Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Eat Which Bread?

August 4, 2017

Thanks to Gene Veith’s great blog for reminding me about a somewhat recent/current controversy in conservative church circles – are gluten-free Communion wafers acceptable?  He refers to this article, which provides an analysis of the Roman Catholic refusal to approve gluten-free wafers for Holy Communion, including a history of how they reached this point (which shows that this point today is not really a new thing in their circles).

I’ll disclose at the outset that about two years ago we started offering gluten-free wafers in our congregation.  We have at least one member with Celiac Disease, who was never able to take Communion before.  Now she can, and I think this is a good thing.  There are likely a couple of others who consider themselves gluten-intolerant.  Whether this is a fad or a health thing is not a call I’m qualified to make.  Nor do I think it’s one I need to.  My only issue is that, thanks to a snafu a few weeks ago, I tasted one of those wafers and they’re disgusting.  Actually worse than the tasteless regular wafers.  I remain firmly committed to the principle that if we’re going to make a big deal about the elements (as we likely can and should), we should insist that the bread actually looks and somewhat tastes like bread, rather than simply being made from the requisite same ingredients as bread.

Several questions come to mind.  First of all, is the gluten-free issue in any way a revisitation of the gnostic rejection of anything material, a rehashing of the Docetist view that Jesus only appeared to be human but wasn’t really, and therefore celebrating Holy Communion at all – or with actual physical elements – is inappropriate?  I don’t think it is at all.  I think it’s an example of using the rationale from one theological dispute towards decisions in unrelated issues.  I don’t believe that people with legitimate health concerns are denying the real presence of Christ in with and under the bread and wine, or seeking to undermine the goodness of the created order and the material world (as declared by God in Genesis 1) by asking for gluten-free wafers.

Secondly, what kind of bread were Jesus and his disciples using?  And was that bread substantively different from other breads?  We know that it was unleavened, yet the Eastern Church uses leavened bread for their Eucharist.  Is that a big deal?  Not to them.  Should it be to us?  Perhaps.  I think the idea of maintaining the unleavened nature of Communion bread makes good sense, and is a further means of tying us more closely to the actual event, the actual Jesus, and the actual Jewish faith.

Jewish tradition dictates that the unleavened bread of Passover must be made from wheat, spelt, barley, rye or oats – either whole or refined grains – and water.  Jesus and his disciples ate whatever bread was provided to them by their host.  It could have been any of those.  Oat bread is gluten-free (when prepared properly).  Couldn’t this be an option (as opposed to rice) for gluten-free wafers?

What we seem to have at the core is whether the Roman Catholic decisions about the elements for Holy Communion should be considered binding beyond their denomination.  Lutherans traditionally line up pretty closely with the Roman Catholics on many issues – far more closely than most other Protestant traditions (except for maybe high church Anglicans).  Should we assume that the mandate for pure wheat and water alone being the ingredients for Communion wafers should be adopted?  That puts a lot of power in the arena of tradition, something that Lutherans are historically hesitant to do (fluctuating political trends notwithstanding!).  If Scripture doesn’t provide us with the ingredients of the Communion bread used by Jesus, should the Church take the authority to determine what does and does not qualify?

Finally, there’s the 1 Corinthians 11 issue.  St. Paul is taking the Corinthian church to task for some of their worship practices.  In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 Paul deals with some fundamental misunderstandings about the nature of Holy Communion, and how it is different than any other meal we eat.  Yet the Corinthians have forgotten or don’t realize this.  They treat it just like any other meal.  If the bread and wine were in some way substantively different than the rest of the bread and wine available, or that they consumed at home, wouldn’t this have been a less problematic issue?  In other words, it seems clear that they weren’t using special bread for Holy Communion – as in special pure-wheat-and-water-only-bread.  Paul doesn’t fault them for this, but only for failing to distinguish that the consecrated bread and wine is something very different than the rest of the bread and wine laying around the house.  It has been set aside for the presence of Christ.  It is not the ingredients that are the issue, but the failure of the Corinthians to discern this spiritual truth that has led to issues in their community and the need for Paul to correct them.

I believe there should be regularity in the elements.  I believe that the elements should by and large reflect the type of elements Jesus and his disciples actually were using that night.  The bread should be unleavened.  But it should also be bread!  The wine should be kosher wine, not some sort of trendy boutique variety.  Holy Communion is not a wine-tasting exercise.  Because of the fermentation process with grapes, I don’t have a problem with offering grape juice (which has barely discernible levels of fermentation).  I don’t think we should substitute just any sort of juice or any kind of bread-like substance.

