A Humanizing Ministry

I lost two grandmothers to Alzheimer’s – “the long goodbye” as they say.  The first one, my Pappaw survived and tried to nurse to the end.  Bless his heart; he struggled so hard to care for her.  The second outlived Grandpa for several years, though the lights were dimming pretty much from the day he died.

Alzheimer’s.  Such a dreaded disease.  I saw it in last night’s news, since research is showing promise for thwarting it with healthy living while we are young.  But it is only news because it affects so many people and does so in such a damaging way.  Memory loss that breaks a person down slowly into a creature only barely resembling the human that once was there.

I see a lot there in common with street homeless.

What does it mean to be human?

I remember taking a course in school that asked this question.  We looked at it from scientific and philosophic lenses.  If I lost my right arm in a car accident, would I still be human?  What if I got a robot arm in it’s place?  Would I still be human?

We all answered, YES.  Yes, you are still human even with the loss of an arm.  Yes, you are still human even if you use a robotic arm in its place.

Okay.  What if we take one neuron out of your brain and replace it with one computer chip.  Would you still be human?

Yes.  We said you would still be human.

What if we replaced exactly 50% of your neurons with circuit chips?  Would you still be human?

We said yes to this too, but it was suddenly becoming a troubling notion.

What if we built a robot out of chips and bits?  Would it be human?

We said, No.

What if we replaced 99% of the neurons in Agent X’s brain with chips?

The class then couldn’t decide if that would be BBQ or Jalapeno chips!  It was hard to give up the humanity of that last neuron, but we effectively had a robot on our hands, and that just is not truly human.

But what if we program the robot to express emotions, to calculate thoughts?  Well, this was a bit troubling too, and raised ethical questions, but the consensus was that this still was not a human.

So what makes a creature – human?  Who decides?  And in the world of tomorrow – and already even today – these questions become less and less abstract and erudite.  They become personal for many of us.

The conclusion I have come to is that creatures who bear the image of God are the truly human creatures.  Creatures made by God for that exact purpose (Gen. 1:26-27) are the truly human creatures.  It is a specific community of creature at the nucleus.  The human male and the human female together bear the image of God.  Any variance on this proves less than fully human.  Sin has tarnished the image.

Of course “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” as St. Paul tells us.(Rom. 3:23), and God provides grace for us.  This suggests there is a potential for our humanity that we presently lack (all of us lack it).  And so we “human” creatures live in a tension between being fully human or being animalistic.  And there are many, many varied forces at work pulling us into different kinds of animalist forms.  Not least being idolatry.  But this post is not intended to exhaust all the causes for this phenom.

Instead, this post is about humanizing ministry, and I started by considering my grandparents suffering with Alzheimer’s.  I will not tell of all the indignities my grandmothers suffered, but a few common to the disease are poor hygiene, paranoia, stripping and running naked, soiling one’s self, and the decimation of interpersonal relationships.  How much of that do you see in common with street homelessness?

I remember discussing my Mammaw with my cousin one evening as we lamented her condition.  She had been such a dignified lady in her youth, her middle age, even in the early years of her old age.  She was a precious grandmother to us, a wife and home-maker, a friend to many, well dressed, articulate, hospitable, and caring.  But Alzheimer’s took all of that, and we called in professional help who, in part, kept her out of sight as part of their program to keep her safe and manage her dignity, because she had become animalistic.

How might we humanize her?

It was clear that full healing and redemption were beyond our power.  If God would intervene, we would have been happy to offer the prayer and healing touch, but that is all God’s prerogative, and he had not moved in that way.

All that was left for us was to leave her to the professionals – effectively ignore her and hope the problem would go away.

But actually, there was another option.  One that was so stark it almost did not get noticed.  We could take her HOME.  We could, if we were so willing and loving, sacrifice deeply to love her ourselves, to keep her at home and bathe her, feed her, comfort her, and all the millions of little exhausting things that go with it.  If we so chose to cook her old recipes, set her table and seat her at it with the rest of her family, we could humanize her.

It would cost us everything to do it.  Our life would never be the same, nor would it be our own.  Instead, minute by minute we would have to remind her where she is, who she is, to eat the potatoes and not take her clothes off at the table.  To reassure her a million times a night that the door is locked and she is safe.  To purchase her favorite perfume and apply it to her, to read to her from the Bible and her beloved Reader’s Digest.  And to put up with her suspicion and resistance at every turn with complete patience and grace.

If we did all that, we would still have our Mammaw – or at least we would humanize the creature we were losing in a love that is only divine.

It was an option.  Like it or not.  And of course, NOT.  But it was, and for many of us still is, an option.  An option that will kill us if we take it.  But an option in which we – yes WE – begin to bear the image of God as we die.  And that too is something divine; just look at Jesus (Mark 15:39).

I am sure we would still fall short of the glory of God.  But how might we at least consider moving in that direction?

My Mammaw was a sweet lady who did NOTHING to deserve her fate.  But we agonized over the long goodbye with her all the same.  We called in the professionals, and still we suffered as did she.  But no one ever faulted us in the slightest – nor her for that matter.  And yet we could have done more.

And I see so very much in common between her experience and that of the street homeless.  The fact is: humans need a HOME.  Home is humanizing.  And humanizing is ministry.

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7 comments

  1. Agent X · 27 Days Ago

    This comment from one of my readers:

    Very tough subject. Beware of easy answers. Some have been emphatic that “Mamwaw” was markedly happier in her nursing facility – also noted after her return following “visits” back to home. Similarly, my own graduate school research into “daycare for children” presumed child would be better off at home over daycare. My research revealed that just wasn’t always the case. In fact some homes are regrettably markedly inferior to a standard daycare. Yet, again the advanced nursing care some clients require exceed the abilities of most families. No one answer fits all.

