On Monday I was part of a community discussion of the opioid crisis, presented by Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore Commissioner of Health, was the key note speaker, and I joined Howard Reznick of Jewish Community Services and Dr. Steven Sharfstein, former director of Shephard Pratt, on the panel. My charge was to present what a faithful response to the opioid epidemic in Baltimore might be… for an individual, for a congregation, for the faith community. Here’s what I offered to the group of 120, including delegations from three high schools:
Not only should members of the faith community play a role in a health crisis, I would argue that we are particularly called to this ministry. From Moses with his snake entwined staff, calling the assembly to “look up and be healed,” to Elijah raising the widow’s son, to Jesus’ provocative encounter with an unclean spirit and his distinguishing between the man and the cage which held him, our shared revelation is built on the capacity of community and scripture to make us more whole than we would be, if left to our own devices… Some of what we know is so foundational that we can forget that it came to us as revelation:
The balanced rhythm of work and rest…The call to eat as families on some regular basis…
The assertion that spiritual well-being has an impact on physical well-being and vice versa…
The 10 Commandments, which do a pretty good job of defining what it is to be a human in right relationship with God, with the neighbor, and within the individual him or herself. I would argue that this way to be relational on three planes, integrated and grounded on these three dimensions of self and other and God, is an articulation of healthy living, of the wholeness we are created to embody and act out.
So faith communities are in the health business, really, the healing business, because what is our reason for being if not to provide individuals and systems habits of spiritual health and training for it, and at the same time to call those healing people and systems to be about the work of mending/repairing the world?
How do we hear this call and achieve it?
We do this through teaching the scriptures, through dynamic, insightful, provocative Bible study, based on belief that these ancient texts are still and always revelatory. Because people of faith are particularly called to be both honest and hopeful, combining scripture study with social consciousness can reveal both patterns of failure and success and a way forward.
We do this through curating congregations that are deeply and broadly informed about history and our current challenges, offering and attending lectures, book groups, and classes. We have so much to learn, and of course no single congregation knows it all, so we can subscribe to the newsletters of other churches/synagogues/mosques, go to each other’s classes, cultivate a congregation that is emboldened by what’s going on around us, not jealous of someone else’s success.
We do this through a practice of corporate prayer, worship with soul-lifting music, and words that offer challenge, inspiration, strength, and solace. We have so little time that we have to give ourselves some of it regularly to be nourished, to be mended ourselves.
We do this through a robust understanding of pastoral care which includes access to recovery groups, relationship, individual, and grief counseling, information about and referrals to health care professionals. We do this through understanding addiction as a disease and advocating for access to and delivery of affordable health care.
We do this by talking openly about mental health, normalizing ways we all struggle with wellness, de-stigmatizing mental illness, and training parishioners in Mental Health First Aid. We do this through increasing our recovery group offerings. A dozen distinct 12-step groups offer their life-giving work Monday-Friday at Redeemer. We do this through equipping lay people to offer healing prayers. We do this through re-doubling our commitment to children and young people, offering them space to discover and celebrate who they are.
We do this by following the Teacher, who healed by bringing the wounded, the weak, and the unwell to the center and by correcting any system of exclusion.