...are the ones that make the biggest difference


Big News

The wife is pregnant! And in the first month of trying, thank you very much. We told most of the family yesterday. My in-laws already have 5 grandkids, but this is the first on my side, so while the in-laws were very excited, my mom was positively explosive. The official due date is February 27th, 2008. Personally, I'm hoping the little tyke will stay in just 2 days longer and be a leap baby, which would be pretty sweet.

All tips, hints, suggestions, ideas and experiences with pregnancy and baby-related stuff is greatly appreciated.

Torture, pt 1

In the boardgame Cranium, each move involves responding to one of 4 different card sets. The "Data Head" and "Word Worm" sets require you to answer trivia questions and word-related items (like spelling a word backwards), respectively, while the "Star Performer" and "Creative Cat" involve variations of charades and pictionary, among others. I played Cranium with my former youth group once and we happened upon the Word Worm card that asks for the definition of "tortuous", giving three or four possible definitions. One was something like "twisty or winding" and another was "painful or difficult". The kids chose the latter definition, clearly confusing "tortuous" with "torturous", which is easy to do. I confess that I was thinking of that answer when the question was read. I never really thought much of that similarity until some blogs I've recently come across started discussing torture.

The first was Thom Stark's blog post A Free Iraq, which apparently offended a friend of his. He followed up with an update addressing his friend's views and was then subsequently invited to post a response to Death and the Maiden's question "What is torture and is it necessarily immoral?" Thom did respond, and so have several others (here and here), including one response by a professor who has studied aggression. To those who have not seen any of this, I'd highly recommend giving it a read - at the very least these are interesting and challenging perspectives, particularly to those Christians that believe torture may be morally permissible. Its after reading and pondering all of this that I've come to see how tortuous a logical path a Christians must follow in order to support torturous acts (bet you were wondering how I'd draw that together).

A second confession I need to make is that, in brutal honesty, I was not all that surprised or outraged when the Abu Ghraib abuses first came to light. Don't get me wrong, I thought it was despicable, juvenile and unbecoming a US soldier, but at the same time, perfectly in step with what I had experienced as a soldier on deployment. I was never even in an active war zone (though there were some threats, mostly from old land mines) but the stress of long days, separation from family, culture shock, the inevitable crap the military seems to foist on the junior enlisted and the sheer audacity of the local nationals to think they had the right of way at an intersection when I was clearly armed to the teeth and driving a 5-ton armored vehicle, let's just say it adds up. Now clearly, the last bit of that is facetious, but there's an underlying reality to it. The soldier is on a mission, a mission that has been given priority by command and the weight of official sanction, and it comes from the only people around you that look like you, speak the same language and long for the same home. In a soldier's mind the mission is paramount, like it or not, whether they believe in it or not. They've got a job to do and they're going to do it. But locals do not understand that mission and prioritize the living of their own lives, be that simple survival or going through the myriad social & economic tasks that define anyone's daily life. So they get in the way and become resentful of the intrusion of the soldier's mission into their life. And maybe they start resisting (violently or otherwise), which cannot help but raise the soldier's stress and start them resenting the people they thought they were there to help, which is what I found myself doing on many occasions. Its a series of short steps from standing menacingly with an assault rifle to intimidate possible enemies, to pointing it menacingly, to moving aggressively, to pushing, shoving, hitting all in the name of security. Starting down that path does not inevitably lead to torture, but its a healthy head start. So just based on my own experience in Bosnia, I was not surprised that soldiers would inflict this kind of juvenile aggression on prisoners.

The reason I wasn't outraged, though, had nothing to do with the soldier's experience and everything to do with the victim's. I've related some details of this in the past on this blog, but in Bosnia I was both privileged and damned to participate in the discovery of new evidence regarding previously unreported war crimes. The details of those events are not relevant to this post, though it is quite a story. The details of those war crimes, however, bear directly on my response to Abu Ghraib. Some of the documents we procured described in horrific detail the pointless and wanton torture of Croat and Muslims in a specific region in Bosnia. I say pointless and wanton because the torturers were not seeking any information whatsoever from their victims; they made them suffer for the sheer sport of it. I held in my hands accounts of men & women having their noses and ears cut off, their eyes gouged out, and their arms & legs broken before being driven out to a nearby river where they were shot and left to drown if they didn't bleed to death first. In light of that suffering, being forced to lay naked on the floor with some other men didn't seem all that bad. I bet, given a choice, any of those Croatians or Bosnian Muslims would have chosen Lyndsey England any day of the week.

