Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Long Ordeal is Over

2 Samuel 12:15-23 (New International Version)

15 “After Nathan had gone home, the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife had borne to David, and he became ill. 16 David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground. 17 The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.

18 On the seventh day the child died. David's servants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, “While the child was still living, we spoke to David but he would not listen to us. How can we tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate.”

19 David noticed that his servants were whispering among themselves and he realized the child was dead. “Is the child dead?” he asked.
“Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.”

20 Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.

21 His servants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!”

22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.' 23 But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

Terri Schiavo’s long ordeal is over. She died this morning at forty-one, some thirteen days after her feeding tube was removed by court order. Her case is now in the hands of the Righteous Judge of all humanity. He will do what is right!

Terri’s agony is over. I suspect that for this nation in moral decline that agony is about to begin in earnest, to be repeated many times over. May God have mercy on our collective soul.

The Least of These

Matthew 25:31-40 (New International Version)

The Sheep and the Goats

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

They seem like such small things, a bit of food for a hungry soul, a drink of water, clothing for someone who is needy, a visit to a prisoner. Jesus called them deeds done for “these brothers of mine,” the fellowship of the “least of these.”

There’s an inheritance for those who do these little things. There are also consequences for those who don’t. Their “reward” is outlined in the second half of this story of the sheep and goats. If you have any interest in reading about their fate it begins at Matthew 25:41.

Terri Schiavo is one of the “least of these” now. She qualifies. No food, no water, no sustenance of any kind for two weeks now. Men in black robes, judges they’re called, have declared this is the right thing to do. They’re more like embalmers anxious to ply their deadly trade on the body before it’s even cold, I’d say.

Last night our men’s group met and we all had an opportunity to express our thoughts about what’s going on in our lives. When it came time for me I spoke about what I’m feeling these days. It was a great comfort to me. “Why do we need a bio-ethicist to decide whether or not starving someone to death is the right or wrong thing to do?” I asked. “Where does Terri Schiavo herself fit into this grisly stream of “pertinent" facts?” My emotions boiled over and the guys listened and understood. They cared.

I needed that. In the past two weeks as I’ve surveyed the blogosphere I’ve felt that I’m swimming against the tide of events and thinking. I’ve tried all the advice. I’ve tried to link more locally and less globally. That didn’t help. I’ve tried thinking rationally, gathering all the “pertinent facts” before getting too emotional about the case of just one woman. That didn’t help either. When it comes right down to it not much that I’ve seen coming across the airwaves lately has comforted me. I’m out of the mainstream, leading with my emotions, and if I’ve learned from this ordeal that one must think rationally about these things. Clear thinking must prevail.

I’m sitting here in the pre-dawn hours, in the shadow of events being cast half a continent away from these gentle, rolling hills. The “least of these” are occupying my thoughts. “Who’s next?” I wonder.

Several years ago Nancy and I spent some vacation time in Washington, D.C. We stayed at on old hotel, the Lombardy, which was situated about two or three blocks from the White House, the seat of the world’s temporal power. On one night of our stay something interrupted Nancy’s sleep. It began with some voices from the street below. Then when she opened her eyes she noticed an orange glow outside the window. “Phil,” she pleaded as she woke me up. “I think there may be a fire.” I sat up for a minute, looked out the window, and sniffed the air. “It’s alright Coach. Everything’s fine, go back to sleep.” I slumped back down and turned over, a signal to her that my sleep was important. She refused to be comforted. “I lived in an apartment complex once where one of the buildings caught on fire in the night. Three people were killed.” I sat up once more. She took my hand and pleaded once more. “Can we just go downstairs for a while, get a cup of coffee, and talk for a while?”

About ten minutes later we found ourselves in an all night Burger King two doors down from the hotel. On the surface it had the look of any Burger King in the country, the sameness we Americans have come to know and expect over the years. But there was something very different about this place. Once you got past the sterile sameness it was evident that something very important was going on.

We got our coffee and sat down at a table against the wall. As I sipped cautiously at the scalding coffee I couldn’t help but notice a strange looking man sitting diagonally across from us, about three or four tables away. He seemed to be tall, although it was a bit difficult to see for sure with him slouched in his chair. His face was long and thin, covered with a dark, scraggly beard. He was wearing, of all things, a suit. At one time it might have been a really nice suit, but he’d changed all that. It was painted white, decorated in what appeared to be some cheap flat ceiling paint. As I looked down to survey the outfit fully I noticed that there must have been some paint left over when he’d finished working on the suit. His shoes, loafers as best I could determine, were also painted white. I scanned back from his shoes to his head and saw that the regal outfit was crowned with a blue beret. On the table in front of him was a tin of water colors, the kind we get our kids at Christmas. They were open and he was holding a tiny paintbrush in his hand. On the floor next to him was a briefcase of some sort.

I sat transfixed for a few minutes, observing this vagabond of the night from a safe distance. Then a tall, muscular African-American man came over to him and bent over. “You doin’ okay?” he asked. The man nodded. “You still takin’ your meds?” The man nodded again. “Been doin’ much painting lately?” The man seemed to perk up with this question. He bent down and picked up his briefcase and began to display the contents. I couldn’t seem them from where I sat, but as he displayed them one by one, the African-American man would nod his head and say, “Nice.”

When he was done complimenting our would-be artist, the African-American man, who I now assumed was the night shift manager, made his way to another table. There sat a man who appeared to be in his fifties. Like the artist a few tables away, the man was unkempt. He was sitting with his elbows perched on the table, his head buried in his open hands. There in front of him was a stack of papers. The manager patted him on the back as he arrived. “Something I can help you with.” The man lifted his head out of his hands and said, “Damned VA. I gotta’ fill out all this paperwork for them and I don’t know how.” The manager pulled up a chair and sat down next to him. “Lemmee’ see,” he said as he picked the papers up. “I think I can help you. Just give me a minute, I’ve got a few things to do first and I’ll be right back.” As he got up two more men made their way through the door. The manager greeted them by name and asked if they were hungry. “Yeah,” they responded in unison. “But we got no money.” The manager then trotted into a back room. A minute or so later he came back with two mops and a bucket. “Here,” he said. You guys mop this place up a bit and I’ll get you something to eat.”

Nancy and I stayed there for about an hour watching this angel of mercy do his appointed work. The more we watched, the more we saw that this was a man who loved his little flock and he loved his ministry to the “least of these.” He saw something in them that few of us ever do. He saw their greatest gift, their humanity.

Wouldn’t you know it; God gives this greatest gift even to the “least of these,” sometimes even to idiots. Some of them occupy enormous amounts of our time, energy, and resources. Some of them don’t think rationally. It’s difficult to break through the barriers and defenses they’ve set up. We try to talk to them and the message never seems to hit home. We converse with them over and over and over and they steadfastly refuse to get off the psychiatric treadmill they’re running their lives on. Some of them can only be fed with our help. Some of them can’t see a thing, but their fingers are so nimble that they can sculpt pieces that Frederick Remington would envy. Some of them can’t read a word of music, but they can play a Bach sonata or Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony from memory. None of them have ever earned a PHD in mathematics. Not one of them can tell you how a quadratic equation works. But you can ask them what day August 13th, 3908 falls on and quicker than you can say “abacus” they’ll tell you that it’s a Wednesday.

The big problem that the learned and wise have with these “folk” is that in between masterpieces they just seem to sit around and drool. According to them there’s no one home. There’s no quality of life to be had in these drooling shells, there’s no possibility of an on-going dialogue with the illuminati. Therefore, the only real worth they have is as objects of study and round table discussion. They’re really nothing more than monkeys on the end of the organ grinders’ leashes.

And so these wise and learned men sit, like Madame Defarge, offering their opinions. A head is lopped off so to speak, some poor unsuspecting soul is dehumanized, and it’s “Knit one, pearl two.”

This night shift saint stands in stark contrast to the wisdom of my day. He was working his little miracles at a twenty-four hour a day Burger King. The idiots, the infirm, the homeless and shiftless, the schizophrenic would be Picassos all passed through his door and no one was turned away. Each got a Whopper, a cup of coffee, a pat on the back, a listening ear, and a hug. He was simply an after hours angel of mercy busily ministering to his flock. He was so busy in fact that could never find the time to accept an invitation to attend a round table discussion with the “wise and anointed” about what constituted quality of life.

