Hypocrite

Almost 30 years ago I had the honor and privilege of hearing Dr. Bill and Annabelle Gilliam for a weekend conference at First Baptist Atlanta. They were gifted speakers.  As an auditory learner, I’m used to hearing and absorbing information by simply listening closely. Sometimes a boring speaker can have the most fascinating information. Lots of medical speakers fall into this category. Sometimes gifted speakers can expound upon utter nonsense. Lots of preachers, unfortunately, fall into this category.  The Gilliams were in the third category—gifted speakers with something important to say. One of the most memorable things they said that weekend was “The world’s definition of a hypocrite is someone who acts other than the way they feel; God’s definition of a hypocrite is someone who acts other than who they are.”

 

As a “good Christian” I applied this newfound truth to my life with all the gusto of an overzealous enforcement officer.  We all filter new truths through the lens of our own belief system; but, unfortunately, sometimes those “old truths” that comprise our belief system aren’t true at all.  As if I wasn’t already out of touch with my heart and emotions, I became convinced that my emotions didn’t matter. Emotions were “superfluous add-ons” that were given to us for the positive aspects of life only.  So-called negative emotions weren’t “Christian”.

 

I dearly loved my grandmother.  She was one of the happiest people I’ve ever known.  She loved all of us grandchildren intensely and she had a terrific sense of humor; but I think she unconsciously held this same belief—that good Christians don’t have negative emotions—and passed it on to me if not the rest of the family.

 

By the time I went away to college, I was “the happiest”, always full of good cheer.  Don’t get me wrong, a person can ignore negative emotions to the point that they don’t truly feel them anymore or at least stop recognizing them for what they are.  That’s not to say the emotions aren’t there lurking beneath the surface. You can be highly functional and successful always pretending to be happy.

 

Many professions are logic driven and there’s little place for emotions. I think this is particularly true of physicians.  You can’t be a blubbering puddle of tears during an emergency resuscitation. You can cry with a grieving relative but it’s “frowned upon” by the profession and it would not be appropriate to be wailing more than the family. Your job is to comfort not be comforted. Specialists who are frequently faced with end of life scenarios can become so numb to pain and suffering that they don’t seem human.  Being separated from your heart in this way can be an advantage in rare instances and even then it’s only temporary. The pediatric ER physician must eventually deal with the unexpected death of a child. An oncologist must process having to tell a patient they have three months to live.  The emotions are there and eventually will take their toll if not acknowledged and processed. But is this separation of head and heart real? No. It’s just pretend. It’s pretend life.

 

Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly.”  (John 10:10) What does that mean? Well, part of that truth is that we can live the life God intended, full of joy and sadness, contentment and desire, peace and anger.  Over the years I’ve come to understand more and more that part of being alive is to feel sorrow, longing, anger, grief, despair, etc. to live without feeling these emotions is to not be fully alive.

 

So back to the Gilliam quote, “The world’s definition of a hypocrite is someone who acts other than the way they feel; God’s definition of a hypocrite is someone who acts other than who they are.”  What do you do with emotions when they aren’t “appropriate”? What about the minister who had a fight with his wife on the way to church? What about the soloist who is feeling sad but has to sing a “happy song” at the podium?  What about the physician who is really angry (I mean REALLY angry!) at a betrayal yet must go see the family waiting in room three and smile while he asks, “Why are you here today?”

 

I’ve come to the conclusion that my emotions are real and legitimate.  “Appropriate” isn’t a word that should be applied to emotions. Behaviors are “appropriate” or “inappropriate”.  Emotions just—are. You can feel an emotion privately and consciously acknowledge it and yet sharing that emotion is a behavior.  There are intimate situations where I should be genuine and honest about my feelings and there are situations where to be genuine and honest about my feelings might be inappropriate.

 

Take the church worker for example.  A soloist or minister who is having a bad day shouldn’t let his emotions interfere with ministering to the congregation.  I recognize that there are times that emotion can be so overwhelming as to render us incapable of ministering to others whether on a platform or not; but there are times when life sucks and you gotta do what you gotta do.  Is that less genuine? Less honest? No. It’s just life.

 

The clearest example I know comes from my music training.  When I was in college I sang with a traveling ensemble. The minister who led the group taught us that when someone else was singing a solo, that you should look at that person.  If a member of the congregation sees you looking at the soloist, then their attention will be drawn back to the soloist and the message. If that same member of the congregation sees you looking around the room, then they will follow your gaze to see what’s so interesting and thus they are drawn away from the message.

