Thursday, March 31, 2005

Death of Heaven and life with Christ

I was writing a long post on the Schiavo matter just as the BBC announced Terri Schiavo has died.

Death with unction and with penance,
Death with joy and with forgiveness,
Death without horror or repulsion,
Death without fear or shrinking.

Dying the death of the saints,
Thy Healer of your soul by your side,
The death of peace and tranquility,
And grant to you a good day of burial.

The seven angels of the Holy Spirit
And two attendant angels
Be shielding you, and be this night the night
Till brightness and summer-tide shall come!


Thou goest home this night to thy home of winter,
To thy home of autumn, of spring, and of summer;
Thou goest home this night to thy perpetual home,
To thine eternal bed, to thine eternal slumber.

Sleep thou, sleep, and away with thy sorrow,
Sleep thou, sleep, and away with thy sorrow,
Sleep thou, sleep, and away with thy sorrow;
Sleep, thou beloved, in the Rock of the fold.

Sleep this night in the breast of thy Mother,
Sleep, thou beloved, while she herself soothes thee;
Sleep thou this night on the Virgin's arm,
Sleep, thou beloved, while she herself kisses thee.

The great sleep of Jesus, the surpassing sleep of Jesus,
The sleep of Jesus' wound, the sleep of Jesus' grief,
The young sleep of Jesus, the restoring sleep of Jesus,
The sleep of the kiss of Jesus of peace and of glory.

The sleep of the seven lights be thine, beloved,
The sleep of the seven joys be thine, beloved,
The sleep of the seven slumbers be thine, beloved,
On the arm of the Jesus of blessings, the Christ of grace.

The shade of death lies upon thy face, beloved,
But the Jesus of grace has His hand round about thee;
In nearness to the Trinity farewell to thy pains,
Christ stands before thee and peace is in His mind.

Sleep, O sleep in the calm of all calm,
Sleep, O sleep in the guidance of guidance,
Sleep, O sleep in the love of all loves;
Sleep, O beloved, in the Lord of life,
Sleep, O beloved, in the God of life!

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

"The time has come for a dispassionate discharge of duty"

The 11th Circuit has now denied the petition for rehearing (referenced in the post below) en banc, and while it did so without a majority opinion, the special concurring opinion is interesting if only for the stirring language used. Some excerpts:

BIRCH, Circuit Judge, specially concurring:

I concur in the denial of rehearing en banc in this case because any further action by our court or the district court, would be improper, as I explain below.

An axiom in the study of law is that "hard facts make bad law." The tragic events that have afflicted Mrs. Schiavo and that have been compounded by the resulting passionate inter-family struggle and media focus certainly qualify as "hard facts." And, while the members of her family and the members of Congress have acted in a way that is both fervent and sincere, the time has come for dispassionate discharge of duty.

A popular epithet directed by some members of society, including some members of Congress, toward the judiciary involves the denunciation of "activist judges." Generally, the defmition of an "activist judge" is one who decides the outcome of a controversy before him according to personal conviction, even one sincerely held, as opposed to the dictates of the law as constrained by legal precedent and, ultimately, our Constitution. In resolving the Schiavo controversy it is my judgment that, despite sincere and altruistic motivation, the legislative and executive branches of our government have acted in a manner demonstrably at odds with our Founding Fathers' blueprint for the governance of a free people-our Constitution.



The separation of powers implicit in our constitutional design was created ''to assure, as nearly as possible, that each branch of government would confine itself to its assigned responsibility." INS, 462 U.S. at 951, 103 S. Ct. at 2784. But when the fervor of political passions moves the Executive and the Legislative branches to act in ways inimical to basic constitutional principles, it is the duty of the judiciary to intervene. If sacrifices to the independence of the judiciary are permitted today, precedent is established for the constitutional transgressions of tomorrow. See New York 505 U.S. at 187, 112 S. Ct. at 2434. Accordingly, we must conscientiously guard the independence of our judiciary and safeguard the Constitution, even in the face of the unfathomable human tragedy that has befallen Mrs. Schiavo and her family and the recent events related to her plight which have troubled the consciences of many. Realizing this duty, I conclude that Pub. L. 109-3 is an unconstitutional infringement on core tenets underlying our constitutional system. Had Congress or the Florida legislature, in their legislative capacities, been able to constitutionally amend applicable law, we would have been constrained to apply that law. See Robertson v. Seattle Audobon SOC'y, 503 U.S. 429, 441, 112 S. Ct. 1407, 1414 (1992). By opting to pass Pub. L. 109-3 instead, however, Congress chose to overstep constitutional boundaries into the province of the Judiciary. Such an Act cannot be countenanced.
One other point, on the issue of 'evidence.' Court opinions can be good places for finding a summation of the facts that is clear, concise, and competent. Unfortunately, few reporters seem interested, or perhaps capable, of doing that much reading. In the other concurring opinion to this decision, two justices quote from Florida's Second District Court of Appeal, which, they note, "did carefully review the record and determined that the question the trial court decided:

was whether Theresa Marie Schindler Schiavo, not after a few weeks in a coma, but after ten years in a persistent vegetative state that has robbed her of most of her cerebrum and all but the most instinctive of neurological functions, with no hope of a medical cure but with sufficient money and strength of body to live indefinitely, would choose to continue the constant nursing care and the supporting tubes in hopes that a miracle would somehow recreate her missing brain tissue, or whether she would wish to permit a natural death process to take its course and for her family members and loved ones to be free to continue their lives. After due consideration we conclude that the trial judge had clear and convincing evidence to answer this question as he did.
And that, in the end, is what this legal case is about.

An Eye for an Eye....

Speaking of the Schindlers, James Wolcott has a post up that truly disturbs me. The more I think about it, the more it sounds like the rationale of extremism.

Wolcott's point is to critique the handling of this matter by the pundits, which criticism is fair enough. Pundits tend to be pack animals, and it is easier to sympathize with the patient and the parents fighting to keep her alive, than with the husband fighting to remove life support. Pundits, especially on television, simply don't handle nuance very well. But when Wolcott supports his argument by quoting Steve Gilliard's comments on the Schindlers, it moves into treacherous territory.

Not because the Schindlers are above reproach, but for a more fundamental reason, one connected to the very foundation of ethics: do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. A good idea when it is applied to you; not a good idea, when you turn it into a club with which to beat others.

Because the essence of what Gilliard says, is that the Schindlers don't deserve our sympathy, or our consideration, based on the way they have acted. They have, in other words, put themselves beyond the limited reach of our consideration, a consideration wholly bounded by: "What have you done for me, lately?" Or, more accurately: "What have you done to earn my respect lately?" To quote Wolcott quoting Gilliard: "Sayeth Steve Gilliard: 'You know I want to sympathize with them, but at every turn, they do something even sleazier and more revolting. They should have stopped the children from being arrested. That hurt them. Badly. Then Mary Schindler's creepy appeal tonight to "have her daughter". She was a married woman. Not her property. Now, the sale of the [online donor] list and the allegations of abuse...'"

These are not unfair criticisms. What is unfair, however, is using them as a basis for deciding who is, and who is not, deserving of ethical treatment, of consideration as human beings. It's a meme that gets repeated, around the internet if nowhere else, but it is one that has no place in ethical discourse, or an ethical society. The theme gets used a lot on "trolls," which usually comes to mean people who don't conform to the groupthink of the thread, as much as to people who simply want to disrupt a thread. But that's a small enough forum that its use can be excused, even if it can also be condmened. In the larger forum of the "blogosphere," different considerations should apply. Not just because it is an ethical question; but also because ignoring ethics cheapens the public discourse; and that discourse is already cheap enough, without further contributions.

The fundamental fairness of ethics is that all are treated equally, despite their individual behavior. If we replace that fundamental position with one of "And what have you done to earn my favor", well, it's not even a slippery slope any more: it's 90 degrees straight down to hell.

To be fair, of course, Steve Gilliard is free not to sympathize with the Schindlers if he chooses, and equally free to choose the basis for withdrawing his sympathy. Further, neither Mr. Gilliard nor Mr. Wolcott seems to be talking about ethics; they are concerned only with establishing the basis for their public sympathies, or lack thereof, in this case. But how we act, and why, are fundamentally ethical questions. And whenever we displace ethics with sympathy, morality with empathy, and begin to decide our actions and then justify them on the basis of what we simply feel, we start down the slippery slope toward a toothless and blind society.

