The Silver Line and the Second Loneliness

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Let’s Face It:

We are going to get old.

We are all getting older.

But what we are not facing very well is the inevitable loneliness we dread. We fear it so much that we fill in the gaps of our able-bodied lives with the activities of delight and distraction. We can get away with it while we are younger, vital, with children, or with friends. But there is a fearful abyss waiting for us when we slow down, or are slowed down by injury, age, or loss.

According to Statistics Canada, an estimated 1.4 million seniors reported they felt lonely. The Current reported on Ami Rokach, a clinical psychologist who studies loneliness who stated that “loneliness in seniors is a public health concern in Canada and goes as far to say the health effects are at epidemic levels.”

People who are 80 years and older say that up to 80 per cent of the time they feel lonely. It’s a major problem,” Rokach tells The Current‘s Anna Maria Tremonti.

As baby boomers begin to edge over the grey line where they find themselves devoid of friends and close loved ones who have died before them, the UK has come up with what is called “The Silver Line.”

How The Silver Line was born

“In August 2011, Dame Esther Rantzen DBE (who founded the children’s helpline ChildLine in 1986), wrote an article about the loneliness she has experienced since being bereaved, and living alone. She was overwhelmed by the huge response from older people who shared her experience. In November 2011 she was invited to make a key-note speech at a conference at which she came up with the idea of creating a helpline in order to support vulnerable older people, signpost them to projects and services, break through the stigma of loneliness and isolation, and tackle the problems of abuse and neglect.

The Silver Line Helpline provides three functions to support older people:

• a sign-posting service to link them into the many, varied services that exist around the country
• a befriending service to combat loneliness
• a means of empowering those who may be suffering abuse and neglect, if appropriate to transfer them to specialist services to protect them from harm.”

dark-blue-quotation-on-loneliness

Since the national launch, The Silver Line Helpline has received over 920,000 calls; 53% of callers saying they had literally no-one else to speak to. It continues to receive around 10,000 calls every week from lonely and isolated older people. Over 3000 volunteer Silver Line Friends are making regular weekly friendship calls to older people.

According to McMaster Optimal Aging:

“Loneliness is often discussed in conjunction with social isolation, and the terms are often used interchangeably in everyday language. However, researchers have pointed out that the two concepts need to be differentiated. Whereas social isolation arises in situations where a person does not have enough people to interact with, an objective state, loneliness is the subjective experience of distress over not having enough social relationships or not enough contact with people…

Loneliness should also not be mistaken for depression, even though they may also be correlated. If loneliness is not about having enough people to interact with, then what causes it? One theory is that loneliness comes about because of maladaptive thoughts about oneself and others. People who are lonely are more likely than individuals who are not lonely to believe that other people will reject them. They are also more likely to have feelings of low self-worth.”

The worth of the person and friendship

One does not need to age to develop feelings of low self-worth; we struggle with the status of our worthiness in the absence of friendship, no matter what age. It takes courage, then, to explore what James Houston calls “the continent of loneliness.”  I visit this topic in posts like “Posture of a New Age?” where Henri Nouwen is quoted:

The best of community does give one a deep sense of belonging and well-being; and in that sense community takes away loneliness. But on another level community allows you to experience a deeper loneliness. It is precisely when you are loved a lot that you might realize a second loneliness which is not to be solved but lived. This second loneliness is an existential loneliness that belongs to the basis of our being. It’s where we are unfulfilled because only God can fill us.

The Second Loneliness

What Nouwen calls the “second loneliness”, Pascal calls the “God-shaped vacuum”:

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?

This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself

 Blaise Pascal’s Pensees (New York; Penguin Books, 1966, p. 75)

Let’s Face It:

We are going to get older, and over the long arc of our short lives, the One who made of for Himself is continually inviting us into His eternal friendship – to intimate Himself into the infinite abyss that only He can fill.

And chances are there are people in your sphere, aged and aging, who could do with your friendship as the flesh & blood expression of His presence.

We were made for this…

The Road to Character

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The Road to CharacterThere’s a certain delight you can take in reading the lives of some of the world’s greatest thinkers and inspiring leaders. David Brooks explores the internal struggles as they give insight to the development of “character” in his book, The Road to Character. Now that’s a word we don’t hear as much about these days.

