Thursday, February 12, 2009

Proposition X

What if Proposition X was on the ballot? It would take volunteers from the overcrowded prisons to work on the San Andreas fault. The evidence shows that it would greatly benefit California. It would turnaround the economy, lower crime, reduce prison overcrowding and best of all, reduce the frequency of minor earthquakes which were costly to our infrastructure. On first glance, the naïve voter would surely vote Yes on X. But the opponents of X come out and show that with all the good, it will cost the lives of 1000 Californian inmates, many of whom were imprisoned for non-violent crimes and some of whom that may be wrongly imprisoned.

How would we make this decision? Even if we agree on the facts of the situation, what is the moral thing to do? What is the good thing to do? Is there a difference?

My position is that this, like almost all political matters, is an amoral issue. The “Yes on X” and “No on X” are both supporting their side for good moral reason: for California and for inmates. Their intents are good. There’s nothing immoral with allowing people to voluntarily work a dangerous job. There’s nothing immoral with not doing a public works project. Moreover, the foundations for our moral beliefs are difficult to discuss, particularly in public. What is accessible and much easier to discuss is the amoral (that is, not regarding morality) facts of the situation.

Benefits: Good commerce, better infrastructure, less prison overcrowding
Costs: 1000 deaths

We’d need to discuss which of two possible societies is better. We’d need to weight the lives of 1000 volunteer inmates against the good that will come from the work project. We can be Society A, which allows a few people to choose dangerous jobs for the benefit of all of us or Society B, which values the lives of its citizens so highly that it does not permit them to take such jobs, even though it is costly to all. I hold that we are almost always choosing between two amoral ends and trying to determine which makes for the best society. Certainly there are exceptions. There are no two ways about the Holocaust. Slavery is not an amoral issue (though even Lincoln saw it that way at times). But most everything else in politics falls into a moral gray area in my own worldview. When we make laws, we ought to talk about what we agree on (Society A vs. Society B) and not taking our own position to be the moral one and condemning those who disagree. At least this is how I think we’ll get things done. We can judge each other in the privacy of our own homes.

It is from that framework I’d like to reconsider Prop 8. I guess this is a little late to be directly relevant, but I had a very stimulating conversation gay marriage about an hour ago and felt inspired to write. The central question in my mind was “What is good for society?” In considering Prop 8, the conservative thinking (not Libertarian, which I tend to be…I’ll pretend to be a conservative for the purposes of this paper) supporting Prop 8 goes something like this:

Benefits: Stronger families.
Costs: Perception (though not reality) of disenfranchisement against gays.

My friend saw the world this way:

Benefits: None.
Costs: Weaker families; true and terrible disenfranchisement/discrimination; assault on the gay identity and worldview; massive increase in suicide and depression.

So who’s right? I think both sides exaggerate, but I think both sides are partly right. It made me reconsider the cost. I didn’t think the costs were high, myself not being deep within a social network that the proposition would affect. My accounting of the cost was much closer to the conservative position.

But what if I miscalculated the cost? Even assuming I’m right about the benefits, what if the costs were closer to my friend’s estimation? What if the cost of “stronger families” was 1000 additional suicides by people who felt disenfranchised? It would change the equation even if we assumed these deaths were collateral (that is, non-malicious; an unintended consequence). Clearly if we were considering “executing 1000 gays” for the sake of “stronger families,” then this would be one of the few clear-cut moral issues in politics. But as it is an unintended consequence (if this remained an amoral issue), the deaths (assuming they were real; I haven’t seen the data) would still need to be considered in the “Cost” section of the analysis.

Another miscalculation I made was in failing to properly put myself in the position of another. I naïvely thought, “How would I feel if I were in their shoes?” I thought about it like this: for many gays, their core identity is their sexual orientation; my core identity is a Christian. What if people told me, a Christian, I could not have legal marriage status and could not practice my religion in public. Would I care deeply? Would it affect my identity? No, not at all. I don’t know if I’d be like the disciples in Acts 5:41 who were “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name,” but I wouldn’t be all that sad. My identity is based on God, not on the opinions of men. The important part of my religious practice is in private alone and in small groups anyways. I’d still illegally “get married” in private and know my wife (in the Biblical sense :)) in my bedroom. It’d be tough, but as a Christian, that’s what I signed up for (and what we get blessings for enduring). (And as an aside: I did sign up for Christianity when I was about 12; a personal decision independent of parents or tradition is a key element of Protestantism, especially today).

