When we need healing, is medicine the only solution? Dr. Matthew Loftus talks with Amy Julia Becker about both the limits and the role of medicine connected to healing, wholeness, and community.
- Twitter: @matthew_loftus
On the Podcast:
- Plough Quarterly essay about learning from African spirituality
- Mere Orthodoxy essay: The Ethics of Healthcare Rationing
- Quote Amy Julia read from Mere Orthodoxy essay
- Baconian project
- Plough Quarterly article about food insecurity
- Mere Orthodoxy review of To Be Made Well
- To Be Made Well by Amy Julia Becker
“What does it mean to work for healthcare justice in a system that’s broken?”
“Here [in Kenya] I feel like it’s a lot easier to practice holistically. People almost always come to the hospital with their families, with somebody who cares about them, especially in the mental health clinic…The paradigm [here] is that people take care of each other whenever possible…families and communities care for each other and fill in the gaps.”
“…that sense of people working together as a community…I would say it’s changed my spirituality in…that I realize now how important that aspect of healing and wholeness is, and it’s challenged me to look for as many opportunities as I can to integrate that in my practice and to be relying myself on other people in my own spirituality and in my community.”
“As we come together and mourn together, that’s part of being human—feeling that sorrow together.”
“Jesus came and was with us and suffered among us, with us. In some ways that is a model, a prescription for how we serve others, especially if we’re trying to do it with him, for him, in his name.”
“One of the mixed blessings of technology is that you can abstract yourself away from suffering and try to help others in a way that doesn’t involve you getting involved in their lives or being in relationship with them. And that’s just not the way that human beings are supposed to be.”
Season 5 of the Love Is Stronger Than Fear podcast connects to themes in my newest book, To Be Made Well…you can order here! Learn more about my writing and speaking at amyjuliabecker.com.
*A transcript of this episode will be available within one business day, as well as a video with closed captions on my YouTube Channel.
Note: This transcript is autogenerated using speech recognition software and does contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.
One of the mixed blessings of technology is that you can like abstract your way yourself away from suffering and try to help others in a way that doesn’t involve you like getting involved in their lives or like being in relationship with them. And that’s just not the way that human beings are supposed to be.
Amy Julia (28s):
Hi friends. I’m Amy, Julia Becker. And this is love is stronger than fear. A podcast about pursuing hope and healing in the midst of personal pain and social division. I’m here today with Dr. Matthew Loftus. Matthew is a medical doctor, a teacher, and a missionary serving in Kenya. And you’re going to get to hear all about how those different roles work together in his life and in his community. He writes a lot about medicine and about faith and ethics, and that’s how I was introduced to him. And I was really grateful to read his thoughts as they pertain to COVID-19, as they pertain to how we understand our bodies in the context of communities, all, all sorts of really, really good stuff in his essays, which we will link to in the show notes for this conversation.
Amy Julia (1m 21s):
And I’m really glad that I get to share with you some of his thoughts about the limits of medicine, the role of medicine, all of these things, when it comes to healing and to wholeness. Matthew, thank you so much for taking the time to be here with us today, from far far away. It’s really great to have you
Matthew (1m 42s):
Thanks so much for having me. It’s a real honor.
Amy Julia (1m 45s):
So I want to actually begin because I am seeing you on zoom, but our listeners are not. And I want to begin by way of introduction. You just, yes. Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you are, who you are, but I mean, where you are specifically right now, could you, could you just narrate that for a minute?
Matthew (2m 5s):
Sure. I am in my living room under a blanket in case the phone rings or my kids wake up. I am in Kenya, in rural Kenya. It’s a town called lateen a very busy little town in an otherwise very rural area. So we have, I work at a hospital here up at the top of a hill and the town itself has, you know, bang two gas stations, grocery stores, et cetera. And then you drive in any direction and it’s just beautiful farms and tea fields for miles and miles and miles. Yeah. So that’s where I am calling in from today.
Amy Julia (2m 48s):
So tell us a little bit about how you got to this hospital in rural, but kind of populated in Kenya and you know, what day-to-day life looks like for you?
