Open Hands

I have not been writing much of late. The usual excuses apply: busy physician, caught up in other interests, yada yada yada. My wife has also suggested that working long hours, then coming home and sitting on the computer for the rest of the evening and all weekend is not what she would describe as a “relationship” — funny people, these women are — don’t they understand we men have our needs? And of course, she is entirely correct, and I’m committed to making some changes to fix my malfeasance in this area. Obsessively scanning the web for the latest Obamanation is not terrible good use of time or mental energy anyway, so the change is truly a blessing in disguise.

But change there is aplenty, and its rapidity and breadth makes it hard to comprehend and process in such a way as to organize one’s thoughts and communicate them in meaningful ways. We are rapidly becoming a different country and culture, transforming in ways that are hardly new but accelerating seemingly at light-speed. The leaders of our country, a nation long a force of enormous good and beneficence in the world despite her many flaws, now travel the world apologizing and criticizing the very nation and citizens they purport to lead, while praising the Europeans whose parasitic socialism and arrogant superiority exist solely because we have liberated, protected and sustained their existence from crush of fascist nationalism and the dangerous bear of Russian aggression. We now pretend, with stunning naivete, that nice talk will restrain monomaniacal tyrants with nuclear dreams in Iran, North Korea, and Syria. The scimitar of Mohammad is resharpened in a much-needed respite after years of crushing humiliation sustained in defending our nation from a new and extraordinarily dangerous fascism fired by a suicidal religious ideology.

At home, our economy stutters and stumbles to ground, suffering the hangover of decades of consumption which we could not afford, purchased with money we did not have. In response, our government spends untold trillions it does not have, bartering the future prosperity of untold generations for the present opportunism of slight-of-hand socialism disguised as a solution. Our banks and auto companies are nationalized; their executives fired by presidential fiat; their salaries capped by politicians who themselves have leveraged their political power to rape, pillage and plunder their way to untold personal millions mendaciously acquired.

Our government is officially, intractably, and utterly corrupt — and we are in no small part to blame:

By almost every measure, Washington is hopelessly corrupt.

And we are at once victims and accomplices.

Career politicians are spending the country to near-bankruptcy as they feather their own nests, tighten their leash on our necks and pat us on the head. They take our money, bend it to their will, then return small portions of it at their discretion to make us feel it has all been worth it.

Washington is to the taxpayer as the drug cartels are to the addict…

Washington is over $10 trillion in debt already. The Obama budget blueprint calls for adding another $9 trillion to that debt in the next 10 years. And the country is already facing untold trillions — $60 trillion or more — in Medicare and Social Security promises we’ve made to future retirees, money for which we have no identifiable source.

… Despite record-low approval ratings for Congress last year, we continued sending our congressmen back at about a 90 percent retention rate.

We have, sadly, been corrupted.

Our health care system, straining under unsustainable and spiraling costs, appears headed for nationalization as well, pouring untold millions of patients into the already-bankrupt Medicare system, while promising illusory “cost savings” through preventive medicine, electronic health records, and national boards to determine “appropriate” health care. The health care system we now enjoy, imperfect as it is, will be unrecognizably worse within the decade. It will not be a pretty sight. The health care bubble is about to burst: the grand mansions of high-tech healthcare, as unaffordable as they are sexy and seductive, are headed for foreclosure. Our pursuit of eternal life through technology is failing; we have exhausted our fortunes seeking a futile utopia of endless life without pain, sparing no expense to vanquish death and disease. Cerberus and Eurynomos reign triumphant, while we, penniless and disillusioned, have forgotten that to live is but to suffer and die — and we no longer know how to do either well.

Culturally, the war is over: the walls have been breached, the barbarians rule. While we focus on the dying paradigm of left and right, liberal and conservative, red and blue, the Goths in Gucci loafers and judges’ robes rule us. Arguments about tax rates, government size, foreign policy, domestic agendas are but flashy choreography on the steepening incline of of the Titanic’s ballroom floor. We will, in short order, see physician assisted suicide — if not active euthanasia — in every state; unrestricted fetal embryonic research and human cloning; all cultural and legal support for monogamous heterosexual marriage eliminated, as the foundational unit of civilized society quietly recedes into the oblivion of endless “lifestyle choices.” Expect all traces of Judeo-Christian influence to be be purged from public view and expression, as the relentless secular assault cements in the public mind the image of Christianity as hateful, bigoted, ignorant superstition. Health care professionals will be coerced to violate their consciences or forced from their profession if they refuse to do so; nor will other professions be spared from this purge. Tax exemption for churches and home schooling will likely come under assault, as society cleanses itself of all Christian influence in the name of tolerance and human rights. This process is nearly complete in the West, as evidenced by Canada’s ironically-named Human Rights Commission persecution of religious freedom and Britain \'s naked public square. It is nearing completion here as well.

