Saturday, November 1, 2008

Can We Talk About This Like Family?



I know that my relatives don’t usually talk about politics within the family, and this is because we all know that probably most of us fall on one side or the other of either political extreme, and those kinds of discussions don’t make the family reunion week at the beach any more fun.   So, at the risk of making a loud shattering sound as I disregard clear taboo warnings, I am venturing to write something regarding the political dilemma I find myself in.  Please keep in mind that I in no way consider myself politically savvy, politically engaged, or even very politically informed, but none the less, I am being asked, in the all too near future, to make a political contribution.  In just a few days, my vote will be counted for the highest political office in our land, and this, I believe, is worthy of at least some conversation even, no - especially, among family.

In my efforts to garner facts about each of the candidates and draw an informed opinion as to their competency, character, and policies, I find myself, presumably along with every one else, caught in a cross fire of facts, fiction, opinions, character assassinations, heated debates, ploys to divert attention, stone throwing, name calling, labeling, bared teeth and clenched fists.  With every new spray of arsenal, the issues become more obscured, our language becomes more aggressive and alienating, and people are moving to even more extreme positions, trying to give as much leverage to their side of the seesaw as possible in the hope that it will teeter back in their favor.  Quite honestly, I’m a little seasick, and come Nov. 4th I might even have my head over a bucket.  But for the moment, I am still tuned into this political teeter-totter, and this morning, after reading several exchanges, I started daydreaming about what this conversation could possibly look like within a family who loves and cherishes each other.  How would such a family engage each other in peaceful dialogue about issues close to their heart and close to the fabric of their lives, rather than choose to just keep the peace by avoiding the conversation altogether?  How would such a family position itself on this age old playground contraption, the seesaw?

There happened to be one at the beach, where we were vacationing this summer on the island of Spiekeroog.  When the kids weren’t swimming or digging their way to China, they were trying to devise new ways of keeping each other “up in the air” on this long hinged log.   Great fun for them, but how many of life’s conflicts are carried out with just this objective and with very similar methods to the ones my kids used?  My guess is far too many.  At first, our son Jonathan had the edge over Charis, our middle daughter, until Christa added her weight to that of her sisters.  Then our oldest would try to regain his advantage by scooting as far out on the beam as he could and then leaning even further out.  This worked just long enough until the girls caught on that they could do the same.  One might imagine what could happen if the log was very, very long.  I suppose there would be no end to the scooting.  But, knowing my kids, they would tire of the distance they had put between them, each feeling isolated way out there alone on their end of the log, and would finally run off to play on the swings together.

Unfortunately, we grownups aren’t as easily exhausted by this endless game.  We keep trying to weigh our side down with arguments and justifications, by getting the experts and celebrities on board, and of course by scooting to the very extreme end of our position and then even leaning out beyond that.  The result being that every four years our country descends into a verbal Civil war.  If I go by what I read on the internet, it seems as though the whole country becomes completely preoccupied with hating the other half of its citizens.  Shame on us!

And shame on me, too, for I have my spot on the seesaw along with everyone else.  I find myself supporting, for many reasons, the candidate who is purported by his opponents as being the most staunchly pro-choice candidate ever.  Supporting Obama although he outright endorses Roe v. Wade, while I believe all life is precious and should be cherished and protected puts me in an awkward position on this political teeter-totter, to say the least, and at times I feel quite “up in the air.”  I feel especially high-ended, when I realize how many of my relatives and old Bible school friends are sitting on the other end of this presidential seesaw, and how strongly opposed they are to Obama as a candidate, precisely because they are against abortion.  It is even more disconcerting to see how, though I in no way endorse abortion, my present political position has apparently put a deep relational distance between myself and some family members whom I love and admire.  Is there anyway to escape this alienating “game” of seesaw?

I believe there is, but it would mean changing the objectives of the game altogether.     Of course doing so for the actual playground equipment, would rob it of the exhilarating purpose of its existence, and that would be silly; there is usually no harm done in an honest go at the seesaw.    However, that is not the case with the political, theological or ideological version of this sport, which is all too often carried out for just such a thrill, only with a much higher casualty rate.  Instead of pursuing the stimulating objective of proving the superiority and rightness of our respective positions with its intoxicating kick-back, indignation, couldn’t we strive for what the latest management books call a “Win-Win” solution?  Would it be at all thinkable, that even with the issue of abortion, there might be ways to “scoot” toward each other on the seesaw, finding a stable position in the center, which leaves no one “up in the air,” and for which no one must compromise the values most precious to them?   A way that leads toward relationship instead of away from it?  Would it be possible to re-evaluate and redefine what the actual core problems are, and perhaps begin to think out of the box, discovering a whole realm of solutions hither to veiled from our limited perception.  Surely if there is, it will entail a bit of detox from our old poisonous methods of combat.

Since I began voting, I have been held hostage, along with many others, to the party who has loudly promised a pro-life ticket, feeling bribed into turning a blind eye to the unethical, immoral and bad political policies for which this party is also responsible.  And after too many years of their talking “small town values” but catering instead to “big pocket corporations,” with little to no visible dent in the liberal abortion policies, I began to wonder if it was time to change my strategy and escape my captives.  I’ll have to admit, it was easy to do once I started to tune into Obama.  He is the first candidate to capture my political interest ever.  Having listened to and read a few of his speeches, I began to sense, that this candidate is in a higher league than any of our choices have been the last couple of decades.   My growing excitement was dampered, however, by the mounting criticism over his support for Roe v. Wade and his vote against the Born Alive Act.  Certainly discouraging revelations for me.   What to do? Return to captivity to the Republican party, with its Bush clone for a candidate, simply because he knows how to push the Pro-Life button?  I won’t be had again. 