I’m not talking about the way the phrase goes, “oh – he’s a real character, ha, ha.” Character is what is there when the lights are off; when no one’s looking. It is as basketball coaching great John Wooden said, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

In this reputation-obsessed culture we are beckoned to take the road to character. What we find over and over again – as the people from whom Brooks draws their stories – and the stories behind the stories – character is built in struggle. Brooks revisits this theme several times in the people he studies, and he distills the lessons they teach us.

Five things Suffering does For us:

Suffering “drags you deeper into your self… people who endure suffering are taken beneath the routine busyness of life and find they are not who they believed themselves to be.” Suffering “smashes through a floor they thought was the bottom floor of their soul, revealing a cavity below… and then it smashes through that floor, revealing another cavity, and so on and so on. The person descends to unknown ground.”

This is part of the human experience, and in some of our ancient texts Moses writes,

The eternal God is our refuge and underneath are His everlasting arms.”

God undermines our depth; He is deeper than our depth. There is something about being found out, sounded out as by sonar, to be found by the God for whom we have been waiting…

“Suffering opens up ancient places of pain that had been hidden. It exposes frightening experiences that had been repressed, shameful wrongs that had been committed. It spurs some people to painfully and carefully examine the basement of their own soul. But it also presents the pleasurable sensation that one is getting closer to the truth… it shatters the comforting rationalizations and pat narratives we tell about ourselves as part of our way of simplifying ourselves for the world.”

“Suffering gives people a more accurate sense of their own limitations, of what they can control and not control. When people are thrust down into these deeper zones, thrust into lonely self-scrutiny, they’re forced to confront the fact that they can’t determine what goes on there.”

“Suffering, like love, shatters the illusion of self-mastery. Those who won’t suffer can’t tell themselves to stop feeling pain, or stop missing the one who has died and gone… suffering teaches dependence. It teaches that life is unpredictable and that the meritocrat’s efforts at total control are an illusion.”

“Suffering, oddly, also teaches gratitude. In normal times we treat the love we receive as a reason for self-satisfaction… but in seasons of suffering we realize how undeserved this love is and how it should in fact be a cause for thanks. In proud moments we refuse to feel indebted, but in humble moments, people know they don’t deserve the affection and concern they receive.”

Though we may not like suffering, suffering is par for this course. My dad died when I was some 15 months old. It catapulted my family and me into uncertain prospects and diminished hopes. Over time, the narrative of my life has been profoundly influenced by what suffering has paid me, and more, by how Jesus has used all the shards and strands of life to lead me to his Abba, Father. It has been amazing, overwhelming grace.

We may start our suffering asking “Why me?” But we soon realize a better question is, “What now?” Embedded in that question is the presumption that we ask it of the One who will answer it. If we become wise – or should I say – if we walk the road to character, suffering is turned into something sacred. And when we find the sacred, we find He is more enigma than dogma.

Common Grace for the Common Good

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Visions of Vocation common grace for the common goodVaclav Havel, the former Czechoslovakian playwright and president found himself ripped out of prison and thrust into leadership after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

On January 1, 1990, when the annual speech was to be made by the Czech leader, it was Havel who gave an unflinchingly honest and direct message:

Our main enemy today is our own worst nature: our indifference to the common good…

Here was a leader who had a sense of Czech history: a nation once ruled under the Austro-Hungarian empire, over-run by Germany before the second World War began, and then a nation run-over by the Soviet Union after it had ended. Rather than merely blame history or circumstance or bad government or bad men, he chose to turn his lens on himself and his own people as a spur for his nation to [finally] take responsibility for itself. This is a big idea; it’s grown up and mature; and it’s not easy for a nation to accept that it is [we are] responsible for our actions and reactions to difficult circumstances.

Common Grace for the Common Good

This summer I took a course from Regent College – a seminary on the edge of UBC Campus. Titled “Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good” – Steven Garber (principal of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture)- twined in lecture, experience, history, scripture along with skyped-in contributions from afar; it was a sumptuous feast in order to think of vocation differently than occupation. Garber encourages us to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be made in the image of God in order “to uncover a vocation that encompasses your whole being: one that animates your occupation, guides your management of relationships and responsibilities, and shapes your engagement with a desperate world.”

The word vocation is a rich one, having to address the wholeness of life, the range of relationships and responsibilities. Work, yes, but also families, and neighbours, and citizenship, locally and globally – all of this and more is seen as vocation, that to which I am called as a human being, living my life before the face of God. It is never the same word as occupation, just as calling is never the same word as career. Sometimes, by grace, the words and the realities they represent do overlap, even significantly; sometimes, in the incompleteness of life in a fallen world, there is not much overlap at all.

