Watch for Gordon’s new post next Friday

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What Opioid Crisis?

Opioid_Crisis_-_Google_SearchOne of my favorite TV programs is Justice TV’s Drugs, Inc., an in-depth look at specific drugs and specific areas of our nation and the world where drugs, including the opioid heroin, are manufactured, transported, distributed, marketed, sold and used. The program interviews users, pushers, cartel members, suppliers (all masked), and law enforcement personnel seeking to stem the flow. According to this program, heroin has become more in demand, the result of graduating from legal and illegal pain prescriptions. Cartel members and other suppliers offer a more pure grade than previously to increase profits. The more pure the heroin, the better able suppliers are to cut it into smaller doses. This enables them to obtain more money from smaller, but a greater numbers of doses, and to provide a better high for their users. Those who experience the best high return to the dealer from which they obtained the “product.”

This week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called attention to the nearly 60,000 US deaths from opioid overdoses in 2016. He impressed upon lawmakers the need to create an climate in which drug use is shunned or discouraged. “Our current drug epidemic,” he said to the National Alliance For Drug Endangered Children, “is indeed the deadliest in American history. We’ve seen nothing like it.”

Not Acceptable

“This is not acceptable,” Sessions said. “We must not capitulate, intellectually or morally, to drug use. We must create and foster a culture that’s hostile to drug use.”

Drugs feed an illegal trade worldwide, cost users their livelihood and self-respect, and corrupts society up and down the social spectrum. For a short-term high, users suffer long-term addiction. Withdrawal is almost impossible without the user getting “sick,” a sickness so unpleasant the user will do almost anything to obtain the next fix: beg, steal, or prostitute. One pregnant prostitute interviewed expected the state to take her baby when it is born because it will be addicted to heroin. When gang member encounters a “hopper,” a drug pusher independent of the rival cartel gangs (as described in a recent Drugs, Inc. program “Spring Break,” in Cancun, Mexico), he is beaten. Hoppers benefit by keeping all the profit, without needing to split with a cartel member. But the second time that happens, a special hit man is dispatched to kill him. So add murder to the consequences of the drug trade.

The Moral Issue

The challenge of Attorney General Sessions to avoid capitulating “morally” means more than words. Drug use fosters moral corruption. In another program, the pusher packaged a drug with candy in order to hook young children. Once started, the users first love the feeling, then they “got to have it” (or get sick); once hooked there’s no giving it up. That may take only one hit. The moral deterioration is relentless. It’s big business.

What can we do? We can educate ourselves, our families, our children and grandchildren. We can foster trust so that, should a family member want to experiment, we learn about it early. We can invite local law enforcement to our schools and community clubs to address the local issues with drugs. If we, or someone we know, is addicted to drugs, alcohol, or sex, go with them to Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, or Celebrate Recovery.

The Spiritual Issue

Behind the moral crisis lurks the spiritual breakdown of the person, family, and society. Pray for spiritual revival.

[Sources: Ivan Moreno, Associated Press, “One Nation, Overdosed,” ABC News, August 29, 2017. Justice TV, Drugs, Inc. Picture: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, commons.wickimedia.com]

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Chicago Violence 2017 Hits Home

Police_believe_teen_killed_four_to_avenge_father_s_slaying_the_night_before_-_Chicago_TribuneFrom January 1 to the present, 2,331 people were shot in Chicago. That number represented 280 fewer shootings than in 2016. But violence last year reached levels not seen in 20 years. So far this year in Chicago also: 432 homicides, 18 fewer than last year.

Statistics may shock (these certainly do) but perhaps even more important, consider the human anguish that each each homicide represents. Because of the family story involved, two of those deaths by gun violence caught my eye. At 3:51 p.m., on March 30, 2017, 19-year old Maurice Harris walked up to the Nadia Fish & Chicken restaurant in the 2700 block of East 75th Street, on Chicago’s South Side. He shot and killed two men inside the restaurant. A third man was found dead outside. A fourth man’s body lay in the 7500 block of South Coles Avenue. Harris’s father, 37-year-old Jerry Jacobs, had been shot and killed the previous day, Wednesday Mar. 29, at 79th Street and South Phillips Avenue. As of this writing, the full motive is still unclear, although police theorize conflict between rival gangs. Emmanuel Stokes, 28, and Edwin Davis, 32, lost their lives. But two of the other men, Dillon Jackson, 20, found inside, and Raheam Jackson, 19, found against a tree, were brothers.