But I think it’s possible to become too legalistic about the issue as well.  I don’t think gluten-free wafers are a new incarnation of Gnostic/Docetist theology.  And while I may agree that the whole gluten-free thing is more a fad than anything else, I won’t take it upon myself to medically interrogate my parishioners to determine if they legitimately need a gluten-free wafer or just prefer one.  Here, as in many areas of worship, we attempt to be faithful while recognizing still our essential freedom.  We try never to lose sight of our connection to the Body of Christ as a whole – historically or otherwise – while taking into account the needs of our members and trying to discern whether there is theological tomfoolery afoot.


Mercy Killing?

June 30, 2017

The Western world grapples with the fear of suffering.  Not simply our own, actual suffering, but the suffering of others and our own hypothetical suffering.  The idea of having to suffer offends our sensibilities.  There is no purpose to it.  And so we demand that we have the option to opt-out of suffering and along with that we demand the right to opt other people out of their suffering so that we don’t have to suffer along with them.

We term this mercy.

Here is what mercy now can look like.  Parents of a child born with congenital health issues for which there is no cure or treatment are being told that the government has decided to end their child’s life – in the best interest of the child.  Despite the fact that the parents do not want their child to die.  Despite the fact that there is experimental treatment available out of the country that could change the conditions for which the child is being sentenced to death.  Not only this, but now that their appeals for out-of-country treatment have been denied, the parents are also being denied the right to have their own child die in their own home, rather than in a hospital.

I’m still trying to see where the mercy is involved in all of this.  Perhaps because I don’t suspect that mercy is really what is being demonstrated.  Efficiency.  Expediency.  A rigorous attention to detail, the rule of law.  Bureaucratic policy.  But not mercy.

This is happening in Great Britain.  The country, as one observer notes, that fought against the Nazi’s and their insistence that some lives (other people, more specifically) were not worth living and therefore the government could decide to end those lives.  This is where we end up without a moral compass or baseline, without anything that limits our ability or tendency to define and redefine even such beautiful words as mercy until they mean the very opposite of why we find them beautiful.

This redefinition is evil.  It is evil because it reduces humanity to a matter of expediency and personal preferences, carefully sanitized in legalese and policy-speak.  It is evil because it holds the dictates of a human being or institution as ultimate and final, without recognizing that such beings and institutions are inherently unable to provide a single, permanent baseline from which to operate.  So the decisions made today may be completely opposite the decisions that would have been made 50 years ago, or the decisions that might be made 50 years hence.

We (Christians) are being inculcated to sympathy with this evil.  I find the seeds of it even in myself, despite being older and less prone to direct means of subversion and brain-washing (like schools).  We are being wooed towards sympathy because of our own fears and hopes and wishes.

Yesterday I visited one of our long-time members who is homebound.  She has been homebound for the past seven years, by and large.  Over those years I have brought her Communion and led us in simple worship together.  She is an amazing woman.  Her mind is sharp, her will is formidable, she is articulate, cultured, and refined, and she has a zest for life that would be admirable in a person a quarter her age.

When I saw her two weeks ago she was having a good day.  We shared Communion and prayer.  I could see much of her through her condition.  When I went yesterday, however, it was a bad day, and I could see so very, very little of the woman she is.  She was fearful, her words slurred and at times indecipherable.  Her fear was palpable and audible, her weakness striking.  She didn’t know who I was, or who the woman caring for her was, or where she was.  She begged to go home while sitting in her own living room of 50 years.

I left asking God why He didn’t take her yet.  She has been ready to go for years.  Her faith is strong, but her mind and body have been subverted and twisted by time.  What point is there in having her linger, I wondered.  I even flirted with the thought that perhaps God was being unkind to her in this.  She deserves to die.  It would be a blessing to her.  It would be merciful.

Merciful to whom, I suddenly thought.  Perhaps it would be merciful to me, so that I didn’t need to keep going to see her.  Merciful to me so that I wasn’t made uncomfortable by her condition and deterioration, fearful that I might one day be in her place.  Merciful to me in that I wouldn’t have to accommodate myself to her limitations, and that I could leave feeling happy and care-free, to go about my daily routine and duties, rather than struggling with mortality and the damnable reality of sin and death that lurks within my own frame.

She is still herself.  She isn’t less herself, or less of a human being, than she was two years ago or twenty years ago or eighty years ago.  She is entitled to all the same love and care and concern.  Is it harder to be with her?  Yes.  Which is perhaps why it is all the more important to be with her.  To come to grips with the effects of sin in our lives.  To seek to love her consistently and care for her consistently, rather than simply deciding that at some arbitrary point or in some arbitrary state of mind or body, she is no longer herself, no longer deserving of the life that God himself has given and sustained her in.  Perhaps part of the blessing of suffering is that we learn to see past and through these things, both in ourselves and others.

She is not defined by her dementia.  She is not defined by her physical frailty.  She is not defined by her suffering, and neither she nor I have the right to redefine her as such and cease to see her for what she is.  Beautiful.  Alive by the grace and wisdom of God.  And therefore an opportunity to love and practice mercy with in the truest and best sense of that word, rather than the senseless way our culture wants to redefine it.  Perhaps as I continue to care for her in this way, it will better prepare me to care for others in similar conditions, and will further prepare me – inasmuch as may be possible – for me to endure that condition should it become my own one day.

