Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Those who have ears ...

This week's "Topical Blogger" assignment is to write something from the point of view of a character in the Gospel. My chosen character is one of the Roman soldiers who was in the garden of Gethsemane at the time of Jesus' arrest.

So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. - John 18:3

As a member of the Roman armed forces I have taken an oath of allegiance to Rome and to Caesar, to protect the Empire from all threats, foreign and domestic. For as long as I've can remember, there hasn't been any real threat that would require a whole detachment of soldiers to enter into any kind of combat, even that's what we're trained to be ready for. 

I've heard of the Jew, the rabbi they call Jesus. He talks of another "kingdom," but that's all he's done - talk. They say that he's worked "miracles," had some interesting teaching, even brought back someone who's been dead for four days.  At least that's what people have said. I didn't believe much of what I heard. And I don't see how that can be a threat to the Empire. But for some reason the Jewish leaders needed a whole detachment of us, about 600 men, to go to arrest this one harmless man. Imagine - one man, with his handful of misfit followers, against 600 of Rome's army. No contest, if you ask me.  I'm not even sure what this Jesus did that was so bad and why we were arresting him in the first place.

But we were giving our marching orders, and so we marched.

One of the rabbi's followers, the one they call Judas, followed by some of the Jewish leaders led us to where Jesus was. I don't know what they expected, because they were carrying weapons themselves, as though a detachment of soldiers wasn't enough. 

It was easy to find him, almost as though he were actually waiting for us, right in the middle of the olive grove. There was not even a hint of fear about him. He asked, "Who is it you want?" 

"Jesus of Nazareth!" 

"I am he."

As he said that, "I am he," the strangest thing happened. It felt as though some force, stronger than anything I had ever felt, pushed us backward, almost knocking us to the ground. This power seemed to come from just those spoken words! How could that be possible?

When we get back on our feet, I've got my sword at the ready, waiting for whatever might come next. But get this - he surrenders! I guess that didn't go over very well with Simon or Peter or whatever his name is, because rushes toward the high priest, running with his sword like a madman. Jesus tried to stop him, telling him to put the sword away, but not before Peter ends up missing the priest but cutting off his servant's ear! I know the servant, too. Malchus. I don't care much for him. Still, he didn't deserve that.

What Jesus does next is another thing that I don't understand. You'd think that he'd show some sort of fear over all that was going on. But no. He goes over to Malchus, puts his hand to the his ear, and heals it. Reattaches it. I mean, it's like nothing ever happened to it. I don't know how he did it. I've never seen anything like it before.

I never gave much thought to what the people in this town have said about Jesus. He seemed to me to be a crackpot of sorts. But now that I actually encountered him, something inside me tells me that I should give him some more thought. Is he a lunatic, or could he really be the Son of God, as some say he claims to be?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Help me die, Doc ...

I've been having quite the experience writing with the Topical Bloggers (see right). When I got the topic for this week, Physician Assisted Suicide, I thought, "Wow, what a deep topic!" I've never been really close to anyone being faced with that decision. I've never even really given the subject much thought. After all, it's not considered polite conversation while sipping a Starbuck's to discuss whether we'd rather be lying in a graveyard or lying in a hospital bed waiting to die.

In thinking of what to write, I discovered I have many questions. On the surface, it "seems" ethical that if someone is in great pain from a lingering incurable disease, and the patient has the presence of mind to want to end their life, then he or she has the right, or entitlement, to do so. Once I started to look below the surface, it's not so simple.

I thought about legal issues - how do we know the patient is making a rational, informed decision? What can keep a family member or anyone else from manipulating the patient to do something they may not want to do?

What about the integrity of the doctor? In the classical version of the Hippocratic Oath, a doctor declares that he "will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect." Yet the modern version of the same oath, revised in 1964, is not so definitive: "Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God." Life is a gift from God. Only God knows when we will die. Yet in His omniscience, God also knows how we will die, whether by natural causes, accident, by the hand of another, or by our own hand. When looked at in terms of God being in ultimate control, can a physician or anyone else truly "play God"?

I then googled the question "Is physician assisted suicide Biblical?" and found an article giving a Christian viewpoint in the article, along with several Scripture references. There was a very touching story in the article that reaffirmed to me that all human life has value and purpose:

In November, 1997, Gary Eisler, who lives in Oregon, wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal. In poignant words, Eisler describes the slow, painful death from cancer of his beloved wife, Bonnie. When the cancer spread from Mrs. Eisler’s breast to her brain, her doctor recommended that all treatment be stopped. Bonnie Eisler spent the last two months of her life in agonizing pain. And yet, Eisler says, many “wonderful things” happened during that time: the birth of their first grandchild, a last Christmas together. Despite his wife’s suffering, Eisler writes that their last hours together were “some of the most intimate and precious of our marriage.... Reason and compassion would have dictated that Bonnie’s life be ended weeks earlier,” Eisler says, “but how much poorer everyone—including her—would have been.” Eisler ends his piece with a warning. Unless assisted suicide is repealed, he predicts, “it will not be long before the vultures begin circling.” Cancer treatment, after all, is expensive. If Bonnie Eisler had known the cost of her treatments, her husband says, “she might well have felt she was a burden” and opted to kill herself. Eisler asks one final question: “Will what has been ‘optional’ someday become ‘suggested’— and perhaps eventually required?"

Even in Bonnie's unbearable pain she still was able to participate in something precious.

I pray that no one reading this will ever be in a position where he or a loved one will have to consider this issue for himself. I cannot make decisions for someone else, especially decisions of this magnitude. But I can say that in writing this blog post, I have had some of my own questions answered.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Why do we do the things we shouldn't do? Why do we engage in behavior that we know will in one way or another hurt someone else? While there seems to be as many reasons for doing what we know is wrong as there are wrong things to do, I believe that one thing that motivates us is loneliness.

