Prairie View

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hospital Recollections

One of the consequences of spending a lot of time at the hospital is that I have too little time to record here the things that I want to remember and reflect on later. In this post, I'll corral whatever comes to mind and nail it to the screen before it escapes me.


Crises impose themselves on a normal schedule, displacing what feels good and right with something that feels bad and wrong. Crises do not act like ladies and gentlemen. They intrude rudely and demand attention. No waiting quietly till there is a convenient interlude in which to deal with an unpleasant reality. Sometimes they pile on top of each other. My niece Emily's friend was murdered on Thanksgiving eve. My brother Marcus witnessed an accident at close range last week when an elderly lady drove into the path of a semi right in front of where he was doing work with a skid steer. Her obituary appeared in today's paper. My sister Carol has ongoing concerns about her health.

On the other hand, the reverse is true also. Ordinary life intrudes into crisis situations and asserts its own rights. In our extended family we are taking time now also for chicken pox in two households, a viral respiratory infection in another, term papers coming due, programs to prepare for and present, dental appointments, plumbing problems, skunks and possums at the cat dish, the newspaper not being delivered regularly, working overtime at regular jobs, cleaning the church, getting ready for the singing (at Shane's house), and a Thanksgiving meal to orchestrate.

I see the goodness of God in my being on sabbatical right now. I can't imagine how I would cope if I had teaching responsibilities to see to.


Joe S. tell me that he finds it interesting to learn about Galichia and the hospital experience from the perspective of a patient's family member via this blog. To him, medical care is "just what we do," but he realizes it looks different through the eyes of others.

I suspect I sound a little clueless and breathless from his perspective, but so be it. I am clueless and breathless, after all.

It's good to see his familiar face occasionally when he's on duty. Since he works in the outpatient area, he is not directly involved in Mom's care.


The receptionist that was working at Galichia Medical Group when Mom first visited Dr. B.'s office suffered a massive heart attack this past week. She is 58. Her family tells us that she is being given almost no chance of survival, due to the ravages on her blood vessels from smoking and diabetes. Galichia doctors will not operate since they do not believe a good outcome is possible.

Her family is understandably distraught, and shared their pain with members of my family. The woman was thought to be unconscious, but her mother was almost sure she had felt a squeeze from her hand at least once. When my father offered to pray with them, they eagerly agreed. The next day, the woman's mother saw Dad in the hall and asked him to come back to ICU to pray again for her daughter. When Dad finished, the patient said "Thank you." Astounding.

We are praying that, whatever the outcome, she will understand that God is present with her, and she will be at peace with Him.


On the night after Mom's surgery, Dad and I slept in one of the waiting rooms. He was on a recliner, and I slept on a chair-bed. I secreted my bed as much as possible along the back wall of windows and lined up a row of chairs in front of it to create a barrier between the bed and the rest of the room. People came and went all night in the hall, but I actually got some sleep.

Things got going early the next morning though. Before I was up, a mother and son came in and sat down in the semi-darkness at the side of the waiting room. I was almost sure I heard them praying quietly together.

In the peculiar way that people usually act in such circumstances, I did not "notice" them till I was properly prepared for the day--that is, till I had donned my glasses and shoved my hair under my covering. Then I said "Good morning" after I had folded my blankets and walked past them to brush my teeth and comb my hair properly in the bathroom.

As the lights came on and the day wore on, we did a good bit of visiting with Tom and his mother. He was a junior in high school, and he had taken the day off from school by pre-arrangement. The patient in their family was his father, who was there for outpatient surgery. In the waiting room, Tom was writing a letter to his eighth grade teacher. He wanted to thank her for something she had done which he hated her for at the time. In explaining why he was writing the letter, Tom told us an amazing story.

In eighth grade, Tom had gotten carried away with trying to impress his peers and, since none of them liked their teacher, they kept one-upping each other with mean tricks at her expense. One day Tom spit in her drink.

The reaction was swift and severe. He was expelled from school for the last quarter of the year, and the teacher filed assault charges against him and his parents. A long, expensive legal case ensued. Since the teacher had never actually drunk any of the the spit-tainted drink, the charges were eventually dismissed.

During this time Tom had almost no contact with his peers, and could not attend any school functions--not even his own graduation. He went to church because he liked a girl that attended there, even though his parents were not attending at this time because they were busy on weekends with remodeling their kitchen. Gradually Tom began to realize that he was on a destructive path, and that he would end up in prison if he did not change. He actually began to listen to the sermons he heard. Over time, his desires changed completely and eventually he wanted most of all to please God.

He regularly assists the youth pastor in their church, and he told Dad that he had been asked to preach a sermon in the near future. He told Dad what he thought he might talk about. He asked Dad for help and advice on that subject and Dad obliged. This is how it was all morning. Most of the conversation was between Dad and Tom about Christian faith. His mother and I occasionally joined in when his mother was not busy talking to her sister-in-law.

I have no idea what denomination Tom is part of, and we never talked about ours. He never learned either that my dad is a pastor. We were simply all Christians, who had much in common on that day in the waiting room. Tom is a smashingly handsome young man, but the most memorable thing about him in my mind will always be his clear eyes, his open, friendly expression, and his inner peace and purpose.

Tom is planning for an Air Force career--something his family is very proud of. Dad casually suggested before we parted that Tom might want to read the Sermon on the Mount and Romans 12 in connection with his career choice. He assured Dad that he would do so.


Dad had another heart-warming encounter with a Galichia patient. By way of a lab technician who knew our family, he sent word that he would like to talk with Dad about matters of faith. After one false start when Dad thought he was in the wrong room, the man told Dad that he was a believer until his stint in Viet Nam with the military. He became an agnostic during that time, and developed a drug addiction.

Eventually he overcame that, only to become alcohol dependant. When he talked to the lab technician he had begun to realize that he needed the Lord's help to overcome his addiction. That was why he wanted to talk to Dad--to find help to re-establish a relationship with the Lord.

After they talked and Dad understood his need and his intentions, he asked the patient if he would like to pray. He was ready, and prayed a very appropriate prayer. My dad prayed then too.

Desperation comes in many forms at Galichia. God isn't shocked by any of them, and people who know the power of God needn't be shocked either. It's a privilege to help provide a link between needy people and a powerful God. Having experienced our own share of neediness and much of God's blessing helps us understand how to do that.

Hospital Saga--5

Tomorrow (on Monday) it will be one week since my mother's heart surgery. Yesterday she was moved into a regular patient room, after having been moved out of ICU and into an intermediate care area (It goes by various names in different hospitals.) the day before that. These moves represented actual improvements in Mom's condition, but we're wryly observing that they also represented administrative decisions that were not based solely or perhaps even primarily on Mom's readiness for a move.

Apparently ICU was full when yet another patient needed to be admitted. Since Mom was the best candidate for a move, she was reassigned. The staff assured us that she had met the criteria for the next care level, and I'm sure they're right. But this explains why we were told earlier in the day that she would not be moved on that day.

Then after she was moved out of intermediate care to the regular room, we learned that on weekends, they almost always shut down the intermediate care area. So of course Mom could not stay there any longer.

This afternoon we had a scare when a nurse told Judy that Mom has an infection in her blood that is potentially very serious. In the worst case scenario she might need to have her valve replacement redone. Horrors. In the best case scenario, they caught it early enough that it can be cleared up with antibiotics.

Later, the infection control specialist, Dr. H., told members of my family that an infection is always a concern, but it does not constitute an emergency. Right now a culture is being done that will yield results by tomorrow. Then they will have a more precise identification for the infective agent and can target the antibiotics more effectively. Mom is already taking something--presumably based on their best guess about what is causing the problem. The nurse/PA Brenda was further reassuring by saying that very rarely do these kinds of cases call for surgery, although it might mean several weeks of antibiotic medication.

After a very good day on Thursday when she took several walks down the hallway in ICU, she was uncomfortable and lethargic yesterday and today. Part of the time her blood sugar was very high and she was shaky all over. It was in answer to Judy's question to the nurse about the reason for her severe shakiness today that she told her about the blood infection.

Mom's digestive system was slowly gearing up for normal activity again yesterday, causing discomfort, and I thought today would likely be a good day for her after she progressed beyond that. Not so, courtesy of the developing infection.

The drainage tube in her chest incision was removed yesterday, and they discontinued all the IV fluids and medications. She had eaten better yesterday morning than at any time since she's in the hospital. These were all good things, but it was a little hard to remember that, since Mom didn't seem as well otherwise as we expected.

Last week, before surgery, we decorated Mom's hospital room walls with matted and framed photos, courtesy of Lowell and Hannah, Bible verses, cards, etc. Someone who walked in commented that when you feel a need to decorate a hospital room, you know that you've been there too long. Mom would certainly agree.

We took all the pictures down when Mom went for surgery, and someone else was assigned to the room. Today it was time to put up the pictures again in her current room.

