Friday, September 25, 2015

who are you talking to?

Over the past few weeks, I've had some friends who've gone through a rather tumultuous time with health issues.  I realize that I'm getting to an age (I'm 51 as I write this) where my contemporaries are going to have these kinds of problems, and I'm bound to see more and more of this- as we all will as we get up in years.

What has always interested me during times like this is how helpless we all feel when a friend or a loved one is having troubles like this.  (I'm not immune to this, so please don't take it as though I'm above it.)  We all do our "thing" to protect our hearts and the hearts of the affected; some of it is platitudinal in nature and some of it is real.  I'm not in any place of judgement to say that these things aren't warranted or don't provide solace to whoever hears them or says them, and they do have their place.  99.9% of the humans that inhabit this spinning piece of dirt in space have the desire to quell the hurt and help the hurting, and this is but one method.  That said, a lot us turn to God when this happens, and do it very vocally.  We solicit prayers from the Almighty, and some of us do that even though we don't necessarily believe in Him.  Again- I don't say this judgmentally, because I fervently believe that a person's walk with God is their own business and certainly none of mine.

Before I go on, if you're not a believer, please don't take what I'm saying as though you are lesser than I.  Your beliefs are your beliefs, and I have no desire to comment on them.  I do, however, intend to get a little spiritual here, and if you can permit me to do that without feeling as though you are being put upon, that would be fantastic.  If you are a believer, please don't think I'm trying to espouse a new theology here- this is just my take on this and nothing more.

I'm a pretty introspective guy (or, at least I try to be) and for me, my relationship with God is like air and water- it surrounds me and permeates me.  I make a real effort, every day to try and get myself into His presence.  Even though that is my intent, I will be 100% honest and tell you that I don't do that as much as I'd like.  BUT: when shit hits the fan for people that I care about, LOOK OUT!!!  I'm on my knees (which is no easy feat for me) in front of God, pouring my heart out because I need something.  I take a great deal of solace in knowing that God hears me- but I also find that I have a tremendous, almost crippling feeling of guilt.  Why, you ask?  Because my fervance for His favor is only great when I need something.  Even though I know I should be as fervent in praising Him when things are good, I am not.  I really fall short at that.  And, every time I come before God and pray for these things, I find myself saying something like, "Look.  I know I should talk to you when things are good, but...."- and despite my best efforts, I repeat this.  Time and time again, although I do believe that over the years I've gotten a bit better about it, but I have a long way to go.

Everyone I've ever met that isn't a believer, at some point, voices the question of (paraphrasing here) "well, if God is sovereign and omnipotent, and is in control, then why do you pray?  Do you think you'll be able to change His mind?"

That is a GREAT question.  I'll be honest- I don't have the answer to that.  The Calvinist in me says that my prayers don't change His mind because whatever is in motion has been set in motion by Him.  The non-Calvinist in me hopes I can make a difference.  The human being in me hopes that I can change his mind- but the bottom line is that I don't know the answer.  And, here's a shock- neither does anyone else.  And if they tell you they do, they're either greatly mistaken or outright lying, as this is one of the great mysteries of all time.

And yet, the Bible commands us to pray.  It even says to "pray without ceasing".  So, what's the deal here?

I don't want to hyper-spiritualize this, and I'm not going to make my point by exogesis and pulling random Bible verses out of the air.  Simply put, almost anyone can make anything out of that kind of act.  But I do know that prayer works.  I honestly don't know how or why, but it does.  I've seen it.  I've experienced it.  I've even had it done for me.

Remember the old M*A*S*H episode where Hawkeye meets a soldier suffering battle fatigue who thinks he's Jesus?  He asks him, "Does God answer prayer?" and the reply is "He does, but sometimes the answer is 'no'." - and we all hear that and think it's deep.  It's not.  I truly don't believe that God's answers are ever as simple as "yes" or "no"- there's much more to the equation here.  Further, I don't even think it's the point.  What I think it does is that when people hear that folks are praying for them, it changes the atmosphere, almost mystically.  The person in need somehow seems to notice this from their loved ones, and in many cases they are comforted to the point where their health changes and good things happen.  Sometimes the opposite is true, and it doesn't- but invariably, there is comfort provided to all parties when it's known that others are doing this on their behalf.  Some people refer to this as sending "good thoughts" or "good vibes" - and, even though this might not be the most Christian of viewpoints to say, I actually think they are the same thing.  The only difference is that a Christian will attribute these things to God, while others may attribute it to other things.