Loneliness is a feeling of separation anxiety that results when we sense disconnection from another person or group of people. We've all felt it at one time or another; it's part of our human condition.

In and of itself, loneliness is not a sin. But if it is left unchecked, it can lead to sinful behavior. For example, our culture tells women and men that if they do not have "someone to love" they are incomplete. In order to try to fit in, they do whatever they can to meet -- singles groups at church, singles bars, online dating services, on the job romances, wherever. They fill their iPhones with phone numbers in order to try to fill the void of emptiness they feel. But too often it doesn't work.

Another example that comes to mind of loneliness leading to sinful behavior is when teens and even pre-teens feel that they are not receiving acceptance at home. Performance at school suffers, they start skipping class, and start hanging out with the wrong crowd. They're challenged by peer pressure to fit in, and in their deep desire for a sense of family they commit crimes - sometimes daring criminal activity - in order to impress the older gang members.

Or the married woman whose husband stays late at work, only to come home and work some more. Even in what's supposed to be an intimate relationship, she's lonely. The craving for affection is replaced by a craving for alcohol, even to the point that her own children lose respect for her.

Of course, not all cases of loneliness result in these kinds of behavior. There are constructive ways of coping with feelings of disconnection from others. First of all, acknowledge your feelings. As I stated earlier, we all feel lonely from time to time. It's not a sign of weakness. It just means you're no different from anyone else.

Next, reconcile yourself to God. God has never intended for us to live life alone. He created us to be in a relationship with Him, and reconciliation with the Father comes only through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Remember the promises of God. Psalm 23 tells us that even though we may be walking through the valley of the shadow of death God is with us. Even when it seems even the faintest pilot light of hope has gone out, there is no despair too deep where He can't reach us.

Build relationships with people who you can laugh with, pray with, people who just "get you." Seek out godly people. Be cautious about ungodly relationships; they sometimes make loneliness worse. And don't rely too much on one person. He or she will eventually let you down.

Lastly, get your eyes off of yourself. Here's a newsflash: You are not the totality of life. Jesus Himself came not to be served but to serve (the night before He was crucified he was washing the feet of his disciples). There's something that you can do to make someone's day better, so go out and do it.

There are some separations take extraordinary amounts of healing. Feelings of loneliness will often not disappear overnight, and sometimes not completely at all. But we need not allow our emptiness to lead us to filling our God-shaped hole with the unholiness of sin. Drawing on God's presence, Jesus' promise to never leave us, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit will help to see us through.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Dealing with confilct

Thursday afternoon is the day that the next week's work assignment is posted at my office. Like many worksites, there are certain tasks that nobody particularly enjoys doing but have to be done by somebody. And every week there is always at least one person who finds dissatisfaction in their assignment and will give their input to the manager after the schedule is posted.

In my previous job, that scheduling manager was me. It seemed that no matter how fair I tried to be in task assignment there would be at least one person who cried "Unfair!" I would sit down with the employee and the two of us would review the schedule. If it was determined that an error was made or there was a legitimate issue, a correction or compromise would be worked out. But if it turned out to be just a complaint, I had to be the intransigent one (look it up) and the task assignment stayed as originally posted. I didn't look forward to the weekly conflict, and I endured my fair share of stink-eye from it. But in the end I had to stand my ground, and my leadership was respected because of it.

Unfortunately not all conflicts are between leaders and persons they are responsible for leading. If you are, or ever have been, married then you know exactly what I mean. You can't have two different, opposing viewpoints and have only one "right" one. That would be like wearing two left shoes. One foot would have a perfect fit; the other will let you know every chance it gets that you are painfully wrong.

God does not want us to go through life in a perpetual state of conflict with each other. "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (Romans 12:18). So what does that look like? What are some things that we can do to ease the tension caused from having conflict in our lives? I'm no expert, but here are some things I've learned from my experience and watching the experiences of others:
  1. Pray about the situation. Invite God to intervene in the process. Ask Him to reveal to you what the bottom line issue really is. Many times the source of conflict is a mere misunderstanding. Sometimes it is more than that. And sometimes it's something that only God can supernaturally resolve.
  2. Work things out promptly. A friend of mine shared with me that whenever he would put towels away when he was first married, he would see the next day that his wife had taken them all out and re-folded them. Since he wanted to be helpful in the household work for his new bride, and he didn't want his efforts to be wasted, he asked her to teach him the "proper" method of folding and storing bath towels. This little lesson eliminated a source of frustration for the both of them.
  3. Stick to the issue. The conflict with the method of towel folding could have turned into a huge arguement about "You don't like what I do, no matter how hard I try!" "You can't do anything right!" further escalating into personal jabs, causing a lot of tears and resentment. Instead they stuck to the core issue: "Show me how I can better help you."
  4. Resolve conflict at the lowest level. You want to watch the superhero action flick you just received from Netflix; she wants to watch her sappy chickflick dvd for the millionth time. You live in the TV stone-age, with only one TV in the house. Does it really take a miediator to tell you that you might be better off watching your wedding video together, laugh at Uncle Vito's bad hairpiece, and reminisce about why you fell in love in the first place?
  5. Vent to a trustworthy friend. Don't keep the stress bottled up inside of you. Sometimes just taling it out can help you see where you may be wrong in your position, and where there may be room for compromise.
  6. Work together to work out an agreement. If you find you are having difficulty in this, ask for help from a neutral third party, someone who can see past the issues and guide you to an acceptable solution that is favorable to everyone involved.
Because we are all individuals with our own God-given uniqueness, there will always be some degree of conflict among us. Are these methods of dealing with it 100% effective? No, not always. Do what you can to live at peace with each other. Even if it means you end up back at step 1 over and over again.