And that is where I made my mistake. I imputed my disregard for legal status upon others for whom legal status (or more likely, “social acceptance,” legal status being symbolic of acceptance) is supremely important. I projected my indifference (or mild desire for) persecution upon others who do not see it the same way.

So with these two adjustments, my analysis becomes this:

Benefits: Stronger families
Costs: Terrible feelings of disenfranchisement, increased gay suicide rate

My friend said, “You would not hold the beliefs that you do if you had more gay friends.” I said he may be right. I now know why: talking to those who would be most affected would help me better estimate the cost of such a bill. My perception suffers from not having many friends out of the closet.

I don’t know the final answer or the ultimate benefit of Prop 8, but I do know that I make a mistake in calculating the cost. If only this argument were made to me rationally instead of calling me an immoral bigot from an arbitrary moral framework, I might have changed my vote.

The Core of Christianity

[For Christians...and interested Jews]
I was considering “the Gospel”. I considered the question in isolation. I wanted to find out how the Bible defined the Gospel without ulterior motives or plans to write this. After reading through the a dozen key verses that talk about ‘good news,’ I settled on 3 core truths (with 2 additional sub-points) about the Gospel. After an exhaustive reading of verses that use “Gospel,” I decided that I needed to add two more. And that the 2 sub-points were worthy of promotion to ‘core truth’ status. So I ended up with 7 core truths that seem common to definitions (and passages about) the Gospel (even though I’m prone to trying to make things fit patterns like that, this one was certainly not consciously designed). I found four verses which I believe are the only ‘definitional’ verses on the Gospel (that is, those which say something like, “The Gospel is…”) and based my list of 7 core doctrines on these: 1Ch 16:23-5, Isa 52:7-9, Rom 1:16-17, 1Cr 15:1-9. (See previous entry)

Independently, I’ve been considering what is the core of the message of God? What cannot be taken out of Christianity and it still be Christianity? I was having a very interesting conversation with a friend on Paul’s strategy for planting churches: very sloppy. They didn’t have perfect doctrine by the time he left. He had to work it out from a distance years later. What, then, were the churches he founded based on?

As God usually does, it seems these independent thoughts didn’t stay that way. I had never really thought of the “good news” as being central, which is silly when you think about the core texts being called ‘Gospels’. Perhaps by trying to define “Gospel,” I stumbled across the non-negotiables. Everyone seems to have their own list of things you need to believe/do to be saved. So here’s mine:

1. God is great.
2. Yahweh is Salvation (translates to “Jesus”).
3. We will live by faith.
4. God loves Israel and will be faithful.
5. God loves the Gentiles, too.
6. The scriptures confirm the above.
7. We should declare #1-6

Conspicuously present is ‘Israel;’ conspicuously absent is ‘obedience’ (both of which are good cult litmus tests. “Israel’s not Israel, we’re Israel!” and “Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough for salvation!” are two dead giveaways... though this is a high sensitivity and low specificity test). The Christology is not as developed as in most Christian statements of faith, but the cross-scriptural message is the same: Yahweh is Salvation. Whether you lived late enough to know that God meant that literally (that some dude would take on that name and be the very provision by which God would bring about salvation), or like Abraham, you just believed in the fact without knowing the mechanism. I’ve come to the conclusion that “The Gospel,” could have been preached by Jacob, Moses, David, Isaiah, John (or his remnant disciples in Acts), Jesus (pre-crucifixion) or Paul (post-resurrection). The message has never changed; we just have details added.

Like I said, I didn’t set out to come up with a list need-to-believes. But this looks about right. The core doctrines of Christianity are all here, albeit with some shifts in emphasis (compared to what a seminary student would produce).

Perhaps these represent the core of the faith. Are these elements truly the central ones? In my next entry, I plan to look at sermons by Paul, Peter and Jesus to see if these seven elements are indeed common to their preaching.

What is the Gospel?

