Save a Life

Just the other day, I was handed a dollar bill with this message stamped in red on it: “Don’t vaccinate! Save a life!” People certainly do write the strangest things on money these days, don’t they?

One of the books I had read as a kid was The Velveteen Rabbit. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to get so sick my parents would have to remove all my clothes, toys, books – everything I own and burn them. It was a different world, and it wasn’t that long ago.

Then I remember accounts of old men and women whose childhood was plaged by a very real and dangerous threat – Polio. It left in it’s wake death and paralysis. One of our former president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had contracted it and it left him paralyzed; not that he ever let him stop him from achieving great success or let on in the public consciousness. It was a different world, and it wasn’t that long ago.

History also records of the Spanish Flu, a deadly epidemic that killed more people in twenty-four weeks than AIDS killed in twenty-four years and more in a year than the Black Death killed in a century. It was a different world, and it wasn’t that long ago.

Scarlet Fever, Polio, and a great many other diseases have been known to mankind for thousands of years; history tells us that they’re very good at wrecking and destroying the human body and our natural immunity isn’t nearly strong enough on it’s own to win. We live in a world that has found a way to fight back and prevent epidemics before they even begin; but it’s an all-or-nothing solution. Anyone who doesn’t get a vaccine undoes the efforts of those who take them. That’s why diseases that were thought to be gone had a resurgence in recent years. The point is – not having vaccines didn’t save lives; it just made it that much easier for lives to be lost – and greater numbers of them to be affected by the after-effects of surviving a terrible disease.

I’m told that when an apartment in New York City is fumigated, the cockroaches simply up and relocate themselves to another apartment in the same building that isn’t being fumigated. The only way to eradicate the creatures from the whole building is to see to it that there’s nowhere else for them to go; and similarly, that there’s no one else for these diseases to find safe harbor inside. I don’t know who stamped that message on the dollar bill; but saving lives starts with taking vaccinations; if anyone doubts that, there are a great many third world countries where there’s little to no access to vaccines that are the front lines where all kinds of diseases still takes a heavy toll every single day.

A Strange Thing Happened On the Way Home

It was just before midnight and after a busy shift at work. I was tired and more than ready to go home. After passing by the Christmas lights display in town, I realized that the car behind me was acting erratically. I continued to drive the speed limit, following the laws. The car behind me opted to illegally pass me on the bridge (without a passing zone). Just on the other side of the bridge, it slowed down in front of me, signaled to turn right, but didn’t. It pulled into the gas station up ahead on the left, so I was glad to turn right thinking that it wouldn’t be my problem. I then heard it’s tires squealing as it turned around – out of the gas station and onto the road I had just turned onto. It began flashing it’s lights furiously. Again, the car sped up, passed me illegally, slowed down to a stop, forcing me to slow down and drive around him as he was hanging out of his window yelling something. Up ahead, I turned left – he followed, and again, flashed his lights, he sped up, passed me illegally (there aren’t any passing zones on this particular street), slowed down to a stop, and forced me to go around slowly. I began to wonder: “Is this guy trying to cause a collision?” “Is he on something?” It wasn’t long before he did it again – once or twice more (same street, still no passing zones). Once he got wise to the fact that I’d just go around – he angled his car in such a way that nobody could go around in the other lane. By this time, I could feel how afraid I was – my pulse was racing and my breathing had quickened. A maniac in a car had followed me out into the middle of nowhere section of the countryside, miles and miles away from anyone, anywhere. I could see him getting out of his car and walking my way and all I could think was that this was like something out of a movie that didn’t have a happy ending. My passenger helped me keep my cool, “Throw on the brights.” He suggested, knowing that it would daze the guy. My passenger used the distraction to great effect, throwing open the door and surprising the crazy driver – confronting him. The crazy driver claimed that our tire was about to fall off. Something about him seemed off – it’s a thing that you know it when you see it, but you can’t really describe why; a gut instinct, perhaps. It wasn’t a believable story – after all, our car was driving normally, there wasn’t any wobble or any indication of tire trouble. Not only that, my passenger is a car guy and wouldn’t let an unsafe car on the road. Whenever there’s the slightest indication of trouble, he has me take one of the other vehicles and checks it out. The crazy driver gets back into his car and drives forward on down the road. When he’s out of sight, my passenger checks our tires and sees that they’re perfectly normal. A few minutes later, a SUV pulls up behind us – it’s a co-worker who lives in the same area I do. We told her what was up and let her know that we were just fine. My passenger opts to take over driving, I didn’t object – I had had enough for one night. So we headed down the road, and my co-worker followed along behind. Up ahead, the crazy guy was stopped on the road. He let us pass and we went up ahead. When we lost sight of my co-worker’s lights, we turned around and went back. She had parked a safe distance away from the crazy driver right where it turns off to another road. We parked alongside her and asked her what was going on. She said that he had flagged her down with some story about being broken down and he had asked her to help him push his car off to the side of the road. She declined and said that she would pull off the road up ahead and call the police to come and give him some help. Given his erratic behavior, we opted to stay with her. At some point, the crazy driver turned off his lights, he coaxed his supposedly broken-down car back to life and started to turn around. And that point, we agreed with my co-worker that it was the opportune moment to drive away in the other direction. The rest of the drive was understandably tense – but we finally made it home safe and sound. Perhaps the scariest thing about what happened are the unknowns: “Is this guy trying to be a good Samaritan or does he have a nefarious plan?” “Is he on meth or something that makes him a dangerous person?” “If we really did have a bad tire, how would have continually forcing me to avoid hitting him have helped the tire?” “Wouldn’t it have just made things worse?” “Did he think I was alone and therefore an easy target?” “Why the different story with my co-worker?” Perhaps we’ll never know all the reasons, but if anything, my story shows that making all the right decisions can make the biggest difference in whether or not everything has a moderately happy ending. So this holiday season, beware of really bad good Samaritans who supposedly break down after following you into the middle of nowhere and happen to pose a significant danger. Being safe is more important than putting yourself in danger to do what might seem like a good deed.