So having been on the one side of the seesaw for many years, I now find myself, if not at the other far end of it, certainly somewhere left of many of my friends and family, with the big ugly issue of abortion still to contend with.  As one might expect,  it has been the weight and noise at their end of the seesaw, which began to reveal my own ignorance of the immense scale of the problem of abortion.  Despite my instincts to shield off the condemning or extreme language of some of these voices, I have chosen instead to “scoot” down in their direction and be educated by them.  Without naming any specific statistics or studies, my uncle, for example, wrote the following in an email to me a few months ago, “the bloodshed of one year of abortion around the world absolutely dwarfs the bloodshed of Nazi Germany and the Allies firebombing of Dresden and all deaths in Iraq and every other nation in the earth where conflict is going on right now.  And it dwarfs it each year. EACH YEAR!”  

If this is true, statistically, or even nearly true actually, it should serve as a wake up call, at least, to what in any other instance would be called an epidemic.  For my part, I admit to having been asleep and must make a confession.  Through all the twenty something years of being a Pro-Lifer, about the only thing I have consciously done to try and turn the tide of abortion, save for private conversations, was to vote for a conservative president.  And that I did largely unaware of any of the facts, figures or larger issues intrinsically connected with this world wide affliction.  I voted a pro-life slogan and went on with life as usual, believing my moral obligation to be fulfilled.  I realize now, that it was just enough to keep up a pious apathy and avoid facing the hard issues at the core of what I now believe to be a symptom of a disease, not the disease itself.   

But still not being satisfied that the only way to be Pro-Life with a clear conscious is to vote Republican, I have since looked where I can for reliable information regarding both world wide statistics and legislative information on abortion as well as what effect the policies of the democratic ticket would have on abortion reduction, despite its party line to uphold Roe v. Wade.  This is when my own prejudices and ignorance really became apparent.   Up until recently, I have assumed that abortion has been protected as a last resort birth control for women of the decadent Industrial nations who are pursuing careers instead of families.  I am embarrassed now for being so clueless and so judgmental.  

Following several links, I came upon two studies which have shown me that I couldn’t have been further from the truth.  One is from the Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and called, Reducing Abortion in America:  The Effect of Economic and Social Supports.  Wright & Bailey (http://www.catholicsinalliance.org/files/CACG_Final.pdf).  The conclusions of the fifteen page article are briefly summarized straight off, but the breakdown of the numbers and statistical findings are documented and elaborated in the rest of the document.  Wright & Bailey conclude in their Executive Summary, “Family, social and economic supports reduce abortions.  Recent research finds that the abortion rate among women living below the poverty level is more than four times that of women above 300% of the poverty level. This study of all U.S. states from 1982-2000 finds that social and economic supports such as benefits for pregnant women and mothers and economic assistance to low-income families have contributed significantly to reducing the number of abortions in the United States over the past twenty years.”  Also...

“Elected officials can use socioeconomic public policy to reduce abortions. 

The findings in this study suggest that elected officials can utilize effective and appropriate socioeconomic public policies to reduce abortions. These include: increasing benefits for pregnant women and mothers with children under five; promoting policies that increase male employment; providing funding for child care for working women; increasing economic assistance to low-income families and removing the “family cap” on economic assistance. Legislation aimed at these goals can effectively reduce abortion in America.”

This report also quotes the Allan Guttmacher Institute (http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_IAW.html), which among several sobering facts, reports these findings, “The lowest abortion rate in the world is in Western Europe (12 per 1,000 women aged 15–44). The rate is 17 in Northern Europe and 21 in Northern America (Canada and the United States of America).[1]” and “Legal restrictions on abortion do not affect its incidence. For example, the abortion rate is 29 in Africa, where abortion is illegal in many circumstances in most countries, and it is 28 in Europe (this number is including eastern Europe, whose rates are the highest), where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds. The lowest rates in the world are in Western and Northern Europe, where abortion is accessible with few restrictions. [1] 

And from the Matthew 25 web page, (http://www.prolifeproobama.com/plpo_abortionfacts.htm)

“Nearly half of all abortions in the world are performed in countries that have made abortion illegal.

The lowest abortion rates in the world - less than 10 per 1,000 women of reproductive age - are in Europe, where abortion is legal and available.

By contrast, in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, where abortion law is most restrictive, the regional rates are 29 and 31 per 1,000 women, respectively.

These countries are also much poorer than the U.S. and provide fewer social services; and a larger proportion of their population lives in poverty.

In Western European countries, in contrast, where more social services are provided and fewer women live in poverty, the abortion rates are consistently the lowest rates in the world.”


After reading these and other articles, I couldn’t help but feel that the Pro-Life movement has been storming the wrong side of the castle.  Not only is there a more vulnerable entry on the other side, but there is even a bridge leading over the mote directly into the heart of the actual problem:  Women and children in poverty!  

The conservative right has persistently combated the abortion issue under the banner of the sanctity of life, painting those on the other side of the legislative wall as cold, self - seeking and murderous.  Thus, much ammunition has been spent in defining where life begins, assigning the unborn - in all of its stages- the highest possible value tag, trying to impose that value tag on others, and condemning those who even dare hint at the possibility of a relative value of life.  For several reasons, I am beginning to wonder if this is ammunition ill spent.

