WHO RUNS THE CAFETERIA?
By JIM NICHOLS
A university or school system has good reason to understand that students need to eat sometime around lunchtime. From an operational standpoint, the university or school system has a basic decision to make. The decision is whether the university or school system itself will operate the cafeteria or whether that function should be outsourced.
Similarly, a university or school system has good reason to want its students to have textbooks. The appropriate decision is whether the university or school system should run its own bookstore or should outsource that function. That outsourcing might be some off-campus company that would occupy some “bookstore space” on campus, or the students might use some online bookseller; in either case, someone other than university or school employees performs the function.
A medical clinic logically performs several functions. The most obvious of those is meeting the straightforward medical needs of its patients. However, those needs fit into several categories. If laboratory tests are needed, are they to be done by the clinic’s personnel themselves or outsourced? Whose job is it to run the payroll, insurance, and billing? Whose job is it to order supplies or clean the building at night?
Outsourcing is clearly a mainstay of modern business life. Even on a personal level we do this all the time. Should I try to cut my own hair or have someone else do it? How about changing my own flat tire or mowing my grass? In some cases, I could perform the task, but for some reason it is more feasible to have someone else do it instead of me. Why would I have someone else do something that I am certainly capable of doing? Perhaps someone else could do a better job, do it more efficiently, do it more conveniently. In some cases, maybe I am temporarily incapable right then.
A good friend of mine spent a significant time in diagnosis and treatment for cancer. This young woman traveled to other cities, subjected herself to tests and surgeries, and had rounds of chemotherapy. She had appetite problems, sleep problems, and loss of physical energy. She also admits that it posed spiritual problems for her.
She was open with friends about her struggles. As frequently happens, her family and friends rallied around her to support her in ways they could. They helped in transportation, family food supply, companionship, and personal needs. They volunteered to do most of the aspects of life that she ordinarily would have done but now was unable. There were also spiritual needs.
She reports that she was asked at one point by a trusted friend, “How is your spiritual life?” Her response was, “I’m outsourcing it.”
Holy outsourcing. I like that idea. My friend is a part of a Christian community that was performing aspects of her life that she would have done herself ordinarily but now was unable. She wasn’t just talking about someone mowing her grass or helping with her children, as important as those are. She was suggesting that her spiritual energy was being drained by her medical treatments and that she simply did not have enough left for the usual spiritual activities that were fundamental to her.
She was too tired to meditate and think about much of anything except her next medical treatment. She lacked energy to read comforting books and scriptures that, under other circumstances, would have lifted her spirits and given her confidence. When she was too weary even to pray, her community was praying for her. They were not just praying on behalf of her, they were praying instead of her praying. This is a powerful image to me of the importance of Christian community.
In the book of Exodus, we have a visual of this. During one of the many battles between the Israelites and their enemies, the Israelites fought successfully only when Moses held up his arms and hands over the battlefield. If he dropped his arms for some reason, the tide of battle reversed, and the enemy began to prevail. When he again raised his arms, the Israelites returned to success. Apparently, this was a long battle and, though Moses held up his arms as long as he could, eventually he became so physically tired that he was unable to continue that action. This spelled doom for the Israelites. Scripture says, however, that two companions brought a large stone for Moses to sit on and the two companions physically held up Moses’ arms. The Israelites went on to victory after this.
I will admit that this story (as well as many in the Bible) seems a bit strange to me, but the message from God through it is clear. We are supposed to help one another during times of trouble. This may cost us some time, energy, and effort, but it is our responsibility to one another as children of God together. We are, in fact, all in this together.
Non-religious explanations of “outsourcing” identify that it is the strategic use of outside resources to perform activities traditionally handled by internal staff and resources. It allows a company to “improve its focus.”
I would suggest that “holy outsourcing” fits this definition. If someone in the holy community is depleted of energy or confidence, and if her/his spiritual strength has taken so many hits that she/he cannot even function spiritually, we can hold up some arms and pray instead of that person praying.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain.