Tag Archives: Lawndale Christian Health Center

What Medicine Cannot Give…

Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’

Last week, I took a seminar on medical ethics, held at Princeton through the Witherspoon Institute. The seminar explored many different topics, but ultimately converged on a central theme: physicians must know what medicine is for.

Medical imperialism is real. New technologies and advancements have given us the tools to achieve outcomes that were unimaginable before (think IVF, cosmetic surgeries, transplants, etc). In light of these technologies, the role of the physician has fundamentally changed.  Physicians are now expected to take on the roles of reproductive counselors, beauticians, behavioral modifiers, and scores of others that have varying degrees of relevance to medicine, traditionally defined. We are watching, quite spectacularly, a new Manifest Destiny unfold.

So here’s the million dollar question: is this a good thing? Should we increase in medical powers as harbingers of a brighter future? Or do we have reasons to resist a redefining of medicine?

It is important to raise the question of definitions, and relatedly, the question of limits, because merely accepting the new possibilities would inevitably lead to a sort of consumerism.  We are already seeing this. In parts of healthcare, physicians act as dispensing machines of healthcare services – the supplier that simply meets demand. And consumerism, we know, is a terrible substitute for the physician-patient relationship.

Secondly, without proper limits, medicine can become a bait-and-switch. This is especially true when patients seek what medicine ultimately cannot give. The woman who seeks plastic surgery will find that her disease was not her appearance but her insecurity. The man who demands aggressive end-of-life treatments will find that delaying death is fruitless. Medicine cannot give life, fulfillment, or love. Sometimes, it cannot even give health (the thing that medicine is ostensibly for!).

The passage in Acts is one I’ll remember in my journey through medicine. Here, Peter approaches a beggar sitting at the temple gates; the beggar is lame, and has resigned himself to asking passersby for money. Of course, money is not really what this beggar needs, and Peter tells him so (sidebar: can patient autonomy account for this kind of interaction?). Peter, rather, gives the beggar what the beggar himself has lost the ability to hope for: the restoration of his being.

That, I think, is what Christian physicians can do well – to have in mind both what medicine cannot do and what patients truly need. Both go hand in hand. In the world of ever-increasing possibilities and amidst a medical culture without a vision or language to challenge its expansion, Christian physicians can be witnesses to the Kingdom by staying oriented to the true goods.

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Why This Blog is Ultimately About Grace

I used to be shy. I saw little reason for talking when I didn’t believe in the interestingness of my own story. What had I to offer that the world had not already seen, or heard?

I grew up in the suburbs of San Diego, where buildings all took on a stucco-ed squareness, the most interesting foliage was desert brush, and even the weather, though nice, seemed drab in its consistent niceness. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to be in the future, but that dream seemed so damningly stereotypical: Korean guy with glasses pursues MD, wants to save lives.

Every now and then when I’m bored, I re-read my college application essays and laugh mockingly at my former self.  A sense of bemusement sets in – how did I get into Princeton? How did these jumble of letters and lackluster narrative get me into one of the most prestigious institutions in the country? I honestly don’t know.

College was somewhat of a personal crisis, simply because I was forced to confront my shyness with unexpected intimacy. My roommates freshman year included a former president of the National Junior Classical League (who had his own Facebook fan page), a gifted musician who learned to play the piano by ear and had more neckties in his closet than I had clothes, and an Indian guy who, I’m still convinced, was using his goofiness to hide his true identity as Indian royalty. I had friends who studied abroad in Oxford and walked its storied, Gothic halls. Then there was always that senior in precept who knew everything about everything. In retrospect, many of my pursuits in college was nothing but a relentless game of catch-up to an imaginary, better man. I learned Swahili, traveled to Kenya and Tanzania, took on the only competitive major at Princeton to study public policy, and wrote a thesis on HIV/AIDS, partly out of genuine interest for those things, but also partly, I confess, out of a subconscious desire to have better stories to tell.

This, of course, was a remarkably tiring way to go about life – and a lonely one, too. The problem was not that my story seemed uninteresting or typical, and needed some embellishment through the pursuit of some crazy vision or ideal. The real, deeper problem, the pig beneath the lipstick, was that my story is all I saw.

