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Archive for August, 2009

On the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock festival:

“We used to have acid flashbacks. Now we have acid reflux.”– Peter Albin, guitarist for Big Brother, the late Janis Joplin’s band, quoted in The New York Times, Aug. 17, 2009

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I tend to think that I’m a pretty capable pastor.  Recently I’ve had some experiences that have shaken me more than I expected.

One night I was called away from a church business meeting to go to the Hospital to act as chaplain.  A young man (younger than me) over-dosed and wound up not making it.  I arrived before most of the family did.  As the evening progressed, I watched wave after wave of family members come in to the ER to view the body of the child that was now gone.

I’ve only heard screams like that one other time,

and I don’t wish to recall that incident either.

Even though this was one of the harder things that I’ve done, I was still basically in my element.  I know how to sit with people and simply be present at difficult times.  I know how to put a hand on a shoulder, or how to listen to the questions.

What I don’t know, is how to deal with my friend who has cancer.

At 24 she has found herself with ovarian cancer and has begun chemo treatments.  I just recently caught up with the blog that she has started for this journey in her life.  I found myself in gut wrenching tears as I read it.  While the tears were partly for the very real pain and uncertainty that she is working through, they were also for a deep feeling of helplessness that I felt.  As someone who is charged with comforting those in pain, I find that words fail very quickly.  And being 1,000 miles away, the only thing I have to offer is words.

I feel helpless.

Although, I’m sure not as helpless as my friend.  This whole post might sound pretty narcissistic considering that I’m not the one with cancer, after all.  That fact causes me some grief as well.

If this finds you, know that I love you and that I am thinking of you and praying for you.  I’m sure you’ve heard that many times before, and I’m sure that at times it’s not enough.  I wish that I could be there, but I’m also glad that there are others who are.  I’m thankful for the real people who are by your side, even if I can’t be.

At this point I’m sure that I should have some sort of happy-ending-wise-pastor-every-thing-will-be-OK type of thing to say.  But I don’t.  The truth is that while I do believe in God quite strongly, there are times when God seems to be off somewhere else.  Psalms and Lamentations seem to be right on course these days.  Yes, ultimately Lamentations questions God but then ultimately returns to faith in God.  But that’s not an overnight thing.  What’s more, breaking of the dark night doesn’t always mean the outcome that we would choose.  By yet….we persevere.

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Currently there is a one to one ratio of U.S. soldiers to private contractors in active war zones.  That’s right, half of our military in Iraq and Afghanistan is now made up of mercenaries working for private contractors.  250,000 U.S. Soldiers, 250,000 hired guns.

One of the biggest contractors working in Afghanistan and Iraq is called Blackwater.  While there is an entire industry of private contractors, Blackwater is one of the most notorious security companies that is employed by the U.S. government.  A couple of years back they gunned downed a number of innocent civilians in Nisour Square.  Besides the numerous criminal lawsuits that have followed the company, they officially had their license to work in Iraq revoked.  Currently they are only, officially, contracted to provide air support.  In spite of this there are state department officials confirming that there are still armed Blackwater agents still on the ground.  (As a site note, this should come as a bit of a surprise to the Iraqi government.  Most recently the Obama administration said that by Sept. 3 Blackwater should be completely out of Iraq.  That might be questionable, however)

While it’s true that many of the services provided by these contractors are as benign as providing meals, or cleaning bathrooms.  This week, however, it has also been reported that the CIA hired Blackwater to engage in covert missions to hunt down high ranking Al-Queida members.  The U.S. government said a few years back that there wouldn’t be any need for a draft to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The reason there isn’t a need for a draft is because we are paying private contractors staggering amounts of money to do the same jobs as our regular military.  This is a fact that is not lost on the enlisted men and women (making as little as $18,000 a year) who risk their lives next to private soldiers (making upwards of $150,000).

Why is this a problem?

For starters, the entire industry operates outside of military law.  While one can question the moral existence of a military, there is still something called the Uniform Code of Military Justice, as well as the Army Field Manual that does lay out what soldiers can and can’t do and particular ways for holding those in the military accountable.  Things like the Geneva Convention and rules of engagement are all taken into account.  (Incidentally, it is the Army Field Manual that prohibits waterboarding and other forms of torture.  The existence of these laws are also the reason that Guantanamo Bay was crated was to get around this code)  Blackwater, and other contractors are not bound by these same rules of engagement and ethical codes.  Because of this, they have committed acts that would have been cause for court marshals had they been committed by enlisted soldiers.

