency is typically a given and protests are oftentimes no more than fleeting tantrums.  As has been proven, we unfortunately have an attention span one second less than that of a goldfish!

Stand up, Jesus says.  If you want to be healed, stand up.  

Get involved.  

Vote.

Run for office!  

Participate in the healing, don’t leave others at the pool and hope they make it in.  

Be willing to gracefully listen to ‘the opponent;’ hear what they have to say.  You don’t have to agree with them, but if Jesus could honor others by listening to them, shouldn’t we?  When people feel heard, they are more apt to participate in a workable solution. 

As long as we are content to complain and protest, and let it end there – nothing will ever change.  People will still be murdered. Grandfathers will never make it home with their three-year-old grandson’s birthday cake. Doctors will never leave the church celebration to serve patients another day.  Children will never make it home from their awards ceremonies, dreaming of what the future might hold for them.

There will always be someone else to blame for our illnesses but will that heal us? Ask the man at the pool of Bethsaida.

I, and perhaps you, need to do more than listen, watch and wait.

It’s time to stand up and walk!

Only then can we make it to the pool of God’s healing waters together and begin again. 

But be mindful of Jesus’ cautionary word: be careful. Relapse (complacency) is never a good or healthy thing!

And to God be the glory! AMEN.

Published by Pastor Catharine

Retired ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I have a Master's of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (with an emphasis on Spiritual Transformation of Community) from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

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