I first heard about Lawndale Christian Health Center around the beginning of my senior year, and it waved like a checkered flag ushering the end of this futile race. I was in the midst of the run-of-the-mill Princeton senior activities then, applying for jobs and academic scholarships.  I can’t quite explain it, much as a moth can’t explain why it is so persistently drawn to a source of light. When I found out about Lawndale, I rescinded my outstanding applications that would have led me elsewhere. I left my nets.

In retrospect, I think it was how miraculous the Lawndale story seemed. Wayne Gordon, a graduate of Wheaton college, leaves his suburban Iowa home to become a high school wrestling and football coach in a marginalized neighborhood in Chicago. His students ask him to join, then lead, a Bible study. That Bible study snowballs into a church, and that church, driven by the students’ desire to love and serve their neighbors, begins a health center providing access to care for the poor and the uninsured. That was 1984 – when the health center was no more than a couple of idealistic doctors practicing in three decrepit exam rooms fashioned out of an abandoned car lot. Now, the health center has four sites on the West Side, and serves over 200,000 patients a year. It even has a state-of-the-art fitness center (for $15 a month!) and a cozy cafe.

Wayne Gordon (or, “Coach”) is still around, and I have the blessing of being a part of his weekly men’s Bible study. Some of the men there are students he used to coach nearly 40 years ago. Others are health center workers, like me. A majority of them are graduates of Lawndale Community Church’s Hope House, a rehabilitation center for formerly addicted or incarcerated men, and have persevered through unspeakable sorrow.

Here at Lawndale, I have had my most formative year to date. Much of what I learned here – about life, about justice, about healthcare, about God – I hope to share in my coming posts on this blog. For now, I want only to make this one point.

Lawndale was here long before I arrived, and it will continue to thrive long after I leave, this coming June. It is refreshing to feel small – to be part of a story I neither wrote nor foresaw. People here do not care what is on my resume. Now, after some months, I don’t either. Only love remains.

Of course, what I experience here at Lawndale is a microcosm of what is happening at large – that of which we get a glimpse in moments of intense joy and intense suffering. We inherited this world, this life, our stories – we do not control or deserve this. In an era where our Babels of social policy, medicine, and technology inch enticingly close to the heavens, we will do well to remember that the made is but a shadow of the given.

This blog, at its best, will be a collective of people trying to recover a vision of grace. Not much of what we say here will be new, but novelty is not the goal. It is remembrance. Blogging will become for us, I hope, a liturgy that brings us to the precipice – into a fuller view of His vast kingdom, and, consequently, a diminished view of our own selves. I understand more than ever before that grace is not only sufficient, it is inescapable. We pray only that He peel back the scales and let us see it anew.

Daniel works as an intern at a primary care center in the inner city, and plans to attend medical school this coming fall.

A Postscript

I wanted to say a few things about the blog itself that I couldn’t fit in the actual piece. Consider this post as an introduction to the blog for the first-time reader.

1) The idea for this blog began with a simple chat that Enoch and I had and we quickly realized we needed reinforcements. In the coming weeks, you will get to meet our regular contributors, discussing anything and everything in their respective fields. It is, simply put, an ongoing attempt to articulate and revise a Gospel Worldview as it applies to each field. New feature posts will appear every Monday and Wednesday. Unfortunately, a contributor’s name will not appear on the Contributors page until he or she has made his or her first post. We expect to have gone through the entire rotation in early March. As a sneak peak, we have Alice Su, the fierce freelance journalist (already published in multiple reputable publications!) writing about media and politics of the Middle East; Ed Zheng, a culinary mastermind trapped in a consultant’s body, speaking about food; and Jinju Pottenger, who famously traveled to North Korea, talking  about law and justice. Others, who I will not mention here solely for brevity’s sake, are just as amazing and I am honestly more excited about reading their posts than writing mine.  So stick with us.

2) You will notice the link to what we’re calling The Reading List. That is a list that our contributors will help us put together for anybody who is interested in how the Gospel Worldview applies to a particular topic/field. 1-2 works will compose the “Canon” for each category, and 5-10 works will compose the “Highly Recommended” section. As we put those up, please feel free to comment on the selection and give us input!

3) Please make sure to like our Facebook Page for updates and posts with interesting/relevant articles!