Mercy, like hope, isn’t necessarily expedient.   But we are in a dangerous place without either.


The Cost/Benefit of Faith and Risk

June 7, 2017

My family chooses to participate in Samaritan Ministries, a medical cost-sharing network.  We have been a part of it for almost four years now.  In that time we’ve had one claim, when our oldest son passed out and broke his front tooth on pool decking.  We paid close to $4000 for the associated care for that injury, and when we submitted our claim to Samaritan, we were reimbursed in full for our expenses (minus a $300 deductible) by the members of the program.  Otherwise, we faithfully send off our share to the designated person/family/need each month, along with a card and prayer.  It has been a great experience for us, but whenever you do something out of the norm, I think there’s a persistent level of uncertainty.  Are we making the right decision?  What if we’ve made a monumental mistake that will cost our family dearly?

All of which is a form of fear and anxiety.  It isn’t that anything is wrong right now, but something might go wrong, something that we won’t be able to handle, something that our choice of Samaritan as opposed to a conventional health insurance provider will prove to be disastrous in.  It’s always a possibility.  It’s a possibility even with a conventional health insurance provider.  But at least in going that route, you have the comfort of knowing that most other people have made the same choice as you, and falling into the logical fallacy of bandwagon thinking – assuming that something must be right/best just because a lot of other people do it as well.

Thus I was interested in this article commenting on Christian health care sharing ministries in general, with a lot of attention focused specifically on Samaritan Ministries. It is a critical article. Clearly the author is uncertain about the merit of such systems, despite the fact that most members of these systems report great satisfaction with them.  To support the critical perspective, the author focuses on a family who is not satisfied, and evaluates their treatment under Samaritan.

Ultimately what the article does is remind everyone to read the fine print and to make sure that they are getting coverage that matches their needs as well as their beliefs.   We were motivated primarily by a desire to not support abortion and abortion-inducing prescriptions through active participation in a traditional health insurance plan compliant with the mandates of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  Doing so may put us at risk for certain things not being covered that would under a traditional health insurance plan.  However, based on our beliefs, our behaviors, and our general level of healthiness as a family, we believe that the risk is one we can shoulder.

It’s also an article that encourages constant evaluation and reconsideration of policies, particularly policies that attempt to embody Biblical beliefs and teachings.  Ultimately this is going to be subject to interpretation and not everyone may agree on the best way to interpret and apply Biblical mandates or principles in an organization.  Which means there should be a healthy and continuous dialogue.  I hope Samaritan will take that to heart.  All their members have a lot riding on it.

Assistance vs. Insistence

February 2, 2017

I hope to be visiting the Netherlands for the first time this spring.  I just hope that I don’t fall ill and unable to speak for myself, or tick off my family to the point that they decide I need to die and are willing to hold me down to make it happen.  Well, that’s probably a poor analogy.  But let’s just say that the Netherlands are not a place I would feel safe living in if I was getting on in years and suspecting I might be developing dementia.  Someone might make the decision that it was time for me to die, even if I didn’t want to.

That’s what happened to one woman, and the Dutch courts have cleared the doctor involved of any criminal responsibility because she acted “in good faith”.  I’m not sure what that means.  Family members were asked to hold down the woman so the doctor could inject her with a lethal dose of drugs.  This after a sedative in her coffee failed to sedate her enough for them to do this peacefully.  Clearly, the woman didn’t want to die – certainly not at this point, although there are indications that perhaps she had once been open to the idea.

The woman suffered from dementia and lived in a nursing home.  She had exhibited signs of fear and anger – neither very unusual in these cases as I understand it – and also was prone to wandering around at night (also not necessarily unusual for someone with dementia).  The article doesn’t make clear who requested the euthanasia.  Had the woman left instructions when her mental faculties were capable of such things?  And if so, should she be forced to abide by that decision against her own will in the moment?  Did the family request the euthanasia, and is there any reason to think they could be held accountable?  Or was it the doctor’s idea, assuring the family that this was the merciful and loving thing to do, fully in keeping with the woman’s own (previous) wishes or ideas?

Proponents of assisted suicide never talk about these sorts of situations, yet they go develop sooner or later.  After 17 years of legal euthanasia, I’m sure there are plenty of Dutch doctors who have absolutely no qualms about ending a human life, even when the person doesn’t want to die and is capable of physically resisting.  I don’t understand how anyone can not be worried by this sort of thing.

Watch those Permission Slips

January 26, 2017

I remember having to get parental signatures from time to time as I was in school.  I remember needing their signature to watch Zeffireli’s Romeo and Juliet in freshman honors English.  I might have needed a permission slip to go and see Elie Wiesel speak as part of the Historical Society.