It may be satisfying to take public potshots at such public (and publicly unpleasant) persons as the Schindlers. But it generates more heat than light, more sympathy for not thinking than for thinking clearly, and lowers the level of discourse all around. It may seem inconvenient to take ethics into account in such circumstances; but it is, at the very least, responsible.

"It ain't over 'til it's over"

The parents of Terri Schiavo have been granted a chance to petition the federal courts one last time. Ironically, they are using the very grounds Congress tried to exclude when it gave the Federal Courts jurisdiction:

The petition, submitted by Schindler attorney David Gibbs, said the federal judges who rejected previous efforts to have Schiavo's feeding tube reinserted violated a Supreme Court precedent that requires them to consider the full record of the case, not just procedural history from the state court.
The statute gave the Federal courts the power to review this matter de novo, meaning from the beginning. The clear intent was to force the Federal courts to start proceedings anew with new evidentiary hearings, hearings that would all but require that Terri Schiavo be kept alive until the matter could be fully adjudicated in a second court system. In this way, Congress clearly hoped to sidestep the criticism that it was giving the Federal courts "super-appellate" powers in this case alone. But the law did not give the Schindlers any new legal grounds on which to pursue their case, so they had to fall back on the state court proceedings.

And now, relying still on that law to give the federal courts jurisdiction, they are claiming that the Federal courts failed to fully review the state court proceedings. In other words, the courts have failed to act as a super-appellate court after all.

"The district court reviewed only the procedural history and the results of the litigation in the state court, not the evidence adduced in the state court proceedings," the petition said.

The attorney argued that he could prove to the federal court that "the 'evidence' supporting Terri's alleged wishes is not credible, and that a reasonable fact finder would hold -- under any standard of proof -- that her wishes were to the contrary."
In other words, the District court, like an appellate court, must consider the evidentiary record, and rule on its sufficiency. It must, contrary to Congressional intent (perhaps), act as if this were an appeal, not a trial de novo.

It's a desperate legal move, and how much of a hearing this will even get is a close question. What has happened so far is simply a procedural move by the Appellate Court. They've allowed the filing of the petition after the deadline. They haven't agreed to even hear the matter. But this shows just how warped out of shape the system can be when it is bent to suit the needs of one family, no matter what their situation is. Is this what Congress intended, foresaw, expected? It no longer matters: it is in the hands of the Court system now. Fortunately, they are wiser about their system than Congress has proven to be; but that means only that we have another safeguard, not that "the system worked." What Congress intended, clearly, was to bypass the system, just this one time. That their intent was blocked, so far, simply means the system was lucky.

Lucky for us, too.

Does this mean I can blame Social Security?

According to this really interesting story from NPR this morning, Social Security virtually invented retirement in this country.

The short version is that people didn’t earn enough in their lifetime to consider retiring and living on their savings, and most simply worked until they died. In the 1920’s, the idea began to take hold that something should be done to encourage 65 year olds to retire, to make room for young employees. This gave rise, slowly, to pension plans (to encourage retirement, partly because young employees were cheaper), and finally to Roosevelt’s Social Security plan (which was to serve the same purpose, but on a uniform, national level, and as a response to the unemployment of the Great Depression). FDR also saw it as a way to pump money into the economy by making retirees consumers with money to spend, rather than simply burdens on their children (which is what happened to those who lived long enough not to be able to work anymore).

Eventually this gave rise to a class of people with money to spend on travel, etc. (although, if memory serves, that actually burgeoned in the 70’s, and 80’s, or even later), and contributed to the notion that “old people” should be able to both live longer, and enjoy life “after work.” Which, in turn, supported geriatric medicine and research.

Which brings us to the state of the church in America, today. It is, in large measure, divided along generational lines. In Protestant churches in particular, this is both inevitable and unfortunate. But it has less to do with the aging population, than with the nature of Protestantism.

Hard to adequately encapsulate 2000 years of Christian church history into a paragraph or two, but essentially, modern scholarship understands that Christianity began as, and was intended as, a marginal movement; not one aimed at the power structure of society, but at those at the margins. Paul had less to do with the eventual shift than is widely imagined; it actually had much more to do with the conversion of Constantine (and the human desire to keep the whole business going by giving it some stability. The problem with the margins is that they are inherently unstable. But that’s a theological issue for another time.). When Constantine converted to Christianity, much of the state quickly followed; not out of a sudden conviction and conversion, but out of expediency. By the mid-19th century Søren Kierkegaard would condemn this as “Christendom,” a state in which people adopt Christian beliefs because of society, not because of personal conviction. But that gets ahead of the story.

As the church struggled to establish itself (and almost immediately abandon the radical egalitarian roots of the church described in Acts), it went through many changes, finally settling into one dominant Christian church in the West, the Roman Catholic church (I told you we’d be compressing like mad here). That church dominated Europe and didn’t have to worry much about conforming to the culture after a certain point, because ultimately it was the culture (I recognize I’m speaking very broadly here. Bear with me). The Protestant Reformation of Luther was fueled in large measure as a reaction to that culture, brought about by changes in European society as massive as the 19th century Industrial Revolution, and as sweeping. Luther meant only to reform the Catholic church, but what he proclaimed resonated with a culture ripe for new forms of church and worship, and Calvin and Zwingli, among others, soon championed whole new beginnings apart from any sense of “reformation” of the Church of Rome. It is that resonance with the culture of the time that most interests me here.

Protestantism began, in other words, as a cultural movement. The Roman church had long since established its institutional culture, and while the shift away from dominance was anything but clean and easy, it was eventually done. Protestantism, however, depended heavily on the culture for its own structure and identity. It was no accident that Calvin, for example, set out to enact the very “City of God” Augustine had merely envisioned as a pedagogical and evangelical argument. It is also no coincidence that Luther found so much support among the German princes. Without them, he would have died early and all but unnoticed. With them, he built a new church, as did Calvin; as did Zwingli; as did others. But those churches owed much to the cultures in which they arose. They did not shape them, so much as they were shaped by them.

And in the very nature of Protestantism, those new churches quickly shook off the idea of central control. Identity was formed, not by a hierarchy of priests and bishops, but by the “priesthood of all believers.” And those believers had definite ideas about what God wanted, based on what their particular culture valued. And, in large (and again, very broad) measure, the whole thing ran on wheels; until World War II.

I’ll have to leave it there, and return to this topic in the next post, a bit later on. Where this leads, eventually, is to why there is a "generation gap" among many of the Protestant churches. Sorry to leave you hanging, but these narrow columns are hard enough to read without jamming an essay’s worth of text into them.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Continuing Unscientific Postscript

Following up unexpectedly on the post below, a pastoral colleaque sends me an e-mail (he's been sending them through Lent, to a lot of people), that tells me that he "caught a promo of a news item" about "a candle maker who was selling scented candles with the essence or smell of Jesus." Obviously: "One can not help but wonder what smell he put into the candle that is from Jesus," and, as my colleaque points out: "it sounds--at least on the surface--that there is one more person trying to get rich off Jesus. It sounds as if one more person forgot the lesson of the money changers in the temple. Prayerfully, we won't be among those who ... forget."

There is always a bottom, and at the bottom, someone with a shovel.

"It's Money that Matters...."

I started this rant over at Eschaton, but realized it was something I wanted to say something about, even though it is very "inside baseball." It began with this, from Professor Wombat:
That's why docs tend to circle the wagons rather than welcome the outside world. It's sad, really. They isolate themselves. And that's not why the best of them went into medicine, and that's not what most people want in a doctor.
Sadly, this analysis is not limited to doctors. It has become a commonplace of caregivers (and perhaps this is where it can be universalized) that money is what matters in the relationship; that price and value and cost and expense, have come to rule everything in ways that are absolutely shredding some of the fabric of our society. In short, we really do put profits above people; and, as much as we deny it, we continue to do it.