We all feel like she's been there too long, but she is still with us, and still has prospects of getting better soon. As long as that hope remains, staying "too long" will be alright.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hospital Saga--4

My mother's heart surgery was two days ago. While much went right during that time, enough went wrong to make us very aware of how fragile life can be.

Heart surgery is not pretty. A marvel, but still not pretty. If Mom could remember what all she has felt during the past number of hours, I believe she would wish to have died rather than to have experienced that. Her memory is mercifully vague, but it was hard to watch.

Mom needed seven units of blood plus two units of platelets. The post surgery bleeding became a real concern--so much so that until 9:00 that evening (She got out of surgery around 11:30.), her doctors were keeping open the possibility of taking her back into surgery. The bleeding gradually slowed during the evening hours, while people were praying in response to a call that went out to our church people. The next morning Murat, the Turkish PA who was helping take care of Mom, told us, "She was critical yesterday, but then she slowly turned the corner." (I'm seeing a pattern here. They tell you afterward how bad things were.)

Reports during and after surgery were good if a bit guarded. She was doing as well as could be expected. At the time it felt very good indeed, especially after the anesthesiologist (Is that the right word?) told Dad before the surgery that "I have to tell you that this is a very high risk surgery." What does one do with information like that, except pray hard--for help and for acceptance of God's will?

The morning of the surgery, LaVerne and Rebecca, our deacon and his wife, came bearing a big box of doughnuts and another generous box of wonderful food from Edward and Alma, Carla and Norma. It was comfort food in the best sense of the word. There in the waiting room, we ate and talked and laughed and tried not to worry together, and after the surgery was over, we prayed a thanksgiving prayer together.

I haven't seen Mom since last evening, at the end of my last 36-hour hospital stint. She had managed only one sip of water several times, and eaten a few bites of jello by that time. Her throat hurt from the breathing tube (ventilator) she had been on till the morning after the surgery, and I suspect that she was almost too weak and tired to draw the water up through a straw. It would rise in the straw almost to her lips, and then it would fall back into the glass without any of it getting into her mouth.

Today her nurse asked us to try to get her to eat anything at all. "We can deal with the sugar and salt," he said. "If she wants something from McDonalds, go get her something from McDonalds." I can't imagine that Morphine, dopamine, insulin, Amiodoron, Lasix, and antibiotics do much to increase her appetite either. She was getting some of all those drugs.

When she thought she was hungry for fish and they got some for her from Long John Silver, she ate two bites and stalled out. "I've never before had to work so hard at eating," she said. This was a longer voluntary speech than any we had heard from her since the surgery, and the utterance was more remarkable than the sentiments. Those were already obvious.

Besides her being more verbal today than before, those who were there today saw other improvements. She spent several hours in a chair. Her color had improved, and she was more alert overall. Her vital signs were fairly stable, and her blood pressure had improved.

I'm cautiously hopeful that things will improve noticeably every day from here on. However, it looks likely that the precarious balancing act underway now will have to be continued for some time.

Keeping her blood pressure up is important. IV fluids help with that, as does giving her dopamine. However, her body is still not working off its fluids normally, so it's easy to overdo these measures. Her swollen hands and feet tell us that fluids have already backed up in her chest cavity, creating a pneumonia hazard and making deep breathing difficult or impossible. To compensate for the fluid buildup, she's getting a diuretic, but this lowers the blood pressure.

Keeping her pain levels bearable is important too. Morphine helps with that, but tends to lower her blood pressure. Having her in a sitting position feels more comfortable to Mom, but this tends to lower her blood pressure also.

Medicine is called a healing art. Nowhere is it more obvious than in a case like this where many things that are known scientifically still cannot guarantee results or always give a clear sense for what is best. In some measure, intuitive and subconscious calculations enter in, and a judgement call involves many ways of knowing. Who knows how often these judgement calls have been illuminated and made effective by the grace of God in response to people's prayers? I believe this is one way that Mom is being helped, by her doctors practicing medicine as science and art, with the wisdom of God giving guidance.

Except for giving her platelets, which is fairly routine in heart surgery patients, I suspect that Mom's doctors can't point to a single thing they did that helped stop Mom's bleeding on Monday afternoon and evening. That's what God can do--bring about change when neither science nor art are enough. Thanks you for offering prayers that can move the hand of God.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Quote for the Day 11/24/2008

Iowa Farm Boy Turned Surgeon (to my mother, about how the bone is kept in a good position for healing after open heart surgery) : We used to use baling wire, but we've found something that works a little better.

This baling wire reference shows me that he's telling the truth about his farm background. No city dude would think of joking about baling wire in the lead-up to open heart surgery.

Surgery is scheduled to begin at 7:30 AM today, in less than an hour. Please keep Mom and all of us in your prayers.

It's a wonderful time to be part of a large family and a caring church and community, with a host of praying friends in places near and far.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pastor Smith

The only time I met Pastor Smith was when he conducted the marriage ceremony of my sister Carol to Roberto in Washington, D.C.

When Roberto was a young Christian, it was Pastor Smith who discipled him and then later mentored him in his role as a pastor. Roberto considered him his spiritual father, his own father not having been a Christian during Roberto's growing up years.

For a number of years they served in the same building, with Roberto pastoring a Spanish congregation and Pastor Smith preaching to an English-speaking group. The groups met at different times.

Last summer when Roberto and Carol went back to the Baltimore/Washington area where they used to live, they visited Pastor Smith, who had retired earlier, and was suffering from pancreatic cancer at the time of the visit. Things looked fairly hopeful at the time though because of some new drugs he was being given. Then several weeks ago his son Joe called and told Roberto that his father was quite low.

Last weekend Roberto's uncle died, and Roberto returned again to the Washington/Baltimore area for the funeral. He planned to visit Pastor Smith in the same trip, after the funeral.

Things did not go as planned when Roberto tried to make arrangements for the visit. He could not reach Joe by way of his most recent contact information. (He was out of the area, as it turned out.) When he looked for his number in the phone book, he found more Joe Smiths than you can imagine. No luck there. When Carol told me this story, she did not know how it happened, but Roberto finally found out in which hospital Pastor Smith was a patient, so last Sunday afternoon he went to visit him.

When he entered the room, he greeted Pastor Smith and was rewarded with a smile of recognition, and they visited briefly. Then they prayed together. That having been done, Pastor Smith was ready to die. So he did, right then and there, with Roberto in the room.

The person who was to deliver Pastor Smith's funeral sermon was abroad, and the funeral had to be planned for this weekend to give the pastor time to get back to America. Roberto is asked to prepare and give the eulogy.

One of Carol's tasks in preparing to come here was to edit the eulogy (Roberto's first language is Spanish, and English speaking and writing still present some challenges, PhD notwithstanding). Then Roberto left KC again for the east coast, and Carol leaves KC tomorrow to come here to be with Mom.

Moments of grace and hope come often, mixed right in with trouble, sickness, and death. For Roberto and Pastor Smith, meeting again last Sunday was one such moment of grace. For Pastor Smith, it was only the beginning.

Hospital Saga--3

Mom's surgery is scheduled now for 7:30 on Monday morning. Before then, she will be on antibiotics to clear up an infection. The infection would have made surgery tomorrow unwise.

Today a pic-line was installed (probably not the right medical verb), providing access to Mom's circulation system without the use of IV needles. We're all relieved at this improvement. Her arms are looking worse all the time from the frequent pokes and subsequent infiltration of the tissue around the insertion point. The drug she's been getting by IV is "hard on veins, " which means that the needles frequently poke through the vein and allow the medication to go astray.

Yesterday my sister Dorcas and her family arrived from N. Carolina. We were glad to see all of them, but especially Bill, who is a nurse with several years of experience working in cardiac care. How lucky can we get? Bill was a teacher in "another life," so he's very good at explaining what's happening in understandable terms.

Dorcas has been a surgical patient within the past year, and her fresh perspective of that side of a hospital experience provides something none of the rest of us have. Bill and Dorcas took the most recent night shift at the hospital, and the rest of us came home.

Tonight Judy and Rhoda, who are married to my brothers, Lowell and Myron respectively, are staying for the night. Rhoda has worked in geriatrics, and Judy is a wonderful caregiver, although she has not learned her skills in school.

We're pleased to have discovered that a combination of Tylenol and Benadryl works very well for giving Mom a good night of sleep. Ambien did not work well. She slept, but woke feeling confused and restless. The nurse reported that she often sees that and doesn't like to use it for that reason.

My sister Carol, from the Kansas City area, plans to come tomorrow. Ronald (number 10 in my parental family) is conducting a week of meetings in Boley, OK this week, so he will be far more free next week than he is now. Marcus is an encouragement to Mom and the rest of us--something that would have been a lot harder to manage less than two years ago when he was still incarcerated. Anthony, Clara, and Caleb seem far away, but we try to keep them informed.

Lois recounted the surgeon's speech to Mom today when he came to her room to discuss the plans, especially in light of the infection she had contracted. He told her "You didn't have to do that. I would have taken you to the dance without that. It was a barn dance too."

"That Iowa boy" (Lois' words) seems like a jolly good fellow, and the Lord knows jollies are a little hard to come by these days.

