In the Twilight of Mortality: Reflections Upon Death and Suffering

DSC01745I’ll never forget seeing her, as it made such an impact upon me. A few years ago I worked as a delivery driver for a food delivery company and had to make a run to a children’s hospital. I picked up the order and made the delivery to the nurses there. As I was leaving, a girl walked through the hall and I was immediately struck by her presence. Her emaciated frame made her seem far frailer than other kids her age. Her bald head reflecting the lights, a pink and colorful hospital gown flowing as a dress, and her holding onto a portable IV and almost dancing around with it. She smiled and waved at me and I waved back through the windows of the closed doors. A child, no more than ten years old, facing a level of suffering that some people will – thankfully – never see in a lifetime.

We live in a beautifully tragic world, a world where beauty emanates from the darkest crevices of existence, yet those dark crevices still exist. In many instances, we have put words to our suffering. A man who loses his wife is a widower, a woman who loses her husband is a widow, a child who loses her parents is an orphan, and so on. Yet, some suffering is so great, that we have no word for it (at least not in English). What do we call parents who have lost a child? “Childless” can refer to those who have never had children and therefore have never experienced the joy of their birth or the agony of their death. No word for someone enduring cancer can summarize the suffering, especially of one dying from cancer. We hold no word for those who suffer greatly; we leave our verbal confirmation of the suffering at the word “patient,” or “enduring,” or at the name of the disease, but we dare not create a word to name the suffering. To name the suffering makes it more common, more real, and so we avoid it.

Suffering, both emotional and physical, is a burden which all of us must carry in one form or another. All of us are on death row, walking a very long mile, until the end of our days come. We do not know when our lives will end, merely that they shall end sooner than we had hoped. Our curse is that we must die and in this curse, death becomes an enemy. It becomes a foe we struggle against, who we war with, and in this war we will exhaust all resources to gain even an inch of life. But the battle is futile as we shall always succumb to death.

In our sufferings we believe it better to die, to take our own lives and deprive death the joy of our suffering. In taking our lives we feel we allow death to collect the debt, but to forgo the interest. Admittedly, for those who’s death is inevitably close, for whom death immediately beckons, prolonging their lives are cruel and only serves to create additional pain and suffering. The patient who is terminal, who must rely on machines for life, has suffered enough and we should let death overtake him, as in this way death becomes a friend who ceases his pain.

Yet, the one constant in ancient history is that “So long as there is life, there is hope.” This sentiment is found in Ecclesiastes 9:4, but also Theocritus, a 3rd century BC Greek poet, said the exact same thing, leading Cicero – the Latin statesman and philosopher – to quote it as well. So long as you draw breath, there is hope, but hope in what? Ecclesiastes says it is better to be a live dog than a dead lion while Theocritus says that the dead have no hope.

What if suffering is not a prelude to the end, but the signs that one lives in the twilight of mortality? When we are born, we suffer. We are leaving the only world known to us and must endure great physical pain in the birthing process. Yet, we enter into a world of overwhelming possibilities, one vastly superior to the one in which we lived. What if suffering is merely the birthing pangs we must endure as we enter into another stage of life, a final stage. What are a few moments of suffering compared to an eternity of ecstasy?

Death is immanent for us all, but not immediately so. Whenever death is immediately immanent, it is best to forgo modern medicine’s attempt to prolong a life already lost and embrace the inevitability of our death. Yet, so long as I draw breath, I have hope, even in the greatest amount of suffering. My hope isn’t necessarily in a recovery, but in a God who will not forget me.

For those who fall asleep in the Lord within the Orthodox Church, the patrons chant “Memory Eternal.” Memory eternal is to remind us that God, who is infinite and without time, keeps us in his memory. We are immortal through his doing and his doing alone. In our falling asleep, we awake to his presence where we continue to grow in our love and knowledge of him.