Matthew (3m 0s):
Yeah, so our family, our story started off overseas in South Sudan. We started working at a hospital there at the end of 2015. We were only there for a year. We had to evacuate because of the civil war that reached there. So we spend a little bit of time wandering around and I connected with this particular hospital in lateen because it’s part of a larger network of hospitals, that’s training family medicine residents. So doing post-graduate training for doctors. So that is my official job title is program coordinator for these residents.
Matthew (3m 45s):
So I train doctors how they become family positions with some of my time. And then I also spend a lot of time just seeing patients and then teaching other health professionals in the hospital. And yeah, we, we came to this particular hospital because they were, it’s a completely Kenyan run institution. We were the first missionaries here in about 15 years when we arrived in 2018 and we’ve been here for four years now, now right now, there aren’t any other American missionary families. It’s just us.
Matthew (4m 26s):
And it’s really cool being part of an institution that’s totally African run. You know, I don’t have to make a lot of big decisions when, you know, they want my opinion and I get to be involved in teaching and training people who are really passionate about caring for others, you know, learning, growing in their skills and growing in their faith.
Amy Julia (4m 54s):
So it sounds like you’re wearing, well, maybe you don’t see these as two hats. Maybe it’s one hat, but there too, you know, I don’t know terrible analogy, but I’m thinking about both your role as kind of doctor, teacher and the word missionary. Right. So can you just like speak to people who don’t maybe have a vision of missionary that came from like prodigal summer? Was that Barbara Kingsolver book? Is that, is that those other right? One, it wasn’t practical summer
Matthew (5m 23s):
Amy Julia (5m 24s):
Bible poisoned, Like people who have that in their mind when they think about missionary in Africa, like, can you speak to that a little bit?
Matthew (5m 33s):
Sure. Yeah. No, it’s, it’s a little bit different than Poisonwood Bible. I can tell you that much. No, no pith helmets involved. Yeah. So, you know, obviously there’s lots of different ways that people can be missionaries in the world today. There are people who, you know, sit behind computers in the U S and they, you know, generate online content for people in closed countries to engage with on Facebook, you know, and then, you know, there’s people who are, you know, trying to directly work with people that have never heard of Jesus, never heard the gospel before.
Matthew (6m 22s):
And then there’s all kinds of things in between. So for us, we work at a mission hospital. It was started nearly a hundred years ago by missionaries who did actually work with helmets. I actually have a picture of, one of them treating a guy with a leopard bite. Wow. In my that we use in our presentations, things are a little different. So, you know, nowadays I’m, you know, trying to help people who, you know, have the same, you know, diabetes and hypertension and heart disease and all those other things, trying to train a new workforce to deal with chronic diseases and depression and anxiety and bipolar disorder and things like that.
Matthew (7m 9s):
And I think my role as a missionary is, is trying to encourage and equip Christians who want to serve, but maybe they don’t, you know, have a vision or the skills to apply their faith, you know, and something that’s very universal, I think in medicine is that there’s the constant temptation, just the busy-ness the stress, the system itself. That’s not really designed to care for people so much as it is to, you know, kind of fix what problems that can be fixed and make money off the problems that can’t be fixed either.
Matthew (7m 49s):
And so I think a lot of what I tried to do for doctors and other health professionals is really to encourage them that their faith can connect with what they do in a day to day basis, because it’s really hard to spare it’s. I should say it’s really easy to be discouraged. It’s really easy to just sort of get sucked into the system to get jaded, you know, to let the secondary trauma of watching people die, watching people suffer and watching yourself be unable necessarily to help people to get to people. And so a lot of what I’m doing is just trying to encourage people to find a way to keep their hope and love alive in what they do.
Matthew (8m 37s):
And then also try to have leaders who, you know, kind of train up leaders who can help to make the healthcare system better and then go out to places that are even harder for like Western missionaries to reach. So, yeah, there’s, there’s places all across east Africa where it’s just easier to go, whether because of hostility from, you know, in war situations or, you know, other religions or things like that, where I think there’s a lot of African health professionals that want to go and serve and help other people.
Matthew (9m 19s):
And a lot of those places, you know, they don’t have as much that, you know, they haven’t heard about Jesus. They haven’t heard about the gospel before. And so it’s helping, you know, I see myself as training future missionaries is my role as a missionary while equipping the church here to serve.