It was as we were in Papua New Guinea, that it first began to dawn on me, that life, in fact, does have a relative felt value.   Over the course of our four years in that country, we were confronted again and again with situations, where communities, families, and parents did not consider the life of one of their children to be worth a trip to the doctor, the couple of Kina (monetary unit in PNG) for antibiotics, or even a sack of coffee.  I was often horrified to encounter children who suffered scabies, prolonged ear infections or malaria who were left untreated because the clinic was a long walk across town, or it was too much effort to administer prolonged, consistent treatment.   Villages whose only transport to the outside world was by plane, would sometimes pay to have their coffee flown out to be sold instead of flying a critically sick child to the hospital.  Their reasoning being that the child would most likely die anyway and then they would have nothing.  The coffee would at least bring a profit.  For me it seemed a grotesque trade off, a sack of coffee for the life of a child. 

I could fill pages with such encounters, and as much as it grieved me, no amount of campaign slogans, letters to the editor, or marches for life was going to change the felt value of life for those people.  Centuries of conditioning that life is short, painful and of little consequence was not going to give way to any of my attempts at imposing a higher price tag to it.  When people live under the constant reality, that life (ones own or that of loved ones) can be snatched from them at any moment, perhaps they learn to hold it less tightly, and when living conditions are relentlessly hard and mean, maybe some are want to regard life as something precious.  

Even in the West, I dare suggest, even among the most conservative pro-life groups, the value of life is relative.  I cannot deny the fact that the lives of my children are more precious to me than the lives of other children.  Judging from our foreign politics, the lives of Americans are more valuable to us than the lives of people in... well, any developing nation, and judging by our national policies, the well being of our corporations and our bank accounts is more valuable to us than the lives of the poorest among us.   Could it be possible, that while our editorials, protest banners, and campaign slogans loudly proclaim Pro-Life values even for the unborn, our actual life-styles and nation wide disposition toward the poor suggests that we really only value life if we can enjoy its comforts and security?  And isn’t that just the thing which makes it so hard to share!

It is my understanding, that it is impossible to impose a value on anything.  We cannot say to anyone, “such and such should be of greater value to you than it is, or than this other thing.  You should be willing to pay a much greater price for it.”  We cannot coerce people or bully people or rationalize people into seeing an inherent or objective value in the life of an unborn child, even though this objective value may exist.  We cannot  expect that women in desperate circumstances should value the new life in their body as more precious than the welfare of their other children, a better standard of living, opportunities for their own future, or even their very own life, just because we, who are able to enjoy all of those things simultaneously, say it is more precious than those things.   Values don’t work that way.  We cannot prescribe values either for individuals or for a nation.  

What we can do, however, is to demonstrate how valuable something is by being willing ourselves to pay a high price for it.  We can demonstrate how precious these unborn lives are to us, and to God, by making room at our table of affluence for the women and children who live in the dehumanizing poverty which breeds abortion.  We can validate the true worth of every human being, whether born or unborn, by cashing in our decadence and luxury, maybe even a portion of our comfort, which has come to mean so much to us, for the policies and programs which will move those most vulnerable to our side of the poverty line.  We can reveal how priceless each new life is, by offering mothers the support, health care and financial assistance needed, so they can feel they have a choice to carry that new life to full term - even if this might cost us the cherry on top of our sundae.

When I stop to think about it, God has done this very thing.  He has demonstrated how valuable we are to Him by giving that which was most precious to Him in exchange.  He traded the costly life of Christ for relationship with us.  Where the law - legislature - failed to cure us from our moral poverty or convince us of our true identity as beloved children of God, God Himself cashed in His luxury to validate our true worth and move us to His side of the (spiritual) poverty line.   

It is much easier to raise a moral finger and read someone their rights, to get out the law and the threat of consequence, especially for behavior and choices we don’t understand.  But I can’t in good conscience sell that any longer as my contribution to the Pro-Life cause.  To be truly pro-life will ask a much, much greater sacrifice of me.  It asks nothing short of following the divine example, the example of the Author and Redeemer of life itself.  And to be honest, it is yet to be seen if I have it in me to do so.  What I do know is that I will no longer hide my apathy behind the pious, political mask of simply voting a pro-life slogan, or skirt around the real problems by trying to get the symptoms outlawed.

In fact sometimes I wonder if Roe v. Wade were over turned, and we had strict prohibitions in place in every state, how long the interest would last in the issue of abortion, or in the plight of women who feel they have no other alternative.

Wouldn’t it be ironic, if when we finally chose to give up scaling the seemingly impenetrable legislative wall at the back of the stronghold of abortion and came around to the front gate offering instead to share our wealth and resources with those who are besieged by poverty, we stumbled upon our pro-choice adversaries already making much greater headway into the fortress with their battering ram of new jobs, pre and post-natal care, a comprehensive healthcare plan, family financial assistance, reproductive education, housing assistance, food and clean water?

I know that it must seem to you that I am “scooting” away from where you are sitting on the seesaw politically, you may feel, even morally, and that I must have lost the sense of the heinousness of abortion, but in fact, my understanding of and concern for the plight of the unborn has actually grown.  It may seem to you that I am moving away from a commitment to eradicating abortion, but I am actually moving toward a commitment to preserving, protecting and investing in life, especially the lives of those who have no voice of their own and who have been excluded from the great American pie.  I have no illusions that Senator Obama is some messianic figure without fault or flaw.  I imagine he has an array of political tricks up his sleeve, and has ambitiously maneuvered himself to the position he is in today.  But I do not believe he is the cold-blooded, self-seeking and murderous person you might have come to think he is, because he is not out back with us trying to bring down the towering legislative wall which protects women choosing to terminate their pregnancy.  I believe that he is trying to fight against this epidemic, not by poisoning the rats, but by beginning to remove the garbage which draws them and breeds them.  It is a strategy which will mean more sacrifice from all of us, and of course that makes it much less attractive, but I believe it is one where the least in America, and in the world, will finally be given a greater pallet of choices than the dismal ones they have now.  And I firmly believe that when we demonstrate the true and precious value of all life by giving what is costly to us, we will do more to save the perishing than by continuing to fight a moral and legal battle.