Hospital Saga--2

Yesterday was the third day I spent in the hospital. I slept at home last night and the night before.

This has been a great educational experience--only one of the myriads of correct ways of describing the recent past.

I have learned about pic-lines, Amiodoron (arhythmia medication), Lasix (diuretic), heart catheterizations, oxygen saturation levels in the blood, circulatory system function--things that can go wrong or be made right, how easily nurses convey whether they see themselves as being "in charge" or "at your service" and how much difference that makes in their effectiveness, how wonderful it is to have interesting, tasty, and moderately priced cafeteria food, how many people must communicate and work together well to adequately care for one person in distress, etc.

On the mundane side of things, I have never before seen at close range such preoccupation with body inputs and outputs. It is not dignified, but neither is it a shame, and we'd all best just be OK with it. My mom yesterday yesterday made a tongue in cheek reference to this when she said "[It's] a priority. Priority Number One." That was pretty funny, Mom.

I have also gained a great appreciation for good medical caregivers and realize that it's a very good thing not everyone is as clueless as I am about such things. Given the same time span, I would labor far less stressfully over improving many bad essays than I would over making one sick person better. Part of this involves acquired skills and learned attitudes and disciplines, but I recognize also that a huge part of it is natural and spiritual gifting. God gave some people very good "caretaking" gifts.

Hospitals usually have bland colors on the surfaces of the patient rooms. Pictures, cards, flowers, and plants help relieve this boredom. Mom's allergies make pollen-producing flowers a little tricky, but silk flowers are a nice alternative for situations like this. The colors, shapes, and textures are similar, and conveying warm thoughts can happen either way.

I'm seeing that often it's really best not to view situations as calling for simple either/or choices. The best option is often a third option, which involves pieces of a variety of possible alternatives. My dad is a champion at identifying the "third option," and he is doing a good job during Mom's current health crisis. In his case, he is juggling medical recommendations, his and my mother's preference for what is more natural and less invasive, and the hard realities of having a loved one in a life-threatening condition--all of it against the background of purposefully and responsibly choosing what he understands of God's will and purpose. I marvel at the beauty of such a grace-filled life.

Times like now make a person deeply thankful for being part of a big family and a supportive network of friends. Everyone's interest, prayers, and acts of kindness are very precious.

Right now, Mom is on track for open heart surgery, either tomorrow or Monday. Tomorrow (Friday) was the first reserved time, but if waiting till Monday does not endanger Mom further and makes possible gaining a little bit of time for Mom to regain some strength by resting and taking in good nourishment, that is also an option. Today that will be finally decided after more conversation with her doctors.

Questions? Just ask. Prayers? Absolutely, without asking.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hospital Saga

I just returned from about 36 hours in the hospital with my mother. Part of that time was very frightening.

Today Dr. B. confirmed what we thought was happening yesterday when he said about Mom, "She would not have lived through the day yesterday if she had gone on much longer the way she was for a while there." He was referring to a time period lasting several hours when she had struggled mightily to breathe because of her lungs filling up with fluid--worsened by the small additional volume of liquid in the dye they had used in performing the heart catheterization, and the usual requirement that she lie flat for a period of time following the procedure.

After the doctors arrived in her room and one ordered more diuretic to be given in the IV and another ordered that she be allowed to sit up, things eventually improved quite a lot.

However, the catheterization revealed big problems. One of the main arteries is 90% blocked. The aortic valve opens to the size of a pencil and needs to open to the size of a quarter. It can not be repaired. It is calcified to the point of appearing to have the same composition as a bone when viewed on an x-ray. "It looks like a rock pile," the doctor said, then added "I'm sorry."

The only recommendation the doctors give us is open heart surgery--possibly as early as this Friday. In this surgery, a bypass would be installed for the nearly-blocked artery, and the faulty valve would be replaced.

The heart is already somewhat damaged, and her age and gender (!) are risk factors, but the surgeon we talked to today told us that she has a better-than-90% chance of surviving surgery and recovering fairly well. The alternative would be more of what she has suffered the past few days, with very little prospect for long-term improvement.

Pray that everyone concerned would have peace about whatever decision is made, and that the decision would please God.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Heart Patient in the Family

My mother was admitted today to Galichia Heart Hospital in Wichita. She had gone to the clinic associated with the hospital for a previously scheduled appointment. The doctor's examination revealed problems with heart rhythm, blood flow, and fluid buildup in her lungs. He did not feel that it was safe for her to return home until she has undergone further treatment. Right now we don't know what all will be involved or how long she will be in the hospital.

This is the second time in 80 years that her heart condition has been a concern. The first time was right after she was born when the doctor detected a heart murmur. She had not breathed very promptly and was referred to then as a "blue" baby. Several years ago she saw a cardiologist who had her wear a wrist monitor for a week or so to check what he thought might be a problem, but after he looked at the data the monitor had collected, he did not believe any treatment was warranted. She routinely has lower-than-normal blood pressure.

About six weeks ago Mom had pneumonia and she has not been robust ever since then, with difficulty breathing being the main problem. Others in the family who are more alert to such matters than I, began to wonder if all that was going on could be passed off as seasonal allergies, pneumonia aftermath, etc., and my sister Lois, who is a nurse, finally got Mom's permission to make an appointment with a cardiologist that Dad had seen earlier and was very impressed with. That appointment was scheduled for Nov. 21.

As time went on and Mom did not improve much, a second phone call to Galichia secured an appointment one week earlier (for today), this time with a physician's assistant.

Earlier this week, Mom saw her family doctor again, after she could no longer sleep comfortably in her own bed. He diagnosed early-stage congestive heart failure on Tuesday, but assured all of us that it was not likely to worsen suddenly and did not constitute an emergency. However, he told her she should see a cardiologist and was happy to know that an appointment had already been scheduled.

On Wednesday of this week my sisters and sisters-in-law and I got together to do fall housecleaning for Mom, beginning in the kitchen. While we were there, Mom left to ride to Wichita with Dad where he went to a dental clinic. When they got back Dad reported that Mom had slept well almost all the way there and back, sitting up, and had almost no breathing problems. Something similar had happened the day before when they went to Sterling. Later that evening she noticed that she could breathe more easily in the garage than in her bedroom or the kitchen. The living room end of the house always seemed to be better for her than the kitchen/bedroom end. We began to wonder what all this meant. Was something in certain parts of the house affecting her breathing adversely? We still wonder.

On cleaning day, however, we discovered a small amount of mold under both the kitchen and bathroom sinks. Knowing how seriously some people react to molds, we made sure that was taken care of. Then we decided it was high time to tackle the bedroom. This room never gets the benefit of Marcus' regular Friday cleaning of all the other floors and the bathrooms, and Linda knew that Mom preferred that no one "mess with" her bedroom. But the time had come, so yesterday Lois and Linda, and today Linda and I scrubbed that room from the vaulted ceiling to the bricks on the hearth, and laundered and vacuumed whatever we couldn't scrub down. We had a hunch that until we banished the dust, she would not breathe freely in her bedroom.

For the last two nights Mom has slept next door at Marvin's house, and she could at least sleep lying down there. But she dearly loves her own bed, and was very eager to get back into it. We had it all ready for her too. Sigh. I wonder how the hospital bed feels.

Today when I talked to my sister-in-law Kara in PA, who has been the primary caregiver for her mother for the past number of years, she reminded me of several reasons why the elderly really need an advocate when they are in frail health and need to navigate the medical system. The most obvious reason is that their minds simply often work more slowly and they don't always follow what they are being told. So they miss important information and feel confused by it all. Someone with a younger mind can be a real help here in listening and interpreting. But I had never thought of the next thing Kara said--that, given the way people in our parents' generation were used to interacting with doctors (holding them in very high esteem and never ever questioning their judgement), it's good if there's someone around who is not afraid to ask a lot of questions, and bring up concerns that others may be overlooking.

I remembered then something I read that Dr. Lehman of Mt. Eaton, OH discovered early on in his practice--that you didn't take what an Amish person said at face value if they were describing their pain or talking about their medical problems. You assumed that the pain or the problems were being vastly understated, because of the habit these people had of being patient and stoic and not bothering others unnecessarily. An advocate can tell a doctor, even if the patient won't do so, when the patient needs more help than they're getting.

Kara told me too that she's glad that no one of us is alone here to make decisions about what needs to be done. That is indeed a blessing. Half of the twelve children in my parental family live in this area. Not only do we have a family member here who is a nurse, we also have Bill, my brother-in-law in NC.

Judy remembered that, if earlier plans had carried, she and Lowell would be in India right now. We're glad they're in Kansas instead.

Galichia is about 60 miles from here, and getting there and back takes a bit of effort. But we consider ourselves very fortunate to be this close to a really first-rate heart hospital. This institution has further endeared itself to our community recently by offering very reasonable rates for heart surgeries. Their website lists a $10,000 figure. Beyond that, for people on our church's aid plan for medical expenses, they offer further cost concessions.