As with many of the painful things I experienced in Bosnia, I tend to put these horrifying images of torture out of mind. I prefer not to think about it and to avoid those things that remind me of my time there. Which is why reading and writing about torture is actually fairly difficult for me. But, as with the public avowal of my commitment to nonviolence, it is time to start thinking & speaking clearly about those moral issues which impose themselves upon our era. Past eras have had to deal with slavery & freedom, religious liberty, women's rights and scientific advances that changed the landscape of the world. How we respond to terror, not only the terror of the jihadist or insurgent, but the officially sanctioned terror of the government, may well be our legacy to the future.



John Howard Yoder coined the term "Constantinianism" to describe the nature of the church that arose after Constantine's edict making Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire. The church and the state became enmeshed with each other, each supporting the other's mission and actions. The state used its coercive power to enforce the state religion on the populace, just as it had previously under pagan rule, and added a specifically missionary component to its dealings with outside peoples and nations. This explicit marriage between the spiritual and political lasted even through the Reformation. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli - all allied themselves with local authorities to propagate their version of the Reformation, even granting political leaders the right to appoint clergy. Yoder draws numerous avenues of critique from this fatal mixing of politics and religion but one of the primary points he makes is the improper understanding of human agency that this arrangement inevitably brings about. Christians are not responsible for making history turn out right. Only One person can accomplish that task; our task is to be faithful to Him. We cannot control the flow of history and any effort to do so is really an attempt to usurp God's control of his creation. Thus, quite apart from questions of violence, Christians attempting to achieve political control is always frought with peril because we will find ourselves in an ongoing temptation to (attempt to) yank the reins out of God's hands, often for very good, "responsible" reasons. Mix in the ultimate issue of causing the death of another human being that we are supposed to be loving and inviting into the Kingdom, and we can see that the tight rope of political power shrinks even more. Yoder thus stands for a principled rejection of efforts to take control and to instead put dynamic trust in a God who will act when he sees fit.

But it must be admitted that one thing I personally struggle with now is how to apply my commitment to nonviolence to my participation in our government as a US citizen. The average Christian throughout most of the church's history really has not had to think about how to direct the state to act; a monarchy precludes popular participation in the decision making process. At most, a Christian had to decide about their level of participation in those activities, ie, whether to serve in the military (though this really wasn't a question for many of less-than-noble birth or means) or whether to join a religious order. With the ascension of democracy in the West, especially a secular democracy, Christians have had to tease out a theology of the state and their participation therein. This is doubly true of Christians committed to nonviolence as many aspects of state power require reliance upon or participation in violent acts. How do we reconcile our citizenship in the US with our citizenship in the Kingdom? At what point must we draw a hard line? a soft line? These are vexing questions, especially when considered in light of Yoder's thesis described above.

One the one hand, there is the unavoidable call to live lives that witness to the reconciling love of Christ. This love is expressed and demonstrated mainly in interpersonal ways, through the building of direct relationships and in direct encounters. It is face to face and hip to hip. But when this call to witness is introduced into a democratic environment, we have on the other hand the insidious temptation to wield our power as citizens to force the state to act on our behalf. Needless to say, such activity by the state cannot help but be impersonal, devoid of personal relationships and encounters, except by those employed by the state on its behalf. Take the current situation in Gaza and Israel. There is the strong temptation to attempt to influence the Bush administration to take a line that (rightly) acts to counter the suffering of innocent Palestinians presently trapped in Gaza. Here again is that horribly attractive proposal to be "responsible." We have an obligation as witnesses to the Christ that reached out to the poor and downtrodden to reach out to the poor and downtrodden in Gaza, so why not get out government in on it? Or, taking another current example, there is a relatively strong movement aimed at getting the US out of Iraq and opposing any military escalation with Iran. It varies from person to person, but a common thread coming from pacifist Christian camps is that since violence is wrong for the church, then it is our duty to act to prevent the US from acting violently.