In our disembodied states we shall remain in God’s presence, through his constant remembering of us and eventually we will resurrect into new bodies. Those bodies, though very much physical, shall not endure suffering. We look forward to the day when there shall be no more flag-draped coffins, when we don’t have to create words that describe our suffering, when suffering itself is a distant memory, a vague memory from a long-ago bad dream. In that moment, our present suffering will stand as nothing more than a grain of sand in the infinite hourglass of time. And so we endure our suffering unto death, realizing that as suffering begins we are witnessing the death of death, we are living in the twilight of mortality and stand upon the dawn of eternity.

How the Church Failed America: Reaping What You Sow

IMG_0248Currently in Houston there’s a mayor doing some major backtracking due to some subpoenas. Without diving into the issue too much, Houston issued subpoenas for five pastor’s sermons and correspondence for all issues related to homosexuality, transgenderism, HERO, and the mayor. It was all part of discovery in an ongoing case. Now, there’s nothing wrong with putting a subpoena on most sermons as they’re available to the public anyway (via church websites), but it still seems icky. After all, it would seem odd to do the same for an Imam’s messages, or a Rabbi’s teachings; while it’s available to the public, forcing a religious institution to hand over its religious teachings to be used against it in a court case just seems wrong. Regardless, the subpoenas were far too broad and the city is limiting their scope (when they should just dismiss them).

Meanwhile, in Idaho, a Christian couple who are ordained ministers are facing a fine and jail time for refusing to officiate a same-sex marriage. From a purely legal point of view, what’s happening in Idaho is a direct violation of the couple’s freedom of religion and will more than likely not be held up in court. It would truly be shocking if it were upheld because then one must ask what’s the difference between someone performing weddings as a wedding chapel and someone getting paid to perform a ceremony elsewhere? If a pastor accepts a donation to do a wedding – since he must take time out of his schedule to do it – or even charges for it, is he subjected to the same laws? What if the court rules that while the couple doesn’t have to officiate the wedding, since the building is used for weddings it must be open to all marriages? In such a case, does this mean churches should stop hosting weddings, which would then inhibit their freedom of religion?

Whether you agree or disagree with the Christian (or Islamic, or Jewish, or most religions) stance on the act of homosexuality, certainly one can see the problems by removing the freedom to practice one’s religion, even if wrong. It establishes a precedent where only that which is agreeable is allowable; you have the freedom to do what you wish so long as I agree with what you wish to do. Such a sentiment is great until you find yourself in the minority. It would appear that in attempting to cease being oppressed, the oppressed have happily become the oppressors. Under such a system rights are not guaranteed, nor do they mean anything in any real sense; your rights are determined by the majority. Welcome to the end of democracy, as Plato predicted and as we’ve seen acted out numerous times in history, where the tyranny of the majority destroys the rights of the minority.

Yet, in many ways, the church in the United States is merely reaping what it has sowed. For too long churches used the political realm as a way to “further the kingdom,” not by winning people over to Christ, but instead by forcing them to live in a “holy” way. For whatever reason, Christians honed in on homosexuality as the chief of sins above all other sins and then sought to fight every legal battle they could against it. Now, we could say that it’s because there was a “movement” and an “agenda” that Christians had to fight back. But what about the sexual revolution in the 60s? What about the lax divorce laws that came from it? How come Christians didn’t fight to repeal them or to push a cultural war against such advances? Is it because the sexual revolution offered benefits to members? Maybe Christians ignored that the real battle for marriage is within the home, not the court room.

