Blood Donor Deferrals Border on Insanity

I just returned from donating blood at the American Red Cross.  I have been a regular blood donor for a long time.  I usually donate blood two or three times a year.  Unfortunately, I have been deferred as a blood donor for two of the last four years.  I was deferred as a blood donor twice for one year each time, both due to traveling to an area where there may be some malaria risk.  The first time that I was deferred as a blood donor was because of travel to Haiti.  The second time was due to travel through rural Colombia.  In my case, these deferrals resulted in a loss of 4 to 6 units of donated blood to the American Red Cross.

The American Red Cross is constantly trying to recruit new blood donors and to get previous blood donors to donate again.  From the regular calls and advertising campaigns, I get the impression that the US blood supply may be low at times and that my blood donations are greatly needed.  However, I am struck by the huge range of reasons for deferring willing blood donors.  It seems to me that the threshold for deferral is very low.  The willingness to accept any nonzero risk is very low.  This approach is insane, or least pretty darn close.  The vain quest for absolute security and zero risk is a dangerous fiction.  I understand the reasons for wanting to avoid blood transfusion related adverse events.  However, deferring extremely low risk willing blood donors and potentially depriving someone of a needed blood transfusions is not a zero risk enterprise either.  As stated by Richard Benjamin, MD, PhD, chief medical officer for the American Red Cross, “The most dangerous unit of blood is the one we don’t have.  Not having blood for someone who needs it is worse than giving someone a unit of blood that carries a 1-in-5 million chance of disease.”

I am not your average blood donor.  I have a master’s degree in public health, so I have training in epidemiology, the scientific study of the distribution of disease, health and their determinants.  Also, in the 1990s I worked in a health department managing an HIV-AIDS program.  I am familiar with the political and cultural forces that can distort our scientific assessments of risk management.  However, you don’t need a graduate degree to recognize that our culture has great issues around security and fear of losing or risking most anything.

Less than 38% of Americans are eligible to donate blood according to the American Red Cross.  Today, as I read through the pages of reasons for which you could be deferred from donating blood, I was struck most profoundly by the deferrals based simply on where one has lived.  If, in fact, the scientific basis for avoiding such blood donors is sound, then the entire continent of Europe should refuse blood donations from virtually its entire population.  This cannot be sound scientific reasoning.

In the last decade or so, there’s been a lot of hysteria about mad cow disease.  According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been 22 cases of mad cow disease in the United States since 2003.  Three of these cases originated in the United States.  Most of the other cases were from Canada, which you may note is not one of the restricted countries that will put you on the blood donation deferral list by the American Red Cross.  The United Kingdom was the epicenter for the mad cow disease epidemic.  While in the United Kingdom there had been thousands of cases of mad cow disease in years past, in 2010 there were only 11 cases reported.  Maybe it’s time for the American Red Cross to relax its deferral requirements related to mad cow disease. Or, maybe we should come up with a new diagnosis for this irrational insanity, and declare that the American Red Cross has Mad American Disease.  You are literally dozens of times more likely to be killed by being struck by lightning in the US then getting mad cow disease.  I’m not sure what the chance is of lightning striking the American Red Cross, but I would settle for a light bulb above the head of somebody who makes these crazy decisions.

Over the decades that I have donated blood to the American Red Cross, I have noted the quickly changing and almost always growing list of reasons to defer a willing blood donor.  As a personal example, I had malaria when I was an infant in Haiti where I was born.  During the ensuing 50 years I’ve not had any symptoms of malaria.  However, how the American Red Cross deals with this distant case of malaria changes back and forth.  Many years ago, the American Red Cross simply asked whether you have ever had malaria, and if you indicated yes, the nurse would ask more specific questions.  This always made for an interesting blood donation visit as I suspect there were few Ohio blood donors who had ever had malaria, and the nurses often had to consult with other professional healthcare staff to figure out what to do with me as a blood donor.  Although sometimes it took a while for them to figure it out, it never prevented me from donating blood.  Then, at some point later, they changed the question as to whether you had malaria in the last three years.  I can answer no to this question, and this streamlined my visit quite a bit.  Now, in recent years, they are back to the more general question of have you ever had malaria.  Fortunately, there seems to be better training among the nurses during the screenings and they do not seem to need to consult anyone else to determine that I am, in fact, eligible to donate blood.

