To Kill or Cure

by Bob Lupton on

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George took his place at the head of Martha’s exquisitely adorned dinner table, his clothes still wet from a long day on horseback supervising work on his expansive Mt Vernon estate. Earlier in the day, the rain had turned to snow as December temperatures fell below freezing. Though he was chilled to the bone and could feel a sore throat coming on, George declined to change into dry clothes. Punctuality was one of his virtues, and he would not keep Martha and their dinner guests waiting.

During the night, the pain in George’s throat worsened and he developed a fever. He woke Martha up around 2 a.m. complaining that he was having trouble breathing. She immediately wakened his personal assistant who at George’s insistence bled out a pint of blood to relieve the swelling in George’s throat. When this didn’t help, his aid sent for the family physician. The local doctor’s common remedies (inhaling hot vinegar steam and a gargle of molasses-vinegar-butter) caused George to choke and nearly suffocate. It immediately became clear that additional medical skill was needed. By noon three doctors had arrived and were huddling around his bed. They could not reach consensus on a diagnosis and each attempted a different remedy. One prescribed an emetic to induce vomiting. Another swabbed this throat with a salve of ground beetles. Another administered an enema of mercury-based calomel. The only procedure about which they all agreed was blood-letting, which was done several times.   

Over the next ten hours, George’s fever raged and his throat constricted. None of the treatments administered by his team of physicians arrested his worsening condition. Late that evening the former president slipped into unconsciousness and died. There was no consensus as to the cause of his death, though Martha did voice her concern over the excessive blood-letting. Almost half of his blood had been drained from his body. Nearly a century would pass before French scientist Louis Pasteur would discover that it was not bad blood that caused such illnesses. It was germs. In all likelihood, our first president died from malpractice.

Lest we judge the attending physicians too harshly, we must remember that they were employing the best treatments available to medical science in 1799. Blood-letting had been around for 3000 years and was credited with saving countless lives. Had George recovered from his throat infection, blood-letting would likely have received the credit. The widely accepted theory that the bad blood causes most human illnesses had not yet been disproven by scientific research. What seems today like a barbaric practice was considered enlightened medical practice in George’s day. His physicians acted responsibly on the best knowledge available. They had no way of knowing that bloodletting was just as likely to kill as cure.

Down through history, this kill or cure experimentation has unlocked many amazing secrets (admittedly at a significant price). Like surgeons discovering that washing their hands between operations dramatically reduced mortality rates. Like British sailors curing scurvy by sucking on limes. This trial and error method stumbles its way into surprising breakthroughs, even in our day. Actually, there is a time-honored practice that is right now being debunked. For centuries it was believed that charity was a cure for poverty. Only recently have people realized that charity can be toxic. When administered inappropriately, charity can cause loss of self-worth, weakened work ethic, and deepened dependency – all of which deepen rather than alleviate poverty. So why does toxic charity, known to be harmful, continue to be the most popular method for assisting the poor?

For the same reason physicians resisted Pasteur’s germ theory for more than two generations.  What doctor would want to admit that bloodletting was actually malpractice? What church would want to admit that their clothes-closet-food- pantry-giveaways were doing more harm than good? And to further complicate matters, the dispersal of charity produces a rush of euphoria – not so much in the recipient as in the one who administers it. It just feels so good, so right. It is just easier to go with our heart, close our eyes to the research, and allow the results of our compassion to remain unexamined. I hope it will not take two generations for us to detoxify our cure.   



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5 Prayers for South Atlanta in 2019

by FCS on

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We are so excited to walk into 2019! We believe that God has great things in store for our neighborhood, particularly as we work towards establishing an equitable, mixed-income community together.

As we seek to love our neighbors, we’re reminded that praying for our neighborhoods serves as a powerful act of love. It helps us remember that we are not alone in doing the long work of partnering in transformation; God accompanies us and cares deeply.

Here are a few ways we are praying over South Atlanta in 2019. Join us, and feel free to pray the same for your own community.  

1. Pray for the changes coming this year.

Every year brings changes. This year, we envision some exciting ones, like the revitalization of J’s gas station. Atlanta at large is changing, too, often in ways that make it harder for neighborhoods like ours to  exist. Pray that the changes that come to Atlanta and to South Atlanta would be ones that support and benefit our community.

 God, we lift up the changes coming to our neighborhood and our city this year. We ask that you would bend these changes so that they would sow good things for our community and its members. Please make space for our neighbors to have a voice and to mold the decisions that affect them and their loved ones.