The Bruise

It’s become a rather awkward topic of conversation of late – the sort-of square-shaped slightly smaller than a playing card-sized purple bruise on my right arm just about half-way between my wrist and elbow. It’s not helped by the fact that I have quite a few smaller bruises on the rest of that arm. Human nature being what it is likes to jump to the worst possible conclusion. Everyone who sees it thinks it’s the result of abuse – and since abuse victims are the first to deny that they’ve been abused then saying that it isn’t only more firmly convinces them that’s the case. Should I cover up or conceal the bruise, the people who already know it’s there would think that I had something to hide, perhaps abuse. So I have little choice but to let people see it, to let people ask about it and let people assume the worst because that’s the only way to prove that’s not the cause and the character of my loved ones is impeccable.

It doesn’t help that I’m extremely pale and bruise easily as it is. Awhile ago, I realized that I had a mysterious series of bruises. I eventually figured out that sitting cross-legged while wearing shoes was the cause – something having to do with the combination of my own weight pressing down into the edges of my shoes. As for the bruise on my arm – my guess is that the likely suspect is that my dog has figured out that if he sits on his human then she can’t get up or go anywhere and he can always be sure of where his human is at all times. He’s a seventy pound gentle giant and putting some or all of that weight on my arm would be enough to cause it.

Of course, the other point of consideration is despite so much suspicion of abuse, it all falls under the category of “not my business” and that’s the limit of what people will do in the face of their suspicions – ignore them. I know that nobody wants to be the bad guy, the tattle-tale – but it’s still pretty sad that those who actually endure abuse can pretty much expect that you’ll ignore the evidence of your eyes and your gut instinct just in case you’re wrong. People don’t like to think about the unpleasant reality that they’re right and that their silence just makes it that much easier for the abuse to keep on happen to someone else they know.

I’d much rather that abuse was taken more seriously, that people would take a risk and report it and investigate it so that people who need help but won’t ask for it can get it. Everyone deserves better than to mark it under “not my business” and go on with their lives. What’s so wrong with being wrong, anyway? Wouldn’t it just prove that one’s associates are honorable? Isn’t that better to be right and silent? Given time, my bruise will heal – but my faith in humanity has a more serious wound.

Doom! Disaster!

My father had been perusing one of the news sites, unaware that they now feature stories that are commercials for products. He found once such story, reading about a man who had successfully predicted calamity. He went to it’s main site and turned on the video. It featured a smooth voice talking in a calm tone. As the voice spoke, captions appeared on the page. There was also the occasional graph to illustrate the numbers. The story was that the man was an average person who had a few contacts in positions of power. He narrowly avoided disaster and then got into the business of scouring the newspaper stories for information. Eventually he was able to discern a pattern and start the largest newspaper you’ve never heard of for reliable proof of treachery, financial doom, and other really bad things you should pay attention to and be prepared to face in the near future. He talked about one such occasion when the government was on the brink of disaster, the politicians all called their wives to tell them to withdraw everything they could from ATMs just in case the banks shut down before their last-minute negotiations failed. Everything turned out just fine in the end though. But a governor from one of the states heard the warning that disaster was about to come. He shared this story with everyone he considered a close friend so all of them decided to go to the bank and withdraw what they could – just in case the banks closed and/or ran out of money.