The American Red Cross’ quest for zero risk seems to be marching on.  Since I last donated blood less than three months ago, they have added yet another safety precaution.  Now, when they stick your finger with a needle to get a drop of blood to check your hemoglobin, they place a plexiglass barrier between your finger and the nurse.  Really now, how often does anyone ever got blood splashed in their eyes from giving a finger prick?  More importantly, does this represent any risk worth worrying about.  If it does, I’d hate to see what such risk assessment would do to health care workers in hospital settings.  Perhaps we should expect nurses in hospitals to soon be wearing spacesuits just to be sure.  According to the CDC, “Health care workers who have received hepatitis B vaccine and have developed immunity to the virus are at virtually no risk for infection…the estimated risk for infection after a needlestick or cut exposure to HCV-infected blood is approximately 1.8%.  The risk following a blood splash is unknown but is believed to be very small…The risk after exposure of the eye, nose, or mouth to HIV-infected blood is estimated to be, on average, 0.1% (1 in 1,000).” For instance, for hepatitis C,  “the risk is considered to be less than 1 chance per 2 million units transfused.”  That’s for a blood donation recipient who has an entire unit of blood transfused into them.  The risk of  the nurse getting infected by pricking the finger of a potential blood donor would be on the order of that one in a million TIMES the chance of getting a drop of blood splashed in their eye when pricking a blood donor’s finger TIMES the chance that such an event could cause disease.  You can do the math yourself.  For the example of hepatitis C, conservatively, we are talking about one in a million times one in thousands times one in a thousand.  In the end, we are talking about no more than a chance of one in many billions of getting infected by hepatitis C by pricking the finger of a potential blood donor without having eye protection .  For the number of blood donations every year in the US, it would take centuries for this practice to expect to prevent even one case of blood borne pathogens.  The risk for hepatitis C is the highest and adding in hepatitis C and HIV would not substantially change this basic calculation.  From the resource perspective, the question becomes how many billions of times do you want to place a plexiglass barrier between you and a potential blood donor to prevent a single case of infection?

I am well aware of the emotional place from which the quest for zero risk comes.  Unfortunately, the emotional experience of wanting to live in a zero risk world does not match up with a simple costs and benefits calculation of going very far down that road.  It quickly leads to unjustifiable contradictions.  Why defer blood donors due to a nearly incalculably small risk for mad cow disease from people who spend significant time in Europe but not Canada, where most of the US cases have originated from?  Well, I’ll tell you.  Starting a deferral process for people who spend significant time in Canada would expose the insane balance between actual risk and actual costs in trying to avoid the risk.  It seems that we can “afford” to ban, for example, military servicemen who were stationed in Germany or England from donating blood in order to “buy” some unscientific sense of security in our blood supply.  I recognize that plenty of people are willing to pay such prices.  I just ask that we don’t fool ourselves into thinking that these choices are based on scientific evidence and well-reasoned analyses of risk management.

Another example of blood donor deferral that rests more on cultural biases than scientific and well-reasoned risk management, is The Lifetime Ban on Blood Donations from Gay Men, where policy analyst Robert Valadez writes:

“So where did this policy come from? And why is it still enforced despite advances in technology that can identify HIV in a unit of blood within days of infection?

The policy dates back to the early days of the HIV epidemic, when knowledge of transmission was nonexistent. Recognizing the disproportionate incidence rates among gay and bisexual men, the FDA responded by enacting a policy that prohibited all men who had sex with other men from donating blood. The year was 1985. Twenty-six years later, the policy remains unchanged.

Current blood donor eligibility criteria are largely inconsistent, imposing significantly less restrictive deferrals to heterosexual men and women who engage in high-risk sexual behavior. For example, a heterosexual person who has sex with a partner who is HIV-positive is eligible to donate blood after only 12 months. Yet the policy permanently bans all gay and bisexual men, even those who are HIV-negative, consistently practice safe sex, or in monogamous relationships”

Like many experiences in my life, I find that even the wonderful experience of saving lives by donating blood, comes with the collateral costs of having to participate in the system that is driven by an insane quest for zero risk.  This insane quest has costs.  It has costs for the blood supply and the people who depend on it.  This insane quest for zero risk has costs for those who are subjected to its unscientific cultural biases, and for all of us who live in an environment that unnecessarily models for us this insanity and vanity.  Life has risks.  There are reasonable and scientific ways to reduce these risks.  We should pay attention to these.  However, we should not be driven and reduced by unreasonable fears, unfounded fears.  As is often the case in life, that which we feel threatens us gets a disproportionate amount of our attention.  Nonetheless, we should look at the full range of costs associated with trying to avoid some threat, and realize and accept that risk is an integral and unavoidable part of life.  I would hope that the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans, in its broadest sense, would kick in as we live into the fact that taking and accepting risks can far outweigh the costs of those risks.  Maybe even the American Red Cross will take a risk and pare down its blood donation deferral list.  We can always hope — though this entails some risk…