Not OK

Another assault on our credulity: their mother, employed at the restaurant, witnessed their sons, the Jackson brothers’ deaths. Georgia Jackson, 72, grandmother of the two victims, said at the scene that they had gone to the restaurant to get food and to see their mother.

“It is not OK. It is not OK when we lose a child like this,” their mother said. Officers directed her and others away from her son’s body. “There’s two dead — there’s two other boys in there.” With her red apron on from her job at the restaurant, the mother pounded the hood of a blue and-white police vehicle parked across the street from her slain son.

Mother’s Anguish

If the Jackson boys’ mother was inconsolable, we can understand. After blaming herself, and questioning her faith, she revealed that she had nothing to live for. “I can’t go on, my life is over. I’m about to goddamn kill myself. I was standing right here in the window, they killed ‘em right in front of me.”

Other than simply reporting the facts, like with many other tragedies, we are at a loss for words. What do we say? What can we say? The community rallied for an Operation Wake-up Anti-Violence rally the following week (picture). But there are no easy answers to a mother’s anguish, nor to a city’s, when one homicide statistic hits home.

[Sources: Elvia Malagon, Chicago Tribune, August 14, 2017. Kelly Bauer (//www.dnainfo.com/chicago/about-us/our-team/editorial-team/kelly-bauer) and Peter Jones (//www.dnainfo.com/chicago/about-us/our-team/editorial-team/peter-jones) | March 30, 2017 5:48pm | Updated on March 30, 2017 6:18 p.m. Peter Nickeas and Deanese Williams-Harris, Chicago Tribune, March 31, 2017. Jeremy Gorner and Peter Nickeas, “Man charged in 4 South Shore killings is son of man killed the day before, police say,” Chicago Tribune, APRIL 5, 2017. The Chicago Tribune’s Megan Crepeau contributed. Picture: Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune]

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Watch for Gordon’s next post August 18

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Discouraging Suicide

Victim_s_mother_after_texting_suicide_case___My_pain_will_always_be_the_same__-_ABC_NewsMichelle Carter, convicted of involuntary manslaughter for texting Conrad Roy III, her boyfriend, to commit suicide, was sentenced this week in a landmark case making headlines nationally. This past June, Bristol County Juvenile Court, in Massachusetts, Judge Lawrence Moniz had ruled that Carter was responsible for Roy’s 2014 suicide because Roy had followed Carter’s instruction and placed himself in a “toxic environment” she had placed him in a situation that led to his suicide. He died from carbon monoxide poisoning in his truck. Carter faced up to 20 years behind bars.

Carter’s use of texting to urge her boyfriend to take his life represents a new development in interpreting and applying the law. According to this conviction, the law interpreted Carter’s actions as whispering in his ear, “kill yourself, kill yourself,” said Laurie Levenson, criminal law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, after Carter’s conviction. The law in essence said that those words can lead someone to suicide.

Roy, 18, and Carter, 17 at the time, had been texting about death in the days and weeks leading up to the tragedy. In one message, Carter told him: “You’re finally going to be happy in heaven. No more pain. It’s okay to be scared and it’s normal. I mean, you’re about to die.”

But Moniz focused on Roy’s final moments when he wavered, stepped out of the truck — but Carter told him, “Get back in.” The judge said although Carter knew Roy was in trouble, she took no action. “She admits in a subsequent text that she did nothing — she did not call the police or Mr. Roy’s family,” Moniz said in court. “Finally, she did not issue a simple additional instruction: ‘Get out of the truck.’ ”

Contrary to the opinion of the ACLU that Carter was exercising “free speech,” Martin Healy, chief legal counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association, said Carter sealed her own fate “through the use of her own words,” according to the Boston Globe. “The communications illustrated a deeply troubled defendant whose actions rose to the level of wanton and reckless disregard for the life of the victim,” Healy said in a statement. Healy said the verdict, which captured widespread attention, will have “national implications” and is “a clarion call that seemingly remote and distant communications will not insulate individuals from heinous acts that could rise to the level of criminal culpability.”

Something that intrigued me was how this incident relates to many young people I encounter on Google Plus who join a Community in which other young people express the desire to take their own life, and, like Michelle Carter, they encourage the act. Fortunately, the other Moderators and I have encountered this less and less, perhaps because we’ve discouraged such behavior. Some of them may also have been banned from the Community. Rather, we focus on providing understanding, support, and (realistic) hope.

