Monday, June 28, 2004
That seems to be the story of my life these days.
Today at the hospital, I had to wait an hour and a half to see the doctor. Then I had to wait an hour to get a ride home from the hospital (I guess I shouldn't complain - these are volunteer drivers). Can't enjoy most fresh fruits and salads now; wait 'til your counts are up. Can't kiss my wife; wait 'til your counts are up. Wait a few months to find out if the immunosuppressive therapy is working or not. Wait ... wait ...wait ...
Friday, June 25, 2004
As I reflect on my present circumstances, I find myself praising God for what I'm going through. Through this experience, I have been overwhelmed by the love of God, both directly and mediated through His people. The many expressions of love and support, the practical demonstrations of care, financial gifts, encouragement through cards, letters, e-mails, phone calls and personal visits far outweigh any pain, inconvenience or anxiety that I may have because of my disease. What is thrilling for me is to see the truth of the "One Body" (1 Cor. 12:12-31) exemplified by so many of you: "If one member suffers, everyone suffers with it. If a member is honored, all rejoice with it." (1 Cor. 12:26). I'm at loss to express my appreciation for God's goodness; it seems the only fitting response is to bow down and thank Him for who He is.
In his fine book, Thanksgiving: An investigation of a Pauline theme, David Pao writes:
Thanksgiving in Paul is an act of worship. It is not focused primarily on the benefits received or the blessed condition of a person; instead, God is the centre of thanksgiving.
I close with this poem from the 13th century poet Rumi ...
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
- Jelaluddin Rumi (translation by Coleman Barks)
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
It is staggering to think that in our day and age, over 800 million people on our planet suffer from hunger. Meanwhile, in the Western world we have such an abundance that the dieting craze has spawned a very profitable industry ($30-$50 billion annually according to one estimate).
Recently, there have been a plethora of books published on various aspects concerning food; a representative (and certainly not exhaustive!) list includes:
I want you to share your food with the hungry ... You must actively help the hungry and feed the oppressed. (Is. 58:7,10)
Given today’s political realities, just who is responsible for the lack of progress in the fight against hunger? Does hunger continue because of public apathy or disenfranchisement, or are our leaders to blame for not listening to the people's mandate?
Are We on Track to End Hunger? Bread for The World Institute's Hunger Report 2004, p. 95.
Grace at the Table: Ending Hunger in God's World, David Beckmann, Arthur Simon
The Paradox of Plenty: Hunger in a Bountiful World, Douglas Boucher
World Hunger: Twelve Myths, Frances Moore Lappe, Joseph Collins, Peter Rosset
Rich Christians In An Age Of Hunger, Ronald J. Sider
Woe to you who are well satisfied with food now, for you will be hungry (Luke 6:25)
Not surprisingly, Christians have tried to cash in on the diet and health bandwagon by trying to manipulate the Bible to promote their peculiar theories of dieting and healthy eating. I'm not saying that there isn't some good nutritional advice in these books, but it really irks me when Christians butcher the Scriptures in an attempt to give an air of spirituality and authority to their ideas. Note the bombastic and boastful titles of some of the book titles:
What Would Jesus Eat? The Ultimate Program for Eating Well, Feeling Great, and Living Longer, Don Colbert
The Maker's Diet: The 40 Day Health Experience That Will Change Your Life Forever, Jordan Rubin
The Weigh Down Diet, Gwen Shamblin
Creationist Diet: Nutrition and God-Given Foods According to the Bible, Gary F. Zeolla
None of These Diseases: The Bibles Health Secrets for the 21st Century, S. I. McMillen, David E. Stern
The Bible's Seven Secrets to Healthy Eating, Joyce Rogers
The Prayer Diet: The Unique Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Approach to Healthy Weight Loss, Matthew Anderson
Food and Love, Gary Smalley
It would be unfair to lump these two with the above, but I'm not so sure about their arguments for animal rights:
Is God a Vegetarian?: Christianity, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights, Richard Alan Young
Good Eating: The Bible, Food and the Proper Love of Animals, Stephen H. Webb
(While we're on the subject of dieting, those of you who are devotees of the Atkins Diet, may want to read this article: Was Dr. Atkins Right?, by Dean Ornish, MD, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, April 2004).
Whenever you reap your harvest in your field and leave some unraked grain there, you must not return to get it; it should go to the resident foreigner, orphan, and widow so that the Lord your God may bless all the work you do (Deut. 24:19; cf. 24:18-22)
Sadly, in our global society, food production and distribution has become highly politicized, often to the detriment of developing nations. Most recently, heated debates have centred on GMOs.
Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, Marion Nestle
Dinner at the New Gene Cafe: How Genetic Engineering Is Changing What We Eat, How We Live, and the Global Politics of Food, Bill Lambrecht
Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food, Daniel Charles
Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply, Vandana Shiva
Food: Cultural and Historical Aspects
Food certainly holds a lot of fascination for us; there are even academic journals devoted to food and culture:
- Food and Foodways: Explorations in the History and Culture of Human Nourishment
- Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture
- Anthropology of Food
Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World,Greg Critser
Food Fight: The Inside Story of the Food Industry, America's Obesity Crisis, and What We Can Do About It, Kelly D. Brownell
How We Eat: Appetite, Culture, and the Psychology of Food, Leon Rappoport
Much Depends on Dinner, Margaret Visser
In the Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food, Stewart L. Allen
Feast: A History of Grand Eating, Roy Strong
Paradox of Plenty: A Social History of Eating in Modern America (rev. ed.), Harvey Levenstein
Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, Eric Schlosser
Slow Food: The Case For Taste, Carlo Petrini
In reaction to the "fast food" takeover of the world, the Slow Food Movement was born. In an interview in The New York Times, Carlo Petrini makes some insightful comments:
Conviviality is one of the most fundamental aspects of eating together, and I'm hard pressed to think of something sadder than eating alone, without that social rite. Breaking bread is an enrichment, and it's very important to keep alive the social aspects. When people don't eat together, they lose that element of the event. They lose an important aspect of the eating process.
Eating together and drinking together at the end of the day is a kind of sign of friendship or communion, and when that doesn't exist, it's a sadder, less cohesive society. And that can be seen perhaps here in America.
"Endangered Species: Slow Food: An interview with Carlo Petrini" (NYT; July 26, 2003; p. 9)
Finally, for some of my thoughts on the Lord's Supper, click here.
Sunday, June 20, 2004
Confession time: I'm a bit of a procrastinator.
I have so many unfinished projects, books to read, letters to write, etc. I seem to have this bad habit of coming up with ambitious plans for the future, or putting things off for another day, but never getting around to doing them.
Now that my future is so uncertain, I'm going to have to live more for TODAY rather than just planning for the FUTURE.
Saturday, June 19, 2004
This post will definitely offend some of you ... but hey, you're free to disagree with me ;-) Furthermore, I'd be happy to engage with you if you feel that strongly.
It's been my observation (call it Paul's Conjecture) that Christian books generally obey this law:
BESTSELLER = BAD THEOLOGY
Consider some of the bestsellers in recent years:
- Left Behind series (Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins)
- The Prayer of Jabez (Bruce Wilkinson)
- Wild at Heart (John Eldredge)
- The Purpose Driven Life (Rick Warren)
- Boundaries (Henry Cloud and John Townsend)
- Experiencing God (Henry Blackaby)
Without exception, each one of the above popular books contains not a small amount of questionable theology. Don't get me wrong: I'm NOT saying that they're absolutely useless. But therein lies the danger: there's just enough truth in them to give the average reader the impression that these books are theologically sound. Second, I noltice that devotees of these books tend to be religious junkies, seeking one spiritual high after another. Thirdly, most of these books offer a simplistic, formulaic and reductionistic approach to the Christian life. You can achieve super spiritual growth in 40 days. If you follow these 7 steps you can know God's will for your life. Yada, yada, yada ... Fourthly, these books tend to be written in a fluffy, sentimental style that appeals to your average lazy, biblically illiterate, and unthinking Christian. Further, most Christians have a "herd mentality": they see their church friends reading it, or see the full-page glossy ads in Christian magazines, and they figure it must be good. Lastly, these books usually spawn a profitable cottage industry of paraphenelia (journals, videos, T-shirts, etc.) that appeals to the consumer spirit of North American Christians. It's funny (but sad) how some of these books/authors garner such a faddish and cultish following amongst so many Christians. Idolatry is alive and well today as it was in the days of Israel of old.
I'm happy to say that from time to time there are some notable exceptions to "Paul's Conjecture". One recent example is John Piper's The Passion of Jesus Christ: Fifty Reasons Why He Came to Die, which I understand is selling quite well. (One could argue that he is capitalizing on Mel Gibson's movie). Piper is faithful to the Bible, and writes with passion and pastoral concern.
My basic advice to my Christian friends is: avoid almost everything in the Top 20 Bestseller list. Be a good steward, and buy books that will help you read and study the Bible for yourself. Be a critical and discerning thinker. Kick the habit of jumping into every fad that comes along.