My parents and Lois were very impressed with the doctor they saw today. I don't know how this conversation started, but he told my parents he knows about and is in favor of many alternative approaches to health care (I took him to be talking specifically about heart problems.). However, he finished by saying, regarding Mom's condition, "Now is not the time." We agree. That is, we agree that the service and interventions they can provide are probably exactly what is needed now.

Pray for my mother as you think of her. Her name is Mary.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sarcasm, Jabs, and Cynicism

During the past few days I've been thinking about the use of sarcasm in speech, so when Daniel talked last night in church about communicating by jabs, I was delighted at the prospect of hearing what someone else had to say on the subject. Several other words had been flitting through my mind and I couldn't quite pin down the nuances of difference between them. The words were irony, satire, cynicism, and sarcasm. I was pretty sure I didn't really like all of them, and Daniel told us he wasn't so impressed with all of them either, although I'm not sure he used these exact words. "Jabs" fits right into the family though, and he did use that word.

When I teach composition I talk about the use of irony in writing. I tell my students that it's difficult to do well, and should be used very sparingly, at least until they acquire more experience. It basically means to say exactly the opposite of what you really mean, in order to convey what you mean. This doesn't work unless the real meaning is very clear, and it's often not clear if the thinking patterns of the writer and reader are not very very similar, or if they simply don't know each other or their style of communication well. Irony is almost always lost on people who are newcomers to speaking a language--another reason for its limited usefulness. However, irony can be really delightful if it is done well and without rancor, and if it is readily understood. People often enjoy seeing it used to add humor to a situation. In composition class we usually try our hand at using irony in writing, just to familiarize ourselves with it, and learn something about its delights and limitations.

From my childhood I remember one lower grade student's attempt at humor when she told a friend that World War III had started. After the friend registered alarm and concern, the first child "took it back" and had great fun telling other people about the second silly girl who actually believed that World War III had started. All of us can see the utter lack of humor in this situation. The first girl lied and then made fun of the second girl who was trustful and believed the lie. It's not exactly the same, but when we've attempted irony and it's not understood, I think it's best to assume that the fault is more in the "teller" than in the hearer. True, intentional irony is not really an attempt to deceive, but when that is the effect, the context or the method were probably not right, and the teller should have read the situation more carefully or expressed himself/herself more clearly.

Satire is the use of irony to expose and discredit vice or folly. (Merriam-Webster). Satire can also involve sarcasm, which is irony with a sharp edge. M-W describes sarcasm as an utterance designed to cut or give pain, and using bitter, caustic language that is usually directed against an individual. Sarcasm sounds very much like what Daniel called jabs. It calls to mind using a hay fork to chase livestock.

Cynicism is being contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives. (M-W) A person can be a silent cynic, I suppose, but why would anyone bother? Cynics are often very good at diagnosing a problem and telling others about it. This is their claim to fame. Sometimes this skill is needed, of course, but when accompanied with suspicion and a dismal view of others' intentions, cynics really are not very pleasant companions.

So how is it? Are any of these worth cultivating? Irony? Maybe, cautiously, after you've read or heard enough of it done really well, and after you're sure that all the sharp edges are gone from your feelings about any issue in question, or about the other people involved. Otherwise, you risk falling into the sarcasm trap, which comes across as a personal attack and causes pain. Or you risk just looking foolish when it doesn't come off well.

Satire doesn't necessarily have sharp edges in its exposure of vice or folly, so I think satire may be a good thing sometimes, but this is also a difficult thing to do well--more so because it has a negative focus since people use it to show what they are against--vice and folly.

You will find the cynic in a perpetually negative stance. Certainly this is not an attitude worth cultivating. The accompanying contempt has nothing in common with how God says we are to view other people.

I'm sure I've been guilty at times of all the sins of attitude and expression I've referred to here. I remember specifically having been told once that something I wrote was caustic. I knew it was a fair accusation, but I honestly didn't know how to be clear at that point and still seem friendly because the disagreements on the issues in question were so stark. It seemed to me that the only choices I had were to say nothing or say something that would be viewed as being sharp. Rightly or wrongly, I chose to say something. (Does this surprise anyone?)

I do idealize speaking and writing with well-seasoned grace. When I fail. . . . another day, another time. . . .maybe then I'll get it nearer right. I hope so.

Building a School

Last Sunday we received a written report from the committee that is working on locating a site for a future school building. Our church grade school is bursting at the seams, still occupying space in our church building. Two free-standing classrooms are in use there, and three classrooms are located in an addition that was built to accommodate the classrooms temporarily, with planned later use as auditorium overflow, fellowship hall, and kitchen.

In the report, the committee solicited suggestions from people. So I complied. (They might at this moment be thinking sorry I asked.) In short, I tried to make a case for re-opening consideration of an option that was listed as not being under current consideration. The funny thing about all this is that on the afternoon when I had finished my response, my dad called and told me that he had written something on the same subject that he wanted to read to me and then have me type later. We were both surprised to learn what the other had done. We had not talked at all about the report or our thoughts on it. He described mine as having more clout than his. I would describe his as being less detailed, but more directly useful in accomplishing what we would both like to see. I'm keenly aware that, in our setting especially, an aged leader such as my father is, will always have more clout than a vocal female of any age. I'm not as bitter about that as it sounds. I respect aged male leaders too.

All sorts of things enter into the dynamics of finding a suitable location for a school. Some of the ones that are becoming obvious to me are these:

a) We have varying impressions about our relationships with the non-Mennonite community in which we live, and varying ways of thinking about interacting with the people in it. Some of us are very wary about creating rifts, perhaps believing that they are already suspicious of us, and we dare not do anything to risk offending them. Others suspect that it is we who are suspicious of them, and one of the ways to overcome this would be to actually take some initiative in interacting with them.

b) We see land differently. Some of that happens because we view it through different lenses. 1) Some of us see it as farmers. (Don't "waste" the best spots by building on them!). 2) Some of us see it as builders. (Would it take a lot of dirt work to create a level site? Does it drain well? Note that these may conflict. Low and level would create problems.) . 3) Others evaluate land in terms of its diversity--in habitat, plant and animal populations, and terrain. (Level farmland with monoculture as the goal is about as boring as it gets. A farming "wasteland" can feature incredible diversity.) What is the most ideal environment for children to inhabit? Should diverse habitat be intruded upon with construction?

c) People see the presence of a new building in a certain spot differently. Some see it as destroying a view for other home sites already in the vicinity. Some have concerns about the ostentatious appearance of a large structure for the use of people who only one generation ago were content with home-sized church gatherings, and used meeting houses only minimally--a people who still profess a preference for a simple lifestyle.

d) People who struggle financially, and live simply by necessity (or who live simply by choice) have a very different view of the the prospect of construction on a new site than do people who are financially more secure (or who live less simply by choice). "Why can't we make do when we're together just as many of us make do every day in our own homes?" versus "If we need it, we ought to all work together to make it happen, regardless of the cost."

e) Educational philosophy enters in. It goes without saying that if everyone homeschooled, we wouldn't need a new school building. We all realize, of course, that not everyone wants to or can homeschool. Is it solely a matter of everyone being able to have what they want, when some options are a great deal more expensive than others? Is working together to fund the expensive option incumbent on all of us equally? Would it be wise to be more deliberate in encouraging homeschooling, or at least to make it clear that people who do so are providing a service to the church by not requiring the church's provision in facilities and teaching staff? This would represent a huge shift in some communities where homeschooling is still viewed with a great deal of skepticism (party-pooping at best, sedition at worst)--less so in ours, where there is a good level of interchange, but, to my knowledge, there has still not been any officially-expressed encouragement and affirmation for this option. To give some perspective in how homeschooling affects the picture in the Beachy churches here--I think probably about 1/3 to 1/2 of the children are homeschooled, although I don't remember the exact numbers. Enrollment numbers at the school include children from non-Beachy families also, so it's not accurate to note only the Beachys in one group without doing the same in both groups. Maybe someone else can post more exact numbers in a comment.

f) People perceive demographics differently. Earlier, nearly everyone from our Beachy churches had either a Hutchinson or Partridge address and most people lived in the area SW of Hutchinson between Hutchinson and Partridge about 10 miles away. A few lived beyond Partridge on all sides. Now people have addresses such as Arlington, Langdon, Abbyville, Yoder, and Nickerson. All of these towns are outside of this original predominantly Mennonite "Partridge" community, and most of them are located west and north of the original community (Yoder is an exception.). Obviously the people who live on the outskirts visualize the "center" of the community differently than people who have always lived in the originally settled areas and who seldom have occasion to venture into the other areas. If you always have to go east to nearby Hutchinson to get products and services, why does it make sense to build in a place where you'd have to go west--out into the hinterlands?

g) We have varying spending priorities. Some people see a school building as a good investment, while others see it as having a huge opportunity cost. The scenario I am most familiar with on this point is the perspective of missionaries from our churches who lament that the money we spend on a school is money that is not being spent on missions. I didn't read it, but I understand that last summer, three missionaries from here--from El Salvador, Romania, and China--collaborated in writing a statement on this subject.