Today as I sit with the dawn now rising, I sense that we need fewer Michael Schiavos and Judge Greers. We need more like this night shift saint!

My emotions are overwhelmed. Clear thinking is going to win the day. After all, this is not a time to be emotional. The questions posed at last night’s meeting come up once more. Where are we going? Who’s next? Some would be artist sitting at a table in twenty four hour a day Burger King? A couple of bums without the financial resources to rescue themselves? Some “idiot” who sculpts and drools?

I try to think “rationally,” but I cannot make it happen. “It must be something in the way God fertilizes the tallgrass out here,” I muse. “I’ve taken a healthy dose of sweet sanity and will not be comforted by the wisdom of the day?”

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Highly Recommended Reading

I’ve never met him, but I have to say that Bathus, one of the occasional authors of Adeimantus, is one of those lawyers I trust in a time of need.

In the current environment, or news cycle if you will, the almost universal wisdom is for everyone to rush to a lawyer’s office and prepare a “living will.” It seems sensible. It seems noble. But Bathus has a different take on the matter. They may be nothing more than costly, and deadly, pieces of paper.

A couple of samples of his work follow for your edification:

“Yeah, I understand the idea is to relieve your family members of the burden of difficult decisions about end-of-life care and also to make sure that your own wishes are clearly expressed and honored. On the other hand, as a lawyer I have learned entirely to disrespect the power of any flimsy piece of paper to ensure that people's true intentions will be honored. In the event of a real conflict, whether about end-of-life questions or anything else, a piece of paper usually serves merely to provide additional pretexts for whatever machinations the most manipulative person in the situation wishes to pursue.”

There’s also this about the agony of these decisions. Bathus believes that these decisions should be agonizing. It’s that wrenching of the heart that indicates love is present:

“So yes, my wife and I occasionally talk about "what we would want when the time comes," but those vague and abstract musings cannot and should not, any more than some legalistic document, be presumed to supply an easy answer about what's the right thing to do with my bag of bones in the particular real life situation when it looks like my time might be up. Instead, my wife's just going to have to play it by ear. Like all of life's most difficult decisions, the best way to approach it is not to go into it with preformulated ideas about what must be done, but to muddle through when the time comes.

That approach is definitely a lot harder than just pulling out the notarized form to verify which box has been checked. What makes us think it's all supposed to be so damned cut and dried? Can't we leave aside the legal forms and act in accordance with our God-given humanity for just this one thing? Dammit, it's right and natural that these things should be difficult, that they should be confusing, that they should require tears and tribulation.”

And there’s this conclusion:

“Don't get me wrong. It's not that I would want to hang onto life at any cost for my own selfish sake, but I really do think we all have a God-given duty to keep up the struggle to live the life He gave us until it's beyond question that He has better plans for us. Exactly when that moment has arrived is something that can't be determined in advance according to some dry legal formula.
So in case anybody ever asks you, my message to the doctors is, "You haughty SOBs had better keep doing everything you can to keep my body and soul on speaking terms until either I or my wife tell you otherwise." And my message to the lawyers is, "You bastards just leave us the hell alone." If there's a living will composed of just those two sentences, then maybe I'll sign it. Otherwise, I think a living will is at best useless (accomplishing nothing that would not come about soon enough anyway) and at worst might very well get you killed off before your time.”

I believe that Bathus is right. There was a time when I had a death wish. I don’t now. Like Bathus, I don’t want to hang around any longer than is necessary. After all, heaven is on the other side. But I don’t want my earthly fate sealed by a piece of unfeeling, uncaring paper. I don’t want my “case” resolved by a check mark on a legal form.

If you really care about this matter of “living wills” I recommend you read Bathus’s wise advice in full. It would be well worth your time.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Diversity 101

James 1:2-5 (King James Version)

2 “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
3Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
4But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
5If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”

Last week there was an interesting response from a Gazette reader about the marriage amendment that is going to be on the Kansas ballot on April 5th.

The text of the amendment follows:

“(a) The marriage contract is to be considered in law as a civil contract. Marriage shall be constituted by one man and one woman only. All other marriages are declared to be contrary to the public policy of this state and are void.

"(b) No relationship, other than a marriage, shall be recognized by the state as entitling the parties to the rights or incidents of marriage.”

A yes vote is a vote in support of the amendment. A no vote opposes it. Pretty straightforward, I’d say.

Normally local elections around here generate little or no interest. It’ll be different on April 5th. In addition to electing county commissioners, dog catchers and what not, we Kansans will be making a really important decision that day.

It’s generated a great deal of interest, even here in Emporia. It’s supplanted the ‘dogs at large,” “worthless checks,” and “failure to obey stops signs” that adorn our local rag day in and day out.

But I’ve digressed. Back to the Gazette reader’s response. Someone named Melissa Dailey Ellsworth from Brunswick, Maine had this to say:

“In response to Mr. Michael Stubbs religious sermon (letter), published in the March 5 edition of the Gazette, I would like to respond.

Mr. Stubbs, you wrote “When we keep the lines between morality and immorality clearly defined, those who have made wrong lifestyle choices have an easier time finding their way home.” How do you know that your morals are right and mine are wrong? If you are the Christian your words proclaim you to be, why are you so judgmental? Isn’t that for your god to decide in the end? That seems rather hypocritical, don’t you think?

Furthermore, why do you care who your neighbor is sleeping with. Why should government have control over that? I wonder, if you are so concerned with people of the same sex being married, are you concerned with people of different races being married as well? Look around Emporia, because your beliefs are not the norm any more.

I’m reminded of the John Lennon song “

The line “…..and no religion, too” seems to fit. Live and let live. You may think your religion is right and you are entitled to do so. I’d like to think that as long as I’m a decent human being, I’ll see you in the same place in the end, except that I don’t need to judge anyone while I’m still here.

Rest assured, Mr. Stubbs, my husband and I have already voted against the marriage amendment by absentee ballot.”

Aside from the inference that we cannot legislate morality, which is incorrect, Melissa was right about some things. Christian values may not be the norm any more, even here in the Bible belt. And she was absolutely correct in saying that Mr. Michael Stubbs did say, “When we keep the lines between morality and immorality clearly defined, those who have made wrong lifestyle choices have an easier time finding their way home.” Mr. Stubbs did indeed say that and he said it for all of Emporia to hear.

I know Mr. Michael Stubbs as “Pastor Mike.” He’s the pastor of the church I attend. He’s a good man. I didn’t know him in his younger days, but I’m told that he was quite a rogue back then. Then he met a pretty young Christian woman and things changed. Jesus saved a vagabond and Jannie, the pretty young woman who is now his wife, helped him channel his energy in a more productive manner. I was tempted to say that she tamed him, but I know better. “Pastor Mike” isn’t the type of man who is going to be tamed. And that’s one of the things I admire most about him. With “Pastor Mike” what you see is what you get. There’s no pretense, no political machinations that preachers are so prone to engage in. He is what he is by the grace of God.

A month or so he took me to task about something. That’s right, “Pastor Mike” got foolish and took on a pillar in the church, a tither, a man endowed with great spirituality and wisdom. Of course, I was wrong and he was right. I needed to hear what he had to say. I think a lesser man in his position would have considered his vulnerability to the “pertinent” facts and let sleeping dogs lie. Acting out of principle is one thing. Cutting off a potential lifeline is another. I mean, why bother a big spender, a man of means, a man with a lot of intellectual and spiritual capital. But he never made an economic impact study beforehand. He didn’t consider cutting an intellectual and spiritual giant some slack. He did what he believe was right and that was it.

Now it wasn’t one of those major situations. It was important, but not momentous. In the end we discussed the matter, hugged, expressed Christian charity, and moved on.

My point is this. “Pastor Mike” does and says what he believes is right regardless of the estate, high, low, or different, of the object of those words or beliefs. I find that refreshing at a time when folks are out there laying social and spiritual minefields for others to navigate through. At a time when “nuance’ seems to be everything, Melissa is very right about him. His beliefs aren’t in that “norm.”

I decided to respond to Melissa’s letter. I’m not sure that the Gazette will print it. Religion is a touchy subject around here, especially if it doesn’t fit into the pattern of the “norm.” We’ll see.

This is what I had to say:

“A few days ago Melissa Ellsworth declared her position on the marriage amendment to be decided on April 5th.

While I disagree with her position, she has the right to express it and I have the obligation to defend that right.

