It's funny sometimes, how things go, you know? Something new every day that challenges one's sense of normalcy. Yet it doesn't really get serious until it gets personal. And it can get personal is so many ways. I started teaching again on Monday. Spring semester. World religions. I'm also teaching on Tuesdays at Centinela State Prison. Ethics.
I always begin the religions class with a question, "What makes religion a religion?" Ultimately the key is faith. Religion is never fact-based. If it were there would be no need for faith. Right? I have often said that I am betting my life on the truths about life, and death, revealed by Jesus of Nazareth. It's a bet. A gamble. I'm going to live my life the way Jesus told me to live it. His words are pretty clear. Be the salt of the earth. Be the light of the world.
Practice hospitality to strangers, care for the hungry, the sick, those in prison, the homeless, the marginalized. Have faith as a child does. Practice agape, self-sacrificial love for others. And do that even though you might have detractors, might have moments of doubt, might be questioning whether it is really worth the effort.
That's what I try to do, what many people try to do. Every day. In our own ways. And day by day we grow in faith.
And sometimes our practice of faith gets really personal.
A routine blood test. One I've had every six months for several years. Always normal. Signs of health. But not this last one. I am able to check lab results online and as I scanned the results I saw the bright red lettering. Elevated white blood cell count.
Red lettering is not a good thing.
And so I anxiously looked forward to my doctor's visit. Now, as far as I'm concerned the absolute worst thing you can hear from a doctor is, "I'm not sure what it is." And that is what I heard. Great. Another blood test was scheduled to see if this was a false positive.
The next worst thing you can hear from a doctor as far as I'm concerned is a voicemail message that says, "Call me as soon as you can." Which is what happened.
The new test showed the same results which meant I was now about to go through a series of tests to determine what is going on. The first test is a nuclear full body scan to see where the infection is. As you know, white cells develop in our blood to fight off infections, so the question is, "Where is the infection?"
What complicates this is I feel perfectly healthy and all my other test results are good.
I forgot to say the scan is a test, among other things, to see if the infection is actually leukemia.
So there it is. In my pastoral experience it has often been the case that when a person goes through a battery of tests because the doctor cannot figure out what is going on, the end result is pretty serious.
I'm not trying to be overreactive, nor do I want to be in denial. I think most of us would admit that the worst thing we are faced with in life would be uncertainty, and right now I'm living with uncertainty. So, what to do?
I believe there are things I can do after all.
The Talmud teaches that we are not to be daunted by the enormity of the world's uncertainty. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly with God, now. We are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are we free to abandon it.
On these things I am betting my life.