Last night, ‘A Wonderful Life’ was on, and there’s a similar scene where everyone runs to the bank in a panic to withdraw everything, playing into the hands of the the guy that owns the other bank who is willing to pay ‘fifty cents on the dollar’ to tide people over as long as it takes for everything to return to normal. I couldn’t help but wonder if the guy was doing just that – setting off a panic trying to get people to buy into his product to save them from disaster that others won’t be able to see coming because they don’t read his newspaper, ultimately causing the very panic that he warned others would happen. Bailey had to explain that their money wasn’t actually in the bank, but tied up in building each others’ houses to make things better for everyone.

I always thought that was a better picture of how Christians ought to help each other, not as if we were a bank where we could expect to deposit $30 and later on withdraw $30 exactly, getting out what we get into it, but being investors in each others’ lives. Thing is, we have to avoid the voices that tell us that the best way to avoid disaster is to withdraw from others and put ourselves first. I’m reminded of a rather sad poem where a group of people are stranded together on a freezing winter night and each of them have a stick that could have fueled the fire that would have kept them warm, but because all of them figured that nobody else would use their sticks, they didn’t either and the fire went out and so they all perished.

What really dooms us is when we decide that we can depend upon nobody but ourselves. When we don’t trust people, when we don’t invest in the welfare of others, when we don’t care about the consequences our actions will have on others. When we do that, we will have little choice but to start the very disasters that we see coming down the road. Why, the only way to avert them is to fuel the fire that will save us, putting our resources to help others so that in turn others will be able to help us when we cannot help ourselves. That is how we avert disaster.

Fearing Emotions

Christianity’s discomfort with emotions can sometimes be broken down into these ideas:
1.) Your emotions and conscience can and will deceive you, therefore you cannot trust them.
2.) In general, Your emotions and conscience can be mostly trusted when it agrees with Scripture.
3.) Specifically, Your emotions and conscience can be completely trusted when it agrees with our interpretation of Scripture.

So there’s a big teaching that you ought to take a page out of Nike’s book and ‘just do it’; you ought to just obey the Bible whether you feel like it or not. Because if you don’t feel like obeying the Bible, then your emotions and conscience have been lead astray by evil. And if you do feel like obeying the Bible, then your emotions and conscience are confirmed to be ‘good’ because they line-up with the approved interpretation.

The whole thing makes me think that what Christianity really wants are robots. Robots are programmed with specific tasks that it must carry out. One directive that robots don’t have to have is to ignore emotion. People on the other hand, have them so we are directed to ignore and deny our emotions by warnings of what sin unfolds when people do get too emotional. So when we’re obeying the correct interpretation and we get the feeling that something is wrong, we’ve been told to ignore the feeling and continue obeying. Not once does the person consider if the feeling that something is wrong is because there really is something wrong.

Do you remember that cult-like church made the news for having beat up two young men, one of them to death? Didn’t you find it odd that none of them stopped to examine what the Bible says, recognized that something felt wrong about what they were doing, and tried to put a stop to it? Cults tend to be a master of manipulating people’s emotions in order to get them to do things that they ordinarily wouldn’t. Christianity uses the same tools, just to a lesser degree.

The way that people are taught, it’s as if they themselves are incapable of discerning and interacting with their emotions in a healthy way. They must depend upon someone outside of them to approve of how emotional they are and inform them when they’ve gotten too emotional. They must also depend upon someone else to tell them what the Scripture says about their emotions. If a cultist had bothered to stop to see what the Bible says about violence, they might have to ignore what the Bible says because they cannot trust their own interpretation anymore than they can trust the feeling that something is wrong. If their teacher says that what they are doing is right and holy and just, then their teacher must be right and any feeling that tells them otherwise must be wrong.

All the cult did, was to take a common teaching to it’s fullest extreme; Christianity has the potential to do just that as well. If it happens, it’ll be worse because it won’t just be one church but tens of thousands of them with people who don’t trust themselves because their teacher told them not to. It’s a recipe for trouble as long as Christianity despises and fears emotions.

Erasing Halloween from Childhood

I do enjoy a good debate. Throughout the month of October, and most especially in it’s last week, the issue is whether or not Christians should do Halloween. I’d like to think that as a person who has done trick-or-treating, Christian Halloween alternatives, haunted house tours, Hell House tours, and alternatives that had nothing to do with Halloween and/or Christianity I can safely say that I’ve done pretty much everything at least once. I did not turn out to be a witch, worshiper of Satan, into demons, obsessed with the occult, or any such thing. I also did not turn out to be a saint, an angel, a shining example of Christian perfection, or any such thing. I did have a lot of great experiences, tons of fun memories, and quite a lot of good laughter over the years. Yep. I did Halloween and I’m completely normal and entirely average. If my experiences are an indicator, no matter what you do or you do not do, Halloween doesn’t corrupt your immortal souls into a downward spiral of evil and sinful behavior. I somehow suspected that buying a $10.00 costume and wandering from house to house demanding candy using the special words: ‘Trick-or-treat!’ was just something done for the fun of it and that adults like to do because few things are nicer than seeing smiles light up the faces of children.