The Church, once the strong beacon of light warning of dangerous shoals in a dark sea, now embraces the darkness in pursuit of “cultural relevance,” piling empty flattery on those who hate her, corrupting the doctrines for which saints and martyrs gave their lives. Her own universities, once an oasis for truth and reason, now issue meaningless honors to those who embrace and enlarge the culture of death, repudiating thousands of years of moral teachings in the name of “open-mindedness” and “diversity.”

“When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?”

It is, I suspect, this dismal litany of developments which constrains me, which makes it difficult to write, to make sense of the senseless and signal hope in hopelessness. To be a Jeremiah, in however small a measure, is an unenviable job. Not only must you look forward to the looming disaster awaiting a foolish and deceived culture; that alone would break the heart and pierce the spirit. Not merely must you encounter the hatred and ridicule of those thus warned, who will hear none of it. But more than this, the greater pain is that of mourning; grieving over the loss of what has been and what might have been; mourning lost opportunities to have spoken, or acted, or exhorted in some way, to have touched and changed another or steered but a few back on course. It is this grief which is so hard to process: the grief of a great and noble country crumbling and rotting from within; the grief of wealth unrivaled in history, squandered where moth and rust destroy; the grief for a church which slept with the harlot in hopes of bringing her to holiness. I find myself clinging, with knuckles blanched and fingers bleeding, to a fading dream which slips through the fingers like a mist wafting through an iron gate, drifting silently and relentlessly towards the unfathomable darkness.

It is time, it seems, to open the hands.

The walk of faith is said to be belief in the unbelievable, the fool’s way out of life’s challenges and disappointments, the easy path of cowards and naves. It is in truth none of these things, but rather the very hardest of things: submission. It is to bend the knee; to trust when sight is dim or absent; to rely on the benevolence and wisdom of One who knows all and reject the false knowledge we tenaciously trust in our self-will, fear, and deception. If there is a God — sovereign, transcendent, just, good in ways we cannot begin to fathom, and above all passionate in His love for us — then there is nothing to do but trust, to submit, to rest. It is the Cross — in all its horrors, irrationality, agony, foolishness — and victory.

This week the church celebrates Holy Week, commemorating and meditating on that moment in history when darkness seemed triumphant, when earthly hopes were dashed, when the irrational ruled and evil gloated. In that dark moment, the glorious hopes of man haughty and triumphant were forever dashed on the stones of Golgatha; the blood of a failed prophet sealed their fate forever. Such is as true now as then; it is a timeless certainty, eternal despite all appearances to the contrary.

And so I must — we must — open our hands, and bend our knees. It is a time for prayer, for humility, for fasting, for simplification. It is time for turning over the foolishness of man and the corruption of a culture to Him who alone knows the ways of man and the wanderings of nations. We must lift up the country, its leaders; the culture; the church. It is not ours to seize nor to save. We must stand in truth, suffering what consequences we may endure.

It is time once again to be a light.

Gnostic Fascism

Courtesy of the always-excellent blog What’s Wrong With The World, we read this gem about the philosophy and worldview of our current educational system:

It seems to me that the regulative idea that we — we…liberals, we heirs of the Enlightenment, we Socratists — most frequently use to criticize the conduct of various conversational partners is that of “needing education in order to outgrow their primitive fear, hatreds, and superstitions. This is the concept the victorious Allied armies used when they set about re-educating the citizens of occupied Germany and Japan. It is also the one which was used by American schoolteachers who had read Dewey and were concerned to get students to think ‘scientifically’ and ‘rationally’ about such matters as the origin of the species and sexual behavior (that is, to get them to read Darwin and Freud without disgust and incredulity). It is a concept which I, like most Americans who teach humanities or social science in colleges and universities, invoke when we try to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.

What is the relation of this idea to the regulative idea of ‘reason’ which Putnam believes to be transcendent and which Habermas believes to be discoverable within the grammar of concepts ineliminable from our description of the making of assertions? The answer to that question depends upon how much the re-education of Nazis and fundamentalists has to do with merging interpretive horizons and how much with replacing such horizons. The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire “American liberal establishment” is engaged in a conspiracy. Had they read Habermas, these people would say that the typical communication situation in American college classrooms is no more herrschaftsfrei [domination free] than that in the Hitler Youth camps.

These parents have a point. Their point is that we liberal teachers no more feel in a symmetrical communication situation when we talk with bigots than do kindergarten teachers talking with their students….When we American college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists, we do not consider the possibility of reformulating our own practices of justification so as to give more weight to the authority of the Christian scriptures. Instead, we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization. We assign first-person accounts of growing up homosexual to our homophobic students for the same reasons that German schoolteachers in the postwar period assigned The Diary of Anne Frank.