I know from my own experience that Protestant ministers face the same pressures as doctors. As their congregations shrink, their denominations, through whatever judicatory they have, press the pastors for more money (which aging churches cannot produce, for obvious reasons). This presses the pastors, who feel they must "compete" for parishioners. This pressure comes not just from the judicatories, but from the congregation as well, and from the culture.

The "mega-church" is, everyone "knows," the new model for the institution of the church. It is the sign of the "new Reformation" that even the most traditional Protestants think we have to embrace if "church" is to survive. (I have a good friend who is wiser than this. A pastor since he graduated seminary, at the same time I took my first graduate degree, he knows the future of the church is in congregations, not in judicatories or "mega-churches." He counts the number of such churches he has seen rise and fall in his time in ministry; while the small churches he pastors continue year after year, decade after decade, and sometimes past the century mark). It is well known, at least among church professionals, that mega-churches lose as many members as they attract; that the reason they spend so much on billboards and TV ads and broadcast, is that they need the money coming in from fresh pockets to pay for the billboards and the TV ads and the broadcasts. It's a vicious circle, but a profitable one, at least for a few.

But I was speaking of the isolation of the pastor: faced with the decline of congregations, and the likelihood that her church is dominated by people of retirement age, such churches face a "generation gap," an idea society left behind in the '60's, but one the churches continue to struggle with. When Mom and Dad still want to dominate and control "their" church, their children tend to leave church, or find another church. The younger church may or may not thrive financially (the "builder" generation is known for its generosity; the "boomer" generation for its stinginess), but both lose a great deal from the division. Some pastors are permitted to straddle that divide; some are not. And still the judicatory wants the money.

And so pastors wind up isolated. Their "work" is measured more and more by how many programs they implement, how many members they visit in homes and hospitals, how often they are at church when the doors are opened. Time to work with pastoral colleagues is limited; and every pastor has her hands full with the needs, demands, worries, and pressures of her congregation. Which is not thriving; or is not thriving enough; or is thriving too much. One of the problems of modern society is the breakdown of community, a situation T.S Eliot identified in the 1920's (in the "Choruses from 'The Rock'"), so it isn't new. But with that breakdown, the pressure is on the church to provide "community" where neighborhoods and cities don't, any longer. And it is a burden that falls, more and more, on the pastor. Who must keep the institution alive, keep it thriving, or surely be blamed for its struggle.

Because the only model for church now, is the business model: new members = "success." Falling membership = "failure." Whether or not the members actually give money is not even important; whether or not they come to church is often not even important (too many new faces! too many new people!). In fact, if money is a problem, that's the pastors fault, too. Her "job" is to inspire the congregation to give. If they don't feel so moved, why should they feel responsible? Which further isolates the pastor, until he becomes a football coaches without a football teams (because everybody wants to sit in the stands, nobody wants to play the game; they'd all rather watch you play).

Sociologist describe this as a group phenomenon: it takes less energy to be a member of the Church of Belonging than to be a member of the Church of Meaning and Belonging. Being social creatures, belonging obviously pays easy dividends to us; but belonging only if we acquire meaning requires effort, and quickly becomes too much effort. Far easier to belong, than to mean.

So pastors go into ministry because of meaning; but find the institution is all about belonging. They go into ministry to be part of the world, and find out the congregation is only interested in preserving their own bell-jar world. These things are not always or wholly true, but they are true enough, and wide-spread enough to be accurate. And the pressure now, more and more, comes from money. Churches are always a reflection of their culture, and American culture is all about money, and not much about anything else. Why can't we care for our elderly and retired? Money? Why can't we provide adequate healthcare to all? Money? Why do politicians hold onto office for a lifetime? Money. Are churches about bearing witness to the good news and being places of comfort and community to anyone who enters? Or are they about money?

Some questions answer themselves.*

*no, it isn't this simple, and yes, concluding that way is satisfying, but a cheap shot; and yes, there are remedies. But the problem lies in the culture, not just in the institutions. Consider this an opening toward developing a further line of discussion.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Where have you gone, Elliot Ness?

It's a completely idle reflection, but I was thinking about the nature of corruption in government this morning. A BBC World Service report on some African (I think) country (I was driving, and half-listening), concluded with a statement that the people of the country were apparenlty "fed up" with the corruption in the government, and were voting to do something about it.

The word jumped out at me, broke my reverie, and I realized how casually "corruption" is connected with foreign governments (even the BBC does it!). But it is seldom mentioned in connection with "Western" governments: European, American, Australian. But Central American, South American, African, Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian? Why, it's practically welded to the word "government." But what is corruption?

Is warping the fabric of the constitutional system of government for the sake of one otherwise unknown woman and cheap political theater, corruption? Is illegally detaining thousands of persons in violation of all known laws, national, state, international, what-have-you, corruption? Is tacitly (if not actively) condoning torture and prisoner abuse, corruption? Is ignoring the clear ruling of the highest courts, corruption? Rigging elections, undermining the vote process, trampling international law and ignoring treaties; is that corruption?

When do we decide a government is "corrupt," and on what basis? Cronyism? What of Halliburton, then? Favoritism to constituents, however minor numerically or politically they are? The parents of Terri Schiavo. Turning government over wholesale to a handful of plutocrats? Social Security reform. Suspension of environmental regulations. Re-writing of environmental regulations.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

When is a government corrupt? Is it in the definition of "corruption"? Or in the eye of the beholder? Are "they" corrupt, while we merely have "partisanship," "disagreements about the course of government," "differing interpretations of what the law requires"?

Remember that "shining city on a hill"? It wasn't a symbol of corruption. But it's certainly a reflection of what we should be, and a measure of what we are.

Addendum: As I was saying.

Tsunami Warning: 03/28/05

from Washington Post:

An 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck late Monday off Indonesia's Sumatra Island in the Andaman Sea, the U.S. Geological Survey said.


The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a warning that the quake could generate a "widely destructive tsunami" and urged authorities to take immediate action, including evaculation of coastal areas.

Prayer (from Carmina Gadelica)

Relieve Thou, O God, each one
In suffering on land or sea,
In grief or wounded or weeping,
And lead them to the house of Thy peace
This night.

I am weary, weak and cold,
I am weary of travelling land and sea,
I am weary of traversing moorland and billow,
Grant me peace in the nearness of Thy repose
This night.

Beloved Father of my God,
Accept the caring for my tears;
I would wish reconcilement with Thee,
Through the witness and the ransom
Of Thy Son;

To be resting with Jesus
In the dwelling of peace,
In the paradise of gentleness,
In the fairy-bower
Of mercy.

Jarndyce v. Jarndyce

As I've said, with regard to the legal issues in the Schiavo case: it wouldn't have mattered if Terri Schiavo had left behind a piece of paper. At no point in 7 years did any court ever agree with the Schindler's position, or reject Michael Schiavo's position. Not once. In other words, from the first ruling by the first court, Terri Schiavo had effectively made an "end of life" decision.

It made no difference. And that controversy could now be codified into law:

The Republican-controlled House already passed a bill that would allow the federal courts to review cases like Ms. Schiavo's, in which the patient has left no written instructions, the family is at odds and state courts have ordered a feeding tube to be withdrawn. That bill evolved into one that was narrowly tailored to Ms. Schiavo.

Now some Democrats, prodded by advocates for the disabled, say Congress should consider whether such a law is needed.

"I think we should look into this and very possibly legislate it," said Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, who opposed Congressional action in the Schiavo case. Mr. Frank was speaking on Sunday on the ABC News program "This Week With George Stephanopoulos." Mr. Frank added: "I think Congress needs to do more. Because I've spoken with a lot of disability groups who are concerned that, even where a choice is made to terminate life, it might be coerced by circumstances."
'Who decides?', was the issue being fought out in the Schiavo case. Now will it literally become a federal matter? Now will it become a question litigated even if papers were signed, witnessed, and hermetically sealed in a mayonnaise jar?

Litigation is always possible. The Schiavo case shows the lengths to which people will go over this issue. It could have been just an aberration. It looks like it might become more than that.

We need an ethic of death. Another set of laws, only means another set of legal problems.

Addendum: Watertiger unfortunately doesn't provide a link to the original, but I'm happy to link to her, anyway.

