Category Archives: Musings

Don’t You Care That I’m Dying?

Yesterday, I attended an  ethics talk on the potential issues of merging Secular and Religious healthcare organizations. It was an extremely interesting discussion and one that’s far too complex to try and detail here1.

For anyone who’s been living under a rock for the past few years, the US healthcare system is undergoing a tremendous amount of change and reorganization. Changes in treatment reimbursement and shifting regulations regarding electronic health records and such have seen many smaller hospitals consolidating into larger Accountable Care Organizations (ACO). This has inevitably resulted in religiously affiliated hospitals (primarily Catholic ones) merging with or associating with secular institutions. With these new agreements come another set of governing documents known as the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERD) which are handed down by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. These directives are an attempt to elucidate Catholic Social Teaching within the context of medicine and healthcare and provide a framework for not only reasoning about critical decisions, but also for defending existing doctrine. Of course, these documents don’t stand on their own, they are products of a current political and cultural climate and thus deal with extremely delicate topics centered around both the beginning and end of life. And it’s these stances that are proving to be problematic.

As the session opened the panelists each gave their perspective on the topic and attempted to explain the issues at stake. This is where things began to get interesting. Like any old fool, I’d originally assumed that in a discussion of both Catholic teaching and Catholic hospitals, there would be representatives from some of the respective organizations. Silly me, in fact, not only were they not in attendance, they were purposefully not invited, in order to keep the discussion focused on ‘the ethics’2.
The problem with this approach, is that catholic3 teaching is focused within a larger religious framework that makes it impossible to split off and analyze as a piece of secular health policy. Consider this section from the ERD Introduction:

The mystery of Christ casts light on every facet of Catholic health care: to see Christian love as the animating principle of health care; to see healing and compassion as a continuation of Christ’s mission; to see suffering as a participation in the redemptive power of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection; and to see death, transformed by the resurrection, as an opportunity for a final act of communion with Christ.4.

As a religious person, I find this statement to be incredibly powerful, beautiful in its hopefulness for a world renewed, and invigorating in its extortion to us as agents of healing and change. To a non-religious individual, this statement is at best completely inaccessible, and at worst extremely offensive.

Consider Directive #61, which ends with:

… Patients experiencing suffering that cannot be alleviated should be helped to appreciate the Christian understanding of redemptive suffering.

When trying to evaluate this as a piece of health policy it largely reads ‘let them suffer until the bitter end, and maybe preach at them until they pass out’.  Which brings us to the crux of the forum, the prevailing opinion is that the merging of secular and religious hospitals is unethical because Catholic teaching is inconsistent with moral care of both the dying and the soon to be born, or accurately scheduling those soon to be born.

A religious person would bristle at this statement, and rightly so, but that fact remains, this is the perception of a huge swath of the American populace.

But why is this the case?

While there are most likely a myriad of reasons, the one that stuck out to me was the fact that religious views on health and ethics are inextricably rooted in a larger religious system. The reason Catholics oppose abortion, is not some form of uterine control, but a deep understanding on the meaning and value of life. Likewise, this concern is extended to include those whose time on earth is drawing to a swift, though painful, close. Thus, when you simply strip all that away, you’re left with a series of cryptic one-liners which seem to simply regurgitate the last remnants of some medieval council.

But this misunderstanding goes even further. Consider the recent supreme court case Sibelius v. Hobby Lobby, here the court wants to know why the actions and choices of an individual must be made subject to religious doctrine. A fair question, but one that’s inherently misguided. To a religious person, the question is not about why actions may be held to account for religious teachings, but if these specific actions can be held to such a standard. Religious people understand the concept of self-surrender, whereby our wants and desires are made subject to the perfect will of God. So, while you may argue over specific cases, it makes logical sense that there would be situations in which our own wants and desires would have to be surrendered for some larger purpose5. Of course, without a theological framework to lean on, this explanation holds little to no weight.

At this point, there are probably quite a few people who would take issue with my characterization of religious doctrine, in that God’s truth extends beyond simple metaphor or liturgical ritual, it indeed resounds in the night and shines in the light of day6. This is absolutely true, and one need only take a cursory scan of places like The Public Discourse,  or First Things in order to find logical, well reasoned discussions of Christian ethics and thought within the public realm; however, these discussions seem to be relegated to the back-burner of public society and have ceased to light the way forward.

But again, why is this the case?

I would hold that the fault lies not with the secular world, but with those of us who profess to hold such believes. We have failed. We have failed to translate the spiritual to the physical, not only in our explanations of truth, but in the way we model and reveal the glory of God in this world. We have become a Church defined by what we’re against, not what we’re for. A Church in which ‘not as you are’, has replaced ‘what you will become’. Is it any wonder people are pushing back against us? If the Church was really what they perceived it to be, would you want to be a part of it?

This is what I hear people rebelling against. Not our forms of worship, or our personal moral codes, but our perceived abandonment of mercy and compassion. The Church is seen not as a field hospital for those cast about by the waves of post-modernity, but as a wall with which to break upon. In discussions such as these, I hear less the mocking laugh of atheism, then the heartbroken pleas of those left behind. And while the Church’s truth on death and dying may hold together from a logical perspective, it seems a cold comfort to those on death’s door, without any hope of what lies beyond.

In the end, this is not a doctrinal issue, it’s a language issue, it’s a relational issue. Perhaps it’s an issue that will never be solved, perhaps the chasm is just too great, but if the Church ever hopes to regain its place in the public sphere, it needs to shift is language7, it needs declare its support for those in life’s most vulnerable states. It needs to show (through words and actions) how it values all people and that the truths it extols are, in fact, those most consistent with human flourishing. Only then, will people begin to understand the crux of the religious arguments, which are built upon the idea of a loving savior, and a world broken but longing to be renewed. Until then, we’ll all just be talking past each other and we’ll keep running down this same road, and I find it highly unlikely that things will simply work themselves out over time.

Today, I don’t really have any good answers, like everyone else, I’m still trying to figure out what it means to be a Christian in 2014, living in the community I’ve found myself in. I’m trying to figure out how my faith and beliefs work themselves out in the public life I live. And, like everyone else in that room yesterday, I’m trying to work towards alleviating the pain and suffering from those in this world who seem to have too much of both. But while I don’t have any direct answers, I do know one thing for sure. The way things are right now, does not bode well for the future of religion and American Christianity. Living in Seattle we find ourselves not in a post-Christian world but a post-post-Christian one, one in which the the forms and frameworks of religion have faded quietly into the past. Unless we change the way we communicate hope and truth people won’t understand. And unless we change the way we live out that truth in the world, they won’t listen.


  1. The tax issues alone require at least a month to go through, but that’s probably because everyone would be falling asleep with regularity. 

  2. In case you’re worried that this would cause a slant in the dialogue, fear not, the ACLU provided all the necessary expertise. 

  3. Notice the small C spelling, from here on out I’m going to use Catholic doctrine as a model, but I think the issues are largely transferable between faiths and denominations. 

