Archive - March, 2005

It’s About Faith

The news of the death of Terri Schiavo led me to pray for her family and for all of those who have been so movingly affected by her plight. Her life can be a symbol of reconciliation and healing, if we take a step back from confrontation and seek to listen to each other and engage with each other in a respectful way.

condensed a longer reflection on the Schiavo situation for a commentary on the
the website of The United Methodist Church,

That reflection, which will be
posted today, follows:

The past few
weeks have been rough for me. The spectacle surrounding the Terri Schiavo case
has evoked personal memories that cut deeply.

I’ve thought about this intensely, prayed
about it and tried to put it in perspective.

Four years ago this July, my
spouse, our daughters and I, sat for three excruciating weeks at the bedside of
our dying son and brother. It was an experience I would not wish for anyone.

To be clear, our circumstances were
different from Ms. Schiavo’s. Matt had prepared an advance directive. We
followed his wishes.

His condition
was different from Ms. Schiavo’s, but the decision to not intervene with
extraordinary measures is the same emotionally devastating decision, regardless
of the circumstances. When House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said that withholding
a feeding tube was a barbaric act, it was as if someone put a branding iron to
my heart. It was searing and

Ms. Schiavo’s 15-year
ordeal is over, but I know that as I write this, parents, husbands, wives and
children are sitting in a hospice, or a hospital room, waiting as we did for a
loved one to reach life’s end.

they are aware of the public debate that has raged during the months leading up
to Ms. Schiavo’s death. They have heard the inflammatory rhetoric and have
perhaps questioned their own decisions. As they undergo their own private
ordeal, they will look deeply at their motivations, painfully evaluate negative
characterizations about this most sacred human experience, and struggle with
difficult decisions they must make about life support and palliative care.

The kindest, most loving thing they can
do may be to allow their loved one to die naturally without intervening, but
Rep. DeLay has framed this as a barbaric

They deserve better. They
deserve support, compassion, affirmation and sensitive listening. They wait in
agony, grasping to understand circumstances that none of us is prepared for,
trying to make a loving decision under extraordinarily difficult

They face stress now,
and they will face it later. Bereavement following the loss of a child can lead
to mental illness, disintegration of marriages, depression and abuse of alcohol
and drugs, according to a study conducted by the Danish Epidemiology Science
Center and appearing in The New England Journal of Medicine.

But these families are not
receiving compassion. They’re hearing words tossed about such as “starvation,”
“barbarism,” “euthanasia” and “assisted suicide.”

No loving parent wants to watch a
child die. It’s not how life is supposed to be. But rail as we might against the
injustice of it all, it happens. And there’s no way out of it but through

For me, it was the most painful
yet sacred experience I’ve ever been through–and also the most confusing. I
experienced a jumble of emotions that went to the core of my soul. It was
heartbreaking and spiritually elevating at the same time. I never felt more
alone, or more connected to and loved by those around

I became afraid of the dark, and
yet I felt as close to the presence of a loving God as I’ve ever been. As I read
the Scriptures, they came alive in a way I’d never experienced

I’ve not written publicly
about this because it’s been too painful and too private. But I write today
after prayerfully reflecting upon the trauma inflicted by the political debate
surrounding Ms. Schiavo. It’s been hurtful in more ways than the politicians
will ever understand. Their intervention–and that of the clergy who have given
them theological cover–is breathtaking for its insensitivity and lack of

The politicians did not
have to step into this broken family’s dispute. They made an extraordinary
effort to create this spectacle, betraying their own claims about respect for
the sanctity of life and the dignity of all persons. And the clergy could have
spoken of the need to offer pastoral care and counseling to the family, of the
fullness of life under God and the great moral challenges that we face in
circumstances such as this. But that is not the path either group chose.

We need serious discussion about
end-of-life care, genetic therapy, medical research and access to health care.
If we had this conversation, we would talk seriously about what makes for a life
of quality. And we would discuss the insight contained in the sacred writings
and holy scriptures of the world’s

We would talk about our
responsibility to care for citizens with disabilities and ensure their rights.
We would talk about preventive care and guidelines for end-of-life intervention.
We would talk about adequate funding for all of us to have access to health

And we would talk about holistic life, a
life imbued with the sacred; life as body, spirit and

My family’s experience with Matt was not
barbaric, it was sacred. For me to remain silent in response to the intemperate
language and political grandstanding of the Schiavo case seems a betrayal of my
son and the awe-filled experience we shared together at his

In a March 23 op-ed piece in The
, Dr. Rubel Shelly, an ethicist at Vanderbilt University wrote,
“Perhaps death itself needs to be reconsidered by all of us. It is not an
absolute evil. Sometimes the real evil lies in forcing someone to endure
existence that is no longer really life.”