Amy Julia (9m 38s):
So, and, and there’s how to, how am I going to ask this question? Like, you have a role as a medical doctor that could be, you could go work for a nonprofit, right. That was trying to serve in a hospital because they needed doctors. Right. And then there’s later on to that or, and matched within it is this commitment to sharing something of faith of spirituality about Jesus. And I’m curious how those things interact, like is that a kind of preached the gospel use words if necessary, like I’m doing this through my actions and training of people and giving hope and, or is it a more direct like experience for you?
Amy Julia (10m 27s):
Does that make sense? That question?
Matthew (10m 30s):
Yeah. Yeah. I would say it’s it. I mean, it’s a pretty direct experience. I mean, my, for me personally, I had like, when I am seeing patients, myself, my language skills, aren’t really good enough for me to try to like share those four spiritual laws with them or, you know, try to lead them to a relationship with Christ if that makes, you know, kind of thing. So that’s, and that’s just not my jam and not what I’m good at. And there’s, we work in a mission hospital and it’s still run by the church. And so they have chaplains, you know, preaching in the waiting area.
Matthew (11m 14s):
There’s no, you know, there’s not like pressure and this, you know, the area where we are as has a lot of Christian influence, anyway, a lot of people would identify themselves as Christian who come to the hospital, you know, so a lot of them are just going around, praying with patients, encouraging them. And you know, for me, the missionary role is, is more about trying to help people who have probably, you know, most of the people that I’m teaching and training they’ve been in church all their lives. Some of them may have had, you know, you know, opportunities for leadership, you know, Christian union at school or whatever, but a lot of, you know, they’re, you know, they’re, they’re growing in their faith and they want to, so I see a lot of what I do is sort of challenging them to find ways to grow, to learn how to read the Bible, to learn how to apply spiritual lessons that they might’ve heard to the day to day practice.
Matthew (12m 17s):
You know, what does it mean to be a Christian in a setting where, you know, there’s not a lot of healthcare justice and you have to spend a lot of time telling patients, I’m sorry, we just, you know, we just can’t give you the care that you need because either we don’t have it here or it’s too expensive, or what have you, you know, how do you help people to die? Well, how do you deal with difficult ethical issues? Like, you know, families where someone has HIV positive and their partner is not, how do you give hope to people when, you know, they’re, they’re struggling, they’re poor, they’re depressed.
Matthew (13m 5s):
What does it mean to work for healthcare justice in a system that’s broken? Right. So that’s, those are the kinds of things that were that I try to challenge them and engage with them on. And, you know, we’re all learning together.
Amy Julia (13m 19s):
Yeah. And I, when I wanted to actually land in that place about the learning from each other, in the sense that I read an article that you shared with me from plough quarterly, that you wrote about when it, in terms of how an understanding or a new, I guess, understanding of African spirituality kind of broadly has affected your own understanding of yourself, of medicine, of what it means to care for one another and our environments. And I’d love to hear about that relationship. We’ve heard a little bit about what you kind of are able to bring into a system, but I’m also curious what you’ve received, like how your own understanding of spirituality may have changed from being in a different context than the United States.
Matthew (14m 3s):
Yeah. I mean, it’s really, it’s been, it’s really incredible here. I would say because I spent my entire life up until this point hearing about like holism and holistic spirituality and holistic medical practice and in the U S a lot of that feels like just kind of lip service can, you know, sort of gets merged into corporate speak and whatnot. But here, I feel like that it’s a lot easier to practice holistically people. You almost always come to the hospital with their families, with somebody who cares about them, especially in the mental health clinic.
Matthew (14m 46s):
They’re usually, you know, very often they’re brought by a family member, or if they’re, you know, if the family has not taken care of them, their neighbor, you know, which is so totally different than in the U S where, you know, people sort of get dragged in by the police, or, you know, they’re by themselves with them on the streets. And, you know, that’s just not the paradigm here. The paradigm is that people take care of each other whenever possible, but it’s not to say, I mean, occasionally you get someone who’s brought to us by the police, but yeah. But, but the paradigm is that, you know, families and communities care for each other and, and fill in the gaps.