[For Christians]
A survey of selected verses

The following searches were done using the search engine and searching the word “Gospel” in the KJV NT and the Hebrew word “Basar” in the OT (Strong’s # 1319) because the KJV doesn’t use the word “gospel”. The list is not exhaustive. I tried to be as objective as I could be in excluding verses that didn’t apply (e.g. the good news of Saul’s death), were not clarifying (i.e. verses I did not understand). Verses were also excluded if they were along in describing a detail of the Gospel or if there were not enough to support promotion of an element to a ‘common element’ or essential part of the Gospel. For example, there were a few verses that spoke of disobedience of the Gospel that I excluded; I did not think that ‘obedience’ was one of the most important essential parts of the Gospel (absent in the definitions, only a few verses support it). Obedience
is indeed a part, but not an essential part. As with any selected survey of verses, the author’s bias and preconceived ideas remain. The reader is encouraged to do the search herself to corroborate or contradict these results.
בשר basar
1) to bear news, bear tidings, publish, preach, show forth
εαγγέλιον euaggelion
1) a reward for good tidings 2) good tidings

Jesus uses a word translated "Gospel" only 11 times (3 in Matthew, 6 in Mark, 2 in Luke, 0 in John). It is used in the Gospels 17 times (as in “Jesus preached the gospel”). This may be good reason to look elsewhere for a concise definition. Paul, for example, discusses the Gospel extensively (Paul uses the word 75 times, 13 times in Romans alone). Mathew, Mark, Luke, John certainly contain the Gospel, but offer no concise or explicit definition.

There are explicit definitions for the “good news” or “the Gospel” in I Chronicles, Isaiah, Romans and I Corinthians. In my reading of the scriptures, these four definitions contain seven common elements.
Common Elements
1. God’s glory (esp. attributes of holiness, righteousness, strength; relative to other gods)
2. Receiving and declaring (seeing, proclaiming, singing, declaring, praising, witnessing; usually joyful)
3. Salvation and reward (via resurrection)
4. Redemption of Israel
5. Redemption of all people/All nations/Heathen
6. Faith, fear, belief in/of God
7. The word (the Truth; the promise; consistent with the scriptures).
Other repeated themes:
A mystery revealed: once hidden but now revealed. Given plainly; not in wise words or flattery. Obedience is an important element. A fulfillment of promise. These did not come up as consistently as the seven.

Definitional Verses

(Italics indicates the use of the word “basar” in the OT or “euaggelion” in the NT)
1Ch 16:23-5 Sing unto the LORD, all the earth; shew forth from day to day his salvation. Declare his glory among the heathen; his marvellous works among all nations. For great [is] the LORD, and greatly to be praised: he also [is] to be feared above all gods. [5/7 of the common elements]
Isa 52:7-9 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the LORD shall bring again Zion. Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the LORD hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. [6/7 of the common elements]
Rom 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. [7/7 of the common elements]
1Cr 15:1-9 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. [5/7 of the common elements]

Other Verses

(Italics indicates the use of the word “basar” in the OT or “euaggelion” in the NT)
Psa 40:9 I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O LORD, thou knowest. I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation.
Psa 96:2-4 Sing unto the LORD, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people. For the LORD [is] great, and greatly to be praised: he [is] to be feared above all gods.
Isa 40:9-11 O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift [it] up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong [hand], and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward [is] with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry [them] in his bosom, [and] shall gently lead those that are with young.
Luk 4:18 The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
Rom 10:13-17 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith [cometh] by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Rom 16:25-27 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: To God only wise, [be] glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.
Gal 3:8-9 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, [saying], In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.
Eph 3:6 That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:
Col 1:23,26,27 If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and [be] not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, [and] which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; …[Even] the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what [is] the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:
2Ti 2:8 Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel:
Hbr 4:2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard [it].
1Pe 1:25 But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Eulogy of Wolf

Wolf is dead. My good friend is dead. His violent and turbulent life ended peacefully this week.

The first part of Wolf’s story is one of darkness and violence. He was a Hell’s Angel and wielded terrible power over those around him. His life was a kaleidoscope of guns, sex, drugs and the occult. He was a violent and selfish man. It was here that Steven Johnson became “Wolf.” His nickname was appropriate, for all his life he would be aggressive and never well-mannered.

His life of violence made him many enemies. One night, he knew that men were coming to kill him. He turned his home into a fortress, and armed himself for a last stand. He feared death. But he would not die that night. That night he would find True Life. He accidentally turned on the TV. The channel was TBN, and the preacher pointed to him and said he needed Jesus to forgive his sins.

Then he saw a light from heaven and he audibly heard the voice of God. He felt a warmth that started in his belly and radiated thorough his body even to the tips of his fingers. His eyes became as fountains, and he wept so that his long beard was soaked with tears. That moment, he walked out of the house, literally leaving his old life and its problems behind him.

He quickly became a powerful man of God. Upon acquiring a King James Bible, he went to a coffee shop and read through it cover to cover in a few days, barely sleeping. And from that moment on, he would live such a life of adventure as to make any hero seem a coward.