  4. Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, 5th Edition (2009). 

  5. Some questions will, naturally, be raised as to what type of freedom we’re promoting, but I would dodge that whole debate by simply stating ‘positive freedom’. Yes it’s a simplistic response, but it leaves a little something for next time. 

  6. I love that UW’s motto is Lux sit ‘Let there be light’ 

  7. notice I said language, not doctrine. 

Microsoft in 2014

I started writing this post last week, right after I sat through the entirety of the BUILD 2014 Opening Keynote, then real life. So now, I’m finally getting it posted. So hopefully you’ll enjoy my (most likely) old-news musings.

This conference marked the first time I’ve actually sat through the entirety of a major conference keynote. Usually, like a normal person, I just let Anand sit through them and tell me what I need to know. For some reason, this year we were left to our own devices, and thus 3 hours later I found myself trying to process the sheer amount of info, product changes, and demos squeezed into those 180 minutes. All joking aside, it was actually a really good presentation, you should take a look. While there will be thousands of words written over the next few months by people far more qualified then myself, I thought I’d offer a few quick thoughts and observations of my own.

Note: I am by no means a Microsoft expert, while I have extensive experience as a user of the OS (both phone and desktop), and many of their business applications, my experience as a developer is limited to a few aborted app attempts and a smattering of copied C# code. However, I do have a lot of experience crossing between system platforms, cloud offerings, and a bunch of different programming languages. So take everything with a grain of salt.

If I had to sum up the entire presentation into a single phrase, it would be: We told you so. The last few years have been really rough on the giant of Redmond. Vista was a mess, the success of 7 was quickly followed by a huge paradigm shift with 8, which landed right in the middle of the enterprise upgrade cycle from XP (as most people skipped the sinking Vista ship altogether). On the phone front Windows Phone (WP) quickly established itself as something uniquely different from anything being done in the iOS or Android camps. While the platform seemed to test well with potential users, it never quite seemed to gain the desired traction and only gained the 3rd spot in mobile OS usage, while being propelled aloft by the flaming crash of the once great RIM Blackberry. Finally, on the web services side, Bing became an acceptable alternative for googling information when google seemed inconvenient, and while Windows Live Folders Windows Live SkyDrive SkyDrive OneDrive always seemed quite slick, navigating the myriad of byzantine menus, logins, and UIs quickly made any thought of switching from DropBox laughable at best. Also, the Surface is still a thing, right?1

While all this was going on, Microsoft kept working. They released Azure (and it rocks), they moved WP to the NT kernel, they slogged through the messiness of migrating from Win32 to WinRT. They unified their web services and made some awesome improvements2. Then, yesterday morning they came out beaming.

Windows Phone 8.1

Honestly, it feels like this should really be Windows Phone 9. There’s so much tied into this release it’s almost impossible to summarize here, but some will try. Basically what you need to know is, Microsoft hit parity. They took WP8, which often felt quite powerful, but a little unfinished, and revved it right to the level where iOS and Android no longer resemble that one cousin at family reunions which seems to be all the things your parents hoped and dreamed you would be. Now, you just might have a fighting chance.

The thing most people will be talking about is, of course, Cortana, but really, while I’m really excited to use it, it’s not all that interesting from a technical perspective. Only time will tell if it proves superior to Siri or Google Now, but honestly, it doesn’t need to be better, it just needs to be comparable. For Microsoft, this is about showing that their web platform can compete with anything Google can build, or Apple can buy. Interestingly, one of the thing briefly mentioned, was that Cortana only processing personal information stored on your device. While they didn’t go into much detail as to what that actually means, they emphasized (several times) the work being done by the application, as opposed to server side processing. This could stack up as an interesting alternative to Google’s approach which involves their own processes running rough shod over whatever private data you have stored within their server farms.

This dual SIM thing could be really, really cool. Especially with the ability to automatically tag contacts to specific SIMs, this could be a huge deal for individuals carrying multiple phones, or international users where pre-paid sim cards and multiple competing networks are the norm. Couple this feature with all the added enterprise hoopla3 and you have a strong entrant to bring balance to the BYOD conflagration. Perhaps here is a device that both users, and administrators can be happy with. Perhaps.

I’ve always liked WP. I picked up a Samsung Focus not too long after the WP7 release. In fact, I even rocked an HTC S620 back in the day, and loved it4. That being said, I never quite got over the feeling that us Redmond faithful were slowly being left behind. Apple and Google were adding features and apps at breakneck pace, new hardware designs put my plastic slabs to shame5. The other week I was lamenting to a friend that even though WP8 is my favorite mobile OS, it seemed certain that another iPhone was in my future. After yesterday, I’m not so sure. Microsoft has shown that they’re still in the game, at least for now. What we need now is a roadmap, are they on a yearly release cadence? Does the shift to services mean more rapid, out-of-band, updates to Bing and other apps? Right now, I have no idea, but one thing’s for sure. Unless Apple releases a revolutionary change to iOS at WWDC, I’ll be rocking the blocky blue for at least another upgrade cycle.

Windows 8.1

Meh. I don’t use Windows very often, and I never really found Metro Microsoft Blokus OS, much of a hassle so bringing back the start bar and such is largely uninteresting to me. That being said, I do like the fact that they’re bringing convergence to the two star crossed launchers, and are seemingly open to user input and complaints. I look forward to them continuing to promote synergy like a boss.

Universal Apps

This is where things get interesting. Now, keep in mind, everything we’ve seen so far has been ‘keynote speak’, we’ll have to wait until devs get their keyboards on some shipping software and see what shakes out. That being said, the demos they showed of sharing almost the entirety of the Windows 8 app code base between laptop and phone, are if not a game changer, then at least a huge remittance on the pain and confusion suffered over the past few years. Let me try and expand on this.