Putnam and Habermas can rejoin that we teachers do our best to be Socratic, to get our job of re-education, secularization, and liberalization done by conversational exchange. That is true up to a point, but what about assigning books like Black Boy, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Becoming a Man? The Racist or fundamentalist parents of our students say that in a truly democratic society the students should not be forced to read books by such people --black people, Jewish people, homosexual people. They will protest that these books are being jammed down their children \'s throats. I cannot see how to reply to this charge without saying something like “There are credentials for admission to our democratic society, credentials which we liberals have been making more stringent by doing our best to excommunicate racists, male chauvinists, homophobes, and the like. You have to be educated in order to be a citizen of our society, a participant in our conversation, someone with whom we can envisage merging our horizons. So we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable. We are not so inclusivist as to tolerate intolerance such as yours.”

I have no trouble offering this reply, since I do not claim to make the distinction between education and conversation on the basis of anything except my loyalty to a particular community, a community whose interests required re-educating the Hitler Youth in 1945 and required re-educating the bigoted students of Virginia in 1993. I don \'t see anything herrschaftsfrei about my handling of my fundamentalist students. Rather, I think those students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent Herrschaft of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents. It seems to me that I am just as provincial and contextualist as the Nazi teachers who made their students read Der Stürmer; the only difference is that I serve a better cause. I come from a better province.

Rarely do we get such a clear window into the thinking and motives of those who rule our educational institutions, to whom we have entrusted our children, that they may transform a society through their indoctrination into the secular, Utopian vision of their dreams. Richard Rorty, the late philosopher and postmodernist who died in 2007 (and simultaneously discovered the Truth he so long ridiculed and denied, much to his eternal detriment), epitomizes the mindset of our secular culture, which insinuates itself at every opportunity through our media, our institutions of “higher learning”, our popular culture and the entertainment industry.

This is the soul of our now-thoroughly post-Christian, postmodern culture.

This is the soul of our now-thoroughly post-Christian, postmodern culture.

Keep in mind that the “fundamentalists” whom Rorty sought to discredit, ridicule, and reeducate are not simply knuckle-dragging, illiterate, six-day-creationist bumpkins, the straw men they create to dismiss and destroy with presumptuous arrogance — but rather every Christian who believes in absolute truth, who places themself under the authority of Christ, the Church, and the Scriptures. Our enlightened masters have their secret knowledge — and the sworn duty — to coerce all “unbelievers” into discarding their “primitive fear, hatreds, and superstitions.” This is Gnosticism with a fascist bent — the arrogance of superior knowledge, forcefully applied to all who resist.

This philosophy, now thoroughly inculcated in generations of students, and echoed incessantly in media, entertainment, the arts, and popular culture, have engendered a societal world view which can no longer be redeemed with reason, or persuasion, or by the religious engagement in the low compromise of “cultural relevancy.” The culture of materialism and the ideology of atheism have merged, and are now entrenched, dominant, and empowered. The church has fiddled as Rome burned — and now finds itself engulfed in the fiery holocaust it did little to avert. It is long past time for the church to stand proudly apart, to state the truth without fear or compromise, to serve as light and salt to a very dark and increasingly dangerous and toxic society. We will be hated for it — but we are already hated: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”

The challenge of the church today is to stand apart, to be the prophet, to be, if necessary, the martyr. It is time to abandon congregations and churches which have been compromised and co-opted by this corpse of a culture — let the dead bury their dead. It is time to call church leaders and pastors to account, and rebuke or even reject them if they refuse to stand for and teach the truth of the Gospel. It is time to train our children — after we ourselves have been trained — in the core beliefs of our faith, its historical veracity and integrity, in the defense of that which is true, and unchanging, and eternal. It is time to set aside the petty differences of denominationalism and sectarianism, join hands in submission to Christ, and recognize the true enemy we face. Your enemy is not the Baptist, or Catholic, or Pentecostal church down the street; however large your differences may seem. It is not the man who makes you uncomfortable by raising his hands in church; not the woman who loves the Mass and respects the saints; not the Biblical literalist nor the contemplative mystic who sees visions and dreams dreams. They are your brothers and sisters in Christ. Get to know them, discerning their spirits and the passion of their hearts. Learn to love them, learn from them, serve them, respect them. Pray, worship, and study together. The faith which you proclaim is broad and deep, rich in gifts and heritage, a spectacular jewel with countless facets reflecting the unlimited brilliance of a gracious God.

The night grows darker; it is well past time to fill your lamps with oil, and light them.

A Life Not Long

Last week, President Obama removed virtually all restrictions on fetal stem cell research, claiming a triumph of science over “ideology.” The hope, of course, is that science may find new ways to prolong and improve our lives, now that the shackles of moral restraint, humility, and ethics have been removed. It seemed fitting, therefore, to repost this older essay, pondering whether the “victories” which science now has in store for us will be indeed Pyrrhic.

 
sunset

A link from Glenn Reynolds hooked into something I’ve been ruminating on in recent days: the endless pursuit of longer life.

Here’s the question I’ve been pondering: is it an absolute good to be continually striving for a longer life span? Such a question may seem a bit odd coming from a physician, whose mission it is to restore and maintain health and prolong life. But the article which Glenn linked to, describing the striking changes in health and longevity of our present age, seemingly presents this achievement as an absolute good, and thereby left me a tad uneasy — perhaps because I find myself increasingly ambivalent about this unceasing pursuit of longer life.