So, even though it may be too late to ask you to reconsider where you make your mark on the presidential ballot this election, I am asking you to “scoot” down toward the middle of the seesaw, where we can work on the real problems together, without getting seasick from the odious up and down extreme positions are instigating.  I am asking you to move toward relationship and conversation, and trust that you, or the principles dear to you, will not be left up in the air if you do.  I am hoping that when we “scoot” toward each other, we can get the creative engines of redemption churning and discover a stockpile of more intriguing and subversive tactics available to overcome the strong hold of death and poverty.  I am hoping that we can throw our weight into actually solving the problems, instead of using it simply to leverage the teeter-totter toward our principled strategy.  I am hoping that we can both ignore family taboos and remove any relational distance that might have recently crept in, and talk about this like family, like a family that loves and cherishes each other, like the family we are.


http://www.prolifeproobama.com/plpo_abortionfacts.htm


Monday, October 13, 2008

The Deadly Box

 The Deadly Box



It’s kind of cramped in here

I guess it wouldn’t be a bad spot

for a game of Hide and Seek

...a short game


But I can’t stretch my legs

My head is here between my knees

my elbow is jabbed into my leg

Hey, this box is very UNCOMFORTABLE

I don’t really want to be in here for too long


I mean, how am I supposed to eat?

Take in new nourishment?

Or go to the bathroom!?

You know, getting rid of all that stuff 

that has been processed and 

has no more growth value


There certainly is no room for 

GROWING in here! 

Not in any direction!

I can’t even change my position, 

turn on the other side

or even lift my head 

from between my knees


And I definitely don’t want anyone 

to see me this way!

I’m not in a very flattering position

My better sides don’t come to light

not in this place



I’m over due for a shower

Oh how nice that would be...

a warm shower 

to take away all the dirt and sweat, 

which is a part of life, 

whether one is in a box or not,

Ah, to feel fresh and clean again


It’s beginning to smell!

What with no bathroom, 

no shower

no fresh air...

Fresh air!

Yes, air (breathing)

I’m getting rather short of air

(breathing harder)

I’m afraid I can’t get enough to breath

(gasping for breath)

I’m running out of...


Hey, you, 

don’t go away!

(gasping)

I can’t breath!

(gasping faster)

Come back!

(desperate)

Don’t leave me here to....

(desperately gasping)

Please...

(faintly gasping)


LET ME OUT OF THIS BOX!!



“You have heard that the law of Moses says, “Do not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.”  But I say, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgement! If you put someone in a box and label it “idiot,” you are in danger of being (tried for murder).  And if you label someone “fool,” you are in danger of facing the ultimate judgement yourself”  

- Jesus

Saturday, October 4, 2008

World of Weirdos

Charis has always had a lot to talk about when she comes home from school.  Barely through the front door downstairs and it all starts pouring out.  Usually it has been about her teachers or the other kids in class.  Now Charis has a whole new topic to tell about:  Weirdos on the Bus!
Coming into the 5th grade this year, puts Charis at a “High” school (Gymnasium is what it is called here) which is no longer in walking distance, so she takes the #22 bus to the #1 Tram and gets off directly in front of her school.  After a couple of days of taking the route with her, she was on her own and feeling pretty confident.  (I’m so glad she is adjusting well to her entirely new school situation.)  
 Now my gregarious daughter (don’t even think that thought! She has it from BOTH of us!) comes home and says things like this:  “Mama, today this guy got on the bus and one of his eyes had skin grown over it.  He had a blind stick, but I think he could see a little bit from one eye.  I gave him my seat.”  Or, “Today the tram was really full, and I had no place to put my feet.  Every time the tram jerked, I accidently stepped on this woman’s feet.  I said I was sorry, but she scolded me!”  Or, “Today it was so full and when I wanted to get off, there were too many people in front of me, I had to wait for them first.  Then this man behind me rudely pushed me aside and told me to get out of his way, so he could get off the bus”  Or “There was this guy who looked pretty shabby and he smelled so bad, the bus was so full, that he kept squashing me up against the side.  I got off a stop earlier than i had to, just to get some fresh air.”(Charis is particularly offended by "icky things", such as body oder, bad breath, saliva. Rules out kissing or any kind of body contact.) 
So then I tell her about when I had to take the bus to school.  At about her age, I took the #42 bus down to Dupont Circle and then switched to the D2, which took us to Hardy Middle school.  Mostly we kids dominated the bus scene once we were on it, and we found any number of “targets” for our curiosity and amusement.  I was a rare white face in the back of the bus with a loud and boisterous group of black and Hispanic friends fighting for the good seats next to the windows.  In DC there was no shortage of smelly passengers, and the ones who smelled most like liquor and urine were also the most eager to engage us in some surreal conversation.  Jan and I had the opportunity to experience just such a social encounter together many years ago in a subway in NY.  In fact we stole the line our fellow commuter kept repeating, and we still use it for a laugh, and for when we want to signal that one of us is getting too close to the edge of our sanity.
I told Charis about the guy who got on my bus once when it was particularly crowded, who had no nose.  It wasn’t grown over or anything; there was just this big, gaping hole, where his nose should have been!  Wow, not everybody gets to see something like that!  But our favorite characters were the Big Hair Ladies.  I’m not talking beehive hairdos from the 60’s either.  I’m talking big monster hairdos.  Dinosaur hairdos.  Scary hairdos!  They had large cardboard signs with them with pictures of burns on their bodies, which they said were caused by the government doing chemical testing on them.  It had also made their hair grow like crazy.  I guess I pretty much believed them, but I didn’t really know what to do about it.  I just thought, "wow, that’s scary".  One day though, I saw one of these women take her big hairdo off.  That was eye opening.  I still don’t let the government do any testing on me though.
I guess I’ll save all the stories about almost getting frost bite while waiting for the bus for hours in sub-zero temperatures in my Nikes, my wet hair frozen to icicles by the time I got to class, for when she starts bugging me to give her a ride to school in winter.  
Well, sorry for ranting on about all that.   Charis just reminded me again of all those people we miss while we drive around in our SUV’s and our mini-vans.  Her little reports made me realize that she is venturing out of a pretty protected circle and discovering that this world is full of wackos!  So, if you ever think you are a wee bit too snuggly in your comfort zone, just start taking the bus, and you'll be reminded what a weird world we really live in.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Summer on the North Shore