I’ve argued consistently that the government should absolve itself from the marriage debate. Stick to civil unions that can only be obtained through the county court; no pomp, no ceremony, nothing. You go in, sign a legal document, get it witnessed by an officer of the court, and leave. Sadly, the Religious Right wanted to continue to define marriage for everyone through a Christian lens. It led to a legal battle, one in which someone was destined to lose and have their religious liberty squashed. The homosexual Episcopal couple for whom marriage is both allowable and a sacrament lost with the anti-gay marriage amendments in various states; the minister couple who makes a living off wedding ceremonies lost with the pro-gay marriage rulings. The Religious Right created an environment in which there was a winner and loser, not a compromise, and now they’ve lost. For doing so, many of us “non-combatants” who had no desire to wage a culture war will become victims of their blunder.  Continue reading

The Soul of a Nation: An Alternative View to Preventing the Ebola “Crisis”

DSC02073First, let’s get a few things straight:

In 2010:

  • 600,000 Americans died from heart disease, but no one called for us to ban fatty foods.
  • 73,000 died from diabetes, forcing Wilford Brimley to lose many people he knew, but no one called for bans against sugar.
  • 54,000 died from the flu, but no one called for travel bans from state to state or countries known to have the flu. It didn’t get reported.
  • A guy dies from Ebola and suddenly we want to close off all of Africa, take our kids out of school, and burn Texas to the ground (might not be a bad idea that last one).

People, perspective, please. You do understand the media is for-profit, correct? They have to scare you in order to get you to pay attention to them, that way advertisers will pay them more money and increase their profits. It’s not a coincidence that as viewership and subscriptions to traditional media waned around a decade ago that suddenly everything became ‘breaking news’ and a ‘crisis.’ Stop buying into their scare tactics, look up the facts yourself, and realize that even with the Dallas hospital totally screwing up the first known case of Ebola, an outbreak still didn’t occur.

Regardless, Thomas Eric Duncan passed away from ebola in the United States, sending panic and fear to everyone. Even though his death has much more to do with the hospital mishandling his condition (by releasing him the first time he came in), none of his relatives contracted the disease even though he was showing severe symptoms. In fact, to date, only two people have contracted ebola from the late Mr. Duncan, both of whom were nurses who were in close contact with him. More than likely there was a mishap in their sanitation and protection, leading them to contracting the disease.

Now, what Mr. Duncan’s passing and the nurse’s contracting ebola shows us is that while ebola isn’t really a threat to the US (even in west Africa you’re more likely to contract HIV than ebola) population, the CDC is really full of it. What I mean is their claim that if a highly contagious disease were to ever hit our shores, we’d be ready to stop it. If anything, ebola has shown us that we’re so ill-prepared that we might as well accept the inevitability of such a disease. We turned away a man showing all the symptoms of ebola after he said he came in from Africa, we allowed a nurse with a slight fever who had been in contact with Mr. Duncan to board a plane, and every step along the way we’ve shown more failure than success; were ebola more contagious, we’d be in trouble. Thankfully, this is not the case.

Yet, we still get the people calling for a ban on travel to west Africa. We’re told we should just stop all flights in and out. In Season 2 of The Walking Dead, one of the most horrific scenes is when Shane , to save himself, decides to shoot Otis in the leg, slowing him down and allowing the walkers (zombies) to devour Otis while Shane gets away. In a way, we have multiple people who want to take that approach to ebola, to just shoot west Africa in the leg, let ebola take its course, while we make a clean getaway. Except we’re asking the wrong questions and thinking the wrong thoughts. By restricting travel, people will just seek alternative ways into the US, which will of course lead to the disease getting here without us knowing it; now that could be a problem.

The one solution that hardly anyone is bringing up is sadly the most obvious one, but one that just sounds too liberal and too hippie to accept; why don’t we pump money into sending proper treatment to west Africa? See, Mr. Duncan passed away from ebola because he was, in essence, refused service at a critical point. Had he been treated, more than likely he would have survived. How so? Thus far, everyone who’s received modern treatment has survived, even those who were “near death” on their flight over from Africa. It follows, then, that the solution isn’t necessarily to try and restrict travel to and from these countries (as that’s simply impractical; we might as well try and put toothpaste back in its tube), but instead to pool our resources – we industrialized nations who pride ourselves in our civility and humanity – and then take a trip to west Africa.

