Friday, April 11, 2014

Seeking the Right Thing: a Reflection for Holy Week

Sometimes I wonder whether sometimes we go looking for the wrong thing. I have noted recently stories about 'Charlotte's Web.' In this case the subject is isn't the wonderful children's book or related works. In this case, 'Charlotte's Web' is a medicine derived from hemp. I say 'hemp' advisedly. We're not talking about marijuana - or, well, not exactly. 

'Charlotte's Web' has been the news because it has been remarkably helpful for children with seizure disorders that haven't responded to other treatments. News stories have reported about the treatment in Colorado since that state approved medical marijuana, and about efforts in Florida to get it legalized there.

Part of what is interesting to me is that the active ingredient in 'Charlotte's Web' isn't THC, the substance that gives the high. Instead, it is cannabidiol, or CBD. In fact, the strain of hemp developed to produce high quantities of CBD is low in THC.

Now, over the years part of the controversy about medical marijuana has been whether we can identify medical uses for THC. In fact pharmaceutical THC does exist and does get tested. But, what if we're looking for the wrong thing? What if we're looking at medical marijuana and at THC because we've enjoyed the high, when the effective ingredient is CBD? 

Let's remember that this happens with some frequency. One of my favorite television series of past years was 'Connections.' In that series from the late 70's James Burke traced through history scientific and technological developments that had interesting results, but rarely those that were expected or sought. For example, the IBM punch card familiar to those of us of a certain age had its roots in the French weaving industry.

So, what if we're looking for the wrong thing? We do that often enough in the Church. Historically (not to cast aspersions on current activities), we've often had Commissions on Ministry that were really Commissions on Ordained Ministries. Someone who didn't quite fit as deacon or priest didn't necessarily get good guidance - or any meaningful guidance at all. Congregations in transition have often sought to replicate someone from the past, not thinking about of the needs of the future. 

We do that personally as well. We have a romantic view of what love is about - we seem to think first and mostly of 'romantic love' said there were no other - and find ourselves failed and failing. In survey after survey we say of government, 'Throw the bums out,' and then keep electing incumbent who caters to our self-serving positions.

And in none of these cases are the things we seek 'wrong' necessarily. That is, they aren't  inherently immoral. At the same time, they aren't the right things for the needs and circumstances we face. They are what we want, but not what we need. 

We look for the wrong things in Easter. At least, I think we can get distracted by the wrong things about Easter. We talk about being freed from death who no longer see death as a daily reality. We talk about being freed from sin when we have no sense of sins to confess. We can relish the joy of Easter as if we didn't have to go through Good Friday to get there.

Do I overstate? Perhaps I do. Certainly, I do think we liturgical types, Episcopal and others, have more opportunity to embrace the aspects of our faith that we need and don't necessarily want. Let me also affirm that we are also looking for the wrong thing if we wallow in the guilt of Holy Week and never claim resurrection. Still, the quasi-Christian culture around us jumps happily to flowers and bunnies and chick and children with candy eggs, as if all that new life had come without hard experience – flowers that must break the soil; children and their mothers who survive childbirth.

That same culture in political speech will remind us that "freedom isn’t free," and will recall faithfully those "who made the ultimate sacrifice." How much more appropriate, then, that as we celebrate our joy in Easter that we recall that it has come indeed at the cost of the ultimate sacrifice – ultimate not only in the extent of Christ’s commitment, but also in the extent of God’s consequences. Our graves will only open because he experienced the grave first. And so, let us not be distracted, jumping ahead and seeking the wrong thing. Rather, let us prepare to celebrate the Paschal Feast by embracing wholeheartedly the Way of the Cross.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Chaplains Need to See This

PlainViews, the on line journal for chaplains, is a resource I have mentioned before. It's in the sidebar of this blog because its information is worthwhile. The one limitation is that it is a subscription journal, and so most articles are behind the pay wall.

The newest edition has come out, and this edition is open access. That is, all the articles are available to anyone. That's important, because the topic of this edition is recent conference, "Caring for the Human Spirit: Driving the Research Agenda for Spiritual Care in Health Care." The articles in this edition of PlainViews reflect the presentations at the conference, and offer a number of interesting recent research studies about how chaplains work and how patients and caregivers benefit. So, I would encourage chaplain colleagues (and, really, anyone else who's interested) to take advantage of this open access edition. See what others are doing to study how we work and how patients, families, staff members are served. There's a lot here for us to think about.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

New at the Cafe

In addition to getting cranked up here again, I'm back at the Episcopal Cafe. My latest, a reflection on employee evaluation as Lenten discipline, is up now. Go take a look; and if you like, leave a comment, either here or there.