Childhood is changing, things that were normal back in the day have begun to be phased out. We live in a world of constant supervision, if not by our parents, then by the cameras that watch our every move coming and going and our phones with GPS locators that all kids seem to have these days. That way they know who to look out for when they issue things like amber alerts. Halloween stands opposed to giving into fear by turning into something to be afraid of. Children may pretend to be among the living dead, morally-questionable swash-bucklers, unstoppable superheroes and super-heroines, powerful princes and princesses who reign over others for just one night – but it gives them a special memory that cannot be replaced. Sure, we could phase out Halloween, provide alternatives or erase it and do nothing at all. Maybe the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy will be next on the list. While we’re at it, let’s erase street fairs and festivals, the fair food is way too unhealthy and the games are all rigged to take their money anyway. Let’s make sure that children can’t have what we had when we were kids. That way they won’t turn out just like us. Too many children don’t get a childhood as it is, and now many of them won’t get to spend a night dressed up as someone else, visiting neighbors, getting candy, and not having to worry about grown-up things because some grown-up out there sees the whole lot of children as spiritually compromised lost souls worshiping evil in some mysterious candy collection ritual. Maybe one reason why children aren’t growing up to be Christians is because Christians won’t let them be children.

We’re Afraid

One of the news stories on local television last night was the vandalization of a mosque. Somebody had taken spray paint to the building to send a clear message and it certainly wasn’t a nice one. In Texas, a young boy was suspended because his home-made electronic clock looked too much like something else and he fit the profile. In the talk of the Syrian refugee crisis, I’ve heard it said that terrorists are among them and they’re slipping through the cracks. This is fear.

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda, Jedi Master

It seems to me that we have two principle options: (1.) remain silent and do nothing or (2.) speak up and do something. All of this time, we complain about how many moderates in other religions don’t hold back their extremists. The problem is, as Christians, we don’t do that great of a job at it either (extremists aren’t exactly the sort of people one can control anyway, no matter what they believe). Look up the images of churches, synagogues and mosques that were vandalized on Google Images. They look an awful lot alike, don’t they? Like most people, I’ve never had to show up at my place of worship to find hateful messages spray painted on the doors, the walls, the signs, and the side-walk about my beliefs or ethnicity. I’ve never walked the streets wondering if people see me as a terrorist or white supremacist or part of some conspiracy for global domination. I’ve never worried about how the other kids at school will treat my kids because of how they look or their accent. (I don’t have kids, but I put that there to make it hit home that this kind of fear affects everyone, everywhere; if places of worship are not immune, then the children that worship there are also not immune from seeing the same kind of treatment at their schools.)

Qui tacet consentit” or silence gives consent, is what a lot of us live with everyday. Speaking out can make us a target, standing up for another can make us victim. Sometimes fear plays a big role – this is something that we don’t have to live with every day, but the fleeing Syrians know it all too well. When the streets become so dangerous that the children cannot play soccer outside. When powerful people with no qualms about using weapons take over a territory and take lives. When your friends and neighbors and family members disappear and are never heard from again – fear about safety; your own and your family members’ – can keep you from speaking up. This is the reality here in the states in inner city areas. We have to remember to put ourselves in your shoes to understand that your silence is not necessarily consent, it’s not a choice – but a necessity if you wish to live one more day in a dangerous situation.

That leaves it up to us, those who can speak up and do something. But before we can do that, we have to deal with our own prejudices. If we want to take in refugees, we have to learn to not to see each and every one of them as a potential terrorist who is out to kill us. We have to learn not to be afraid, not to give into anger, not to fuel hatred, and not to create suffering. It’s something that’s much easier to do when you live in a diverse community where you have friends everywhere. It’s a tougher thing to achieve when you are surrounded by people who look and talk and act just like you and don’t really know anyone who is different. In this case, education and awareness are key. Educate yourself as to what’s going on in the Middle East and be aware when people around you say some disparaging remarks about people from the Middle East. Think about what you’ll say in response to show how hurtful that attitude can be. I think that’s something Jesus would approve of, something he meant when he said “love your neighbor as yourself” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Only then, when we clean up our own beliefs will we be better able to clean up after the suffering that is the result of fear.