Friday, October 3, 2008

A Few Words Before Leaving Town

Ihave a hodgepodge of thoughts today, and I wanted to get some of them down before I leave town to visit my mother in Tennessee. She’s 85 and in good health. I only get to see her once a year. While I treasure our time, with her and my siblings, I also miss being away from my family . . . this time for three weeks.

So, today starts with chaos as do all days before I leave on long trips. All my pain patients want to get in at the last minute and it gets crazy. So I wish I had time to put together concise thoughts on this blog, but again I’m faced with typing fast and posting when I get the chance. Otherwise, it may be two weeks before I’m back with a computer.

Topic One: What to do about church? In many postings ago, I described what I saw in my ideal of the best church. Yes, I’m unhappy with my present church simply because it is Evangelical and when we came here, six years ago, I didn’t realize that I was no-long Evangelical. But like a nice, single, 40-something, lady friend of mine said (about getting into relationships with men after I was trying to set her up with a friend), “It is always easier to stay out than to get out.”

Now that we are involved with this church, it would be scandalous to get out. If we were just moving to this island, I would have selected the large Presbyterian Church. I was encouraged to avoid it because the pastor is a woman. Not that I would disagree with that, but the popular view is that if a church has a woman as senior pastor, then the church would not be Biblical . . . to the point that they may be worshiping Buddha on Sunday morning (eyes roll here). I have visited that church once and enjoyed it. The pastor even made a comment about how some members of the congregation are faithful Democrats (which would never, ever be mentioned in an Evangelical church). But their programs seem to express their belief in the same essentials of Christianity.

They do have an intriguing service that I want to check out when I get back. It is called their “casual service” and meets on Sunday afternoon.

Tonight I’m going to an Episcopal Church because they are showing a film on philosophy and discussing it afterwards. I actually attended an Episcopal Church, for a year, when I was in college but it was a charismatic wing of an Episcopal Church and quite bizarre.

But if I did find a church that I would fit into better, that wouldn’t solve things. My wife as said she would not change churches. She says, “You are looking for the perfect church, which you will never find.”

Of course she is right. But she goes to church for totally different reasons than me. She goes because it reminds her of growing up in the church and because her friends are there. The belief system doesn’t matter to her. And as I have said before, some people in this church see me as a liberal fruit cake from the things I’ve said . . . like, we should not criticize the teens for tattoos. While, they think Denise is the perfect church person. Yet, in the privacy of our bedroom . . . where she can talk honestly, she is far more liberal than I am when it comes to theology. For example, she thinks Paul was sexist and will not take any of his writing seriously.

So we will see what happens. I may start to combine churches, attending the Presbyterian “Causal service” on every other week with our old church on the weeks that Denise can attend (she works every other week end).

I know that I can not find the perfect church, but I stay frustrated at my present church. This last Sunday, the pastor taught the main adult Sunday school class. The pivotal point of class this past week (and we were discussing the law) was his example of confronting a high school boy for using profanity at a soccer game. I’ve never understood, first of all, how such profanity is sin (unless God’s name is taken in vain) and secondly, how our confronting non-Christians about any of their sin does anyone any good. It certainly doesn’t make them more acceptable to God if they stop swearing (and still don’t have Christ). It doesn’t make them any more likely to become Christians. Actually the reverse. If they are confronted in public like that, by a pastor, they probably hate Christians even more.

The only thing that confronting Christians about their sin accomplishes, is to make us feel better about ourselves . . . like we are acting as God’s police. It is the same psychological phenomena that drives the Taliban death squads (as an extreme example) that went around Afghanistan stoning people who were selling alcohol, books (but the Koran) or not wearing a veil.

So, I’m on a different page than the majority of people I go to church with, but I really like them as friends. It would be messy leaving. People will assume that I’m mad about something (that’s why most people change churches).

Topic 2: I had a conversation with someone yesterday from Corpus Christi, Texas. Somehow our conversation ended up on a legal case about a dead child there named Andrew Burd. This was a complicated case and I don’t have space to discuss it here but I will leave a link if you want to read more:

I’m going to try to make a long story short. I must also say, before I start discussion this case that I was not there and I certainly don’t know all the facts. But I do know some of the facts from the papers and the court hearings.

What I do know is that Andrew was a 4 year old foster child of Larry and Hannah Overton. They were in the process of adopting him. Also I know that Andrew had behavioral problems and I don’t remember all of his diagnoses . . . nor does it matter. I also know that the Overtons are Christians and home-schoolers and quite involved in their church in Corpus Christi. I also know that Hannah has been convicted with Andrews death . . . I think capital murder.

