This video has been making the rounds on Facebook. It is a clip from a documentary called “There is a Bridge,” which aired on PBS in 2007. The film was produced by Memory Bridge: The Foundation for Alzheimer’s and Cultural Memory (http://www.memorybridge.org/) below is what I said when I shared it (somewhat edited for clarity)
I try not to share strongly emotional videos for the sole purpose of eliciting an emotional response, especially when they are videos about illness or disability. Too often, these videos become emotional porn, making people with a serious illness or a disability into objects designed to elicit a particular feeling in the viewer. Because of this, I try not to post this kind of thing. Except this time.
A couple of things strike me about this clip.
1) The imperative to build these kinds of spiritual memories in the children of our congregations. We don’t sing “Jesus loves me” just to sing it, because we think it’s cute when children sing it, or simply because we think the message is sweet. We do it to create a core memory (thanks again, Inside Out… I get a lot of mileage out of you), so that “Jesus loves me” becomes part of the essence of who they are, an essence that remains even after everything else is stripped away.
We don’t use the Godly Play curriculum at the church where I sometimes work in the children’s ministry (although I hope we do someday). However, every chance I have, I use the sentence “Once was someone who said such amazing things and did such wonderful things that people began to follow him.” I use it when I’m preaching to adults, and when I am teaching children. I want them to internalize it, to turn toward the story of Jesus naturally when their brain becomes full of clutter or fear or anxiety.
Second, in CPE we had lots of conversations about how to effectively offer pastoral care to patients with wildly differing faith backgrounds and practices from our own. Everyone in my CPE group was Christian, ranging from Catholic to Pentecostal. A couple of them from more evangelical traditions wondered repeatedly how they could provide pastoral care without sharing the Gospel with people, or at least without making explicitly clear what they believed. Of course, in the theoretical environment of a discussion group in the chaplaincy office, this brought on a great deal of anxiety. But as we scattered across the hospital, walking slowly from burn unit to cancer ward, from peds to psych, tiptoeing into the NICU to pray over isolettes, rushing to the heart hospital to respond to a code… we slowly figured out what it looks like to provide pastoral care.
Do you want to know what it looks like? This is what it looks like: a white Jewish woman singing “Jesus loves me” to an African American Christian woman with Alzheimer’s disease. I would wager that “Jesus Loves Me” is not a part of Naomi Feil’s religious identity. But she enters into Gladys’s religious identity, learns the language, and uses it to make a meaningful connection, to remind Gladys of who she is and Whose she is.
Third, is an answer to the question “Why faith? Why, given all of the evidence and the generally poor track record religion has in re: violence, oppression, all the dreadful -isms.” It relates to number 1, but also to loneliness. C.S. Lewis never actually said “We read to know we are not alone” … it was written for him in the biopic “Shadowlands”. I would say that we sing to know we are not alone. We pray to know we are not alone. We eat the bread and drink the wine to know we are not alone. Even when we don’t feel it, even though when we’re certain it does no good, we keep trying, so that we know we are not alone. And at the end of our life, that most lonely of moments, we would remember that, (in the words of the United Church of Canada’s “A New Creed”,) “in life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone.”
P.S.: I feel like there should be a special NSFW label for things that are likely to make you cry. NSFW: weeping.