Back to Dad's and my responses--Long story short (his story shorter by half than mine), we put both responses in the same envelope and gave a copy to each committee member. On Dad's response we added a postscript clarifying that we had not conspired together in our writing.

I really appreciate being given the opportunity to respond. I think it's especially critical that people have that opportunity when plans are being made that are likely to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in donated money. In my memo I said, about the property that catches my eye, "I do realize that it may simply not be available, and, when I become convinced that this is, in fact, the case, I will "rest my case." I'm not convinced yet."

Ah! Church life! What a many-splendored (splintered?--no, please, not that) thing!

An Oriya Prayer

Last night in church we heard a pastor from India pray for us. We don't really know what he told the Lord about us or what he asked the Lord for us because he prayed in Oriya, the language of O----a state where he lives. This pastor was from P----i, the district in that area where persecution of Christians has escalated most alarmingly during the past months. Many Christians have left their homes to go into hiding in the forests; others have had their homes destroyed, and still others have lost their lives.

The man who prayed for us was present in a small gathering of pastors in India. The group had come together for a time of learning from each other and encouraging each other. Among them was a Brethren in Christ pastor from Canada, who is a native of India. He had traveled there for the gathering.

In past years, around this time of year, a team of men from our church has traveled to India to conduct a seminar for a group of pastors. The pastors travel in from surrounding villages to one of the larger towns and arrange to stay and have their meetings in a "hotel" in the city. This year, however, because of the danger it might have presented for the Christians there to be seen with Westerners, the men from here decided not to go. Counsel from the Indian brothers weighed in on the decision-making process.

What our church did instead was send V----, the Indian pastor from Canada, whose appearance would not generate suspicion. This was an appealing choice since V---- has accompanied the men from our church for the past few years and has helped in the seminars.

The people from here who have been in India in the past arranged for our last night's prayer meeting to be transmitted to India. I think somehow a cell phone was plugged into the church's sound system. In India, a speaker phone made our prayers audible to the gathered group. I don't know if it was interpreted or not, but several people were present who could have done so. Before the prayer, Lowell read here the names of the pastors who had gathered, and told us briefly where they were from. (He has been there often enough to have established personal friendships with many of these people.) Then four brothers from our church who have been there in past seminars prayed for various aspects of the suffering brothers' situation.

We thought that would end the contact, but V---- asked if he could talk to our church people over the same connection, so we tried it. Lowell told him to talk as loud as he can into his phone, and then he held the phone right next to the microphone in our auditorium. The sound came through clearly! He told us a bit about the setting of the gathering in India and asked us to pray for the persecutors, reminding us that the apostle Paul was one such persecutor who came to the Lord in the middle of his persecuting activities. Then he said the pastors want to pray for us as we have prayed for them. So that's how it happened that, for many minutes, last night we and the Lord heard an Oriya prayer from India for the people in our church in the middle of Kansas.

The prayers were sandwiched between two songs: "There is Beyond the Azure Blue. . . " and "I Would be True." Hearing the words through the "ears" of persecuted Christians gave them deep meaning.

I sensed that everyone present, both here and in India, was blessed and encouraged by the experience of solidarity in coming together into the presence of our Loving Father.


Several other neat things happened in church last night. Three people spoke who were asked ahead of time to share something that the Lord has been doing in their lives. The three who spoke were Daniel, Joseph, and Ollie. (Ollie was a last-minute replacement for Menno, whose wife is hospitalized, recovering from unexpected surgery.) Daniel is single and in his early 20s. Joseph is in his late 20s and has four and a half young children. Ollie is in his 70s and has grandchildren.

Daniel talked about his growing awareness of how young people (he and his peers) often communicate by using playful (?) jabs. He began to notice that such a communication style often does not affirm and encourage others. It is, in fact, likely to be a veiled criticism of something they see that they aren't willing to deal with in a less comfortable way, i.e., actually bringing it up in a personal, serious, and redemptive context. When he asked, the audience responded with a number of ways to be affirming and encouraging in communicating with others.

Joseph talked about several "random" things he's been learning--patience in dealing with others, taking time to enjoy life in the middle of a busyness--those are the things I remember at the moment. Then he said that he learns a lot by reading, and he's going to share a bit from what he's been reading. Before he read a quotation from David Bercot's The Kingdom That Turned the World Upside Down and Philip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew he told us he's been thinking a lot about politics, especially because of the recent election. He said he's come to understand that it doesn't work very well to legistlate morality from the top down, but it works much better when hearts are changed, one at a time, and change follows, from the bottom up. He cited one example: supporting the local Crisis Pregnancy Center, where women can learn about salvation, besides receiving support and encouragement to bring their babies to term and offer them life instead of death by abortion.

Ollie talked about forgiveness, and referred to how his father had helped him understand early in life how important it was that he forgive others. His father did this by refering to the Scripture that says that anyone who wishes to be forgiven must forgive others. Ollie told us briefly about many of the early Christian martyrs, beginning with Stephan, who displayed a forgiving spirit, even in the face of death.

Evenings like last night remind me why I hate to miss being in church and how blessed we are to hear and learn from others with whom we share the journey of faith.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Snippet #3--Ongoing Conversation

On aborted babies being the only case of truly innocent lives being taken--

Simply put, I don't believe that passage through the birth canal, or through an incision in the uterine/abdominal wall is the process by which individuals acquire a sinful nature or the capacity to sin. What they receive instead by that process is entrance into a new physical environment which they experience initially as a blast of cold air, and air in their lungs.

As I see it, a sinful nature is acquired when a spirit begins to inhabit a body. That spirit needs redemption, whether or not the person grows to maturity. In this sense, pre-born babies are not alone on a different side of a great innocent/guilty divide than everyone else. All who have spirit-inhabited bodies are guilty. Original sin, Adamic nature, born in sin are common terms used to refer to this. So the "innocents" you identify as such are not really innocent in all respects. Redemption for such "guilty" innocents, however, I believe was secured by Christ's death and resurrection.

In another sense, all pre-born babies, young children, and mentally limited adults are innocent. The capacity to deliberately act sinfully is acquired with cognition--and involves the ability to learn, know, and choose. At some point, when cognitive capacity develops sufficiently, these innocents appear again on the guilty side of the innocent/guilty divide if they do not personally receive Christ through the New Birth. But until that happens, all these people are together in the same "innocent" group. In other words, here also, pre-born babies are not in a class by themselves.

It seems to me that you (H---) have tried to "demonize" abortion beyond other ways of killing people, which coincidentally or otherwise, is exactly what I see in certain political persuasions. It's what I initially addressed in the "Pro-Life Position" post.

Why does any Christian go through contortions to fit into that political "box?" That box is not necessarily a Christian-shaped box, and Christians risk becoming permanently deformed if they stay there long enough to take on the shape of the box. Transformation is much better--putting on Christ and taking on His shape.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Gone Fishing

One fish in the bunch Hiromi brought home last week for the aquarium looked pregnant, according to Hiromi's and my analysis. Grant asked, "How can you tell if a fish is pregnant?"

"The same way you tell if a woman is pregnant. If she has a fat belly."

A few days later Hiromi dug out the aquarium nursery (a square net affixed to a metal frame which can be suspended from the top edge of the aquarium while dangling in the water). He netted the pregnant fish and put it into the nursery.

Once before when we had the same kind of fish, and it began dropping babies from its lower abdomen into the water, we hurried to put the mother and babies into a separate gallon jar after we spied some of the other aquarium residents feasting on the new babies. The mother proceeded to have many more babies, but she did not prove to be a loving mother. The next morning only four babies were left. Lesson learned. Do not leave mother and babies together. Mother will eat babies.

We kept checking on the mother-in-waiting in the aquarium nursery. Nothing. Till tonight, when Joel walked by and peered into the aquarium. "Uh. I see a baby fish."

I was on the phone, but I scurried to the kitchen for a large white plastic powdered-food-supplement container. I put water into it and handed Joel a dry ingredients measuring cup to use for scooping out the babies into the container. He saw four fish at the beginning, but like the occasion of Jesus feeding the 5,000, the fish kept multiplying. Joel kept fishing and dipping until there were more than 20 baby fish in the container. They could swim just fine, but they soon settled near the bottom, presumably a good place to hang out if everything else in the aquarium is bigger than you by a factor of at least 25.

Hiromi said, "Why don't you check on the internet and see how long she's going to keep on having babies?" I did, and learned that it can take a few hours or even a day. When there was a lull in the birthing activity, and Joel's dipping finally caught up with the mother fish's producing, we decided to put her back into the main part of the aquarium. If she was going to have more babies, we'd let nature take its course. We dumped Mama out of the nursery and then dumped the babies into it.

On the way to learning about the duration of labor in fishes, I learned other interesting things about fish babies. They're born four weeks after fertilization. The mother "shimmies" before giving birth. It looks just like it sounds. Hiromi had seen it earlier this evening and didn't know what it meant. Baby brine shrimp or infusoria (very small microorganisms that live in water) is the proper food for most baby fish, although some will survive on very finely crushed flaked fish food.