Of course, long life and good health have always been considered blessings, as indeed they are. But long life in particular seems to have become a goal unto itself — and from where I stand is most decidedly a mixed blessing.

Many of the most difficult health problems with which we battle, which drain our resources struggling to overcome, are largely a function of our longer life spans. Pick a problem: cancer, heart disease, dementia, crippling arthritis, stroke — all of these increase significantly with age, and can result in profound physical and mental disability. In many cases, we are living longer, but doing so restricted by physical or mental limitations which make such a longer life burdensome both to ourselves and to others. Is it a positive good to live to age 90, spending the last 10 or more years with dementia, not knowing who you are nor recognizing your own friends or family? Is it a positive good to be kept alive by aggressive medical therapy for heart failure or emphysema, yet barely able to function physically? Is it worthwhile undergoing highly toxic chemotherapy or disfiguring surgery to cure cancer, thereby sparing a life then severely impaired by the treatment which saved that life?

These questions, in some way, cut to the very heart of what it means to be human. Is our humanity enriched simply by living longer? Does longer life automatically imply more happiness–or are we simply adding years of pain, disability, unhappiness, burden? The breathlessness with which authors often speak of greater longevity, or the cure or solution to these intractable health problems, seems to imply a naive optimism, both from the standpoint of likely outcomes, and from the assumption that a vastly longer life will be a vastly better life. Ignored in such rosy projections are key elements of the human condition — those of moral fiber and spiritual health, those of character and spirit. For we who live longer in such an idyllic world may not live better: we may indeed live far worse. Should we somehow master these illnesses which cripple us in our old age, and thereby live beyond our years, will we then encounter new, even more frightening illnesses and disabilities? And what of the spirit? Will a man who lives longer thereby have a longer opportunity to do good, or rather to do evil? Will longevity increase our wisdom, or augment our depravity? Will we, like Dorian Gray, awake to find our ageless beauty but a shell for our monstrous souls?

Such ruminations bring to mind a friend, a good man who died young. Matt was a physician, a tall, lanky lad with sharp bony features and deep, intense eyes. He was possessed of a brilliant mind, a superb physician, but left his mark on life not solely through medicine nor merely by intellect. A convert to Christianity as a young adult, Matt embraced his new faith with a passion and province rarely seen. His medical practice became a mission field. His flame burned so brightly it was uncomfortable to draw near: he was as likely to diagnose your festering spiritual condition as your daunting medical illness — and had no compunction about drilling to the core of what he perceived to be the root of the problem. Such men make you uneasy, for they sweep away the veneer of polite correction and diplomatic encouragement which we physicians are trained to deliver. Like some gifted surgeon of the soul, he cast sharp shadows rather than soft blurs, brandishing his brilliant insight on your now-naked condition. The polished conventions of medicine were never his strength — a characteristic which endeared him not at all to many in his profession. But his patients — those who could endure his honesty and strength of character — were passionate in their devotion to him, personally and professionally. For he was a man of extraordinary compassion and generosity, seeing countless patients at no charge, giving generously of his time and finances far beyond the modest means earned from his always-struggling practice.

The call I received from another friend, a general surgeon, requesting an assist at his surgery, was an unsettling one: Matt had developed a growth in his left adrenal gland. His surgery went deftly, with much confidence that the lesion had been fully excised. The pathology proved otherwise: Matt had an extremely rare, highly aggressive form of adrenal cancer. Fewer than 100 cases had been reported worldwide, and there was no known successful treatment. Nevertheless, as much for his wife and two boys as for himself, he underwent highly toxic chemotherapy, which sapped his strength and left him enfeebled. In spite of this, the tumor grew rapidly, causing extreme pain and rapid deterioration, bulging like some loathsome demon seeking to burst forth from his frail body. I saw him regularly, although in retrospect not nearly often enough, and never heard him complain; his waning energies were spent with his family, and he never lost the intense flame of faith. Indeed, as his weakened body increasingly became no more than life support for his cancer, wasting him physically and leaving him pale and sallow, there grew in him a spirit so remarkable that one was drawn to him despite the natural repulsion of watching death’s demonic march.

Matt died at age 38, alert and joyful to the end. His funeral was a most remarkable event: at an age in life where most would be happy to have sufficient friends to bear one’s casket, his funeral service at a large church was filled to overflowing — thousands of friends, patients, and professional peers paying their respects in a ceremony far more celebration than mourning. There was an open time for testimony — and such a time it was, as one after another took to the lectern to speak through tears of how Matt had touched their lives; of services rendered, small and large, unknown before that day; of funny anecdotes and sad remembrances which left not one soul of that large crowd untouched or unmoved.