I can think of some reasons why young people might encourage suicide, however. One is that it’s hard to sit with or live with someone who threatens their own life.  It drains the friend or loved one emotionally to experience such despair over a period of time. People stop trying. Related to this is another reason: they feel helpless, don’t know what to say, or how to help, so they give up. A third reason is the teen fascination with death, sometimes glorifying it, romanticizing it and generally denying its finality. I can recall watching a skit put on by high schoolers at a large camp many years ago, where someone lays down to portray a “dying soldier in Viet Nam.” The actors seemed oblivious to the tragedy of their portrayal.

No matter how serious the depression or the desire to die, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Every mental health professional is obligated by law to do whatever is necessary to prevent suicide. They may not be successful, but will be held liable for not taking the necessary steps, including calling the police, who would escort the person to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation. Judge Moniz sentenced Michelle Carter to 2 1/2 years in prison, with the opportunity for parole in 15 months. Hopefully, what seems an extremely light sentence will, nevertheless, teach her to take responsibility for her actions.

Suicide Prevention Hotline: Call 24 hours-a-day: 1-800-273-8255

[Sources: Lindsey Bever and Kristine Phillips, The Washington Post August 3. Picture: Matt West, The Boston Herald via AP]

 

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On Vacation-Watch for Gordon’s Next Post in August

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The Dalai Lama’s Recent Quotes

the_dalai_lama_-_Google_Search“I promote this type of secularism” says the 14th Dalai Lama, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, “to be a kind person who does not harm others regardless of profound religious differences.” I find much to commend in the Dalai Lama’s recent article, on How To Become A Buddhist In Today’s World. He correctly identifies, for example, three main hindrances to religious faith today: communism, science, and consumerism/materialism. As his statement above shows, he is most concerned with ethical behavior, kindness, and lack of harm to others.

Communism

Communism continues its war against religion. He shows how in his own native Tibet, Communism controls the religious and educational institutions, teaching that Buddhism is “old-fashioned.” In this gentle way, he blames the Chinese government for oppressing his people and for oppressing his fellow Buddhists. But he is correct in laying the blame to Communism, the underlying (anti)religious belief system officially espoused by the government.

Science

Although science has greatly expanded our knowledge of the physical world, it’s purview is limited to that physical world. “Scientists largely examine only what can be measured with scientific instruments,” says the Dalai Lama, “limiting the scope of their investigations and their understanding of the universe.” But the mind, and I would add the spirit, the intangible and unmeasurable may in the end be at least as important. The Dalai Lama says he has met with some scientists who may be open to such understanding, giving him “reason for optimism.”

Consumerism

The big danger in consumerism/materialism, says the Dalai Lama is loss of kindness. “Religious values such as kindness,” he says, “generosity and honesty get lost in the rush to make more money and have more and ‘better’ possessions.” Instead of immediate gratification in consumerism, religion teaches delayed gratification. Instead of accumulation of things to make us happy in consumerism, religion teaches peace of mind. One of his more famous quotes: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

Why Be Ethical?

Counseling against peer pressure, blind faith, or tradition, he concludes his article with an appeal to reason. “Continue to investigate and reflect on what you discover.” What the Dalai Lama doesn’t answer, however, is “Why be ethical?” In ancient Israel, ethical behavior was based on the character of Israel’s God. “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy,” God says to Moses (Leviticus 19:2 RSV). The following verses link this holiness with honoring father and mother, keeping the sabbath, and avoidance of idolatry: “Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods: I am the Lord your God” (v. 4). Because God’s character is righteous, he expects righteous behavior from his people.

Why Be Kind?

I would also ask, “Why be kind?” In the Old Testament, God’s character determined how the Israelites also treated their neighbor. In that same chapter, Leviticus 19, God says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (v. 18). In the New Testament, along with love, peace, and joy, the Holy Spirit produces the gift of kindness (Galatians 5:22). In Christian understanding,  kindness has a very specific motivation: “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32 RSV). Because of God’s kindness toward me in the mercy of Jesus Christ, forgiving my sins, I must show kindness toward others, forgiving them.

Although the Dalai Lama’s injunctions help many people today, his instructions fail to provide sufficient motivation for the moral, ethical, and kind behavior he desires. We therefore need to look deeper into the religious motivation in order to find sufficient motivation to “Be kind whenever possible.”