Ultimately, such a move, while possibly expensive, would certainly cost less than attempting to prevent and contain an outbreak at home. Think of it this way; let’s assume that ebola evolves and becomes slightly more contagious (which could happen if introduced to a bigger, more mobile population). Imagine the cost it would have on our system, with people having to take time off work, not putting money in the economy, making massive claims on insurance, and possibly (in a worst case scenario), overwhelming some local hospitals. Certainly, in the longterm, it’d be cheaper to just send medical equipment and doctors over to west Africa to contain the disease there; which is what we’re doing, but mostly through private organizations. To my knowledge, there’s no real unified effort.

What does it say about the soul of our nation that we’ll beat the drums of war to gather a coalition of the willing in order to bomb a nation, but we really don’t do much in the way of gaining a coalition to heal a nation? We, who have vast resources, technology, medical equipment, and wealth opt to discuss hoarding it and blocking the sick from having access to it rather than taking the most logical – and cost efficient approach – and just send aid. Why is our first response to demand that we block access from Africa and not, “Wow, I guess we ought to send aid there so we can help those people?”

How selfish have we really become? The common argument is that people are worried about their children or their health, but what about the children and the health of those in Africa? Contrary to popular implied ignorance, children do exist in Africa, and they’re dying. Closing the borders might work for a moment, but eventually it leads to people starving (due to a de facto embargo), which leads to them finding ways around the borders, which leads to the disease spreading anyway.Buried at the bottom of an AP article with some African officials claiming border closings have helped is the admission that it’s had more to do with luck than anything else. In this instance, compassionate help is the best treatment. Certainly if we can organize governments to spend combined billions to fight unwanted and unnecessary wars, we are capable of organizing these same governments to spend money and effort on treating those dying from this disease.

We imagine the danger that ebola poses to our children, our elderly, to those who have weakened immune systems; but what of what it’s already doing to Africans? Should we be any less concerned? Would we not want the world to help us if our system collapsed and we found ourselves unable to help our countrymen, our neighbors, our families, our children? Would we not wish for compassion and aid? Why, then, do we withhold it from those who need it most? A nation that has lost its compassion to help other people, when it has more than enough means to accomplish such a task, is a nation that has lost its soul.

Being an Atheist doesn’t make you an intellectual: On Horus and other silly things


Many memes about Christ, specifically linking him to ancient myths such as Horus, is as close to The Walking Dead as we’ll get in this life; it’s a dead thought, empty, that keeps coming at you no matter how many facts you use to shoot it down, feasting on the weak and unprepared, and leaving the survivors confused as to how such a thing can continue to persist on this earth. Eventually it’s nothing more than an annoyance to be dealt with, causing the occasional panic among the hopeless and lazy, but posing no threat to those who know what to expect in such a world.

Let me back up.

The greatest intellectual challenge to my faith ever (and currently) is found in a work of fiction by Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Anyone familiar with theodicy or with his work knows where I’m pointing to; the conversation between Alexei and Ivan where Ivan names all the evils that have occurred without reason and Alexei is left without response. It paints a horrific picture of existence, one in where we commit the worst evils against each other, one where we have just cause to question if God is just, or even exists. Of course, Dostoevsky was a devout Christian and even based the character of Alexei off his friend Vladimir Solovyov. Yet, to me this poses a great challenge to my faith.

All that is to say that it’s okay to have challenges to the faith. It’s even okay to not believe. I have friends who are atheists (or agnostics) and have intellectually valid reasons for doubting the existence of God. They are challenging issues, ones without an easy answer, and worthy of inspection. There are others who realize that if God doesn’t exist we have quite a bit to account for (such as, since something exists, we need an ought for that something). They attempt to form epistemological theories, ethical theories, political theories, and so on sans God. While I think there are flaws, it’s a worthy attempt.