 

I think this is a much better and clearer way of looking at our transparency with others.  If I feel bad and I’m singing a victorious song about what Christ has done for me, then I should sing it with an attitude of strength, victory, and over-comeness in spite of what I’m feeling inside at that moment.  If it’s a sad song then I should express that emotion.  Is it acting? Or ministering? Is the “performance” distracting from the message or is it drawing people to Jesus?

 

My initial interpretation of the Gilliam quote was wrong, plain and simple.  I see now the word “act” in their quote. They didn’t say that feelings weren’t  legitimate. It’s all about behaviors. Maybe a better translation of their quote, if you will, would be, “The world’s definition of a hypocrite is one who behaves differently than they feel; God’s definition of a hypocrite is one who behaves differently than who they are.”  I think that’s a much better definition of a hypocrite.

Of course, I have to process this definition through my own preconceived “truth”.

 

Jeff Cooper

Efficiency v Empathy

I love my job.  I think I like my job more than anyone else I know.  That’s not to say it’s not difficult or stressful at times, but the rewards far outweigh the stresses. My job is intellectually stimulating, emotionally rewarding, and even spiritually healing.  I’m a pediatrician.

As a pediatrician, my world is both “high tech” and “high touch”.  The tech part isn’t always a lot of fun but seeing a little face light up when they see me makes my face light up.  Oh, it’s definitely high touch.

Surprisingly, for one who loves these personal interactions, I love to be efficient.  My brain works in terms of processes.  How can I do this better?  How can I prevent errors?  How can I make the workflow smoother?  How can I reduce wait times without patients feeling like cattle and staff feeling overworked?  How can I meet the demands of my insurance and government overlords?   How can I design processes to get consistent outcomes across the entire office?  (With five providers and seven nurses that’s not always easy.)  I thrive when I can improve a process.  It makes my insides happy and gives me an internal attaboy.

When I was a resident at Emory, Grady had a horribly inefficient pediatric emergency room.  Don’t get me wrong, we were great at snatching a child from the jaws of death but we didn’t get to do that very often.  The ER—now called the ED everywhere (which I cannot wrap my head around because isn’t ED short for erectile dysfunction?)—anyway, the ER at Grady, unfortunately, was mostly about asthma, ear infections, rashes, sore throats, and a host of other non-emergency conditions.  Most of the time, I hated the ER rotation with its all-night shifts of nothing but ambulatory problems.

One New Year’s Eve (maybe I should say New Year’s morning since it was 1:00am!) I saw a mom with five kids in tow. They all had ringworm. I dutifully filled out the charts and wrote their prescriptions for griseofulvin.  At the end of the encounter, I asked mom why she had brought 5 kids at midnight on New Year’s for ringworm.  Her exact words? “I knew there wouldn’t be a wait.”  Her logic was impeccable.

When I was a senior resident, however, a new attending took over the Grady ER.  Within weeks it was a different place.  She created a whole new triage category called “R-GO” which stood for routine-GO. This was meant for those quick easy to treat ambulatory illnesses.  She assigned a resident to just see R-GOs regardless of whatever else was going on in the ER.  She assigned two exams rooms and a nurse to assist the resident.  It was like a miracle overtook the place.  Wait times went down.  Patient and physician satisfaction went up.  I loved it.

One morning I was assigned to do R-GOs.  I told the nurse I wanted to see how many we could do in one hour.  She was all in.  Admittedly my documentation wasn’t nearly as thorough as modern requirements dictate but we managed to see 12 kiddos in one hour and averaged 8 per hour that shift.  I finished mentally exhausted.  Have you ever been to the point that you just don’t want to make another decision?  Just choose my food.  I don’t care.  The attending said to me that day, “Jeff, you are going to be enormously successful in private practice.” Praise was rare during residency.

Because of my love for efficiency and my need to run an office to my own high exacting standards, I had a morning recently that was very frustrating. Nothing seemed to go right and my “efficiency” was thwarted from all sides.

My second patient, a teenager, wasn’t just depressed, but full-blown suicidal.  I do enjoy psychiatric care but nothing will blow up your schedule like a depressed teenager.  By the time I had made arrangements for her immediate care to prevent her from harming herself, I had six patients waiting for me—one for 45 minutes.

My next one was a 13-year-old new patient with chronic encopresis.  For those of you not in medicine, this kid was crapping his pants routinely.  Encopresis usually starts as a psychological problem.  A kid, usually a boy, with a need to control something about his life will refuse to use the toilet to the point that his colon is swollen and loses feeling. They can even develop a “megacolon” that interferes with proper bowel function.  Encopresis is never easy to treat but this kid had been at it for many years!  These boys are usually 7-9 years old when mom brings them in—not 13!  Treatment requires a bowel cleanse and chronic management to restore proper function. This requires a lot of patience and family education.