Finally a vacation that really felt like a vacation.  In my opinion, going to the seaside is the only way to make that happen.  We were on one of the small islands off the shore of northern Germany for 10 days with only the rhythmic  sound of the waves as background noise.   Quite a welcome change to the loud and never ceasing traffic of the main avenue visible from our house in Augsburg.  The only automobiles on Spiekeroog are small elektric "trucks," which  transport lugguge and packages.  Even bicycles were hardly a dominant presence on the island where everyone walks along the wider pedestrian paths.  Wide beaches with lots of space, time to just chill out and read, evening family games, afternoons at charming cafe's, and lots of walking and exploring made the 10 hour drive well worth it.  The pictures which say it all can be linked to from either the title of this blog entry or from the list of links with the title pictures.  

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bad Liberal Europe

The following is a response to a posting on facebook : Understanding the heart of Conservitism by Graham Dennis.

Hi there, it is me writing over here in "liberal Europe!" I can't quite share your enthusiasm about this piece by Graham Dennis. I've been living outside the states for 17 years now (not including the year in 88') and for most of that time in Europe (including England, Germany and Sweden). And tho I must admit, that there are sooo many things that I have pulled my hair out about as a Christian and an American, I did find myself needing to come to Europe's defense (wow, this is a first!) while reading this. The most striking incongruence is the statement he reiterates in point 4 (having said the same in point 2). about universal health care. "Once a government run health care system is put in place, the ideological promise of equal care... becomes impossible to deliver on. It becomes a “noble lie." First of all, not all European countries have a governmental health care. Germany does not. The health care systems and policies vary significantly from country to country. Second, these countries with a comprehensive health care management may not meet a perfect egalitarian record of treatment for all classes, races etc, but people are getting the care they need...I have never heard of ANYONE not being treated for an illness, not being able to afford medicine, being turned away because they are not insured or not being able to care for their children. Having experienced first hand the contrast of not being able to afford medical treatment because I was not covered to that of not having to worry about it AT ALL, I cannot express enough the importance of this issue to national politics. So I might not always get a private room in a hospital, but at least I get a room. There is so much propaganda out there about the inequality, bad service, lack of individual choice of doctors, etc, etc in “European” health care, which is simply not true. What is true is that people are not having to sell their homes to pay for cancer treatment, nor are they prematurely released from the hospital and left helpless. The “Europeans” I know gasp at the horror stories that come out of the states. And no one would want to trade!! On this issue, the States should exercise humility and take notes. Then it should do what it is good at: stealing an idea (like pizza or Tacos) from another country and making it even better!!  
It is also ill-advised to lump all of Europe (and I assume Scandinavia and Great Britain and Canada?) into one bag. Each of these countries has answered the healthcare issue differently, and of course struggles to overcome or counter the pitfalls or draw backs inherent within their own system, which, I agree, are partially the result of unlimited availability and an increasingly geriatric population. Yes, Germany has a declining national birthrate, but that is certainly not true of every European country. My husband just called over to me that he recently read, that in fact, the french are quite out doing us here! (France has a birthrate of 2,1 % to germany 1,34 %) Not to mention the countries that your brother also named, Poland, Ireland, Spain. (and wouldn't the numbers in the states look as dismal if it weren't for the large hispanic and immigrant population?) And, yes, this too puts a strain on our health care system (and would do us in a lot sooner if it weren’t for our own immigrant population).  
But also to fault for the growing burden of health care, are the extremely high costs of more advanced diagnostic and treatment technologies. I have had 3 MRT’s in the last half year...that might not have been possible even 10 years ago. So of course that brings with it enormous ethical questions: how much care and for whom? While I am getting 3 MRT’s here at an astronomical cost, young children are dying of illnesses in Africa which could be treated for a few dollars. In addition, the prenatal care, hospital stay (5-10 days), and required postnatal care (including postnatal house visits by the midwives) covered by German insurance companies are costs which fall away with a declining birthrate. Anyway, I think it is an over-simplification to say that “European health care needs have derived largely from it being a “stagnating population.”  
Surely France and Germany loose many of their top experts abroad. However, this is occurring across the board and is not a phenomena limited to medical researchers. Sometime ago Time ran an article just on this subject. The basic tenor of the article was that most brilliant researchers in Europe get bogged down in bureaucracies, which slow up funding, suffocate “free thinking” and can douse the motivation of even the most determined minds. Whether in sports, astronomy, physics, archeology, engineering, theater, supermodels, even Cornelia Funke moved to California!! But not until she could afford to pay her hospital bills herself! No, having lived here in Germany almost as long as I have lived in the states, I have experienced first hand the mind set which can and does again and again stifle creative, innovative and adventuresome pursuits. I think I can safely say, it is not a result of universal health care, nor necessarily the social conscience that gave rise to it, nor strictly of Liberal Humanistic thought. It is much, much too easy to duck our own social-political responsibility to care for our neighbor and dismiss those, who are in some respects doing a better job of it than we are, by nailing them in a coffin with this label on it.  
I can’t really follow the logic in his argumentation contrasting the “intellectuals in Europe” who were “smitten with the path of revolution” with “our founders deep and prudent reflection upon the limits of the political,” Our founders were revolutionists!! They also understood the limits of “religion” and sought to ensure that this sword could in future not so easily be wielded as an instrument of intimidation and domination. Granted, they seemed to have more successfully “let out the bath water, while retaining the baby” by removing the administration of religious profession and practice from the Governmental body, but keeping it as a matter of personal and communal profession and practice. The “French” revolutionaries seemed to be sick of the whole dirty lot of it, and could no longer make the distinction between religious tyranny and the kingdom of God. But who can fault them for it? They now must live with the dirty bath water of their own making. And for trying to get them to take the baby back? I think America has long since sullied her own diapers and lost any position of moral authority it may have at any point had.  
