Grey’s Ministry (Spoilers Abound)


Last night’s Grey’s Anatomy was, indeed, the powerful episode that had been promoted all week.  As Dr. Jo Karev begins to come to terms with the discovery that her biological father had date-raped her birth mother (news which she has not been able to bring herself to share with anyone, including her husband), she is drawn into the case of a woman who has been brutally raped and beaten in a dark alley.  The woman requires considerable counseling from her three women physicians before she will permit a rape kit to be performed, which is accomplished in a somewhat graphic scene, itself profound in the dignity and compassion afforded the patient by her doctors.  The real viewer tears come a few minutes later, when the patient, who has been shaking uncontrollably at the thought of leaving the confines of the examining room, is rolled down a long hallway lined on both sides by the women of the hospital, silently focusing their respectful and supportive gazes upon her in a way that causes her visibly to regain a sense of power and selfhood.

That said . . . one of my quarrels with medical shows (and Grey’s is the only one I watch these days) is the near complete absence of chaplains or other religious characters.  In real life in a large and busy hospital such as that featured in Grey’s, it would be far more likely for the chaplain to provide the many hours of support offered by three busy fictional surgeons, and far more probable that a chaplain would have organized some sort of ritual to empower a physically and emotionally battered patient.

But my real question, for those of us pastoring churches, is: Do we do this?  Last Saturday as I conducted a funeral for a woman I had met only three times, and then only after she had suffered the stroke which had transformed her from a vibrant, independent woman headed for a winter in Florida to someone in need of round-the-clock care, I thought to myself, This is something we do well, we in the church.  We make it possible for family and friends and strangers to come together to mourn and to be comforted, knowing that they are held in the arms and prayers of a community greater than themselves and of a God who has already welcomed their loved one into the presence of ultimate love.  And we also create community and ritualistic reminders of God’s love around baptisms and weddings, and we provide joyful blessings for graduates, and quilts, and holiday food and gifts.

But what about the crises in human lives?  Where are we with our rituals and public affirmations then?  Of course, many of these events are guarded as private and personal, and it is not our call to invade those spaces.  But, just I frequently note that people today, whether connected to communities of faith or not, tend to turn to medical doctors and therapists (and rightly so) for matters once exclusively the domain of the priest, so we see in dramatizations such as last night’s that the possibility of a faith dimension to trauma is not even a consideration.  And while people often come to a pastor for comfort and prayer, and sometimes even practical assistance, in connection with personal and family challenges, I don’t recall having ever stepped into the breach with a religious and community ritual for such an occasion.  A return home from a long recovery, a move to assisted living, the commencement of hospice care, a divorce, and yes, a case of assault ~ I’m sure there are countless other occasions where community and prayer could create a new sense of power and connection for a stressed or heartbroken individual.

The closest I have come is something long forgotten, a liturgy for cremation which I wrote after a long four hours at a crematorium, much of it by myself, watching over the final disposition of my son’s remains.  Someone mentioned a couple of weeks ago that her family had just used it, which brought back the memory, and gave me a sense of deep gratitude at having had something to offer out of that terrible morning.  I think that now I will ponder other occasions more carefully, and perhaps find ways to make something our of what might otherwise be nothing.


The Americans – 2

I have never been a fan fiction writer.  But I am so unsettled by the ending to The Americans that I have been driven to imagine the future, twenty years down the road, in 2007.



Elizabeth and Philip: Now in their 60s, they went to work for the KGB and then its successor agency in Russia, the FSB, training intelligence agents in American culture and daily life.  They have been able to keep track of Henry and Paige, but neither child has ever reached out to them, and they have not pushed for contact.  For them, it’s as if their life in America was a dream, and the reality of their lost children is too painful to contemplate.

Paige: After a month or so in the shadows of homeless life, Paige contacted Pastor Tim, and eventually joined him and his family in Buenos Aires.  She never engaged with religion again, but he helped her start over as a college student  Now nearing 40, she is a successful international journalist with a focus on Russian affairs and a string of unsuccessful relationships behind her.  She refuses to contact her parents, even when she visits Moscow.

Henry:  Almost immediately, he became Stan’s foster son.  Stan, who divorced Renee, without ever ascertaining whether or not she was KGB, and left the FBI, ensured that Henry finished college.  Henry became a Ph.D. research psychologist, focusing on childhood trauma, and in his late thirties has been married and divorced twice.  He has a couple of kids, but struggles to sustain his relationship with them.  Like Paige, he refuses to contact his parents.

Oleg: With the thawing of relations between Russia and the U.S., Arkady was able to convince the real Americans to release him, thanks to his participation in the plan to save Gorbachev, and he eventually returned to his parents and wife and son.

Martha: She settled into an uncomfortable but somewhat satisfactory life in Russia with her daughter, now a university student.  The Russians have been unsuccessful in arranging a legitimate return to the U.S. for her, but they have brought her aging and devastated parents to visit her and meet their granddaughter a few times.  Martha has come to understand what happened, and when she unexpectedly sees “Clark” across the street in Moscow one day, she observes him for a few minutes with little interest.  She is most sorry about Agent Gaad’s death, and has corresponded with Stan a few times, but recognizes that her future is limited to a life in Russia.

Now.  Having created fictional futures for fictional characters, I feel a bit better.

The Americans – 1

PaigeYou can read a long stream of articles on the series finale of The Americans.  I won’t attempt to review them here.  Suffice it to say that I have found the suspense of this last season nearly unbearable.  I’m the one who always reads the end first, but with a non-bingeable television show, I had to wait with everyone else.

I posted here and there on FB as the show wound down, trying to be sensitive to spoilers and those who haven’t reached the end yet.  Like others, I’ve been fascinated by the spycraft (not part of my usual fiction reading), horrified by the violence, and intrigued by the family dynamics.

In the end, my personal contribution to the conversation has to do with the long shadow cast by childhood trauma across the remainder of human lives.  There’s been a lot of publicity lately about the study of childhood trauma and how to counteract its effects or, at least, how to incorporate those effects into productive and contended adult lives.  (The fact that I wonder whether there is such a thing as contented adult life may tell you something about my own experience as a child and adolescent.)

Some notes from The Americans:

Many of the lead Russian characters emerged as children (quite literally, in some cases, from under buildings and rubble) out of WWII into a country devastated by physical destruction, starvation, and loss of life.  In the series, they are beautiful, elegantly dressed, intelligent, sophisticated, and articulate people dedicated to the preservation of a country beloved and yet marred — by corruption, repression, and poverty — and willing to do anything to further its triumph.

Paige and Henry: What happens to children who grow up in an affluent American suburb, involved in church and sports, to discover that nothing is as it seems, that their parents are monsters, and that their own lives are collateral casualties of parental commitments to something which they can never understand nor be part of (Elizabeth’s efforts with Paige notwithstanding)?

This story, The Americans, will haunt me for a long time.

Next post: My own predictions!

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