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Reclaiming Broken Bodies: Thinking Theologically about the Opioid Crisis

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St. Mary's Ecumenical Institute

5400 Roland Avenue

Baltimore, Maryland 21210

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The opioid crisis is on multiple levels about the brokenness of human bodies, only some of which fall under the purview of medicine; for all the real good it does, medicine alone cannot offer healing. “Healing,” says the poet, essayist, and social critic Wendell Berry, “is impossible in loneliness. It is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing.” Berry’s claim is altogether consistent with one of the fundamental tenets of Christianity, which is that God’s redemptive work, mediated by the gathered community of God’s people is to make of alienated, lonely individuals a community of mutual love and support. God’s work is to reclaim persons from isolation and re-member them into a community where “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it" ( 1 Cor 12:26). None of this happens magically, but rather through the hard work of friendship; one way of imagining the Christian community is as a gathered society of friends, all of whom are broken in one way or another, each of whom is devoted to caring in concrete ways for the others. This work of reclamation allows us to serve one another in our weaknesses and truthfully lament the brokenness of our bodies as we await their promised redemption.

Joel Shuman, PhD, PT, is Professor of Theology at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania who works at the intersection of theology and medicine. Dr. Shuman also teaches in the CONNECT: Faith, Health, and Medicine certificate program of St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute. After practicing physical therapy for several years, he pursued theology, studying New Testament with Richard Hays and Christian Ethics with Stanley Hauerwas at Duke University. Joel spent the 2018-19 academic year as the Scholar in Residence with the Theology, Medicine, and Culture Initiative at Duke Divinity School, where he researched the opioid epidemic, and is currently co-authoring a book on congregational responses to the opioid crisis. His previous books include The Body of Compassion: Ethics, Medicine and the Church, Heal Thyself: Spirituality, Medicine and the Distortion of Christianity (with Keith Meador, M.D.), Reclaiming the Body: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine (with Brian Volck, M.D.), and To Live is to Worship: Bioethics and the Body of Christ (2007). He co-edited (with L. Roger Owens) and contributed to the volume of essays, Wendell Berry and Religion: Heaven's Earthly Home.

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St. Mary's Ecumenical Institute

5400 Roland Avenue

Baltimore, Maryland 21210

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