Again- I really don't know why this works.  All I know is that it does.

I, myself, have a medical condition that might eventually take away my mobility and the ability to do the things I love, like composing and playing music.  I take no comfort in that fact, and believe me when I tell you that God and I have had some rather passionate discussion over the fairness of this where I am concerned (and He and I continue to do so, and will in the future) and, yeah, when I get to meet the Almighty face to face, He's got some 'splainin' to do, but I am far from the only one that has happened to.  It's even Biblical- check out the Book of Job, or 2 Corinthians 12:7- to me, that's the best reference there is for what I deal with day-to-day.  At first, this really rocked me- but, now I realize that God has used this to show me a heightened sense of compassion for my fellow man, which was something I sorely lacked in my youth.  Could He have done that a different way?  Nope.  I'm too stubborn, and those that know me well will tell you that I don't see subtlety well- it takes a 4-iron across my temple - twice - to get my attention.  This was the only way, and strangely enough, I'm kind of glad He did it this way.

So- I intend to keep praying for people.  Again- I don't know how or why it works.  It just does.

Friday, September 18, 2015

all sides

About 30 years ago, I worked as an ambulance attendant and EMT in Boston, Massachusetts.  A lot of the time, the calls were to move elderly patients from nursing homes to emergency rooms- but, every now and then there would be some excitement.  One wintery day we got a call to roll to a car accident, and it was a bad one.  3 cars involved with a total of 7 patients and we were dispatched with fire units due to an extrication that was needed.  The extrication actually happened just before we arrived and was a 4 year old boy who had major trauma.  When we arrived, he was being pulled from the car, and his parents (who were only mildly injured) were inconsolable.  Since I wasn't driving this time, I was the medic who was first to the victim.  What was weird about this was that when the parents first saw me run to their child, they implored me to pray with them before I attended to their child- and that wasn't gonna happen.

I should stop here and explain.

As an EMT, the very first job is to establish "ABC's" for any patient- Airway, Breathing and Circulation.  Nothing else matters until those are dealt with.  And, yes, I was a Christian at the time, and this was NOT the time to pray.  There are some folks who will absolutely bristle at that last statement, and I understand why they would.  Most of those people haven't been faced with a life/death situation (be thankful) and really don't understand the mindset that is required here- but, trust me when I tell you that this is the right and proper thing to do.  I am there to be an active instrument to render aid at the time it is needed in a real and physical way, and I must let others attend to the other things.

It was immediately apparent that the child had suffered potentially fatal head trauma, so establishing airway was going to be a challenge.  He had a neck laceration that was down to his trachea, so that was going to have to do, and I inserted a tube into it to provide that airway.  His blood pressure was very low, but once the tube was in, it got a bit better.  Circulation didn't seem to be a problem here.  He stabilized very quickly, so we taped the tracheotomy tube and got him loaded into a different ambulance and started transport.  The whole operation took about 4 minutes to do, and the entire time, his parents were crying and praying fervently and out loud.  Being that the boy was obviously more critical than anyone else, he went first and his parents were to go later.  I walked over to the parents, and put my hand on the shoulder of the father and told him, "I will be praying for your boy."  I then attended to the other patients as needed, and we left after about 20 minutes on another call.  I said nothing more to the parents, but I did pray for the boy.

The reason that I am telling you this is to illustrate something that might not be obvious to you.  What I am trying to illustrate is that there is a time to provide aid to people in a more passive form and there are times to provide aid in more active forms.  I am not saying that prayer is "passive" by any means, but I am saying that attending to the boys injuries because I had a certain skill set was more active than prayer was at that moment.  Moreover, the aid that I rendered was no less valid and appropriate than the others being rendered at that same time, but my part to play was different.

In the Bible, Jesus performed both passive and active rendering of aid a number of times- feeding the 5,000; telling the woman at the well to go and sin no more; raising Lazarus; showing the Disciples how to be fishers of men, etc.  There was no single method here, and even though Jesus had the ability to just do whatever He wanted to in the way He wanted to do it, He demonstrated that our dealings with others can be done in any number of ways, and there is no right or wrong, necessarily-

BUT: Aid is to be rendered.  Period.  You don't just stand by and do nothing.

Let's put this into a political perspective for a minute: The Left and the Right have seemingly very different ways of rendering aid from a governmental perspective.  The current mainstream media would have you believe that the Left is the more compassionate and forward thinking and the Right is more about casting everything into class warfare and warmongering.  The counter media would have you believe that the Left is espousing nothing but a "nanny state" where everything is just a wanted hand-out and rights and liberty are being removed day and night and the Right has the corner on common sense and are the only ones capable of restoring order to the "new" chaos.