A journey such as his casts critical light on our mindless pursuit of life lived only to live long. In Matt’s short life he brought more good into the world, touched more people, changed more lives, than I could ever hope to do were I to live a century more. It boils down to purpose: mere years are no substitute for a life lived with passion, striving for some goal greater than self, with transcendent purpose multiplying and compounding each waking moment. This is a life well-lived, whether long or short, whether weakened or well.

Like all, I trust, I hope to live life long, and seek a journey lived in good health and sound mind. But even more — far more indeed — do I desire that those days yet remaining — be they long or short — be rich in purpose, wise in time spent, and graced by love.

God of Loss and Grace

The Anchoress tells of receiving heartbreaking news: the prospect of losing her hearing:

Yesterday morning, though, came a straw I have dreaded my whole life, and I finally drew it: the “you are losing your hearing” straw…

The loss was discovered, of course, due to that dismal ear infection of the past two weeks, but the hearing in that afflicted ear is only slightly worse than the other. Upon reading my test results the doctor asked if I had worked around airplanes for the past 20 years, or if I had fronted a rock band. “Severe degeneration! hearing aids!”

The pain of such a loss is real, and it is deep — it can neither be trivialized nor ignored. Some will deaden the pain by drink, others by denial or depression, or one of a host of other means whereby we mitigate the pain while refusing to embrace it.

We live with sense of entitlement: we should be free of pain and suffering. For most, such dire news — particularly about health and well-being — is a devastating blow, devoid of meaning and justice, a cruel trick of fate, perhaps, or some sort of karmic retribution for evil done in this life or one prior. It is at best random misfortune, at worst a cruel robbery, a brutal injustice. There is no making sense of it — it is without reason or purpose.

Yet for the Christian, things are supposed to be different. We serve — as an article of faith — a God of love, and when one has committed their life to such service, the reward of such a severe trial raises a host of uncomfortable questions: Is God unfair? Is this punishment for sin? Is He capricious, toying with me, playing me for the fool, demanding my obedience then rewarding me with pain and loss?

The Anchoress responds as many would — with rage:

“I drove home pounding the steering wheel and telling God I thought He was pretty damned unfair, after all. I demanded that He listen to me and make me a sensible answer about why things were going as they were, why at only 46 years of age I was increasingly debilitated, increasingly arthritic, increasingly feeling like a 65 year old.

It’s not enough that I must sometimes use a cane, or that I wear glasses, not enough that I am constantly bruised, often fatigued into stupidity and inarticulate, stammering aphasia, not enough that my body is scarred all over and that my skin is under seige simply because I am Irish! now I am going to need hearing aids? Now I am going to be deaf? What has my husband ever done to you, that you need to inflict this sort of wife upon him?

Oh, I howled. I ranted.

And it was so out of character for me to do so – this has not been my way, to shake an angry fist at God and make demands. I didn’t like doing it – it felt so wrong. So wrong, not to simply be thankful for my blessings – for all the good things, and all the “not too bad” things.

But I was so angry.

Anger at God — a frightening, even terrifying thought. At worst it presents images of lightning strikes, fire and brimstone, judgment, destruction. Better to pretend you’re not angry, hide it from God lest He send another, more awful plague in retribution.
Continue reading “God of Loss and Grace”

The Celebration of Hope


The lady on the morning “news”, in her warmest and faux-sincere voice, said it sweetly: “This is the season of hope and joy” — and moved on quickly to tug at the heartstrings with some touching story of the downtrodden redeemed, a perfect production for this “holiday” season.

I don’t really think she understands the things of which she speaks.

I often wonder, when watching the scrupulously secular stars of media utter such banalities: what, exactly, is the basis of your “hope”? Is it the optimism of wishful thinking, the notion that in our oh-so-progressive world, things will simply get better and better, hurtling at light-speed toward an inevitable utopia? Is it the hope of new politics, new icons of power to guide us out of the wilderness of war and hatred with an enlightenment found nowhere else? Or is it simply the Big Lie, repeated ad infinitum until it becomes Truth, designed to deaden terrifying voices of angst and uncertainty which screech like harpies just beneath a consciousness deadened by frenzy, acquisitional obsession, and the myriad addictions which numb our fears and deaden our souls.

Yet it is a season of hope — or more precisely, a season to celebrate a perpetual and profound hope, not the emotional hopiate mainlined by the hopeless, dragged out like some green plastic tree from a dusty closet to adorn a meaningless holiday, no longer called “Christmas.”

So what is this true hope, this enduring and transformational power which we celebrate this season, yet abide in throughout the year?

It is the hope of true harmony, God and Man in right relation, the only source for Peace on Earth.

It is the hope, beyond reason, of forgiveness of the unforgivable, of acceptance of the rejected, of healing of sick and mortally wounded souls.

It is the hope of conquest of the demons which drive us, enslaving us in what masquerades as freedom.

It is the hope of deep joy, not mere shallow happiness.

It is the hope of a purpose beyond self-satisfaction, of a meaning beyond random chance, of direction for the lost and aimless.