POEM: Morning Prayer, Waking Up

I say a prayer of thanks every morning I wake up

Except about the whole having-to-wake-up thing

This is a simple one of my short poems.  The first line of the poem strikes a very traditional chord, dealing with morning prayer and thanks.  Of course, the every morning I wake up can be taken two ways.  It can be taken as a wordy way of saying every morning.  Or, it can be taken as a reference to giving thanks for those mornings that you wake up as opposed to not waking up.  Combining these two potential interpretations contrasts what may be a mundane routine of morning prayer with the profound gratitude of being alive at all.  Then, not surprisingly, as is given my style, the second line of the poem is a reversal or a contrast with the first line.  The profound importance of a morning prayer of thanks for being alive is contrasted with the mundane and often unwelcome chore of having to get up out of bed, which of course, requires waking up.  I recognize this conundrum mostly from past experience, as my present life is of a leisurely pace and structure that typically does not require me to force myself to get up at a particular time, which my mind and body might deem arbitrary and unwelcome.  I have largely solved this conundrum that is commonplace in our culture of busyness and structured time.  For this I’m extremely grateful.  I get a double dose of gratitude by getting the wonderful opportunity to wake up in the morning and to take little time to appreciate that by not having to worry or be pressed by having to get out of bed.  In fact, calling this a double dose may be short-changing the reality of the synergy of graces of getting to wake up and not having to get out of bed right away juxtaposed to one another.  I highly recommend it!

Driveby Conversation: No War in Iran

Every Sunday in Toledo Ohio, the Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition has a demonstration at a major intersection to protest current wars and potential future wars.  The Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition has been doing this every Sunday since the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003.

This Sunday we were at the intersection of Talmadge and Sylvania roads near the mall.  I was holding up my sign, “NO WAR in Iran,” amidst about a dozen other peace and anti-war demonstrators holding up various signs for passing traffic to witness.  It is common for passing motorists to beep their horns in support of our peace and anti-war messages.  Occasionally, we get an angry rebuke, epitaph, or middle finger.  On more rare occasions, someone will roll down their window, stop for a minute and have a quick conversation.  Usually these conversations are supportive and encouraging, though certainly not always.

I had a drive-by conversations with a passing motorist, a middle-aged white man, in which respect he was probably not too unlike me.  It went something like this:

Motorist: (sarcastically) I know what we should do.  We should all become Muslims.

Me: You mean Islam, the religion of peace?

Motorist:  That’s a lie!

Me:  Do you mean religion or peace?

Motorist:  I follow Jesus Christ.

Me:  My understanding is that Jesus was a pacifist.

Motorist:  Jesus was on the edge.

Me:  Yes, and his way was nonviolent.

Motorist:  [stumbling for words, shakes his head, and drives off]

Given the very short time-frames of these drive-by conversations, there is usually very little chance for resolution.  While there certainly wasn’t closure in this particular conversation, I’m not sure the point or purpose is for people to necessarily come to some hard endpoint.  I was satisfied that a self-declared follower of Jesus Christ who seemed to be advocating going to war against a predominantly Islamic nation, found himself perplexed and unable to respond, at least in a knee-jerk fashion, to the proposition that Jesus was nonviolent.  Hopefully, he gave this some greater reflection later.

I am struck by the initial framing of the conversation by the motorist, in that not going to war with Iran, or Islam, somehow implies that we would eventually all be Muslims.  The assumption that different religions have to war with one another is a lie that has been perpetuated for centuries.  At the heart of every great religion, at least every religion large enough to potentially start a war, there is compassion, grace, and peace.  It seems to me that hijacking religion for violent purposes is the bastardization of any true religion.  I don’t know if the passing motorists caught my reference to Islam, which in Arabic literally means “peace.”  There are many layers of irony here.

I like the line of thinking that the motorist posited, that Jesus was on the edge.  Like a former pastor of mine likes to say, “If you’re not on the edge, you are taking up too much room.”  I strongly suspect that Jesus’ being on the edge had way more to do with peacemaking than warmongering.  I follow Jesus, but I don’t think it’s Jesus that’s leading us into war.  Praise be to Allah!  By the way, Allah is simply the Arabic word for “God.”  I hope that people are open-minded enough to not insist that the world be English only.  Of course, for good Christians this might present a problem, not knowing Aramaic, since this was the language Jesus spoke.  Hmm…maybe that explains a few things that are apparently lost in translation…

 

POLITICAL CARTOON: CEO Jesus – The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth

CEO Jesus Speaks: The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth!

CEO Jesus Meek Shall Inherit Earth Blood Donor Deferrals Border on Insanity

Welcome to CEO Jesus!  This is the second installment a new Top Pun series of comics that will run on Sundays, featuring CEO Jesus, Free Market Jesus, Country Club Jesus, General Jesus, Comedian Jesus, and who knows what other incarnations!