A few choice comments from those who would make new law:

"What Congress did, it seems to me, was not all that extraordinary," said Mitch McConnell, one of the Senate's top Republicans, on the Fox News Sunday program. He likened the lawmakers' intervention to the sort of judicial review that routinely takes place in death penalty cases.

"What we simply did was grant to the courts an opportunity to review the case -- something they do in habeas corpus petitions in death penalty cases all the time," he said adding, that at any rate, Republicans were no more culpable than Democrats in passing the legislation.

"One thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to elevate the visibility of what's going on in America," DeLay told a meeting of the Family Research Council earlier this month.

"We have to do everything that is in our power to save Terri Schiavo and anybody else that may be in this kind of position," he said.

Representative Dave Weldon of Florida, one of the chief Republican backers of the Schiavo bill, blamed the media for the public's opposition, and said that on the "issue of life ... we, as conservatives, are always fighting an uphill battle.

"We have the media totally against us. The arguments are always presented in the headlines in language that works against us," he said on ABC television.
Given the atmosphere, perhaps Congress should just leave this alone.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter Evening


Isaiah 25:6-9

25:6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.

25:7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.

25:8 Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.

25:9 It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Psalm 114

114:1 When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,

114:2 Judah became God's sanctuary, Israel his dominion.

114:3 The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back.

114:4 The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs.

114:5 Why is it, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back?

114:6 O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs?

114:7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the God of Jacob,

114:8 who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.

1 Corinthians 5:6b-8

5:6b Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?

5:7 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.

5:8 Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Luke 24:13-49

24:13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,

24:14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.

24:15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,

24:16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

24:17 And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad.

24:18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?"

24:19 He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,

24:20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.

24:21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.

24:22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,

24:23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.

24:24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him."

24:25 Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!

24:26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?"

24:27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

24:28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.

24:29 But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them.

24:30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

24:31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

24:32 They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?"

24:33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.

24:34They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!"

24:35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

24:36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."

24:37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.

24:38He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?

24:39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."

24:40 and when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

24:41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?"

24:42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish,

24:43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

24:44 Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you--that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled."

24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,

24:46 and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,

24:47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

24:48You are witnesses of these things.

24:49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

Easter Sunday

Christos aneste!

Jeremiah 31:1-6

31:1 At that time, says the LORD, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.

31:2 Thus says the LORD: The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest,

31:3 the LORD appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

31:4 Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.

31:5 Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit.

31:6 For there shall be a day when sentinels will call in the hill country of Ephraim: "Come, let us go up to Zion, to the LORD our God."

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

118:1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!

118:2 Let Israel say, "His steadfast love endures forever."

118:14 The LORD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.

118:15 There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: "The right hand of the LORD does valiantly;

118:16 the right hand of the LORD is exalted; the right hand of the LORD does valiantly."

118:17 I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.

118:18 The LORD has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death.

118:19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.

118:20 This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.

118:21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.

118:22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

118:23 This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.

118:24 This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Colossians 3:1-4

3:1 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

3:2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,

3:3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

3:4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

John 20:1-18

20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.

20:2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."

20:3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.

20:4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.

20:5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.

20:6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,

20:7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.

20:8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;

20:9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

20:10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

20:11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;

20:12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.

20:13 They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."

20:14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

20:15 Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."

20:16 Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher).

20:17 Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

20:18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

"To conquer death, you only have to die...."--Tim Rice

The "Terri Schiavo problem" is not over. It will merely go back to being private, to being personal; it will move out of the public eye again, and the ethics of the issue will fade. Or they will be debated in the simplistic terms of "Individual Right to life" v. "Individual Quality of life." Which isn't the debate at all; the debate is not about life, or when it begins. It is about death, and when death begins.

"Life," the sage told the king, is a mystery. It is like a bird that flies into your hall out of the storm, and flies across the room, through the noise and the lights and the gaiety and above the crowd, and then flies out again, through the opposite window, back into the storm. And where it came from, and where it went, we do not know. Until the years after World War II, and the discovery of antibiotics, we accepted life and death on those terms. Now we demand life, and we deny death. We insist that death be hindered, blocked, obstructed, and postponed, as long as possible. We have become as gods, with a power of life no generation has ever known before. But we still are not good at it. We still cannot make the decisions in foresight, only in hindsight. Would it have been better if Terri Schiavo had never been revived? This much we know about brain injuries: a loss of oxygen is not one the brain recovers from. But how much loss, and how much damage? We only know in hindsight. So how do we decide?

“ ‘Curse the day someone said ‘A child is born!’ ” That has long been our standard, in the negative: Job’s cri de coeur from the midst of his pain and horror; a wish to never have been born, rather than to suffer such anguish. But “man is born to suffer as surely as sparks shoot.” If eliminating suffering were indeed the highest purpose of life, the country would be chock-a-block with suicide clubs and euthanasia centers. It is not that simple. It is never that plain.

The questions here are the most fundamental possible: what is life? What is death? When does one, turn into the other? It used to be easy to tell. And then a wave of stories of premature burials swept 19th century America (at least); brought on no doubt by infections and diseases that reduced people to death-like states, but did not take them quite yet away. And now we have technology: respirators, feeding tubes; dialysis machines: all manner of replacing the ordinary functions with extraordinary functions; and we don’t know what to do with our new toys. The medical term “persistent vegetative state” only entered the medical vocabulary 30 years ago. Before that, there was no need to define it, because people in such a state died too quickly. Now we find it easy to keep the body alive; but the mind? Is there are mind at all is a fundamental question of materialist philosophy. Is it merely neurons and synapses and a rapid spray of impressions so complex and compelling it “seems” to be consciousness, the way the screen in front of me, and you, both of us reading these words, seems to be stable. Materialism may give us the ability to postpone the final breath almost to infinity, but can it give us “life into the ages”? That has been the promise made to Western culture for two millennia now, and we are anxious for its fulfillment.

Anxious, but uncertain about what we face. Sleep, a little rest, and then awake refreshed for eternity? Is death even a power, a thing, a “part of life”? Or is it just the end of the body? If the latter, then surely the longer we keep the body alive, the more good we produce. Yet clearly that is not so. What, then, is death? A crossing? A doorway, a passage, a bridge between life and….? We don’t know. And that is why we stay afraid, and uncertain, and beat drums and cry tears and howl rages and sometimes refuse to go gentle, sometimes refuse to go at all.

The irony is, this was not possible until medical technology and materialism made it possible. And the very philosophy that makes it so, denies that there is a problem to be concerned about. “My death; is it possible?” (Jacques Derrida) To the materialist, the empiricist, the positivist, the question is absurd. Of course “your” death is possible; it is even inevitable. But what does it mean to say “mine,” or “yours.” Is death something I can possess? Let me give it away then, and own it no more! Is death mine alone, personal, wholly existential and unknown to anyone else? Funerals and the circus surrounding Terri Schiavo’s existence prove that wrong. If death can be said to be “yours” as well as “mine,” what are we talking about? A thing, an object, an idea? All can be subject to possession, materially or at law. But is that what we mean by death?

The resurrection brings these questions into focus, too; but it doesn’t answer them, either. It, too, is personal, we say. Certainly belief in it is personal; understanding of it is personal; acceptance of it, is personal. At the end of Mark’s gospel, the earliest in the canon, Mary of Magdala, and Mary mother of James (and Jesus), and Salome, come to the tomb, and find it empty, and the angel tells them they will see Jesus in Galilee. But they run away, scared almost literally to death. By Luke’s gospel, Jesus appears in a different guise, and is only recognized when he wants to be, and seems to appear and vanish at will. John’s gospel is at great pains to make Jesus whole, not a ghost: he cooks and eats fish; Thomas touches his wounds. But Jesus appears in a locked room, and vanishes, and is clearly no longer wholly human. What mystery is this? How do we accept this, possess it, grasp it with out understanding? At least three ways are offered, and none of them exclusive.

Is death the end of physical activity? Is that all we are, the sum of our actions, and so long as some activity can be maintained, we are alive? To end that, surely, is to perform an execution. To remove wind, or food, or water; those things we can supply, can do for a body that finds any one, or all of them, no longer possible. Is this the promised “life into the ages”? And if it is not, how do we know when that life comes?

