Dying to be dignified?

MSP Margo MacDonald suffers from Parkinson’s disease. She would like to be allowed, legally, to end her life if her condition deteriorates.

Yesterday, she introduced to the Scottish Parliament a Bill proposing the legalisation of assisted suicide. She said that its intention was to allow those who suffer from terminal and degenerative conditions “to bring their life to an end before nature would decree”. Speaking, she said, from a personal perspective, this was “the point at which public policy meets personal morality”; that dying is part of living, and that the end of a person’s life should not be something over which they are refused the right to choose.

Assisted suicide is of course a hotly debated subject both in the UK and elsewhere. Although it’s legal in Switzerland, assisted suicide is illegal in the UK. Possible legalisation continues to be discussed, however, and In September 09 England’s Department for Public Prosecutions published interim guidance on the circumstances to be taken into account in determining whether prosecutions are likely to be pursued. The Lord Advocate, who has equivalent responsibilities for criminal prosecutions in Scotland, resisted calls to follow suit.

The Bill now before the Scottish Parliament will force the state to address an issue that is bound to be divisive. Whatever the outcome, large proportions of the electorate will be consider that the legislature has failed. However, speaking in December 2008 MacDonald argued, convincingly, for the need for public debate: suicide is no longer a crime, and in the Catholic church it is no longer a cardinal sin. Why then, one might ask, should it be illegal to assist someone in doing something that isn’t a crime? The need for public discussion is clear, and she is to be thanked for raising the profile so that there can be a mature conversation in Scotland.

As part of a Panorama documentary in 2008, MacDonald is filmed investigating how others have identified the means to commit suicide. Watch the clip here. I couldn’t help but share her sense of horror at the desperation that someone must be feeling to get to the point where an “exit hood”  might seem to be a viable, or the only, option.

If I am honest, it seemed sordid. But would making the process more “humane”, more “clinical” be more dignified? And are dignity and choice the major criteria we should be adopting? Or is our view too narrow? Is the issue perhaps also about our attitude to death itself, and about where that attitude comes from? Perhaps, in fact, it goes to the very core of who we understand ourselves to be.

We should consider carefully the extent to which parliament should intervene here.

Margo MacDonald is right that this issue rests at the interface of public policy and morality. But it also asks us to address whether morality extends beyond the personal realm. If there is a God, what would his view be?

Biblical references on state-issued weapons

The BBC News website reported last night that the military in the US and the UK have purchased and are using in active combat weapons whose sights contain biblical references. 

The references apparently read “2Cor4:6” and “Jn8:12”, which are to the following verses:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

I’m all for opportunities for people to hear and respond to the gospel. But can it really be appropriate to reference the “tools of the trade” (if you will) of an employee (here,  a soldier) of our armed forces with biblical material? And if the message in these references was taken to heart, would our soldiers be at arms in the first place?

The US manufacturer of the sights, Trijicon, is run by Christians.  Trijicon says of itself:

“We believe that America is great when its people are good. This goodness has been based on biblical standards throughout our history and we will strive to follow those morals”

What about Exodus 20:13?

(thanks to Lauren)

Epiphany: a process

Once Hogmanay is over (or, depending on your “bah, humbug” factor, maybe even earlier), the celebration of Christmas easily starts to feel dead and buried.

However, fellow-sufferers of the “January blues” may care to join me in reflecting instead on Epiphany, in which some solace is to be found. Although it’s primarily marked on 6th January, it goes goes on being celebrated in the Anglican church’s calender for 4 Sundays.

Epiphany translates, roughly, as “revealing”. It’s about God revealing himself to us, and at this time of year we’re encouraged to reflect on the way in which Jesus’ coming heralded salvation for “outsiders” as well as Jews. We remember how the Magi recognised, gave gifts to and worshipped the Christ child.

What, though, was their experience like? Not a “moment” I think. Rather, in their story we see God’s revelation to humans as a journey.

Matthew (chapter 2) recounts that wise men travelled to Jerusalem having seen a bright star. These were Magi: learned advisors, men to whom others looked for guidance, wisdom and discernment. On Jesus’ birth, they looked into the sky and saw something extraordinary: a star that wasn’t normally there, which didn’t fit the map of the skies they knew.  Perhaps they knew something of Jewish culture, that a Messiah was predicted to come. Maybe they had even read Jewish scripture and had it suggested that a star would star signalling his arrival. But these were Gentile men, not Jews. Even if they knew what the Jews believed, why would they take off on a journey to search out a God who wasn’t theirs?

We don’t know the ins and outs of it, but it something pretty powerful must have  motivated men to leave their homes and travel at short notice to Jerusalem. Think about it – setting out on a journey because you saw a star?!  The story goes even further. Not only did they make a physical pilgrimage, but somehow, somewhere along the way they became convinced that what they were seeking was something with more than physical significance. “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” they said. “We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”  They wanted to worship. Their journey had became spiritual.

The Magi who arrive in Jerusalem are changed people; not men who changed themselves, for there is no suggestion they had become, or sought to become, Jews. Rather, they are a people who have been changed. They are thirsty for God – a God who seems already to have revealed something of himself to them, and who invites them to follow his lead. So they continue to seek after him, following the unlikely leading of a star, and in time, after yet more journeying, they find him. A defenseless baby.

