Sunday, May 5, 2013

“The Theology of House”

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

            The gospel from John presents the healing of a man who was formerly paralyzed.  The healing takes place in Jerusalem, outside the temple, near pools of water.  The healing occurs on the Sabbath, and, because it is the Sabbath when no work was to be performed, the man is unable to enter the pool as he desires.  No one will help him; he is frustrated.  Though the other gospels present Jesus healing a paralyzed man, in all cases indoors, John’s gospel provides some unique details, including the healing taking place out of doors.
            The most notable detail is the question from Jesus to the man. 
            “Do you want to be healed?”  Do you want to be healed?
            The funny thing about this gospel is the man doesn’t answer the question.  He just starts in complaining about how no one is willing to put him in the precious pool.  I think there is an element of the human condition in this healing, one that is both funny and tragic.  The man would rather complain than answer the simple question: Do you want to be healed?  The man would rather whine than walk again.  Healings abound in all of the gospels, and the role of healer for Jesus is the constant in the four canonical gospels.  When you go looking for healing moments in the gospel, it’s hard not to consider them as the major theme of Jesus as messiah.  
Religion is not about everything going perfectly, and a perfect life without mistakes.  The word religion itself means to re-ligament.  To, literally, put ligaments back in place.  You can rightly think of this in terms of your own body, because that’s exactly how it was intended.  Religion assumes brokenness, and it means knowing what to do when something is broken.  You put it back together, if you want to be healed.  And the thing about a broken bone, it becomes stronger at the place where it was broken if it is set properly.  It becomes the strongest part of the bone.  But, as mentioned, you have to want to be healed.  Apparently, some of us don’t.