I have turned these matters over in my mind, and, in the words of the narrator of the novel The Good Soldier, it is all a darkness. It is all a darkness because too much is taken for granted, too little explained, and appearance determines all. Terri Schiavo cannot communicate. Is she dead, or alive? She can feel pain, respond to “noxious stimuli.” Animal reflex; or consciousness of agony? Is that consciousness momentary, perpetual, or non-existent. Is she, like the Sybil hanging in the cage, trying to tell us: “I want to die”? It is all a darkness. These are things we cannot know. But we have to decide; and we have to have a basis, on which to decide.

Tomorrow I will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, the man of Nazareth. I do not quite know what these things mean, but I know they are true, and they can be trusted. I do not quite know what life means, either; or if death is a thing, or simply the end of activities we call functions necessary to sustain life. If the latter, then death is almost wholly in our control, and while we cannot create life, we can create and control death; and we are as god, or at least demi-gods. So I think death is more than that, because if our control has extended that far, then it has extended too far, indeed. It is extended not only into things we do not understand, but has completely exceeded our grasp. Browning said that’s what heaven is for. But I think heaven is for those who die, and experience the resurrection.

Addendum: this morning, I came across this, which only underscores my point: we need an ethic of death. Not of euthanasia, or suicide, but of death.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Easter Vigil

A service that goes back to the Orthodox church, I'm told. The ancestor of the Protestant "Sunrise Service" on Easter. As usual, the sequel is not nearly as good as the original.

Speechless has more.

Holy Saturday

Every being born of woman is short-lived and full of trouble.

He blossoms like a flower and withers away; fleeting as a shadow, he doees not endure; he is like a wineskin the perishes or a garment that moths have eaten.

It is on such a creature that you fix your eyes, and bring him into court before you!

Truly the days of such a one's life are determined, adn the number of his months is known to you; you have laid down a limit, which cannot be exceeded.

Look away from him therefore and leave him to count off the hours like a hired labourer.

If a tree is cut down, there is hope that it will sprout again and fresh shoots will not fail.

Though its root becomes old in the earth, its stump dying in the ground,

yet when it scents water it may break into bud and make new growth like a young plant.

But when a human being dies all his power vanishes; he expires, and where is he then?

As the waters of a lake dwindle, or as a river shrinks and runs dry,

so mortal man lies down, never to rise until the very sky splits open. If a man dies, can he live again? He can never be roused from this sleep.

If only you would hide me in Sheol, conceal me until your anger is past, and only then fix a time to recall me to mind!

I would not lose hope, however long my service, waiting for my relief to come.

Job 14:1-14 (REB)


Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill mee;
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do goe,
Rest of their bones, and souls deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleep as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, death, thou shalt die.--John Donne

We live in an age of miracles; and forget too easily that it was not always so. Hippocrates is often invoked in our discussions; but how many of us have read the Hippocratic Oath? We expect doctors to defeat death, over and over, and give us more life, and then quarrel over the quality of that experience, over the meaning of life abundantly, and act as if this discussion has been going on since time immemorial and, especially Americans, ahistorical people that we are, we forget that for centuries doctors offered few cures, and mostly palliatives.

John Donne was the Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, in London, in the last decades of his life, and was so popular a preacher that people came from miles around to hear him. He reportedly preached wrapped in his shroud; to remind himself, he said, of his own mortality. As if he needed reminding, we would say, looking back from our age of antibiotics and sulfa drugs and anesthetic medicinces and technology and methods of keeping people alive far beyond anything John Donne could ever have imagined. Sleep, he says, as if death were merely resting; "You can sleep when you're dead," we say now, and then postpone death as long and as vigorously as we can.

Perhaps because it is the sleep from which no one could possible awaken. "A demon haunted world" is what Carl Sagan called the era before the Enlightenment; but seeing events unfold today in Florida, one can only wonder how demon haunted our world is, a world that seems to promise and then withdraw the prospect of life into the ages (“dzoanae aionion” in the koine Greek of the New Testament), is any less beset than any other. Human beings have not changed, and neither has the fear of death. Reason has always been the means of overcoming fear, but reason is not a proof alone against the most fundamental of existential anxieties.

Existentialism, in fact, was supposed to solve this by making us face up to the most extreme boundaries of our experience, and face them, and accept them not as the end, but as the starting point for our existence, as the truth that would set us free. But existentialism also makes us responsible for our choices, by making our choices one made for all humanity. Can we be free, when everyone else is in chains?

Or can we only be selfish, and only free ourselves? “Death, where is thy victory? Death, where is thy sting?” A justification; but that was said by believers, to believers. What do we say? And to whom?

Friday, March 25, 2005

As long as we're talking about suffering...

A doctor weighs in:

To the casual observer, when Terri Schiavo's eyes are closed, she appears to be asleep. But unlike Sleeping Beauty, Schiavo cannot be aroused. She is unable to recognize and respond to her surroundings except in one way -- she can respond to noxious stimuli.

This is one of the reasons her parents, and Congress, argue to keep her body alive. But "responds to noxious stimuli" is a euphemism for "reacts to pain." The doctor's test for this is usually to run his or her knuckles firmly on the breastbone or press down hard on the fingernails or eye sockets. Try it. It hurts.

So there Terri Schiavo lies -- unable to move, poked and prodded, turned and repositioned. Her bowels and bladder flow uncontrollably, and if they don't, a catheter is inserted or an enema given to make sure they do. "Noxious stimuli" are applied regularly to make sure she is still "there." Just try to sit without moving a muscle for one hour. I can't. Yoga practitioners take years to master this painful exercise. Schiavo has been doing it for 15 years.

In short, Schiavo is being kept alive so that she can continue to experience pain.

I commend the rest to your reading.

Good Friday

Psalm 22

22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

22:2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

22:3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.

22:4 In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.

22:5 To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

22:6 But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.

22:7 All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;

22:8 "Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver-- let him rescue the one in whom he delights!"

22:9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother's breast.

22:10 On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.

22:11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

22:12 Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;

22:13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.

22:14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;

22:15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.

22:16 For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled;

22:17 I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;

22:18 they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.

22:19 But you, O LORD, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!

22:20 Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!

22:21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.

22:22 I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:

22:23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

22:24 For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.

22:25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.

22:26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever!

22:27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

22:28 For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.

22:29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.

22:30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,

22:31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

Lord in your mercy

from the Solemn Collects for Good Friday, Book of Common Prayer

Let us pray for all who suffer and are afflicted in body or in mind;

For the hungry and the homeless, the destitute and the oppressed

For the sick, the wounded, and the crippled

For those in loneliness, fear, and anguish

For those who face temptation, doubt, and despair

For the sorrowful and bereaved

For prisoners and captives, and those in mortal danger

That God in his mercy will comfort and relieve them, and
grant them the knowledge of his love, and stir up in us the
will and patience to minister to their needs.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Sleep, O Sleep, in the calm of all calm....

According to the U.S. Government, there was a clear intent behind Pub. L. No. 103-9:
Congress conferred jurisdiction upon this Court specifically to consider the "right[s] of Theresa Marie Schiavo" in a suit brought by her parents, and has directed this Court to detennine her federal rights de novo, "without any delay or abstention," without regard to any prior state court determination, and without regard to whether any federal claim has previously been raised....Congress' clear intent that this Court resolve Plaintiffs' claims will be defeated unless an injunction issues requiring that Theresa Schiavo be providcd food and nutrition during the pendency of this suit, because otherwise she will not survive long enough for this Court to " 'physically discharge its. . . duties,"' Klay, 376 F.3d at 1100.
In simpler terms, the whole purpose of the statute was to get a judicial order directing Terri Schiavo be kept alive by all means necessary.

Which directly contradicts the Senatorial record on this bill (scroll down to page 6).

And now word comes that Judge Greer, as expected, has refused to give Jeb Bush custody of Ms. Schiavo. This matter is, finally, over; at least legally.