I do, however, want to respond.

I know “Mr. Michael Stubbs” as my pastor. If I’ve ever met a man who exudes grace and love it is “Pastor Mike.” In my Christian journey he is one of the few in any leadership capacity I’ve ever known who, while he differed with the gay community, made it clear that Victory Fellowship (and the Church universal) must welcome gays into an ongoing dialogue in spite of those differences. As “Pastor Mike” so ably put it, we need to help “those who have made wrong lifestyle choices have an easier time finding their way home.”

I know “Pastor Mike” eye to eye and heart to heart. He is a man who does, as the Almighty has commanded, exhibit grace and love. He’s not a racist or a homophobe, as your comments suggest.

I am voting for the marriage amendment, not because I have an axe to grind with any community within this larger community. I will do so because I believe that same-sex marital unions don’t warrant government blessing, any more than I believe that we should sanction anything faith, reason, and tradition have shown us are clearly wrong.

Melissa, in the end all of this will be much less subjective than you realize. Our votes may be subjective, but the answer to the question of eternal destiny, while deeply personal, is far from subjective. In fact, the Christian belief is that the standard is very objective indeed. He’s the reason we are, on Easter Sunday, celebrating.

There is a way home.”

One of the interesting things about Victory Fellowship, the church Mr. Michael Stubbs pastors is that it is far more diverse than most churches I’ve even been in. There are African-American members, there are Hispanic members. There’s a sizeable number of young people and a sizeable number of “grey panthers.” There are handicapped members. There are some who have just been redeemed from the rough edges of society. There are accountants and engineers. There are smokers and tea-totalers. Some of the members “cut cows” at the slaughterhouse for a living. Some are poets and some are rednecks. We have people of one race married to people of another. We have a number of foreign exchange students from far-flung parts of the world attending. Although it’s never been a matter of open discussion, I think, given the demographics of this country, there may even be a few gays attending as well. My guess is that a member or two has expressed road rage at one time or another. There may even be a pickpocket or two for all I know. I feel confident in saying that the church I attend is diverse.

That’s just how “Pastor Mike” likes things. Last summer Nancy and I went on a short term missions trip to Los Angeles with him. We spent a week at a Foursquare Ministry there called “The Dream Center,” learning more about the nuts and bolts of how to set up ministries within our community. The diversity of the Dream Center is the model, in Pastor Mike’s mind, of the diversity we need to embrace here in Emporia, Kansas. He sees a need to reach out in every direction, to disaffected minorities, to the poor, to the widowed, to the young and the old, to the gay and the straight, to the poet and the redneck. His dream is that no one be left behind.

That, I submit to you, is diversity.

I retired from the corporate world a bit over a year ago. In the course of those years I attended more diversity classes than the average citizen of the Kansas Flint Hills. One of those classes, a week in Memphis, Tennessee, comes to mind. It was an amazing five days to say the least. I learned a lot about colors that would offend a Japanese citizen and about where the American “OK” hand sign is considered rude and offensive. But it was the last day of the week that I found most instructive. A gay employee made a presentation, making his case for diversity and understanding. I tried my best to understand. At lunch I made a point of sitting with him and trying to learn more about him and his philosophy. The conversation began with my halting words, “If I understood your presentation right you said that your sexual preference is normal and healthy.” He smiled and replied, “That’s right.”
“Is my aversion to homosexuality abnormal, then?”
“Of course it is.”
I fiddled with my salad for a second or two. “Do you think that heterosexuality is normal or abnormal?”
“As far as I’m concerned it’s abnormal.”
I decided a hypothetical should be next. “I have two sons. What would you tell them about sexual preference?”
“I’d tell them that being gay is normal.”
“And how would you respond to a father like myself who believes that homosexuality is a sin?”
His answer was direct. To be honest it was what I was really looking for. “Your sons’ sexual preferences are none of your business. A good father would love his sons, whatever their sexual preferences.”
“Are you saying that a good father couldn’t do both, that he couldn’t disagree with his sons and still love them?
“What I’m saying is that homosexuality is normal and you need to accept it. That’s what love is all about. It’s live and let live.”

Later that afternoon as the class was winding down the preceptor asked if anyone had final questions. I had a few. “At what point is diversity too diverse?” “What about those who disagree?” “What should I as a manager do on Monday mornings when one of my employees, Adolph Hitler, comes to work? Should I just live and let live and ask him how his weekend was?” “If I object to these “concepts” where do I fit in this diversity stream?”

I got no answers and was left to read between the lines. Other corporate interests, productivity, harmony, and profitability won the day. I came away from the experience wondering whether or not we were seeing the rise of the new storm troopers, adorned not in hobnailed boots, but Bally’s and Birkenstocks.

Based on Melissa’s standard I am not “normal,” nor is Pastor Mike. The new world is going to be diverse and there are to be no dissenting opinions. So much for the new philosophy of live and let live. So much for diversity.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

He is Risen!

John 11:23-27 (New International Version)

23 “Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27“Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ,[
a] the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

Christians have passed through the most solemn week of their annual calendar. The time for grief has passed. It’s Easter morning and we today are celebrating His resurrection. He is Risen!

Two things - my thoughts, in metered form, will follow some thoughts from Oswald Chambers on this most glorious of mornings:

Have I Seen Him?

After that He appeared in another form to two of them.
(Mark 16:12)

Being saved and seeing Jesus are not the same thing. Many are partakers in God’s grace who have never seen Jesus. When once you have seen Jesus, you can never be the same, other things do not appeal to you as they used to.

Always distinguish between what you see Jesus to be, and what He has done for you. If you only know God for what He has done for you, you have not a big enough God; but if you have had a vision of Jesus as He is, experiences can come and go, you will endure “as seeing Him Who is invisible.”
The man blind from his birth did not know Who Jesus was until He appeared and revealed Himself to him. Jesus appears to those for whom He has done something; but we cannot dictate when He will come. Suddenly, at any turn He may come. “Now I see Him.”

Jesus must appear to your friend as well as to you; no one can see Jesus with your eyes. Severance takes place where one and not the other has seen Jesus. You cannot bring your friend unless God brings Him. Have you seen Jesus? Then you will want others to see Him too. “And they went and told it unto the residue, neither believed they them.” You must tell, although they do not believe.

O could I tell, ye surely would believe it!
O could I only say what I have seen!
How should I tell or how can ye receive it!
How, till He bringeth you where I have been?

The mist has been pierced; the darkness of death has been overcome. I believe! I know! I have seen Him; He is Risen!

Through the Mist
Phil Dillon

©2002 Phil Dillon

Sometimes I peer into the mist of time before time
And gaze at a place dimmed by the clouded glass of one event.
In that distant recess I see history bruised in a fleeting moment
That no man can retrieve.

I gaze and wonder how one moment, just one act of will
Could dim the hopes of years and hearts to be.
Silently I rage and plead, but the truth of time remains
The plague of hearts bowed heavy now in pain
Moves on through time . . . a pace that no man can relieve.

I fix my gaze. Can my eyes break through
The mist that separates me from innocence?
I fix my gaze and still the pain remains.
I fix my eyes and yet I can't perceive.

"There is no hope. Grace like time lies lost within the mist."
A voice now from the darkness strangely woos
And draws my heart to places filled with grief.
A voice to mock my plight,
A honeyed voice meant only to deceive.

In weariness of soul I turn my frame
And there I find a place to bow, a place to bend my knee.
A crossroad and a cross, a man like me.
One born the gift of new life to conceive.

As in a moment hearts and time were bruised
So now a moment heals the weary soul.
The spirit once held captive in the mist
Now moves within a precious veil of love.
A place to rest, a place to now believe.

I gaze once more and see the shackles loosed.
Multitudes now find a wondrous course
Of life and joy and hope for things to be
As through the mist new vision they receive.

He is Risen indeed!

May His life touch you on this glorious Easter morning!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Managing the Customer's Expectations

1 Samuel 10:17-19 (New International Version)

17 “Samuel summoned the people of Israel to the LORD at Mizpah 18 and said to them, "This is what the LORD , the God of Israel, says: 'I brought Israel up out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the power of Egypt and all the kingdoms that oppressed you.' 19 But you have now rejected your God, who saves you out of all your calamities and distresses. And you have said, 'No, set a king over us.' So now present yourselves before the LORD by your tribes and clans.”