That part of the sermon, the beginning, came pretty easily; but then everything ground to a halt.  Maybe your papers are going like this as well right now.  Spring is finally here.  It’s May; and there are three weeks left of class.  I’m sure if it was the weather that caused my writer’s block.  Call it spring fever on this beautiful weekend.  As my seniors know, I don’t believe in senioritis, but I was experiencing something like it over the last few days.  I waited, and nothing came.  So I started watching television—I began watching reruns of a show I used to love.  It’s a show all about medicine and healing, one that that lasted from 2004 to 2012.     
 I had no choice for my writer’s block: I turned to a doctor.  He didn’t give me a prescription, but he did give me a sermon, or something like it.  His name is Doctor Gregory House of Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital.  The show is House.  House is the ultimate curmudgeon; he is part Nietzsche as an uberdoctor who doesn’t have to follow the rules, part Sherlock Homes, and part Socrates lifting up the examined life for all of us.  And yet House is, in many ways, a very, very horrible person; yet he inspires both fascination and loathing.  As your chaplain, I confess; I can’t take my eyes off him.  Terribly, tragically, I identify with him.  I love watching him trying to outsmart his wonderful and very attractive supervisor, Dr. Lisa Cuddy.  I would like to have Cuddy as my supervisor, and then I would like to trick her too.   
There is so much that I enjoy about House, but his character is not mine.  I’m much more like Wilson (like Watson for Sherlock Holmes).  I see the good side of people, most of the time, or I try to.  For House, there are no sides to people; otherwise we would be geometric shapes, right? 
There is only the truth that the grouchy doctor states all the time:
            Everybody lies.”  Everybody lies.  
            How many times have you heard House say that?  We will have plenty of Housisms before this “sermon” is over, but here are some early House quotes.  House rules if you will.  
            “I don’t ask why patients lie, I just assume they do.”
            “It’s a basic truth of the human condition that everybody lies.  The only variable is about what.”
            “I’ve found that when you want to know the truth about someone that someone is probably the last person you should ask.”
            “Dying people lie too.  Wish they’d worked less, been nicer, opened orphanages for kittens…if you really want to do something, you do it.  You don’t save it for a sound bite.”
            Now the title of this sermon is “The Theology of House,” if there can be such a thing.  House’s vision of the human condition is by no means a modern defense of original sin, and it does sound a lot like Augustine, whom House would have definitely hated.  But it certainly presents the world as no longer one of good people and bad people, the sketchy people and the special people.  There are only patients; we are all patients.  We are all being asked the question by the doctor: Do you want to be healed?  And we are all complainers.  There is a radical equality among all people, in the mind of House.  Jesus thought like this too.  Jesus and House.  What a horrible comparison, right?  Jesus is nice, right?  House is a devil.  Not exactly.  You can start reading the gospels tonight.  Do it.  How many times is Jesus nice?  Stay up all night looking for the answer, and I, like House, will see you in the morning.  Jesus isn’t very nice either.  And Jesus and House both have disciples.  Jesus had James and John and Andrew and Peter.  House has Foreman, Chase, Cameron, a disciple named 13, and that guy from the Harold and Kumar movies    
Every time I hear a feeble excuse from a student, like why Alex Gandolfo slept through my A block class, again, I think of what House would say.  What would House do?  WWHD.  But I don’t think I would enjoy spending time with a real Dr. House.  What would he say to me?  How would he penetrate my clever lies?  I can only watch him once a day, for an hour.  That’s it.  But there, there it is.  I’m already lying.  If there’s more than one episode, I’m watching it, even if I have papers to grade, or a sermon to write.  Two nights ago, I watched three episodes in a row.  Two I had seen before. 
I promised House rules, or House music.  So here are just a sample of the famous sayings of House, the rudest of the wise men, the curmudgeon messiah.  Here we go:    
            “Humanity is overrated.”
            “If you can fake sincerity, you can fake pretty much anything.”
            “Tragedies happen.”
“Weird works for me.”
“In this universe effect follows cause.  I’ve complained about it but-“
“There’s no I in ‘team.’  There is a me, though, if you jumble it up.”
“Welcome to the end of the thought process.”
“If he gets better, I’m right.  If he dies, you’re right.”
“I hurt my leg.  I have a note.”
“If you talk to God, you’re religious.  If God talks to you, you’re psychotic.”
“Arrogance has to be earned.”
“…the fact that the sexual pleasure center of your brain has been overstimulated by spirochetes is a poor basis for a relationship.  Learned that one the hard way.”
“Never trust doctors.”
 “New is good.  Because old ended in death.”
“What usually happens when you poke something with a stick?  It pokes back.”
“Misery is better than nothing.”
“Reality is almost always wrong.”
And:
“You could think I’m wrong, but that’s no reason to stop thinking.”
My favorite House episode is the one with the hallucinating priest.  Among the many symptoms of the priest, he has seen a disturbing religious vision—of a hovering Jesus who is bleeding from the wounds of the crucifixion.  The priest is completely burned out by his ministry with the homeless, and it is no longer clear that the priest believes in a loving God anymore.  The dialogue between House and the priest is penetrating; each sees beyond the fa├žade of the other man, to the core, the soul.  House calls the Catholic priest “Father Nietzsche.”  He is a patient that House even visits, happily, on house calls.  Though neither professes a belief in God, things happen to redeem them both that neither can explain.  When House eliminates the hallucination of Jesus as a symptom, rather than as an actual event in time, which it was, the doctor correctly diagnoses the priest’s disease.  At numerous points, House calls the priest a hypocrite.  The priest responds, without missing a beat, that House is the biggest hypocrite he has met in his entire life: for pretending that he doesn’t care about his patients.  Yes, he does care.  And we teachers care about all of you.  He may not like it, but Dr. House has soul.  Though he seems to teeter on the threshold of self-destruction, House always overcomes his intellectual isolation by engagement with the problems of others.  He gets out of his own miserable head by reaching out to others in pain.  Perhaps the most powerful moment of healing imagination recently in our nation was when victims of the Boston bombing were visited by soldiers who had also lost arms and legs in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Get out of your own head and your own problems.  If you want to be healed, rise, get up and walk, pick up your cross, and go visit someone in pain like you were.  In every powerful healing, there is a healing in the healer as well.       
            More than anything, House believes that the universe is a beautiful, complicated puzzle; the answers are out there, we just have to find them.  Is this a kind of faith?  I don’t look to House for faith, I already have that.  He would call this faith my imaginary friend.  Yes, my imaginary friend, the suprarational God who created a rational and intelligible universe, for genius atheists and all of you to figure out.  I love that God.  But enough about him/her, we talk about him/her all the time in chapel.  This talk is about House.  House gives me hope.  I look to House to remind me that eccentricity works, and conflict is an intellectual necessity.  Progress comes from the eccentric people in our world, not the followers, and House sure makes it look like a whole lot of fun to think outside the box.  His inability to love is a problem, but hey, nobody’s perfect.  Be an individual, avoid Dr. Cuddy (unless it’s a date), and clinic hours whenever you can, and do not take painkillers without a doctor’s prescription.  School is almost over, thank God, but there is still work to be done.  And you can do it; you can even excel, and save the patient, which is you, after all.  The answers to your classes are out there.  The answers to the problems in the world are out there too.  Now go and find them.  Amen.