As a Christian, I believe death is not
the end. It is a transition. I believe with Paul that “We do not live to
ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and
if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we
are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:7,8)

We are Easter people, and that means in
the darkness we look to the coming dawn, and in the gathering light we see the
renewing presence of a loving God who calls us to heal the wounded, comfort the
afflicted, bring wholeness to the broken and to live a life imbued with sacred
value. Whether we live, or whether we die, we are the

The end of life is not about politics.
It’s about faith.

Sanctity of Life: Addressing Compelling, Urgent Needs

The Guardian summarizes the report of the World Health Organization that says 10 million children die each year from preventable causes.

report says, “The deaths are mainly from pneumonia (19%), diarrhoea (17%),
malaria (8%), measles (4%), HIV/Aids (3%) and injuries (3%). Premature birth
(28%), sepsis or pneumonia (26%), and asphyxia (23%) are the most common causes
of very early death.”

Four in 10 of
these children die within the first 28 days of life, and a significant number
are in southern and West Africa.

we talk of the sanctity of life, we must talk of these lives and how we put an
end to the disease, suffering and grief that violates their sanctity.

Traditional Values:An Environmental Ethic for the Planet

Sixty percent of the earth’s ecosystems that serve to sustain life are under threat and will seriously degrade in the next 50 years according the the Millenial Ecosystem Assessment released yesterday.

This is a values issue at the heart of the survival of the planet and most of the world’s religions.

The report is worrisome because it reveals how human behavior is putting the natural ecosystem at risk. The earth’s capacity to carry human life is not unlimited, but we continue to develop and waste as if these have no consequences. In fact, they do.

The challenge we face is to find the same energy and urgency for preserving the earth that we put into other issues. And this, it seems to me, is a major challenge for those who must find the way to communicate the urgency of this message to masses of people around the world, some of whom are victims of environmental degradation and others who benefit from it through consumption lifestyles that are deeply ingrained in the culture.

This is truly an issue that affects all of us and will reveal how we care for each other and for the earth that sustains us. It is issue of ethical behavior and religious values.

Responsible Voices Weigh In

It’s encouraging this morning to read that responsible voices are weighing in on the side of the rule of law and reclaiming the political process.

Danforth, former U.S. Senator from Missouri, Ambassador to the United Nations
and an Episcopal priest writes in the New
York Times
this morning:

also reports that Judge Stanley F. Burch, Jr., a 1999 Bush
appointee to the 11th. Circuit, went on record with an opinion that the special
law enacted for Terri Schiavo is unconstitutional:

need to reclaim the faith and we need to reclaim the democratic process.
Finally, we’re hearing voices of reason from all sides weigh

When the Middle is Shut Out

I’ve had no takers yet on the question about the absence of moderate voices in the public media in the Schiavo case.

Here’s what concerns me about the issue. When the quiet, moderate voices of the middle are shut out by the more extreme, theatrical voices of the poles, the national dialogue becomes distorted. That’s what’s happening, in my opinion, in the Schiavo matter.

Those at the extremes have framed the issues surrounding Ms. Schiavo and have set the terms of the debate. The advocates for extreme positions come at us as if there is no middle ground, only absolutes.

When words such as “starvation” and “murder” are used to describe this complex situation our ability to discuss it in a caring and constructive conversation is diminished. End-of-life decisions require considerably more nuanced discussion than these words capture.

We really need to have this discussion because the ability of the medical profession to intervene in processes that in the past would have resulted in death, is expanding. In many instances this is wonderful, life-preserving intervention.

But, in others, it is not. And the struggle we face is how to determine, in each unique situation, what is best for the individual whose life is at stake.

I yearn for this discussion to be conducted on the talk shows, in sound bites and on the pages of the newspapers. The voices of those who have not been heard are those in middle who struggle between the absolutes and are searching for a way through this complicated dilemma. They know it’s not as clear and easy to talk about complex ethical behavior in absolute language.

