Monday, March 31, 2014

A Biblical Mandate for Whistleblowers?

    With stories about Edward Snowden and Bradley/Chelsea Manning in the news, many of us are unsure whether these whistle-blowers are patriots, or traitors, or something in between.  As a veteran I am immediately suspicious of secret information that is leaked to the press because I worry that men and women in uniform (as well as those involved in covert operations) might be put in danger.  I understand that for military operations to be successful, many things must be kept secret.  I also understand that there are many times that it is in the best interests of a nation that others do not know exactly how much we know or how we know it.  If we have insiders, spies, or double agents feeding us information from the halls of foreign governments, we probably don’t want those governments to know.  

    On the other hand, secrecy can go too far.  There are things that governments and militaries should not be doing.  Even in war, there are things that go too far and which violate our conscience.  In government, at least in the government of a free and open society, we expect a certain amount of openness on the part of those in authority.  That openness is a large part of what separates a free society from a dictatorship or other authoritarian government.

So where is the line?

    When do we decide that government has “gone too far?”  But, that is exactly the problem.   If the line was clear, many decent people would not have found themselves on the wrong side of it.  Particularly in times of war, but also in times of peace, it can be easy to become so focused on what we are doing that we drift over the line.  I believe that police officers sincerely want to enforce the law, but sometimes their thirst for justice can compel them to go too far.  We have all read stories about the abuses of various law enforcement agencies but I am certain that few of those involved ever intended to become bullies who violated the rights of others.

    And that is exactly why we need, and should encourage, whistle-blowers to step forward. 

    Throughout scripture the followers of God are encouraged to pursue what is good and true and to reject lies and evil.  Ephesians 5:11-13 says,

11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 

    I am still uncertain as to whether Snowden and Manning are heroes or traitors, but I am leaning toward heroes.  I am concerned that they were overzealous in the kind, and in the amount, of information that they released as well as how they released it.  I’m not sure that WikiLeaks was the best choice.  But on the other hand, some of the things that these men had to say needed to be said.  I think the citizens of the United States needed to know the extent of the NSA’s spying and how little oversight it has.  I think the world needed to know that torture was being perpetrated by agents of the American government.  As a free people, and as followers of God, it is up to us to make sure that our government does not use its power to abuse others and to commit evil.

    As citizens, as patriots, and as the followers of God, we must be prepared to take the risk that these men did.  We may take the risk of exposing too much or in the wrong places, but our government needs to know that we have the will to do it.

On the day we fear to expose evil, evil wins.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Managing Expectations

    I recently read an article encouraging people like me (those waiting for a cochlear implant) to spend some time “managing” the expectations of their family, friends, coworkers and others close to them.  Why?  Because the advances in modern medicine and the pervasiveness of technology have, sometimes irrationally, raised our expectations.  When I was in elementary school, my grandmother had cataract surgery.  She went to the hospital, they sandbagged her head to keep her immobile, and she stayed in the hospital for weeks.  A few years ago, my father had the same surgery.  He went to the doctor’s office, had the surgery in an hour or so, drove himself home and slept in his own bed that night.  Today, if we need a new computer or an electronic device, we go to the store and we expect that it will work “right out of the box.”

    These experiences lead us to expect miracles.  When we talk about a cochlear implant, a device that will restore my hearing, many will assume that, as other modern miracles, or electronic devices, that overnight, my hearing will be restored.

But that isn’t the way it works.

    Those of us who grew up watching The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman need to know that a cochlear implant is not a bionic ear.  There are however, more accurate comparisons that will give us a more realistic understanding of what to expect.  The Broken Leg analogy: Many of us have heard about young athletes who receive a traumatic leg injury on the football field, ski slopes, or other sporting event.  Despite their skill and athleticism, after weeks and even months in a cast, they must spend a significant amount of time in physical therapy re-learning how to walk and rebuilding what was lost.  Receiving a cochlear implant might look more like that than expecting a miracle “right out of the box.”

But even that doesn’t go far enough. 