I took a fellow blogger’s advice yesterday and spent some time concentrating on local issues. Last night we went to the visitation of a sixteen year old boy, the grandson of a good friend, who had died tragically in an automobile accident about a week ago. I’ve known my friend, Jim, and his wife Ida, for five years now. We’ve prayed and broken bread together. Last night was the first time we’ve shared tears. This past week’s tragedy comes on the heels of losing their daughter to cancer shortly before Nancy and I moved to Emporia. They’re not strangers to sorrow. As the Book says, they’re acquainted with grief.”

Nancy and I, along with many from our church, offered as much consolation as one can at such a tragic time. The touch of one hand on another, a gentle hug, the nervous fumbling for the right words, even a bit of casual conversation – they’re all ways of saying, “I care and I’m with you.”

I never met their grandson, but the visitation taught me a lot more about this young lad than I expected. He was “laid out” at the Olpe High School gymnasium. In the hallway just outside the basketball court there were several displays commemorating his life. There were photographs of him from the time he was a little child right up until recent times. He was a baby faced kid and he looked a lot like my youngest son, Michael. There were also three our four long tables filled with memorabilia about his life that was, until a few days ago, in process. There were some time cards from his workplace (Long John Silver’s here in Emporia), some hand written notes from girls who “admired” him, a grade card or two, and lots of stuff about cars, which he loved. In talking to Jim I found out that he and his grandson had plans to go to McPherson in a few weeks to learn more about restoring cars, which was his grandson’s passion.

His casket was displayed at one end of the gymnasium floor, underneath one of the basketball goals. He lay in peace. There with him on his left shoulder was a hand-written poem on a tattered piece of three by five paper from a girl who loved him and what appeared to me to be the inner rim of a mag-wheel just above his neatly folded hands. The expression on his face belied the violent end he had endured. On the day of his accident he was on his way to work. Apparently just south of Emporia’s Municipal Airport he realized that he had forgotten his uniform hat and shoes (they were found on the living room floor of his home). Being of good conscience he must have decided to turn around and go back to Olpe to get them. As he tried to negotiate a u-turn on the two lane highway a semi loaded down with steel crested the hill near the airport and slammed into his car. He never regained consciousness and died a few days later.

So, Jim and Ida, their grandson’s immediate family, are grief stricken. It is going to take some time for them to get through this. I doubt they’ll ever “get over” it. But they’re strong people, hardy stock. Their faith is alive and vibrant. They’ll get through this.

Earlier in the day I had to take care of some mundane local issues. About a week or so ago Nancy noticed some pockmarks on the doors of our car. “Has there been any hail recently?” she asked. There hadn’t and the only thing we could figure out was that someone had decided to have some fun at our expense and also to openly express what had been only hidden rage. We own a Volvo and here in Emporia that kind of car probably symbolizes the eastern elite or all that’s wrong with America. A few strategically placed blows, we assumed, and the anger was vented.

I took the car to my insurance agent, who in turn told me to take the car to the Ford (Volvo’s parent company) dealer just down the road. The fella’ from the body shop looked it over and said, “This wasn’t some kid having fun. This was someone trying to break into your car.” He then showed me why he believed this was the case, going into great detail, pockmark by pockmark, about his theory of the dastardly deed. I listened, transfixed. I occasionally interrupted his explanations with either a “wow” or “you’re kiddin'” and he just kept on. When he was finished I asked, “So this sort of thing even happens here in Emporia?” “Oh yeah,” he replied. “Not long ago a guy got out of jail and figured he needed transportation. Came by the dealership at night and stole a Ford Focus. They caught him somewhere up in Iowa. He robbed a convenience store up there and they nabbed him.” In keeping with my naivete I asked why he’d taken a Ford focus when there were lots of other, bigger, jazzier cars sitting around. Why not a Mustang or a Thunderbird? “I guess it must have been a fuel efficiency thing,” he responded. “He didn’t have any money and needed something that would get him a long way without refueling.”
“Seems like it might have been a blessing in disguise,” I posited. “If he’d taken the Mustang or the T-Bird he’d have had to rob a lot more convenience stores. In the end it was the difference between one count of robbery and three our four, three years in Lansing and fifteen or so. Mighty providential, I’d say.”

We shared a laugh or two about or intrepid thief’s adventures and the world encroaching on the Kansas Flint Hills, about how even the products of Swedish socialism seem desirable enough to steal here in small town Kansas. Then he printed out my estimate. Two thousand big ones! “More encroachment,” I complained. “More socialism.”

My next step was back to the insurance agent, who in turn told me that it would be good if I got a police report. About five minutes later and I was back at the insurance agent’s office. “The cop told me that you could call him in a little bit and he’d have the report ready for you. Said that there’s been a bit of this around Neosho Street lately.”

I was about ready to leave and the agent mentioned that she might need to have someone from Kansas City come and look at the car. That piqued my curiousity. “Why?” I asked. “Well, we just want to be sure,” she responded.
“You mean you may not cover the damage?
She smiled knowingly as she responded. “I’m sure it’s all okay. We just need to be sure that we’re managing customer expectations.”

“More encroachment,” I thought to myself. I told her that I’d spent forty years in business and had come to understand that the euphemism “managing customer expectations” meant nothing more than finding some way to get the customer to do what you want or need him to do and make him think it was all his idea to begin with. Any salesman worth his salt knows that. “I’m misunderstood,” she pleaded. “It’s just that I want to be sure to….” I interrupted her. “Meet the customer’s expectations? Meet mine?” “Precisely,” she said. “I feel better already,” I said, as I left.

I started driving home and heard a train whistle to my south. It’s a pretty familiar sound here in Emporia. I opened the car window and listened as the train wheels ground out their staccato sound against the tracks. “Clickety-clack…..Clickety-clack.” It only took an instant and I was transported to the broader world. My mind wandered back to a Saturday years ago Nancy and I spent on a local train from Munich to Dachau. There on Commercial Street, Emporia, Kansas, it was as if the moments from far away and long ago were glued together in my mind. It was as though I could feel the “clickety-clack” beneath my feet as the train from Munich pulled into Dachau. What should have seemed so far away was as close to me as my own feet.

I’ve read that back in the forties, long, long ago now, at a time I can’t remember, rolling stock with human cargo passed from hamlet to hamlet along the beautiful European countryside. There was the “clickety-clack” of steel against steel as the wheels of the trains met the tracks, that same sound that I hear in Emporia as the Burlington Northern passes through my home town. It’s the same sound the City of New Orleans or the Wabash Cannonball make in the musical tributes of balladeers to the romanticized travel of America. But inside the boxcars there were competing noises, moans, screams, cries, pleas for help. I’ve read somewhere that as the trains passed by village churches along their journeys the cries and moans could even be heard over the clatter of steel against steel. As they listened, the parishioners must have felt some of the same sense of encroachment I often feel when outside events invade my quiet, peaceful space here in the Kansas Flint Hills. What response did these good folks offer? They sang. They sang louder to drown out the noise of desperate people passing by. I’ve never read what great hymns they must have sung to comfort themselves. “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” perhaps?

The train passes by a few blocks to my south and so does the “illusion.” It’s on its way to some other, far away place. As I turn west toward home a thought strikes me, “Have your times managed your expectations?” “Pinellas Park and Terri Schiavo are both far, far away, far from the things you need to be concerned about.” “Think local.” “Sing louder.”

It’s now Saturday morning. The bird feeders sitting on the Mulberry tree outside my window are almost empty. My feathered friends are noisily complaining for sustenance. In the distance, about a mile or two south, I can hear a train whistle as more cargo makes its way through my neck of the woods. I can’t hear the “clickety-clack” from here. It’s too far away. Yet I know it’s still there. The sound, like the sound of the train from Munich to Dachau, like the death train that’s moving along the Florida rails, still lingers in the distance, in the recesses of my mind. It stubbornly refuses to give up. It’s bringing me a message. “Encroachment?” I muse. The world is encroaching on me. I’d like to make the sound go away, but I can’t. The sound of the forties and the sounds of this new millennium are married, Emporia, Pinellas Park, Munich, Dachau. Can you hear them along with me? “Clickety-clack…..Clickety-clack…..Clickety-clack.”

Friday, March 25, 2005

Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (New Living Translation)

Ecclesiastes 3

1There is a time for everything,
A season for every activity under heaven
2A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
3A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to rebuild.
4A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
5A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
6A time to search and a time to lose.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
7A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak up.
8A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.