Matthew (15m 31s):
And so when we’re talking to people about making plans for someone’s care, we’re always involving other people in their lives. And so that social aspect, that community aspect is always there in emission hospital. Obviously it’s much easier to talk about spirituality as part of people’s healing. And so I’ve just been really impressed by that sense of, you know, people working together as a community. And it’s, it’s, I would say it’s changed my spirituality in that way, in that I, I realized now how, how important that aspect of, of healing and wholeness is.
Matthew (16m 22s):
And it’s, you know, just challenged me to, to look for as many opportunities as I can to integrate that in my practice and to be relying myself on other people in my own spirituality and in my community, you know, my, this is kind of almost entirely separate, but another aspect of spirituality is that I’ve seen is, or a way that I have been humbled in my own spirituality is just that, you know, worshiping in little churches, made of wood and bricks and corrugated tin roof, and whatnot with no nothing fancy, just really has allowed me to focus on, okay, what’s at the heart of a, of a church service, you know, we’re singing together, we’re praying together.
Matthew (17m 23s):
Usually the music is I, I honestly prefer I’ve come to prefer acapella singing in church because the alternative usually is a keyboard attached to a speaker that’s too loud using one of those, you know, fake drum tracking things you can use that your kids can mess with on the keyboard. Sometimes people will even like play one of the pre set songs and the keyboard, and then the course didn’t always match with what we’re singing. And, you know, in that, in that moment, when I’m, you know, just trying to listen for, you know, the voices of the people that I’m with and hear them over the keyboard, you know, it just, it helps you to focus on, okay, so what I, what I come here to church for is I come here to hear the voices of the people that I’m with.
Matthew (18m 17s):
I come to hear the word preached as, as simply as possible. You know, I come to, you know, take the body and blood of Jesus and communion, and that’s, what’s most important.
Amy Julia (18m 34s):
I love just that in both of those instances, though, that sense of being not as individually paying as much attention to you yourself as an individual, as yourself in a community and in relationship to God, but also in that sense of, you know, the picture of like the neighbor coming with the person with mental illness to the hospital, or just the picture of the person standing next to you and singing in either case that sense of, I think often in an American context, even when we talk about holistic healing, we’re usually talking about that within the individual mind, body spirit, and not even including this sense of like community and society as an aspect of healing.
Amy Julia (19m 21s):
And what I heard you saying was kind of all of the above and, and really with an emphasis on that relationship outside of yourself with other people and with God.
Matthew (19m 31s):
Amy Julia (19m 32s):
I’m curious. One of the other pieces I read that you had written for mere orthodoxy was one that came out at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. So I think over two years ago, and you were writing about, well, the place that I really focus was your writing about suffering. And I thought before I have a quotation from what you wrote, but before we get there, could you explain the bay Coney and project, because that’s a reference, that’s not gonna make sense to a lot of people. So if you could explain that and then I’ll, and then I’ll quote you.
Matthew (20m 6s):
Yeah. So the bay conium project is based on, you know, Francis bacon and one of his big ideas was, okay, God has given, you know, at the very beginning of the enlightenment and scientific revolution, God has given us science. So that way we can relieve suffering and, you know, on its face, this is a very good thing. And this is what, you know, I went to medical school for and spend most of my day trying to do, giving people better, living through chemistry and whatnot. But the problem is that there’s a lot of suffering in our lives that can’t be relieved by science or technology.
Matthew (20m 50s):
And there’s some suffering in our lives that maybe science and technology could relieve, but in order to do so, it, it causes problems either, you know, ethical problems like, you know, you know, using stem cells. I mean, that’s more controversial. One, a more obvious one is I think everyone can agree on is like taking organs from prisoners that they’re being executed. And that’s, that’s not a good thing. You know, people, you know, using altering their bodies in really dramatic ways, I think is another controversial one, but one that has a lot of really bad effects or even things like, you know, we wanted to relieve pain in America.
Matthew (21m 47s):
And part of that desire got misused abused by drug companies. And then we have this massive opiod epidemic that we’re still living through, where people wanted to use, they wanted to relieve pain, they wanted to relieve suffering, but because not all suffering can be relieved and not all means to relieve suffering should always be used. It causes problems. And so the big conium project just sort of refers to the idea that like anytime science and technology gives us the opportunity to relieve suffering, we should take advantage of it without consideration for those other things.