This week’s CEO Jesus is a close cousin to Free Market Jesus.  CEO Jesus has the same signature pile of cash vainly looking for someone to hire – ha ha ha!  CEO Jesus wears a simple black tie that makes him look eerily like a Bible salesman.  I am always creeped out by the wall of corporate logos and names that are now routinely placed behind speakers from virtually any major organization when making press statements or giving speeches.  I am sure that some truly wise public relations experts would argue that this is just taking advantage of another opportunity to brand oneself or one’s organization.  I would agree that they’re definitely taking advantage of something, but branding can really hurt! .  They would probably also point out that resistance is futile — I would rather say resistance is feudal, peasants resisting their commercial overlords.  Of course, if CEO Jesus is going to have a press release he has to literally stand behind his corporation, Jesus, Inc.  Thus, the omnipresent corporate logos.  Actually, it all makes me a little cross ( pun intended).  Now, I am not aware of Jesus ever founding a formal organization, however, some say that he founded the Church.  Even this I am not sure was Jesus’  intention.  Jesus was a Jew, and I am not convinced that he felt the need to be more than a Jew.  Certainly, Jesus was a religious reformer, and he directed his religious reform efforts at Judaism.  Also, I think that Jesus was into inclusivity and wanted to greatly expand Judaism, even to the point which it could fairly easily be argued that it was something completely new.  However, Jesus strikes me as being much more of an anarchist than a director of a nonprofit organization; especially since so many nonprofit organizations are also non-prophet organizations.

Now, back to the cartoon.  The fact that the meek shall inherit the earth is probably not the most popular concept in the Bible.  Meekness typically has a connotation of weakness rather than humility, and neither of these are particularly valued in our culture.  Weakness gets no shrift whatsoever, and this probably explains why our culture will careen practically anywhere except towards greater intimacy, which requires vulnerability and a humble acceptance of our weaknesses.  Either way, the CEOs of this world will not budge in their rejection of anything in the ballpark of meekness.  Thus, the declaration by CEO Jesus, most assuredly after consulting his team of lawyers, that while this distant and probably meaningless promise in some vague future may require some acknowledgement, there is no reason to expect any real world accountability related to this promise.  Perhaps, the leftovers or toxic waste that remains after consuming the entire planet could conceivably be included in the meek’s inheritance, but even this depends on whether or not the CEOs are in a good mood.  In the end, CEOs can be counted on only to provide that which they are obliged to provide, preferably contractually.  Even then, if not providing that which they are obliged to provide costs more in legal fees, fines, etc. then providing it, then they will just bail on their obligations and write it off as a business expense.  After all, you have to do what the market bears, right?  Or, is that what the market bulls?

So, until next Sunday, with the next edition of CEO Jesus, Free Market Jesus, etc., talk amongst yourselves or let me know what you think.

American Spring Coming: Occupy G8 and NATO in Chicago

With the G8 and NATO summits coming to Chicago in the middle of May, the occupy movement is poised to jump start the American Spring.  The Occupy Wall Street movement has already called for a general strike on May Day, May 1.  This is a call for No Work, No School, No Housework, No Shopping, No Banking,  TAKE THE STREETS!  My own local occupy, Occupy Toledo, is planning to retake a public place with a long-term occupation on May Day.  With continued dissatisfaction with economic conditions, better weather on the horizon, and the convergence of large-scale occupations, this May could very well be the American spring.
“Against the backdrop of a global uprising that is simmering in dozens of countries and thousands of cities and towns, the G8 and NATO will hold a rare simultaneous summit in Chicago this May. The world’s military and political elites, heads of state, 7,500 officials from 80 nations, and more than 2,500 journalists will be there.
And so will we.
…The political establishment in Chicago has been particularly brash in its treatment of the movement. Occupy Chicago is one of the few to never succeed in maintaining an encampment, as two attempts were met with over 300 arrests in the city’s famed Grant Park last fall. While clearly intended to deflate the movement’s momentum ahead of the coming summits in May, this political repression only served to place the plight of Occupy in the limelight.Not content with cracking down on the Occupy camps, the mayor then escalated his assault by introducing a whole new set of rules for protests. Just prior to the holiday recess in December, he proposed changes to the two city ordinances dealing with demonstrations and parades, including increased fines for offenses to draconian new filing requirements for parade organizers.

…The American Spring will not materialize out of resentment from just a few isolated incidents of political repression. Like its Arab-world counterpart, it will be the product of a population that has reached its breaking point after years of systemic abuse. The fact is that the assault on basic civil liberties in this country has been so widespread that focusing on a handful of examples risks trivializing the issue. From the Patriot Act and FISA to NDAA to the president’s newfound right to assassinate, the federal government has acted with marked impunity from Bush to Obama. Meanwhile, the state and local level governments maintain the bulk of the world’s largest system of incarceration, still rooted in age-old prejudices and sociological biases. In many ways, Occupy is reflective of an awakening generation: the babies of the baby-boomers who no longer buy the petty propaganda spoon-fed in school about this nation being a “beacon of peace.”

