Monthly Archives: December 2007

A Doctor Confronts the Human Drama’s Inevitable Finale

When it comes to confronting death, doctors are as much at a loss as the rest of us. They are in the business of saving lives, not ending them. By instinct and by training, they avoid what Pauline W. Chen calls “the final exam,” the emotional challenges posed by terminally ill patients. Death represents failure. It asks unanswerable questions. Perhaps most vexingly, it threatens to crack the hard professional shell of detachment that medical training puts in place. In modern American medicine, death is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

Dr. Chen, a surgeon specializing in liver transplants, is her own patient in “Final Exam,” a series of thoughtful, moving essays on the troubled relationship between modern medical practice and the emotional events surrounding death. She recalls episodes from her own medical training, and cases in which she was involved, to dramatize her misgivings about the “lessons in denial and depersonalization” that help doctors achieve a high level of technical competence but can also prevent them from expressing empathy or confronting their own fears about death.

In the current system, she writes, “few of us ever adequately learn how to care for patients at the end of life.” Among other things, “Final Exam” is a crash course in the specifics of human mortality. Dr. Chen begins with her first dead body, the dissecting-room cadaver that she disassembles over a period of many weeks, sometimes sawing and flaying, at other times gently separating minute muscle fibers and veins, as she learns to itemize every muscle and bone.

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Death / Burial / Funerals, Health & Medicine, Parish Ministry

One Soldier recalls best, worst times of past year of deployment

Maj. Jimmy Brownlee of Charleston is stationed in Iraq as a public affairs officer but is home for the holidays until Jan. 7 at his base at Fort Stewart, Ga. In the space of a week he has gone from his highest point, that of surprising his wife and two children by dressing as Santa Claus and showing up at home unexpectedly six days before Christmas, to his lowest point four days later. His 80-year-old stepfather, Vernon Mason, a World War II Navy veteran from West Ashley, died two days before Christmas. These are Brownlee’s reflections on the ups and downs of the past year…

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Iraq War, Military / Armed Forces

Finding a lesson in a local South Carolina tragedy

Charleston’s deadly Sofa Super Store blaze already is one of the most studied fires in recent history, and experts hope its lessons will help reverse a steady parade of firefighter deaths across the nation.

Despite improvements in training, equipment and tactics, about 100 firefighters die on duty each year in the United States.

South Carolina leads the country in firefighter deaths this year, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the nation’s 114 on-duty fatalities. Nine men died in the June 18 fire in Charleston; two more died in vehicle crashes in other communities.

Chief Ron Siarnicki, executive director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, said heart attacks traditionally have been the leading cause of on-duty deaths. But the fire service has seen a noticeable increase this year in the number of firefighters killed while battling blazes.

Also disturbing is an increase in fires that claim multiple lives, like the sofa store blaze, he said. Texas, California, New York and Massachusetts also recorded multiple deaths in single incidents.

Gordon Routley, who leads a panel of consultants studying the sofa store blaze and the Charleston Fire Department, said firefighting will always carry inherent risks, but many of these deaths are preventable. “These are particularly frustrating. We are not inventing new ways to kill firefighters. We keep doing it the same way,” he said.

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Posted in * South Carolina

Oliver "Buzz" Thomas: Bridge this religious divide

If we are to win the so-called war on terror, it will not be because we killed all of our enemies. For one thing, there are too many of them, and besides, it only takes one fanatic to detonate a nuclear or biological weapon. No, if we win this war, it will be because we regained the moral high ground.

To do that, we have to win the hearts and minds of Muslims on the street. That takes us back to Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush or back further to Mr. Lincoln or, if you prefer, all the way back to Mr. Jesus. Turning our enemies into friends. That’s the only long-term strategy that makes any sense.

Ultimately, it is Muslims who must excise the scourge of radicalism from Islam. From within. We can help by behaving like the generous, just and benevolent society moderate Muslims once considered us to be.

Sorry, doves, but that doesn’t mean getting out of Iraq tomorrow. The military mission must be completed. But hawks must realize that there can be no lasting victory without a humanitarian mission as well. Not just in Iraq. In Bangladesh, the West Bank, anywhere in the Muslim world where there is suffering. Do that and who knows? Maybe by next Christmas we can start beating our swords into plowshares.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * Religion News & Commentary, Iraq War, Islam, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture

Niall Ferguson reviews Walter Russell Mead's God and Gold

The resurgence of China and India, to say nothing of the “energy empires’’ of Iran and Russia, means that, in relative terms, Anglo-American hegemony is already on the wane. Above all, Mead overlooks the extent to which the very un-Weberian culture of consumption, which has become the motive force of the Anglophone economies, has rendered them as dependent on foreign capital as were the moribund empires of the Ottomans, Qing and Romanovs a century ago.

Meanwhile, over Iraq, fissures have opened within the English-speaking world. There is abundant evidence, not discussed here, that other Anglophone peoples feel a diminished affinity with their US counterparts. Mead is quite wrong to assume, for example, that religion is as “persistent’’ in the rest of the Anglosphere as it is in the US.