“Part of the limitation of the city of man is that it cannot eradicate the natural selfishness of man. To create an ideological place-holder for common interest (the state or the government) is to assume something about the state that I don’t assume. This is what scares me about Obama. He, like the French and many other Europeans, doesn’t understand how self-interest works vis-à-vis the city of man. It’s not that self-interest should be turned into a religious principle, but rather than the state herself is incapable or eradicating it. Only the city of God can perfectly eradicate self-interest. This creates the need for a check upon the government (the principle established by our founders). That check is, in part, self-interest. The Pollyanna hope that it could be eradicated by the “common interest” of the state, is a very French (humanist), progressive European political ideal. I think it is extremely dangerous.”
I am sorry, but i find this quote to be... completely nonsensical. ...”but rather the state herself is incapable of eradicating Self-interest.“ But isn’t that exactly what conservative Christians want, when they clamor for Government to legislate pro traditional family values, against abortion, gay marriage, etc, etc.? From my view over here, it seems like there are a lot of very loud conservatives, who believe just that; that the state can eradicate the self-interest of mothers choosing a “better” life over the life of their child, and of Gays choosing a same sex partner instead of a fruitful heterosexual one. And isn’t that exactly what Obama has been saying? “There are limits to how the State can prohibit our Self-interest choices? Especially in those areas, which are extremely difficult to enforce. I think it is precisely the false “hope” of the conservative base in state legislation, which has paralyzed and preoccupied them, keeping them from exploring more creative and effective ways of bearing witness to the sanctity of life. Obama has again and again maintained that he will focus on those areas where State not only has an obligation to litigate, but also a fighting chance at success in its implementation. 
And (Obama), like the French and many other Europeans, doesn’t know how self-interest works vis a vis the city of man.” Is this for real???? I don’t think there is a person alive in the developed countries, who doesn’t know how self interest works!! There is a much shorter term for “self-interest vis a vis the city of man”; it’s called capitalism! And because America has proven to be the heavy weight in all things capitalistic, honing its “self-interest” skills to a sharp edge, does not automatically send all of Europe to the far corner of socialism. If America has been good at exporting any values at all on the greater community, especially the European neighborhood, than it is the value of Capitalistic self-Interest. And hasn’t that been the mantra of republicans since yea and yea, that any perceived economic or social slack in the country be met with more self-interest? I am sure it is not the objective of any candidate to “eradicate self-interest.” My suspicion is that the republicans want to continue to fan the self-interest flame much in the strain of Adam Smith, who proposed that the best result comes from everyone in the group doing what is best for himself (which America as a case study has proven does not work for a gross majority of the country or for the larger community of which America is also a part). Nash’s mathematically substantiated theory of governing dynamics has overthrown Smith’s, however, proposing that the best result will come by everyone doing what is best for himself AND for the group (or participants in the group). And isn’t that exactly what Jesus told us to do? “Love your neighbor AS yourself”? We are not to love our neighbor to the neglect and denial of self interest nor are we to love ourselves to the exclusion of our neighbor. May I suggest that the former smacks of the communist ideal and the latter of the renegade capitalist ideal? I think each country in Europe has tried in its own way, with its own resources to find this equilibrium in its governing capacity, to lesser or greater success.  
“Lastly, this tendency to think of the state as the “family” has also led to a profound denigration of the family. Why? Because the family is suspiciously viewed as an arena of “private interest.” Normalizing people to the infrastructure of the state, then, becomes one of the central goals of liberal humanism. This is why public schooling is so important.” I wish i could just let this slide by, because it is late and I have already spent way too long on this, but the oversimplification just nags at me. I am wondering which European country he is referring to? Yes, we are constantly trying to defend the value and sanctity of the family (and not just the cell family, but the extended family as well) and feel the tug and pull in so many directions to abandon it. But your brother is shooting at the wrong enemy, or indeed aiming too high. I do not believe that there is a liberal humanistic conspiracy to rot out the “private interest” of the family, at least not here in Germany. I do believe that the state more often than not cooperates with the forces at work in the world, which undermine the strengths of the family, but those forces are even more base than liberal humanism.  
I believe this force to be as ancient as history itself, and to be the only real counter philosophy that Jesus ever named (by the way, to put Jesus in a list of conservatives is silly; Jesus took pitches from both sides of the field and hit all the balls out of the park. Didn’t he say something like, “a good teacher uses both old and new stuff” (ok, i can’t find the quote right now, but it is really one of my favorites). A shorter verse that i am able to remember (not one of my favorites): “You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” Consumerism, the number one leading religion in our world. It infiltrates any philosophical, political or religious system and morphs it into an instrument of consumerism. Consumerism (Mammon) can make a currency out of anything. So a communist country, with the high ideals to pursue the good of the community, quickly becomes a country of consumerists who use Communism as a commodity to pursue self interest. And a christian country (group, church) with the high ideals to love God and their neighbor as themselves, quickly becomes a consumerist country using their religiosity, religious symbols and piety to pursue personal gain.  
It’s an old story, dating back long before the French revolution. The church got their first and only spanking in the book of Acts for this very thing. Ananias and Saphira were using the pious, “selfless” act of selling their home and “giving” to the community as a commodity, as a means of “gaining” something: the regard of the community. They were trying to “sell” themselves to the church. So whatever one means exactly by throwing around the term “liberal humanism,” have no fear, I am sure, this threatening philosophy has long been morphed away into our ancient enemy, much like the bad guy in The Matrix. And whatever is left of it in Europe is being rapidly shoved aside by capitalism. I would suggest then that we recognize our true enemy and stick to fighting him at our own address. (Didn’t Jesus say something like that, about sticks and stones...ah, splinters and beams!). After all, america has the staggering murder count: America uses most of the worlds resources; America has citizens living in 3rd world squaller, obesity, higher infant mortality rates, by far more people in prisons, a disreputable primary and secondary education system, and if I understood Graham correctly, it sounds like America (not the liberal humanists) has the most liberal abortion laws. Way to go for the sobering effects of self-interest. just wanting to keep the straw men from the table, lee