The major complaint lodged against WP was the lack of available apps. Purists proceeded to shout back that almost all of the top apps on iOS and Android were available, and that WP was so superior to anything else that you didn’t need all those fancy apps which were merely responding to the shared misery of the Apple Industrial Complex. While I myself uttered the same arguments and passionately demonstrated WPs inherent understanding of information and context one thing still bugged me. The Facebook app was written by Microsoft. In fact, a bunch of the best applications were written either by Microsoft or Nokia. While that’s been changing somewhat over the past few months, it doesn’t seem to bode well for the health of the platform as a whole. In addition, even the apps developed by their respective owners seemed to be afterthoughts, lacking the robustness and features of their gleaming counterparts. Of course, this is the classic chicken and the egg condundrum. Developers aren’t incentivized to port their applications (or develop entirely new ones) to WP without users, and users are less inclined to use a platform which is missing any number of app they find themselves using in an average day. Windows, as a platform, is a totally different story. Just about any application you can think of has some sort of presence. It’s a huge market with a strong user base and entirely new interface that’s just begging for beautiful new ways of interacting with traditional services and applications6. In one fell swoop, what Microsoft’s done here is taken all the work they been building on for the past decade, all the work on the Common Language Runtime, the fragmented APIs and leveraged it open up both platforms to developers with the hopes that all the interesting things people are working on in Windows 8 will quickly be ported to WP8 as well and thus drive user growth on the platform. Of course, this isn’t as simple as snapping one’s fingers and hoping for apps to magically descend from the great developer on high, a lot of applications have years worth of cruft, meticulous validated logic, or fragile code bases that probably won’t take well to being moved to an entirely new system. Don’t worry nervous dev, Microsoft has the (an) answer. During the Keynote they gave a quick demo of an old ADO.net database application, moving the core logic (in its entirety) into its own processing container and then calling that code from a brand new WinRT interface that’s fully touch compatible and complies with all the latest rules in hipster app design. While seemingly simple on the outside, this ‘pathway to upgrading’ opens the door to a huge number of enterprise-esque applications that may never have been upgrading to the new OS without a way to separate the application logic from the presentation layer. In a sense, Microsoft has planted its stake in the ground, it desperately wants apps on in the Windows Store, it doesn’t care about your crappy application logic. It cares that you’re using their new delivery mechanism and embracing all the new ways of touching your computer, if you don’t want to move your app from ADO, fine, don’t, just don’t make your users suffer through your 2000s Windows Forms anymore.

Oh, and you can run your apps on Xbox.

Oh, and you can run your Store apps in a window on the Desktop.

The last reason why this is potentially a big deal, is that everyone else is trying to get here as well, and Microsoft beat them to it. They built their ecosystem from the ground up, they own the compilers, they own the tools, they own the cloud, they own the devices, and now they can leverage all those benefits to give a unified set of tools and APIs to enable developers to develop software in a way views hardware in the same way web apps view browsers, they don’t care what your OS is, they don’t really care what modern browser you’re running, or what weird refresh rate you’ve set your monitors to, they just run on a common runtime and go from there7.

Concluding Thoughts

BUILD 2014 was Microsoft taking a stand. They came out declared a vision for future, and set down the first, few, steps on how to get there. While you may disagree with the direction they’ve chosen, or you may find it overly ambitious, or maybe you’re still smarting over IE6, the fact remains that they’re going somewhere, and it’s functionally different from anything Google or Apple is doing.

While it’s still too early to know how things will pan out in the long run, personally I’m hopefully cautious. I think the path they’ve presented is imminently achievable, I think it’s a realistic approach to the direction computing is moving, I think it leverages some really cool technologies, and I think it’s going to result in genuinely useful tools for their users.

It’ll be interesting to watch both I/O and WWDC and see what tricks the California wonder twins (if that’s not a phrase, it should be) have up their sleeves. Regardless though, last week showed that the giant of Redmond still has some fight left in him.


  1. JK, the Surface Pro is the future of computing. Seriously. 

  2. Seriously, go checkout how OneDrive handles photos

  3. VPN access, device profiles, company app stores, S/MIME, etc. 

  4. Belt holder included, of course. 

  5. It’s worth pointing out, that I quite enjoyed my Lumia 920, right up to the point where it got in a fight with Mother Earth. That camera though, oh that camera. 

  6. Go checkout some of the marque apps, like Netflix, or Kayak, or Facebook. They’re gorgeous. 

  7. yes, yes, I know there’s a huge amount of variability between browsers and device platforms that affect how your application performs, but there’s still a large chunk of Javascript that’s just going to work whether it’s Chrome, Firefox, or IE. 

Love, Fire, and Blaise Pascal

There’s a passage in scripture that we all know, in fact, it’s probably so common that’s simply faded far into the background. It’s the story of the woman with the purfume, and while familiar, it’s worth quoting in its entirety:

36One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

41“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

– Luke 7:36-50 (ESV)

The first question that comes to mind is: what just happened? She poured what where? Followed quickly by: that seems like quite a waste. It’s true, this is a strange passage, it’s rooted in the customs and moires of an ancient culture and can be a bit obtuse to modern readers. It also seems a bit irrational, why would she waste so much money on a trivial action? Aren’t there better ways to spend ones resources in service of the kingdom?

The problem is, this isn’t a story about rationality, it’s a story about love.  This is what all those endless country songs are about. This is the ending to all those movies. This is every drawn out metaphor that Mark Helprin ever concocted. If you’d asked this woman why she did what she did, she would’ve stared back at you, puzzled, and ask: why wouldn’t I?

But it also goes deeper, this is not simply a woman in love, this is a woman forgiven. This is a woman who has been redeemed from the depths of despair and given a new hope. For her, there is nothing in the world that can even possibly compare to the gift she’s been given. If I may dip into pop culture for a moment, and decidedly coarsen the dialogue, it reminds me of this.

Actually, that doesn’t even come close to what it means, but it’s a funny distraction. The real problem with this scene, is that we’re not supposed to see it. This is not a public act for the enjoyment of all, this is a private moment. A gesture of deep love that resonates strangely with the other people in the room. But Jesus responds. He doesn’t condemn her, he defends her. He doesn’t suggest improvements as to how she might better frame her emotional responses within the accepted sociopolitical context, his response is simple.

“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

– Luke 7:50

For whatever broken, painful, awkward form her love took, whatever emotional baggage, or unrealistic expectations she brought with her, Jesus didn’t care. He saw her heart, he knew her love.  If people could simply wrap their minds around the idea that God takes our imperfect, weirdly dysfunctional love and affection, and welcomes us as we are, here and now; well, I don’t think things would quite be the same.

As I was reading, my mind immediately went to two other stories from the annals of time. Two other stories of drama, and emotion. Two other expressions of love, two other glimpses into hearts renewed. While they may be familiar, even over played at times, they’re worth quoting in full. As you read them, don’t let them simply be more words on the digital page. Imaging the words as pouring from the hearts of the authors. Or if it helps, imaging Hunter Hayes singing it. Or you know, someone better.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

– St. Augustine ‘The Confessions’

 

From about half past ten in the evening until half past midnight.

Fire

‘God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,’ not of philosophers and scholars.
Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace.
God of Jesus Christ.
God of Jesus Christ.
My God and your God.
‘Thy God shall be my God.’
The world forgotten, and everything except God.
He can only be found by the ways taught in the Gospels.
Greatness of the human soul.
‘O righteous Father, the world had not known thee, but I have known thee.’
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
I have cut myself off from him.
They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters.
‘My God wilt thou forsake me?’
Let me not be cut off from him for ever!
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.’
Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
I have cut myself off from him, shunned him, denied him, crucified him.
Let me never be cut off from him!
He can only be kept by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Sweet and total renunciation.
Total submission to Jesus Christ and my director.
Everlasting joy in return for one day’s effort on earth.
I will not forget thy word.

Amen.