I confess my career and my calling did not appear to overlap much. At first this dissonance bothered me; I continually looked for other “jobs”, especially in the dark years of having a mean-spirited and unskilled manager. But as I grew through that, and as I grew as a person, I realized that my vocation was to be the me that God wanted in the occupation where I was working.  In other words, it really didn’t matter what job I was doing; it mattered very much that I understood who I was, and who I belonged to.

In the last third of my career I realized that I was at the point of maximum positive influence in the lives of the staff and community I served. I realized I could channel my best for their best (common grace for common good).  Nothing more or less was required of me; if my best wasn’t very good, well, that would have to do. The reality is, our best is very good when it is given with a sense of excellence and pure motive.

Since I’ve retired from the fire service, I believe my vocation has been the mere continuation of the curriculum of the spiritual life in which I have been learning to:

* Decipher the mystery of our worth

* Rescue from the agony of prayerlessness

* Integrate spiritual friendship

What do you hear God calling you to – as you gather your daily bread?

On Waiting (Time and Timelessness)

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I’ve spent a lot of my life waiting; I grew up in a home where our mother strictly followed the German proverb:

If you are half an hour early – you’ll never be late.

Needless to say, I often found myself waiting half an hour for things to get started, and managed to infect my family with this pernicious time-consciousness.  I am slowly being cured…

More recently, as I took a three month hiatus, I spent this summer waiting:

  • Waiting for my first grandchild to be born (ten days late)
  • Waiting for parents and children to transition to their next chapters
  • Waiting for direction
  • Waiting to catch travel connections
  • Waiting to get started, and waiting to get finished
  • Waiting to see old friends
  • Waiting to return home
  • Waiting to receive our Syrian refugee family
  • Waiting for God

Waiting

Waiting isn’t a waste of time, but it does take time; and if we’re fortunate, it takes on a sense of timelessness if we allow ourselves to be transported into the naked now & present tense of God’s attendance.  Waiting has a long and profound history in scripture like this prophecy from Isaiah:

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!

This summer of waiting found me wading through the “waiting” scriptures – where I found The Message translation of Romans 8:22-15:

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

As I was Waiting

So waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminished my pregnant daughter who waited and waited for the inevitable birth of her first child. During this joyful and anticipatory waiting, I read a number of books:

Waiting for God, Simone Weil

Before Simone Weil’s death, scarcely any of her spiritual writing had been published. Here is a collection of letters and essays where she lets readers in to her own inner world of “waiting for God” – the summation of the “effort” it takes for the spiritual journey.

She realized that God Himself waits to “precipitate Himself” into our lives despite our inability to sense or to know His longing:

Only as time passes does the soul become aware that He is there. But, though it finds no name for Him, wherever the afflicted are loved for themselves alone, it is God who is present.

Give us Time!

Pilgrim at Tinker CreekI also read Annie Dillard’s Pulitzer Prize winning classic. She records that Thomas Merton suggested to emend the line in the Lord’s Prayer: “Take out ‘Thy Kingdom come’ and substitute ‘Give us time!” But Dillard realizes “time is one thing we have been given, and we have been given to time.”

You don’t run down the present, pursue it with baited hooks and nets. You wait for it, empty handed, and you are filled…

Not only does something come to you if you wait, but it pours over you like a waterfall, like a tidal wave. You wait in all naturalness without expectation or hope, emptied, translucent, and that which comes rocks and topples you; it will shear, loose, launch, winnow, grind.

… I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too… I am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for…

In the spring the wish to wander is partly composed of an innumerable irritation, born of long inactivity; in the fall the impulse is more pure, more inexplicable, and more urgent.

Aging and Eaten, with the impulse of Autumn

Thus dear readers, we’ve come into this happy autumn, scented with the dust of harvest, and feeling the cool of earlier evenings as we prepare for our Alberta winter. And life all happens if we wait for it or not, but as II Corinthians 4:16-18 goes:

… We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

What are you Waiting for?

I’m fixing my eyes on the great eternal, the present-tense God of the holy now and always-ever: He is more enigma than dogma.

Hiatus for the Summer

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Looking on to the hot air balloons lifting over the Cappadocian Valley

Looking on to the hot air balloons lifting over the Cappadocian Valley and wondering about the next story.