I don't expect to get up with the babies tonight. Thankfully my days of doing that are past. Even then, I'll be acting much more responsibly than their own mother did. I'm not even tempted with gulping them whole. Aren't you proud of me?

Quote for the Day 11/10/2008

Myron (my brother, on the phone): I've got to figure out a way to get Rhoda out of the house. Why don't you call me in about three minutes and invite us over for the evening. Then we'll head over in that direction and drive right on by to Cottonwood Lane (Marvins' Nickerson house where we had planned a surprise birthday party for Rhoda and Lowell who have the same Nov. 8 birthday).

Myron: Hello.

Me: Hello Myron. I'm calling to see if you can come over this evening. The young folks have a free Sunday evening, so it suits better than usual.

Myron: Just a minute. I'll check with Rhoda.

Young Boy's Voice (in the background): I think we should go.

Myron: We'll be over.

Me: Try to come around 6:30. You don't have to bring food or anything.


The next conversation is based on a later report--

Myron (in the car, on the road by our drive) : Just a minute. I want to check on something. (Drives on by. Rhoda sighs. She's used to last-minute decisions to "check things out.")

Diana (6, from the back): Where did you say we're going for the pa-- ? (Sudden silence. Diana tries again.) Where did you say we're going? (Rhoda's suspicions kick in.)

Myron: To check something out.


Grant pulls in ahead of Myron and Rhoda's family at Cottonwood Lane.

Rhoda: What is Grant doing here?

Myron: I think he's just checking something out.


Lowell comes downstairs where the snacks are spread and the people are waiting. We all sing "Happy Birthday" when he appears. Since he's the center of attention anyway, he hams it up and directs the singing with more aplomb than finesse and sways and dances dramatically.

Rhoda follows and we sing for her. She's more demure.

Before we have prayer, Marvin asks if anyone has anything they want to say. In response to a predictable question, Lowell says that being 50 feels just like not being 50. Rhoda says she appreciates being part of a wonderful family. Lowell and Rhoda's families talk about the slip-ups and difficulties of keeping the plans a secret.

The event was mostly planned by Hannah and Christy, Lowell's two oldest daughters. It was a nice excuse to get together, and we had a good time.

I can hardly believe though that six of us twelve children in my parental family have now begun the second half century of our lives.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Snippet #2--Ongoing Conversations

Note: Turning on and off the "italic" function is giving me fits on this post, as it has before on "blogger." I meant to put all quotations in italics, and my own words in regular text. I can't do it consistently. GRRRRR. Do I need to edit Html?? In the meantime, look for the quotation marks.

The battle of Anabaptism/Protestantism definitions has been waged elsewhere. When I plowed through all the arguments and counter-arguments on MD, I summed it up in my mind with one word: semantics. I've read Harold Bender's Anabaptist Vision, but can't remember how he deals with these terms. I suspect, however, that he used the terms with the awareness of some of the issues involving semantics. He likely chose his words as he did because they served as understandable symbols for what he wished to communicate. That's what words are for, after all.

Semantics is the study of meanings. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary (M-W) says further under that first initial description of semantics, "a: the historical and psychological study and the classification of changes in the signification of words or forms viewed as factors in linguistic development b (1): semiotic (2): a branch of semiotic dealing with the relations between signs and what they refer to and including theories of denotation, extension, naming, and truth 2: general semantics3 a: the meaning or relationship of meanings of a sign or set of signs ; especially : connotative meaning b: the language used (as in advertising or political propaganda) to achieve a desired effect on an audience especially through the use of words with novel or dual meanings."

The argument in a comment on this blog (that Anabaptists are Protestants, byH----) is true only by a very narrow definition of the word Protestant--one that does not include all aspects of "historical and psychological study and the classification of changes in the signification of words. . . "

It also fails to take into account the "connotative meaning."
Merriam-Webster again, on connotation:
"1 a: the suggesting of a meaning by a word apart from the thing it explicitly names or describes b: something suggested by a word or thing : implication connotations of comfort that surrounded that old chair>2: the signification of something connotation — W. R. Inge>3: an essential property or group of properties of a thing named by a term in logic — compare denotation"

The term Protestant suggests a meaning "apart from the thing it explicitly names" (i.e. connotes. or has a different connotation). Specifically, in certain circles at least, it suggests the characteristics that Eldest Son and Gerald referred to.

The denotation (not to be confused with detonation!) of Protestant is one thing you (H---) are very clear on.
It is, according to M-W, a "direct specific meaning as distinct from an implied or associated idea"

In the MD discussion, and now as well, it's clear to me that when you say Protestant, you are referring to its denotative aspect, (also allowing for pacifist Lutherans, for example, within that label) and you think Anabaptists belong there also. In other words, I think I understand what both you and Gerald mean by the way you use the terms, differentiate between them or lump them under the same umbrella, etc. .

I think the need to argue over semantics disappears the minute we all understand what other people mean by their terms. So if we all understand now where you're coming from and what Gerald means by the terms he uses, we can probably go on to other things.

The issues surrounding the callings of God on our lives rightly concern us, and understandings of that involve how we relate to governement, to society, and to others in the church. And these matters can not all be given one-word umbrella labels. Effective communication, unfortunately, is much messier than that.

Postscript: I recently discovered the blogger feature that allows blog comments to be emailed to me. (Some of you are noting that I have a keen sense of the obvious.) Check it out by clicking on "Comments" if this option interests you. I'm actually not sure now if that option exists if you have not posted a comment on that blog, so I may be giving a false impression here. I used to try to remember to go back to earlier posts to see what other people were saying--a mild annoyance for the chronically absent-minded.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Snippet #1: Ongoing Conversation

John Howard Yoder will have to wait (May he rest in peace, despite his writings having been targeted for mining for the purpose of extracting ammunition.). As, regrettably, will Stephen Russell. (I sat in his Sunday School class one time and all that I remember of it is that he politely disagreed with something I said.) I've read a bit of Greg Boyd since yesterday, but only on his blog--not the best place to read a succinct statement of his viewpoint. Peripherally, I did learn some interesting details about Charles Colson and Shane Claiborne who participated in a debate/discussion with Boyd some time ago.

I've decided to resist my perfectionist desire to wait to say anything till I've figured out everything. Instead, I'll continue this conversation one snippet at a time. Right now I plan to respond to only one aspect of the issue, writing from what I've learned here and there. I will remember that understanding happens just as surely when it is acquired one step at a time as it does when acquired with the suddenness and power of a tidal wave.

This incremental approach to spelling things out will almost certainly invite more response from people who have thoughts to add, as I hope they will. Case in point: The article by conservative columnist Cal Thomas that Gerald Miller linked to was a very worthwhile read. Thomas is in his mid sixties now and served as vice president of the Moral Majority for five years in the 80s. From here it looks like he acquired a lot of wisdom with his years.

When I talked last week about lessons from the Potter, I said to the ladies at our Prayer Partners Banquet "Nothing good happens without a stance of humility." I'm repeating that to myself again this week.

Here goes, with reference to an earlier comment to the "Pro-Life Position" post--

Assertion that a Pro-Life Position is Compatible With a Pro-Military Position
Here's how I understand the argument. "God's plan for government laid out in Romans 13," calls for the government to punish evildoers and carry out justice. Thus, because many military operations punish evil doers and abortion always kills innocents (the only people without sin, for which the penalty is death), according to Scripture, the military operations are defensible while the killing of babies is not. Furthermore, to oppose a government that punishes evildoers with violence is to oppose God's plan, while opposing a government that perverts justice by not protecting the good and innocent is laudable.

Points of Agreement
1. God has a plan for government. That plan involves punishing evildoers and upholding justice.

2. Abortion kills innocents (at least in the sense that they have not resisted God or chosen to sin).

3. A government is not to be commended for perverting justice.

Points of Disagreement
1. I don't think "many military operations punish evildoers" is a credible argument in the defense of military operations.

It would, in fact be just as accurate to say many military operations kill innocents. Have you never met an American soldier with a deeply stained conscience because he knows he has done exactly that? Or worse, think about the death of an innocent at the hands of a soldier who defends what he does. That happens too.

Taking the life of another person is reprehensible in the sight of God, I believe. It is destroying what God has given. Death was Satan's idea, and when a person dies, Satan has had his way, for a moment at least. Our merciful God is certainly there also when a person dies, and life with God continues for the Christian, but to suggest that people are doing what God planned when one human being takes the life of another seems very wrong to me.

I recognize civil government as one of the helps God gave man for living in a fallen world. I understand too that sometimes this legitimately involves the use of force. But lethal force? I think Christians ought never, for any reason, to promote this or participate in it. (You agree on the participation part.)

2. ". . . abortion is indeed "the *only* completely injust taking of life--the taking of the life of someone who has not yet sinned."