My next one was 21 years old and in 10 grade!  The next one was a new 13-year-old with five psychiatric diagnoses. My next one was an Indian mother (a doctor no less) who was very angry that she had had to wait.  After a couple of “routine patients” (as if there ever were such a thing), I had a mom argue with me about vaccines.  It took all my strength and patience to be polite when she told me that I “didn’t understand what was in vaccines”.  Good Lord, I wanted to slap her.

It was a hard day and I was frustrated.  My head hurt and I did not want to take my mood home with me.  I turned to Jesus with my frustration.

“Jesus, what was this about? Could it have been any worse?  I felt like I was hanging on by my fingernails to some semblance of orderliness and efficiency.  Today was not my best work.”

“Yes it was.”

“Pardon?  Jesus, you thought that was good work?”

“Jeff, today you rescued a girl from suicide.  You gave a mother and her son a hope of restoration that he won’t be going to high school next year pooping his pants.  You encouraged, you held hands, you walked alongside.  Sometimes efficiency isn’t about seeing more patients but about following me as we rescue the hurting.  You are my son and I am well pleased.”

“Thank you, Jesus, for trusting me with the greatest job on earth.”

 

 

Hero

I’m a busy guy.  Between family, church, work, and singing in three choirs I don’t get to go to many movies; I just don’t have time.  During the Christmas break, however, the family went to the beach to just get away and rest.  It was cold—too cold for this southern boy.  We didn’t get in the water and barely had sunshine thus I caught up on some movies.

I know friends who had their tickets for The Last Jedi months ago.  I enjoyed it, but as a family friend described back in the 70s, “It’s just Cowboys and Indians in outer space.”

Then we saw The Darkest Hour.  I’m generally not one for history books or movies, but I do love a hero.  When Winston Churchill took the underground to hear from the common people I found myself weeping.  It’s taken a while to process it.  What brought me to tears?
I’ve long known that when someone is “honored” by others that I will get choked up—think the end of The Lord of the Rings trilogy when Aragorn bows to the hobbits.  When all the townsfolk show up and rescue George at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, I cry like a baby.  I even wept at the ending of Mulan when the emperor bowed to Mulan for saving all of China.  Of course, it didn’t help that a million more Chinese bowed to honor her as well.

 

These tears during The Darkest Hour, however, weren’t about honoring someone.   So why cry?  The London commoners were shocked that the Prime Minister was on the tube.  Tentative and nervous, they slowly began to introduce themselves.   Finally, Churchill got around to the real purpose of his unorthodox commute.  “What do you think we should do about the Nazis?  Should we fight or should we negotiate a surrender?”  The baker, the chimney sweep, the mother comforting her child overwhelmingly responded “We fight!  We fight to the last breath!”  The chimney sweep even said he’d fight with a broomstick.  I had tears rolling down my cheeks.

 

The people were looking to their leader for stability, reassurance, and hope.  He was looking to the people for affirmation that his instincts were right.  It struck me how different the world would be if Churchill had acquiesced to Chamberlain.  The courage of one man, that courage stoked by and for the people he led, that courage changed the course of history and led to freedom for millions.

 

Can I be such a man?  I may not be in a position to free millions, but thousands? Hundreds? Dozens? Even one?  What sacrifices am I willing to make to see another walk in freedom?  I want to be that hero.

 

We also saw The Greatest Showman.  I realize that it is a highly stylized version of the truth of P. T. Barnum, but what a show!  The music is awesome.  The story is really fascinating.  And once again I found myself weeping.  Surprisingly, for the same reason as The Darkest Hour.  Sure Barnum was flawed, but the movie portrays him as rescuing the outcasts—the bearded lady, the dwarf, the albino, the fat man.  They became a family.  They found a place where they each belonged and he became….their father—the father rescuing and saving his children.  The hero.  I wept.

 

Jesus, let me be that kind of man.

Christmas Gift

I teach Emory medical students.  They rotate through my office for only two weeks to experience pediatric ambulatory care.  I’m supposed to expose them to a variety of acute problems, chronic illness management, and of course well-child preventive care.

These students are “perfect”.  Emory School of Medicine accepts 150 students out of more than 20,000 applicants.  They are young, brilliant, and athletic.  I have yet to meet one that isn’t literally the highest of the high achievers.  Two have had PhD’s!

In addition to the medical stuff, I have a list of what I call my “non-medical curricula”.   I usually talk about the three sources of errors, some business principles, etc.  I always throw in that every man’s question is “Do I have what it takes to be a man?” and every woman’s question… “Will you notice me?”