Be a purpose-driven reader ...
Thursday, June 17, 2004
Here are some thoughts for reflection ...
Alan Creech says that we need to understand and do church differently because there is a “deep lack of real transformation going on in the Body of Christ.”
Reggie McNeal says: "A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost faith. They are leaving the church to preserve their faith."
My own quote: “Today, we usually see structure define what the church is. In this context, there is no room for the full and rich diversity of the movement of the Spirit through God's people… Could this be the reason that we are not seeing the glory of the Lord cover our neighborhoods and nations?
And: “Church-as-we-know-it has become a box to live within, not a movement to participate in.”
I don't know about you, but these quotes resonate deeply within me ...
I wish I wasn't house-bound .. I was hoping to attend this
conference in July.
Tuesday, June 15, 2004
There's an interesting editorial and collection of articles on a subject that's very dear to my heart: the state of the Church today. As you can see from the links to the left, I've done a lot of thinking about church life and practices, and I have come to some definite conclusions and "action plans" as a result. Those who know me well, are aware that I've always had an uneasy tension with the Church in its "institutional" expression. In fact, this is one of the "projects" I mentioned in my previous blog entry, that I'm working on. Here's a quote (emphases are mine):
Very simply, the church began as a movement but ended up as an institution. And because the institutional church has lasted for some 1,500 years, we've grown overly familiar with this way of existing. It's ingrained in us. But this institutionalized way of church—what has been called Christendom—is deteriorating. Because of the way things are now in the context of history, the old institutional mold can't be rebuilt, and it would be unwise to attempt to rebuild it. Biblical Christianity will move on and thrive without it.
These early disciples had a sense of mission. They saw themselves as sent by God into the world for the sake of the world. Wherever Christians were, that was their place of mission. Local congregations became intent on ministering in both word and deed as witnesses of Jesus Christ. Because the members of this new community were often persecuted and exiled, their witness to Jesus was spread throughout the empire. Mission wasn't the job of a few professional clergy. God gave spiritual gifts so that each member could do his or her part.
The early church's leaders didn't carry on with an air of professionalism. According to the book of Acts, these leaders were common men and women who were called and gifted to shepherd the flock of God. The example of Paul demonstrates that it wasn't uncommon for these leaders to work with their hands to support themselves and their families (see Acts 20:34).
Early Christianity was radical—far more radical than the bland, conservative product we call Christianity today. Early Christians seemed to understand that their faith involved a radical commitment to a wild God who would often lead them to dangerous places.
This new community learned through the hardships of persecution to care for one another's needs. Although they came from different social and ethnic groups, they were bound together by the common purpose of the kingdom of God. They served their local communities with good deeds. They sacrificed and gave of themselves for the service of the kingdom of Christ. They had the conviction that they were a part of God's continuing story of the unfolding of redemption
Wes Roberts & Glenn Marshall, Reclaiming God's Original Intent for the Church, NavPress, 2004.
Sunday, June 13, 2004
Well, I've made it through an entire week after being discharged from the hospital. I've been doing some thinking about my uncertain future, and I was feeling that my life was being put on hold, as I wait to see if I will respond to my treatment or not.
But then I decided that I need to get my life together NOW and just carry on with all my plans and goals (so far as I am able to in my present condition). I'm NOT going to wait until I get better, I'm just going to proceed anyhow, damn the torpedoes! No self-pity or despair for me; I have things to accomplish!
Providentially, I just happened to be reading an interesting article in The Atlantic (Jul/Aug 2004) by James Fallow titled "Organize Your Life!". It was about a business consultant named David Allen, who makes a ton of $$$ teaching people how to maximize productivity and get things done. Yeah, I know, I've tried many other systems before (e.g. Covey) and I've never managed to stick with any one in particular. But it was not so much the methodology per se that caught my attention ...
Rather, it was this remark that jolted me into reflection and action: "The more important the goal (fix your marriage, get a better job), the easier it is to procrastinate, because people don't know just where to start." (p. 173). The key words for me were: important, procrastinate and start.
So, I dug out my binder and made my own time management system, using some of Allen's insights where appropriate. I have a section for "Projects", to help keep me focused on a few big projects that I have in mind (to do with church, family and my personal spiritual growth). This is exciting!!
Wednesday, June 09, 2004
A friend's recent e-mail began: Just visited your websites for all the updates I've missed the last few days. Each week comes and goes so quickly it seems and I forget that during my business, other lives are changing as well, not just mine. ... I am somewhat surprised (happily) with your candour in this very personal and trying journey. I find your accounts interesting. Ironically I think I am more inspired by you guys than I can reciprocate.