[Source: The Dalai Lama, “How To Become A Buddhist In Today’s World,” Wall Street Journal, July 6, 2017 online. Picture: commons.wickimedia.org]

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“We Mend Broken Hearts”

cardiac_pacemaker_images_-_Google_SearchI returned yesterday (6/29/17) from the hospital where I had implanted a cardiac pacemaker. The periodic “pre-syncope” experiences that necessitated this medical procedure included my feeling faint, feeling I’m about to pass out, and, in one case, briefly losing consciousness. One morning I experienced 11 such experiences, including one sitting with my primary care doctor! Over the past few weeks, the heart monitor I wore showed, every now and then, my heart would stop–for up to 5 seconds. “You need a pacemaker,” my cardiologist said, as he called me to schedule the procedure  right away!

When the nurse showed me the device the surgeon would insert into my chest, with two wires as “leads” into the heart chambers themselves, I felt surprised to see how small the device was. I had expected an object the size of a pack of cigarettes, but technology has improved so much that the chip(s) and battery consisted of a relatively thin object a little larger than one inch. The pacemaker makes a brief electrical charge only if the heart fails to do so. After a second where the heart hesitates, the pacemaker restarts the heart, then stops when the heart functions normally again.

We Mend Broken Hearts

As I entered the surgery room, I noticed nurses and doctors wore blue caps of fine netting, as I did. We also all had masks, so I couldn’t see faces. But another man wore a red cap. I figured he must be the surgeon. Later, when I asked about “he with the red cap,” the nurse informed me that he was “Ed, the St. Jude Medical technician.” St. Jude Medical, I learned, manufactured the pacemaker. Seated at a computer, he had been present in the operating room to set up the program for my pacemaker.

After I returned to my room, Ed came by to set up a monitor, allowing my doctor to download data from my pacemaker through the bedside monitor without my needing to come in to the doctor’s office. I quizzed Ed a bit about St. Jude Medical and learned that it and the St. Jude Hospital, although once part of the same corporation, are now totally separate. I mused about how important a business he and his company had. His response touched me: “We mend broken hearts,” he said.

Job’s Broken Heart

I reflected on the connection between my experience with my physical heart, and with Job’s emotional anguish. I could now diagnose his “trouble” (Chapter 3) also as a “broken heart.” Loss after loss piled up, of businesses, employees, and children, and included,  perhaps most importantly for him, those losses representing the loss of God’s presence (Chapter 29:1ff.). Through the dialogues with his colleagues, we hear his rage against against his life, against his friends, and against God. But perhaps Job spoke from what many people experience, metaphorically, from a broken heart.

What’s your heart’s condition? Do you, like Job, need something to keep it (and you) functioning after a setback, or a series of shocking losses? What is it your heart needs? I invite you to comment on this blog, and any others, to let me know whether and how they help.

[Photo: commons.wickimedia.com]

 

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Effects of Political Violence

Belleville, Illinois, resident James Hodgkinson left for Washington D.C. several weeks ago in order to “fix the tax system,” according to his wife Suzanne. Before leaving, he sold all his belongings, she reported. Political activist Hodgkinson then shocked our nation Wednesday morning with his rifle assault on Republican congressmen practicing for a baseball game against Democrat congressional opponents. He struck Steve Scalise (La) and four others. The ten-foot high chicken wire fence enclosing Scalise and the many others practicing for an annual Republican vs. Democrat lawmaker baseball game on Thursday, created extreme vulnerability. Two armed security detail accompanying Republican Majority Whip (vote counter) for the House of Representatives, Steve Scalise, saved many lives. “Without Capitol Hill police, it would have been a massacre—we had no defense—we had no defense at all,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said on “Fox & Friends.” “We were like sitting ducks.” Only Scalise’s two-man security detail in civilian clothes, prevented that massacre. As I write, Scalise, though somewhat improved, remains in critical condition from gunshot wounds to his hip area. A fellow representative and surgeon reported he could see the entry wound, but not the exit wound. The bullet hit Scalise in one hip, shattered into 100 pieces and continued through his body to the other hip area, affecting  many important internal organs. Doctors admitted that, when brought to the hospital, he was at risk of imminent death. He has undergone several operations already and his condition has improved. As of this writing, however, he remains in critical condition. We join his family, congressional colleagues, and our nation in prayer for his speedy recovery.

The attack didn’t come from nowhere. A comedienne’s “joke” of holding a mock severed head of our president, as well as nightly Central Park, NY, performances of “Shakespeare in The Park,” which depicted the assassination of Julius Caesar as a figure made to look like President Trump led up to this crisis of actual violence. The FBI reports that Hodgkinson had a list of Republican lawmakers on his person.