– Blaise Pascal ‘The Night of Fire’

Both these men saw God. And they saw him in their own way, in their own language. Pascal came to the end of his reason, truly saw Jesus, and suddenly everything around him paled in comparison. In fact, he sewed this vision to the inside of his coat, so it would be with him always. Augustine came to the edge of the world, to the end of everything this earth could provide, and found nothing. Except, him who his heart had been searching for all along.

But the story doesn’t end there, in all three vignettes, the beloved do not remain the same, they are changed. Though they came with broken hearts, twisted love, and captive minds, they left changed by the person and love of Christ.

This is a powerful story. This is a stunning story. This is a transformative story. As we read it, we cannot allow the text to become dry and dead. This is not a factual recounting of mythic history, this love as real as anything the great romantics ever dreamt of. When you read it, feel the heartbreak, feel the passion, and feel the overwhelming sense of peace, joy, and awe that comes in the glorious presence of Jesus Christ.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!

Let me never be cut off from him!

“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

On Net Neutrality

With all the hubbub around the recent Court opinion on Net Neutrality, I thought I’d way in with my two cents. It’s important to point out that I am in no way a lawyer, nor do I have expansive experience in legal analysis. The following thoughts are simply my reflections and understandings from reading the Opinion. Take them as you well.

 

Did the court kill Net Neutrality?

No.

 

What, yes they did!!

No, what they did was vacate 2 provisions of the FCC’s Open Internet Order, specifically the anti-blocking and anti-discrimination provisions, which prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from blocking or throttling content on their networks. All, while leaving the disclosure rules intact.

 

Dude, I think you’re full of it, that sounds like killing to me.

Yup, that seems to be the prevailing opinion (see what I did there), but in reality, the court didn’t really comment on the content of the rule, only the FCC’s statutory authority to implement said rule. The issue of neutrality is very much alive.

 

Hmm, explain.

I’ll do my best. But first, a little history. In 1996 the Telecommunications Act (Pub. L. No. 104-104, 110 Stat. 56 ) was passed which broke telecommunications providers (telcos) into 2 classes, those who provided basic services (such as phone lines), from those who provide more enhanced information services (such as America Online, when that was a thing (sorry Tim Armstrong)). Then, in 2000 the FCC classified all cable broadband providers as ‘single, integrated information service’ providers, which was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court (National Cable & Telecommunications Ass’n v. Brand X Internet Services, 545 U.S. 967 (2005)).

 

So what?

So, the last time this issue came up, it was in 2008 for Comcast blocking peer-to-peer networking apps (for a refresher on the gems people were torrenting in 2008). The court held that the FCC did not have the authority to regulate the network practices of Comcast, since it had classified them as ‘enhanced providers’ (600 F.3d (2008)). So, the FCC, instead of changing the rules and reclassifying Comcast and its ilk as ‘basic providers’ they instead opted to issue the Open Internet Order (25 F.C.C.R. 17905) which Verizon challenged.

 

Still not clear, maybe you’re not so good at this.

Probably not, but still, I press on. The FCC’s argument is based on a simple assertion: We (the FCC) have the duty (and regulatory authority) to promote internet access nationwide. We take the stand that an open internet is critical to said access, and thus we have the authority to enforce a certain minimum standard that all ISPs must provide, because we have the authorization to regulate telcos as ‘common carriers’ and thus enforce minimum standards.

 

Verizon’s response: I thought we weren’t telcos.

 

FCC: ….

 

What’s a common carrier?

The term “common carrier” or “carrier” means any person engaged as a common carrier for hire, in interstate or foreign communication by wire or radio or interstate or foreign radio transmission of energy, except where reference is made to common carriers not subject to this chapter; but a person engaged in radio broadcasting shall not, insofar as such person is so engaged, be deemed a common carrier.

– 47 U.S.C. § 153(11) 

 

Basically, it’s phone companies. The courts have consistently (FCC v. Midwest Video Corp., 440 U.S. 689; Cellco, 700 F.3d (2012)) upheld that cable (video cable) and mobile data providers are not subject to common carrier rules (for a variety of reasons). And remember, the FCC took the stance that ISPs were distinctly different from traditional ‘basic service’ providers.

 

I feel like you’re building towards something. I don’t like being strung along.

You’re right, here’s the kicker. The court ruled that the FCC, by forcing the ISPs to provide service indiscriminately (e.g. to any weirdo with a WordPress blog) then they are in fact forcing them into ‘common carriage’ status.

And that, faithful readers, is the primary reason why the court vacated the Open Internet provisions. Not because they were bad per se, but because they overstepped the statutory authority granted to the FCC.

 

Cool story bro, so what happens now?

Well, Verizon has already stated that would be exploring pray-for-priority arrangements, if it wasn’t for the Open Internet restrictions (Oral Arg. Tr. 31), so that could happen. Comcast, due to its merger with NBC,  is prohibited from any such action until 2016. AT&T has stated that they will continue to abide by the Open Internet rules, for now.

 

So is the FCC going to be relegated to the dustbin of federal agencies?

No. At least, not until they allow cellphones in flight.

 

Will Verizon stop providing internet to rural areas? Because I’m so over having only EDGE at my grandma’s house, it makes holidays akin to Dante’s 2nd circle.

What do you think?

 

No….?

Correct. The Court reaffirmed section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, which is what governs broadband rollout and other such matters (47 U.S.C. § 1302(a). Section 706(b)). To be clear, it was never overtly challenged, but the court still reiterated that the FCC has a property role in the internet in general. In fact, a primary argument by Verizon is that infrastructure is expensive, and they need more capital in order to continue expanding and improving their services.

 

Do you actually believe that?

No, but it’s now in oral testimony, so somebody should hold them to that.

 

Did the Court simply roll over and let Verizon walk all over them?

Nope, in fact, they were pretty unconvinced by the majority of their arguments (see most of Part II), so I think in future cases telcos will have their work cut out for them.

 

What if I like my Net Neutrality? Can I keep it?

If you like your Net Neutrality, you can keep your Net Neutrality. Sort of. The FCC laid out a couple of options.

 

  1. The FCC could reclassify ISPs as ‘basic providers’ and thus be subject to ‘common carrier’ regulation. [Actually, I’m a little shaky on this, it seems that this is possible, but the ruling in Midwest II seems to make things tricky. It seems the Court is suggesting that ISPs could be considered common carriers with respect to third-party content providers. I would love some clarification on this.]. Nevertheless, the Court remanded the case back to the FCC, so the ball’s in their court (Part IV, 63).
  2. Congress could pass a law that places ISPs directly under common carrier rules, after all, they didn’t write a statute that prohibits them from doing so (Part III, 53).

 

Ugh, I hate Congress!

You and 86% of your peers.

 

What else can we do, while Congress is debating how much bathroom tile to embargo from Iran?

A few thoughts.