Though there’s no harm in celebrating what we have in common ”“ and Mead does it well ”“ the differences between Anglos and Americans are much greater than he implies. Divided by much more than just a common language, it will take much more than a hyphen to reunite us.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., England / UK, Foreign Relations

Financial Times Prediction for 2008

President Clinton, Google grows, $100 oil, but no US recession.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Media

From the morning Scripture readings

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

–Psalm 46: 1-2, a very good Psalm to end the year with; here is the Message version of this passage extended by one verse:

God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,
courageous in seastorm and earthquake,
Before the rush and roar of oceans,
the tremors that shift mountains.
Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,
God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.

Posted in Theology, Theology: Scripture

The Economist–The battle of the books

In many parts of the world, battle seems to be in progress. The Saudis will not allow the Bible to be distributed on their soil. Many Evangelical Christians are fixated on what they call the 10/40 window””the vast swathe of the Islamic world in Africa and Asia that lies between latitudes 10 and 40 north of the equator. The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas has even created a masters degree to train missionaries in the art of converting Muslims. Some Evangelicals produce counterfeit Korans that are designed to plant doubt in Muslim minds.

And the battle of the books is certainly at the heart of the battle between the two religions. People who get hold of Bibles or Korans may not read them or understand them. Unless they are introduced to the books they will certainly remain heathens. Even an imperfect report on the state of the battle tells us a lot about the world’s two great missionary religions.

The Christians entered the 21st century with a big head start. There are 2 billion of them in the world compared with 1.5 billion Muslims. But Islam had a better 20th century than Christianity. The world’s Muslim population grew from 200m in 1900 to its current levels. Christianity has shrivelled in Christendom’s European heart. Islam is resurgent across the Arab world. Many Christian scholars predict that Islam will overtake Christianity as the world’s largest religion by 2050.

More recently, though, Muslims complain that the “war on terror” is making it much more difficult to spread the Koran. Contributions to Muslim charities have fallen since September 11th 2001. Several charities have had their funding disrupted. Missionary organisations such as the Tablighi Jamaat are under investigation by Western intelligence services, on the grounds that they may be way-stations to jihadism. And Muslims confront much bigger long-term problems in the battle of the books.

Read it all.

Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Islam, Muslim-Christian relations, Other Faiths, Theology, Theology: Scripture

Top economist says America could plunge into recession

Losses arising from America’s housing recession could triple over the next few years and they represent the greatest threat to growth in the United States, one of the world’s leading economists has told The Times.

Robert Shiller, Professor of Economics at Yale University, predicted that there was a very real possibility that the US would be plunged into a Japan-style slump, with house prices declining for years.

Professor Shiller, co-founder of the respected S&P Case/Shiller house-price index, said: “American real estate values have already lost around $1 trillion [£503 billion]. That could easily increase threefold over the next few years. This is a much bigger issue than sub-prime. We are talking trillions of dollars’ worth of losses.”

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Housing/Real Estate Market

Bishop of London left in dark over secret service led by Rowan Williams

The Archbishop of Canterbury kept a special communion service for gays so secret that he failed to tell the Bishop of London it was happening in his diocese, The Times has learnt.

Dr Rowan Williams inflamed the row over homosexuality which is tearing apart the Anglican Church when it was reported that he had agreed to hold a eucharist for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender clergy.

But even his critics have been taken aback to learn that he did so by making an incursion on to the patch of the Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres, without giving notice or seeking permission.

Dr Williams now risks being seen as, at best, discourteous and at worst, in breach of canon law, for sneaking into a church near the Tower of London under the Bishop’s nose. Canon law says that only a bishop can authorise services in his own diocese and infringements may result in an intruder being removed from office.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Provinces, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Same-sex blessings, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion)

Notable and Quotable

Lying at your feet is your dog. Imagine, for the moment, that your dog and every dog is in deep distress. Some of us love dogs very much. If it would help all the dogs in the world to become like men, would you be willing to become a dog? Would you put down your human nature, leave your loved ones, your job, hobbies, your art and literature and music, and choose instead of the intimate communion with your beloved, the poor substitute of looking into the beloved’s face and wagging your tail, unable to smile or speak? Christ by becoming man limited the thing which to Him was the most precious thing in the world; his unhampered, unhindered communion with the Father.

–C.S. Lewis

Posted in Christology, Theology

Eric Foner: A forgotten step toward freedom

We Americans live in a society awash in historical celebrations. The last few years have witnessed commemorations of the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase (2003) and the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II (2005). But one significant milestone has gone strangely unnoticed: the 200th anniversary of Jan. 1, 1808, when the importation of slaves into the United States was prohibited.

This neglect stands in striking contrast to the many scholarly and public events in Britain that marked the 2007 bicentennial of that country’s banning of the slave trade. There were historical conferences, museum exhibits, even a high-budget film, “Amazing Grace,” about William Wilberforce, the leader of the parliamentary crusade that resulted in abolition.