The End

For reasons that have to do with my adolescence, every Holy Week when I can, I listen to "Jesus Christ Superstar." "The End" is one of the emotional highlights of the album, although sometimes I think I like it only because the bassoons in the background sound so mournful (and I played the bassoon in my adolescence. Let the psychiatrists make what they will of this.)
The end is just a little harder when
brought about by friends
For all you care, this wine could be my blood
For all you care, this bread could be my body.
This is my blood you drink, this is my body you eat.
If you would remember me, when you eat and drink.
My New Testament professor told us about a graduate seminar where the professor asked them one question: what did Jesus mean by this? Not the usual Mithraic misunderstanding of the eucharist, where you take on the powers of the god by consuming the god's body and blood. No, the gospel story is much more subtle and complex than that. What Jesus told his disciples was that the bread was his body, the wine his blood; but he didn't tell them to eat it and drink it to become gods, too, or to take on any power of immortality, any aspect of the divine. What he said was: do it to remember me.


His graduate seminar could find no parallel to this in the ancient literature, no reasonable connection to other now-ancient practices. Our epistemology generally runs along these lines: we understand the new by how much it relates to the old. But the usual epistemological tools run aground in the presence of this story. What does it mean? Outside of the story itself, we have no examples to help us.

Which is all they concluded: that they couldn't know, because they had no parallels, no similarities no outside assistance. He did not offer this example as some "proof" of the validity of the Eucharist, although as a member of the Jesus Seminar he accepted these words are most likely to be those of the historical Jesus of Nazareth, if only because they had no parallel in the literature, no similarity that could have been imported by a gospel writer anxious to explain or pass on his understanding of the teachings of this rabbi.

So, what does it mean, to eat this bread, and drink this cup, in remembrance of him? That is the question for Christians, especially on this day. It is a new thing; a wholly new thing. And we still don't quite understand it. We understood the other "sacrament," though; the sacrament that wasn't; the one described in John 13. We understood that one too well. We took up one, because eating and drinking is easy for us; we set aside the other, because such acts of humility are too much for us to bear. Especially today, though, Christians should contemplate it. We usually approach this triumphally, if we approach it at all, so anxious are we usually to jump from Palm Sunday straight to Easter Sunday. The poignancy of that moment in the upper room of that "last supper" with his closest friends, is caught for me in those words of Tim Rice. "For all you care, this bread could be my body. If you would remember me, when you eat and drink." That is the voice of a human being, speaking to other human beings, and asking for the simplest thing. That we would remember. Even though we bring about his end.

Maundy Thursday

Psalm 116

1. I love the LORD, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications.

2. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.

3. The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.

4. Then called I upon the name of the LORD; O LORD, I beseech thee, deliver my soul.

5. Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.

6. The LORD preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me.

7. Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee.

8. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.

9. I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living.

10. I believed, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly afflicted:

11. I said in my haste, All men are liars.

12. What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me?

13. I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD.

14. I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people.

15. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

16. O LORD, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds.

17. I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the LORD.

18. I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people,

19. In the courts of the LORD'S house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye the LORD.

"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."--John 13:34-35

I may have faith enough to move mountains....

The record on this grows more and more dreary:

Dr. Cheshire, who graduated from Princeton and earned a medical degree at West Virginia University, did not return calls to the Mayo Clinic seeking comment. The clinic said in a statement that his work on the Schiavo case was not related to his work at the clinic and that the state had invited his opinion. "He observed the patient at her bedside and conducted an extensive review of her medical history but did not conduct an examination," the statement said.

Dr. Caplan [director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania] said that was not good enough. "There is just no excuse for going in and making any pronouncement about the state that Terri Schiavo is in unless you're going to go in and do some form of technologically mediated scanning that would overturn what's on the record already," he said.

Dr. Ronald Cranford, a neurologist and medical ethicist at the University of Minnesota Medical School who has examined Ms. Schiavo on behalf of the Florida courts and declared her to be irredeemably brain-damaged, said, "I have no idea who this Cheshire is," and added: "He has to be bogus, a pro-life fanatic. You'll not find any credible neurologist or neurosurgeon to get involved at this point and say she's not vegetative."

He said there was no doubt that Ms. Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state. "Her CAT scan shows massive shrinkage of the brain," he said. "Her EEG is flat - flat. There's no electrical activity coming from her brain."
But Dr. Cheshire swore out an affidavit that: "the visitor has the distinct sense of the presence of a living human being who seems at some level to be aware of some things around her." This is diagnosis by empathy, not science.

There can't be any serious doubt what Judge Greer will do with this evidence, even though he is hearing a motion from Gov. Bush to let the state have custody of Terri Schiavo.

Oh, Dr. Cheshire directs biotech ethics at the "Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity," a group which was founded by "leading Christian bioethicists." "Christian," here having a very narrow parameters, indeed.

Tena asked me, last night at Eschaton, if I thought this matter had become blasphemous yet. She was thinking of the protestors who wanted to take water to Terri Schiavo (an act which would, of course, have killed her, as she cannot swallow). But, looking at the matter as a whole, legally, morally, ethically, theologically, I'd still have to say: yes. This matter has now been dragged over the line into obscenity, into action against, not just in defiance of but detrimental to, what is most valuable.

The opponents to removing Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube all insist they are acting out of the best of motives. If words had any real power of their own at all, they would blister the lips of Tom DeLay and Jeb Bush and the other sanctimonious politicians who insist, against all previous evidence, that they care for the least and the weakest among us. But that's simply the exercise of raw power, which is all politicians wield, and all they understand. The motives of the others is less obscure, but at some point it cannot be denied that it is just as selfish.

Where is the right, the good, the holy, in all of this? In love. But love is not about power, or defiance, or blind compassion that leads one to take water and ice cubes to a patient in PVS. Love is humility. Paul got it absolutely right, in what has become a cliched passage, but which should be dusted off now and reconsidered in this least romantic of contexts:

Love is patient and kind. Love envies no one, is never boastful, never conceited, never rude; love is never selfish, never quick to take offence. Love keeps no score of wrongs, takes no pleasure in the sins of others, but delights in the truth. There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, its endurance. I Corinthians 13:4-7, REB.
In another, almost as famous passage, Paul rings through in powerful declaration that nothing in all the world, in all creation, in all human effort or imagination, can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Nothing, unfortunately, except ourselves. Love does not overpower, does not take hold, does not restrain us when we want to go astray. Our fear, our anxiety, our awareness that our death is possible, will do that.

No one is acting in love in this matter, who continues to offer false hope and illusory promises. No one is acting in love in this matter who continues to say that life can always triumph and cheating death for one more day is an unalloyed victory. Our technology has outstripped our moral sensibilities, but not because we need new moralities or more finely tuned sensibilities, or because everything changed after the Enlightenment, and we will haven't caught up. The answers, the guidance, the help we need, has always been available to us. But, as ever, we want it to be the master of us. We are all as children, waiting for the cosmic parent to come and tell us it is all right, that our selfish fears and desires are in harmony with the universe, and the cosmic parent will put the universe back in its rightful place. We don't want to face death becasue death is indifferent to us. Death doesn't seem to care.

But love does. Except love waits. Love is patient, and kind; and can bear anything. We can't. At least, we think we can't. We think we can't, and then we fear. We fear, and then we panic. We panic, and then we gather together, and with no more power to stave off death than we could stave off an eclipse of the sun, but in circumstances just as seemingly frightening, we look to our leaders for guidance and assurance that power will triumph. We cry, we shout; we wave things in the air, and look to mortal leaders for immortal guidance, look to the power we give them to provide salvation for us all, to stave off the symbol of death that is the eclipse of the sun, or the final days of one unfortunate woman. We look for this to save us from our fears, except it won't. It can't. Power lets us down again.

But love does not. Love never fails. We're the ones who fail, by not accepting that. But love is patient, too. It heals, it binds up, it comforts. Love waits for us, and nothing, ultimately, can separate us from it. Nothing, except our willingness to accept it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Where the legal battle will end

I rarely agree with Justice Scalia, but his concurring opinion in Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Dept. of Health, is worth reading. What follows are excerpts:

The various opinions in this case portray quite clearly the difficult, indeed agonizing, questions that are presented by the constantly increasing power of science to keep the human body alive for longer than any reasonable person would want to inhabit it. The States have begun to grapple with these problems through legislation....