 

  • It seems to me that this is an incredibly fertile ground for some good-old-fashioned anti-trust litigation, especially once Comcast gets into the game. Since many of the ISPs are moving into the content production realm, I could see some seriously angry third-parties camping out in front of the FTC’s office.
  • Going along with that, just because a corporation is allowed to engage in contract negotiation and variable pricing (like most businesses), doesn’t mean that they’re allowed to do whatever they want, whenever they want, to whomever they want (like most businesses). They still have to abide by fair practice laws, and now with the eyes of the world upon them (or at least, all the eyes that can be spared from the latest Vine stream), it should only be a matter of time before something happens. Remember, see something, say something.
  • We as consumers do have some abilities to influence markets. While it’s true most people only have 1-2 options for internet access, that doesn’t mean that all forms of civic action are simply out the window (remember the Comcast data caps?). If the ISPs do start charging places like Netflix more and more money, it’s likely so they can drive people to their alternative service offerings. Services that people don’t have to accept, or embrace.
  • I find the assertion that ISPs will limit access to news sources a bit incredible, that seems like a huge violation of Freedom of the Press, and the courts have shown a pretty substantial reluctance towards doing anything that would impede their ability to disseminate information. So, while most blogs (including this one) would hardly count as news, there’s still a pretty good argument for Comcast not doing this.
  • Can we do a Kickstarter ISP?

 

Ok, but I still think ISPs should be required to carry all types of content.

You’re probably right, here’s a good piece by my friend Nick DeBoer talking about it in more detail, along with an incredibly convoluted opening metaphor.

It really comes down to a simple question. What is the Internet? Is it a public utility (like power, water, etc)? Is it a public good (like food, or healthcare)? Or is it a commercial business (like YouTube, or Best Buy)? How you answer that question is largely going to determine whether the Court’s decision angers your, or relieves you.

 

What do you think?

I haven’t decided yet. I think there are very strong arguments for a concept of the Open Internet, I’m a strong believer in freedom of information, and I think the Internet is a tremendous tool for justice and equal rights. That being said, there are substantial commercial interests involved, and I think the public utility arguments are both 1) not quite applicable to the dynamics of internet economics, and 2) not a great model for us to follow in general (do we really want our internet to look like our power grid?); however, when you phrase the argument around a freedom of speech issue, and when you basically apply a status-quo (as opposed to a highly regulated model) to the current system, the arguments get much stronger in favor of openness. That being said, I really don’t think this does a whole lot (either way) to address the root issue of ISP cost and quality. We still have a long way to go before things get measurably ‘good’.

 

Well, this wasn’t a total waste of my time, is there anything else I should know?

Yes, I would like point out that the court did use the example of a ‘video of a cat’ (Part I, 6) in their opinion, a strong point in their favor as actually ‘getting the internet’. Also, they took the time to point out that even federal agencies are entitled to a little pride (Part II (A), 20).

 

That’s funny, where can I read that?

Here

 

Whoa! That’s like 80 pages!

Yup, gotta love Administration Law.

 

Forget that, I’m going to go troll Buzzfeed.

Enjoy it while it lasts.

 

He is Risen

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
18 I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,
so that you will no longer suffer reproach.[c]
19 Behold, at that time I will deal
with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
20 At that time I will bring you in,
at the time when I gather you together;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes,” says the Lord.

 

– Zephaniah 3:14-20 (ESV)

 

 

Let heaven come

Last night at my Discipleship Community (or DC if you’re in the know) we sang a song during worship with the bridge:

 

Let heaven come

 

Throughout the night I kept coming back to that line, let heaven come. What a terrifying, terrifying thought. Do we really want heaven to come down? Are we actually ready for that?

 

We like to think about God coming back. Riding down amongst the clouds, proving wrong all those annoying atheists once and for all. I told you! I told you he was real! Then we get to the sinners, oh boy, now they’re in for it. God’s gonna come in and show them a thing or two, John Cash was right all along! Maybe while he’s here we’ll get one of those super ‘Jesus highs’ you get from going to Christian conferences, only this one will last longer then 3 days. Boy, that’ll be awesome.

 

But that phrase means so much more then what we think it does.

 

Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

– Matthew 6:10 (ESV)

 

 

Your will be done. Right there, everything changes direction. His will? Really? Is that how that works? I thought heaven coming down only meant something for those people outside the Christian club! Nope. Heaven is God’s territory, what he says goes, no negotiations, no pleadings. If we really want heaven on earth, then we have to realize that the end result will be us being in total submission to the will and desire of God, that’s what heaven’s like, are we alright with that?

 

For most of us, we really like to have our own way. We like religion, just not too much. We like obeying God, but only until we start to look like ‘those people’. We desire holiness, but our sin is pretty fun too, and as long as God hangs out up there in heaven we can get away with just enough sin and disobedience to have a little extra fun while we’re here in earth. I mean, come on, he couldn’t have meant all my sin, some if it’s not really that big of a deal, everyone does it, and some people do way worse. So I’m sure God would be fine, it’s like par for the course. Again, nope.

 

Really, it’s not even about sin, it’s about all those things you know God asked you to do, but you didn’t. It’s about all those times you feel those pangs in your heart to give something extra in the offering plate, sign up for the 3am prayer slot at Church, or invite that weird guy from accounting to lunch (they’re always from accounting). All those things you know you should be doing but find some sort of excuse not to. Now, imagine God is really here, heaven has actually come to earth, somehow those excuses don’t seem to cut it anymore.

 

Let heaven come, but maybe not just yet. 

 

The second thing about heaven coming around is that God will be here, for real. Really here, and historically, that’s been a big deal.

 

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

 

11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”

– Revelation 4:9-11 (ESV)

 

 

…“I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”

– Exodus 33:19-20 (ESV)

 

The presence of the Lord is unlike anything we can imagine, it is great and glorious, beautiful and mighty. When heaven does come to earth, the physical presence of the Lord will come with it, and it will be incredible. Don’t think for a second that you can enter the presence of the Lord and not be changed. Don’t pretend that all your righteousness, pretenses, and excuses won’t be stripped bare in front of Yahweh of Armies. The presence of the Lord is both glorious and terrifying. Glorious, that’s why people immediatly fall to worship. Terrifying, that’s why the arrival of angels, mere wisps compared to the living God, announce their arrival with fear not, because the fear is real. We don’t know how to handle such awesomeness, we’re only human.

 

Let heaven come

 

We should absolutely desire the coming of heaven, and desire for it to come soon, but my question is; are we really ready for it? Are we ready to surrender ourselves to the perfect will of God? Are we truly ready to stand in the presence of the King of Kings? Is that really what we want? If not, we have no business praying for it. This is not a joke, our worship means something, our prayers matter. If we don’t mean it, we shouldn’t sing it.

 

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

– Psalm 130:5-6 (ESV)

 

In my own life there are days when that is my prayer, days when I wait with anxious longing for the Lord to come in glory, to put things right, to restore the broken, to bind up the wounded. He has promised, let him not delay! I know that I have fallen short of the glory of God but still I know that his lovingkindness will be sufficient and I long to made right and to submit to his perfect will.

 

For, though I knew His love Who followéd,

Yet was I sore adread

Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.

