Sunday, April 15, 2007

Graduate school and convicting verses

Before I start in on religion, a bit of personal news: I have been accepted to graduate school! I was initially wait-listed, and very disappointed, but on Tuesday I received word that a place has opened up, and I am in! School starts in the fall. I call it grad school, but really it is an odd chimera of grad school, nursing school, and med school. I've been accepted into a program which takes folks like me, who have a bachelor's degree and no nursing background, and in a few years (four or five, I think) turns them into Nurse Practitioners. For the unenlightened, a Nurse Practitioner is rather like a doctor: she can prescribe medication, practice independently (depending on the state), and function as the primary health care practitioner for any individual. From what I understand after talking to a number of health care practitioners, the biggest different between an NP and an MD is the nature of the training; an NP's training is more patient-focused and an MD's training is more disease-focused. If one is interested in pursuing a specialty, an MD is the way to go, but for someone like me, whose goal in life is to work as a general practitioner with the rural poor, being an NP is just the thing. Needless to say, I am amazingly, overwhelmingly excited and pleased, and will probably be rambling on about this at regular intervals, especially after school starts up (school! yes!).

The greatest impediment to my writing regularly about faith (or anything, really) is that I have so very many ideas that I can never choose which one to write about. Each one looks better than the next, and so like the old man in one of my favorite children's books (Hundreds of cats! Thousands of cats! Millions and billions and trillions of cats!), I never can leave one behind, and therefore become absolutely overwhelmed with the effort.

For now, though, I'd like to offer up a Bible verse that's been kicking around in my head.

Matthew 5:21-22: You have heard that our forefathers were told, “Do not commit murder; anyone who commits murder must be brought to justice.” But what I tell you is this: Anyone who nurses anger against his brother must be brought to justice. Whoever calls his brother “good for nothing” deserves the sentence of the court; whoever calls him “fool” deserves hellfire.

There was a bit of a discussion about these verses in my ecumenical (and sometimes acrimonious) Bible study a few weeks back. Some of us have been eternally puzzled by these verses, especially those of us with siblings. Jesus never seemed to be above some righteous name-calling; he certainly called the scribes and Pharisees a lot worse things than 'fool,' especially around the times when he was hurling tables and laying about with a whip. And surely, calling someone a fool in a moment of anger is not nearly as bad as murder.

So why these verses? Is it a case of 'do what I say, not what I do, because I'm the Son of God?'

I wasn't able to articulate it at the time, but eventually I came up with this, and I'd really like to hear from the Biblical scholars out there whether you think I'm on the right track.

I think these verses aren't referring toangrily calling your little sister a fool when she drives your car into a ditch, but rather about the utter dismissal of another human being that we can all be prone to when we disagree with someone very deeply. This verse convicted me because it is something I catch myself doing, and that I see uncomfortably often in my happy liberal community. I'll use George Bush as an example, as he's very convenient. I'll be the first to admit that I disagree with George Bush on almost any point of politics that you care to name. Yet it can't be very charitable of me when I sneer at his voice on the radio, or roll my eyes and mutter 'that idiot' every time I read a quote, without giving him even the chance to make himself heard.

There's a certain awful dismissal that one can give to another person, the message: you are entirely worthless, a fool, and nothing you say has any importance at all. In a very real way, I think this dismissal is comparable to murder. I might not be harming our president by my dismissal of him, but if I dismiss someone more intimately connected to me, the harm is very real indeed. Oh dear.


RichardM said...

My two cents. Jesus is talking about the anger or sense of superiority we hold in our hearts. It rather like the "lust in your heart" verse about adultery. Yes, Jesus himself speaks pretty sharply to people. In fact in Mark he seems to have quite a temper. But it is possible to speak sharply to someone without anger or hatred. If a two year old wanders into the street I will yell to get her attention, but not because I am angry with her. So maybe Jesus wasn't really a hypocrite after all.

Congratualations on grad school and welcome back to blogging.

SmileSleep said...
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Nurse Practitioners Save Lives said...

One can also specialize as a nurse practitioner as well. There are NPs in just about every specialty. I will be specializing in neurology and pain management after I pass the national certification exam in May. Good luck with your studies.

Jacquelyn said...

I think the point Jesus was making according to the verses that preceed matt 5:21,22 it is that in order to get to heaven (enter the kingdom of God) you have to have kept the entire law, i.e. never sinned. He is making the point that even those that think they are perfect and good people have sinned in their hearts and therefore have no place in his kingdom apart from repentance.

Matt5:19 So if you break the smallest commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God's laws and teaches them will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven. 20 "But I warn you � unless you obey God better than the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees do, you can't enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all!

This goes along with I John 1:8-10 which says

If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

QuakerK said...

Hi, Sarah,

I'm very glad you're blog is back. I enjoyed reading it and have been checking occasionally, to see if you were still updating it. I'm only sorry you didn't share your experiences of the past year. I'm quite curious how you ended up working in a wool mill (not typical, I think, of a Quaker with a college degree), and living in a cabin with no electrity. I'm also curious what, if anything you learned from it. But that's another story, I'm sure.

As for the passage from the Sermon on the Mount, I interpret it in context. He is saying, literally, don't be angry, but I'm not a Biblical literalist. Just as I don't think the world was created in six days, so I don't think Jesus actually wants us to pluck our eyes out if we sin with them. It's a rhetorical technique, to wake people up who are languishing in spiritual drowse so to speak. So I'm not sure if Jesus really means we should never get angry. Perhaps he does. Perhaps he means we should never embrace anger; it should come spontaneously, as it were, and blow over quickly. But when I look at the context, all the surrounding passages to me seem to be warning against looking for loopholes. He is warning against keeping the letter of the law while violating the spirit of the law. So I would interpret the passage about anger in the same spirit: Jesus is warning us against letting ourselves off by saying it's OK to be angry with someone, so long as I just don't hit him. That's keeps the letter of the law, but that's not good enough. We aim for a higher standard, perfection ("Be perfect, as your father in heaven is perfect.") We will end up being angry--we all have sin, as Jacquelyn says--but as least we have high standards.

Anyway, that's what I make of it.