Dear Readers,

When I took a course to learn how to create a blog (this betrays my age and low technical ability), it was with eight others my age or older. Only the instructor was under 30, and happily told us how she, on her own, created her wonderful and well read blog (and it is). At the first class, she asked each person to describe the kind of blog they hoped to write. Everyone else in the class spoke cheerfully about their’s being either a travel, food, or fashion blog…

… when it came to me – the only male and second youngest in the room – I tried to describe what I was after in “More Enigma.” The instructor paused, and innocently asked, “who would read that?”

It is a good question, and I often wonder why you would grace this post.

My answer was, “probably five others on earth who think like me.” Or rather – since many do not “think like me” – I might say: “others who think – because they like to think as I like to think.” This desire to “think” came out of the realization that there was little actual thoughtful dialogue in places like Facebook or in the comment section of news articles. I decried the low-level discussion and diatribe that tend to erupt in response to “join the conversation” (a most ironic invitation which gives the illusion that serial monologues and insults pass for real “conversation”).

Anyways, I admit, my articles are often overly philosophical, filled with minutiae and dendritic pathways along a circuitous route. Each article aims to speak to the enigma of our worth, the enigma of God’s work in the world, and the enigmatic current that undercuts dogmatic world-views in a time when moderns find it increasingly more difficult to follow a train of thought longer than a seven-second soundbite. Minutiae get’s lost in marketing and yelling past each other. It’s difficult to carry on a conversation when the art of dialogue (you know: actually listening to someone else’s point of view for understanding, and responding respectfully with yours) is eroding before our eyes.

All this to say that I will be taking a hiatus from writing More Enigma during this very busy summer in order to attend to family matters and other writing projects. It is not because there is little to say; it is because there is so much to say, and I will not have the capacity this summer to give the time I need to write in “More Enigma than Dogma.”

Calvin_and_Hobbes_Original

I am reminded of cartoonist, Bill Watterson who’s Calvin and Hobbe’s cartoons were a massive hit in its day. Watterson celebrated the longer cartoons of his youth like Pogo. He delighted in dealing with deeper subjects and creative perspectives that demanded more of him than the joke-a-day single panel comic. He noted that there may be some artists who might be able to churn out a cartoon by noon in time for an afternoon golf game, while he might take an entire day, or days to finish a creation from concept through writing to completed artwork.

Far be it from me to compare my articles to Watterson’s brilliant cartoons whose title, Calvin and Hobbes, gave allusion itself to theologians and philosophers… but my blog, as you already know, isn’t a flash of travel, food, or fashion photos. There’s nothing wrong with those; it’s just not what I am interested in.

It takes me hours of research, weeks of preparation, many internal debates, several conversations with others, and numerous edits (while still managing to miss the typos and grammar mistakes) till I post something that I can reasonably defend. All the while never knowing who will read and respond.

“I’ll be Back!”

Nevertheless, I expect to be back soon enough. In the meantime, may I direct you to my “Prayer Blog” – entitled “Curriculum of the Spiritual Life.” There you will find short posts of “Poems, Prayers, & Proverbs that speak to what it means to be a living curriculum of the Christian Life.”

Grace and peace to you.

Rusty

Time and Timelessness: “How to be bored”

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looking out the window - working on the creative life

When was the last time you let yourself be bored? Not in a “the repeat of this home renovation TV show is really boooorrrring” way, but in an “I’m just going to sit here and stare out the window” way? Sometimes our lives are so busy, it feels like there’s no space for daydreaming, or for the kind of thinking that’s not focused on a task.

This is how Nora Young introduced her radio show, Spark. In her interview with Eva Hoffman, they discussed her new book with the tongue-in-cheek title: How to be Bored. Hoffman argues that our constant level of activity has real consequences:

We can become very disoriented as we move from one activity to another. We become emotionally depleted, paradoxically. We begin to experience not more but less. We begin to lose our ability to savour experience, to make sense of it, to experience our experience.

We need time for reflection, for introspection, for the cultivation of self-knowledge. Without that time, we can lose sight of what our preferences are, what our desires are, but also what our values are. The time we need for this self-knowledge is different from our everyday scheduled time, or the quick hits of our digital lives. It is a time for musing… for dipping into our memories, for connecting our memories to our present situation.

In my series on Time and Timelessness, I have wanted to re-aquaint ourselves with the natural and necessary desire to imagine, to reflect, and to be creative. I was fortunate enough in my childhood I suppose, to have long stretches of unencumbered time to explore, hike, play, and get lost in thought and geography. Thus when I began my own spiritual journey with Jesus, all this lent itself to what Christians call “quiet times”, “devotional times”, or little “sabbaths” in order to be alone with God, to listen to Him, to journal, and to pray.