Not long ago, I had a young woman who wasn’t sure what specialty she wanted to pursue.  On her last day, she asked me what my favorite age to see was.  I said, “Not babies.  They are cute and cuddly but if the parents just love’em, feed’em, and clean their bottoms, then there’s not much for me to do except reassure the parents.  The three to ten year olds love you and give great hugs; but it’s the adolescents who have been slapped up side the head by the disappointments of life that float my boat.  I get to reach into their lives and make a difference.”

The very next patient was a depressed 16 year old boy.  During the visit with him, I talked about his wounds, his core lie, vow, and very dysfunctional pose.  As I talked to this young man, I realized that the student’s eyes had turned from the patient to me.  I was acutely aware that she was looking at me as if she’d never heard such revolutionary brilliance.  (I can actually say that since none of the ideas were originally mine! Haha).  When we left the room, she turned to me and said, “I am going into pediatric psychiatry.”  Even though I changed my specialty choice because of one patient in January 1987, I suggested that maybe she shouldn’t make a lifetime career decision because of one 30 minute experience.

It’s often like this with these students.  They are brilliant—brilliant sponges, soaking up spiritual truth without even realizing that’s what I’m sharing.

On the flip side, these “kids” are almost universally liberal.  As upper/middle-class hyper-educated graduates of the leading academic indoctrination centers in the America, they’ve been marinated in leftist ideology.  They are politically liberal, socially left of the American mainstream, and think that anyone with a brain supports abortion, Democrats, and universal healthcare insurance.

That’s why it was a unique pleasure this week to meet an evangelical young man.  He started on Tuesday and within five minutes of being in the office I found out he attended a well-known church in the area.  An hour later we were talking about Wild at Heart.  (He’d read it.).

He followed me all day and was with me when I spoke to one teenage boy about sex.  I told the patient about every man’s question, that sex doesn’t answer that question and that every man with the right equipment can have sex.  I shared that if he takes his question to a woman then he gives her the power to answer with a resounding “No” and that the single best thing he can do for his life, his heart, and his future is to not sleep with his girlfriend.

During the course of the day, my new found evangelical med student friend seemed to be having a great time. Most of the students act interested and some genuinely are, but he seemed to be reveling in the day.  Truthfully, so was I.  I genuinely love my job.

The next day, I took him to lunch.  I started the conversation, “Tell me about your life.”  He shared his story, and ended with, “..and I called my mom last night and told her that you are the most manly doctor I’ve ever met.”

I teared up.

Completely choked.

Couldn’t breathe.

I had to divert my eyes for a minute.

You see, my core lie is “I am not a man.”  Another version, “I can never be a man because of my history.”, is even worse because it removes all hope of ever being the man God created me to be. To have someone say that I am the most manly doc they’ve ever met was an overwhelming moment of affirmation.  I think it was an affirmation straight from Jesus to my heart.  The question I most longed to have answered, the answer I most longed to hear, and at a core level had struggled to believe as truth, was given to me as a free gift.

Apparently, Jesus really does love me and cares for my heart.

This may be the most precious Christmas gift I’ve ever received.

The Heart of a Man

Recently, Abe Low, a writer for Salon.com, a left-leaning online publication (to put it as politely as possible) wrote the following article.  “My liberal white male rage:  What should I do about it?” Take a moment to peruse this masterpiece.  We’ll wait.

The conservative Twitterverse responded much as one might expect.  You’ll enjoy these as well.

Low can’t seem to reconcile his own liberal self-righteousness with his violent fantasies.  He thinks that only the alt-right and neo-Nazis are violent.  On the very surface that is a ridiculous concept since most violence is perpetrated by leftist hate groups and in anti-gun bastions of liberalism.  Their “tolerance” is so intolerant that it’s farcical.  Even Antifa (for those of you hiding under a rock, Antifa is an abbreviation for “anti-fascists”) is using violent techniques in an attempt to dictate their view of the world on others—the very definition of fascism!

But what is really going on in this poor misguided guy’s heart?  The answer almost leaps off the page.  Even though he and I may disagree on virtually every political, social, and moral point of the compass, Low carries within him the heart of a man–the same as every man.  He wants three things—a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.  (John Eldredge:  Wild at Heart)  All three elements are actually found in his very first fantasy.  He fantasizes of rescuing a female teacher at an all-girls school from a campus intruder.  There it is!  Battle, Adventure, Rescue.

Even the most liberal-minded have written on their hearts in the truest essence of their being, God’s design for a man.

