Tuesday, September 28, 2010

His Dog Up And Died

"He spoke through tears of fifteen years how his dog and him…Traveled about. His dog up and died, yes he up and died, after twenty years he still grieved."

The quote above is from a popular song recorded by many artists. Can you remember the name of the song? Well done if you remembered 'Mr Bojangels'!

I’ve always liked the song, but last Friday it came back to me with a jolt when our dog of nearly twelve years quite unexpectedly and most suddenly 'up and died'. I came home early from work on that day and mowed the lawn – something that Mickey always loved me doing, as it put me out in the yard and left him with a nicely mown lawn. He ate his dinner as if everything was normal. We went out to dinner and when we returned home we found him near the back door, slumped forward after breathing his last. Twelve year old dogs are living on borrowed time, but it was still the most awful shock.

A death is the most horrible thing. We forget how wonderful living things are – growing, moving, developing, interacting, responding and relating. Faced with death we are reminded of its starkness, its bleakness, its coldness, its emptiness and its finality.

It is not surprising that the Bible describes death as the enemy. All that we have, all that we hope for, all that we desire, and all that we value, is snatched away in an instant by death. Death spares no one and cannot be evaded, even by the most powerful and wealthy. Death, in theory, respects the young and only troubles the old. But in practice death threatens every life every day, sometimes waiting but occasionally pouncing with unexpected power.

The hope that Christians celebrate every time they gather is based on the belief in resurrection - that death cannot be avoided but it can be defeated. When Jesus died His friends were defeated and His movement seemingly destroyed. But His followers were renewed and His movement was restored as His death was followed by life. A Christian funeral service is filled with the most unlikely language, that as Christ died and was raised, so all who trust in Him will also die and yet be raised. Thus resurrection is not a reward for faithful service but a gift graciously received. We are called to follow Christ from life to death and then from death to everlasting life.

Without hope we respond to death with unmitigating despair. With hope in Christ death is still the most terrible loss, but tinged by an extraordinary confidence that death has indeed lost its sting.

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 1Corinthians 15: 51-55

Monday, September 20, 2010

A deadly balance of power

I have had many friends and people I respect admit to me that at the recent federal election they voted for the Greens. For many whose economic policies lean towards fairness, equality and justice, the Greens seem to be the new alternative. For those convinced that climate change, particularly for those young enough to be around long enough to see some of the feared changes, the Greens seem the strongest advocate. To anyone anxious about Australia’s involvement in war at the behest of our allies, again the Greens seemed to offer the only real alternative. So it is not surprising that many, especially the young, were convinced to vote Green. To be honest, I don’t relish the role of an aging conservative, but when it comes to the Greens my fear has always been that when given a sniff of power, the agenda outlined above is secondary to the social agenda the Greens rarely talk about before elections, but pursue relentlessly in many parliaments across this nation.

To prove my point, Senator Bob Brown has announced that his first priority is to push for the introduction of laws permitting euthanasia - something that I do not remember hearing much debate about in the recent election. The advocates of euthanasia point to widespread community support for the freedom of people to choose their own mode and time of death. The Prime Minister has indicated that she is not opposed to discussing the subject and you can sense that a conscience vote will be considered a fair way to determine policy, or a subtle way of thanking the Greens for their parliamentary support for the ALP gaining government (depending on how cynical you are).

So what is wrong with letting people choose their time of death? Well let me suggest a few reasons why we should be very anxious about supporting this new initiative:

1. People with terminal illnesses are already under extreme pressure. Do they really need the extra pressure of making this terminal decision?

2. Many fear that given the choice of euthanasia, women in particular may choose to die simply to avoid being a burden on their families. And sadly their families may not oppose the decision, wishing to avoid their own pain.

3. There does not have to be just the stark choice offered between euthanasia and dying in pain. When quality palliative care is available (and we should all be lobbying for more of this), there is a viable alternative to the bleak choice between a supposedly dignified death and painful suffering.

4. Understandably many people with terminal illnesses suffer depression. Is it really a good idea to allow people with depression to choose to die? If it is, then what about all the non-terminally ill people with depression who may also choose to die?

5. Watching someone you love die can be a terrible experience. But will watching them agonise over deciding the timing of a lethal injection, or watching that lethal injection given be any easier?

6. It is not surprising that in opinion polls the majority think euthanasia is a good idea. Who can argue against reducing suffering, unless by accident you add new layers of confusion, pressure, exploitation and indeed suffering.

Christians will ultimately advocate this as a sanctity of life issue, fearing that given power, the strong and the young will often override the best interests of the weak and the old.

Atheists will argue that humans have the right to determine whether they live or die - that if we have the right to put down a dog, we have the right to put down ourselves.