Well, I'm not one to hide my feelings usually, so I never thought about my "candour" in blogging about my journey. But my friend is right about the weeks going by so quickly ... it brings to mind a poem I knew when I was younger; it begins like this:
Around the corner I have a friend,
In this great city that has no end,
Yet the days go by and weeks rush on,
And before I know it, a year is gone.
and ends thus:
Around the corner - yet miles away,
"Here's a telegram sir"
"[Paul] died today."
And that's what we get and deserve in the end.
Around the corner, a vanished friend.
Monday, June 07, 2004
Well, thanks to all who have taken the time to read through my blog entries from May 7 to now. For the next few months, it'll mainly be a waiting game to see if the immunosuppresive therapy is "successful" or not. Therefore, I will mostly share my spiritual, philosophical and emotional ramblings here, and give all the treatment progress details here instead.
Saturday, June 05, 2004
Well, my first full day back from the hospital and I was looking forward to a relaxing day. Boy was I wrong! It was mid-noon and I was about to have some lunch, when I felt a tickle in my nose. (I'd been having a bit of a runny nose the past few days.) I dabbed my nose with a tissue and was surprised to see red!
After 10 minutes, the blood was still flowing steadily and the pile of bloody tissues was fast growing. I paged my wife at work and she promptly advised me to call for an ambulance. They rushed me over to Emergency, where I had to wait about 40 minutes, before I got a bed. Of course, by this time, I had stopped bleeding. Then I sat there for 10 minutes before the Head Nurse came to see me. She proceeded to take vital signs and draw blood. At first, she didn't even know which of the 3 lines on my Hickman was for blood work; I told her I would bet on the one that was red, but suggested she check. She ran out and inquired; yup, I was right. I got very nervous as I watched her fumble around with my Hickman line. My uneasiness tuned to alarm when after several attempts, she was unable to draw blood (it's quite easy with a Hickman line!). So she ran out again for help.
She came back and had Anne take over for her (for which I thank the good Lord); she drew blood the first time, no problem. Anyhow, then I just sat around for over an hour, waiting for the blood test results (to see what my counts were). Finally, they announced that my platelet count was low (20) and they were going to transfuse me. This required another 30 minutes wait before the bags arrived. The platelet transfusion (my 6th one so far) itself took almost 2 hours.
The boredom was alleviated by my wife leaving work early just to be with me, and then later, my friend Paul dropped by to keep me company, and even drove me home (I didn't leave the hospital 'til 7:15 pm).
So, as you can see, don't get too excited that I've had my ATG treatment. The next few months are very precarious as I wait for my bone marrow to (hopefully) respond. In the meantime, I am at high risk for all manner of viral, bacterial and fungal infections (including aspergillus), and bleeding. Also, it's vital that the blood transfusion blood products are irradiated against CMV (cytomegalovirus). Then there's the concern of iron overload from the blood transfusions, not to mention sensitization to the transfusion products themselves. Also, there's the real risk of catheter site infection (like from sloppy handling by nurses). Of course, there's all the side effects and possible long-term negative implications from all the drugs I 'm taking.
So please remember, the real battle's just beginning! I've got a long way to go still ...
However, I'm glad to be alive, and I still have hope that I'll be around to see my kids grow up!
Friday, June 04, 2004
Well, I'm back home! Thanks to all your prayers, cards, jokes, books, phone calls, and visits (and even some food smuggled in!). Couldn't have endured it without all your love and support.
The Lord blessed me with 6 (count 'em, six!) wonderful nurses, to whom I extend my deepest appreciation: mucho thanks to Alison, Evelyn, Mandy, Andrea, Rico [token male nurse], and Jen! As for the doctors, I guess they were OK :(
On the way home, I dropped by the pharmacy to pick up some drugs:
- cyclosporine (immunosuppressant);
- prednisone (to prevent serum sickness from the ATG)
- valacyclovir (to prevent viral infections)
- ranitidine (to protect stomach while on prednisione)
- ciprofloxacin (to prevent bacterial infections)
- atovaquone (to prevent Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia)
Total cost: $2000 for a month's supply (actually, a few of them are for a week's supply only). We'll be selling our house and liquidating all our assets soon ...Also, I will still be making weekly trips (probably 2 or 3 times initially) to the outpatient ward for ongoing blood tests and transfusions. Let's hope I start responding quickly to this pricey drug regimen before we go broke!
Anyhow, will write more soon, after I get through the 2000 e-mails (I kid you not!) scattered across my various e-mail accounts ;-)