    Those who know me know that I am a reader.  When my brother and I started keeping aquarium fish, I read voraciously about fish-keeping.  Knowing that I was traveling down the road to getting a cochlear implant, I did the same thing.  I spent hours reading the information and watched the DVD that my doctor gave me, and hours more searching the Internet for scientific studies, odds of success, and the blogs of people who had regularly written about their experiences following surgery. I also wrote to my cousins who received implants years ago following a childhood illness.

    From this study and reading, I think that the “Broken Leg analogy” doesn’t go far enough.  Perhaps a better analogy, as gruesome as it might sound, is the “War Veteran analogy.”  Think about “Dave,” a young soldier in Iraq or in Afghanistan who is injured in an explosion.  Dave’s leg isn’t broken, it’s lost altogether.  Because of the miracles of modern medicine, materials science, and electronics, Dave has the opportunity to receive a next generation, computer controlled, prosthetic leg.  While this new leg is a marvel of modern technology, and it will, eventually, give Dave the ability to walk, he isn’t going to just put the thing on and run a marathon.  There will be months of physical therapy and rehab, and even then, because this isn’t Star Wars, Dave’s new leg is never going to be as good as the one he was born with.

That is more like what I expect from receiving a cochlear implant.

    I might be back to work a week or two after surgery, but even after it gets “switched on,” my hearing isn’t going to magically return to normal.  There will be months of rehab as my brain re-learns how to hear.  While I have hope that I will eventually be able to understand conversations, listen to the radio, and even listen to music, I know that my hearing may never be as good as it once was.

I am trying to “manage” my expectations.

I hope that you are too.


Earlier posts about my  hearing:

A New Cyborg Adventure          March 12, 2014
Reflections on Going Deaf           June 30, 2011

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What is Faith?

I have a faith problem.

    Don’t worry, I haven’t lost my faith.  Sure, I have occasional doubts, but wrestling with doubt is normal and even healthy.  No, the problem that I have with faith is with how believers and unbelievers misuse, misunderstand, misappropriate, and even abuse the word (and the definition of) faith.

    More than once, I have listened as atheists or others have mocked the followers of God claiming that having faith is belief in the absence of evidence.  Defined this way, faith becomes the opposite of rational thinking.  Believing with the utter absence of evidence is nothing more than wishful thinking.  If this were the definition of faith, then Christians (and other people of faith) would be held up as fools. 

Thankfully, it isn’t.

    Likewise, I have heard well-intentioned believers misuse, and even abuse, the word “faith.”  Far too often, when spiritual conversations get sticky and honest questions get difficult, Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders, and even pastors have been heard to say, “Well, you just have to have faith.”  In some cases, this might be reassuring, but if a student or seeker has asked a thoughtful, although difficult, question this sort of answer is nothing short of spiritual malpractice. 

    Faith does not believe, “because I said so” or because God doesn’t allow difficult questions.  Our beliefs are both rational and explainable.  For a teacher to dismiss difficult questions by telling a student that “you just have to have faith” instead of finding a real answer is just lazy. 

    I admit that there are difficult questions that connect us to the great mysteries of Scripture.  But even in the mystery it is a disservice to put off those with honest questions by saying “you just have to have faith.”  An honest answer in these cases often means admitting that we just don’t know. 

So what is faith?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it this way-
: strong belief or trust in someone or something
: belief in the existence of God: strong religious feelings or beliefs
: a system of religious beliefs

    While two of these are specific to the followers of God, I think that the first definition is entirely sufficient.  We shouldn’t think that faith is belief without evidence, but know that faith is the trust that one has in the unknown because of the knowledge and experience that one has in the known.

Here’s what I mean. 

    I trust (have faith) that my brother will pick me up at the airport even though he is over an hour late, not because of something mindless, but because he has never failed to do what he said that he would do.  In all the years that I have known, and lived with, my brother, in all the times that I have trusted him with money, with my most private secrets, with picking me up from the airport, or anything else, he has never (okay, rarely) failed to do what he said that he would do or to be where he said he would be.  If he is an hour late picking me up at the airport, I am far more likely to be worried that something has happened to him than to worry that he is not coming.