In Jesus, God is revealed. In the most unlikely form, in the most unlikely place, by the most unlikely means. Their epiphany – and maybe ours – is not only a moment, but rather it is also a mysterious, time consuming, captivating process.

Trudging through the January blues, let’s remember that we journey with God, and that as we follow his lead, he shows up where we least expect to find him.

Jesus killed my political apathy

Politics. The mere presence of the header was enough. My right forefinger twitched: “click”. Previous page, please. I don’t want to read political garbage. Life’s too short. I’m not interested in stupid games.

That’s how I used to approach things: apathetic.

It’s not that I didn’t care about the world: homelessness, poverty, famine, the environment, war. But  these are huge, complex problems, aren’t they? I doubted they could be solved. I doubted that politicians could see beyond their personal career aspirations to want to solve them. Therefore engaging with politics seemed pointless. I was busy enough, after all, taking care of my own happiness: building a career, financial security and success. Other people and “bigger” issues came second.

Perhaps that sounds callous. Or maybe you and I have a common thread of experience.

Now fast forward 3 years. It’s 2010.

Things have changed – or at least have started changing. Now don’t get me wrong; I don’t excitedly leap out of bed each morning to scour the headlines for the latest political heist, and I don’t much care about whether Gordon Brown or David Cameron is having the better week. Nevertheless, issues that politicians get involved in catch my attention now. Why?

My faith has started to have an impact on this part, as on other parts, of my life. There are over 8000 verses in the New Testament. At least 718 of them deal with issues of poverty and justice. That’s nearly 10% of the whole thing, and the proportion is similar when you include Old Testament references. Jesus is recorded as talking about these issues at on at least 290 different occasions (The Poverty and Justice Bible). Perhaps, then, it’s unsurprising that as I read more about God’s plan for the world, what he’s doing in it, I find myself challenged to get involved.

Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.

That’s what Jesus did – not by becoming an MP or a high flying executive, but instead by understanding the political world around him and then engaging it in God’s way, on God’s terms. His actions were both profoundly political and profoundly simple. He got stuck right in, loving people without compromise and refusing to allow love’s expression to be limited by state politics. It was a love so radical as to see him tortured and killed.

As I look at pictures of the injured and bereaved of Haiti, I don’t know what to do to help.  I’m disappointed with myself for my lack of knowledge of these peoples’ plight; with my lack of concern about how they might be helped; for my lack of knowledge about the political system of which I’m a part. I’m frustrated: as I read of responses by governments and charities, the power of nations like the USA and the UK over Haiti is obvious, and though there’s huge potential to help, there are even bigger questions about how best to do so, and a huge risk of entrapment for the Haitians of the future if the wrong approach is adopted.

Do we really know the best ways to go about helping Haiti in the long term? Of seeing the Haitians liberated?  And do we honestly desire to identify them? Naomi Klein spells out the dangers. Bill Quigley suggests positive actions.

I have no idea exactly how the biblical principles I believe should be worked out in the world in this instance. Politics are so complicated. Thank God for the aid agencies working round the clock to bring relief, for the people who have chosen to give sacrificially of themselves to help.

Even while I’m so aware of my inadequacy, though, I see that something has changed in me. I thank God that he gives me a desire, nowadays, to love others: that I am affected by these events in a way I never was “before”, so that thoughts translate into action. I thank him that he loves the people of Haiti as he loves me, and that we have an opportunity to see positive change start as the Hatian people, over the enxt months and years, begin to rebuild.

So here’s my resolve: to get informed, at least a little, and take an interest, armed with what little knowledge I glean, in the actions of my state and of NGO’s. Which means that even I, the most apathetic non-politician I ever knew, am going to have to engage.

How about you?


hat tip: Asbo Jesus

Pat Robertson & Haiti

It’s 24 hours since unmitigated disaster struck Haiti. Their biggest earthquake for over 2 centuries, and the latest in a line of disasters that have left them devastated.

I could hardly believe the comments made by Pat Robertson.  Words fail me. Fortunately they don’t fail Don Miller, in whose capable hands I’ll leave this simple response:

An appropriate response to Haiti:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in..”

An appropriate response to Pat Robertson:

“You seem angry and tired. Christ loves you. He is not impressed with your religious posturing. He really loves you. You don’t have to hide behind anything anymore. The good news really is that good.”

For my part I’ll  do my bit, however tiny, by giving and also by praying for the God of love and hope to hold the people of Haiti close. I’ll also be praying for understanding of how it is that the God whom we trust to love us could let this happen, and how we should respond, both now and in the long term (how can it be right for any state to have been in such a mess even before this happened?)… I can’t help but feel we all bear an element of responsibility as fellow humans.

Yet again, I don’t get how God works. But then there’s nothing very new about that.

Marked

Fast-paced, terrifying… this graphic re-imagination of the gospel of Mark in a contemporary fictional setting is clever and deep. The people are blinded and demon-possessed. Jesus can change them, but they don’t, for the most part, have the eyes to see.

It could almost be real life (ironic, eh?). And therein lies the skill with which Ross retells the gospel story, albeit in a way you might not, at first, recognise.

The preface cautions that pictures often denude a text. If you have the opposite problem when it comes to the Bible, finding it hard to get a sense of the power and the challenge of the person of Jesus from traditional translations, or if you need reminding about what it must have been like to have him burst into the first century cultural setting, then this might just be a good place for you to start.

Loved it.