Sadly, what I described above does not seem to be the case for most self-acclaimed atheists out there. Most of them see a few youtube videos, see things on Facebook, read some stuff on Reddit, and if they’re really bold will read a book or two by Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins, and conclude from such extensive and scholarly study that God doesn’t exist. Oh, and if you do believe in God? Well you’re an idiot and stupid and have nothing worthy to say. Some “historian” says that Jesus didn’t exist and everyone concludes, “Well duh, of course he didn’t!” Never mind that there’s almost a complete consensus among historians of the time period that Jesus existed (they debate over the details), in this case expertise is dismissed for the words of…Michael Paulvokich. His book and main arguments are almost immediately dismissed by the majority of historians (from various religious beliefs or lack thereof), but it didn’t stop many “Reddit Atheists” from exerting how much smarter they are than Christians.

Let’s be honest, this new type of atheism isn’t so much about being an actual atheist as it is just about hating Christianity, or more, about feeling smarter than everyone else. I’m always perplexed that when I speak to people about philosophy, science, political theories, and so on, most people guess I’m an atheist. They either start to smile and go, “You’re an atheist, aren’t you? You’re really intelligent.” Or they frown and begin to witness to me (apparently Christians think people who are educated are atheists). It shocks people to learn that I’m not an atheist. It’s an outright scandal when I go further to say that I believe Jesus was born of a virgin, performed miracles, died, and rose from the grave. A lot of atheists I run into who discover this will just stop talking to me, saying that I’m not as smart as they thought I was. This new-found atheism is more about trying to say, “I’m smarter than you” than it is about discovering any actual truth.

Consider the following image I pulled from Facebook:  Continue reading

The Walking Dead or, How Not to Respond to Ebola

POPE FRANCIS' GENERAL AUDIENCEEbola is all the rage these days when it comes to apocalyptic news. While it is a tragedy and deserves our attention, for the time being it’s more media hype than anything else. That being said, what has been notably absent is the Christian view regarding such plagues; some Christians have stated views that are explicitly anti-Christian.

Take, for instance, Todd Kincannon, the former GOP executive director for South Carolina stating that once someone is diagnosed with Ebola, that person ought to be “humanely killed.” Such a view is so antithetical to the Christian message that it’s hardly worthy of a response. Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh thinks that President Obama is allowing Ebola into to the United States as a punishment for white people.  The Dallas District Attorney is considering pressing charges against the first Ebola patient in the US, even though he went to the hospital, told them where he had been, and they turned him away. In other words, the DA wants to prosecute a guy for being sick; need I go on with how stupid some of the replies to Ebola have been?

Ebola is dangerous and a tragedy. Sierra Leone just recorded 121 deaths in one day. It’s spread to the United States and to Spain. It is a killer, an R1 or R2, meaning that its spread has taken quite a leap. Still, it’s not an R3 like HIV, meaning you’re more likely to contract HIV than Ebola. Of course, being the type of disease it is, it’s likely to evolve, making it more contagious. Does this fear of death mean, however, that Christians ought to turn tail and run? Does it mean that Christians are to abandon their principles at the first sight of sickness? Are we to become like the people in The Walking Dead, cutting ourselves off from the outside world and doing all we can to survive?

Thankfully, we have a past to turn to, and not just a past but a present. People forget that Dr. Kent Brantly was performing missionary work over in Africa when he contracted Ebola. Yet, rather than supporting him, many Christians were quick to condemn him. It’s quite ironic considering that an atheist doctor recently wrote in the liberal edition of the Blaze Slate how he was uncomfortable having Christian doctors over in Africa, sharing their faith. His ultimate problem is that these Christian doctors are helping the poor and sharing their faith while “humanist” (read: Atheist) doctors do little to nothing to help the poor. Thus, because no one else is willing to help these Africans, he’ll tolerate the existence of these Christians. How odd that his complaint is similar to Julian the Apostate’s complaint, albeit a poorly written version of Julian’s complaint. Julian wrote,

Why, then, do we think that this is enough, why do we not observe that it is their [Christians] benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism. For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galilaeans support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.