Although some on both sides of the political aisle point accusing fingers at the other side, many others have begun to call for calm, tolerance of dissent, and a non-violent response. “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” Speaker Paul Ryan said in his address to congressional members. Let’s also pray that our citizens will heed these calls for national unity, including one from President Trump played on the Jumbotron at the game. Leaders of both parties need to work overtime to ratchet back the extreme rhetoric. If our democratic principle of self-government is to survive, they also need to work diligently to re-establish the civil society.

The next day, lawmakers played the scheduled game with a record crowd for this event:

_Let_s_Play_Ball___25_000_Dems_and_Reps_Come_Together_to_Celebrate_America_s_Favorite_Pastime_in_Record_Turnout_-_Breitbart

 

Pray that God works in us to maintain our sense of unity.

[Sources: “Scalise shooter went to Washington to ‘fix the tax system,’ wife says.” Fox News June 15, 2017. Brooke Singman, “Shooting spurs calls for new lawmaker security measures” Fox News June 15, 2017. Photo: Alexander Clark, Katherine Rodriguez, Bretibart.com

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Sarah Hepola’s Alcohol Recovery III: Lessons

lonely_alcoholic_woman_-_Google_SearchFrom as early as eight years old, Sarah loved beer. She took her first sip at age six, first stole it at seven. In Blackout: Remembering The Things I Drank to Forget (Grand Central, 2015), Sarah Hepola, personal essays editor at Salon.com, shares with rare vulnerability and wit how using alcohol spiraled her life downward. She also details how, slowly, she began to take control so that, in the end, she rediscovered the person alcohol buried. In previous blogs, I detailed how her blackouts embarrassed her, but also motivated her to begin her long journey into sobriety. Here are some lessons her experience taught her.

Lessons Learned

For someone who always had wanted to play guitar, after sobriety Guitar lessons added to her sense of self-fulfillment, another experience of “a natural high” (211). Sobriety helped “knock a few false prophets out of me. Alcohol. Other people’s approval. Idealized romantic love. So what should I worship now?” she asks (212).

Worship? Slowly, AA kept something in front of Sarah: God. The thought made her cringe, or, in her words, “squirm” (212). She resisted AA because they spoke of a “higher power.” “Even the major work-around of a ‘God of my understanding’ was way too much God for me.” In her experience, conservative Christians struck her as less than charitable. Traditional religion’s “winner-take-all” attitude of I go to heaven, and you do not puzzled her. The lesson she learned from college: religion was the opium of the masses. “God was for weak people who couldn’t handle their own lives.” After a while, however, it dawned on her that, “actually, I was a weak person who couldn’t handle my own life, and I probably could use all the help I could get” (212).

Higher Power

The idea of a higher power, like sobriety, developed slowly. Rather than a “spectacular, flailing jump,” hearing others’ stories helped her inch, tentatively, in that direction. “When I met the eyes of a person in pain, I was lifted out of my own sadness, and the connection between us felt like a supernatural force I could not explain. Wasn’t that all I needed? A power bigger than me?” (213)  After sorting through her experience and that of many others she met, she concludes: “Whether God exists or not, we need him. Humans are born with a God-shaped hole, a yearning, a hunger to be complete” (213).

Alcohol and Pain

After having to ask her veterinarian friend Jennifer to help her with Bubba, her dying cat, she came to a stark realization. “The pain of his loss was enormous, but I never once thought: Drinking would make this better. You know what this horrible day calls for? Booze. I finally understood alcohol was not a cure for pain; it was merely a postponement” (216).

Helping Others

“AA reminds you how much of our stories are the same,” Hepola says. “This is also what literature, and science, and religion will remind you as well. We all want to believe our pain is singular—that no one else has felt this way—but our pain is ordinary…It means we are not unique. But it also means we are not alone” (229). After an encounter with a drinking woman whom Hepola impressed (“it’s clear you know who you are”) Hepola reminds herself and her reader that “these conversations are good for me, they deliver me from my own sorrow. They remind me of my usefulness. They keep me from forgetting. How I got here, how I climbed out. I forgot too many things for too long. Not just what we did last night, but who I was, where I wanted to go, I don’t do that anymore. Now I remember” (230). For all of Hepola’s candid accounts of her sexcapades, she reveals the downside of alcohol better than most. Hepola shows how alcohol helped her hide Sarah from herself.

A Lesson for Me

Given Hepola’s experience with “less than charitable” Christians, I understand her fear of God. So, it’s important for me to demonstrate toward others in my attitude a Christ-like, self-sacrificing love. What else can overcome the perception, shared by many people, of our haughty “winner-take-all” theology?

[Picture: pixabay.com]

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