By Dr. Jim Ferguson

I’m reading the Bible again this year, but this time as part of a group. The last time I read this compendium of wisdom by myself. I much prefer reading the Bible with other pilgrims, and then discussing our weekly reading assignments. Last fall I found a schedule that organized the readings into categories: historical books, wisdom writings, the Psalms, the Gospels, and the epistles. I can testify that Isaiah and Job are more tolerable in small segments. I’ve also gleaned new insights as Becky and I read aloud to each other, and as we discuss various translations with fellow travelers of the Way.

As you know I love finding the perfect word to express a thought, and you’ve heard me say, “Words are tools to express our thoughts.” This is evident with my two year old grandson, Oakley, whose language tools are increasing, but remain limited. Oakley is a good natured little soul, but his recent illness has brought out his frustrations and his grandparents’ as we try to understand and meet his needs.

I have two websites that send me their word of the day. One website is run by a linguist of Indian ancestry. He says he was raised in the Hindu philosophy, but describes himself as an apostate to the Hindu faith and to all other spiritual perspectives. I once had an email dialogue with him on matters of faith, but it went nowhere, and as The Master once advised, I walked away from the discourse. I told this story in my Bible study group and was asked how I felt about this interaction. My conclusion, borne of reflection, was one of sadness. I thought it sad that this learned man has a blighted view of the universe and continues to utter snide remarks about the Bible, siting areas of savagery and inhumanity. However, is savagery not true of life? Are we not witnessing evil in the actions of the Islamist terrorist kidnappers in Nigeria? The “man-of-words” seems unable to see the beauty and truth of the Psalms which express the spectrum of human emotions. He seems unable to comprehend the wisdom of Solomon – purportedly the smartest man who ever lived – or the revelations of Job, who got his day in court and was humbled by the great I Am.

There is an old 19th century hymn sung by Methodists and I suspect others that goes, “I love to tell the story of unseen things above…” I’ve found that this perspective applies to me. I’ve found that I experience God as I study scripture and the old stories. There is an especially poignant story in the Gospel of Luke where the “risen” Jesus meets two of his followers traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus. I’ve often wondered why these pilgrims did not recognize Jesus, the man whom they had followed for some time. Jesus even reiterated the old stories of scripture as they walked. Later, they did recognize the Master through the ritual of the Eucharist. But more poignant for me is their reflection and realization that their “hearts burned” as He told them the old stories in scripture.

I didn’t sit down this afternoon to pen a sermonette; it’s just what happened. Perhaps my Wednesday Group’s reading of Exodus made me think of my meeting with my former medical group that will occur this week. Most of us of western culture know the old story of Moses who petitioned Pharaoh to free the Hebrew slaves, bound in servitude for four hundred years. The story of the plagues are ingrained in us as a part of our culture which we often take for granted. My Judeo-Christian heritage was once challenged by a former medical partner. In an offhand remark I used the metaphor of the Prodigal Son. This otherwise very Americanized woman and physician had no knowledge of this story or its meaning.

This week I will meet with “Pharaoh” and ask to be freed from bondage. As most of you know I left my large medical practice at the end of 2013. Leaving my practice and my patients was the hardest decision I’ve ever made, but, after a year’s reflection, this was absolutely necessary for me to do. Ultimately, I had to choose between my patients and my principles. I chronicled this journey of conscience in an essay I wrote for the April issue of the Tennessee Medical Journal. I will soon learn whether my former group and I can settle our debts and differences amicably and part in respectful philosophical disagreement. The alternative is spending the next several years in court among lawyers. I pray for peace and I ask for your prayers as well.

I have to admit that my prayers more often focus on general issues rather than specific ones. It seems easier for me to pray for strength and courage or for wisdom rather than for healing of a colleague’s paralyzed son. Perhaps I’m allowing my limited vision to hinder the Creator’s work. I’m working to love more rather than trusting my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

After leaving my medical group I thought my career was over, but apparently I was wrong. I now have a small concierge medical practice that is, in some respects, non-traditional. Concierge medicine is best described as having your physician on call 24/7 for advice, advocacy and treatment when necessary. In 2005 there were about 500 concierge medical practices in America. A recent survey revealed there are now more that 5000 such practices. These continue to grow in number as people increasingly sense the need of an advocate in a bureaucratic and impersonal medical care system.

There are many variations of concierge medicine including a TV show of such a practice in the Hamptons; I have never watched the show. In my version you keep your medical insurance that covers hospitalization, lab testing and specialist referral. You pay me for my advice, advocacy, and care, which includes house calls.

I don’t know what the future holds, but my blood pressure has gone down with this new medical direction, and I’m happier now. Perhaps I’ve already been set free.