– The Hound of Heaven | Francis Thompson

 

Then there are the rest of my days (most of my days if I’m being honest) when I’m pretty content with the way things are. I know that I’m in friction with God’s will, I know that I cling to my sin, but I’m ok with that. To me, it’s not really a big deal. I may stand in worship and sing let heaven come, but I don’t mean it, in fact, I may even be praying against it. I’m not ready to move on, I’m not ready to grow, I’m not ready to lay down my will. Those are the days when my worship is a lie.

 

We bandy religious word and platitudes like they’re simply phrases with no inherent meaning or worth, but they’re not. There’s a deeper meaning both beautiful and terrible. When we enter into worship we need to ask ourselves, do I mean it? Is what I confess with my mouth really what I believe in my heart? If not, then we need to do some serious work to get ourselves right before we come before the presence of the Lord. But the good news is, the Lord is faithful, he has great mercy and compassion, he longs to be gracious to us and meets us in our weakness, he stoops down from on high to work in our hearts and minds, to be continually bringing us into perfection. In a way, it’s a little taste of something greater to come.

 

On earth as it is in heaven

Let heaven come to earth

As it is in heaven

Let heaven come

– Our Father (Let Heaven Come) | Marcus Meier

 

 

Let heaven come….

 

 

Lent

Today marks the beginning of the Lenten season, a time of surrender and self-reflection. A time to purposefully create space to allow for the Lord to speak to us and to deepen our relationship with him.

 

Over the past few years I’ve taken the approach of instead of giving something up directly (like coffee, or TV, or sinning), I’ve added something to my schedule, usually in the form of spending more time in the word and reading religious writings. It’s truly been an incredible process and I look forward to it every year. It’s amazing what God can do when we work every day to spend time reflecting on him and on his truths.

 

In the past some of the books I’ve read have included such masterpieces as:

 

All of those come highly recommended and have been absolutely foundational in my faith and life. This year, I’ll be focusing on a single book, and I probably still won’t finish it:

 

tower.com

 

You’ve probably noticed this pop up from time to time in the ‘Currently Reading’ tab as I’ve been working through it (extremely slowly) for the past few years (Thanks Bob Harvey for burdening me with this!). It’s a monumental book and the summation of 40 years of Dr. Kass’ class on Genesis. Each chapter is mind blowing and challenging, continually refining my perspective of purpose, knowledge, sin, etc. Though Dr. Kass himself isn’t a Christian, more of a theist, there’s still a ton to be gathered from not only his reflections, but those of his sources, and the insights of his many students.

 

My current process is reading for 40 minutes, followed by 20 minutes of journaling and praying; journaling is a really new thing for me, and something I’m quite terrible at, but hopefully getting better. A number of years ago while I was in undergrad, my Pastor’s mother-in-law (Grandma Hickman) talked about leaving a legacy for her children and grandchildren in the form of 60 some years worth of journal entries and crafted prayers; that really struck me, leaving a written account of dialogues with God, maybe that’s something worth doing.

 

I know I probably won’t do a great job with keeping my Lenten commitment but that’s what grace is for! I’m praying that the Lord will assist me in keeping my routine and being faithful to what he’s teaching me, I’m praying for answers, and new questions. For guidance, and peace.

 

My the Lord bless you also in this coming holy season with new insights, new revelations, new mercies, and new joy.

 

Global Burden of Disease

On Thursday I had the opportunity to attend the annual report of the UW School of Medicine by Dean Ramsey, you can see the powerpoint and videos here and it’s probably worth your time. It’s truly an honor and a blessing to be apart of a community as dynamic and innovative as this one, the sheer amount of scientific output and the impact of that output is pretty incredible.

 

As we entered the auditorium we were handed a piece of history, for the first time in its history The Lancet devoted an entire issue to a single research project, and not only a single issue, but three issues combined into one. That project was The Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 lead by the UW Institute for Health Metrics and EvaluationNeedless to say the University is extremely excited about this and given the institute is only a few years old, it’s a pretty big deal. One of the articles they mentioned particularly stood out to me and I thought warranted discussion here.

 

The article is titled A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990-2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 (1). After all, it’s not a real academic paper unless it has a ridiculously long and wordy title (the article also has a crazy number of co-authors).

 

The purpose of this paper was:

 

[to] calculate the proportion of deaths or disease burden caused by specific risk factors—eg, ischaemic heart disease caused by increased blood pressure—holding other independent factors unchanged.

 

As the title states, they looked at 67 different risk factors (e.g. Lead exposure, Residential radon, Drug use, Suboptimal breastfeeding, etc) across 21 global regions and attempted to determine how much each factor contributed to various diseases using the DALY metric. DALY, or Disability Adjusted Life Years, is a common public health measure used to look at a disease, like lung cancer, taking all the factors that contribute to said disease (tobacco inhalation  environmental carcinogens, genetic abnormalities, etc) and quantifying which contributes most in terms of disability or loss of function. For a better introduction, look here. The last time a study like this was performed was 1990 and at that time the 3 biggest contributors to disease worldwide were childhood underweight (contributing 7.9% of worldwide disease burden), household air pollution from solid fuels (7.0%), and tobacco smoking including second-hand smoke (6.1%).

 

For clarification, childhood underweight comes from malnutrition and poverty in both breastfeeding and early (up to 5 years) development, it also includes nutritional deficiencies found in native diets (such as rice). Household air pollution largely comes from burning waste indoors to cook food, most developed areas don’t have this type of pollution, it’s primarily found in poverty stricken areas. Tobacco smoke speaks for itself.

 

In 2010, the findings were different, here the 3 leading factors were: high blood pressure (7.0%), tobacco smoking including second-hand smoke (6.3%) and alcohol use (5.5%). That’s a pretty significant difference and I think really shows that we’ve begun a shift from death by poverty to death by prosperity. In looking at the percent change of various risk factors the 6 with the greatest increase are:

 

  • Lead: +160%
  • High Body-Mass Index: +82%
  • High Fasting Plasma Glucose: +58%
  • Drug use: +57%
  • Low whole grain foods: +39%
  • High Sodium: +33%

Of those, 4 could be classified into the upper tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy (2), and are strongly linked to an overabundance as opposed to an absence of supply.

 

Now, a good question would be, is it just that more people are dying in wealthier countries and thus obscuring deaths from poverty stricken areas (as if some sort of perverse form of privilege)? Looking at the 6 factors with the biggest percent decrease and coupling with their raw death numbers we find:

 

Disease Percent Change (DALY) 1990 Deaths 2010 Deaths Percent Change Ratio of Change
Childhood Underweight -61% 2,263,952 860,117 -163% -0.09
Suboptimal Breastfeeding -57% 1,275,024 544,817 -134% -0.10
Household Air Pollution -37% 4,579,715 3,546,399 -29% -0.48
Iron Deficiency -7% 168,084 119,608 -41% -0.35
Ambient PM Pollution -7% 2,910,161 3,223,540 10% 1.44
Global Deaths 74,508,614 86,669,105 14%

Note: The ‘Global Death’ numbers are my own calculation based on data provided in the article, they are not part of the original study.