Matthew (22m 34s):
And it’s sort of, you know, it’s just kind of an M an impulse that drives a lot of medical practice and research and stuff like that, and sort of unchecked, it leads to many of the problems that I described.
Amy Julia (22m 51s):
Yeah. So I’m just going to quote you for a minute and you can thank you so much for that background. And so this is from the article I mentioned in mere orthodoxy, the right science applied by the right people in the right systems will adequately relieve human suffering, kind of another definition of the big burning problem. Of course, this isn’t how it works. You right? Having shaped our imaginations and narrowed the horizons of what we think is good. The <inaudible> project, wreaks havoc in three different ways, lashing out with violence against suffering, that it cannot relieve mocking suffering that may not be meaningless and reshaping our understanding of how to deal with suffering in all of these.
Amy Julia (23m 33s):
It takes the human condition and its limits as bad things that we ought to use technology to break rather than wisdom to remain within. There’s so much in what you wrote that is unpacking there, but I will give you kind of a broad question is just that, well, I think one of the things having just written a book about healing that I have really wrestled with is how to place like position suffering within a wider narrative of healing, particularly from a Christian perspective, the easy and wrong way to approach this is to say, if you have enough faith, you will be healed.
Amy Julia (24m 16s):
If you see the right doctor, you will be healed, like suffering will be alleviated. Whether that, I think in the bay conium project is through technology, as long as we keep working hard. And I think there’s almost a like spiritual version of that, which says, if you pray hard enough, or if you have enough faith or if you right, like, and in both cases, I think that’s wrong. However, I also think that there are things that we can do and participate in that will relieve suffering. And that’s good too. Like it’s not as though we want suffering, But w what you’re saying is also like alleviating suffering at whatever the cost is, is also not good. So I guess, how do you think about the role of suffering, especially when it comes to this question of meaning and purpose, and, and have you had any experiences that have changed or affected the way you see that?
Matthew (25m 12s):
Yeah. Yeah, it’s, it’s a, it’s a tough thing. And that’s one of the things that I really appreciated about your book is that it brought all, you know, it, it really showed all the different kinds of perspectives that we can have on suffering within the Christian faith. And, you know, because I don’t, you know, there’s not one simple answer, right? Like some suffering is inevitable and has to be endured. And in that endurance, we reach out in faith to God, for his comfort and for his sustaining and other people.
Matthew (25m 60s):
And as we come together and mourn together, we, you know, it, that’s part of being human is, is feeling those that sorrow together, some suffering is given to us in order that we might grow. You know, it’s kind of the, the struggle that makes us a stronger, some of, you know, some suffering is, is bad and, you know, apparently meaningless and we fight, you know, we have, we just have to rage against it. You know, it’s why, you know, we, you know, we push our, you know, healthcare professionals.
Matthew (26m 47s):
I say we, you know, kind of push ourselves to find, you know, to study hard, to work hard, to put in those long hours, because, you know, we want to push back against suffering that’s that we can relieve, you know, and then some suffering is inflicted because people are, you know, on themselves or on others, because people are foolish, sinful, unjust, those kinds of things. And that’s, you know, that’s also some, you know, but that, that ones, those kinds of suffering are a lot harder to root out because they’re not, it’s not like you’re just sort of battling it’s nature, you’re battling against human beings and their own desires and frailties.
Amy Julia (27m 42s):
Yeah. And that what you were just saying at the end there, in terms of that sense of like suffering that we inflict upon one another and sometimes upon ourselves, for sure. But I, it brings me to another essay you wrote for plow about food insecurity, and you were just writing about the ways in which we need to care for one another. And again, I think an American individual perspective, although I think we’ve seen this more it with the pandemic over the past couple of years, still that sense of membership in one another and understanding, especially for people who are Christians, this analogy, although I sometimes wonder whether Paul did not mean it so much as an analogy as we take it to be the body of Christ.
Amy Julia (28m 31s):
Like, I think there’s more, I think we should be more literalistic about that than we are honestly. But anyway, you were, you were just saying that if one part of the body is suffering from, this is a quote too much obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure, should we not ensure those brothers and sisters are cared for as friends and neighbors and share our table with them? And I’m just thinking back to what you were just saying about the suffering that we inflict upon ourselves and upon one another. And then on the flip side of that, the capacity we have to alleviate that suffering, not through necessarily maybe through some medical program, but maybe through a different social system.
Amy Julia (29m 15s):
And I’m thinking back again to even what you were saying in the beginning, as far as your role in teaching about justice and what does it mean to work within a broken or an unjust system. And so I’m curious to hear what the relationship, I guess this is, I’m thinking about the relationship between that, that particular suffering that we inflict upon one another and healing, and whether you have any thoughts on for, you know, the rest of us kind of out there, seeing the problems in the world, seeing the injustices, whether that’s in healthcare system or in a global food system or whatever it is, what does it mean for us to be participants in healing instead of either ignoring the suffering or participants in, you know, perpetuating that,
Matthew (30m 5s):
Right, right. Yeah. No, it’s a, it’s a complex question because you have people I think, on, on every side and part of the way that our systems work is that they hide the ways in which, you know, our consumption can hurt other people. And it also makes it just about impact. Like, like there’s no, there’s no pure way to live anymore. You can’t anything you do just, you know, you’re, you’re perpetually making compromises and that’s one, that’s one thing I feel like living a life over seas has helped me realize is, you know, even in, you know, a career of vocation focused on, you know, helping the poor, doing good, like I constantly have to make compromises that are difficult, that I don’t want to put in my newsletter that I send out some supporters and whatnot just cause it’s, you know, it’s, it’s not pretty.
Matthew (31m 17s):
And so, you know, accepting that and, and working through that helps me to see, okay, so like just, I have to find the, you know, the things that I’m doing that are worthwhile that are helping others to be healthier and, you know, let let, as long as, as that is active and it’s, you know, I’m, I’m making an appropriate amount of sacrifice for them. Like that’s, that’s, as far as I can go, you know, there’s no perfectly intersectional whatever way to go about it.
Matthew (32m 4s):
And so I think for people anywhere, I would say, okay, think about, is there, what, what is it in your life that you notice is, is a need around you, is a, a place where you can serve a way that you can live your life. That helps others who are more vulnerable than you, or less fortunate than you. And, you know, there’s lots of different ways to do that for lots of different people. And I think if everybody just said, okay, I’m going to do this. I’m going to, I’m going to find some group of vulnerable hurting people.
Matthew (32m 48s):
And I am going to give and find a way to help them in, in relationship with them until it hurts me a little. I think, I think the world would be a better place. I th I think it doesn’t have to be much more complicated than that emphasis on the, in relationship part, because that, that part is messy and difficult and complicates things. But it also, I think, is ultimately more rewarding and meaningful in the long run, because it allows you as the person who has, you know, most, obviously most people, I think listening to this podcast would have some degree of money privilege, whatever it, it lets it gives you the opportunity to be shaped by whatever it is that you’re trying to do to help others.
Amy Julia (33m 44s):
Well, and that’s where I’m going to circle back to you just saying like, until it hurts a little bit, so where’s the, what’s the, like, why include that in the kind of prescription for what might be, you know, a way forward?
Matthew (33m 59s):
Oh, well, weren’t we just talking about how suffering is good sometimes? Yeah. Well, I mean, in order to, in order to be, you know, it, Jesus came and was with us and suffered among us and with us. And so I do think that is in some ways, a model for a prescription for how we serve others, especially for trying to do it with him, for him in his name. And I think in some, in, in many ways, I think we, we would prefer giving and helping in ways that don’t hurt at all.
Matthew (34m 49s):
And I think that one of the mixed blessings of technology is that you can like abstract your way yourself away from suffering and try to help others in a way that doesn’t involve you like getting involved in their lives or like being in relationship with them. And that’s just not, not the way that human beings are supposed to be.