…Another important factor informing a possible American Spring is the promulgation of hysteria by the political, economic and media elite. As with the enactment of repressive policies, hysteria is designed to drive fear into the masses in order to dissuade them from protest. It is also an indication of a ruling elite that has become increasingly desperate and a political class that is rapidly losing its moral authority. As people begin to recognize this, they may be less inclined to trust the vilification of protesters as “destructive and dangerous anarchists,” and may be more likely to identify with them.

…Another compelling sign of a coming American Spring is the inspiring level of political organization present in Chicago. On the one hand, there is the “Coalition Against the NATO G8 War and Poverty Agenda” (CANG8), which has been planning the massive demonstration on May 19th since the summits were announced. They also organized much of the resistance to the city’s new anti-protester ordinance, including a picket at City Hall on the day of the vote. In that latter effort, they were joined by dozens of supporters of Occupy Chicago in what culminated a strong joint effort among protest groups throughout the city. Organizer Andy Thayer told me: “The battle over the ordinance really brought together these various movements. I think the city was really taken aback by the response.” He further said that he was expecting to see the same few regular faces at the work-time picket at City Hall, only to find that Occupy had substantially energized their efforts.

…While the power elite make their destructive plans inside, the American people will be constructing a better world on the outside.
I hope that you will join me and the thousands and thousands of people from across the United States and from around the planet that will be giving the peoples’ message about making our world a better place for all of us to live.

Obama Shifts Military Defense Cuts to Domestic Programs

George Zornick blogs in The Nation about Obama’s Plan to Save the Military From Cuts—at the Expense of Domestic Programs.  Here is an excerpt:

“As budget wonks comb over President Obama’s outline for fiscal year 2013, a startling White House plan has become clear: the administration is seeking to undo some mandatory cuts to the Pentagon at the expense of critical domestic programs. It does so by basically undoing the defense sequester that kicked in as a result of the Congressional supercommittee on debt.

…This is a dramatic shift in priorities, and one that not many people are discussing. Given the massive lobbying potential of the defense industry—and the comparably weak advocates for things like Head Start funding—it’s a virtual certainty that, under the White House proposal, these strict spending caps would be met by raiding nonsecurity spending heavily in years to come.”

Defense spending is a long-standing sacred cow.  Military defense is the closest thing we have to a religion in our secular society, coming in a close second to money, only because the value of military defense eventually is reduced to a derivative of our love of money and resources.  Of course, an overwhelmingly high level of vague threats to our national security, meaning military security, is necessary to successfully beat the drums of war and get the general population to act against its own self-interest in providing for domestic security, meaning health, housing, education, meaningful work, etc.

Pres. Obama, commander-in-chief, reigning over the most powerful nation in human history, not surprisingly, places his pinch of incense on the altar of Caesar, which conveniently happens to be him, and pours untold billions into the sacred cow of so-called defense spending, which has financially and morally bankrupt our government and society.  Ignore the prestidigitations of rhetoric.  Pay attention to the other hand which is quietly creating accounting devices to rob us of our birthright, our own government by the people and for the people.  No, wait, doesn’t he have a Nobel Peace Prize in his other hand…

Violence Protects the State

Stephanie N. Van Hook, Executive Director of Metta Center for Nonviolence in Petaluma, California, has written a commentary in Znet on How Violence Protects the State.  Here is an excerpt:

“Violence in opposition to the State relieves the State and the citizenry of any guilt for a brutal response to all protesters—and it refocuses from the nominal issue to the issue of violence by protesters. Thus any violence by protesters serves the state well (just ask anyone employed by the government who has hired an agent provocateur). It is a weapon of mass distraction. Stop worrying about the uptick in home foreclosures, the dead being shipped back from Afghanistan, and the new increases in the Pentagon’s proposed budget—look at the violent window-breakers from Occupy who threaten us all!

…Nonviolence is not just protest, it is not simply occupying space and it is not just about adversarial confrontations; it’s about our humanity…

In short, in order to delegitimize a violent system, we have to delegitimize violence. This change requires us to adopt a principle about human beings and human dignity: we will not use violence against others because we want to create a vibrant culture, a merciful culture, a generous culture because we as human beings have the potential to nurture these qualities within ourselves and each other. We will not degrade human dignity because it is not worthy of ourselves as people; let this be the motivation for our long-term struggle. The power of the violent State system would stand much less chance against a movement committed to this nonviolent, compassionate spirit of unity.”