    Sometimes love is NOT enough. Blessings

    OBTW my own excursion into nursing homes has shown me caretakers who are marginal and others whose passion exceeds standard professional ethics (they truly care).

    Like

    • Agent X · 27 Days Ago

      Yes, a tough subject.

      Definitely NOT offering easy answers here. A nursing home, a homeless shelter – these things are not easy, but far easier than the answers I would have us explore.

      As for Mammaw being happier in the nursing home, I am aware that some viewed her that way (and with good reason) but since the alternative I suggest was not even tried I figure has not been out argued. In fact, I am aware that it is arguable that she was more humanized by the nursing home than by her family – which is a sad thought – and would explain your observation if true. And do so without refuting mine.

      At this point your are taking this post into the direction of ‘lesser of two (or more) evils” as opposed to humanizing. If HOME is not humanizing people (which is a real possible issue), then it is better to go to the nursing home or the shelter. (or day care), but if HOME is doing its job (or even striving for it as I would suggest) then that is better.

      As for day care… This, largely an invention of the modern world is a fix for modern problems. However, those modern problems are a by product of dehumanization on other fronts. If, on the other hand, we live in an agrarian society we would have plenty of child care at home along with elderly care (and in fact those two would largely help one another AT HOME – a home buzzing with grandparents, parents, siblings, kids, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

      Am I promoting turning back the clock?

      No. That would be impossible. And besides, there were problems with that world too, but they weren’t the same as what we have since invented for ourselves.

      No. Instead, I am wondering how the church might take this kind of knowledge from Scripture and from the past and rework it into the Body of Christ. And after all, a CRUCIFIED MESSIAH is God’s answer to all the world’s problems.

      How can a CRUCIFIED MESSIAH be that? I figure that is something we need to be working out as his body. It might even involve a version of day care, but I wonder what cruciform day care would be. How can the church be to those dehumanized souls a humanizing ministry?

      Not suggesting any kind of EASY answer here.

      Like

  2. Debi · 25 Days Ago

    Hello, my friend. I would like to ask if you are willing to look at the situation with your grandmothers in a different way…

    Just because they did not recognize you, did things that weren’t socially acceptable, etc., were they not still human? Of course they were!

    In cases like these, we mourn what *we* have lost, but have those affected by Alzheimer’s, dementia, etc., really left humanity, or have they simply gone to another place that is just as real to them, even though we cannot go with them? No doubt God is still with them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agent X · 25 Days Ago

      Debi!

      Thanx for commenting. I have missed you.

      I hesitate to respond to this actually because I have great sympathy with your response at some important points, but my view is not changed. I fear my response will amount to ‘semantics” or something.

      If I rephrase it like this, MAYBE it will help.

      I see Alzheimer’s as deeply dehumanizing. It robs the affected person of their full humanity and human dignity.

      I totally agree that God is “still with them” as you put it. I am certain God loves them and wants us to love them. But God does this with sinners – and we are all that already. This is just one very visible way we creatures created to be human are dehumanized. I believe the LOVE we give to the victims of this disease rehumanizes them – if that is possible, and humanizes us for the sacrificial love we give them.

      I hope this response brings clarity. But I remain open to being argued further or to leave it in a respectful disagreement if need be.

      Thanx so much for visiting and commenting. I especially appreciate your willingness to challenge my view.

      X

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  3. Debi · 25 Days Ago

    On another subject, you wrote “The human male and the human female together bear the image of God. Any variance on this proves less than fully human.” I want to challenge your statement by reminding you that some are born “intersex.” By your statement, you have dehumanized them. I doubt that was your intent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agent X · 25 Days Ago

      )I never met anyone who divulged to me that they had this condition, though I sense it is something of a spectrum really. I have met men who (as far as I know) are fully men but have effeminate mannerisms or features despite that. Women too (going the other way). And I am not talking about due to surgery. I mean actually born with this condition.

      Biblically speaking, it is clear to me that this kind of thing is not God’s perfect design as was made In THE BEGINNING. This is a condition that happened after “the fall”.

      I would not say that a person dealing with this is sinful because of it, but I can imagine that God might say so. I am aware that according to Jesus’ words on divorce that when a man leaves his wife he makes her an adulterer (Matt. 5:32). This is not fair, it seems to me. The woman is an adulterer due to the sins of her husband? It’s beyond me.

      I just know that the original man and woman (before they sinned) are the ideal human image bearing creature. We aspire to that. Whatever barriers there are: between us and attaining that ideal are not barriers between us and the love of God however (Rom. 8:35-39).

      Can I live in a less-than-I-was-ment-to-be state and still have value and love of God? Yes. Does that mean I am fully human? No.

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  4. Agent X · 24 Days Ago

    This just in from a regular reader:

    Nursing homes, restaurants, and all human institutions stand in need of becoming places that are themselves more “like home” … I’d include churches. Really good customer service means befriending each of us so we become know by name – not table 12 or room 15.

    We don’t refuse to eat out, in fact most all of us like being doted on….”When your here you’re family!” The answer I don’t believe is in doing away with cafes or even banks. It’s in our treating our sales person like a friend or family member, or fellow parishioners as brothers and sisters even mothers and fathers (the Apostle will say). And, they of course treating us like old friends.

    It might be well to think more archaeologically about ancient homes wherein the stock slept next to the masters, the married children (boys in Israel, girls among Navajos) didn’t leave home but lived under an expanded roof.

    O my….

    Like

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