While I agree with the Court's analysis today, and therefore join in its opinion, I would have preferred that we announce, clearly and promptly, that the federal courts have no business in this field; that American law has always accorded the State the power to prevent, by force if necessary, suicide including suicide by refusing to take appropriate measures necessary to preserve one's life; that the point at which life becomes "worthless," and the point at which the means necessary to preserve it become "extraordinary" or "inappropriate," are neither set forth in the Constitution nor known to the nine Justices of this Court any better than they are known to nine people picked at random from the Kansas City telephone directory; and hence, that even when it is demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that a patient no longer wishes certain measures to be taken to preserve her life, it is up to the citizens of Missouri to decide, through their elected representatives, whether that wish will be honored. It is quite impossible (because the Constitution says nothing about the matter) that those citizens will decide upon a line less lawful than the one we would choose; and it is unlikely (because we know no more about "life-and-death" than they do) that they will decide upon a line less reasonable.

The text of the Due Process Clause does not protect individuals against deprivations of liberty simpliciter. It protects them against deprivations of liberty "without due process of law." [the very issue ruled on by both the District Court and the 11th Circuit panel in Schiavo]....
The Cruzan case involved a similar situation to the Schiavo case, except the parents petitioned for the right to remove the feeding tube "after it became apparent that she had virtually no chance of recovering her cognitive faculties." (Majority Opinion). The Missouri court declined to issue such an order, based on state law. In the Schiavo case, the opposite result has occurred, based on Florida state law. The Supreme Court declined to overrule the Missouri courts. Justice Scalia's concurring opinion ends with these words:

What I have said above is not meant to suggest that I would think it desirable, if we were sure that Nancy Cruzan wanted to die, to keep her alive by the means at issue here. I assert only that the Constitution has nothing to say about the subject. To raise up a constitutional right here we would have to create out of nothing (for it exists neither in text nor tradition) some constitutional principle whereby, although the State may insist that an individual come in out of the cold and eat food, it may not insist that he take medicine; and although it may pump his stomach empty of poison he has ingested, it may not fill his stomach with food he has failed to ingest. Are there, then, no reasonable and humane limits that ought not to be exceeded in requiring an individual to preserve his own life? There obviously are, but they are not set forth in the Due Process Clause. What assures us that those limits will not be exceeded is the same constitutional guarantee that is the source of most of our protectionwhat protects us, for example, from being assessed a tax of 100" of our income above the subsistence level, from being forbidden to drive cars, or from being required to send our children to school for 10 hours a day, none of which horribles is categorically prohibited by the Constitution. Our salvation is the Equal Protection Clause, which requires the democratic majority to accept for themselves and their loved ones what they impose on you and me. This Court need not, and has no authority to, inject itself into every field of human activity where irrationality and oppression may theoretically occur, and if it tries to do so it will destroy itself. If anything, from that language, I would expect Scalia to argue that the law giving the Federal courts jurisdiction, violates the Equal Protection Clause.
Of course, that issue will never be reached, because it is unlikely the Supreme Court will reverse the lower courts on the merits of this case.

The intolerance of the tolerant society

The medieval era, we are told was wildly intolerant and brutally conformist. Examples are always made of Galileo, or Luther, or some "reformer" who had to flee persecution that would take his life. Now, we assure ourselves, we are more civilized.

So why are we so easily outraged when public figures do not conform to our personal ideals? Why are we so easily upset when some situation arises that pits our most cherished notions against each other? Why are we so inflexible that we soon start drawing lines between what should be and what will be, and declaring all those on the "wrong" side of the line damned to perdition, and useless besides?

Part of that is politics, of course; and in that sense, 'twas ever thus. But we especially like to denigrate public figures, especially religious ones. We hold such people to an impossible standard, and maintain an "either/or" position toward them. We are quite puritanical, actually; or what we imagine "puritans" to have been. In truth, we are far more intolerant than the Puritans ever were; or the Calvinists, or the medieval church, for that matter. Today our motto is: "Make one mistake, and you pay for it the rest of your life."

Take that link on the left, to the "Dante's Inferno Test." Rank yourself according to what you have ever done, and you soon find yourself damned to one of the circles of hell. But is that it? Is that all there is? One mistake, one false step, and no redemption? Dante was not so intolerant. "As I was in life, so I am in death," one anonymous shade tells him, in the 7th circle. The people Dante damns, in fact, are damned for their lack of love, not for a simple sin, a single incorrect act. The whole basis of his afterlife is the medieval basis for existence: Love one another. The emphasis was on the simple commandment of Jesus, in John's gospel: "A new commandment I give you. Love one another; as I have loved you, so you are to love one another."

Not so simple, of course, and the medieval mind did not take it simplistically. But it did take it as a life course, not a spurting passion, a sudden warmness in the loins or the cockels of the heart, here then gone, the sudden ardor of adolescence or the basis for a happy and settled marriage. It was Ovid who saw love as destabilizing and threatening, and primarily a matter of lust. It was the medieval mind that understood love as the path to accepting, caring about, and ultimately focussing on, not the self, but the other. The damned in the Inferno are not there because of one misstep, but because of a mis-choice. They did not choose to love; and the more they chose self-love over love of others, the deeper into the inferno they descend, until finally the most condemned are those who most aped love and concern, but turned it to their own ends through fraud, which Virgil tells Dante is most condemned because only humans are capable of it.

So the damned in Dante's metaphorical hell range downward slowly, based on how poorly they tried to love each other. But we are harsher. How much someone's conduct conforms, at any given moment, to our ideal, or the ideal of our community, determines whether they rise or fall in our estimation. Dante fearlessly plunged cardinals and popes into his Inferno, but not because holy fathers and bishops were supposed to holier and better than the laity; it was because of what those individuals had done. Their positions did not make them pure, or better; perhaps only more responsible. But their place in the rings is determined by what they did, not what role they played in society. "As I was in life, so I am in death." Dante understood, it is who you are, that matters; from that stems what you do.

And what you do is played out over the course of a lifetime, and depends more upon your behavior toward the others you know. That is the room for repentance in the scheme. Self-serving mea culpas would be meaningless; it is the true change of heart that matters. And that change of heart is only manifested in actions. "It is not what goes into a man, but what comes out of him, that matters," Jesus said. And when what comes out is directed toward love for neighbor, for other, that will outweigh, ultimately, all other considerations. And when that direction becomes the ohne warum, well, then you have achieved the ne plus ultra of the saints.

You would almost be Beatrice.

Wednesday of Holy Week

Psalm 70

Be pleased, O God, to deliver me. O LORD, make haste to help me!

Let those be put to shame and confusion who seek my life. Let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who desire to hurt me.

Let those who say, "Aha, Aha!" turn back because of their shame.

Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you. Let those who love your salvation say evermore, "God is great!"

But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay!

"As soon as there is law, there is partition...."

These legal matters will quickly get lost, again. Time for a quick explanation of what Congress did, and did not, do.

Congress did set up the Federal Court system as an appellate system over the Florida state courts for the parents of Terri Schiavo for one issue only. Indeed, they gave this privilege to two people only: the parents of Terri Schiavo (she is named in the law; the parents' names are not given).

Congress did not, however, give the parents new grounds on which to try this case. Which is why the rulings coming out now, were so predictable.

There are no Federal statutes on right to refuse medical care, or guardianship, or any of the other issues involved in this case. The laws to be considered are all state laws. The parents themselves (through their lawyers) understood this, which is why they had to make a Federal case by resting their plea on due process rights guaranteed under the 14th Amendment (the Amendment that extended U.S. Constitutional rights to state governments; until then, the Bill of Rights only restricted the Federal government). But that claim rests on what the state courts did. And the Federal courts don't seem inclined to accept this new, one time only, unprecedented and frankly ill-conceived, authority as a "super" appellate court system, and rule on how the Florida courts have interpreted Florida state law. I mention this because it is the very reasoning used by the 11th Circuit this morning in declining to authorize a TRO (which is the only issue the parents could appeal at this point) that would order re-insertion of the feeding tube:

Plainly, Congress knew how to change the law to favor these plaintiffs to the extent that it collectively wished to do so. That is what the changes it did make, including those to standing law, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, and abstention, demonstrate. When Congress explicitly modifies some pre-existing rules of law applicable to a subject but says nothing about other rules oflaw, the only reasonable reading is that Congress meant no change in the rules it did not mention.
This opinion also commends the lower court opinion, and goes on, once again, to point out that the plaintiffs cannot complain of the court conducting a review of what the Florida courts did. As this opinion says: "There is no way to consider a claim that the state court proceedings violated the Due Process Clause without examining what those proceedings were. In obedience to Pub. L. No. 109-3, the district court considered the federal constitutional claims de novo and made its own independent evaluation of them.