2. Pray for strong relationships.

Friendships, partnerships, family relationships -- these are the building blocks of a mutually supportive network. Pray that neighbors would connect warmly and deeply, like we’ve gotten to witness at the food co-op we host with Urban Recipe. We’re praying for bonds that amplify celebration and provide comfort in the hard times this year will bring. Pray for partnerships based on understanding, grace, and collaboration.

 God Almighty, we ask for healthy, thriving relationships between neighbors and between us and community partners. We pray for safe people, for the courage to share vulnerably and for compassion between neighbors. We pray also for communal dreams and collaboration. Cultivate understanding and mutual care, following the example of how Jesus loved us.

3. Pray for the families.

Families are home; they tell us who we are. They face the challenges and joys of life together. Pray for the parents, aunts, grandparents, uncles, cousins, siblings, and children in South Atlanta. We try to pray for families and their members by name (or by face for those of us who aren’t great with names!).

 Jesus, you were in a family when you walked this earth; you know their beauties and complications. We ask for your presence in the families of our neighborhood. We ask that you would provide clear lines of communication and build loving, strong bonds between the spouses, children, teenagers, adults, and grandparents. We pray that each branch of the family would demonstrate love for one another.

 4. Pray for the third spaces.

Churches, community centers, places like Carver Market and Community Grounds, all offer space for community to flourish. We hope that these places will remain safe, hospitable, and sustainable. Pray that these places welcome residents, that they would see their mission as serving the community. Pray that residents would feel confident that these local spaces are for them, for their flourishing and enjoyment.

 Lord God, we ask for guidance for local businesses, community organizations, and churches as they host our neighbors. Pour your wisdom and spirit of hospitality into these places. Help them to thrive, and make them strong pillars that support the flourishing of our community. We pray for proprietors, staff, pastors, and workers who spend their time in South Atlanta to see the beauty that is in its people.

5. Pray for healthy rhythms.

A new year offers hope, often hope for a healthier change. Pray that every resident of South Atlanta would be able to have rhythms that bring life. These rhythms might include celebration, rest, toil, sadness, a safe living situation, and more. Pray particularly for rhythms to include rejuvenation and relaxation, which can often get lost in the hustle to provide for family and stay on top of life.

 Creator of all things, you appoint the seasons of life. You command us to rest, to work, to celebrate, to mourn in the right timing and proportion. Make space for all of these parts of a full life in the days of our families, friends, and neighbors this year. We ask that you would use these rhythms to build health in our community, and to prepare us to better taste the sweetness of your presence.


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Asking the Right Questions

by Pamela Stringfield on

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What questions should we be asking to partner with God’s heart here as we work towards an equitable mixed-income community?

It’s an admittedly “meta” question that often rolls around in my mind. Many times over my past five months working with FCS as the Neighborhood Engagement Coordinator, I ask God for patience and apologize for my default arrogance. Instead of sauntering into the building, declaring “I’m here!” triumphantly, I try to turn to God, recognize His work, and instead ask “what’s my piece?” At FCS, we want to see more of God’s kingdom, more celebration of our neighbors and what they have to offer, more recognition of the pride and dignity of South Atlanta’s residents.

But that work, which goes beyond managing problems and brokenness and addressing root issues, takes a long time. It’s hard to wait sometimes, and I’m super impatient. When my husband and I moved back into the city from the suburbs, we were responding to our church’s exhortation to say “I’m moving in, and I’m trusting the Lord to show me how to be a good neighbor.” They taught us that in order to be a true change agent, the issues we seek to address in a neighborhood need to affect us, to be our issues, too. If I hear that someone I’m serving has recently experienced a break-in, I react much differently than I would if my neighbor’s house gets broken into. It’s closer; it touches my life directly.

My own family benefited from people who moved into the neighborhood, who didn’t only drive in to see us, but who knew us, had seen our house, and knew about our lives. Still, it’s hard some days to resist the illusion that coming in with money, with more leverage, and saying “we’re going to fix that” wouldn’t be more expedient.

I’ve noticed the best antidote for this antsiness has been to ask God to share His heart with me. “What do you see, God,” I ask, “what is your heart here?” From there, I look for the answer around me, and in the people I meet. Turning to neighbors, to community partners, and asking what they’re good at, saying “I want to be a student” and satisfying myself with quiet friendship. Even in this awareness of God’s long, committed, work, it can still be hard to sit in the timeline. Sometimes, God decides to share the pieces of injustice and hardship that still exist in our neighbors’ lives, and the way those wrongs break His heart. And to be honest, it can hurt a lot when I let myself really feel it.

But we can’t be aloof. Rather, all I can do is walk into work each day and ask again, “what is your heart, and what is my piece?” and seek to follow the answer.

-Pam

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