Permission slips seem to have evolved and changed a bit since then.  Hopefully you’re reading them carefully and asking good questions before signing them.  Otherwise, your kid might come home with missing teeth.

This strikes me as pretty weird, but is a good reminder of the increasingly central role that public school has come to play in our society.  Not just educating kids but providing them with food and health care as well.  We’d best be paying attention to this massive institution if it’s going to keep expanding power and presence in the lives of American families!

Get Those Flu Shots?

January 19, 2017

Hurry!  Or maybe you shouldn’t hurry.  Who really knows?  Let’s just get those shots all the same, right?

The effectiveness of flu shots declines rapidly, providing less and less protection from multiple strains of the flu as weeks go by.  One scientist laments the marketing of flu shots as opposed to the most efficacious use and deployment of them.  This is a wonderful reminder to folks that science does not exist in a bubble, and scientists don’t always get to control how their discoveries are used.


Goldfish Now NBA Target Market

January 14, 2017

Thanks to Ken for sending this humorous article.  If you don’t believe shrinking attention spans is a problem, perhaps knowing that professional sports organizations are looking to make changes to keep games shorter will be a more compelling argument.

While I’m not sold entirely on the research, it’s not terribly surprising.  Funny how the end of the game is often where the greatest excitement is, so I would think that attention spans would actually be longer and more focused there rather than other parts of the game.  Maybe if half-times were shrunk  or the quarters were shorter it would accomplish the same goal of making the game shorter without eliminating some of the final drama.

Then again, I can count on one hand the number of games I’ve watched from start to finish in the past year of any sporting event.  Do whatever y’all want!

More Vaccine Fun

December 28, 2016


There’s a spike in reported cases of mumps this year.  But it’s not grabbing headlines like a couple of years ago when measles at Disneyland provided the necessary ammunition for states like California to ram through mandatory vaccination legislation.

I wonder why not?

Perhaps the difference in reporting levels is that there is already a vaccine for mumps that most children receive.  Twice.  The majority of those self-reporting in the current outbreak also received the recommended double-dose vaccination against mumps.  Yet mumps is showing up in near-record numbers this year all the same.  There have been other years where mumps has increased, which is itself an interesting phenomenon.  Other sources acknowledge we don’t really know how effective the vaccine is, for how long.  In other words, does the immunity fade over time, and if so, over how long a period?  Nobody knows these things, apparently, despite the fact that citizens are being forced to receive vaccinations.  How good a solution is it to just tack on a third dose of the vaccine?  What sorts of side-effects might that cause?  How can it even be suggested when we don’t apparently understand the effectiveness of the current regimen?

Yet another reason why I still disagree with mandatory vaccinations.  I don’t argue that they can provide some real benefits, but I don’t think we know nearly enough about what we’re doing to force people to receive them.



Meanwhile, in the Netherlands…

October 3, 2016

…they’re killing babies if they don’t think the babies will enjoy some arbitrarily defined idea of  a good or meaningful life.  This is not aborting pregnancies before they come to term – this is lethally injecting babies after they’re born.  This is nothing new, but the desire is to legitimize it fully and remove any stigma from it.  And it isn’t just a European aberration.  It’s an idea that is touted here in the United States by certain intellectuals.

What is promoted as an act of selfless mercy is ultimately an appeal to very selfish utilitarian principles and ideas.  What is often at issue is not the merciful ending of a life of pain, but rather the limiting of the costs – emotional, financial, and otherwise that caring for those with serious conditions requires.  In which case, who is being given mercy, the infant being killed or the state that is being spared from a lifetime of care and cost?  Who gets to make that decision and on what basis?  The insurance company?  The hospital?  The government?  How short a path is it from offering infanticide as an option to requiring it as a matter of policy?

And how is it that people can be so comfortable with the idea of killing people?  Oh wait – that’s right.  We’ve been primed for this already through the promotion of abortion.

California, Again

July 4, 2016

Living in California I’m amazed at the beauty of where I live, still in shock after nine years in the state and six years in our current locale that God has seen fit to place us here.  We are blessed beyond belief.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some really serious issues to deal with in our state.  For instance, did y’all know that in California, there is no option to get out of paying for abortion services through your insurance?  If you’re buying health insurance in the State of California, even if you’re a church, you’re paying for abortion services.  The State of California classified abortion services as a “basic service” in the state, meaning every insurance provider has to cover such services, meaning everybody in California is paying money towards these services – even if you disagree with them ideologically.  No exceptions.

Several churches tried suing the State as well as petitioning the Obama administration for exemption to this ruling, but failed on all fronts.

Yet another reason why, for as long as we’re able to, we’re going to opt out of traditional insurance in favor of a shared health expense network that more closely aligns to our values and beliefs.