A word of note; the Romans considered Christians “atheists” because we believe in one God, not many. It is quite ironic considering the embrace of Stoicism among many Roman elite (including Marcus Aurelius) since Stoicism is atheistic in the true sense of the word. Regardless, the complaint both then and now is that Christians, while abhorrent, still helped the poor and sick better than anyone else.

Yet, where is the Christian voice in all of the brouhaha surrounding Ebola? Of course, one can easily point to the Christian actions against Ebola, but what about the complaints?  If Ebola is truly a pandemic, a plague, then its outbreak in the United States is inevitable. Now, I do not believe we’ll see an outbreak of Ebola in the United States. The chances of it occurring are near zero. Regardless, at some point a plague will occur simply because that’s the cycle of history. In that period, how should Christians respond?

121 deaths in one day from Ebola certainly is bad, but imagine 5,000 deaths in one day. During the Plague of Cyprian in the third century, nearly 5,000 people a day died in Rome. Pontius of Carthage records what happened during Cyprian’s days during the plague, noting:

Afterwards there broke out a dreadful plague, and excessive destruction of a hateful disease invaded every house in succession of the trembling populace, carrying off day by day with abrupt attack numberless people, every one from his own house.  All were shuddering, fleeing, shunning the contagion, impiously exposing their own friends, as if with the exclusion of the person who was sure to die of the plague, one could exclude death itself also. There lay about the meanwhile, over the whole city, no longer bodies, but the carcases of many, and, by the contemplation of a lot which in their turn would be theirs, demanded the pity of the passers-by for themselves. No one regarded anything besides his cruel gains. No one trembled at the remembrance of a similar event. No one did to another what he himself wished to experience. In these circumstances, it would be a wrong to pass over what the pontiff of Christ did, who excelled the pontiffs of the world as much in kindly affection as he did in truth of religion. On the people assembled together in one place he first of all urged the benefits of mercy, teaching by examples from divine lessons, how greatly the duties of benevolence avail to deserve well of God. Then afterwards he subjoined, that there was nothing wonderful in our cherishing our own people only with the needed attentions of love, but that he might become perfect who would do something more than the publican or the heathen, who, overcoming evil with good, and practicing a clemency which was like the divine clemency, loved even his enemies, who would pray for the salvation of those that persecute him, as the Lord admonishes and exhorts.

The lack of mercy shown to the dying was considered cruel and impious by the Christians. From its earliest foundations, Christianity has focused on being light to a dark world, and sometimes in spreading light, one must travel into the darkness. From many other records, during Roman plagues and plagues in the Medieval period, Christians (specifically clergy) were often the victims due to giving mercy to the dying and (in the case of priests) last rites.

For whatever reason, Christianity has both held onto and abandoned this rich heritage. It’s held onto it in the form of Mother Theresa and other nuns and priests who go into desperate worlds and offer whatever help they can. It’s alive in the form of Christians of all confessional backgrounds getting medical degrees and then using their knowledge on patients who can never repay them. At the same time, we have many Christian leaders (take the term as loosely as you wish) such as Mike Huckabee who argued back in 1992 that AIDS victims ought to be quarantined from society. A quick perusal of random posts through Christian websites offer either complete silence on the issue, or the idea that we ought to prevent travel from African countries impacted by Ebola, to more insane ideas. Some Christians have seemingly forgotten their faith.

The Christian view of the plague is intrinsically linked to the Christian view of death, which is to say that love is stronger than death. Love is stronger than any plague. During the Cyprian outbreak in Rome, many Romans accused Christians of enjoying the plague as they continued to hold festivals. Why were Christians so nonchalant about the prospect of death? Because to the Christian death is not the end of all life, just the end of this current life. While it’s natural to fear death, when we lose our compassion and love in the face of the plague, we implicitly deny an afterlife. Yet, if Christ’s resurrection from the dead doesn’t promise a resurrection in the life to come, one in a world free from corruption, then why are we Christians? I’m not saying go embrace someone with the plague today, but I am saying we need to be reasonable in our approach to any communicable and deadly disease.