So it was with interest that I heard about Hoffman’s re-encouragement for this age to learn How to Be Bored. This book “explores the importance we place on success, high level function, effectiveness and alertness in today’s competitive society. In a world where it is almost impossible to be idle, she draws upon lessons from history, literature and psychotherapy to help us embrace boredom and find meaning in doing nothing – to appreciate real reflection and enjoy the richness of our inner and external lives.” (Panmacmillan).

Since I lived in a home with five other siblings, there was no space for being alone in a full house. When I came to faith in Christ, naturally I was drawn to seek Him; my first quiet time found me perched on the roof of the old garage/chicken pen in the backyard. There I would read the scriptures and talk with God in the most primitive, child-like way imaginable. No one showed me this; it was – I came to know – His own beckoning me into the marvellous boredom of being in His presence.

Though I do not discern any overt spirituality in Ms. Hoffman’s encouragement, let me encourage you to be still with the One who is still with you, remembering what an ancient worshipper intoned,

Be Still and Know that I am God

This is so much more enigma than dogma.

Integration and Disintegration

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speckyboy.com

speckyboy.com

What does it profit a man to gain the whole earth and forfeit his own soul?

Jesus is speaking more to “a diagnosis than a destination,” commented Dallas Willard. “For the ruined soul, the will, mind, and body are already disintegrated and disconnected from God.”

What does it mean to be Integrated?

“Our world has replaced the word soul with the word self,” John Ortberg writes, “and they are not the same thing.”  Psychologist Martin Seligman theorizes that a society that has replaced faith, and community with a tiny little unit (the self) “cannot bear the weight of meaning.” Ortberg concludes, “ironically, the more obsessed we are with our selves, the more we neglect our souls.”  If you read “Suicide is Painless,” you get a sense of the soul coming apart in a vacuous outer space – the void of meaninglessness.

We are creatures whose souls seek meaning, connection, and integration. Integrity is a deep “soul word.”  The soul seeks to integrate our will and mind and body into being an integral person. “Beyond that, the soul seeks to connect us with other people, with creation, and with God Himself – who made us to be rooted in Him…”  Your soul is what integrates your will/intentions, your mind/thoughts/feelings, and your body/body language/actions into a single, integrated whole.

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pinterest.com “The blizzard of the soul has crossed the threshold, and it has overturned the soul.” Leonard Cohen

We might say that the whole life is foundational to the holy life – for to be holy is to be integrated into God’s life and will. In contrast, an unhealthy soul is one that is experiencing disintegration. We might call an unholy life one that is disintegrated and disconnected from the Life who is God.

What it means to be Whole ~ What it means to be Holy

In an interview with Mother Teresa, a journalist asked how was it that she was “so holy.”  Her response was not to feign false modesty, but to say,

You have to be holy in the position you are in, and I have to be holy in the position that God has placed me. So it is nothing extraordinary to be holy. Holiness is not a luxury of the few. Holiness is a simple duty for you and me. We have been created for that.

This was not the answer the journalist was expecting, and neither was he expecting the interview to turn around on to himself. Mother Teresa’s bold answer revealed how she understood holiness as something for which we have been created – created to be whole – to be integrated into God – and this says more about God than it says about any performance we might manage.

The Bible uses the word soul as a synonym for the word person, and it is my desire to decipher the mystery of our worth as persons to the One who made us for Himself. Now, you know what I’m going to say…

May you find wholeness and integration in Jesus Christ – the lover and redeemer of our souls.

“Suicide is Painless?”

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Mash theme song

Through early morning fog I see
Visions of the things to be
The pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see…
[REFRAIN]:
That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please.
I try to find a way to make
All our little joys relate
Without that ever-present hate
But now I know that it’s too late, and…
[REFRAIN]
The game of life is hard to play
I’m gonna lose it anyway
The losing card I’ll someday lay
So this is all I have to say.
[REFRAIN]
The only way to win is cheat
And lay it down before I’m beat
And to another give my seat
For that’s the only painless feat…

Song by Johnny Mandel, lyrics by Mike Altman,
for the 1969 movie, and TV series, MASH.

The Stupidest Song Ever Written

The opening musical score to the most wildly popular sit-com in television history, MASH, is what Mike Altman asked Johnny Mandel to create as “the stupidest song ever written.”