Feed a cold, starve a fever. It’s an old adage. Terri Schiavo, as the adage goes, is a fever in our midst who needs to be starved into submission.

Another day, another appeal, another denial. Terri Schiavo is on death’s doorstep. About all that’s left now is to watch the death dew gather cold on her brow as she slips into eternity.

This is, of course, Passion Week. Today is Good Friday, a day set aside by Christians to commemorate the death of Jesus.

Passion Week! It’s a marvelous way to express this most solemn of all weeks in the Christian calendar. It speaks to me of the things that ought to stir in the human belly at times like this. It speaks to me of zeal, the type of passion that Jesus himself expressed. It was zeal that sealed Jesus’ fate.

Just before the Passover feast Jesus went to Jerusalem. There, in a “fit of passion” He drove out the money changers:

John 2:13-17 (King James Version)

13 “And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:
15And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables;
16And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise.
17And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.”

Jesus’ passion, His love did Him in. He cared, He gave. His response to the cold calculation of that time (and ours as well), was visceral. It was love and passion from the gut. Jesus led with His chin and as every boxer who has ever climbed into the ring knows, that’s dangerous stuff.

Jesus’ passion stands in stark contrast to those who plotted against Him. He had earlier seen a close friend die. He’d wept over his tomb. Then, in a full display of passion and love he raised his friend from the dead. The grave itself could not trump His passion and love. It was a foreshadowing of things to come.

Religious authorities, legal scholars if you will, seeing the power of His passion, met to develop a counter-strategy to deal with the zeal of this man and His power upon people:

John 11:45-50 (New International Version)

45 “Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. 46But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. 48If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place[
a] and our nation.”
49Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

There was a cold, hard logic to Jesus crucifixion. Whose jurisdiction was he anyway? Pilate’s? Herod’s?

Pilate tried to bargain for His life. The “people” chose to spare Barabbas, a murderer and a terrorist rather than this guiltless man. His executioners gambled for His only earthly possession, His robe.

It had all begun in secret, hidden from public view. It ended with Jesus in full view of all who, in one way or another, actively or passively, condemned Him to death.

It’s Good Friday and, as best I can, I am remembering that death and passion. I’m sitting here looking out my window at birds twittering, noticing out of the corner of my eye that our forsythia is beginning to bloom. I’m contemplating Jesus’ passion and death. I think of the many times in my journey that I have broken the bread and taken from the cup. Just symbols, bread and wine or bread and juice, depending on your tradition. But today the passion has hit me at a very visceral level too. I see my part in this drama and feel the need to once more touch my lips to the cup of redemption, not symbolically, but deeply and fully. As I do I sense that the poet’s words are right and true:

“Never could learn to drink that blood,
And call it wine,
Never could learn to hold you, love,
And call you mine.”

As I sit here and reflect I can even see in my mind’s eye that Pinellas Park, Florida, is as close to me as the finches and starlings feeding on the mulberry tree outside my window. I look at the pictures of Bob and Mary Schindler in the news media and see that they are dead ringers for Nancy and me. It’s eerie. It’s all very close to home.

I’m told as I read some of my fellow Christian bloggers that folks like me need to focus more on His passion and less on Terri Schiavo’s. They’re right of course. His was a passion with a redemptive purpose. Her passion may have some sliver of redemption in it in the end, but I understand that it won’t redeem me; it will not open Heaven’s gates for me. Yet I wonder as I sit here how all of this would have played its way out during Passion Week two thousand years ago if we moderns had been there. What would polite conversation have sounded like if we had been there? “He’s just one man, Dillon. There’s thousands of people who die senselessly every day.” “You need to focus more energy on the living.” “You never paid much attention to him when he went through your home town. I mean, after all, Capernaum is a long way from Jerusalem.” “Why can’t you spend some time and energy focusing on what’s going on in your home town instead of getting yourself fixated on something far away from your “sphere of influence?”

The logic of it all is impeccable. It’s when their words hit the belly that the pain sets in. They’re obviously right and I’m wrong. Why is it then that their words don’t make me feel better? Why is it that they seem so void of absolution?

I’ve tried the logical approach. Who am I to say what’s right and wrong here? The judges hearing Terri Schiavo’s case may be Christians to the man. It could be. I’ve heard that the BTK strangler could be one too. Who am I to say? After all, a thief crucified next to Jesus made it into Paradise. Who am I to say that Terri Schiavo’s executioners aren’t, as they say in my circles of Christendom, twice blessed? I’m sure, too, that in his own way, Pontius Pilate was an alright guy. And so, in their own ways, were the members of the Sanhedrin who condemned Jesus to death. Who am I to say?

I’ve heard it said that the technology now available has turned all of this on its head. It’s made the decisions all the more difficult. It’s the science that makes the agony all the more agonizing. The technology seems to be trumping God’s ability to just “take” Terri. We’re prolonging the inevitable. I hear it and it seems to make sense. But then my gut interferes again. Maybe we shouldn’t have brought in all that earth moving equipment when Jessica McClure fell down into that hole years ago. Maybe I should stop scheduling the blood tests I take every year to make sure I don’t have prostate cancer. Maybe I should stop taking my inhalers and my blood pressure medication and just let God “take care of it.” Maybe we should all stop getting those mammograms and colonoscopies and just leave it all in God’s hands. Maybe we should refuse to give our children antibiotics when their bodies are wracked with pain and infection. Yes, technology changes everything, doesn’t it?

I hear what makes sense and it makes my blood boil. In 1986 I was passing through Crown Center in downtown Kansas City. There was a large crowd of people watching the Challenger make its way into space. I got to the back of the crowd just in time to hear the words, “Challenger, go with throttle up.” For the astronauts it was over in a matter of seconds. For the rest of us it was just beginning. I don’t remember how many times I heard the words “This was God’s will” after that day. More than I can count. We’d pushed the envelope; we’d gone too far. Never mind that it was really poor engineering, that sin had run amok in the halls of NASA, that expediency had triumphed over safety and life. I hear the words today and they have a tinny ring to them. “We just need to let her go. It’s God’s will.” And I hear the judges, one by one barking out their command, “Go with throttle up.”

I’ve heard it said that she’s “not there,” that she’s nothing more than a shell now. It smacks to me of Manichaeism, “Christian dualism.” The “spirit” is good and the body is “just a shell.” So much for the resurrection of the body. She’s just a shell. Her body isn’t of any value. It’s just a mass of fallen protoplasm in a fallen world. My gut wrenches into knots when I hear the euphemism. Terri Schiavo is more than that. She’s a unity, a living human person, a unity of body, soul, and spirit.

There is indeed, as I saw as I started this piece, a time to grieve and a time to dance. I look out my window and Pinellas Park, Florida seems even closer than it did a few minutes ago. This is indeed a time to grieve. The air outside my window seems cold. I touch the glass and it confirms what my eyes behold. It’s as cold as the ground into which Terri Schiavo will be interred in a matter of days.

Passion Week is quickly coming to a close. The time for mourning, sackcloth, and ashes will soon be over. In its wake there will come a time to rejoice. Tomorrow my heart will dance. I’ll celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Until then I will mourn His death, my part in it, and Terri Schiavo’s pain. My heart and my belly tells me this is right, despite the logic, the law, and the science that rage against me.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

A Case For Christian Separatism?

2 Corinthians 6:1-17 (New Living Translation)

2 Corinthians 6

1 “As God's partners,[
a] we beg you not to reject this marvelous message of God's great kindness. 2For God says,
"At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you."[
Indeed, God is ready to help you right now. Today is the day of salvation.”

Pauls Hardships

3 “We try to live in such a way that no one will be hindered from finding the Lord by the way we act, and so no one can find fault with our ministry. 4In everything we do we try to show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. 5We have been beaten, been put in jail, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. 6We have proved ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, our sincere love, and the power of the Holy Spirit.[
c] 7We have faithfully preached the truth. God's power has been working in us. We have righteousness as our weapon, both to attack and to defend ourselves. 8We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. 9We are well known, but we are treated as unknown. We live close to death, but here we are, still alive. We have been beaten within an inch of our lives. 10Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.

11Oh, dear Corinthian friends! We have spoken honestly with you. Our hearts are open to you. 12If there is a problem between us, it is not because of a lack of love on our part, but because you have withheld your love from us. 13I am talking now as I would to my own children. Open your hearts to us!”