He once had a gun bag that he’d fill with many pounds of tracts and Bibles. He would fast for days on end until he had distributed them all. The police once warned him that the particular neighborhood he was in was extremely dangerous for white people; he said he didn’t care and entered anyways. His entrance attracted the local gangs to come and threaten him. But he preached the Gospel to them, and not a few were convicted of their sins and prayed for forgiveness

There were many other stories of exorcisms, poltergeists, and mighty acts of the Spirit. He took jobs in logging, construction, body-guarding and other equally manly vocations.

Later, he led a home for adolescent boys with problems. To hear of his love for those kids was heart-warming. He really cared for those who were so much like him: aggressive, angry and energetic with no positive outlet. He gave them an outlet. He taught them exercise and martial arts. He directed their anger at their own sin and Satan, and their energy to good works.

But one day, he brought a black boy into the church, and this went against the deepest, darkest racist sentiments of the church leaders. It became such an issue (tact was never one of Wolf’s talents), he was fired from his live-in position and so also evicted. He vowed then that, though his belief in Christ was firm, he would never set foot in a church again. After this, he was hit by a Cadillac Escalade, permanently injuring his back and afflicting him with great pain from which he would not have a reprieve for the rest of his life.

He became homeless. His lost job, his injury, and the depression that ensued kept him on the street. The harsh conditions of the street aggravated his difficulty breathing (COPD), the result of a lifetime of smoking. Soon, the street became his home. Abandoned by his church family, and still estranged from his natural family because of his early life, his family became the homeless of his home town: Westwood. Alienated from the rest of the world, his social circle was limited to others who had (or would have) mental problems. He struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts.

Then something incredible happened. He began praying for a church. And then one opened literally across the street from where he slept every night. Shoreline Community Church, after a series of moves, had settled on the Broxton theater. And Shoreline had a heart to reach West LA. All of it. The poor along with the rich. And so people from the church began to befriend Wolf.

He became a part of our family. He went on our family outings (including our men’s retreat and our church picnics). He slept on our couches on particularly cold and rainy nights. We bought him food, and (embarrassingly) he bought us food. He once insisted (and believe me, it’s hard to dissuade him from a thing once he sets his mind on it) on buying food for a barbeque. I’ll never forget what he said that day, with more than a dozen of us gathered to eat steak the homeless man purchased for us with his EBT (food stamps). Someone asked him what he liked with his steak. He replied heartily, “More steak!” He encouraged us and we encouraged him.

Who was Wolf to me? He was one of my good friends the last two years of college. My first conversations with him were simply out of duty. I ought to lower myself to talk with him; I ought to condescend to the poor sinner (He was a sinner, after all; he had a bad mouth; and he drank alcohol). I did not then consider that he may be closer to God than I was.

I am clean person outwardly; a friend (slightly drunk) once addressed me as, “David Carreon! The F***ing Messiah!” And this foul-mouthed, irreverent, racist homeless man taught me, a test-acing, bright-futured, spotless goodie-two-shoes. Truly, I learned many important lessons through God’s servant Wolf.

He inspired me to courage. I may not risk my life as he had, but I certainly could risk my reputation. I may not have the spiritual strength to cast out demons, but I could contend for my faith. Before I knew Wolf, I considered myself among the bravest of spiritual men. He showed me just how far I have to go.

He challenged me to spiritual discipline. This man prayed for me every night from under a pile of cardboard. He read his Bible every day though he was driven from every table he ever limped to. And what did I do? I didn’t even read my Bible 15 minutes on an oaken table in a warm room. And I didn’t pray for him. And he was the one that was needy. Or was he?

He taught me humility. How could I complain about anything when I had a bed? I helped him construct his home of cardboard behind the CitiBank in Westwood a few times. I felt the looks of scorn and the people crossing to avoid coming within ten feet of he and I. I shared in a drop of his tribulation.

He taught me faith. Through the cold of the street, the pain of his back, and an illness which left him often gasping for breath, he struggled with depression. But never would he forget his savior; he never lost the hope of glory. His strength to continue living wavered at times, but his faith never did. He was assured of his salvation, and now stands before the One in whom he trusted.

“Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” I always thought Jesus was talking about me, a spiritually humble person. I thought, “Mine is the Kingdom of Heaven.” But I think this better applies to Wolf than to me. He was poor. He was blessed. And now, his is the Kingdom of Heaven.