Unfortunately, Low denies his very masculinity by asking if he is “a solution or part of the problem”.  Low seems to think that all masculinity is “toxic”.  He even attends an anti-racist/anti-sexist white male group where he must “check-in” like he’s at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.   He “confesses” his fantasies to his white liberal brothers and finds them nodding in agreement, leaning forward, getting red in the face, etc.  Wow.  Who would have believed it?  Men long to be—well–MEN!

Low eventually asks the question, “So what to do with this conflicted rage?  Can it be made useful for a movement, or is it inherently self-centered and destructive?”

To quote a President:  “Sad.”

Low doesn’t understand that his rage was meant, designed, created, instilled by the creator of the universe for something far greater than he has ever imagined.  One of the greatest honors of being a man is our God-given desire to change the world around us.  We long to build an empire, to rule a kingdom, to affect the lives of others, to help those in need.  These desires are all good and righteous. These desires are why men run for President.  This innate characteristic of masculinity is why people defend their country.  This is why we marry and have children.  This was the impetus for the brave signers of the Declaration of Independence who mutually pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor!  Men were created for this very thing—to fight against evil, to rule and create a better world, to rescue those in need!

Low asks if his rage can be “useful”.  Oh, how little he understands.

Finally, I leave you with two pictures.  One a drawing that accompanied Low’s tweet, the other a picture taken during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

 

Which man would you rather be?

 

Jeff Cooper

 

 

 

Heartfire

Singing is one of the greatest joys of my life.

I can appreciate almost any kind of music that is done well and by “done well” I mean written well and performed with skill and respect for what the music is meant to be.

Lady Gaga?  Bring her on.  I have her music on my iPhone.  Dolly Parton?  Yep. Clay Aiken?  You bet. Bill Gaither?  Are you kidding me?  I have ALL of his.  Andrea Bocelli.  Solo Instrumental.  Orchestral.  Opera.  I even listen to a little heavy metal on occasion.  Jazz isn’t my favorite but I like some of it.    About the only thing I can barely tolerate is rap–of course that’s not actually music now is it?  It’s mostly bad poetry laced with profanity or maybe I should say profanity laced with bad poetry!

In spite of my love for all of the above, my true love is singing in a choir.  The experiences I’ve had in a choir are too many to write about.  The emotions, the sense of belonging, the friendships that develop when you spend time with like-minded people and come to enjoy and respect their skills, all play a part in the overarching headiness of the experience.

The first time I sight read “I’ve Just Seen Jesus” was in choir practice at First Baptist Atlanta.  It was a handwritten copy and all those funky intervals and accidentals for the women on the first page were difficult for them to sing, but oh the wonder of the story of seeing Jesus for the first time after the resurrection!  You were grieving for he was dead, then suddenly he is standing before you.  Alive!   Can your mind wrap around the profoundness of that moment?  When we got to the line “all that I had done before, won’t matter anymore”, well, I began to weep.  Tears poured down my cheeks.  The last time I sang that song was 20 years later in a service at Peachtree Corners Baptist Church and I wept again.  The power of music to overwhelm your emotions is simply profound.

For the past few years I’ve sung with the Sons of Jubal and have had the joy of getting to know several ministers of music from around the state of Georgia.  We get to worship together and make music in such a beautiful and profound way to reach the hearts of people in the audience.  I’ve made new friends there.  One in particular has become a close friend that I love to spend time with outside of rehearsal, walking together through the difficulties and strains and triumphs of life.

My wife and I have also sung in the Johns Creek Chorale since its inception in 2015.  Singing in a community chorus that performs serious choral music at a high level has been a new experience for me and has pushed my skills to new levels.  I love doing it, although, as a good Baptist, I have to work on my Latin; and you can forget German, Italian, Swahili, and Norwegian! (Yes, we’ve performed in all of those languages!)  There are many times that I’m simply exhausted from a day’s work and force myself to go to rehearsal anyway.  Without exception, I come away energized and excited about what we are doing.

The Johns Creek Chorale recently performed a piece simply called “Joy” by Hans Bridget Heruth.  It based on a poem by Sara Teasdale.

I am wild, I will sing to the trees,

I will sing to the stars in the sky,

I love, I am loved, he is mine,

Now at last I can die!

 

I am sandaled with wind and with flame,

I have heart-fire and singing to give,

I can tread on the grass or the stars,

Now at last I can live!

 

It is not possible for a blog article to convey the unquenchable joy that radiates from this song!  When we rehearse or perform it, my heart sings!  I cannot sing it without smiling.  I want to laugh!  It is delightful and freeing and celebratory and good and right.  I am loved!  What an overwhelming thought–I am loved! How can I not sing?

I am sandaled with wind and with flame, I have heart-fire and singing to give.  Why? Because I am loved!

I wish the world could experience such Joy.