Thursday, August 11, 2016

God is ever forming life

Whether it is the earth and heavens, human life, transformation of the human spirit, or preparation for eternity at earthly life’s end, God is always forming new life! 

Photos of galaxies always startle me. That’s not only because they are beautiful and vast, but because they appear so similar to the formation of a child in the womb. Like me, perhaps you have wondered, “What is God forming out there in space?” “What will it be when He finishes?”

Monday, May 16, 2016

Pastoral guidebook on end of life holds potential & pitfall, Part V

This is Part V in a seven-part blog series analyzing a resolution coming to the PCUSA General Assembly on the end of life. The paper titled, "Abiding Presence: Living Faithfully in End of Life Decisions," forms the rationale of the resolution and is offered to the church as a pastoral guide to end of life conversation. Click to read, Part I, Part II, Part III or Part IV.

Section D: Special Concerns or Circumstances in End-of-Life Planning

This section of "Living Faithfully in End of Life Decisions" caused me at times to say an enthusiastic, "Yes!" and at other times to be disturbed, discomforted, but only rarely to desire an addition or change to the text. Here the sticky wickets of end of life conversations abide—the things we ought, but rarely do, talk through in our communities of faith.

Pastoral Guidebook on end of life holds potential and pitfall - Part IV

Hospice & Palliative Care: “two evolving options.”

As use of technology increases at end of life patients spend longer periods of time in medical facilities at the end of life. At the same time 80% of people, according to the pastoral guidebook for end of life ministry being proposed to the 222nd General Assembly of the PCUSA, express a preference for dying at home.  Hospice makes that possible.

The goal of medical care is to “cure illness or extend life.” The guidebook points out that in efforts to achieve that goal sometimes medical treatments mean that quality of life in the present is sacrificed for more time later on. Hospice, as an alternative, helps those with terminal illness enjoy life to the fullest in the present while relieving pain and promoting awareness for as long as possible. This is helpful information, not only for pastors, but for families seeking to understand what it means to put a loved one into hospice.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Pastoral Guidebook on end of life holds potential and pitfall - Part III

Part III Pastoral Support and the Clash of Cultures

I am not a pastor, but I found this part of the paper to be educational and helpful. I found little to criticise so will summarize with few words of response (italics).

Section B of the End of Life Pastor’s Guide explores two key questions pastors may have about their role in supporting congregation members making end of life decisions in the healthcare environment. The first question posed for pastors is: “What does it mean to live faithfully and die well, and how can I contribute to this task as a spiritual leader?” At the end of Part II in this blog series I complained that I had yet to find the distinctive voice of the Christian church—that hope of eternal life we hold even as our physical lives end. I am so glad I continued reading because I did find that hope expressed in this part of the paper. Here is my attempt at a summary.

“All persons are beloved by God, . . .and “become whole by God’s grace in spite of whatever diseases or disabilities we have.”  For that reason, pastors should “advocate for equal treatment of persons without discrimination based on limitations or disabilities.”

Friday, April 22, 2016

Pastoral guidebook on end of life holds potential & pitfall, Part II

This is Part II in a seven-part blog series analyzing a resolution coming to the PCUSA General Assembly on the end of life. The paper titled, “Abiding Presence: Living Faithfully in End of Life Decisions,” forms the rationale of the resolution and is offered to the church as a pastoral guide to end of life conversation. Part I can be found here.

Part II The Introduction and Contextual Settings

I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created. (Romans 8:38-39)

I love that this “handbook for caregivers,” opens with this scripture. God’s presence with us in our dying is a theme in the title, “Abiding Presence: Living Faithfully in End of Life Decisions.” I hope to find that theme continued throughout the paper along with the importance of our faithful response to God at the end of life.

“How do I want the end of my life to be?” (emphasis mine) This is the first, and probably not the best, question in the rationale of the resolution being considered for approval at the PCUSA GA in June. A better question for the church follows: “How do we best claim and practice the presence of Christ and the hope of resurrection at the end of life?” Now that’s a conversation starter for the church! It is a question worthy of discussion by the highest governing body of our denomination. I hope that time will be given for substantial consideration of this important topic both at GA and in our local congregations.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Pastoral guidebook on end of life holds potential & pitfall

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy has sent a resolution (Item 11-14) for commissioner approval to the Presbyterian Church (USA) 222nd General Assembly meeting in Portland, Oregon June 18-25, 2016. The resolution includes a pastoral guidebook, a statement of affirmation, and recommendations for conversation and advocacy. It’s long—49 pages—but the subject is critically important for human lives and so it what the church says about life at its end matters, just as what the church says about life in the womb is of critical importance. So, I am taking a literal and figurative big breath and plunging into a blog series to analyze this piece of business coming to the PCUSA with both potential and pitfall.