The Temple of the Living God

14 “Don't team up with those who are unbelievers. How can goodness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? 15What harmony can there be between Christ and the Devil[
d]? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? 16And what union can there be between God's temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said:
"I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people.[
17 Therefore, come out from them and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord. Don't touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you.”

There are times when I’d like to consider myself a renaissance man, a man who lives in the past and thinks in iambic pentameter, far from the troubles of the day. The reality, though, is that I’m a man of my times. I’m a “new millennium man”, a product of recent history.

I cannot escape my times, but I have to admit that at times like these I desperately want to. I don’t want to engage any more; I want to disengage.

My mind and heart are conflicted this morning. They’re tugging against one another. A while ago I read a post from a blogger I’ve never met, but really admire. In a piece titled “Slippery Slopes and Androsexuals: The Inadequacies of Social Conservative Arguments,” Joe Carter, the blog’s author, had this to say about engagement:

“If social conservatives are ever going to make significant gains in affecting our culture we must do more to engage those who hold opposite viewpoints. Dismissing their arguments won’t make them go away. Talking past them won’t aid us in gaining their understanding. And acting as if we have all the answers will only expose the shallowness of our arguments. We must engage, understand, and take action. Otherwise the slippery slope will only get steeper.”

My head agrees; Joe is absolutely right. But my heart is battle-weary; the war of social attrition that has taken place in my lifetime has wounded me. I don’t feel that I have the heart to “fight the good fight” anymore. My head is telling me that I need to keep fighting, trying my best to pierce through the perverse defenses of my culture; my heart is telling me to pull back to a safe place, a place of refuge.

I know in my head that Joe’s right. When I think of disengaging myself from my culture my mind wanders back through trips Nancy and I have taken through southern Missouri on our way from Memphis to Emporia. I recall Sunday mornings listening to separatist“preachers” advocating revolution, separation from an evil culture, and calls to arms. I remember the shivers of fear that ran up and down my spine as I listened. “Gather your food and arms into the storehouses,” they pleaded. “Separate yourselves.” “The time for revolution has come.” I remember, too, the revulsion I felt. I knew that this was a whirlwind in process that was not God’s making. I knew that the still small voice of engagement in the face of adversity was the voice to heed.

And so, here in the heart of the Kansas Flint Hills, the core of the Bible Belt, at the turning of a new age, I sit, looking out my window at finches and doves I’ve been feeding all winter. I see them gather the sustenance I’ve provided for them and my heart is transported to Florida, to one woman and her mother and father’s desperate, unheeded plea to feed her.

My head tells me that Joe Carter, a good and honorable man, is right. We Christians must find some avenue of reason. His call is as old as the Scriptures, it’s God breathed:

Isaiah 1:18 (King James Version)

18 “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

In my mind I know that Joe is right. We must find avenues of discourse and reason. I can’t fly away to the past; the past is no escape. As much as I’d like to idealize the generations that have preceded mine, I know that there was more than enough evil to escape even then.

But my heart is weary…..weary…..weary. My mind and my logic tell me that I must engage. My heart is asking, “How?” “How in the face of all this evil can we even find common ground?” My heart surveys the social landscape and I have to come to grips with the face that I, like Terri Schiavo, am just one. And as I further peer out through the hills and valleys of my world I realize that there may not be enough “ones” to make a difference. We are the minority.

As I was making Nancy’s coffee this morning an old, old song began to ring within my heart:

"This world is not my home I’m just a passin’ through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore."

"Oh Lord You know I have no friend like You
If Heaven’s not my home then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in his world anymore."

My heart is weary, looking for an avenue of solace, an avenue of escape. As I hum and sing to myself I think, futilely, that fleeing to the future will provide that road. But I harbor no death wishes. That I leave to the American court system and one Florida citizen bent on ending another’s life. As I sit here I hear the birds singing, grateful for the sustenance I’ve provided them. It’s a grateful song, a song of thanks. I see children passing by, loaded down by backpacks, on their way to school. I hear their laughter and I, like the birds, feel grateful for the sustenance they have provided for my soul. I hear Nancy’s gentle voice from upstairs and my heart feels that sense of warmth it always provides me.

No, I’m not a renaissance man, nor am I a man of the future. I’m a man who is alive now, living among the living, mourning the slow death of a fellow pilgrim. I cannot escape, as much as my weary heart would like to.

This morning Nancy wisely reminded me of what I already know. There is a Supreme Judge, whose ways are higher and wiser than those of the judges who today are assembling in the highest court of this land. There is a True Supreme Court where Terri Schiavo’s case has been heard. In the end He will make the crooked places straight. He will prevail. Every knee will bow to Him. He indeed will make the final, just judgment:

Revelation 20:11-13 (New International Version)

The Dead Are Judged

11 “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.”

I find my solace in those words. The Great Judge will make a final ruling on all our lives. He is the standard. I will be judged by Him. Terri and Michael Schiavo will too. And so too will the judges who have “ruled” in her case.

My heart is no less heavy, for I am still a man of my times. My mind is no less conflicted, and I still feel a need to flee from the insanity I see all around me. But I know that Joe Carter, my fellow traveler on the road to Heaven’s gate, is right. I must not give up. I must keep up the good fight.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The End is Near

Luke 21:12-19 (New Living Translation)

12 “But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will be accused before kings and governors of being my followers. 13This will be your opportunity to tell them about me. 14So don't worry about how to answer the charges against you, 15for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply! 16Even those closest to you--your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends--will betray you. And some of you will be killed. 17And everyone will hate you because of your allegiance to me. 18But not a hair of your head will perish! 19By standing firm, you will win your souls.”

The end is near for Terri Schiavo. In a two to one opinion, Atlanta’s 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Bob and Mary Schindler’s desperate plea to spare their daughter’s life.

On one side of the issue there is a mixed sense of despair and hope. I am one of those desperate souls. While I have no doubt whatsoever about Terri Schiavo’s eternal destiny, I have grave doubts about the health of my culture. Terri Schiavo is in her death spiral. We’re killing Terri Schiavo with kindness and in doing so we are also slowly killing ourselves. Terri Schiavo is starving for lack of temporal nourishment. America is now starving for lack of the “hidden manna.”

It’s all codified, draped in a mantle of legal language. It’s endorsed by great minds. It has a sinister cloak of decency wrapped about its collective body. But there are Eyes which see through all the sham and pretense. It is, in His eyes, a death spiral in which a society has embraced, in the name of decency, license and murder.

For Bob and Mary Schindler the road ahead, like the road they’ve traveled, will be filled with grief and loss. A “just” society is in the process of murdering their daughter. How can we give them comfort? What could Terri Schiavo’s executioners now say that will console them?

For Michael Schiavo there is a “new” life. The judges have blessed him and his grisly decision to “terminate” her support. They’ve given him the sanction to “go on.” He will soon be free to codify the relationship he took up when he abandoned Terri Schiavo in her hour of need.

Terri Schaivo, in the end, will receive her reward. Of this I have no doubt. She will soon join the heavenly company.

Why should we even worry about this “case?” It’s a painless death, we’re being told. It’s a just end. It’s only one woman, only a matter of a few more days. A few more news cycles and it will all be over.

The judges have decided, wisely they believe. Of course, judges have always believed that of themselves:

“In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all’s equal and the courts are on the level
And that the strings in the books ain’t pulled and persuaded
And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once the cops have chased after and caught ‘em
And the ladder of justice has no top and no bottom,
Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin’ that way without warnin’.
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished,
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance,
William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence.
Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace
And criticize all fears,
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now is the time for your tears.”

I sit here, tearfully, considering this grisly game of justice and rewards. In the end I know that God’s just sentence will prevail. Terri Schiavo will soon receive her reward. And I know that those who are complicit in her murder will one day meet the same Just Judge who has given Terri Schiavo her reward. They too will receive theirs.

In the interim my tears will continue to flow. And with them comes a question that, as I ask it, tastes like bitter fruit in my belly. Who will be next? My culture, my nation, like Terri Schiavo, is in its death spiral. Who will be next?