The debate between violence and nonviolence is age-old.  Though, nonviolence has sort of come of age in the modern period, particularly with history proving nonviolence’s effectiveness in domestic regime change.  The current relevance of this topic is related largely to the occupy movement captures a lot of popular unrest with our own domestic regime.  With great injustices, anger is a natural and healthy response.  Unfortunately, violence is not a natural and healthy response to anger.  We need to channel the energy of our anger and rage against injustice into ways of living that will actually result in a new and better way of living together as humanity.  I believe that nonviolence represents that way of living.  If you want something different from violence we are going to have to do something different and violence.  Violence begets violence.  Love begets love.  Respect begets respect.  You get the picture.  It seems that lectures on means and ends have become a common theme in my life and in my blogs recently.  I love the logic of the means producing the ends.  I just wish this approach got more respect. I guess that when it comes to violence, it is very hard to overcome old habits and venture into territory that presents a lots of personal uncertainty and risk (by disarming).  While controlling others through propaganda, terror and violence, seems to be able to go a long way, controlling others ultimately short-circuits our ability to live in peace and harmony with one another.  I believe it is worth a lot of risk to make living in peace and harmony possible.  Let’s not allow the state to divide us through violence, either its own, or through provoking violence in us.

Religious Liberty, Conscience Exemptions for Everything

With the Obama administration’s recent rules requiring organizations owned by religious groups to provide contraceptive coverage as part of their employees’ health insurance, conservative groups and the Roman Catholic Church have gotten all their panties in a bunch, which is particularly interesting since most of them are men.  I like the take on religious exemptions for everything by Jonathan Zasloff and conscience clauses by Mark Kleiman in the reality-based community blogs.   The most obvious religious exemptions would be for Quakers, Mennonites, and other pacifist religious groups, to have to pay for anything related to war.  The more interesting suggestion was by Mr. Zasloff:

Why not include immigration law in the picture?

“You shall love the stranger, for you were a stranger in the land of Egypt.”  This is not an isolated Biblical line: it is repeated no less than 36 times (really) in the Bible.  So synagogues, churches, and mosques (musn’t forget mosques) should just make it clear that they should not have to obey immigration law: they will hire or provide services to anyone and everyone regardless of immigration status.  Any attempts by any law enforcement agency to prosecute them or in any way harass or deport immigrants who are part of their religious communities violates their freedom of conscience to include them (not to mention their rights to freely associate).

I think that both of these authors are offering these suggestions more as tongue-in-cheek parodies than as serious policy considerations.  This is not to denigrate in any way the importance or depths of the religious beliefs of any of these groups, including the anti-contraceptive crowd.  I believe that what is being legitimately mocked is an immature insistence that religious liberty, at least for their own particular group, requires absolute unchecked freedom.  This is a fiction in the real world.  The legitimate questions asked by these bloggers have taken us just far enough down the road of logic to see the absurd conclusions that must be drawn if such logic is taken to its nth degree.

As with all freedoms, religious freedoms must be balanced with other freedoms.  This will never make everybody completely happy, and fortunately, will not make anybody all-powerful, with infinite, absolute, unchecked freedom.  That sounds like the kind of freedom reserved for God anyways, and you’d think that religious folks could respect that, even insist upon it.

I have commented elsewhere on this issue, particularly in the context of the current birth control insurance mandate debate (see Birth Control as a Human Right – Toledo Protest).

I think this issue to be resolved in the real world, religious groups, claiming a particular bastion of truth, need to vote with the existential force of their lives, to make these beliefs real in the world, not just words, particularly words to control other people.  In the 1980s and 90s the Roman Catholic Church provided strong leadership in the sanctuary movement which protected persons who are in this country of illegal status due to economic or political violence.  The Roman Catholic Church took real risks and paid a price for incarnating their beliefs.  Pacifist religious groups have refused to go to war and pay war taxes for generations.  As a religious pacifist myself, I was convicted by the United States of America for refusing to register for the military draft, and I was incarcerated for a few months.  I think I made my point.

The state cannot be trusted to strike a balance between religious liberty and other liberties.  This is precisely why religious groups need to be about the difficult and real work of living out their beliefs in such a way that their importance is manifest to the rest of the world.  Since the US made a federal case of it, my resistance of draft registration, I learned that according to the US Supreme Court, that the US has the absolute power to conscript anybody for any reason, and there is no constitutional right, religious or otherwise, to refuse military conscription.  The US government could conscript your grandmother if they wanted to.  The specific language cited in my case, which was used to reject a claim of religious liberty, was that conscientious objection was by “legislative grace” alone.  I for one, do not by the grace of Congress go.