On a more philosophical level, private contractors make more money the worse the conflict gets.  This is an entire industry that has a vested interest in the conflicts getting worse, not better.  At least, theoretically, the U.S. Military is in the business of winning wars, not simply continually fighting them.  Contractors, on the other hand, ultimately want the war to never end.

More specifically to the Blackwater company, is it’s founder and leader, Erik Prince.  New allegations have surfaced this week accusing Erik Prince of committing murders or directly ordering murders against people, among may others, who were trying to investigate the company.  Most disturbing, however, is the allegation that one of the motivating factors for Erik Prince is that he sees himself as waging a holy war against Muslims.  Prince has been known to visit his personal army in the battlefield and give them speeches that border on sermons, explaining their divine calling.  Some career soldiers have even left Blackwater because they were disturbed by Princes holy war, rather than their patriotism.

Not only is this disturbing because Erik Prince has found himself in a position to command a government funded private army, with access to easy targets in two Muslim countries, but it’s even more disturbing because of who Erik Prince is connected with.  According to Jeremy Scahill (the guy who literally wrote the book on Blackwater) Erik Prince is part of conservative Christian royalty.  Princes father was one of the principle bankrollers the Family Research Council (one of the major conservative political think tanks) and Focus on the Family.  He is well connected with and supported by James Dobson, Chuck Colson and Gary Bauer.  About the time that the Religious Right began to ramp up campaigns against what they deemed “secularism”, Erik Prince founded Blackwater.  There is a link between Prince and some of the biggest players in the conservative Christian world that is very disturbing.

I consider myself first and foremost Christ-centered in my politics.  There are certain things that I agree with Republicans about and certain things that I agree with Democrats about.  This transcends both political parties.  Even Obama’s administration is keeping Blackwater on they payroll, along with all of the other companies who make up the entire industry.  This is a huge problem.  What’s worse is that it appears that the ideological and theological fuel behind Eirk Prince is coming from people who call themselves Christians.

I highly recommend listening to the 15 minute segment below.  If you care what the U.S. government does in your name, this should keep you up at night.  If you care what people do in the name of Jesus and in the name of all Christians, this should make you furious.

Jeremy Scahill on Blackwater on the NPR program, Here and Now

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As an art teachers son, this is just truly fantastic.  A very nerdy and orderly artist cleans up some classic works for art.

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This last week there have been physical fights and arrests of people who have been at the town hall meetings set up to learn about and discuss the current proposal for health care reform.

What has our country turned into.  During the Lincoln-Douglas debates each side was given an hour to speak, uninterrupted, to lay out their case.  The opposing side was then given at least another hour to speak and lay out their case.  By the early 80’s, what passed for national discourse or debate was 30 second rebuttals to 1 minute soundbites.  And now…..well, we’re just shouting obscenities from the crowd.

In certain circles there has been much propaganda around the “death clause” of the health care bill.  Many have made it out to seem that the government is going to be killing people to save on costs.  I have a friend in seminary who actually took the time to do the research on the bill to see what it actually says.  You will notice that there are even footnotes included, to the bill, not to some pundit.  Here is his original post.

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Authored by Justin King, Elkhart, In

Health Care Reform Bill (H.R. 3200) and the “Death Clause”

In response to the “Deather Movement” I decided to look into the purported “Death Clause” in House Resolution 3200, introduced to the House on July 24, 2009. I should note that I did not read the entire bill. It is 1017 pages long and I do not have the time to read another 1000 pages on top of other research I have to do for my thesis.

It took some searching to find out exactly where this clause was, but after searching http://www.factcheck.org I was able to find an article checking the facts of the claim that HR 3200 contains “a provision that would require that ailing seniors be pressed to consider suicide in order to save the taxpayers’ money on Medicare.” [1]

The article notes that this purported clause is on pg. 425. Rather than rely on commentaries I decided to look into the bill myself. The bill is public record and is available online. (http://energycommerce.house.gov/Press_111/20090714/aahca.pdf)

Upon reading through the provision on pages 424-430, it is clear to me that the Deather movement is completely wrong.