It is about God becoming small that Man may become great, in Him.

It is about sacrificial love, the emptying of self, the death of pretense and a life of humble dependence.

It is about a Child who became Man so that men might reclaim the wonder and joy of children.

It is about infinite love, abounding mercy, endless grace, transformational power.

It is about Christ: humble in birth, extraordinary in life, sacrificial in death, glorious in resurrection.

It is about our hope — the only true and certain hope — the hope of those who know, and serve, and rely on Him, and His gentle hands which lift us up, and cherish us, and carry us home.

It is about Christmas, when Light entered the world and changed it forevermore.

That is our hope, and nothing less.

Have a most blessed and Merry Christmas, and may the peace of God rest upon you and yours.

Friday Links

 ♦ Richard John Neuhaus at First Things has posted his Friday essay, well worth reading. It speaks to many of the same issues I addressed, albeit far less eloquently, in my previous post:

Obama’s public remarks on the freedom of religion and constitutional law demonstrate little awareness of the significance of the first freedom of the First Amendment in America’s law and lived experience. Moreover, after more than three decades of the most passionate public debate of these matters, Obama declared during the election that the moral and legal status of the unborn child are questions “above my pay grade.”

The truly ominous possibility, indeed likelihood, is that Obama does not see his extreme positions on abortion as being extreme at all. They are the entrenched orthodoxies of the parties that got him to where he is. Those in opposition are viewed as a recalcitrant minority guilty of perpetuating divisiveness, and the time has come to break their back once and for all. I hope I am wrong, but this strikes me as the more plausible understanding of the Freedom of Choice Act and other measures aimed at “bringing us together again.”

The response of Christian leaders to the imminent aggressions will require determined legal talent, especially in First Amendment law, a sharpening of public arguments, reaching out to those who do not understand what is at stake, and careful strategizing by pro-life activists and politicians. In the first place and in the long term, however, the need is for the courage to recover a biblical and historical understanding of what it means to say “Let the Church be the Church.” The Church is not an association of individuals sharing the experience of religion as what they do with the solitude. The Church is not in the consumption business, peddling the products that satisfy one’s self-defined spiritual needs. The Church is a unique society among the societies of the world; a community of obligation standing in solidarity with the truth who is Christ.

That is how the Church understood herself in the apostolic period, as witness St. Paul’s opening hymn in the letter to the Ephesians, his depiction of cosmic transformation in Romans 8, and his anticipation in Philippians 2 of every knee bowing and every tongue confessing Jesus Christ as Lord. That is how the Church understood herself in the patristic era when Justin Martyr proposed Christianity not as a more satisfying religion among other religions but as “the true philosophy.” It was the understanding of Saint Augustine, who proposed in City of God that the story of the gospel is nothing less than the story of the world. Were Christianity what a man does with his solitude, there would be no martyrs. In every vibrant period of the Church’s life, it has been understood that her message and mission are based on public events, are advanced by public argument, and invite public response.

Well worth your time, and highly recommended. Also worthwhile is his previous essay: Obama and the Bishops.
 

There are deeper problems. In the last four decades, following the pattern of American Protestantism, many, perhaps most, Catholics view the Church in terms of consumption rather than obligation. The Church is there to supply their spiritual needs as they define those needs, not to tell them what to believe or do. This runs very deep both sociologically and psychologically. It is part of the “success” of American Catholics in becoming just like everybody else. Bishops and all of us need to catch the vision of John Paul II that the Church imposes nothing, she only proposes. But what she proposes she believes is the truth, and because human beings are hard-wired for the truth, the truth imposes. And truth obliges.

 ♦ Duplicate keys from photos: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Locksmiths

 ♦ Best Rube Goldberg idea ever (don’t shoot pool with these guys for money!):
 

 ♦ John Robb looks at the coming Depression — and how it’s not like the last one: Setting the Stage

 ♦  The implications of Washington’s Initiative 1000: Coming to a state near you, very soon: Assisted Suicide: The Wind in Their Sails

 ♦ WWII spooks messed with German radio transmissions: Aspidistra

 ♦ Sippi talks economics. Makes sense to me.

 ♦ Mushroom soup, anyone? Front seat for the A-bomb:
 

That’s all for now — enjoy your weekend, God bless.

Revolution of the Soul

In the past several days, through the lens of my profession, I have been given a rather stark and disturbing vision of our current cultural revolution. It is, it seems, a revolution every bit as pervasive and transformational — and destructive — as China’s Cultural Revolution of the 60s — and indeed may be but a different manifestation of a global transformation which transpired in those very same decades in the West. Ideas have consequences, as they say, and we are watching them bear fruit before our very eyes in a slow-motion train wreck which seems now to be accelerating at a disturbing rate.