Like a wave, sorrow approaches me. I could clench my jaw and hold back the flow, damming up the emotion. But I keep the floodgates open, and the tears fall and fall.

My brain does not know why I cry. My sorrow is not from thoughts, for they were scattered and confused, like fireworks shooting off brightly in all directions, like a boat tossed on the violent sea of sorrow.

Death reached out and touched my brother in the Spirit this week. The cold like a fell wind penetrates the flesh and the brain to the soul. It puts a weight upon my chest that is not physical.

The spiritual is the deepest darkness of death. Death affects the emotions and the brain: sadness for separation, sorrow for pain suffered. But the blackness, the despair goes deeper than that. It goes to the very essence of my being. This is the fount of these tears.

Why do we find death so difficult? Is not this the way things have always been? Why do we yearn for an exception? Why do we want to escape from this reality of death?

It has not always been this way. And it will not always be this way. There is a memory of eternity. And there is a hope for everlasting life. And this is why we yearn: because we know this truth deeper than we know our own name.

Monday, February 2, 2009


My Friday-night "Overtopping" explosion has done no good. Ideas beget ideas! I was up to 17 pink notes a few hours ago. So I'll go super short. Here are a few stubs for ideas that should be developed. Comment if one of them strikes your fancy.

There seem to be two senses of salvation. There is a sense in which we "have been saved" and another in which we "are being saved." It seems to me that with the past-tense part of salvation, we can also say we have been saved by faith; it is justification (Rom 8); it's focus is on our relationship to God: "Love the Lord thy God..."

The second sense is more dynamic and may seem to require works. This may be where the James "faith without works is dead" fits into salvation. This is sanctification. This 'being saved' depends on the first sense, but it's focus is outwards, on the second Great Commandment "Love thy neighbor as thyself."

If this were the case, both sides of Grace vs. Works would be right on salvation; it depends on the tense of 'saved.'

Life Expectancy at conception
We like to think of ourselves as civilized because our "life expectancy at birth" has gone way up after all our babies stopped dying from diseased we figured out how to prevent. But we would still look like barbarians if we calculated our life expectancy from conception, counting the millions who don't make it out of the womb because of abortion. Perhaps our life expectancy hasn't changed since the Dark Ages.

We all have to make assumptions about our worldview. Do we have to assume God? In what sense can we 'prove' Him? I had a friend strongly disagree with the Cosmological argument on the grounds that we could not know the nature of the universe 'before' the beginning. I then made the argument that if we could not know before the beginning for certain, we must at least be agnostic about it; we would have to consign it to an axiom or assumption of our worldview.

Was this a valid argument? Are we able to be more confident about God's existence on purely logical grounds? Or is God an assumed precondition of the universe?

Evil Is Singularly Human
I was discussing the difference between Humans and the animals and I argued that our absurd (in Evolutionary terms) altruism was something that set us apart. After a bit of discussion on that, my discussants (<-- I thought I made that word up... spell check isn't underlining it) suggested that no other species commits acts of evil. After reflecting, I think I agree. We are the only gratuitously evil species. Even in cases where it is against our best interest (survival or social), we'll commit terribly evil acts. This, I think, supports the view that Man is a Moral being. That is, he has the capacity to go above and below the call of instinct. I previously only focused on how he went above it in altruism, not below it in malice. Whew
Down to 9 pink notes. Single digits. Now it's bedtime.

Google-esque Drug Trials

Problems with drug trials: They’re REALLY expensive and don’t actually give information that’s all that useful. They answer the question “Is this drug more effective than a sugar pill for everyone with a given disease?” If yes, approval. If no, illegal. What if it works really well for some people? Too bad. What if it works for another condition “Off label use”? Irrelevant (you’d need to do another really expensive study to answer that question). And it takes a really really long time to do one of these. So your answer is at least two years old by the time you’re done. So let’s take a lesson from Google and design a drug trial with the following parameters:

• Always in beta. You never ‘release’ the drug; everybody who ever takes it contributes their health results and statistics to the dynamic database.

• Huge dataset. Everybody taking the drug is a part of the database.

• Searchable. A doctor would be able to search for the running efficacy for “20-30 year old Caucasian with severe chest pain after heart attack”. This would give you the best possible answer for your situation. You don’t care how well it works for 80 year olds. The FDA does, but that info doesn’t help you.

• Moderated, not Regulated. With a trial ongoing, there is not the need for regulation of drugs with the intensity that the FDA regulates now. So long as patients and doctors know the information, they should be able to make decisions on their own risk, not risk thresholds set by bureaucrats.

