In church, they preached from the lectionary. (“A lectionary is a book or listing that contains a collection of scripture readings appointed for Christian or Judaic worship on a given day or occasion.” Wikipedia) The lectionary presents the same scripture readings over and over again. Year after year I sat in church and listened to the stories of the prodigal son, the man who buried his talents, and the paralyzed man who was laid before Jesus. Now I was getting the whole story, the big picture, and it was very different. One passage that struck me most powerfully was Matthew 25 where Jesus says “I was hungry . . . I was thirsty . . . I was a stranger . . . I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison [what else is an inpatient psychiatric unit with its locked doors?] and you came to visit me.’
My sisters, two of whom were ordained Methodist ministers, had never visited me in the hospital/prison or cared for me as I became physically sicker and sicker. They said I was asking too much of them.
The question came back, “When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”
And Jesus’ answer was “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Or not, as the case may be.
But the really interesting thing was what came before and after:
“All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’”
Looking after the sick and imprisoned is not just a suggestion, a good idea. It is a command from God and if you don’t obey then you go to hell.
Well, how about them apples? My dearly beloved ordained sisters were wrong. I had a right to expect them to care for me. As a human being, a person, a creation of God, I was supposed to be taken care of when I was needful.
The first and most important thing I got from reading the Holy Bible was self-respect. I was valuable and should be treated right—which brings us back to being a wholly owned subsidiary of The State.
Being totally poor (most people don’t realize it but being on Social Security Disability puts you below the poverty line), I traveled to medical appointments by Medicaid transportation, which meant I had to call and schedule rides. It was 2001 and the Onondaga County Dept. of Social Services had given the dispatch contract to some agency that was somehow connected to the local medical society. I didn’t know anything about that; all I knew was that when I called for a ride I always seemed to get the same woman. She was young and a bully. She was nasty and demanded information that I didn’t have nor should have been expected to have. She would frequently slam me onto “hold” without warning or explanation. One day she kept me tying up the phone in my doctor’s office for nearly half an hour with her repeated holds. She was surly, unreasonable, illogical and a total bitch.
I finally filed a complaint against her with her supervisor. The supervisor backed the girl and denied my complaint. I had to deal with this nasty girl several times a week and it upset me terribly. Coming off a quarter of a century of antidepressants, I was pretty fragile and easily pushed into tears and depression, so I called the supervisor’s supervisor, who gave me the same line as the supervisor.
Then one day I was lying in bed in my little efficiency apartment in Loretto. My home health aide du jour—Kathy, a big, blousy redhead—was working in the kitchen. I placed a call to order Medicaid transportation and got The Bitch, again. After the call, I started crying—and my aide started yelling at me. She said, “You’ve got to do something about this! If she’s treating you this way then she’s treating everybody this way! You are smart enough and strong enough to do something about it and you have to!”
In the world of ordained ministers there is much talk about “the call,” the moment when you heard the voice of God calling you into the ministry. My friend Keith was an art therapist working in an institution that did not value him or treat him right. He was talking this over with his wife one day and she said, “Why don’t you go into the ministry?” That was his call.
The call often doesn’t come with a slash of lightning or doves descending from heaven. It’s just a phrase, a sentence, that doesn’t leave your mind. It keeps coming back and nudging at you, demanding that you pay attention, listen, act. Keith entered a theological seminary and became a pastor, later becoming the Reverend Doctor Haverkamp. And Kathy, working in my kitchen, yelled, “You’ve got to do something about this! If she’s treating you this way then she’s treating everybody this way! You are smart enough and strong enough to do something about it and you have to!”
And I was called by God to a ministry of activism on behalf of people who are old, poor and/or sick, and I didn’t know it.