How the events that came about that led to Andrew’s death started with the statement by the foster parents that he had behavior problems and part of that is where he soiled his bed and had an eating disorder.

To punish him for each of those two specific behaviors, they had taken away his mattress, forcing him to sleep on his springs and he was force fed pepper and salt laced water. It was the last thing that killed him. Andrew died of salt poising. It is the same way you can die if you drink sea water rather than fresh water.

The other facts of the case (with several witnesses) was that, for some odd reason, there was a delay of getting him medical help after he stopped responding. No one called 911. An hour after he was unconscious, he was taken to an urgent care clinic. The staff there testified that he arrived unconscious, and they called 911. Andrew never regained consciousness but died the next day. That was very sad.

First I will speak about some injustices that I think the family suffered in this . . . then I will discuss the other side. But before I move on, I must make a side bar of why I even became interested in this case.

I saw a news spot on the Internet and it mentioned the name Rev. John Otis as one of the main (I don’t mean legal) defenders of Hannah Overton. He has written and spoken on her behalf. John was one of my college roommates and co-Navigator members and since has become a PCA pastor. That’s why this case caught my attention.

Now, in defense of the Overtons is that I do think the media, Child protection agency of Texas and others demonized the family and make accusations that turned out not to be factual. One example is the “rumors” that Andrew was covered in cigarette burns. It seems that those were probably bug bites. They also tried to make out the Overtons to be evil child abusers. I don’t think that was true. I suspect that the Overtons loved Andrew with all their hearts and had good intentions of doing what they thought was best.

With that said, and again this is based on long-distance observations, that they were bad parents, not because they were evil, but because they were stupid. It is my theory that their stupidity . . . and of those who defend them . . . because of their dualistic orientation.

Christian Dualists usually see the world in black and white. The good Christian community sits opposed to the evil, liberal world. They also tend to think that we Christians are far better than we really are because . . .

I'm picking up here, trying to finish these thoughts. I'm traveling and do not have good access to the Internet, so I will try to hurry up and finish. I've also had the chance to read the two comments below and wanted to include my response here.

First of all, as I tried to allude to when I began my discussion about the Overton case, is that I am an outsider. All I know about the case came from about a hour of reading . . . online, and that was mostly newspaper articles, court documents and defending blogs. Then, what prompted this posting, was a conversation from someone who lives there. I'm sure that their opinion is too based on what they've read in the papers and watched on their local news. So I have no expertise on this case nor do I claim to. So, I shouldn't even brought it up. But I did, as I do have a tendency to share what I'm thinking about here, especially as it pertains to my own struggles with Evangelicalism.

One of my biggest pet -peeves is when children die at the hands of Evangelicals . . . and there has been about three other cases this year. The other three, were more clear-cut than the Overton case. Both were parents, one set in Oregon and one in Wisconsin and one was a grandmother and her son in the town, here in Washington, where I work. All three of those cases were where religious people (I say religious because the grandmother was Jehovah Wittiness) allows their little ones to suffer and die because of Dualistic reasons. In summary, if God wants to heal them, then He would without medical (earthly) help. That's why it upsets me so as I work in medicine and know how easy it is to prevent this terrible suffering and death.

I've lumped the Overtons in this category and maybe that is unfair. I do not feel ashamed for calling them stupid, because anytime a child dies in a way that can be prevented, I feel the urge to cry out STUPID.

But I will certainly agree with the commenter below that I am sure that this was NOT MURDER. As I tried to say, I'm sure that it was an accident and I do believe that Hannah's conviction of capital murder was a breach of justice. I would have been happy with manslaughter.

Now could it be that she was totally innocent? Maybe. But I find that difficult to believe, but again my knowledge about the details of the case is slim so I guess my judgements are unfair. However, there are some points I want to make and they are based on what seems to be factual. Again, this is based on the media's eyes. The commenter said that it is not true that Andrew had stopped breathing an hour before they took him to urgent care but he had only thrown up. Okay, then the media is mis-leading the public.

But we do know, unless someone corrects that as well, that the Overtons were punishing him by forcing him to eat hot peppers. I'm not going back and trying to find the court report again, but that's what I remember was stated and the Overtons agreed. We also know that he died of acute salt poisoning.

I'm sorry, but, as a parent of 5 (one with the wost eating disorder that I can imagine), can not comprehen forcing a kid to eat anything for punishment. Doesn't any one have any sense here? This is the kind of crap I've seen from a few home-schoolers (and we were homeschoolers) and the Bill Gothard wannabes. It is totally nuts and starts with the premise that we can raise almost perfect kids if we don't fail to "spare the rod" or in the Bill Gothard groupies, spare the wooden spoons. How many Evangelical kids have I seen having their mouths washed out with soap or beaten with wooden spoons because we really thought they could be raised to be pure.

