Peace in an Age of Brutality

That’s the theme of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, as I see it: peace in an age of  brutality.  Of course, for Paul, it was most important that we have “peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  We ‘ll come back to that later.   Paul also believed that those who find peace with God find peace with each other.  I’ll have more to say on that later too.  Right now, I want to make one point: Paul lived in an age of brutality.

Paul was born in the early days of the Roman Empire; the empire that began with the reign of Augustus, and was followed by the reigns of Tiberius, Claudius, Caligula, and Nero.  It was a time of relative stability and absence of wars, but the Pax Romana was enforced by the use and threat of brutal force.  If you saw the HBO special “Rome” you saw plenty examples of that. As Tacitus put it, “the Romans make a desolation and call it peace.”

But in case you are not convinced, I’ll offer two facts in support of the thesis that the first century was an age of brutality.  The first fact is the popularity of gladiator contests.  Gladiator shows were fights to the death, and no public festival was complete without one.   One historian recently undertook a serious study of this problem:  what did they do with all those bodies?  His conclusion was that they threw them in the Tiber.

The second fact is a statement of Paul’s in Romans chapter one.  It is so subtle that it is easy to miss.  Paul presents a list of sins and vices, and then says those who do the nasty things in the list agree that “those who do such things are worthy of death.”  The vices in the list includes, among others “disobedience to parents” and “slander.”

In our day, we may not like it when children are disobedient or when senators shout out to the president, “You lie!”–but we aren’t in favor of killing the offenders.  And yet, Paul evidently expected none of his readers to blink when he said, “those who do such things deserve to die.”

Was life so cheap in the Roman empire that everyone agreed name callers and rebellious children deserved to die?

Or is that what Paul really means?

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.