Friday, August 1, 2008

P.S. on Internet Communications

Just read this article about a phenomena I had never heard of before: Trolling.  Very interesting! Brings up important ethical questions about freedom of speech.   Here are some excerpts from the end of the article.

"Does free speech tend to move toward the truth or away from it? When does it evolve into a better collective understanding? When does it collapse into the Babel of trolling, the pointless and eristic game of talking the other guy into crying “uncle”? Is the effort to control what’s said always a form of censorship, or might certain rules be compatible with our notions of free speech?

One promising answer comes from the computer scientist Jon Postel, now known as “god of the Internet” for the influence he exercised over the emerging network. In 1981, he formulated what’s known as Postel’s Law: “Be conservative in what you do; be liberal in what you accept from others.” Originally intended to foster “interoperability,” the ability of multiple computer systems to understand one another, Postel’s Law is now recognized as having wider applications. To build a robust global network with no central authority, engineers were encouraged to write code that could “speak” as clearly as possible yet “listen” to the widest possible range of other speakers, including those who do not conform perfectly to the rules of the road. The human equivalent of this robustness is a combination of eloquence and tolerance — the spirit of good conversation. Trolls embody the opposite principle. They are liberal in what they do and conservative in what they construe as acceptable behavior from others. You, the troll says, are not worthy of my understanding; I, therefore, will do everything I can to confound you."

(Wow! This is exactly the attitude of some Christian leaders I know!!  In fact, a Christian pastor recently expressed in estonishingly similar language the very same intentions!)

"Of course, none of these methods will be fail-safe as long as individuals like Fortuny construe human welfare the way they do. As we discussed the epilepsy hack, I asked Fortuny whether a person is obliged to give food to a starving stranger. No, Fortuny argued; no one is entitled to our sympathy or empathy. We can choose to give or withhold them as we see fit. “I can’t push you into the fire,” he explained, “but I can look at you while you’re burning in the fire and not be required to help.” Weeks later, after talking to his friend Zach, Fortuny began considering the deeper emotional forces that drove him to troll. The theory of the green hair, he said, “allows me to find people who do stupid things and turn them around. Zach asked if I thought I could turn my parents around. I almost broke down. The idea of them learning from their mistakes and becoming people that I could actually be proud of . . . it was overwhelming.” He continued: “It’s not that I do this because I hate them. I do this because I’m trying to save them.”

(Talking about the ends justifying the means!  It is scary to think that exactly the same intention, "to save people," motivates not only these destructive and dangerous internet hackers (you can read in the article of their malicious methods), but also the punitive and bullying voice of the Christian right!")

Anyway, this is just a "p.s." to my post "I take it back", so I am not going to comment further.  If you are at all interested in this topic, do read the whole article, which is linked up above.  I'd really be interested in your comments to the subject.   

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mozart's City of Birth Presenting...

video

Mozart's father that is.  And this recital took place this past Sunday on the same street where both he and his son have given concerts.  

Enough boring history!  We were proud as peacocks of our Christa.  Granted she is just a beginner, but aaaiiihhh, what talent, what beauty, what potential.  We are going on tour to play for the queen of England, Spain, France etc.  and have booked time at Abbey Road Recording studios.... in jest, in jest.  No, we don't want Christa to meet with the same fate as the young Mozart:  Genius, but dead.  