Is it ever. Or is it? We live in interesting times when the bedrock of ethics appear to be eroding under the currents of post-modern individualism and unspoken hopelessness. In the absence of hopefulness is a void that has no substance.

Suicide Defining the Zeitgeist?

Suicide is in the news and is defining the zeitgeist like never before (these are recent news items):

U.S. Suicide Rate has surged to its highest level in almost three decades.

* Child Suicide Is a Crisis In Canada.  Factors listed were: Substance abuse; Bullying; Sexual abuse; and Lack of awareness about mental health support.

* Now that the Canadian government has introduced Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide legislation, the group “Living with Dignity” made this submission.  Advokatelife.com created this response to the topic of Physician Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.

Elderly men have the highest suicide rate in Canada: 31/100,000 is triple the number of suicides among people of all ages (2013). (For more information see the Canadian Coalition for Seniors, Mental Health.)

* Graeme Bayliss is managing editor of the Walrus Magazine, and is also clinically depressed. He wrote: Canada’s Assisted-Suicide Law Fails the Mentally Ill. This prompted Anna Maria Tremonti to have “an open uncomfortable conversation on mental health, suicide and doctor-assisted death.”

Canadian First Nation community is in crisis amid ‘almost nightly’ suicide attempts:

“A community of 2,000 has seen more than 100 attempts in seven months. After suicide attempts began to be a daily reality in the small Canadian community of Attawapiskat First Nation, leaders said they had little choice but to declare a state of emergency.”

More than 20,000 housewives have been killing themselves in India every year since 1997, the earliest year for which information was compiled by India’s National Crime Records Bureau. Yet the high number of homemakers killing themselves doesn’t make front page news.

Ask the “survivors” of suicide – the families and friends – “how painless was the suicide of loved ones?” It is folly to suggest suicide is painless.

Why do we want to kill ourselves?

As I wrote in Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide in Canada, one of the reasons we want to kill ourselves is to resist the possibility of suffering.

No one wants to suffer. The irony is that the health care that has prolonged life beyond unassisted limits is now being called upon to assist those who want to end their lives prematurely.

Often people have not thought beyond the point of suffering in general, and their own suffering in particular.  Then comes along the very articulate and successful Graeme Bayliss who is chronically depressed, and who insists that the new legislation lets down people like him! One can only imagine the meaningless dystopia unleashed on the mentally ill – were his ethic adopted.

Meanwhile not all is as it seems in the Netherlands – often used as “the example” of physician assisted suicide.  Holland is being forced to deal with the open season they have encouraged on the aging and vulnerable. The dirty little secret is some do not return alive from their visit to the hospital. Canadians tend to be overly hopeful that all the checks and balances will safeguard them, but evidence is mounting to the contrary.

There are other contributing factors to suicide, especially among First Nations Peoples who are over-represented in Canadian Suicide statistics. Poverty, alienation, and the long hangover from the Residential School cultural genocide among other factors, have their ongoing tentacles into crisis visited upon tragedy.

What kind of “life” is our society advocating as it makes death so much more accessible?

I am reminded of that old proverb:

Where there is no vision, the people perish.

And the people are perishing. There is no vision for life – for real life. Or is it a diminished hope, as the false notion of dying with dignity (sic) has eclipsed what it means to live with dignity?

Living with Dignity means to live in relationship – to live without loneliness and alienation – to live with shared sufferings and joys. It is interesting that the number one prevention factor that the Canadian Mental Health Association suggests for how Parents can nurture their children’s mental health is: “build strong caring relationships with your child” (note: Huffington Post video at the bottom of this link).

It is an irony of modernity that we live in a society that has been increasingly dismantling the integrity of “the family,” making it more difficult for parents to raise their own children, and who have to work against the social engineering of a culture that somehow does not foster the “building of strong caring relationships with one’s child.” Is it any wonder that a society that does not appear to understand what it means to foster and build strong families also seems less able to foster in children what it means to live with dignity? Thus we live in times when some can so easily mistake the next best thing as dying with dignity (sic).

Dignity is a big idea: here is some of the Declaration of Living with Dignity:

We believe that a human being possesses an inherent and inviolable dignity nothing can destroy.

We believe that a civilized and humane society carries the responsibility of protecting all of its citizens, beginning with those who are weakest and most vulnerable.

We believe that everyone should have access to compassionate care at the end of life, and we therefore reject euthanasia and assisted suicide as well as disproportionate treatment of patients.