Most doctors will run from an argument that will see them having to give lethal injections, while a few very loud medical advocates are already designing and promoting machines that allow people to 'self administer' their own death.

Palliative care medical experts will argue there is an alternative to suffering or euthanasia.

If ever there was an issue that calls for round table discussions, listening and compromise rather than blind ideology, it is the issue of euthanasia.

The Greens, who promise so much, will in all likelihood deliver assisted suicide as the first legacy of their very real political clout. How sad!

“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”Psalm 8: 1-9

Monday, September 13, 2010

Believing In Things Unseen

Last week I was re-reading one of the great chapters of the Bible – Hebrews Chapter 11. As I personally prepared for a challenging day, I enjoyed reading again through the list of heroes of faith; Abel, who risked giving up the best; Noah, who built because of an inspired weather forecast; Abraham, who trusted God when he was called to be a refugee; Joseph, whose faith inspired a view that there was a better day to come; Moses, who risked his cash flow to honour His God; Joshua, who believed God’s unconventional battle plans; a prostitute, who risked death to finally do what was right; and others who …..

".... through acts of faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves. They were protected from lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed alien armies. Women received their loved ones back from the dead. There were those who, under torture, refused to give in and go free, preferring something better: resurrection. Others braved abuse and whips, and, yes, chains and dungeons. We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless—the world didn't deserve them!—making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world." Hebrews 11: 33-35 (The Message)

Anyone who thinks the Bible is a dull book has never read and enjoyed Hebrews Chapter 11. As well as all the action stories, this chapter also includes a most sublime definition of faith:

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see." Hebrews 11: 1 (NIV)

The skeptic will question how you can believe in things you cannot see. But faith will reply that some of our most precious and revered human experiences are experienced without sight. Love’s ferocious attraction and seemingly irresistible appetite is experienced but never seen. Gravity holds us to the earth but evades our sight. Music remains one of the most treasured of human creations but can only be appreciated by sound, not sight. Even human constructs like companies, churches, charities and causes are really just collections of ideas grouped together with common bank accounts, objectives and meeting places. Have you even seen a marriage? Sure you can see two people, wedding rings, funny costumes and flowers, but the marriage remains an idea that binds us together with vows. TV remains the popular favourite but radio still rates!

Sight remains the most precious of our senses but maybe not the only way to truth.

We live by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5: 7, NIV)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Kids Are Not All Right

Last week I mentioned my fear about the imminent release of a Hollywood movie called 'The Kids Are All Right'. Well for fairness sake we watched the movie on release and I am still a little worked up about the experience. I must begin by saying that the movie carries a deserved MA 15+ rating and it is in parts fairly racy in the bedroom scenes. The movie depicts a middle aged gay female couple whose teenage children decide they want to find their 'sperm donor father'. As I feared, the movie is a 'Brady Bunch' style of feel good comedy about the sort of family that many believe will be much more mainstream in the coming generations.

I sat through what was at times a long and slightly awkward experience and I could not help but think that the kids were not all right.

Firstly, the movie clearly portrays that kids growing up with two mums miss something rather obvious - a dad. Though the movie presents the two mums as loving and kind, the subtext of the movie is that the teenage girl and boy miss having a male paternal influence in their lives. When the dad arrives on the scene he upsets the equilibrium in all sorts of ways. I am sure I was not in the minority in the audience as I longed for what seemed to make common sense - children need a mother and a father.

Secondly, the movie embarrassingly percolates all the adult relational instability and friction through the lives of their teenage children, who are trying to understand their own identities and personalities. Anyone who has worked with families knows just how damaging it is for children, and teenagers in particular, to be drawn in as emotional support to their mixed up parents. For me this was such a sad thing to watch on the screen. The kids were not okay, because the parents were still trying to come to grips with relational structures that were far from settled.

Thirdly, the movie's subtext that this was now a normal family pattern was far from convincing. For me, so many questions were left unresolved. Can you really donate (or worse, sell) sperm and not take any responsibility for the children you sire? Is it enough for there to be love, when things are missing that love cannot conquer? Is it the right of any individual or couple to have a child, no matter how unconventionally that child is produced? How deterministic is our concept of being gay? Is it completely a matter of genes and social determinism, or do individuals have any freedom in responding, or not responding, to feelings of attraction?

As we walked out of the cinema we observed a gay female couple weeping a few rows back from us. I wondered where they tears of joy that their lives have finally been recognized, or where they tears of anger that their lives had been trivialized with Hollywood humour. I am still at a loss to even understand all of my own reactions – I just walked out convinced again that …..

The kids are not all right!

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness …….. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number;” Genesis 1: 26-28