I continue to think that the Episcopal Cafe offers some of the best thought and reflection, and some of the most interesting information, coming from the Episcopal Church. I hope you'll take some time there, not just for what I write, but for what so many offer.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Thinking About Who Pays

So, I have been aware today of the case before the Supreme Court of the owners of the Hobby Lobby retail chain resisting a provision of the Affordable Care Act intended to insure access for women to all forms of birth control by requiring that employers either include that in company-sponsored health insurance plans or pay a penalty that would allow then allow women to pursue in the insurance exchanges health insurance plans that would cover birth control. There have been many reports about it; and regular readers will know that I listened to the report this morning on NPR.
I wasn’t paying too much attention, largely because I wasn’t hearing much new. After all, this has been a topic of discussion for a while. Then I heard this:

"The Hobby Lobby corporation and its owners counter that the simple answer to these arguments is to have the government pay for contraception.

The government replies that is no answer. Otherwise, the government would end up paying for everything. A decision is expected by summer."

I found myself wondering something more profound in this idea that if the government wanted to mandate health care, the government should pay for it – something I doubt the Greens or their attorneys thought about when they made that statement (if they made it as reported). That is, if this applies to birth control then it should also apply to therapeutic abortion.

First, let me take on directly what I mean by "therapeutic abortion." There are cases (and perhaps not so rare) when terminating a pregnancy is medically appropriate. Think, for example, of the woman a few years ago in Phoenix. She was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension in the eleventh week of pregnancy. While the case was reported because it was complicated for religious reasons (she was a patient in a Roman Catholic hospital), under court decisions and state laws terminating the pregnancy was appropriate because it was literally to save the life of the mother. In fact even the hospital saw it that way, and terminated the pregnancy. The controversy and news coverage came because of the reaction after the fact of the local Roman Catholic bishop, not because the woman didn’t get the care.

So, I’m not talking about "abortion on demand." I do think that terminating a pregnancy ought to be a decision a women makes with her doctor; that there ought to be a supportive family and community for that woman; and that the procedure needs to be available and safe. But, for this post I’m only talking about situations that are clearly medically indicated. The one I cited above was rare and rather spectacular. More common are situations like loss of amniotic fluid mid-pregnancy that doom the fetus and put the woman at severe risk. Sure, these aren’t common, but they do happen. And women die. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2009 the rate of pregnancy-related deaths was almost 18 per 100,000 live births. That comes to about 650 women each year; and while that may not sound like many over all, say that to the families of those 650 women.

So, by the logic stated above, the government ought to pay for therapeutic abortions. Of course, that brings us up against the other perspective: those who say "no government money" for abortion, including Medicaid dollars. And then, of course, there’s this problem with the logic: those who would refuse to support birth control in the insurance plans offered by the companies they own would then be supporting birth control in the tax-supported insurance plans and/or direct purchases – because to say "let the government support it" is to say, "let all the taxpayers support it – including us."

My guess is that the Greens’ attorneys have a much more sophisticated way of stating that idea that the news report may not do justice. However, the principle as stated caught my attention. It has possible consequences that seem directly contrary to the results the Greens want to see. Call it another of those unforeseen, but perhaps predictable, medical outcomes.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Working on Visibility

Well, not me, really. I've been pretty quiet for a while now, and I'm working on getting back into gear. In the meantime, we're working on making the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains (AEHC) more visible. To that end, there is now an AEHC Facebook Page. This will give us more visibility for those already on Facebook, and a way to share our story. It will also give us visibility beyond Facebook because Facebook Pages are searchable, and will pop up in Google, etc. We'll have a way to connect with new folks, and to hear from supporters across the Church and beyond.

In time, we'll also have a Facebook Group. We'll use that for conversation and discussion. While we work on that, please share with friends and colleagues about our new outlet. Take a look and add your comments. Let's use this to make more and more folks aware of the healthcare chaplains in the Episcopal Church.