The point of the clause is not to save the taxpayer money by encouraging older US citizens to not seek treatment. Instead it says that money will provided for counseling for a patient who has decided to no longer seek further treatment. Almost all of us have experienced this is some way, be it the signing of a do not resuscitate order or when an older relative decides to no longer seek treatment of a terminal condition. The clause provides for the education of those involved in the individuals decision to no longer seek treatment. [2]

What is really interesting is section F notes that “an explanation of orders regarding life sustain treatment or similar orders,” is necessary.[3] This explanation requires “reasons why the development of such an order is beneficial to the individual and the individual’s family.[4] It also requires health care experts to explain “the information needed for an individual or legal surrogate to make informed decisions regarding the completion of such an order.”[5]

The point is that an individual makes the decision to no longer seek treatment and is then given counseling. The Deathers would have us believe that the counselors show up uninvited and convince folks to pull the plug.

The medical order is initiated by the individual and then “is signed and dated by a physician…and is in a form that permits it to stay with the individual and be followed by health care professionals across the continuum of care.” [6] It also ensures that “the individual’s preferences regarding life sustaining treatment” is clearly communicated.[7]

The five years which Betsy McCaughey claims is when the government shows up and talks you into pulling the plug is actually meant to ensure that the orders that the health care professionals have are accurate and reflect the desires of the individual at that point in their life, instead of where the individual was five years ago.

All bills submitted to any level of the government are public record and are freely available to all US citizens for review. Hey America, shut off Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck and check things out for yourself instead taking everyting that comes from FOX and MSNBC as gospel truth.

It’s time to debate the merits of this bill based on what it says combined with political philosophy/theory , and not on lies, half truths and partisan bull.

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[1] “False Euthanasia Claims,” http://www.factcheck.org/2009/07/false-euthanasia-claims/. Accessed 08/11/2009.
[2] See HR 3200, 425, sections A-E, on the purpose of the clause and the type of counseling to be provided by the bill.
[3] HR 3200, 426.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid., 429.
[7] Ibid.

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The only real addition that I would have would be to say this. My wife, the nurse, and I have talked about this clause numerous times. One thing that is worth noting/adding, is that the reason this clause is needed is because currently, Medicare won’t pay for you doctors time to discuss end of life issues. I’m not sure why, but when your grandma goes to have her physical and asks a question about what it means to have a DNR, what medication options are to dull the pain of the cancer that’s taking her life or other essential questions…..sorry, that cost is on grandma. Seeing as everyone in this country will, in fact, eventually die, this clause is not only justified but is incredibly important to close a disturbing loophole.
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Of additional interest to the Mennonite community.  Here is the link to the document that MCUSA just passed regarding health care.
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This issue really matters.  Shouting is not going to get us where we need to go.  Please, turn down the volume.

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Admittedly we didn’t really plan.  But that being said, only four of us showed up for our ten year class reunion?  It was slightly disappointing, considering that earlier in the day there were at least 8 old classmates that happened to bump into each other on a street corner during the Threshing Days festivities.

Even though the turnout wasn’t exactly at 100%, I still had a great time.  I’ve been out of the area for a couple of years now, and somewhat disconnected from the Goessel world for even longer than that.  It was great to catch up with some of the people who knew what other people were up to these days.  It was a great time to tell some stories and reminisce about the good ol’ days.  (am I really old enough to say that?  oh well.)  We spent the night simply sitting around chatting and telling stories.  Eventually my dad, the Goessel art teacher who we all had in school, stopped by the park and joined in on the conversation.  He even wound up telling some of the ghost stories about Goessel High School that he’s accumulated over the years.  By far the highlight of the night was the video.

Back in 5th grade, that would be 1992, my dad had the foresight to sit all of us 5th graders down and have us predict what we would be doing by the time that we graduated in 1999.  Well, in 1999, on the day of graduation, he got most of us to sit down and make predictions for ten years from then.  All of this was on video tape.  So I put it together on a DVD and brought the footage out to the park to enjoy.  It was an almost surreal blast from the past to see our childhood selves, buck-teeth, squeaky voices, bad haircuts and all, predicting the future.  Some of us were actually pretty close.  The most salient prediction came from the last person on the tape, Corbin.  He said something to the effect of, “oh man, ten years from now, that’s awful scary.  I could be married, I could have a kid, or I could be living on my own.   I just hope I’m doing alright.”  There’s something beautifully profound in that.

I think I’ll take that as my prediction for the next ten years.

10 year reunion

Maybe we’ll plan an 11 year reunion.  And this time we’ll do it right and not use facebook!

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