R. R. Reno
Robert Benne has been a strong and clear voice for Christian orthodoxy, and Thanks Be To God!: Memoirs of a Practical Theologian is a delightful read. Much like another widely published Lutheran of his generation (and founder of this journal), Benne's early work as a theologian and church leader participated in the activist spirit of the 1960s (which, as Benne points out, lasted until 1975). And like Richard John Neuhaus, Benne came to see the excesses of that activism, not the least of which involved squandering the apostolic inheritance for social “relevance.” Not only does the reader gain a fresh perspective on the religious impetus behind First Things, which might be dubbed “theological neo-conservatism,” Benne also provides a charming account of growing up in a small town in Nebraska in the middle of the twentieth century. It was a time and a place where grandparents told their grandchildren about the sod houses they built on newly plotted homesteads.
San Francisco’s Laguna Honda hospital was perhaps the last of America’s almshouses. Victoria Sweet chronicled its transition from almshouse to healthcare facility during her tenure as one of its doctors in her 2012 book God’s Hotel. Five years later, she published what amounts to its prequel, Slow Medicine, which charts the course of her training and how she came to the principles at the heart of her medical practice—principles at odds with the modern economic model of healthcare. “Slow Medicine” is a riff on the slow food movement. Just as slow food arose as a protest against efficient but low-quality food, so is slow medicine a protest against efficient but low-quality healthcare.
Sweet’s study of Hildegard of Bingen gives her a grammar for articulating some of the “slow medicine” principles she has discovered throughout her years as a doctor: Although modernity’s model of the body as machine has led to many medical breakthroughs for which we are all grateful, it also has limitations. Sweet argues we can compensate for these limits through mindfulness of the medieval world’s model of the body as plant. (It sounds wacky, I know, but in both books Sweet describes many patients who have benefited from her philosophy.) The doctor, in Sweet's view, should see herself as both mechanic and gardener. She laments the passing away of medical facilities that granted doctors the time and resources they needed in order to practice this slow medicine with its fusion of modern and medieval principles. Today's healthcare facilities, aimed at efficiency and profit, multiply administrative burdens and ineffective protocols that keep doctors from practicing the healing art.
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