I, personally, believe that both the above points of view are complete bullshit.  The chaos is not new and the arguments are even older than the "chaos" is.

What I believe is that both viewpoints have valid points and can co-exist nicely, just as my illustration of the EMT story demonstrates.  Further, I don't believe for one, hot second that the Left intends to strip us of liberty and give everything away, and the Right is not interested in warmongering and class warfare.  The reasons that these ideas exist in the first place is because - well - people don't want to think.  It's way easier to just say that anyone who doesn't agree with you is stupid or evil, because to do the opposite of that is to actually acknowledge that no one person can know everything.  Not even you.

Imagine in my above scenario if I had decided that the most important thing was to neither pray with the parents nor attend to my patient- the most important thing was traffic control!!!  Only I know how!!  We need to keep these other cars away so no one else gets hurt!  And, while that is a true statement, the idea that only I could do that is ridiculous.  It is further ridiculous to assume that I was the only EMT on scene to do what needed to be done to establish that airway (there were another 7 EMTs there) but I was first on scene and I knew what to do, so I did it.  I also did not castigate those that were taking care of traffic control, praying with the parents, working with other patients and thought they were less important.   I just focused on the task at hand and did what I was required to do.  It would have been far simpler to have taken up those ideas and render no aid at all and just gone and gotten a beer instead- and I could have sat there and ridiculed all those people for making a big fuss in the first place.  Instead, I got bloody and messy and I didn't think about it.

I've heard recently from people who have said they don't understand how a devout Christian could be a liberal.  I've heard the other side, too- "Jesus would have been a Democrat" - and both of those opinions are garbage at their core.  The people who say this are too tightly wrapped up in a pre-misconception (a new word that I hope will catch on) that anthropomorphizes the very notion of God into some kind of package that squares Him with the status-quo as provided by either the mainstream or counter media.  God would be neither on today's Right or Left or even in the middle (where I consider myself to be) - and we would do well to remember that, because when we try to Liberal-ize or Conservative-ize or Moderate-ize God in this fashion, what we are really trying to say is that our ideas line up with God, and therefore we are more "godly" than the ones who don't believe as we do.  THAT is a very, very dangerous place to go and is probably one of the slipperiest slopes you could even be on.  Nothing could be further from the Truth.

So- the very next time you decide that God is somehow in or cares about American politics (or anyone else's for that matter) think again.  God does not care if it's Trump or Clinton in 2016; He doesn't care about your stances on welfare, abortion or gay marriage.  Yeah- that's right- what He cares about is YOU and how YOU treat others and how you can align your life to what He has intended for you, plain and simple.  The rest of those things mean nothing compared this immutable fact.  If the ideals that you hold to are held in such a way that it forces others away from redemption and a life in Christ, then you are in the WRONG and you should stop immediately- and a lot of times this means to shut your damned pie hole and keep your opinions to yourself.  (It's even ok to not have an opinion on something.)  I don't want to turn this blog into me giving a testimony and evangelizing; I do, however, want to give a possible idea on what it means to critically think through something.

And- here's the epilogue to the story.  The child didn't make it- he died before reaching the hospital due to his injuries, despite my efforts and the efforts of others.  It just broke my heart when I found out- but here's the deal: that doesn't change the fact that I did my job and I wouldn't change a darned thing about what I did or how I did it.  The fact that the boy died had nothing to do with me- it had to do with the accident and the trauma, and those were things out of my control.  What I do know is that the parents told the EMTs who did get to the hospital with other patients that they really appreciated everyone's efforts for their boy, and they took comfort in knowing that everything that could have been done was done.  And, that right there- is the reason to see all sides of the equation.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

forgotten

All of us know these names: Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy, Theodore Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard Ramirez, David Berkowitz, Gary Ridgeway, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.  We all know what they did, too.

But, apart from Charles Manson, I am willing to bet that almost no one can name any of their victims- and the only reason you can with Manson is that one of his victims (Sharon Tate) was somewhat famous.

Now, why is that?

A lot of folks get on a rant after a particularly gruesome or troubling murder about a host of ancillary topics- and, all with good intentions.  We don’t want it to happen again.  We want to stop it before it happens.  We need to control guns in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them in the first place- all of these are extremely noble gestures, and I can’t take that away from anyone- especially the ones who champion these things in the names of their loved ones who have been killed. 

