By Angela S. Duncan (M.Div. ’03)
2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he (Jesus) was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:2-5 (NRSV)
In 2000, my final call to seminary came during a very tumultuous time in my life. I say “final” only because a decade earlier I had received my initial call, but chose then not to follow it. Instead, I would continue consulting for an international healthcare IT company. My consulting assignments began with new installations and gradually transitioned into working with customers experiencing crisis situations. Their computer systems were crashing and burning, or otherwise in deep systems trouble. My company would ask me why I had so often been successful in handling these tough cases. I would answer, “It’s about the people. If you ask people what’s wrong, and then listen intently, usually they will point you in the right direction.” In one of my final assignments, the project manager blurted out that his daughter suffered from bipolar disorder, and that he had reached his wit’s end about how to cope with the illness and the damage it was causing the whole family. This family was experiencing a systems failure. Thereafter, I found that I was able to leverage my approach to solving IT systems dilemmas into empathic support for the people directly and emotionally impacted by systemic human dilemmas too.
Fast-forward to: seminary, pastoral care, ethics and hospital chaplaincy within an urban academic medical center. Here, I am able to leverage supportive emotional and spiritual care for people who are “crashing and burning” in crises, but, sadly in too many cases, within the context of also witnessing health inequities, treatment disparities, and a widespread lack of adequate healthcare access. Very quickly my ethical challenge became this: How does one harmoniously co-exist with a vast and resistant system, while simultaneously agitating for positive change? This is a challenge I continue to confront, and a change I continue to pursue, to this very day.
When Jesus called his disciples, they were already doing the work. Jesus just changed the nature of their work. The gospels show us how Jesus called men and woman, as Dr. Katie G. Cannon says, “to do the work our souls must have.” God’s great succession plan involves the calling of disciples from the work we are already doing, to receiving the on-the-job training we most certainly will get, as we follow and continue the work of Jesus.
And so, like every disciple who has come before, my whole life has prepared me for the work that God is calling me to today. My time in seminary helped to prepare me for doing this work more effectively. My mother routinely admonishes her children to, “Hold Down Your Corner!” She says, “Always make sure you are doing your part to make this world a better place.”
Like the quartet who held the four corners of the pallet of the paralyzed man as he was lowered into the hands of Jesus, I continually strive to Hold Down My Corner!