Fun aside, it is such a joy for me to see my children's talent unfold.  To see them prosper and flourish.  To see them explore and create.  The kids are growing into fine young people.  it is such a beautiful process to be a part of and an honor.  I am especially touched and awed by how they seem to gulp down life in huge swallows.  "Bring it on!" is just natural for them,  especially Christa.  I was so different.  Life became such a scary thing at such an early age, that I feel like I've spent the better years just learning to sip from the cup.  What a fun discovery that God has given us this big trampoline to jump and do flips on, that it is elastic rather than unyielding, stoney or brittle, so that we can have a blast... living deeply and reaching high:  life to the full.  This is what we can have.  This is what has been promised to us... and that is what my children are teaching me.  Go kids!!!


Monday, July 21, 2008

I Take It Back!

I don’t love it so much. 


I feel like someone who has been shut up in a bomb shelter throughout the war, and on finally coming out, is glad to see so many of her friends alive on the one hand, but stricken to see the toll taken and how much has been destroyed on the other.  Google, You Tube, the Internet...my new discovery is also shocking:  rampant slander!  And Christians often leading the way through the mud!  

It strikes many people we come in contact with as odd that we don’t have cable t.v. or any t.v. at all.  I‘ve been living outside the states since ’92 and beside the occasional sitcom I’ve seen on airplanes, the movies I hand pick to watch, and the Oscar Awards (which are a must), I have been pretty much shut off from American media, and thus American culture.  Until recently that is.  With my new Macbook, the possibilities have soared, and I feel that America is just a finger tip away: the America I’ve missed, and the America I haven’t missed.  A part of the States that I have not missed, with which I am now again confronted, is the culture’s keen ability in using sarcasm to ridicule others; especially if those others, don’t line up with ones own views on a matter.  

Now, just recently, a Christian tried to get me to believe, that as a pastor he had Biblical permission to use sarcasm and put downs and whatever else he might need in order to expose heresy.  And as noble an agenda as this might be, I simply cannot find the Biblical support for the kind of things I’ve been seeing in blogs, especially his blog, and on You tube of late.  If anything at all, sarcasm and this critical irony, is an American thing.  Americans have perfected it, bathe in it night and day, and wield it to great effect and detriment at their enemies.  Not even in England do they come anywhere close to the Americans in using sarcasm and irony (satire maybe, but not sarcasm).  And in the parts of the world where I have lived, it is virtually absent altogether.

But just to be safe, I looked it up (sweet and easy on my little computer dictionary) to double check if I even knew what I was talking about.  And this is what I found:  “Sarcasm[A] is stating the opposite of an intended meaning especially in order to sneeringly, slyly, jest or mock a person, situation or thing.   For example, ridicule is an important aspect of sarcasm, but not verbal irony in general. By this account, sarcasm is a particular kind of personal criticism leveled against a person or group of persons that incorporates verbal irony.” 

Yup, that’s just what I thought it was.  I cringe every time I hear/read Christians, or others who are important to me, using this kind of language to bully or mock in any way another person, no matter how "right" they might be on content!  In addition, I highly doubt it’s effectiveness in winning the hearts and minds of those who disagree with us.  Let me illustrate:

It was a long and trying road to finally find the right sports club for Jonathan.  He of course wanted to play soccer like everybody else here in Germany, so we sent him to the nearest soccer club.  This was a good few years ago now.  Anyway, the coach was over the top.  He had suffered from Polio as a child, so never played himself (maybe that explains his behavior, i don't know). The kids would win by huge margins, but this guy was never happy. He would yell and scream (and i don't mean the way all coaches just yell and get hyper) and berate and belittle the players.  He would even let his tirades out on the parents, if they asked the wrong question or somehow did something "stupid" in his eyes.  He shamed people, and of course he was always “right”.  Jonathan was terrified of him, so much so, that he wouldn't really go after the ball for fear he would be shamed and belittled for loosing it again.  Here is the catch: the coach never once yelled at Jonathan the entire time he was on the team (which wasn't long i assure you)!  It was enough that he saw the others being publicly shamed.  The thing is, it didn't lead to obedience!! It led to personal shame and retreat.  Jonathan froze inwardly, did not develop love or respect for his coach and did not long to please him.  He certainly didn't have any fun playing soccer.  He acted only out of fear of doing the wrong thing.  When people resort to character assassination, stinging sarcasm, malicious mocking and caustic ridicule, it scares me, even if I am not the target.   I know how easily I could make just such a false "play," so I freeze inwardly.  I unconsciously feel shame and retreat away from the person wielding the hatchet.   Instead of concentrating on the "ball" and giving myself up to playing as well as I can to win "the game", I find I am too concerned with where that hatchet might come down next.  

Let’s be honest, is anyone really ever won over by these tactics?  Of course I could be wrong, but I don’t think so. It might be possible to slice and dice the Bible and piece together a permission slip for this style of communication, but I would wager to bet we Christian bloggers and You Tubers are just swimming with our American culture on this one.  I know what has won me over in the past and what still gets my attention today is the respectful, intelligent and personal witness of humble and authentic people.  People who are not threatened by my honest questions, sincere doubts or even my differing perspective on a particular issue.  The chances that I might be won over to a given idea are far greater, when I feel safe with someone, knowing that that person will preserve my dignity and can value my individual human worth, despite the fact that I might not yet be completely on board with them about even subjects of the utmost significance.  This leaves a back door open for me to go through at some other time, when perhaps through different circumstances, life experience, or the Holy Spirit’s leading, I am able to see things in a new light.   Wouldn’t it just be heavenly, if our internet conversations were laced with this kind of love?     I hope you hold me to this on my blog and in my conversations with you. Thanx.