Exhibit 1: Phyllis Chesler’s recent piece, “Every hospital patient has a story“, at PajamasMedia. It is a piece to be read to completion, including its lengthy comment section. Therein she details a recent experience during a hospital stay for a hip replacement, with a rather remarkable litany of rudeness, neglect, indifference, and suffering sustained at the hands of her healers, at an upscale New York hospital. Her story is shocking enough, and revelatory; the comments provide even further insight, running the expected gamut of such a piece in the New Media. There are those simply shocked; those sharing similar horror stories; those relaying far better experiences in contrast; those defending doctors and nurses, those attacking them. There is the obligate wackjob who blames the AMA, and the usual finger-pointing: not enough nurses, too much paperwork, inadequate pay scales to draw quality; the evil insurance companies and the government. All mostly true, to greater or lesser degree — but all missing the core dysfunction by a wide mark. At the final period of her post, one comes away with a sense of hopeless, feeling out of control and angry, despairing that such a situation may be even a part of our reality (and not knowing how large a part it may be), yet at a loss to prevent its malignant progression through our remaining hospitals which may have been spared to date, the encroachment of such a toxic stew of callousness, indifference, and coldness. There seems, in the end, little cause for optimism.

Exhibit 2: It is late, nearly 9 P.M., seeing a final consult at the end of a punishing call day, in the ICU. The patient, chronologically young yet physiologically Methuselan, lies in his bed, oxygen mask affixed to his face by heavy straps, bleeding, as he has for months, from a tumor in his kidney. He would not survive surgery, nor even radiological intervention to stem the hemorrhage by strangling its arterial lifeline. He is, furthermore, in the parlance of modern medicine, “non-compliant”: refusing treatments and diagnostic studies; rude and abusive to nurses and physicians alike; demanding to go home though unlikely to survive there for any significant length of time.

The nurse — young, competent, smart, hard-working, the very best of the modern nursing profession — apprises me of his situation, closing with this knockout punch: “You know, we just passed that initiative — you know, the suicide one. He’d be an excellent candidate.”

She wasn’t joking.

Taken a bit off guard, I responded that it is most unwise to give physicians the power to kill you, for we will become very good at it, and impossible to stop once we are.

She continued: “No, I would love to work for a Dr. Kevorkian. Be an Angel of Death, you know?”

“I know”, I muttered under my breath, as she ran off to another bedside, competently and with great efficiency, to adjust some ventilator or fine-tune some dopamine drip. And hopefully do nothing more.

These vignettes in modern medicine are really not about medicine at all. They are in truth about a culture which has lost its compassion. Our calloused and cynical society has become a raging river fed by a thousand foul and fetid streams. We have, by turns, taught our children that ethics are situational and values neutral; taught our women that compassion and service are signs of weakness, that they must become hard and heartless like the men they hate; taught our men that success and the respect of others comes not through character and integrity but through callousness, cynicism, and greed; and taught ourselves that we are a law unto ourselves, the sole and final arbiter of what is right and what is good.

We have, in our post-modern and post-Christian culture, inexorably and irrevocably turned from our roots in Christian morality and worldview, which was the foundation and font of that which we now know — or used to know — as Western Civilization. Yes, we have preserved the tinsel and the trappings, the gilded and glittering exterior of a decaying sarcophagus, where we speak self-righteously of rights while denying their origin in the divine spark within the human spirit, made in the image of God; where we bray about liberty, but are enslaved to its bejeweled impostor, the damsel of decadence and libertinism; where compassion is naught but another government program to address the consequences of our own aberrant and irresponsible behavior, duly justified, rationalized, and denied. Others must pay so that I may play, you know.

This toxic stew of self-centered callousness has percolated into every pore of our society. In health care, the effects are universal and pernicious. Patients demand perfection, trusting the wisdom of a web browser over the experience of a physician — then running to their attorney to redress every poor outcome which their disease or their destructive lifestyles have helped bring about. Physicians, hardened and cynical from countless battles with corrupt insurance companies, lawyers, and Stalinist government regulation, forget that they exist solely to serve the patient with compassion and self-sacrifice, and that financial recompense is secondary to healing and empathy. Nurses have in large measure become administrators, made ever more remote from their patients by mountains of paperwork and impossible nurse-to-patient ratios, their patient-critical tasks delegated to underlings poorly trained and ill-treated. Hospital administrators are MBAs, with no interest or clue about what constitutes good health care, and are indifferent so long as their departments are profitable and their marketing wizards successful as they trumpet “Care with Compassion” in TV ads, radio, and muzac on hold.

The list could go on far longer, but the theme is clear: we have as a culture become utterly self-focused, trusting no one, demanding our rights while neglecting our responsibilities, seeking to be profitable rather than professional. We have abandoned the responsibility to be patient and caring of others, forgiving of human shortcomings and humble about the limits of our abilities — a responsibility not merely of those in health care but of human beings in civil society. We have, through the dubious gift of extraordinary technological advances, industrialized our profession, and replaced a sacred covenant of commitment to the patient’s best — and its corollary of the patient’s trust in the integrity and motives of physicians and nurses — with the cold legality of contract medicine. Small wonder we are treated as fungible commodities in doctors’ offices and hospital beds. Small wonder we will be euthanized when we have exhausted our compassion quotient, dispatched by highly efficient providers delivering “Death with Dignity.”