    Our faith in God is (or should be) like that.  We aren’t hoping that there will be pie in the sky by and by just because the preacher told us so.  Our faith in God comes from the relationship that we have built over time.  We met God, we spoke with God, we read stories that told us about his nature and his character, and we began to trust him.  As we began to trust God we began to witness and experience his grace, mercy, and love for us, and as we did, we began to trust him more.  Over time, many of us have seen some amazing things, we shared those experiences with others and our faith grew stronger.  I have seen God do things that medical doctors thought was impossible, I have spoken with those who have seen other impossible things, and I have also seen God open doors and change hearts so that we could adopt each of our children. 

    Those of us who believe, do so because we have, over time, developed a lasting relationship built on trust.  We trust God because he has proven himself to be trustworthy.  Because of the trust that we have built through the things that we have seen, we can trust God in the things that we have not yet seen.

This trust is what we call faith.  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A New Cyborg Adventure

    In June of 2011 I wrote “Reflections on Going Deaf,” where I described how my hearing was progressively fading.  I had seen a specialist (ear, nose, throat – an Otolaryngologist ) who sent me to see “the guy” at Ohio State Medical Center (who only does ears – an Otologist).  His professional opinion was that there was no discernable cause other than “sometimes this just happens.”  He suggested that I just make the best of things with hearing aids and expect that sometime in the future I would need to have a cochlear implant.

    Since then, I got more powerful hearing aids, our family moved to the Massillon/Canton area and I changed audiologists (the guys that program my hearing aids).  Like everyone always is, Walt, my new audiologist, was surprised at how quickly my hearing was being lost.  He suggested that given the importance of hearing, I ought to get a second opinion regardless of how good the OSU guy was.  He recommended that I see specialist that is “the guy” in this area and I did.  Last August I drove over to Dr. Lippy’s office in Warren, Ohio had a bunch of testing done and saw Dr. Berenholz (Dr. Lippy is retired, I think).  There I got just about the same news that I had at Ohio State.  No real reason for my progressive hearing loss could be identified but some people, like me, are “just lucky.”  Yippee. 

    What’s more, their evaluation determined that I had already lost so much of my hearing that I probably qualified for a cochlear implant and insurance would likely pay for it.  At that time, there were still a few tweaks left that we could do to make my hearing aids last a little longer so we agreed to meet again in six months.  We met again last month and did the testing all over again.  Not surprisingly, my hearing has continued to get worse.  With my hearing aids on, sitting in a soundproof room, they read random sentences to me (through a speaker) and I was supposed to repeat as much as I could understand back to them.  I got 40 percent.  It was time to see if our insurance would cover the implant.

    For those of you who have never had hearing loss I want to try to express what my loss might “sound” like to you.  I have no hearing in the high frequencies at all so even hearing aids don’t help because it doesn’t matter how loud you make it.  I can’t hear mosquitos or flies or bees.  I can’t hear the microwave beep or the smoke alarm or my alarm clock.  I can’t hear a lot of bells or the warning beep that tells you that you forgot to turn your headlights off.  I can hardly hear sopranos at all and pianos sound strange.  At my kids’ band concerts I can hear the percussion and the low brass, trumpets sometimes, and woodwinds almost never.  Music doesn’t sound musical, and even familiar songs sound uncomfortably strange and out of tune.  My car radio is rarely used because I can’t listen to music and while I can generally hear talk radio when the car is sitting still, the ambient noise when in motion makes everything unintelligible regardless of how much I turn up the volume.  A lot of times what I hear sounds like my head is inside a cardboard box.

    Last week Dr. Lippy’s office called and said that our insurance would cover 100 percent of a cochlear implant minus a sizable deductible.  I have an appointment at the end of the month to get a CT scan of my head and more tests.  After that I have to see my family doctor, have a physical and get his permission, and then we can schedule the surgery.

    After the surgery, there are four weeks of recovery before I return to the office and they turn the implant on for the first time.  Then, there are six months (or more) of physical therapy as my brain (re)learns how to hear.  I admit that I am a little excited and also a little afraid.  I look forward to being able to hear again, especially to the possibility of hearing music again but I also worry.  What if there are side effects?  What if it doesn’t work?

    In any case, the process has started.  I am, gradually, going deaf and so I will need the implant to function in a hearing world.

    In the immortal words of Buckwheat from the “Our Gang” television show… “I don’t know where we’re going, but we’re on our way.”

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