We aim to promote the protection of the lives and inalienable dignity of persons made vulnerable by illness or age, by ensuring them compassionate support.

We call upon our fellow citizens to mobilize and pressure the governing bodies to improve existing palliative care, to ensure that all… citizens end their lives naturally, surrounded by attention and affection.

The dignity of persons is a big idea, and it stands as a rock in the river against which the currents of modernity erode. Dignity speaks to personhood, worth, and being found in relationship.

As I wrote in “Being as Communion“:

What it means to be a person is a profound mystery… It is not merely about one’s personal struggle to be a unique individual by stringing together accomplishments and experiences in a feeble attempt to reduce personhood to a resume. Personhood is found in relation with the One who made us for Himself.

“In this life you will have trouble”

Jesus says you will suffer in this short life. This is mere fact. The solution to suffering is not to prematurely end one’s life – for that would be to die as egocentrically as one lived. You are in relationship, and you belong to the One who made you for Himself.  This is more enigma…

In the Age of Superheroes…

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screanrant.com

screenrant.com

In the age of super heroes, one can’t swing a mythical hammer without hitting a movie variant made to prop up modernity’s wish to be, well, more super than it is.  Moviepilot.com reports:

Now that we have Marvel’s lineup of superhero movies, and DC’s…, as well as Fox and Sony’s upcoming films, we know every superhero movie that will come out in the next 6 years. There are 31 of them. In. Six. Years.

Is it me, or do you sense the film industry can’t seem to keep their movie plots secret or unique (both Marvel’s and DC’s recent movies featured a kind of civil-war among the “heroes”).  Or are they merely capturing the zeitgeist of modernity’s inner (super) civil conflict?

Whatever it is, we want things super-sized in more ways than one.

Enter a New Super-Villain

Fit for super-heroes, or those imagining themselves to be super in bed, recent news reports express “huge concern” that super-gonorrhea has spread widely across England. “The new superbug prompted a national alert last year when it emerged [that] one of the main treatments had become useless against it. Public Health England acknowledges measures to contain the outbreak have been of “limited success”. Doctors fear the sexually transmitted infection, which can cause infertility, could soon become untreatable.”

Armed and Dangerous: If you see this SuperBug – do not approach!

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CAVALLINI JAMES/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Super-Blame?

Uh… I think we now what causes the spread of this super-STI, but I am fascinated with how the Huffington Post reported: “social media is to blame for the outbreak of STI’s in Alberta.” (To be fair, this is not the only media to report news like this):

Anonymous hook-ups arranged on social media are the major reason for a dramatic spike in sexually transmitted infections in the province.

Cases of gonorrhea last year were up 80 percent from 2014 and are the highest since the late 1980s.

The number of cases of infectious syphilis doubled in 2015 from 2014.

Dr. Karen Grimsrud, chief medical officer of health, says social media tools are helping people communicate quickly to arrange anonymous sexual encounters.

For some reason we want to blame some one – so social media is made to be the super-villain when we find it too difficult to accept responsibility for our own bodies. But does social media somehow act on its own consciousness to propagate this super-virus? Cynically, one reader of the story wrote:

“Or, you know, you could maybe use a condom and not have sex with EVERY PERSON YOU GO ON A DATE WITH!”

I know this is no laughing matter; I know there’s more to it than just practicing so-called safe sex (a modern-day oxymoron if ever one existed), and excercising self-control over rampant promiscuity. It’s not a laughing matter – it’s a crying shame that for many, no longer will it be just a matter of wanting sex with whomever, whenever, or whatever.

Super-Storm Scenario

The emergence of a dangerous superbug was creating a ‘perfect storm scenario.’ (Health Officials express concern over the ineffectiveness of antibiotics that have been over-prescribed for unsuitable illnesses).

Modernity suggests that what consenting adults do behind closed doors ought not to concern anyone else… until their actions lead to a global breakdown of effective antibiotics. Oh well.

Super-Wisdom for the Ages

So while the medical profession act as a kind of “STI-firefighter” – reacting to an emergency that can be easily prevented – this generation appears to be too quick to forget prudence learned over the ages. Some might find the ancient wisdom (below) a quaint and restricting artifact of another era. I wonder if this generation will eventually admit that modernity’s new super-disease is doing the fencing-in of people with their cooperation.

To introduce you to a different paradigm, here’s some super-wisdom from the Proverbs for those who can understand what it means to “drink from your own rain barrel:”

Do you know the saying, “Drink from your own rain barrel, draw water from your own spring-fed well”?

