Thursday, March 26, 2015

Heart Transplants and Easter

One of the recurrent themes in the Bible is of life created out of sterility or death.  With my nephew's transplant operation coming up in just a few hours, it just brings to mind powerfully the way's that we as a society working with modern medicine have worked to be able to perform acts of love to bring life from what otherwise would be only death.  That is so much more true in a situation like this- where a heart transplant is the kind of life that can only come tragically from another death.  In this season of reflection in preparing for Easter and in this shadow of waiting to see if my nephew will have a new lease on life, a hymn about death and renewed life seems appropriate.  Now the Green Blade Riseth is a favorite of mine.

In celebrating Easter I hope we can seek not just to celebrate the past, but to find ways to participate in the renewing of life and the world.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

It never rains but it pours...

Earlier this year our family all came down with the flu.  I was disappointed since I normally never get the flu and we all got the flu shots, but this year was just bad luck for the flu shots not working.  Ever since we got the flu our youngest son has been acting strangely.  At first we just assumed he had some post flu grumpiness or that he wasn't feeling all the way better yet.  But the behaviors never went away.  He became very clingy, wanting to be held by his mommy all the time.  He wouldn't even let me pick him up for a while.  He might ask me to pick him up, but the moment I tried to lift him he'd squirm away and go running for mommy as if he were frightened.  His behaviour became ritualistic and very concerned with things being the "right way."  He developed phobias of pooping in the bathtub (to the point where he didn't want to take baths) and of bees (to the point where he didn't want to go outside).  Finally we called the pediatrician and had a basic evaluation appointment.  The doctor thinks that either he has just had a regression event into autism or some kind of anxiety class disorder has just popped out of the blue on us.  His speech abilities seem unaffected and we don't know whether his socializing abilities are affected yet because he won't go outside to play with other kids these days because of his new found fear of bees.  Without knowing if his social behaviors have changed, the doctor isn't sure whether its an anxiety disorder like OCD or if he is autistic like his older brother.  We have a family history for both classes of disorders, so either are possibilities at this point.

I'm not sure what to think or feel about the possibility that I might have passed on being on the autistic spectrum to both of my children.  We always knew there was a possibility of this happening, but Taliesin had always seemed like the obvious one where that was playing out- missing communication milestones, ritualistic, shy, and very rule based from the beginning.  Lionel was always the easy going communicative one who wasn't shy of anyone.  It's painful to see the easy going nature suddenly disappear in favor of a very ritualistic and anxious one where Lionel painfully afraid of situations and things he used to enjoy very much.  Hopefully we can remedy much of that with proper intervention.

The narrative that autism is a state of merely being different rather than broken is easier to accept when the traits simply grow organically in place as the way things have always been.  Its easier to accept it that way.  You can't imagine things having been different.  But when things were different and become decidedly worse in very specific ways over a short period of time, you can imagine both ways.  It hurts more.  It doesn't make it any less part of the person that you love, but you feel a bigger need to fix it.  Striking a balance between providing opportunities for many things in life to not be as hard for him and providing acceptance and a compelling narrative of self worth is difficult at best.  We don't know what the future will hold, but at least we know to be looking to know what we can do to help.  Life could be easier and I wish so many hard things didn't happen so close together.  But that's life...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Take up your Cross...

The cross of Christ's Crucifixion is loaded with meaning.  Whether you look on it as a awkward reminder of Christ's pain and death when you'd rather focus on His life or whether you look at it with a focused intensity of claiming religious identity the cross is loaded with meaning.  So much of what it means to be Christian focuses on the meaning of what happened on the cross that when people read the familiar passage "take up your cross and follow me" what they take away is a message to work harder at following the ideals and social program of their own Christian community, which is largely a good take away message.  But I think it can miss the radical quality of Christ's call.  When Christ originally said to disciples to "take up your cross and follow me," Christ hadn't died yet.  There wasn't a symbol of an empty cross symbolizing resurrection, there wasn't an idea floating around that someone special would die on a cross and somehow reconcile God and man in some way.  The cross was simply a method of death by slow torture reserved for those who opposed to rule of Rome.  So to the people who heard it at the time, Christ's call would have sounded like a call to resistance against Roman oppression that could have no reasonable outcome other than death.

It's no surprise then that according to some interpretations, the Apostles Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot were possibly members of violent extremist political groups opposing Rome- with Zealot referring to a group known as Zealots that wanted to drive back Roman Rule and Iscariot possibly referring to a group of assassins known as the Sicarri who tried to kill Roman officials in Jerusalem.  While chronologically its possible these interpretations of the Apostle's personal characters might not be exactly correct, the New Testament is very clear the Apostles thought they were joining what would become a political opposition group.  As they state in Luke 24:21 "But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel."

Then, to put Christ's original call as His listeners originally heard it but put in modern terms, outside of the context of Christ's entire life it might have sounded like "Sign up for the firing squad and follow me.  We'll rebel against the government."  There is a sound of danger, of adventure, and of quixotic idealists itching to die a martyr's death.  It even sounds like a religious terrorist organization in the making- with promises of religiously charged glory, chances for martyrdom, and a simple message justifying violent direct action.

Living in an area where political extremism can be common, it's not uncommon for me to hear the grumblings of wannabe hero's fantasizing about murdering the US President, wishing that somebody would, or almost gleefully pondering how someone might do so one of these days.  At work I've heard idle conversation about how the government deserves to be over thrown.  While I feel that such grumblings are misguided to an extreme, I can also recognize that such people are trying to practice their morality the best way they know how, perhaps even similar to Christ's apostles who thought they were joining up to help lead an insurrection.  While contemplating or acting on such desires to resist evil can involve a certain type of courage and virtue, they don't fully represent the particular kind of courage Christ specifically called for.  Christ states:

"But I say, do not resist an evil person!"  (Matthew 5:39)

"And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also." (Matthew 5:40) which according to a commentary I've seen once, would have left the generous soul completely naked.

In the end, Christ's example show us the timeless "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:24)

Christ cared about Roman oppressions and it showed in kinds of people who joined him.  He just cares more about the internal state of the soul that becomes willing to bear anger, violence, or to contemplate evil towards others to resolve these problems.  So when we metaphorically "sign up for the firing squad" for Christ, I think we should be willing to be honest about problems that come from outside of us, our community, or our nation.  We should be willing to die to resist the evils in our world, but more willing to let the evils within us die.  Otherwise we become just one more tragic group of people seeking to save their live's from something external but lose their souls in the process.

In the whole, taking up a cross to follow Jesus isn't just a pledge to have certain opinions about Jesus, to deal with suffering with dignity, or to participate in church.  Its trying to achieve the delicate balance of pulling moral logs out of our eyes and working against social injustice at the same time.  And doing both despite the consequences.