Here is my working outline for a seven-part series I am calling “End of Life pastoral guidebook holds potential and pitfall.” Part one begins below the outline.
1.      Overview of the Recommendations and the Affirmation
5.      Special concerns: Those with disabilities, the terminally ill, pregnant women
6.      The appendices
7.      PPL’s analysis and concerns

Part I: Recommendations & Affirmation

In the Presbyterian Church (USA), a 1.6 million member (2014) denomination with  an aging demographic, there is a growing need for pastoral care at the end of life. In a culture where the number of states that have legalized physician assisted suicide (PAS) is growing, it is appropriate that to produce a “pastoral and educational booklet” giving guidance for decision-making at the end of life in response to a 2014 General Assembly action. Specifying a team of 7-8 made up of “ethicists and physicians,” the original proposal from Synod of the Covenant was amended, adding theologians and pastors to the writing group, and approved. A broad range of topics to be addressed was included: physician-assisted suicide (PAS); palliative and terminal sedation; the role of medical professionals and pastoral support; the special circumstances of dying children and the dying pregnant woman, the chronically ill and severely disabled persons; organ donation; faithful conversation about end-of-life planning and advance directives; and support for the faithful exercise of Christian conscience on these matters.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Genetic engineering: What is the greatest risk?

A recent article from MIT Technical Review reported James Clapper, US Director of national intelligence has genetic editing to a list of potential WMDs (weapons of mass destruction). The author raises a concern about the possible use of genetic engineering by terrorists.
One paragraph stood out to me because it points toward the another risk—one that gets closer to the heart of the sheer foolishness of humankind in thinking we can somehow improve or ‘fix’ God’s incredibly complex and intricate formation of human life—the risk of unintentional inheritable consequences for generations.
“The intelligence assessment drew specific attention to the possibility of using CRISPR to edit the DNA of human embryos to produce genetic changes in the next generation of people—for example, to remove disease risks. It noted that fast advances in genome editing in 2015 compelled “groups of high-profile U.S. and European biologists to question unregulated editing of the human germ line (cells that are relevant for reproduction), which might create inheritable genetic changes.””
A number of years ago, PPL wrote a position paper on stem cell research. The paper deals with the immorality of the creation of human embryos for research or for treatment of disease in a process that ultimately destroys one human life to help another. Here is an excerpt from PPL’s position paper that is applicable.
[T]he life that is being destroyed may appear, to our examination, to be just a collection of cells. But it is no ordinary group of cells. At the time of fertilization, when the 23 chromosomes of the sperm merge with the 23 chromosomes of the egg, a new human life comes into existence as a single, 46-chromosome cell called a "zygote." The zygote is just one cell, but already the genetic characteristics of that future human adult -- gender, blood type, hair and eye color, and all other genetic characteristics -- have been determined.
 Even more remarkable, contained in that zygote are all of the instructions for how and when that cell will divide, which genes will be turned on and off at what times, and what types of specialized cells will be created in what locations in order to produce the more than 200 types of cells that are needed. The cells are not randomly produced and distributed, but rather are organized into the appropriate organs. For example, astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, and neurons are located in the brain while the insulin-producing cells reside in the pancreas. The various organs and tissues assemble into a complex structure, the human body, with head and trunk, arms and legs, right and left, front and back all in proper position. The cells in the brain capable of sight extend forward in the face forming eyes, a beating four-chambered heart connects to a network of blood vessels, propelling blood, delivering nutrients and oxygen to every cell of the body and removing toxic cellular waste products. The nervous system, digestive system, reproductive system are all intricately formed to provide for life. As in post-natal life, programmed cell death is part of the process of life. In utero, this means that instead of webbed fingers and toes, certain cells destroy themselves so that fingers and toes develop as separate structures.[i]
The zygote and early embryo may not be impressive to the human eye, but given the opportunity to implant in the uterine wall, in nine months that group of cells -- that embryo -- will be a baby, capable of independent life.
King David had a proper humility when he contemplated God’s formation of him in the womb (Ps. 139). He was filled with wonder as he reflected on God’s care from generation to generation: “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4) Christians ought to encourage serious reflection on the complexity of our creation in the scientific, medical and political communities. The Church needs to be part of the conversation. Decisions to implement genetic engineering have implications for future generations that even the most intelligent among us cannot comprehend or predict. If God is truly the Sovereign Creator of all things—and I believe that he is—we human beings should not be mucking around experimentally thinking we can improve what God has created in human kind.
“Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?” (Isaiah 29:16)

[i] Stem Cells: Scientific Progress and Future Research Directions. Appendix A: Early Development. Department of Health and Human Services. June 2001.