It’s true. Otherwise, you may one day come home and find your barrel empty and your well polluted.

Your spring water is for you and you only,
not to be passed around among strangers.
Bless your fresh-flowing fountain! Enjoy the wife you married as a young man! Lovely as an angel, beautiful as a rose—don’t ever quit taking delight in her body.

Never take her love for granted!

Why would you trade enduring intimacies for cheap thrills with a whore? for dalliance with a promiscuous stranger?

Mark well that God doesn’t miss a move you make; he’s aware of every step you take. The shadow of your sin will overtake you; you’ll find yourself stumbling all over yourself in the dark. Death is the reward of an undisciplined life; your foolish decisions trap you in a dead end.

If you mistake this as being moralistic, please re-read, and read between the lines. The Super-Enigma in all this is your dignity. Who would’ve thought?

Pets are People Too?

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Pets_Are_people_too

“Americans own almost as many dogs per household as have children, and actually own more cats per household than have children… More than 3 million pets are adopted annually in America—more than twenty times the number of children adopted each year” (Doug Ponder, of Re-source.org).

acthuup.com

acthuup.com

“There has been a meteoric rise in niche pet services like pet daycares, pet TV channels, pet costumes, pet clothing lines, pet fashion shows, pet dating services, and so forth.

The amount of money [spent] each year on our pets (61 billion dollars) is enough to feed, clothe, and educate more than 150 million children in poverty-stricken nations [of the developing world].”

While it is getting easier to enact legislation to euthanize humans, organizations like PETA and other animal rights activists continue to press for legislation that makes it harder to euthanize animals (I will not unbraid the Gordian Knot of human/animal ethics here).

What is happening?

In Canada, animal rights activists are fighting for an “Animal charter of rights and freedoms” that would recognize animals as persons in the court in order to “guarantee rights and freedoms that make life worth living.”

Take the case of activists arguing before a New York judge to rule on whether chimps are ‘persons’. The two chimps in question are being used as research subjects at a state university in New York. The activists hope a judge will rule the chimps be freed, allowing them to be taken to an animal sanctuary in Florida. Leaving aside for a moment the ethics of animal research, it is ironic that there is growing traction to accept pets are people, in a time when unborn humans are not – therefore making it easy to eliminate what is so un-euphamistically referred to as a “clump of cells.”

“There is a reason why we are valuing children (and all human beings) less and less, while valuing other things (like animals) more and more,” says Doug Ponder. What has happened is a shift – “a change in how we have to think about the value or worth of someone or something. In the current way of thinking, most people tend to estimate value or worth based on what a person or thing can “do for them.” In other words, instead of valuing something for what it is, we value it only for what it does—especially what it does for me. But when we begin to think of people in the same terms, we run into all sorts of problems. What if someone doesn’t benefit you? What if their existence is a nuisance to you? What if that person is loved by you? What if you are the unloved person?”

Ethics for Animal Welfare

Among the ironies of our time is the fact that we arrive at our modern day sensibilities for the welfare of animals by tracing its roots in the 200 year old evangelical movement of which William Wilberforce was a part.

Amazing Grace,” a film biography of William Wilberforce, anti-slavery crusader and co-founder of the world’s oldest anti-cruelty society, captures Wilberforce’s deep devotion to animals and his determination to end the cruelty and suffering imposed upon them in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

For two decades, William Wilberforce (1759-1833) led the struggle in the English Parliament to abolish slavery, and it was his principal concern as a politician and a reformer. But he did not limit his vision of a better world solely to his fellow human beings. Wilberforce was also a founding figure of the animal protection movement, helping to found the first society for the prevention of cruelty to animals and providing essential support for the first modern laws on the subject.”

The Mystery of having Value

For animals to have value, we need not ascribe to them “person” status; we need only ascribe to Biblical values for the care of creation. After all, people who are actual persons are struggling to be valued; why would it surprise us that animals lack dignity in this cruel world?

To value animals as if they are persons is a symptom of our massive identity confusion. As image-bearers of the Creator God, human kind is not endowed with limitless and unaccountable power over creation – instead we are authorized with a profoundly humbling responsibility to care and “keep” the ecosystem in which we find ourselves. And more: we are to decipher the mystery of our worth – so that we would contribute to our neighbours being able to imagine theirs. A world confused about personal value, and locked in narcissistic pursuits is not capable of such a thing.

What it means to be a Person is more Enigma than dogma