The wonderful thing about being a Christian in the modern era is that through medical advancements, one can be compassionate and fulfill the Christian mission without taking on a death sentence. Through basic sanitation and protective clothing, Christians can show compassion and aid to the sick without contracting the disease. This was something ancient Christians had to contend with, they had to take plague victims – with their ravaged bodies and putrid smells – and embrace them, give them food and water, and care for them, all the while exposing themselves to the disease. If immanent death wasn’t enough to prevent the ancient Christians from embracing the sick and dying, what excuse do we have in the modern era when through basic preventative measures we can reduce the chances of catching a disease? If the love of Christ is the most powerful element in all of creation, if it is the cause of creation, then sickness and death shouldn’t strike fear so easily into the heart of a believer.

Ultimately, Christians are called to bring life into a dying world. Those who suffer from any plague are often alone (to prevent the spread of the disease). As they suffer and die no one is there for them. The call is for Christians to be there for them, to give them hope in the final minutes of their lives. We cannot do this if we, like the world, fear death more than is normal. Yes, death is feared for the normal reasons of missing loved ones, pain, suffering, and the like. But death is temporary. Just as a fetus might fear the pain of birth, of going into the unknown, so too do we fear death; but like birth, death is merely a launching point into the next stage of life. We do not seek out death before its due time, but we ought not fear it to the point that it prevents us from displaying our love. For should we allow death to dictate who receives our mercy and love, we allow death to triumph over life.

Within the Pangs of a Dying World or, The Hope of Sabbath

DSC01993St. Augustine’s City of God stands as a centerpiece within the annals of Western Christianity. One can easily say that within City of God Christianity officially moved West and became a type of its own brand, away from the prolific East (I leave it up to the reader to decide whether that is a good or bad thing). What is often ignored in the many debates caused by Augustine’s is the backdrop to why he wrote the book. The Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 – a relatively tame sacking comparatively speaking – causing panic and uproar within the Roman Empire. It would be akin to a foreign army of untrained soldiers attacking New York City after defeating the US military to get there; the shock would be beyond belief. Augustine was writing to the suffering inflicted, but to promise them that though violence may reign now, peace holds eternity (hence his title, “City of God”).

As I type this, millions of people around the world are suffering. One of the greatest realities of suffering, and possibly its saddest, is that the majority of these people are children. An estimated 1-3 million children worldwide die from malnutrition and starvation every single year, and that number is actually down from just a few decades ago. Of course, much of the malnutrition and disease is a side effect of manmade wars. In Syria alone, millions of people are displaced, and this is not to mention the ongoings in Iraq. In this violent upheaval families are displaced, they mourn the loss of those closest to them, the most unfortunate being the lone survivors of a narrow escape, the ones who live with survivor’s guilt.

Of course, I speak of survivors as though one can survive violence; the thing about violence is that what it cannot extract from the body it will most certainly rob from the soul. We think of soldiers coming back from a war with a “thousand yard stare.” Even soldiers in the most justified of wars are still casualties of that war in a way, having seen things no one ought to see. We don’t even need to go to foreign lands to see the impact of violence and PTSD; occupying the headlines are tales of various NFL players abusing loved ones (and sometimes loved ones defending the abuse), of college campuses having to define rape – a violent act – because apparently somehow rape is ambiguous. That we even have to define that “no means no” (contra Rush Limbaugh) shows that we live in a violent culture, even if we have to hide our violence behind sexuality.