In the end, the court speaks wisely, and clearly; and also, it should be said, compassionately:

There is no denying the absolute tragedy that has befallen Mrs. Schiavo. We all have our own family, our own loved ones, and our own children. However, we are called upon to make a collective, objective decision concerning a question of law. In the end, and no matter how much we wish Mrs. Schiavo had never suffered such a horrible accident, we are a nation of laws, and if we are to continue to be so, the pre-existing and well-established federal law governing injunctions as well as Pub. L. No. 109-3 must be applied to her case. While the position of our dissenting colleague has emotional appeal, we as judges must decide this case on the law.
Unfortunately, someone will have to try telling that to the conservatives in the GOP.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

"What an edifying spectacle."

It isn't, of course; nor did Thersites mean to be anything but sarcastic, by saying it is.

What has happened, of course, is that two subjects have become confused with each other. The two subjects are the law, and ethics. "As soon as there is law, there is partition." (Jacques Derrida) And in this case, a seeming partition between what ethics would require, and the law provide. Derrida also rather infamously asked: "My death; is it possible?," as an existential question, an epistemological problem. Is it possible to actually have knowledge of our own death, to actually think through the one experience we cannot live through. The case of Terri Schiavo raises that very issue viscerally, for those paying attention. And while the law must remain magisterially indifferent to such matters in such cases, ethics requires that we grapple with it, even that we cry out against it. "Do not go gentle into that good night" meets "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."

And I alone am escaped alive to tell thee.

At least, it begins to feel that way, standing as I do with a foot in both camps, understanding the legal issues while wrestling with the ethical ones. It is one thing to say the law allows for the refusal of treatment; it is another matter entirely to consider food and water "treatment," even though, in this case, they are. And they are not the beginning or end of the treatment someone in a persistant vegetative state needs, either; but they are the beginning of the end, if they are withdrawn. But the question of allowing death, or even abetting death, is a strong one, and will not rest quietly or easily. As a chaplain on NPR said today: we all personalize this issue. We all compare it to our own experience, to what we have done, imagine we would do. And in that, we are all wrong.

One thing I have learned in ministry, is that every decision is individual, every life is particular and peculiar, and none of us is fit to sit in judgment on any other one of us. None of us is in the situation of another, even if we have been in a similar situation at some time in our lives. Our situation is not theirs; our feelings are not theirs; our understandings, copings, sensitivies and sensibilities, are not theirs. This is inescapable, but we struggle hard to escape it. We try hard to incorporate the other into ourselves, to break down that implacable barrier between self and other and absorb the other. We try, in other words, to establish a hierarchy, a priority, a privileged position, in which we are superior to "them," and their particularities and peculiarities are cancelled out by our need for consonance and resonance and finally harmony and assimilation. We struggle against the reality that we are alone, and that while we live together, we, too, will die alone.

The one thing no one else can do for us.

And so we turn this situation into an edifying spectacle, with all the irony that term conjures up. We create nightmare and horror show and circus, all to drown out the loud and clanging reality that it is not us in that bed, but it could be; that it is mortality we all fear, and that we all bluster about and divert our attention from, and that wounds us with scars that never heal, that never even make scares, but remain open and running and sore. We insist we are not afraid, but we are terrified. We know that there, but for the grace of God, go we. We know we could be next.

We handle death very poorly in this society. It terrifies us. It literally scares us to death. That is the worst fear we can imagine, and the worst thing we can imagine is life-in-death, because it means our death is real, and is coming, and it will be the one experience we will not live through. And it means our death is possible. And the touch of that cold hand is more than we can bear.

So we shout loudly: at the state, or the court, or the protestors, or each other. Scream and yell and bellow and make symbols of ourselves and hold up signs, all to drive the demons away, all to shield ourselves from what we fear most, and handle the worst. We are all terrified, because we still understand the power of symbols, we all see a piece of ourselves, our possible selves, our potential selves, in that breathing not-yet corpse in the pictures, and we know someday, somehow, it will be us.

And we would do anything to keep that from happening.

By Good Friday some of us will say: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Will we think, secretly, of Terri Schiavo? Of her husband, her parents, her family? Perhaps we should; for her sake, and theirs, and ours. It might actually do us good. It might actually bring something useful out of this edifying spectacle we have all created.

Tuesday in Holy Week

Psalm 71

In thee, O LORD, do I put my trust: let me never be put to confusion.

2. Deliver me in thy righteousness, and cause me to escape: incline thine ear unto me, and save me.

3. Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort: thou hast given commandment to save me; for thou art my rock and my fortress.

4. Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man.

5. For thou art my hope, a Lord God: thou art my trust from my youth.

6. By thee have I been holden up from the womb: thou art he that took me out of my mother's bowels: my praise shall be continually of thee.

7. I am as a wonder unto many; but thou art my strong refuge.

8. Let my mouth be filled with thy praise and with thy honour all the day.

9. Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth.

10. For mine enemies speak against me; and they that lay wait for my soul take counsel together,

11. Saying, God hath forsaken him: persecute and take him; for there is none to deliver him.

12. 0 God, be not far from me: 0 my God, make haste for my help.

13. Let them be confounded and consumed that are adversaries to my soul; let them be covered with reproach and dishonour that seek my hurt.

14. But I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more.

15. My mouth shall shew forth thy righteousness and thy salvation all the day; for I know not the numbers thereof.

16. I will go in the strength of the Lord God: I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only.

17. 0 God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works.

18. Now also when I am old and grayheaded, 0 God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.

19. Thy righteousness also, 0 God, is very high, who hast done great things: 0 God, who is like unto thee!

20. Thou, which hast shewed me great and sore troubles shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth.

21. Thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side.

22. I will also praise thee with the psaltery, even thy truth, 0 my God: unto thee will I sing with the harp, O thou Holy One of Israel.

23. My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing unto thee; and my soul, which thou hast redeemed.

24. My tongue also shall talk of thy righteousness all the day long: for they are confounded, for they are brought unto shame, that seek my hurt.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of ending medical care

Pardon the lawyer in me, but having been directed to the Order denying the application for a TRO in the Schiavo case, I can't resist a little (rusty) legal analysis of it. I've already heard, on BBC, that the judge ignored the Act passed by Congress in making this ruling. That statement was clearly made without the burden of having read this Order:

This court has carefully considered the Act [giving this Court jurisdiction] and is mindful of Congress' intent that Plaintiffs have an opportunity to litigate any deprivation of Theresa Schiavo's federal rights. The Court is likewise mindful of Congress' directive that a de novo [that is, start "from scratch"] determination be made "notwithstanding any prior State court determination." In resolving Plaintiffs' Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, however, the court is limited to a consideration of the constitutional and statutory deprivations alleged by Plaintiffs in their Complaint and motion. Because Plaintiffs urge due process violations are premised primarily on the procedures followed and orders entered by Judge Greer in his official capacity as the presiding judge in the dispute between Michael Schiavo and Plaintiffs, their Complaint necessarily requires a consideration of the procedural history of the state court case to determine whether there is a showing of any due process violations. On the face of these pleadings, Plaintiffs have asserted five constitutional and statutory claims. To obtain temporary injunctive relief, they must show a substantial likelihood of success on at least one claim.
In plainer English: the parents based their claims on the actions of the Florida court, so the U.S. District court has no choice but to consider those actions in reaching a decision on the TRO application. Congress tried to set this up as a slow-pitch softball, but the lawyers for the plaintiffs whiffed it.

This judge is reminding us we have a government of laws, not of men. Expect to hear that notion tacitly ridiculed in the days ahead.

This Order goes on for 13 pages, and takes apart all of the challenges raised by the parents, including the one that the Florida court has somehow impaired Terri Schiavo's exercise of her religion. The problem is, as the court points out, only state actors can be barred from so acting, and Michael Schiavo is not acting on behalf of the state {i.e., any government). And since Judge Greer is not a party to this case, the court cannot rule on that issue.