The bottom line:  if we are going to live by God’s grace, we will need to fight for our liberties and rights, and real grace is not cheap, it has a cost; if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be worth much now would it?

 

Every Revolutionary Ends Up Oppressor or Heretic

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Peace Quote 33 Blood Donor Deferrals Border on Insanity

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For those of you who aspire to being a revolutionary, or wake up one day and learn that you are revolutionary, this Albert Camus quote is for you.  Camus presages the results of revolutionary means by pointing out that all revolutionaries either end up as oppressors or heretics.  I don’t know about you but I’m a proud member of the national heretics society.  In terms of means and ends, I believe that this quote speaks to the issue of violence versus nonviolence.  Violent revolutionaries may change or even upgrade the oppressors, but ultimately, they do not defeat oppression, just other oppressors.  I believe that violence is inherently oppressive.  Now, I am willing to argue what constitutes violence, particularly since I define violence and nonviolence quite broadly.  In fact, it may be better to say that I believe that oppression is violence and that nonviolence is liberation.  In the end, I see violence is reinforcing the status quo, the powers that be.  Thus, violence is not really revolutionary, even though it may bring a lot of outward change.  To be truly revolutionary I believe that there must be an inward change that is consistent with any outward change.  I think that this is where the heretics come in.  Most people will settle for an outward world that advantages themselves, even if it means disadvantaging others.  For violent revolutionaries, this typically means disadvantaging one’s defeated foes as some sort of punishment or retributive justice. This is generally accepted as a practical reality, the conventional wisdom and practice of our world.  I believe that this type of approach is extremely dangerous since history seems to prove that the turning of the tables simply means new oppressors.  However, if one wishes to overthrow conventional wisdom, it is likely necessary to practice unconventional wisdom.  If the endgame is equality, an egalitarian society for all of its members, then treating former oppressors punitively becomes a poor foundation for egalitarianism.  I think that this gets to the heretical nature of nonviolence.  Nonviolence is a way of life, not just a tactic or a means.  It means and the ends are inextricably intertwined.  More simply put, the means determine the ends.  How could it be otherwise?  I find it quite ironic that hard-nosed revolutionaries advocating violence somehow think that violence will lead to nonviolence, or perhaps more depressingly, cynically accept that violence is unavoidable.  Perhaps Camus recognized the intractable nature of the struggle between violence and nonviolence, thus he laid out the dichotomy of either becoming an oppressor or becoming a heretic.  I find myself attracted to the iconoclastic, because it seems the most apt attitude to create revolutionary change.  This may be simply tied to the definition of what revolution is: a paradigm shift from the status quo, a change in the nature of the powers that be.  You can’t defeat the status quo by the means of the status quo.  You can’t defeat the powers that be, by simply wielding authority over others in some better fashion.  I think the point is that we should not even be wielding authority over others, and this never quite seems fashionable.  As long as people want to lord over one another, then nonviolence will be unfashionable.  So, join the unfashionable heretics.  Be free to ignore conventional wisdom when it seeks to enslave us, and when it asks us to enslave others.  Be free, because being free is the best way to teach others about being free.  Be the change.  This is a revolutionary.

POEM: Getting Your Ducks in a Row

I once put all my ducks in a row
Only then realizing
What am I doing with all these ducks?!

Getting one’s ducks in a row is an idiom or metaphor that most people are familiar with, meaning that we should get our business in order.  The twist in this poem is a reversal of the typical order that my poetry takes.  In this short poem, I take a common phrase that is not intended to be taken literally, and then take it literally.  Predictably, this leads to absurdity, and the ensuing absurd question of what am I doing with all of these ducks.  Of course, the absurd question is actually a question intended to jar one into a realization that getting one’s business in order is not always the most important thing in the world, though it often seems so.

Perhaps ironically, the pervasive idea of getting one’s ducks in a row, getting one’s business in order, can be a stagnant or deadening proposition that actually kills a higher order in our lives.  Life is messy.  Like John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when we’re busy doing other things.”

The question here is not whether one is for order or against order.  The question here is one for a higher order or a lower order.  Increasingly, my experiences in life lead me to believe that one of the most fundamental issues is achieving some clarity about following a higher order over a lower order.  Again, this does not negate the value of lower order stuff, it simply puts it in its proper place, puts it in its proper perspective.  Given that lower order stuff is typically more clear, concrete, and easy to see, it is little surprise that we give an inordinate focus to such things – they capture our attention (and us).  After experiencing many dis-orders in my life, I have come to the realization that the best way to reorder my life around those things which are most important, those higher order things, is to practice simplicity.  What I mean by this is that I need to be aware of those relatively few things in life that are most important to me.  Combined with an actual commitment to these things, then I can use these few important things to better order the many lower things.  More simply put, the higher should lower the order, and a few more important things should order the many less important things.