The Western world feels like something is underfoot, that we’re on the verge of collapse. It’s as though we’re simply awaiting the Visigoths to arrive and send our world into a tailspin, as the modern day barbarians of al-Qaeda and ISIL have already done in the Middle East. With the events in the Middle East quickly getting out of hand, Russia’s not-so-secret invasion of the Ukraine (as well as flying its bombers near Swedish and US airspace), the fact that South America has quietly become the most violent region in the world, sub-Saharan Africa on the brink of another genocide, and the seemingly weakening social structure of Europe, it is a wonder that more people have yet to embrace nihilism. Considering the status of the United States is only worse as its infrastructure is falling apart, its middle class might go extinct long before the polar bear, its police are becoming more and more violent against citizens (all while most citizens capitulate out of necessity), and “Land of the Free” is used more for irony than patriotic statements.  Continue reading

In the Wake of Love, Hopelessness Disappears

IMG_0813The vast rat race of modern life

Have we all bought into the lie

Money makes you happy, so find success

Acquire all the money you want, then die


Death is the great equalizer of us all

Something that transcends race and class

We cannot escape its omnipresent grasp

We cannot overcome, nor can we surpass


What then do we live for

Why continue if the edge is our end

What is the glory of wealth

If hope it cannot land


And what of happiness on a September day

If tomorrow it shall rain

Life is more than the moment

For it all culminates to be vain


Do we pass on forever in our children

But they too succumb to eternal rest

Our children’s children will one day cease

The hope of life a cruel jest


And of the bond between lovers

A tale more fiction than fact

For all lovers end through choice or death

If two become one eventually one will subtract


Live for the moment I hear you say

But what of when the moment passes

In the quiet dark when reality appears

When the fear of our end amasses


Or do you ignore such questions

Do you push forward deaf to silence

Are you a mindless animal

To reason you must recompense


To ask these questions I ask

To face the world with fear

Not about survival, but about life

This differentiates us from animals, it’s clear


O stupefied and simple man

How easily you are led astray

Distracted by things of decay and rust

You ignore the night and no longer appreciate the day


We fill ourselves with drugs

To push away well-founded anxiety

For what are we in a sea of atoms

What more are we if not concentrated energy


What does it matter if I die today

What is gained if death awaits ’till tomorrow

I am but one life in an existence of billions

In my death or yours the universe does not sorrow


But what of beauty in this world

Of sunsets, lovers, and manmade art

Surely this is what we live for

This is found at the center of the heart


To this I emphatically say no

For what is beautiful shall not persist

The young vixen, the Rembrandt, the cathedral

All will fail and nothing now shall subsist


What of the form of beauty

Is this not eternal, for what we strive

What worth of an empty, mindless form

Why, for this, should I survive


Why, then, do we continue to avoid death

This all-too-natural unnatural reality

For what purpose do we live

Lest all actions be mere vanity


Perhaps we continue on in the name of love

Not mere romance, but something grander

But should the universe collapse on itself

Would not also love capitulate and surrender


Or is love beyond the realm of the seen

Could it be that love is the true reality

All now merely shadows, a simulacrum

And love directs us toward an eternity


If what we see is all we have

Then there is no point to this life

But if there is more, an unseen extravagance

Perhaps there is meaning to this strife


This love cannot be a mindless force

For then it could not be love, no intention

It must be intelligible and full of vivacity

Yet so vast a mystery, one without definition


This love must be our object of desire

Our Penelope on the odyssey of being

To run from this love the beginning of misery

Avoiding a contentment that sex and money cannot bring


We shall die and decay, but love live on

This love will rescue us from the grave

It will descend to any depths

For there is no soul it will not save


Our moments suddenly matter enveloped in love

For they shall continue forever and ever

Love will keep us and protect us

And seek us, to the end’s, wherever


Though my soul shall crumble to the abyss

And life collapse and tumble down the slope

I shall no more fear the darkness

In the arms of love I find hope


To the abyss love will find me

Love will break open the gates of death

The end of all shall be reversed

As love breathes a life-giving breath


Let meaninglessness win the day now

But let not death control history

There is more to life than our senses

Let love reign today, for love has eternal victory