And yet, it continues.  And, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think it was getting worse.  But, I think I know why it is getting worse, and I have a theory about this.

There has always been, throughout history, people who are crazy.  And, when I say crazy, I don’t mean in kind of a “oh, isn’t that quaint” kind of crazy.  I mean bat-shit nuts.  Rational thought escapes them at every turn- some of this is because of metabolic and chemical issues, some of it is upbringing and some of it is environmental.  But, with all that, most criminologists will tell you that in the pantheon of killers throughout history, the true fruit-bats are not commonplace.  Most of them- like Dylann Roof and the ass-hat that killed the reporter and camera man last week- they were fringy and not as easily identified.  (I have a friend who regularly sold gasoline to Ted Bundy and described him as “weird, but not nuts”)

So, for every obvious nutball out there, there’s a host of pseudo/semi nutballs who are circling, waiting for their moment.

The press, in their infinite wisdom of bringing us “news” always does investigations on these perpetrators.  Some people think that it’s because the press is evil- I’m not so sure.  I truly believe that the press is trying to find causality that can allow people to process these heinous acts, and in doing so generate even more hype- like the aforementioned tangential objectives that always follow these sorts of things.

But, the end result of that- whatever the reason- is that the killers become famous.  And fame, to a pseudo/semi fruit bat is a “green light” for them to go and achieve it.  And so they do, and the vicious, sweaty, stench of death cycle starts all over again.

Think about it- in 1966, Charles Whitman climbed a clock tower on the campus of the University of Texas and killed 14 people, wounding 32 others after having killed his wife and his mother in their homes earlier that morning.  He held the police off for 90 minutes, and was finally killed by a police officer wielding a shotgun.  The country was stunned.  It was later discovered that Whitman had a brain tumor, and while it was never confirmed that the tumor had caused his erratic behavior, there was no outcry for weapons control for people with tumors, no “gun free zones” established- this was a tragedy plain and simple, and people moved on with their lives.  Moreover, the public (and probably anyone reading this) have all but forgotten Charles Whitman and what he did. 

And, I think that this is the root cause- the hype that is given to the perpetrators.  They get “immortalized” on our collective psyche for the momentary actions they commit, and the victims are forgotten.  We get a nice set of “things we can do to prevent this from happening again” and yet, it does not.  Cities like Chicago and Washington D.C. banned handguns years ago, and they had the highest amounts of shooting BY FAR in the country.  (So much so that if you eliminated the shootings in those cities and a couple of others, you’d see that the number of gun deaths in this country move us to 4th from the bottom of world statistics instead of being #1 like we are now)  No matter what we are foce fed by people who think that this behavior can be changed with laws and regulation do, I think that they are aggrandizing and immortalizing these perpetrators even more by doing that.

So- what do we do about it?  Hey- I actually have an idea:

I frequent the site Imgur.com a lot, and right after the shooting of the news crew in Virginia, someone posted a thread about ignoring stories about the guy who did the shooting, so as not to make him even the slightest bit of the story.  That really resonated with me- take this guy completely out of the equation.  Instead, let’s pay attention to the people who were killed- they were remarkable people who had vision, drive and passion about what they were doing.  Let’s not forget them- let’s make THEM the story.  I’ve taken it to the point of whenever I see or start to hear something about the shooter, I refuse to read it and I change the channel.  I want to know a whole lot more about Alison Parker and Adam Ward, and I want the other guy to have completely not have existed.  (Yes, I get that if he didn’t, this wouldn’t have happened) 

But, my actions here are far from enough.  I’m actually going to write an editorial to my local paper and implore them to consider the thoughts that I have ascribed here.  I’m not stopping with the local paper- I’m going to go further and write to the networks, too.  It might be futile- I don’t know- but the point is to try. 

And, yes- if you agree that I may be on to something, then I ask you to join me.

And, here’s the deal on the bag of shit that committed this crime- he was NUTS.  He was CRAZY.  He may have had a bad hand dealt to him- haven’t we all?  Get the fuck over it.  Pull up your big boy pants and figure it out.  For those of us on the outside looking in, the thought I am providing you in this blog will actually do more help in identifying ass-hats like this because you won’t be so jaded by having heard stories about them that have colored your view of them.  They’ll be stark and easy to recognize and report and take down for all the right reasons before they do any harm.

God Bless the families of Alison Parker and Adam Ward.  May they find God’s everlasting peace in the knowledge that their family members are being well cared for by a loving and caring God.