Amy Julia (35m 20s):
You’re making me think about how so, like on the one hand, I might say, instead of getting involved relationally, I’m going to give money and that doesn’t hurt, right? I mean, cause that’s, in some ways it is that in relationship part, that is where the risk of hurt and that hurt mean like I actually get hurt feelings. Like there’s a relational hurt that’s happening here, but it also might be hurt in the sense of like inconvenience. Like it just takes more time or it takes more energy, emotional energy. I don’t have that, you know, whatever, but there’s this irony that also in choosing to protect myself in this imagined scenario that we’re talking through by just giving money and not being in relationship, I am ultimately incurring a different hurt by being cut off from whoever it is, you know, that I’m, that we’re talking about here.
Amy Julia (36m 10s):
And, and so, and that’s not, that’s almost a passive hurt and it’s not necessarily one that I’m going to know that I’ve inflicted, but you know, as you know, and I’ve kind of written about like that sense of cutting myself off, not even necessarily knowingly from people who are more vulnerable than I am, because I’ve been born into a position where I can do that. I can, without even thinking about it, cut myself off from people who are more vulnerable and feel as though that is a positive form of self protection. Certainly something that allows me to be more productive and efficient in my life. And yet when I was kind of thrust into a world, through a child with a disability of greater vulnerability, there was I think, more propensity for her on a certain type that came with it.
Amy Julia (37m 3s):
And yet also this invitation and essentially this is where I think underneath both those words, the relationship and the law and the hurt is love. That is the, if the motivating and animating factor is one of love, there will almost certainly be hurt, incurred because of the brokenness of our world. And yet that’s also not where everything will be. Everything won’t be defined by that hurt. It will be defined by that love, I think, in the act.
Matthew (37m 36s):
Yeah. Yeah. I agree. And I, and I think in many ways that sort of relationship like the one you’ve described in your family is in, I, I feel like in many ways it’s sort of paradigmatic for how, how, you know, the, the closeness and the intimacy allow for just this deeper, a way of helping that is just incommensurate with any other way of, of loving somebody, of giving to them.
Matthew (38m 20s):
And also the, the reciprocal, like just the, you know, whatever, however you want to qualify or explain, you know, describe what you have received in that relationship that you may not have received in any other relationship is just, yeah.
Amy Julia (38m 43s):
Well, I have one more question for you. I mean, I have plenty more questions, but for the sake of time, yours and our listeners, I am, I’m curious about the role of medicine in healing. Like I think you’ve written really compellingly about the limits of medicine. And yet I also think that there is kind of a, a proper place. And one of the things, again, when I was writing this book that I had to be kind of reminded of again and again by readers was like, but there is a place for medicine. Like we are really grateful for antibiotics. Like there’s a goodness here and let’s not, you know, deny that.
Amy Julia (39m 25s):
And I’m just curious, like how you think about, or if you have a way of thinking about like the proper role of, oh, this is a quote from you. The more we get used to submitting our problems to medicine, the more medicine looms large in our minds as the solution to everything. So that’s like identifying a problem with medicine. Like it’s not the solution to everything. And I think that’s what I was. One of the things I was trying to do in the book was to say, like, if we think that we just need to go to a doctor doctor in order to get fixed, we’re going to like miss so much of the healing that’s available to us in nonmedical ways. And yet there is a place for there’s a proper role of medicine. And I’m just curious if you can talk a little bit about like, what is medicine for like w and what’s, what’s the goodness in that since we have, I think, named some of the problems with it.
Matthew (40m 12s):
Yeah. No. And that was, I mean, I know we’re again, to, to just say your book. I w that was one of the things I really appreciated about your book is that, that perspective of, okay, there are, you know, there’s only so much that medicine can do, because I think the, there, there is just this push to say, okay, well, you know, you just need, you know, the, the medical system should be, should be able to fix these things. Right.
Matthew (40m 51s):
And it, it just doesn’t camp, you know, you know, you see the, this push now, okay. Everybody needs to go to therapy or what have you, and ask any therapist, they spend a lot of their time working with people who are not helped by their work. So yeah, what I think what, what medicine is for is, you know, trying to, you know, have with a specific set of problems, it is able to do everything from, you know, completely reverse certain problems to providing people with suggestions, ideas, possibilities, for a small amount of comfort along the journey of life.
Matthew (41m 56s):
And it’s sometimes hard to know which is which so it’s always, I feel like medicine is kind of like a place to start if you have a problem with your body, but just, you know, because you know, you do want to talk to somebody to check and make sure, okay, is this one of those things that can actually be fixed 100% by surgery or medicine, or what have you. But, you know, there’s some things that obviously it is terrible at fixing makes the, you know, makes things worse and other things that, you know, it’s, it’s limited in its, in its scope.