What explains this divergence? Throughout the 1780s, the horrors of the Middle Passage were widely publicized on both sides of the Atlantic, and by 1792 the British Parliament stood on the verge of banning the trade. But when war broke out with revolutionary France, the idea was shelved. Final prohibition came in 1807, and it proved a major step toward the abolition of slavery in the empire.

The British campaign against the African slave trade not only launched the modern concern for human rights as an international principle, but today offers a usable past for a society increasingly aware of its multiracial character. It remains a historic chapter of which Britons of all origins can be proud.

In the United States, however, slavery not only survived the end of the African trade but embarked on an era of unprecedented expansion.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Race/Race Relations

David Broder: What Presidents Must Know

But I have found myself thinking about something I was told many years ago by Bill Bradley, the former senator from New Jersey, before he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination against Al Gore in 2000. Bradley was explaining one day in his office why he had taken himself out of consideration as a running mate for Michael Dukakis in 1988. You shouldn’t run for vice president, he said, unless you thought you were ready to be president, and he didn’t consider himself ready.

Why not? He said he thought a president of the United States needed to know several other major countries “from the inside,” not just at a briefing-book level but from firsthand observation, so you understand the pressures on their leaders when you sit down to negotiate with them. Bradley had begun such studies in the Soviet Union, Japan, Germany and Mexico, he said, but had more to do in all four places, and China beckoned.

Then, he said, a president should know the leadership elites in this country — not just in politics but in business, the professions, academia, labor — well enough that he would know where to go to staff his administration. And, he said, you needed to know the policy community well enough to be able to navigate for useful advice.

I thought then — and I still believe — that that was as insightful a description of the desirable background for a president as I had ever heard. Bradley turned out to have his shortcomings as a campaigner, but his prescription for a president still seems right.

When all the fun and games are finished, Americans will be choosing a president for a dangerous time in a world that has more shocks to administer. I hope that some of the folks in Iowa and New Hampshire are thinking about that.

Read the whole piece.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, US Presidential Election 2008

Andrew Sullivan–America has a clear-cut choice: the candidates of hope or fear

This leaves one viable candidate on either side. They are the least afraid and the most hopeful. They are Obama and John McCain, the Republican senator and Vietnam war hero. Yes, McCain’s experience has emerged as a great strength in an unstable world. But what remains impressive about his candidacy is that he has taken positions that are more forward-looking than many of his younger rivals.

McCain is the only Republican eager to address climate change. Faced with a Republican base furious about illegal immigration, he stuck to his view that illegal immigrants needed to be assimilated and even defended a bill that he authored with Ted Kennedy, the Democrat senator, to achieve this. He also bravely said that America does not need to torture prisoners and that the war in Iraq can be won. As the candidate of honour, he also became a candidate of hope ”“ especially in Iraq. He has seen his numbers surge recently in New Hampshire and, if he can prevent Romney getting momentum, he still has a chance to pull it off.

Obama, of course, based his entire candidacy on the title of his campaign book, The Audacity of Hope. The fearful have every reason to look elsewhere. If you do not believe that a black man can be president; if you do not believe that America can risk talking to Iran’s leadership or withdrawing from Iraq without losing the wider war; if you think it’s naive to hope that the polarising culture war of the past 40 years can ever end; if you doubt that a man with a name like Obama who once attended a secular madrasah in Indonesia can ever win a majority of US votes, you really should vote for Clinton.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, US Presidential Election 2008

Michael Poon asks Archbishop Peter Jensen for clarification on several crucial points

I read with interest your 27 December 2007 Statement on the proposed Global Anglican Future Conference. Thank you for unpacking the background, and for your reassurance to your faithful in Sydney that the Conference “is not designed to take the place of Lambeth”. I appreciate your conviction in upholding orthodoxy. I also share you passion in standing together with those Anglicans in North America who are courageously contending for the faith that was once delivered to the saints. I hope we can work together for the good of the Communion in the time to come, to the glory of God.

Your Statement at the same time leaves me, and perhaps others in the Southern Hemisphere, unclear on several crucial points. I look to you, as an archbishop charged with huge responsibility under God, for your further clarification, that your actions can lead to the strengthening of the faithful across the worldwide Communion at this time of deep crisis and uncertainty.

1. What is the particular nature of the crisis before the Communion today? You mentioned several times in your Statement that the issue is over “biblical standards”, especially “in the biblical view of sexual ethics”. I wonder if that depiction adequately reflects the crux of the matter. After all, some other churches and congregations from different traditions have also departed from the “biblical views”. I wonder if the issue before the Anglican Communion is rather this: How do we see ourselves keeping the faith and witnessing together as part of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” across the ages and across the oceans? Perhaps at the heart is an ecclesiological issue. So the contention has never been simply on biblical view of sex, but on the particular issues of episcopal election of a candidate living in a committed same-sex relationship, and on the rites of blessing for same-sex unions. The process of discerning the Word and on keeping faith to what is revealed as a community go hand in hand. I suggest this interpretation may perhaps be fundamental, and determines how we respond and map the way forward.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * International News & Commentary, - Anglican: Analysis, Asia, Global South Churches & Primates