There are few words left for me to express the pain that I feel, only those paraphrasing the poet:

“Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace
And criticize all fears
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now is the time for your shame”

America, my America, bury the rag deep in your face, for now is the time for your shame.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Minority Report

Numbers 13:17-33 (New Living Translation)

17 “Moses gave the men these instructions as he sent them out to explore the land: “Go northward through the Negev into the hill country. 18See what the land is like and find out whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many. 19What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? Do their towns have walls or are they unprotected? 20How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there many trees? Enter the land boldly, and bring back samples of the crops you see.” (It happened to be the season for harvesting the first ripe grapes.)

21So they went up and explored the land from the wilderness of Zin as far as Rehob, near Lebo-hamath. 22Going northward, they passed first through the Negev and arrived at Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai--all descendants of Anak--lived. (The ancient town of Hebron was founded seven years before the Egyptian city of Zoan.) 23When they came to what is now known as the valley of Eshcol, they cut down a cluster of grapes so large that it took two of them to carry it on a pole between them! They also took samples of the pomegranates and figs. 24At that time the Israelites renamed the valley Eshcol—“cluster”--because of the cluster of grapes they had cut there.

The Scouting Report

25After exploring the land for forty days, the men returned 26to Moses, Aaron, and the people of Israel at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran. They reported to the whole community what they had seen and showed them the fruit they had taken from the land. 27This was their report to Moses: “We arrived in the land you sent us to see, and it is indeed a magnificent country--a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is some of its fruit as proof. 28But the people living there are powerful, and their cities and towns are fortified and very large. We also saw the descendants of Anak who are living there! 29The Amalekites live in the Negev, and the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country. The Canaanites live along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea[
a] and along the Jordan Valley.”

30But Caleb tried to encourage the people as they stood before Moses. "Let's go at once to take the land," he said. “We can certainly conquer it!”

31But the other men who had explored the land with him answered, “We can't go up against them! They are stronger than we are!” 32So they spread discouraging reports about the land among the Israelites: "The land we explored will swallow up any who go to live there. All the people we saw were huge. 33We even saw giants[
b] there, the descendants of Anak. We felt like grasshoppers next to them, and that's what we looked like to them!”

It now appears that the majority will get their wishes. A Federal judge ruled against Bob and Mary Schindler’s appeal to have Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube re-inserted. The Schindler’s are now going to appeal their case to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, but I believe at this point it’s a matter of grasping at judicial straws. As I sensed and said yesterday, this may have only been a stay of execution.

I’ve also made my feelings known about what Nancy and I want at the end of our journey in life. We want dignity and respect and the freedom to make decisions respecting our wishes at such an important point in our lives.

However, I am saddened by the result in this case. I cannot escape the feeling that we are now complicit in a judicially sanctioned murder.

Apparently I’m part of a sizeable minority in this regard. Based on an ABC News poll conducted in the last few days, sixty-three percent of the American public supports the removal of Mrs. Schiavo’s feeding tube and only twenty-eight percent support having it re-inserted. Seventy percent of those polled oppose the “legislative action” in this case. And, in terms of faith groups, even among evangelical Protestants, I’m in the minority. Forty-six percent of my fellow pilgrims support the removal, forty-four percent support action to have it re-inserted.

I’m clearly swimming against the tide of popular opinion.

Why am I holding on so stubbornly against the majority, even those with whom I share my Christian faith?

First, I refuse to see a vegetable, someone or some “thing” in a persistent vegetative state when I look at Terri Schiavo. I see a human being, a living, breathing human person. Last Friday Peggy Noonan expressed beautifully what I am feeling about this case. She pleaded for Federal intervention, calling on the humanity of those who govern us:

“At the heart of the case at this point is a question: Is Terri Schiavo brain-dead? That is, is remedy, healing, physiologically impossible?”

“No. Oddly enough anyone who sees the
film and tape of her can see that her brain tells her lungs to breathe, that she can open her eyes, that she seems to respond at times and to some degree to her family. She can laugh. (I heard it this morning on the news. It's a childlike chuckle.) In the language of computers she appears not to be a broken hard drive but a computer in deep hibernation. She looks like one of those coma cases that wind up in the news because the patient, for no clear reason, snaps to and returns to life and says, “Is it 1983? Is there still McDonald's? Can I have a burger?”

“Again, life is mysterious. Medicine is full of happenings and events that leave brilliant doctors scratching their heads.”

“But in the end, it comes down to this: Why kill her? What is gained? What is good about it? Ronald Reagan used to say, in the early days of the abortion debate, when people would argue that the fetus may not really be a person, he'd say, "Well, if you come across a paper bag in the gutter and it seems something's in it and you don't know if it's alive, you don't kick it, do you?" No, you don't.”

“So Congress: don't kick it. Let her live. Hard cases make bad law, but let her live. Precedents can begin to cascade, special pleas can become a flood, but let her live. Because she's human, and you're human.”

Ms. Noonan, I believe, was right. This is not the case of a vegetable to be discarded. It’s about a human being who deserves our compassion and care.

Many say that this is not a Federal case, that it’s really about states’ rights and an inter-family dispute. Yesterday I cited the Dred Scott decision, a case that went to the Supreme Court of the United States. Scott was rebuffed in his attempt to gain the freedom that God intended for him. In a seven to two decision, the Court decided that Dred Scott was indeed property to be disposed of however his owner saw fit. One of the bases of that decision was the fact that he had pleaded for his freedom in one state and that his plea had no basis because his “owner” was from a slave holding state. In other words, there was no Federal remedy. In his dissenting opinion, Justice McLean noted that:

“But there is another ground which I deem conclusive, and which I will re state.”

“The Supreme Court of Missouri refused to notice the act of Congress or the Constitution of Illinois, under which Dred Scott, his wife and children, claimed that they are entitled to freedom.”

“This being rejected by the Missouri court, there was no case before it, or least it was a case with only one side. And this is the case which, in the opinion of this court, we are bound to follow. The Missouri court disregards the express provisions of an act of Congress and the Constitution of a sovereign State, both of which laws for twenty eight years it had not only regarded, but carried into effect.”

“If a State court may do this, on a question involving the liberty of a human being, what protection do the laws afford? So far from this being a Missouri question, it is a question, as it would seem, within the twenty fifth section of the judiciary act, where a right to freedom being set up under the act of Congress, and the decision being against such right, it may be brought for revision before this court, from the Supreme Court of Missouri.”

“I think the judgment of the court below should be reversed.”

Speaking now as one of the minority, I say that I believe that it was altogether proper for the United States Congress to intervene on behalf of Terri Schiavo.

In the debate leading up to the vote in Congress, Representative Mel Watt asked why so much attention was being given to just “one” person. At the risk of sounding cavalier at such a heavy moment, I’ll paraphrase for Mr. Watt – “It’s about morality, stupid!”

Bio-ethicist Robert George was recently interviewed by the National Review. When asked about the Schiavo case he had this to say:

NRO: “Back to the question of declining medical care” —

George: “We know of course that there are lots of legitimate reasons for declining medical care. Often it's burdensome in nature; often it interferes with other opportunities that one might have, the opportunity for example to spend the remaining time one has, even if it will be shorter, in the embrace of one's family in the home rather than in an institution; sometimes it's the daunting expense that is involved. These can be morally legitimate reasons for declining medical care even where treatment could extend life a bit. But at the same time, we know that our decision as a society to recognize a right to refuse treatment, though it is the morally and prudentially correct decision in my view, will open certain limited opportunities for abuse. There will be circumstances in which people who want to do away with themselves will be able to accomplish the goal by exercising the right to decline life-saving medical care. And there will, alas, be circumstances in which some people, exercising so-called substituted judgment, make unjustified “choices for death” — to use the language of euthanasia advocate Ronald Dworkin — of people for whom they are supposed to be caring.”

Further on in the interview he gets to the heart of what I believe is going on in the Terri Schiavo case:

NRO: “As you know, there's some question about what Terri Schiavo's wishes were or would be now. How much should turn on this question?”

George: “It is the wrong question. It is pointless to ask whether Terri Schiavo had somehow formed a conditional intention to have herself starved to death if eventually she found herself in a brain-damaged condition. What's really going on here — and I don't think we can afford to kid ourselves about this — is that Terri's husband has decided that hers is a life not worth having. In his opinion, her continued existence is nothing but a burden — a burden to herself, to him, to society. He has presumed to decide that his wife is better off dead.”