Now the question in this situation was, could the salt poisoning have been either an accident or metabolic? As a medical practitioner (for 26 years) I can tell you that it is remotely, very remotely (salt-pica) possible that it was an accident. However, ER labs and a path report should have easily distinguished between acute salt poisoning and metabolic hypernatraemia. It should have been a no-brainer to figure out. I also did a brief search in the medical literature and I could not find a single case of self-inflicted, fatal salt-pica. Yes, there were some reports of salt-pica among severely mentally ill children . . . but none to the point of death. Eating dirt or rocks is far more likely for a child.

Now with that said, I want to leave this specific case and more on to the more general principles. The reason I want to move on is clear, for me at least, is that I'm on thin ice. I was not there with the Overtons and I do not know what happened. But again, I agree that this was not murder no bad how it was. Stupidity at the worst.

But the big picture, and why this relates to Dualism Vs Monism, is the following. I've observed that the Evangelical community has a far too high of value placed on our righteousness. I was taught in my early Christian days that when you receive Christ, presto, you are a new and totally new creature. This posting is getting long so I must get to the point and come back to this later. I believe that the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian in their true morality . . . and sanity, is a mouse's whisker thick. In other words, there is very little difference but for the saving blood of Christ. Christians though, learn the Evangelical masquerade. That is why I don't trust Christians much more than non Christians. That is why you shouldn't trust me either!

In closing, as another example, was a local youth minister, proud father of five, Christian school founder and principal was discovered harboring a run-away girl in a secret room in his school. There he was bringing her drugs, alcohol and having sex with her on a regular basis. When the story broke, I heard from many Christians how he was a martyr and is being persecuted by the state.

But now, months later, the proof is overwhelming that those facts are true.

So, when we give the fallen flesh the respect, knowing that it was made by God, but is fallen, then we know how powerful sin is, emotional baggage, stupidity . . . that WE ALL carry. But for the blood of Christ. It is God's righteousness bestowed upon us. Amen.

I really, really typed this fast as I had to go so I'm sorry for all the typos.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for trying to present both sides of the case in Corpus Christi. And I agree that both sides discussing this case are thinking in extremes. "Evil murderous woman" or "Innocent Martyr for the Faith."

But you have gotten several important facts wrong.

They did NOT remove the foam mattress as punishment. They removed it because it was completely soiled & was still wet from being washed with a hose. They tried to get him to sleep in his brothers bed but he refused. He insisted on sleeping in his own bed, so they gave him a sleeping bag.

And although there is some suspicion they might have put pepper on his tongue as discipline, they did NOT force feed him salt water!

He wanted a 3rd bowl of chile, but she did not want him to eat till he threw up, like he had done before, so she put a little of the seasoning in water.

And while there was over an hour after he first threw up. There is no evidence he lost consciousness until just before they took him to the clinic. That is another myth created by the media. Most parents don't call 911 when a child throws up.

He DID die of salt poisoning. So the question is, did he consume the whole amount of salt that afternoon, or did it build up in his system due to a metabolism problem? And if he did consume the salt, did he sneak it himself (look up pica) or did the mother force feed it to him?

And the LEGAL question is, did she intend for him to die? Without intent for him to die, this is NOT a capital murder case! Manslaughter or Criminally Negligent Homicide would have been more appropriate charges, although I have doubts if even that was proven.

Brian said...

One of the things that has stopped me from "combining" churches is that I don't think I would feel comfortable just attending for long. I think I would want to get involved in the life of the church and I'm just not sure that's possible to do at more than one church. Perhaps that's just something I need to get over and try anyway...

Hope that you have an enjoyable time in Tennessee(where I happen to live, BTW). It is a long time to be away from home but sounds like it will be worth it.

MJ said...

You're right. Combining churches don't usually work. I'm seeing my visiting other churches as a possible start of a gradual transition over . . . but I certainly do want to test the waters to make sure the move would be an improvement.

I really wish I could be involved with my present church. I've tried to teach Sunday school, small groups, was an elder, then head elder . . . but all in frustration. The pastor here dominates everything. He must make all decisions and only wanted elders to rubber stamp them. I tried to do a small group. It started out great . . . then he mandated that the small group discuss the topic of his sermons which drove everyone alway.

I really have a strong desire to be involved with a church but I can not be dictated to what I say and do. I've had complete freedom (not complete but with oversight) to teach or do what I wanted at other churches.