But as I write this, I don’t think those voices are being heard. As we move forward, I hope the quiet, moderate folks in the middle find their voices and contribute to the discussion.

And, by the way, I’m still looking for comments.

DeLay Faced End-of-Life Decision with Father

The Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday that Rep. Tom DeLay joined his family to not allow extraordinary medical intervention when his father experienced a brain hemorrhage in an accident several years ago. DeLay’s father did not have a living will.

After doctors advised the senior DeLay was in a vegetative state, the family agreed to halt extraordinary measures, saying he would not have wanted his life prolonged in this condition.

The blog Ethics Daily compiles several stories detailing the incident, including a report that the family won a wrongful death lawsuit against the manufacturer of a tram the senior DeLay was testing on his property in Texas when he died. DeLay is also among those leading a fight for tort reform claiming that such lawsuits are putting an undue burden on business and raising insurance rates.

Megachurches on Paradise Drive

When xxx’x article on megachurches, which is in this week’s New York Times magazine, is read as a companion to David Brook’s book On Paradise Drive, it’s a revealing look at the attraction of megachurches and the exurbs in which they are flourishing.

The Sounds of Silence? (or not)

I watched as many of the Sunday morning news programs as possible.

Apart from the obvious importance of the discussion about the ethics and politics of the Schiavo tragedy, I come away with a less obvious but intriguing impression.

It is this: voices from the Mainline Protestant communions are not present in the national dialogue in the public media. I’d like to hear this discussed, and I’ll pose it as a question.

Am I correct in assessing that the voice of Mainline Protestantism is absent from the national dialogue about Ms. Schiavo?

…is the
voice of
the Main-
line in
the national

What I mean by “voice” is an explanation by medical ethicists, theologians, bishops or clergy who know the ethical teachings of their respective denominations. Arguably, Jim Wallis of Sojourners, who was on NBC’s Meet the Press, could be counted among such voices, I suppose. However, he represents a movement, not the voice of a denominational tradition. It’s the absence of these communities of faith that I’m curious about.

Am I off-base about this? Are they present, but I’ve missed them? If so, I’d like to know. If not, does anyone else share this impression with me?

Feel free to leave a comment.

A Story for Times Like These

Who has not felt tired, battered and broken, these past several days?

War and famine tear at the global community. Death in a high school in Minnesota and inflammatory rhetoric in the halls of government, all leave me yearning for something in which to hope and searching for signs that life can be renewed.

Perhaps this is what the story of Jesus’ resurrection is about–hope and renewal.

It’s interesting that Paul, one who experienced rejection, beatings and imprisonment, and also one of the earliest writers in the Christian community, was explicit about this:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

It is this message that captures the tired spirit and points it toward hope and renewal.

Everything old has passed away; see, everything old has become new, Paul continues. (2 Corinthians 5:17b)

Those who believed that Jesus’ ministry had ended with such finality in his crucifixion and death, report that death is not the end, after all.

There is more. Paul knows it’s unexplainable and beyond proving. To believe that hope is alive and the promise is renewed, requires an act of faith.

If we believe that grief and despair give birth to hope and new life, we act like it. And if we act like it, we discover it is so. Faith is the evidence of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

It’s a story for times like these.

The Red Lake Tragedy

The comments of the leaders of the Red Lake Tribe in Minnesota that their tragedy has not been acknowledged as fully as it should be drew me up short.

They have a point. As the tribe struggles to
come to terms with the shooting and deaths, the recognition of their pain is
certainly as worthy of attention and condolences as the painful events
surrounding Terri Schiavo.

Coming to
an understanding of the terrible actions of one of their own children is a
painful struggle for the whole tribe, and it should matter to the rest of us as
well. Acknowledgment of their struggle is important because it says they matter
and we care.

If we really are
concerned about the sanctity of life–all life in the human community–then we
need to express that concern. It’s one way to indicate that we are committed to
an inclusive community and that we feel a responsibility toward one another when
the community fabric is torn as the Red Lake community has

If we don’t voice our concern,
we relegate some members of the human family to the sidelines, unnoticed,
disregarded and disenfranchised. This is true for communties within the U.S.
and far beyond our borders. All people

Their point is

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