I see all young children as being innocent in the same way a pre-born child is--not alienated from God by the guilt of their wrongdoing. Older people with limited cognitive function also fit here, I believe. All of them are defenseless and God would take all of them to heaven if they died while young or cognitively limited. I'm registering disagreement here with the idea that abortion is the only completely unjust taking of life.

3. "Every person the government does not execute is mercy, because all have sinned."

I understand the verse in Romans 6:23 to be a reminder of the sure end of all who continue in sin till the end of life. It is not a command for individuals or governments to execute everyone who sins. I won't brag either about one imperfect person--a government person even--allowing another to live (does not execute them). That is "reasonable service." That a holy God shows mercy is the marvel. That He has the power to give the gift of eternal life is a further marvel.

4. This disagreement is related to the first one. It has to do with how a government defines an evildoer. You cited punishing evildoers as giving legitimacy to military action. Think about these situations for a moment--all involving military action on the part of the US:

a. England taxes the American colonies. This seems fair to the British and unfair to the Americans.

b. Japan has almost no trade with other countries in the late 1800s. Japan likes it this way. The American, Commodore Perry, sails into one of their harbors and, at gunpoint, demands that they open their country to trade with America.

c. Spain claims territory in what is now the southwest US. Spain wants to keep the territory. America wants to own it.

I don't see a clear right-or-wrong side in any of these situations. Yet, in every case, America justified military force to have it their own way. Doesn't America always justify getting its own way, by force if necessary? Don't other countries do the same? How can this rationally be construed as punishing evildoers?

To be continued.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Scratching the Curiosity Itch

One of the delights of not having to leave the house every weekday to go to school is that I am free to follow the prompts of my curious mind right then instead of putting them aside, risking the curious thoughts disappearing altogether before I've learned anything further. This free-wheeling pursuit of information does not always facilitate an orderly progression to the day, but I usually get around to whatever it is that needs to happen that day.

One thing I hardly ever do is sleep late. That would feel like a waste of time.

Yesterday I read in a gardening magazine that any rainwater collected for watering plants should be used promptly before the nitrogen in it disappears. I wondered if that's really necessary. How much nitrogen does rainwater contain? How fast does it disappear? Today I didn't find specific answers to these questions (although it does seem logical from what I've read that nitrogen does indeed eventually disappear from rainwater), but I did find some very interesting research results here. It's true that rainwater contains some nitrogen. It is especially concentrated in the first rain that falls after a long period of no rain. The nitrogen content in the atmosphere is apparently increasing, and more of it falls dissolved in rain than used to. While this may at first seem to be advantageous to plant growth, it does not promote plant diversity in plant communities. Those plants that respond more vigorously to the increase in nitrogen tend to overwhelm species that do not benefit from higher nitrogen levels. While the research was done in grasslands, evidence exists that the same effect occurs in forested areas.

An increase of nitrogen in the air and subsequently in rainwater is thought to be linked to the increase of emissions that are a by-product of two activities: combustion of fuel, and concentrated livestock production. Sigh. I had forgotten about these nitrogen sources. And now, this simple search has gone political on me.

Another thing I wondered about today was the differences between the terms ceramics, pottery, and porcelain. The correct answer is "not much." All of them are made from mixtures of clay and water. Porcelain was made first in China and is different from the other clay products in that it contains kaolin and becomes translucent after it is fired. Since porcelain was for a long time made only in China, porcelain was often used interchangeably with "china." Ceramics is the most general term and includes all the others. Pottery can be either stoneware (think pizza dough baking), or earthenware. Earthenware is still porous after firing unless it is glazed (clay flower pots); and stoneware is impermeable to water, even before it's fired. The firing temperature varies for each kind of ceramics. Porcelain is fired at temperatures up to 2600 degrees, stoneware at 2100-2300 degrees, and earthenware at 1700-2100 degrees. Apparently any of these items can be either handmade on a wheel or without a wheel, or they can be shaped by the use of a mold.

Today I also nailed down in my mind what it will take to recycle more of our household waste and made plans, designated collection containers and locations, and posted a sign with the information John Stutzman had referred me to yesterday. I sent my household members an email to tell them what the new expectations are. (Hey--they do read their email and I've remembered to inform them, with the benefit of being able to do it at my convenience.)

I also researched the writing class offerings at the University of Iowa, after I decided to buy a course that was taught by a professor from there for the Teaching Company. I learned that this university has a highly respected writing school, but they don't have online courses that I can see, and I'm not moving to Iowa to enroll in a master's program in their university. On to more modest endeavors--An Anabaptist History course at Faith Builders during their winter term? Hmmm. Still looks like a lot of money, and it's halfway across the country. Decision shelved for now.

Those wonderful knee socks I saw recommended by Missus Smarty Pants on the Flylady site turn out to not be the toasty warm types I'm visualizing. They're all nylon. Some nice colors though. Not ordering today.

The Green Harvest vitamins Judy told me about--She could probably tell me how to get that Green Harvest deodorant I saw on display at the Health and Wellness Expo. None of the other natural kinds I've tried have been spray-on, and for other reasons I wasn't overly impressed. I sent her an email inquiry--again at my convenience, awaiting an answer at her convenience.

My nephew Hans commented on my "Pro-Life Position" blog, and I need to do some more thinking and come up with a more extensive response. Joel says Greg Boyd and John Howard Yoder will have the best counter-arguments. I think that WordPerfect document of my own ruminations on the subject is just about to be massively upstaged. I've read both of these authors, but not very much very recently and I'm going to have to refresh my memory. This curiosity itch will require some deep scratching.

But let Hans have the last word? Hardly. Not without a challenge at least. (Help me out here, folks, or help him out if you must.) After all, I am almost three times as old as he is. True, he's a lot taller than I am, but I'm fatter, and I am the veteran of more arguments than he is. He's lived abroad more than I have, but I'm married to a foreigner--which of course are all patently foolish claims to credibility, but I'm taking what I can get here. Wish me luck.

Seriously, pray for us all to be open to truth. All of us need wisdom from God to be discerning and humble learners. Unless God and His truth are the foundation of our desire, knowledge and information merely puffs up, and the seeking of it is unprofitable, maybe especially so for those of us with over-sized loads of natural curiosity.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Church Manners

I dearly love my fellow church members, and most of the time I like them too. But, Hiromi is witness occasionally to an indignant outburst on the way home about something I witnessed at church--something I was less likely to do when the boys always rode with us. These things have to do with privileges people allocate to themselves when doing so obviously inconveniences others.

The first occasion for fussing may happen in the parking lot, and sometimes ends with Hiromi asking, "Do you want to drive?" Actually I usually have no quibble with his parking or driving (He's very careful.), although when we're already rushed, I would really like if we could park close to the building rather than follow his usual pattern of heading for the far corners to look for a spot.

It's not as big an issue now as it was when we had a row of trees on the west side of the building, but one of my pet peeves is when people leave ridiculously wide gaps between parked vehicles. It strikes me the same way as it would if a pompous ruler sent trumpeters ahead to clear the path for him. No one at our church qualifies as royalty, and no single person is as wide as half the width of a vehicle, so let's just all be reasonable about our parking.

When the trees were there, three vehicles easily fit between every two trees, unless the first or second vehicle to park there did not park close enough to the tree or the first vehicle. Then there was all kinds of wasted space around the two cars parked there, and the number of vehicles necessitated forming a second row behind the first one. On a blistering hot day, the wide-spreading branches of those sycamore trees provided welcome shade, unless of course your vehicle was in the outer row where the shade did not reach. Because I usually didn't know who the offending vehicle belonged to (bad vehicle memory), I would glare venomously at any offending vehicles I spied--easier to do than if I had thought of the decent person who parked it there.

Inside the church, similar dynamics sometimes prevail. We do not have reserved seats at our church, but you would sometimes think we do by the way certain people always occupy certain spots. This in itself is no problem, if they are early to arrive and their placement does not limit other people's access to the space that remains. I rather like the continuity of such a practice, in fact.

But if the chosen spot is at the very end of an empty bench, every subsequent resident of that bench must either approach via the other aisle or clamber across the person already seated there. Requiring that of others seems extremely rude to me. The first person simply choosing a place near the middle of the bench leaves the greatest number of convenient options open to the subsequent occupants. If the next people always fill in right next to the people already seated there, everything can go off without a hitch. The worst case of all is when there are only two people on a bench, one at each end.

I understand that sometimes necessity requires special placement at the end of a bench. A case in point is the daughter who always sits there to be next to her mother in a wheelchair in the aisle. A parent with small children who need to be taken out during church seems qualified to me too to sit near the end of the row. When I am responsible to write down, copy, and distribute the announcements before people want to leave for home on Sunday morning, I like sitting near the end so I can escape the auditorium just before the final song. I'm sure that sometimes other people have good and right reasons that I'm not aware of or at least not thinking of now.

Prayer meeting on Wed. eve. does not really involve rude or thoughtless behavior, but is often unsettling nevertheless. When we split into small groups and pray where we're seated, no one seems to know how the groups should be divided. Do you pray with the people next to you or in front or behind you? Do you form the groups from the center aisle out or the outside aisle in? No one seems to know. So every time, there's a "dance" while everyone gets situated with others to form a group, making sure no one is left out.