 

3 of the 1990 chief burdens are on this list, and we can see a definite upwards trend in the numbers of raw deaths globally, yet the number of deaths related to these factors are decreasing by a significant margin. This indicates that we’re seeing a true decrease in these types issues, not just a confounding shift. It’s important to note that for the sub-Sahara regions of Africa childhood underweight and household pollutants are still the leading disease burdens, but in areas such as Southern Latin America and Eastern Europe these issues have largely shrunk.

 

So what does this mean? I think there are 2 major takeaways from this data, but it’s important to note that what follows is a high level abstraction. It don’t have the space or the energy to fully elucidate on mechanisms for improving low-income healthcare, nor from this article can we find causative factors, merely trends, which I’ll try to address.

 

  1. Over the past 20 years we’ve seen definite fruit of anti-poverty and global health initiatives around the world. There are a myriad of reasons for this, but the data shows that globally poverty is on the downward slope. Just the other week The Gates Foundation announced that we’ve accomplished the goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015. Granted there’s still an incredible amount of work to do, and things are not bright and sunny in all quadrants of the globe, but things are improving, and noticably so. Even more encouraging, discussions can now shift towards building sustainable health care systems and improving not only quantity of life, but quality. We’re now starting to see regions with the ability to make decisions that extend beyond the immediate and into the near and long-term future. And that’s extremely exciting.
  2. Prosperity is killing us, literally. In as much as we now have choices in how we live our lives, we’re beginning to show that we’re really not all that good at making healthy choices. We need to work towards teaching people how to take ownership of their own lifestyles and wellbeing, encouraging and incentivizing healthy living. Unfortunately, these new issues don’t lend themselves particularly well to large scale, ‘government style’ interventions. Resource problems can be solved by providing resources, but issues of lifestyle and choice can only be solved through direct intervention into the lives of the individuals. It will be really interesting to see how the NGOs and Sovereign governments respond to the changing needs of the next 20 years. The same methods we’ve used in the past will most likely prove insufficient in the future, it’ll take new thinking, new initiatives, and new methods.

 

Overall, I think this study is extremely exciting, it’s encouraging to see real results that have a measurable impact on the lives of real people. This isn’t just some random statistic or obscure factoid, this is the truth that 163% less people died from malnutrition in the past 20 years. That’s 1,403,835 brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, moms, dads, best friends, who are now alive and being. I’m optimistic that the next 20 years will see similar improvements in lifespan and quality, and now the fight has come to us. As citizens of the ‘1st world’ it’s a little embarrassing that we’re leading the world in deaths, and deaths due to things like lack of exercise, overeating, and smoking, death by luxuries. But now we have the opportunity to change that, we can lead the change in our own communities and families to truly save lives.

 

So go forth!

 

I’ve attached the citations for the articles mentioned, unfortunately they’re not Open Access, but maybe you can be sneaky and find them.

 

cardiobrief.files.wordpress.com

 

 

(1)  Lim, S. S., Vos, T., Flaxman, A. D., Danaei, G., Shibuya, K., Adair-Rohani, H., Amann, M., et al. (2013). A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990-2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet, 380(9859), 2224–60. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61766-8

 

(2) Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–396. doi:10.1037/h0054346

 

More reading: Wang, H., Dwyer-Lindgren, L., Lofgren, K. T., Rajaratnam, J. K., Marcus, J. R., Levin-Rector, A., Levitz, C. E., et al. (2012). Age-specific and sex-specific mortality in 187 countries, 1970-2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet, 380(9859), 2071–94. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61719-X

 

 

 

Jesus Christ, Hope

Today is Christmas Eve and the 4th and final week of Advent, during which the ‘Love’ candle is lit to signify God’s love for us in sending his son Jesus. For me personally, this week (what has elapsed thus far) has been about something different, hope. In the light of the turmoil of past several weeks, both corporately and personally, it seems a bit crass that things are continuing as they always have, the sun rises and sets, the days are getting colder (finally), the snow’s beginning to fall and yet, the world around us seems to be spinning out of our control.

Against this chaos is arrayed the mystery and the promise of Advent, the arrival of the great King who would set all things right, or so it is proclaimed.

As I began this week I was reading and reflecting on the story of The Tower of Babel:

 

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

– Genesis 11:4 (ESV)

 

A tower to the top of the heavens, lest the earth flood again. A city to protect themselves, lest the world overcome them. A name to remember them, lest they fade into history. We will build, and we will build away our doom. Progress out of fear. Even the great philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in considering what could be the root cause for men to abandon their own liberty and freedom concluded it could only be out of fear of safety and wrote:

 

But, as men cannot engender new forces, but only unite and direct existing ones, they have no other means of preserving themselves than the formation, by aggregation, of a sum of forces great enough to overcome the resistance. These they have to bring into play by means of a single motive power, and cause to act in concert.

– Ch. 6 ‘The Social Contract’

 

Immediately we see, out of fear rises power and violence. And indeed, the history of humanity is written in blood and war. Homer’s great epic opens:

 

Sing, Goddess of the wrath of Achilles….

– ‘The Iliad’ Book I

 

The Harvard historian David Landes in discussing the Spanish conquest of the Incan empire writes:

 

It is a bloody story, full of cruelty and bad faith, condescension and sanctimony; but one must not judge these events in terms of the good, the bad, and the ugly. They all deserved one another.

– ‘The Wealth and Poverty of Nations’ Ch. 7

 

Indeed, history has been man’s quest for glory, whatever the cost. H. Richard Neibuhr observes that:

 

…man strives for glory, lest no glory be had.

– ‘The Responsible Self’ Ch. 5

 

Here we are, at the beginning of the 21st Century still grappling with the same questions, which seem to have no answers.

 

Against this dispair the hope of Advent arrives. But is it enough? Is it more then just pithy words and vacuous promises that people put on to insulate themselves from the pain of reality?

 

Hear it every Christmas time
But hope and history won’t rhyme
So what’s it worth
This peace on Earth

– ‘Peace on Earth’ | U2

 

But the story of Christ’s birth is truly something different. Christ was born in a stable, not in a palace. His was immaculate conception, not divine intercourse. At his birth no comets appeared, the mountains did not shake. Zeus remained in Olympus. Heroes are always born into conflict, born to fathers fearful of usurpation, or absent mothers. His was an uneventful entry into the world unheralded by strife or paternal jealousy. People at the time would have know the ancient stories, they would have known the patterns of divinity and monarchal inheritance. They would have known strife, war, and fear. The Pax Romana (if it can even be called that) was just beginning, ending unrest, conquest, and civil war. Yet, this was different. If this truly was the messiah, if this was God incarnate, he would represent a decisive break from the patterns of old, he would not be a god they knew.