At this point, it strikes me as glaringly obvious that these pacifists have themselves fallen for the Constantinian trap. They are attempting to wield state power on behalf of the Kingdom. Even granting its nonviolent impulses, how is this truly any different from the problems Yoder addresses? The church is conflating itself with the state, trying to use a power other than Christ to influence the world in favor of Christ or on His behalf. Yes, it aims to use peaceful means to bring about these "responsible" acts, but it is not the means that really matter. We once again return to the issue of trying to control history, to make things turn out right.

And this is where I struggle. I believe, with Yoder, that we are not called to a retreating quietism. We are called precisely out of separatist movements into direct engagement with the world around us. But what are the limits of that engagement? Can we engage in local politics? state politics? Should we attempt to serve on school boards or city councils? Should we hold elected office? Should we attempt to influence the national course through protest & demonstration? Or through letter writing & phone calls to our representative? Or not at all? Where and when can we act through the state and when can we not?

Here are some others who are working through similar issues:
Our Christian Discipleship as Political Responsibility
Toward a Cultus Publicus
The King Reigns From the Tree



This afternoon, a patient transferred over into the neuro section I was working in. He is a young man - probably mid 20's by the looks of him - who had, in the middle of a fight with his girlfriend, put a gun to his head just above the temple and pulled the trigger. The bullet went pretty cleanly through the frontal lobe of his brain and out the other side, leaving an amazingly minimal amount of exterior damage. The mere fact that he is still alive, even on intensive life support, is, well, nothing short of miraculous. If he survives he could spend the rest of his life in a vegetative state, or perhaps, be consciously trapped inside a fragmented and broken mind.

Is his (initial) survival a miracle in the true God-acted sense of the word?


New job....sort of

There's this older episode of Scrubs where all the characters reflect on their best day in medicine. They start off with some funny moments or stupid moments, but eventually all come to think about this one particular patient and his young son. For me, the best moment I've had in medicine took place at my previous job. Most of those patients were on the upswing after a lengthy ICU stay, so both patients and families were settled in for the long haul of recovery. For families sometimes those initial moments of loss, fear and doubt are the hardest to deal with, and sometimes it is trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel as your loved one struggles through yet another day where progress is measured in millimeters, if at all. I walked into a room with a patient and his wife to answer the call light. This man had had a host of problems and infections, leaving him short one leg, severely weakened and with a bad case of C. diff (I won't describe it; let's just say its bad stuff). The wife was standing, looking out the window and I could tell she was crying. So casual-like, I start talking about the progress her husband has made, how getting well is sometimes a three-steps-forward-two-steps-back kind of thing with the elimination of a major problem causing some minor ones and how, once this problem was nipped in the bud, he'd start really getting back to his old self and going home. I spent 30 minutes in that room, which was 25 minutes longer than I needed to accomplish my task but not one second less than I needed to do my job. By the end of our conversation, the wife was smiling and laughing and I think finally able to see the twinkle of light off in the distance.

That is my best moment in medicine so far, so I'm not sure why I find it so surprising that I'm not particularly liking my present position. For the last 6 months, I've been working in the ICU as part of a student nurse program. Its been a great experience and I've enjoyed all the new things I've had the chance to learn. We have a diverse patient population, including traumas (car accidents and the like, including the occasional shooting or stabbing), post-op heart and cardiovascular patients and a neuro-ICU where we have stroke & brain injury patients. There's a fair amount of excitement with codes and bed-side procedures and always something new to watch or do. But pretty much everyone is unconscious or intubated, which makes developing relationships with the patient difficult, to say the least. And visiting time is severely restricted, not just because we're in and out of the rooms so much and with families things just get too crowded, but also because we do do so many bedside stuff that other patients' privacy would be compromised. So again, not much room to develop relationships or help them find hope. I really expected that all the technical expertise that goes into being a critical care nurse (and its a lot, let me tell you) would be fulfilling for me, but it just isn't. There are parts that can be quite satisfying, but overall, its just not making me look forward to work as I have in the past.

Thankfully, I've been able to change my position so that I will now split my time between the ICU and the oncology floor. If I really enjoy oncology, I may simply go to work there full-time. I'm hoping that oncology will give me the best of both worlds; most patients are still in relatively critical condition and oncology requires its own unique expertise, but most patients are also alert & oriented, which makes conversations a whole lot easier. I should start there in a few weeks, just as summer school is wrapping up.