Service as Rx

Our Psych professor brings in patients from the Psych ward to interview with him on their condition so as to help us to learn. At first he was hesitant, worrying about the stress that such public revelation would put on the patients. But there have been universally positive responses; the patients focus on their ability to do good by helping us learn.

This is a key insight: our mental health may depend on service to others. Could the be employed in the Psych wards and metal health institutions? Can we figure out a way to give depressed and anxious patients the ability to focus outwards, and help those in need? I think this would be a great way to help two sets of people significantly, and to help teach Psychiatrist that there is more to mental health than chemical imbalance. Or for the particularly stubborn materialists, that chemical imbalance may be solved by serving others.

Maybe in a while your doctor will diagnose you as having a "service deficiency" and the prescription being "visiting a nursing home MWF".

The Fun Scale

I had a conversation with a classmate on Thursday about pleasure being an act of worship. I made reference to Piper's "How To Drink Orange Juice to the Glory of God." She commented that she'd have a hard time having sex to the glory of God. I said something boring in protest.

It occurred to me that most people see the world something like this:

In her world, "sex" and "God" are on different sides; having sex to glorify God is indeed a contradiction. I may have to construct my version.

Is Pain Good?

I was snowboarding a few weeks ago. The first day, I did not do anything dangerous and didn't fall (probably the first time in my snowboarding life). That night, I was unsatisfied. Why? Partly because I didn't hurt. Partly because of what my not hurting symbolized: I had not tried hard. The next day, I tried hard. So hard I broke a rib. And it felt good. Not that the broken rib felt good (it still hurts to breathe deeply). But I felt better for having experienced the pain. Or perhaps it was what the pain said about my character that was the satisfying part.

From another perspective, Mother Theresa said, "...without suffering, our work would just be social work, very good and helpful, but it would not be the work of Jesus Christ, not part of the redemption." Her perspective was that pain was required for a thing to be significant. For her, there was no Godly offering without pain.

There is something here, something I can't quite put my finger on. In what sense is pain good? It was good in that it pointed to a good character trait in me. In Mother Theresa's sense, it was good because it pointed to Christ. Is there a connection between these two goods?

All the same, we are supposed to do all in our power to relieve pain, but when we experience it, it's at least partly good. Maybe this is the problem of Evil on a nano scale; paradoxical and mysterious, but with a clear imperative.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Role of Women in the Church

I had a very good discussion with a classmate which has caused me to begin to rethink my position on women in the church.

I had previously taken Paul's instructions on female pastors literally, and not seriously considered the possibility that those sections were cultural (in the category of "greet one another with a holy kiss"). The slippery hermeneutic slope is a very real danger, but it at least deserves more consideration on my part than I've given it.

I never had a problem with women leading or even preaching. The only position that I was uncomfortable with was the head pastor's position. But what of that? Clearly God chose Deborah to exercise executive leadership (Judges 4) even to the point of shaming the courage of the man under her (Barak). I re-listened to a sermon that struck me years ago where the pastor (Myles McPherson of The Rock in San Diego) said, "God was trying to send a message: 'Don't be trippin'!" And he's right. God uses who he uses, even in extremely paternal societies. Should we set up structures which prevent people like Deborah from leading?

I don't know... this deserves more thought for sure.

Culture Making

I just finished Andy Crouch’s book called “Culture Making.” It was an excellent read, re-framing the discussion on Christianity and culture. Instead of just condemning, critiquing or consuming culture, we ought t be creating it. An example of this is Tolkien: he didn’t write a “Christian book,” but he created something that was new and good. It was based on Christianity (themes of returning kings, suffering servants, and light contending with darkness), but it cannot be put in the “Christian” section of the bookstore. It’s too good for that.

Here is the challenge to Christians. The question that Crouch leaves hanging is this: What do we do? What do I do to create culture in medicine? What is the ‘Lord of the Rings’ of medicine? The question is relevant for any Christian. What can be created that is new and good, from Christianity but not only helpful for Christians?

What can be done in law? International Justice Mission is a great example (though partly of the old Christians-only model), where Christians lawyers work to use legal means of suing or prosecuting those who oppress the poor and weak.

The question is pressing. Those of us in positions of power generally do not think about this question in terms of faith. Our work in business is our work in business. It has no special holiness; God should have nothing to say about it. We have been de-spirited; our work and thinking has become secular.

This is an important message which is becoming more popular, but how do we reach those who are already in positions of power?