 

But that’s the point. He is something different, his divinity is not the divinity they’re used to. He’s not the same old god, he hasn’t come to do the same old things. This is not cyclical time, this is a great leap forward (to co-opt the phrase). But this still doesn’t answer the question, is this merely a hope only for the salvation of the believers? Does this have anything to offer for the world at large? Did God come to do more then save us from our sin or make us moral people?

 

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

– Isaiah 9:6-7 (ESV)

 

‘… and the government shall be upon his shoulders’. This single phrase smashes through the walls of the religious circles and pours out into the streets proclaiming that yes, this hope is for everyone. The Kingdom of God is at hand and it is not for the elected few. Christ is different, he represents a break from the scars old, from the strivings for glory and power, and a chance for something new. The arrival of Christ is the ushering in of the kingdom of Christ, not in the sense of a government of man, but a chance for the redemption of man himself through a divine presence the like the world has never seen before. No longer will man be made ‘good’ through submission to the law, the limits of power observed by all the great thinkers will finally be overcome by making each man accountable to a perfect source of laws and his innermost desires, his inner strife will be made right through the perfect love of a divine savior. Man has nothing in him to save his soul, but Christ will do that for him.

 

I am the voice of the past that will always be
Filled with my sorrow and blood in my fields
I am the voice of the future
Bring me your peace
Bring me your peace and my wounds, they will heal

– ‘The Voice’ | Eimear Quinn

 

We stand in tension with the past, we cannot undo the pain, we cannot unlearn what we know, and we cannot expect new life when standing squarely in the traditions and mindsets that brought us here in the first place. Humanity does not have the answer to the world’s ils, we’ve tried and nothing seems to work. Man will never be at peace, there is too much resistance.

 

In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

– John 16:33b (ESV)

 

Take heart, the world has already been overcome, in him there is not more resistance. The kingdom of God is at hand. Those living in darkness have seen a great light. Something different has come into the world. Christ the king, hope of nations, hope of man.

 

As we celebrate the Lord’s entry into this world know that we celebrate not simply our salvation from sins, or the fulfillment of years of waiting, but we celebrate the one true answer to the pain and bloodshed of the world around us. Christ is coming! Christ is here!

 

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Romans 8:18-25 (ESV)

 

Girl, Interrupting

Tonight, during my Intervarsity small group we looked at the healing stories from Mark 5:21-43, which is a two-for-one healing of both Jairus’s daughter and the bleeding woman.

If you’ve been in the church for any amount of time you’ll have been exposed to a myriad of sermons on this passage, which is appropriate considering there’s a lot going on in these few verses; but for now I want to focus on one specific issue. Imagine you’re standing in Jairus’s shoes, your daughter is dying, you frantically find Jesus and beg him to come and heal your poor girl. Being the gracious God that he is, Jesus agrees to come with you and off you go as quick as you can, after all, she could be gone at any minute. Then Jesus stops and gets involved in some brouhaha with another person. Yes, she may be suffering, but this has been going on for 12 years, it’s unlikely she’ll be gone in the next 15 minutes, you’re girl on the other hand….

Finally, Jesus wraps it up and the journey resumes. Unfortunately it’s too late, the bad news arrives, she’s dead Jim. Perhaps if Jesus hadn’t stopped things might have been different, perhaps he never intended to heal her in the first place, perhaps he just didn’t understand the urgency. Of course, this being history (and not our first time around this chunk of scripture) we know that Jesus does in fact heal the daughter, thought the healing looks more like being raised from the dead. So all’s well that ends well, right? The gift of the omniscient narrator means we get to see the whole picture at once also, the fact it’s called ‘Jesus Heals a Woman and Jairus’s Daughter’ gives some hint to the ending as well. But Jairus doesn’t get omniscience and for a period of time his entire world has come crashing down around him, his daughter’s dead, Jesus failed him.

Many times in my own life I believe I’ve been promised something by God, only to see the opposite come true. I’ve prayed for nights on end and when the morning comes nothing’s changed, in fact, it’s often worse. And I often wonder how we reconcile scripture such as Isaiah 45:19

I did not speak in secret,
in a land of darkness;
I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,
‘Seek me in vain.’
I the Lord speak the truth;
I declare what is right.

which seems so precise and clear, with our own experiences. Did God lie to us? Is scripture wrong? The nice tidy answer is quote back Isaiah 55:8 and claim a sort of sovereign immunity:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

While it’s absolutely true that God is sovereign, divine and high above us, sometimes the answers just don’t seem to be enough. After all, God claims to be a God of Justice and Mercy, he says he longs to be merciful to us, so what gives?

I don’t have a simple answer to this question, people much smarter then I have built up sound theological and philosophical answers to suffering and the divine arrival (for a more complete explanation see C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain) but I don’t think anyone will ever come up with the perfect explanation. And in the heat of the moment I doubt any logical answer can absolve the pain.

For me, I keep coming back to the words of my favorite hymn:

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;

– Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Ebenezer means ‘stone of help’ and comes from the Old Testament where after defeating the Philistines Samuel erects a monument and declares ‘Till now the Lord has helped us’ (1 Samuel 7:12). ‘Until now’, not ‘forever more’, not ‘always’, ‘until now’. In the midst of pain, in the midst of suffering it’s easy to forget what God has already done and easy to imagine what he won’t do in the future. To this, Samuel’s answer was to set a stone in the midst of the people and remind me that up to this point God has been faithful, he has delivered them. Remember what the Lord has done, write his goodness on your hearts.

Every week during communion the Anglicans remind themselves that he as a God who always delights in showing mercy. Every week, he is a God who always delights in showing mercy. We continuously remind ourselves:

God is good.
All the time.
And all the time.
He is good.

I also remind myself of the truth that scripture gives:

18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.

19 For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. 20 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and thewater of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. 21 And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.

-Isaiah 30:18-21

That first verse is a promise, ‘the Lord IS a God of Justice’ and you can hold him to that. As the Psalmist cries over and over again, DO NO ABANDON ME, REMEMBER ME IN YOUR MERCY, COME LIKE YOU PROMISED. The truth of the character and nature of God is not circumstantial, what he has promised he will do and you can hold him to his word, Crying out for mercy is not a sin, even Jesus prayed ‘if it be possible, let this cup pass from me’ (Matt 26:39) but he finishes his prayer with a key distinction ‘nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’

Maybe Jairus never had doubts as to God’s power, maybe he could see past the now into the great plan of God. If so, may we all have the faith of Jairus. Somedays I am confident in the face of adversity, other days I doubt not God’s power to save, but his desire. ‘Maybe he just doesn’t want to.’ I pray for increase in my faith to trust the Lord no matter what I see, to believe in truth and trust that he is who he says he is, a God of mercy, a God of grace, a God of justice. It’s not easy, it probably will never be easy, my world is very real and at times God can seem very far. Yet, Truth remains.

Remember that until now, God has helped you.
Remember the stories of other people’s triumphs.
Remember who He says He is.
Remember the promises He’s made.