After the group is formed, who prays first? Of course, it really doesn't matter, and I've started always taking charge in my group or asking someone else to take charge. I would gladly not do this, but I would not gladly wait forever till someone else decides to do it. Sadly, the more I do it, the more people expect me to always do it. I've decided it's simply not worth agonizing over.

I would welcome a few simple directives here--not because it's important that it happen a certain way, but because if it's to happen at all, it might as well be orderly as disorderly.

Does your church avoid these problems? How?

Positive Presidential Election Results

The teacher in me can't pass up the pronunciation-rule-teaching opportunity in this presidential election. Most of the world knows by now that the president-elect is "Buh-ROCK Oh-BAH-muh.
The pronunciation of the four "A's" in the name is what I plan to belabor here.

Obviously, it is not BAY-rack, as is usually associated with the Balaam story. But why is it not spelled Buhrock Ohbahmah? As I understand it, Barack Obama's name is spelled the way it is because it follows what Hiromi refers to as International Pronunciation Rules (I have no idea whether this is an official term.), in use when sounds from another language are transliterated into English text.

As Hiromi learned it, what this means is simply that when a foreign word written in English contains an "a" you can be assured that it should be pronounced "ah" or something very close to it. It should not be "ay" or "a as in at." That is why I persist in saying "Ih-ROCK" and "Ih-RAHN" for those two Middle-Eastern countries. I don't read Arabic, the script I presume that is in use in Iraq and Iran, but when they have read aloud their country's name in the Arabic script in the past, some transliterator who heard it knew exactly how it should be written in English when he heard the Arabic sounds. "Ah" is spelled with an "a." These rules are much more standardized than pronunciation of English vowel sounds in general.

Believe me, the Japanese, as well as the Arabs, know something about this. With a script so very different from English, if it were not for the tool of transliteration, it would be far more difficult for a native speaker of English to get even the foggiest idea of correct pronunciation without actually hearing a written word pronounced in association with its written form. I can, for example, see Hiromi's mother's name, Kimiko, and know exactly how to say it, even though I could not read it if she signed her name in Japanese characters. Over time, I could perhaps, memorize the shape of the Japanese characters that spell Kimiko, but I don't have to wait to learn to say her name till that happens--because it can easily be transliterated. (This is different from simple translation, when the meaning is expressed. Kimiko is "beautiful woman" in translation.)

Like "A," the other vowels have similarly fixed pronunciations: "E" is "eh." "I" is "ih" or "ee." "O" is "oh." "U" is "oo." Think of any foreign name you know as it is pronounced by native speakers of that language. Does it follow these rules? Likely.

It isn't quite as simple as I've made it sound, however. Some names have simply been pronounced for so long in English in an "Englishified" way that the proper foreign pronunciation has been lost. Think of "patio," for example. Maybe English speakers who first encountered this word just couldn't quite bring themselves to say "potty-0." So they said "patty-o," which of course was suitably respectable. And so the word has ever since allowed us to visualize a happy toddler clapping his hands.

How foreign words are pronounced is finally a judgement call that takes various factors into account. My personal standard is that I will apply International Pronunciation Rules whenever I attempt to pronounce a word that I have encountered only in print. I will probably not go against decades of tradition in adopting a properly transliterated English pronunciation of words like "patio" when I am talking to speakers of English. Words like Iraq are pronounced with enough variation that I don't feel compelled to use what I suspect is the most common English pronunciation: "Eye-RACK." Quite honestly, that pronunciation grates on my ears, just as mine may grate on others' ears.

Knowing the International Pronunciation Rules can be a help to understanding anyone who has first learned English in adulthood. When they see any English written vowel, they will probably try first to pronounce it according to the International system. It may be non-standard English, but it will be more understandable for you if you keep their pronunciation perspective in mind.

In the immediate future, Americans can't avoid hearing Barack Obama's name pronounced repeatedly according to the International Pronunciation Rules. If they remember the relationship between the pronunciation and the spelling, they will know something they can apply in many other situations. So that is why I think of this presidential election as having been positive in promoting proper pronunciation. (Say that fast ten times.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Tiger in the Tank

After a number of months with only one very boring resident in our 20-gallon aquarium, Hiromi headed for the pet department at Wal-Mart looking for interesting fish. It was a beautiful day and, at 11:30 AM Hiromi had just finished an 8-hour stretch of overtime hours. Stoked by all these good vibes, Hiromi decided first of all that he would look for a more handsome fish to replace the Plecostamus, AKA "Mr. Cleaner Upper"--the aforementioned previous boring (and very ugly) holdout aquarium resident. It was even uglier after it died, although it moved only slightly less than before.

So Hiromi showed up on Saturday afternoon with several fat, water-and-air-filled plastic bags containing live fish. In one of the bags, a hyper-active silver and black catfish rocketed around, bumping into the sides of the bag, and slicing the water into figure-eights. This was the new "Mr. Cleaner Upper."

The aquarium underwent a major purge, and afterward all the fish in turn got dumped into the very clean water. The catfish kept racing around while we watched and laughed at the contrast between it and the former Mr. Cleaner Upper. He kept it up all weekend.

Besides Mr. Cleaner Upper there were three tiny Neons, two Tetras, three Fancy Guppies, two tiny bright yellow and two red fish that would have glowed if we had shined black lights on them. Throughout the weekend, they enjoyed their first meal and we all kept careful tabs on the behavior inside the tank. On Monday morning Hiromi reported, "They're still all alive. I'm glad. Often we lose a few right after we get them." (In spite of having done a lot of things wrong, I thought--not allowing the water to cycle before adding fish, adding too many fish at once, learning about which kinds were most likely to be compatible with each other, etc.)

I kept checking on the aquarium periodically throughout the day on Monday and noticed that the catfish had become very sedate, lurking quietly now at the bottom in one of the back corners of the aquarium. Hmmm. Was he sick? I admired the other fish, thinking wryly that they were probably all relieved that the catfish had finally tired and was giving them a bit of peace.

Those tiny fish fascinated me--the Neons, and the red and yellow fish. Wait. Where were they? One yellow, one red, and one neon. They're schooling fish and always stay together. Had a few of them died? I checked for floaters or sinkers. Were they plastered against the recirculating tube in the back of the aquarium? Not there. Not anywhere. That catfish. . . .Could he have . . . .? His lurking began to look a lot more sinister than tranquil. I'd head for the bottom back corner too if I had just eaten one red, one yellow and two neon fish.

I looked it up on the internet and found that any catfish with its mouth at the front rather than on the underside of the head is indeed known to eat any fish small enough to fit into its mouth.

I reported him to Hiromi as soon as he got home. "OK. That's it. I'm going to get rid of him."

"What are you going to do with him?"

"I don't know yet. Maybe I'll just throw him out."

"At least put him in the stock tank. He can't eat those goldfish."

"OK. Can you help me here, Grant?"

"He looks fat," Grant observed.

Hiromi caught him with a strainer and took him to the tank in a bucket.

Today Hiromi came home with more fish. "At the store, there was a sign on the catfish tank that said 'This fish may eat little fish.' "

"You didn't see that on Saturday?"

"No. Takes too much time to read all those signs."

"Looks to me like it would be cheaper though."

"I'm going to wait a while to get another Cleaner Upper."

At least that will have been done according to proper aquarium protocol.

We have three new Mickey Mouse fish, one new Tetra, and three new Neons--all of them thankfully out of the reach of that handsome predatory Mr. Cleaner Upper, who is probably at this very minute rooting around in the slime at the bottom of the stock tank. Ha. Serves him right.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Quotes for the Day 11/3/2008

From the "Western Front", the reader's write section of our local newspaper The Hutchinson News, Nov. 2, 2008:

Barbara______: Vote for the man who respects life and has protected all of us by serving in the U.S. military for many years--John McCain.

Arlene ______ (a Mennonite) : Sen. McCain values and fought for life his entire career.

Betty ________: First of all, I would like to know why Kathleen Parker considers herself a journalist. She is a hateful, far-left, anti-intelligent person who happens to own a poison pen. (Just for the record, most people consider Kathleen Parker a conservative columnist.)

Don ________: [Obama] . . . does not know the true intent of the Second Amendment as written by the founders of the constitution. The purpose was that every man be armed, and it was instated as a check-and-balance measure to ensure the people government would not become tyrannical. The Second Amendment was not established to guarantee my right to hunt fur and fowl. . . . I urge everybody that supports the Constitution to wake up and see that Barack Obama is nothing but a wolf in sheep's clothing. Vote for John McCain to see that your rights as a gun owner are not trampled on.

FWIW: In the last 36 presidential elections, Kansas electoral votes (from a high of ten to the current six votes) have been cast for the Republican candidate in all but six of those elections. The last time the state vote went for a Democrat was 44 years ago. So the outcome here is all but assured, unless a major upset occurs.