This utter self-obsession and cynical callousness is by no means limited to health care. We long for “bipartisanship” in government (by which we hope for reasoned men of principle to come together for the good of those they represent), but get instead the blood-lust of modern politics, where power trumps principle, money is king, and votes are bought and sold like chattel. Lawyers sue everything that breathes — and much that doesn’t — raking in billions while their “victimized clients” get pocket change they can believe in. Airlines pack in passengers like cattle, lose your bags, and toss you a bag of peanuts for your trouble. Road rage is rampant, rudeness rules, rip-offs too common to count. The coarseness in culture is extraordinary — in language, art, media, fashion, and behavior. It is revealing how shocked we find ourselves when encounter someone — regardless of the venue — who is actually pleasant, helpful, courteous, and kind; we have come to expect and tolerate far worse as a matter of course.

The revolution which started in the 60s with the “me” generation is bearing its bitter fruit — though its aging proponents will never admit it. And sadly, there’s no going back: the changes which have infiltrated and infected the culture, inoculated through education, media, entertainment, scientific rationalism, and a relentless and highly successful assault on reason and tradition, are permanent, and their consequences will only grow in magnitude.

So it’s time for a counter-revolution.

There is an alternative to our current cultural narcissism with its corrosive, calloused, destructive bent. It is not a new government program, nor a political movement; no demonstrations in the street, no marches on Washington. Its core ideology is over 2000 years old, and the foot soldiers of the revolution are already widely dispersed throughout the culture.

This revolutionary force is called Christianity, and it’s long past time to raise the banner and spring into action.

The true antidote to the nihilism and corruption of the age will be found, as it has always been, in the church. It has since its inception been a revolutionary force, transforming the hopeless and purposeless anarchy of the pagan world of its infancy by bringing light, hope and joy where there was none before.

It can happen again.

The church, of course, has to no small degree been co-opted by the culture it should have transformed. From TV evangelists preaching God-ordained health and wealth to liberal denominations rejecting the core truths of their foundation and worshiping instead the god of government and humanistic socialism; from pederast priests to episcopal sodomy, Christianity in the West has whored itself to a prosperous but decadent culture. Its salt has lost its saltiness, and it has, not surprisingly, been trampled underfoot by men.

It is time to return to our First Love. It is time once again to become light to an dark and stygian world. It is time for a revolution of the soul.

We must, first and foremost, be about grace and truth. We must begin with the truth of our calling: to be holy, transformed by the power of Christ and the work of the Spirit. We are, by nature of our new birth in Christ, His ambassadors: we are to be the face, the hands, the heart, the words, the compassion of Him who saved us.

The task is enormous, yet for each of us, the steps are small, easily achievable yet enormously powerful.

It must begin with a renewed commitment to obedience and submission to Christ, a willingness to fully subject ourselves to His will, rather than trying to bend His will to ours. It means getting serious about church attendance — not merely as a consumer but as an active participant. We need to renew our devotion to prayer, to Scripture reading, study, and memorization, to fellowship with other Christians. These are simple steps which ground us in truth, and give us access to that power which can first of all transform us, then radiate out to all around us.

Then we must act like the counter-culturists we claim to be. Be patient with those who are difficult; be generous in time and money; express gratitude to those around us (when was the last time you wrote a thank you note to your doctor, your contractor, your attorney, to the manager of the store employee who helped you?). Lose the profanity; guard your tongue. Repair broken relationships, as best you can. Be joyful in difficult times, knowing that God is at work in your life despite your difficulties. Be compassionate rather than judgmental to those whose life choices are destructive or misguided. The tattoos and piercings we ridicule are cries of desperation from those hungering for purpose and meaning.

These things will not come easily to many of us who claim to be Christians, as we have become complacent in our self-gratification and comfortable compromises, fearful of being viewed as extremist or weird, rejected and ridiculed.

Get over it.

You may just find that such renewed passion for Christ and love for others might, just might, transform your life.

And you might just find that it will change the world.

Got a better idea? Good, I didn’t think so.

Let’s get started.

Getting My Goat


I just bought a goat. Actually, I just bought six of them.

Please don’t tell my wife — we have enough animals (although the appeal of not weed-wacking our property may be irresistible).

Actually, the goats aren’t for me — they’re part of a mission program through World Vision to donate animals to poor families and villages around the world. Unlike simple donations for food or clothing, livestock help sustain a family for the long term. They are food factories — turning grass and grain into nutritious milk, eggs, and other high-protein food sources.

If you’re not into goats, you can donate chickens, ducks, sheep, fish, cattle, or a fish pond. Really neat stuff.

So check it out, and make a difference in the lives of others here.

You don’t really need that new Blu-Ray player, now do you?