Another major reason that I see lesser things getting a disproportionate amount of attention versus greater things, is a common confusion regarding what is urgent versus what is important.  Our culture value busyness.  Busyness is seen as an indicator of productivity.  Also, busyness is a way to avoid being seen as engaging in a cardinal sin of our culture, which is laziness.  I think this confusion leads to a systematic bias that often runs over truly important things in our lives.  Given the attachment to busyness, busyness actually becomes a surrogate for urgency.  Thus, the confusion between urgency and importance.

Now, actually, there are many things in life that are both urgent and important.  These are the most important things to which we should attend.  However, there are many, many things that seem urgent that are not really that important.  Likewise, there are many things that are very important but do not seem very urgent.  I believe it is in these very important things that do not seem very urgent that we get lost.  The Achilles heel here is that attention to these most important things that don’t seem very urgent, requires a more relaxed perspective, a broader perspective in relation to time.  Most great things in life require a substantial investment of time.  Also, most things worthwhile require some effort on our part.  But let me deal first with the time issue (the most important thing here).  This gets back to the laziness issue.  Our culture reinforces the notion that relaxing our views about urgency is somehow lazy.  If you are not dealing with the commonly accepted stuff that is seen is urgent, then you are viewed as lazy.  This is not necessarily true.  Now, while truly lazy people don’t deal with what’s in front of them, whether it is urgent or not, important or not, to deal with the important but not urgent things requires some way of being that is neither characterized by mere busyness nor laziness.  This is the difficult counter-cultural work of dealing with the most important and often most overlooked stuff in our lives.  It takes a great amount of discipline and work to slough off the avalanche of seemingly urgent stuff in our life in order to attend to the most important things.  In fact, it is this lack of developing such discipline and boundary setting that is the more important and urgent form of laziness to address.

Laziness is definitely an issue.  This gets back to the issue that most things worthwhile in our life require effort on our part.  Being fully human requires a lot of effort.  This reality requires that we overcome a certain lazy inertia in our lives.  The status quo, the way things are, has a certain stability, momentum and inertia to it.

If we keep going the direction we are headed in, we will probably end up where we are going.  However, equally true, the past is the best predictor of the future, but if you use the past to predict the future, you will always be wrong.  Or more eloquently put, by Yogi Berra, “Prediction is very hard, especially when about the future.”  This is because people are not billiard balls.  People are not simply determined being.  People possess freedom.  People are subjects, not objects.  Certainly, as long as people are involved, predicting the future with complete accuracy will be impossible (actually, this is true for so-called “things” as well; this involves a discussion of the inherent probabilities necessary to understand quantum physics, which I will gracefully save for another day).  This is the way it’s supposed to be.  This is not chaos; this is simply uncertainty.  This is the way the universe is ordered.  This is a higher order, not to be subjected to a lower order.  This takes us full circle, back to our zealous clinging to stuff that is more concrete, seemingly certain.  Our felt need to substitute certainty for uncertainty plays neatly into the hands of confusing the urgent and the important.  Life is uncertain.  If life were not uncertain, it would not be life.  If life were not uncertain, then life would simply be a quest of learning everything and then being ordered (notice the use of the passive voice, and the same language that we reject often from the bosses in our lives) by the ultimately determinable (that which can be reduced to certainty).  This would inescapably lead us to our endgame of being all-knowing and totally impotent (not free).  If this strikes you as a concept of God that is rejected by the vast majority of humanity on this planet, then you must be paying attention.  This so-called God that so many people legitimately reject, is not God, but the vain and enslaving-ourselves project of trying to be God ourselves.  Neither can God be reduced to simply “everything.”  God is more than “everything.”  This concept arises out of the paradox of subjectivity and objectivity, the difference between subject and object.  In this case, the difference between people and things, and between God and “everything.”  I hope that I’m not getting too far off course by getting straight to the heart of the matter.  If you want some additional commentary on these matters, and subjects, I would suggest browsing scientific reductionism.

So, now that I have put all of my ducks in order, I can get beyond the whole “duck” thing. In the end, for all this to work well, this means having our lives ordered in a way that is consistent with what we consider to be the most important, then we must actually know what is the most important stuff in our lives.  Do you know what the most important things in your life are?  If so, I would suggest that you make a list of such things, and while doing this may be of the utmost importance, I would recommend that you take your time to get it right.

Now, if you really want to blow your mind, and perhaps blow the lid off your heart, I recommend meditating upon this poem from the Sufi poet Rumi:

A good gauge of spiritual health is to write down
the three things you want most.
If they in any way differ
you are in trouble.