“Even if we were to credit Michael Schiavo's account of his conversation with Terri before her injury — which I am not inclined to do — it is a mistake to assume that people can make decisions in advance about whether to have themselves starved to death if they eventually find themselves disabled. That's why living wills have proven to be so often unreliable. One does not know how one will actually feel, or how one will feel about one's life and the prospect of death, or whether one will retain a desire to live despite a mental or physical disability, when one is not actually in that condition and when one is envisaging it from the perspective of more or less robust health.”

And he finally concludes by saying:

“In any event, it is clear that the only reason for Michael Schiavo's decision is that he considers Terri's quality of life to be so poor that he wants her to be dead. He claims that she would want that too, which I don't grant, but even if he's right about that, we should treat her like anyone else who wants to commit suicide. We rescue, we care. We affirm the inherent value of the life of every human being. Our governing principle should be always to care, never to kill.”

I recognize clearly that I’m in the minority here too. I really understand the agony and gravity of the situation. I understand its complexity. But I cannot, in good conscience, find myself feeling good about this. I cannot find myself saying that in killing Terri Schiavo, starving her to death, that we are doing her, and God, a favor.

May God have mercy on our souls.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Barbarians at the Well of Life

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 (New International Version)

15 “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

We all share in the agony now. In a 203-58 vote Congress passed the “Palm Sunday Compromise,” requiring a Federal legal review of the treatment of Terri Schiavo. Depending on what a Federal judge decides today, she, her mother, father, and brother may have had a last minute reprieve.

I’ve steered clear of the debate about the Schiavo case for some time now. I’m not a lawyer. I’m not a doctor. But, at a very personal level, I do know that I don’t want my final fate left in someone else’s hands. Nancy and I have expressed our wishes to one another that we both want the opportunity to pass from this life to the next freely, with dignity. We don’t want that decision left in the hands of lawyers, doctors, politicians, bio-ethicists, or anyone else detached from the love and nurture that Nancy and I have built over the years we’ve been together. These, I believe, are our decisions to make.

Having said that, though, there is much that troubles me about the manner in which Mrs. Schiavo has been treated throughout this long ordeal.

Why, for example, did Michael Schiavo, her husband, decide years into the process that Terri would not want to be kept alive under the circumstances she is now living? Why did it take so long for him to make that determination? Why not make that decision at the beginning? What changed his mind? Was compassion and concern for Terri his aim? Or was it something else?

Mr. Schiavo claims that he is acting on Terri’s wishes. He claims that he is acting out of compassion. He had this to say in an interview with ABC’s Nightline on March 15th:

BURY: “I understand fully the legal question here, Michael.

But let ask you in simply human terms. Can you understand the parents' contention, the bond that they have with their daughter, and their reluctance to let her go? Do you understand that?”
SCHIAVO: “You know, I have children and, you know, I couldn't even fathom what it would be like to lose a child. But you know, it's been 15 years.

They know the condition Terri is in. They were there in the beginning. They heard the doctors. They know that Terri's in a persistent vegetative state. They testified to that at the original trial.

Fifteen years — you've got to come to grips with it sometime.”

Those words should ring true to me, but they don’t. They seem hollow and empty.

This morning I heard something else from Mr. Schiavo that really alarmed me. In a news interview he spent his time railing against George Bush and the Republican Party:

“Tom DeLay should be ashamed of himself," Michael Schiavo told CNN. "He's sitting up there, making comments and bashing people. ... He's found a cause to hide behind, to lighten the load of his other problems.”

There was no hint of concern for Terri and her well being; this, in his mind, was a political vendetta hatched by George Bush and he cronies in the Congress. Now I really understand the difficulty of the situation, but as a man I must admit that his comments offended me. If he was so concerned about his “wife’s” well-being I believe that something like, “Please, please, have mercy on Terri. Let her go to be with God in peace” would have been the appropriate words. But I heard nothing like that. All I heard was a tongue lashing aimed at the President and the Congress. Where, I ask, is this man’s mind and heart right now? I don’t feel comfortable in believing that he has Terri Schiavo’s interests at heart. If I did I might feel differently about all of this.

Then there is the matter of his conflict of interest. He has “moved on” with his life. He has had a common law wife for a number of years. He’s fathered two children with her. Does he really have any vital, living interest in seeing that Terri’s interests are served? The question hasn’t been answered.

In fact it seems that in time more and more questions have been raised about his care of Terri. What financial gain is there for Michael Schiavo in all of this? Why has he, as her caretaker and guardian, denied her treatments that may improve her situation? Why has he refused to even entertain the idea of allowing Terri’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, to take over guardianship? He says that he only wants to grant Terri’s wishes. I’m not sure. He didn’t seem to mention anything about that “desire” fifteen years ago when this all began. Why did his recollection only came into play when he found another woman and was subsequently granted a substantial financial settlement from a malpractice lawsuit?

As I look at the videotapes of Terri interacting with her mother, responding to music, attempting to answer her mother, the questions become even more important. I defy anyone who looks at them to make the determination that this woman must be starved to death.

Now the question of the propriety of Federal intervention has been raised. I listened with great interest to last night’s house debate. I wish I could have taken more comfort from what I heard, but I have to admit that, in the end, all Terri Schiavo was granted was a stay of execution. There was not one politician from my political party’s side of the aisle who said they really knew what to do or what they would do in the same circumstance. Yet, a substantial number of them made impassioned pleas for the current status quo. John Lewis of Georgia said that this was a states’ rights issue and the Federal government should not intervene. Mel Watt of North Carolina said he was at a loss to understand why the Congress should pay so much attention to one woman when there were thousands upon thousands that the Republicans were starving in this country through neglect.

How could John Lewis, a veteran of the Civil Rights movement, use the issue of states rights to defend not intervening at the Federal level in this case? Dred Scott, an enslaved human being, was deprived of his rights, declared to be nothing more than property, and told by the nation’s highest court that his assertion that he was a free man by virtue of having lived in Illinois, a free state, for a considerable period of time, wasn’t valid. Citing historic precedent, Justice Nelson, speaking as one of the majority in the Court’s opinion, noted that:

“Every State or nation possesses an exclusive sovereignty and jurisdiction within her own territory; and, her laws affect and bind all property and persons residing within it. It may regulate the manner and circumstances under which property is held, and the condition, capacity, and state, of all persons therein; and, also, the remedy and modes of administering justice. And it is equally true, that no State or nation can affect or bind property out of its territory, or persons not residing within it. No State, therefore, can enact laws to operate beyond its own dominions, and, if it attempts to do so, it may be lawfully refused obedience. Such laws can have no inherent authority extraterritorially. This is the necessary result of the independence of distinct and separate sovereignties.”

In laymen’s terms a Supreme Court Justice was saying that a man who was a slave in Missouri could not be freed because of Illinois’ law prohibiting slavery. It was, in his mind, and the mind of the majority, that Missouri’s sovereignty could not be violated. Dred Scott, a human being, was denied his right to freedom because he was another man’s property and because the Federal government had no right to intervene in the sovereign affairs of a state within the federal union. Within a decade the nation was at war testing whether those “principles” were valid. Four years of bloody civil war decided the issue. Slavery was abolished and the union, with a strong federal government, was preserved.

Given the circumstances, I believe Terri Schiavo's case deserves Federal attention. This isn't about Florida's sovereignty. It's about Terri Schiavo's life!

For Representative Watt to assert that the Congress needs to be engaged in more important matters than just “one woman” is offensive. Of course it’s about one woman, in the same way that the Dred Scott Case was about only “one” man. This is about an individual, but it’s also about much more than that. In the same way that the Dred Scott decision was about more than “just one man,” the case of Terri Schiavo is about more than one woman. All Americans have a stake in the outcome of what is transpiring in Florida right now. To say that the case has no merit on such a flimsy basis is to do a great disservice to the body in which Mr. Watt serves, the state that elected him to high office, and the nation that I believe expects better of him.

Finally, for me, there is the issue of who to trust in this case. I cannot find it in my heart to trust Michael Schiavo. I cannot find it in my heart to trust either the medical professionals or the Florida courts. The only people who I believe a trustworthy in this case are Bob and Mary Schindler, Terri’s parents. And they are pleading for her life.

I believe they, and Terri, deserve a hearing.

The end result may be the same even after a Federal hearing. A Federal judge will look at all the facts in this case, he’ll hear all the evidence. Even after all that is done, this may truly be only a stay of execution. Michael Schiavo may get what he wants.

Where will we go from there? When the barbarians come to the very well of life and suck it dry there is no telling.