Haskel’s Passing

My father-in-law Haskel passed away last night around midnight–the same night Senator Ted Kennedy succumbed to his illness.  I will be traveling to Arkansas for the service this weekend.

Haskel was Sonja’s step-father.  Actually Maxine and Haskel started dating about the same time Sonja and I did.  They were married a few months before we were.

He had been advised of his choices for care in his final days, and he received good care.

Sonja and her sisters are with Maxine now.  I will be traveling with our two daughters to the memorial service.  Our youngest daughter Heidi was able to see Haskel this past weekend.  She had made the trip with Sonja, and they returned back in the wee hours of the morning Monday.

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The Face of Socialism

Jan Palach

Jan Palach

This is the face that wanted to be the “human face of socialism.”  Jan Palach was the student who chose set himself ablaze 40 years ago to protest the brutal communist oppression of the Prague Spring.  In 1968 students and others had called for diversity and freedom of expression within the communist system.  The Soviets responded by sending in tanks.

I’m not a fan of self-immolation or any form of suicide–I do think it is better than suicide-murder; but Jan felt it was better to die standing than to kneel.

A kilometer or so further downhill from Wenceslas Square where Jan set himself on fire, in the old square is a monument to Jan Hus, another Czech martyr who five hundred years earlier had been burned alive by the enemies of freedom.

Jan Hus

Jan Hus

The two Jans are heroes of freedom to the Czechs.  The burned face of Jan Palach is the face of Soviet Socialism.

You can like or dislike President Obama’s health care proposals, including an option to buy into the public insurance plan that all politicians enjoy–but it has nothing to do with the horrors of Communist socialism.

I remember about a year ago when the republican presidential candidate suspended his campaign to rush to Washington and vote for the bank bailouts.  I remember the presidents of the auto companies flying their private jets to the Washington to ask the then republican-controlled congress for a bailout.

I don’t really know anyone who is not disgusted by the bailouts.  I don’t know whether they made the recession worse, or whether they saved the economy from total collapse.  It was a desperate response to what both political parties considered a dire emergency.  But it was not socialism.

End of Life Choices

My mother-in-law and father-in-law both have chronic lung disease.  They smoked during all those years when the big tobacco companies were able to produce scientists who denied any link between smoking and lung disease.  My mother-in-law doesn’t always get her medical terminology right (my parents don’t either–they are from a generation that left those things up to the experts).

Recently she told my wife, her daughter, “I’m in the hostage program.”

Sonja corrected her, “You’re in the hospice program, Mom.”

When I saw Maxine last month she told me,

“The doctor gave me two years.  But the good Lord will take me when he’s ready.”  I agreed with her on that.

Maybe my wife is being optimistic, maybe she’s in denial, maybe it’s her experience working in medical records and her familiarity with how medicare works–but she doesn’t take the two years too literally.  She says that prognosis is routinely given for patients needing hospice care, because it is required by medicare.

I still agree that it is in the Lord’s hands.  Maxine’s condition is serious.  She is on oxygen and breathing treatments, and she will never regain the lungs of her youth.  The home health visits, treatments, and meals provided in the hostage–I mean hospice program–are a real blessing.

At some point my in laws were counseled about their options.  A nursing home was one option; the home health care provided by the hospice visits was a better one for them.  They might have wishes for later about what type of resuscitation measures would be used when the time comes.  They will need council and advice from a health professional they can trust.

One of the many proposals that was being considered by congress in the current health care reform legislation was a provision to reimburse doctors for providing this type of counseling.  Opponents of the president interpreted this to mean that he was advocating euthanasia.

I think we do have to be vigilant and consider unintended consequences and possible misuses of any new legislation.  But there is a difference between vigilance and paranoia.  President Obama has not proposed euthanasia as a cost saving measure.  It is not part of his program of health care reforms.  (More from the NY Times.)

Nevertheless, we won’t have to worry about it.  The few senators who had suggested reimbursing professionals for end of life counseling have dropped the provision from their proposed bill.

Hermeneutics for the Crazy

Hermeneutics is the art and science of interpretation; specifically hermeneutics is often used in reference to the interpretation of the Bible.  When I teach the subject, the first rule I teach is one not found in most hermeneutics text books, but familiar to medical students:

Primum non nocere; First do no harm.

James, who grew up in the same house with Jesus, taught that religious teachers will be subject to stricter judgment.

I wonder, how responsible teachers and preachers are for the way the mentally disturbed take their words.  The LA Fitness murderer is quoted as saying that at the church he once attended the pastor taught that even a mass murderer can go to heaven.  The pastor never said that, but George Sodini said it was implied by the church’s teaching that sinners may be forgiven by grace through faith apart from any works needed to earn their salvation.

Of course, Sodini dropped out of church three years ago–so you can’t say his attempt at mass murder was inspired by last Sunday’s sermon.  His internet comment was part of a bitter rant against religion.

But what about the traditional protestant doctrine of justification by faith?  Does it in fact encourage cheap grace?  Is salvation a legal fiction, or does it involve God’s work of transforming our lives to make us responsible, compassionate adults?

Does a teacher of Scripture or the way of faith have a responsibility to think about ways teachings could be misconstrued.? Yes.  Maybe you can’t predict all possible ways a deranged mind could get it wrong–but at least teachers have to think about possible implications and misunderstandings.

When teaching on the book of Proverbs I have often done an informal survey.  I ask,

What percentage of men have an anger control problem?

The first time I asked this question I naively thought the answer would be about 5%.  Instead I consistently get figures of 50 to 75 %.  I was prepared to go with the low number.  My followup question was to be this:

Suppose there are 5 men present who have anger control problems, and they hear a message on the text, “If you beat your son, he won’t die”–what will they do with it?

My point is, that a man who can’t control his anger has no business using corporal punishment (if anyone does) as a way of teaching children.  A responsible teaching on the theme of “the rod of correction” in Proverbs would have to deal with the poetic imagery of the rod, the historical and social realities of Iron-Age Israel, and the potential of disturbed individuals to put a crazy twist on something.

Evidently the murderer of George Tiller took the comparisons of the abortion doctor to Hitler with deadly seriousness.  According to Dr Warren Hern, The Last Abortion Doctor, the murder of Dr. Tiller was “the logical consequence of thirty-five years of hate speech.”   Can one be pro-life without encouraging murder?

There are passages in the New Testament that refer to an evil figure called “The Man of Lawlessness,” the “Beast” or the “Antichrist.”  I believe these passages refer to one or more violent messianic pretenders or perhaps one of the more deranged Roman Emperors–in other words a historical figure from the first century.  Nevertheless, many people think these passages refer to someone yet to come.

The world has certainly seen its share of evil leaders, of anti-messianic tyrants, and it is always good to be on our guard.  I think a good theme song is “We don’t get fooled again.”

But a perverse twist on the Scriptures that warn against violent deceivers is using them to feed conspiracy theories.    Snopes has been a reliable source of debunking urban legends, modern myths, and fantastic conspiracy theories.  It has effectively debunked some of the myths and lies about president Obama.  But now–it should have been predictable–the conspiracy mongers are saying that Snopes is part of the conspiracy.

I heard once of a psychiatric patient who was convinced he was dead.  His psychiatrist thought of a novel approach.  He got the patient to agree that dead men don’t bleed.  Then he poked the patient with a needle and drew blood.  The man’s eyes got wide and he said,

Well, what do you know, dead men do bleed.!