Matthew (42m 38s):
Medicine is for helping us to live in our bodies in a way that is more conducive with our flourishing. And I used the F word,
Amy Julia (42m 57s):
I think it’s the first time that’s all right. We can have one version.
Matthew (43m 1s):
Yeah, yeah. Here at the end here at the end. Yeah. Yeah. It’s just, yeah, it’s help. It’s it’s, you know, I think a lot about Gilbert Melandri, he talks about the arc of life and how everybody has this arc of life that starts off, you know, in complete dependence and ends in complete dependence and death. And everybody has a differently shaped arc and medicine is, I feel like mostly about helping people have smoother arcs one way or the other, you know, it’s keeping you from like totally falling off, you know, due to some accident or, you know, severe sudden illness, you know, but it’s also helping people, you know, meet death in a way that is conducive with like where it’s sort of disappearing, But helping people to meet death in an inappropriate way,
Amy Julia (44m 8s):
Matthew (44m 8s):
A good way, in the best way possible.
Amy Julia (44m 9s):
Right. I’m thinking about medicine as a servant of some larger purposes of human life and a few minutes flourishing to use that, but truly as opposed to there, as opposed to it being a solution to problems like it can solve problems. And yet at the same time, that sense of being able, the freedom that can come from putting limits on what medicine can do in terms of saying there’s a lot more. And, and one of the, one of the things I’ve also been really struck by is the way in which Madison can be a really helpful interruption to pain, but not often, not a long-term solution to pain where it can say, okay, medicine, you know, my friends who’ve gone on antidepressants, which has just stopped a cycle of thinking or believing that has allowed them to do some work on a more emotional and spiritual level to the point where the antidepressants might continue to be in their life.
Amy Julia (45m 16s):
They might not, but they were the interruption, they weren’t the solution. It was the other work that was the solution. And I think that can be true even with physical pain as well, where, you know, my friend had just had ACL surgery, she needs painkillers in part so that she can start doing the actual physical work to restore her knee and not just to take the pain away. Anyway, I just appreciate your, as someone who’s very much within the field of believing that, like there’s a place for medicine and for hospitals and for doctors. And yet I’m also saying that we really there’s an real deep importance to understanding the limits within the context of what it means to bring a broader and deeper healing into the world.
Matthew (46m 4s):
Yeah, yeah, no, I liked that, that phrase of it’s, it’s a servant to other things in our life, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s a way of, of, you know, and keeping some, you know, keeping certain aspects of our, you know, pain or disability from completely crushing us. Right. Yeah. And, you know, allowing us to do all the other things that are good in life.
Amy Julia (46m 44s):
Well, I hope you do write that book someday and we’ll make sure to have you back on the podcast, if you do, and thank you for your time and just for the service that you’re offering, both in your like day to day context, but also in sharing some of these thoughts with us here, and I’ll make sure in the show notes to also just link to the different essays that I’ve read and appreciated. And that we’ve gotten to talk about here today.
Matthew (47m 9s):
Yeah. Thanks for having me on, it’s been a great conversation. I wish I could have 45 minutes to ask you questions.
Amy Julia (47m 13s):
Matthew (47m 16s):
Amy Julia (47m 19s):
Thanks. As always for listening to this episode of love is stronger than fear. I do highly recommend Matthew’s essays, which we will link to in the show notes. And he has, it happens. I didn’t know this until we talked, but it has a review of my new book to be made well in mere orthodoxy. And I will link to that review in the show notes as well. I’m always grateful to Jake Hansen for editing this podcast and to Amber Beery, my social media coordinator for all of her support and help in making this come out into the world. And finally, I am thankful for you. And as you go into your day today, I hope you’ll carry with you. The peace that comes from believing that love is stronger than fear.
Learn more with Amy Julia:
- To Be Made Well: An Invitation to Wholeness, Healing, and Hope
- Is Health the Absence of Illness?
- S5 E1 | How Disability Taught Me the Goodness of Vulnerability with Heather Lanier
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