Old man

On my way to work, I pass by a nursing home. It sits right on the corner of a large, busy street that is the main thoroughfare on this side of town, and a smaller street that fronts older homes and a few small businesses. The nursing home is, by any standard, a handsome building. It is a three story brick Victorian with 2 rounded turrets and a wide porch that wraps around the front of the building, filled with wooden rocking chairs. The trim around the many windows is done all in white and there are two large bay windows on the second and third floors that face out onto the street. It looks like a pleasant place to live and offers a similarly pleasant name; something with "sun" in it, I think.

While not well-known, but certainly not held secret, the third floor of this nursing home is an Alzheimer's facility. As everyone does know, Alzheimer slowly eats away at your memory and mental capacities, making you in turns forgetful, delusional and, finally, nearly vegetative, until your brain can no longer tell your body to keep on living or you die from something else. Alzheimer's patients have the rather disturbing tendency to go wandering, and given their deteriorating mental state, many will not know where they're going or possibly even who they are. Which is why all of the exterior doors on an Alzheimer's wing are alarmed and why most of the patients have bed and chair alarms to alert the staff if the person tries to get up.

It has happened a few times that on my way home from work, I have seen an old man in a wheelchair seated at the third story bay window, looking out over the intersection. Since I travel the smaller street, I have had a couple of minutes to consider him as I wait for the light to turn. He sits, unmoving, possibly asleep. There is no one else around him. If he is awake, he sees to his right (and mine on the corner) a gas station. Diagonally across the street he sees a low grassy hill that partially obstructs a large, squat church that clearly spent money on space and not aesthetics. To his left, across the busy street, is an old office building. The exterior of this building is completely covered in a grey mesh made of either concrete or metal. Whether artistic or meant as an insulative layer, from this distance, it makes the building look like a cold featureless box. And at this time of day, there are no cars in the parking lots of the office or the church. The traffic on the main road flies by while people wait idly for their chance to speed across the larger road on their way home. As the window faces east, he does not even get to see the beauty of the sunset, but instead, the steady encroachment of the coming night.

And how awful that night must seem to this man. The approaching end (and subsequent beginning) of another day spent in a place that has alarms on all the doors, more like a prison than a home. The approaching night of death. The approaching night of the complete obliteration of the self from an insidious disease. Who is to say which inspires the greatest dread? And what does he do as the waning day gives over to darkness but sit and look over a cold scene, seeing people still in the quick of life hurry past? Does he draw comfort from that? Does this view inspire some hope in him? Does he seek it out? Or does the staff simply park him there, thinking he enjoys it when, perhaps, it saddens or terrifies or does nothing for his diminished mind? And what would he say to me, to us, to a world that has seemingly forgotten him? What lessons, what wisdom, what knowledge is being lost?

I do not know. What I do know is that on the nights I see him, I go home and hug my wife all the harder and am just a little more grateful. And a little more afraid of the coming night.


My new favorites

My new favorite magazine and my new favorite show.

I think I heard about Make magazine on a tv show - can't remember which - and was lucky enough to find it at Border's. Each issue is practically a mini-book and has a bunch of articles on weird, interesting and practical stuff people are making on their own, either through hacking old machines or buying parts and making stuff from scratch. The last 20 or so pages are also filled with step-by-step instructions for projects you can do at home. I've been looking for a hobby and this sure beats video games, so I'm thinking I might try a few of these things out.

Cities of the Underworld is just plain awesome in almost every respect. Each show goes to an old city in Europe (so far, I don't know if they're planning on going elsewhere) and the host, along with his intrepid camera crew and local guide, delve into the buried past. Some of the locations are amazing and you see the foundations of modern buildings that were built on walls that are maybe 1500 years old. I guess they knew how to build back then. You get some nice historical background on the architecture, what happened in the city, why these areas were buried and so on. You also get the frenetic host's rather annoying habit of saying "And nobody knows this is here!" at least 5 times a show. Which is probably true of some of the locations, but in the Paris show, he said that in the midst of tunnel walls that were completely covered in modern graffiti, and I mean miles and miles of graffiti. Apparently somebody knows its there.

Check 'em out.