Is the New Testament Authentic?

The following is based upon information taken directly from David Limbaugh’s “The True Jesus: Uncovering the Divinity of Christ in the Gospels,” chapter two, “New Testament Basics Building Blocks of the Revelation.” I recently added this book to my personal library and highly recommend it, along with Limbaugh’s “Jesus on Trial.” Both are available at Amazon.com through this link: David Limbaugh

The authenticity of the New Testament documents is shown by dating the original documents – none of which still exist – and determining how much time passed between those writings and the events they record, assessing how many copies we have of those writings, and examining them for accuracy, measuring the time gap between the original writings and the oldest copies we have, and then comparing our findings with those of manuscripts of ancient secular history.

Most scholars – liberal and conservative – agree that Christ died between 30 and 33 A.D., and that all the gospel accounts were written in the first century between twenty-five and fifty years after those dates. This is a short period considering this was an oral culture in which people would have memorized these accounts before reducing them to writing. Many scholars believe the gospel writers may have referred to earlier written accounts for some of their material. As noted, Christians agreed on and shared much creedal information about Jesus well before the New Testament writings, and many references to this “Jesus tradition” appear in Paul’s epistles, some of which predate the writing of the gospels. You might be thinking that such an oral tradition, combined with scribes writing down information over hundreds of years in various geographic locations, would lead to errors in the text. You’re correct. But, as we’ll see later, these were minor spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors that had no impact whatsoever on the doctrine itself.

The original twenty-seven New Testament manuscripts probably perished within decades of their composition because the writers didn’t write on bricks, rocks, or wooden tablets, but on paper – Egyptian papyrus (see John’s reference to his writing tools in 2 John 1:12; 3 John 1:13). What remains are handwritten copies called manuscripts. Inevitably, mistakes occurred in the copying process, no matter how meticulous and skilled the scribes were. To evaluate the accuracy of manuscript copies for the New Testament writings – or any other ancient books for that matter – textual critics study the differences in wording to determine the precise composition of the original manuscript. New Testament manuscripts are so plentiful that, according to Professor Craig Blomberg, textual criticism enables us to reconstruct what the New Testament authors wrote with a high degree of accuracy.

There are more than 25,000 New Testament manuscripts in existence, some 5,800 of which are in the original Greek (kione – common Greek vernacular spoken on the streets during the time of Jesus), which range from the early second century to the sixteenth century. Though we don’t have a complete manuscript dated before the third century, many fragments exist that include a substantial amount of the New Testament. There are also a million-plus New Testament quotations in the writings of the early church fathers. The number of surviving New Testament manuscripts dwarfs those of ancient secular writings. There are one thousand times as many existing manuscripts of the New Testament than of the average classical author’s works (between ten and twenty copies). Homer’s Iliad is the exception, but even those copies are limited to about 1,800, which is less than ten percent of the total amount of New Testament copies.

What about the “errors” in the New Testament? Aren’t they terribly problematic for those who maintain the Bible is inerrant? In a word, no. Inerrancy  only pertains to the oral or written proclamation of the originally inspired prophets and apostles. As such, it does not exist. Not only was their communication of the Word of God efficacious in teaching the truth of revelation (there is literally power and life in the Word), but their transmission of that Word was error-free. David Limbaugh relates that he was skeptical about the issue of errors, especially as it might relate to doctrine. His research led him to the discovery that nearly every error was relative to spelling, style, and other grammatical trivialities, and that only about one percent of the variants – differences in wording – bear on the meaning of the text, with none affecting any major Christian doctrine. (Limbaugh notes this refers to one percent of the errors, not one percent of the entire text!) Richard Bentley, a classical English biblical critic, confirms that these minor errors do not pervert or set aside “one article of faith or moral precept.”

Even Bart Ehrman, the most famous manuscript scholar who has been skeptical of orthodox Christianity, affirms that “the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by actual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.” Evangelical scholars Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace observe, “Any uncertainty over the wording of the original New Testament does not have an impact on major teachings of the New Testament. They certainly do not affect the deity of Christ. There is simply no room for uncertainty about what the New Testament originally taught.” What matters, says Carl Henry, is whether these variants corrupt the substantive content of the original and whether they “convey the truth of revelation in reliable verbal form, and infallibly lead the penitent reader to salvation.”

As an aside to David Limbaugh’s work, I want to note that it is not uncommon for Muslims to claim that the Bible is corrupted, and therefore not trustworthy. It is their contention that the angel Gabriel came to Mohammad and dictated to him – and only him over a period of twenty-three years in a cave – and that the Qur’an is the corrected truth. We should ask when this supposed corruption occurred? The Qur’an actually states that the Bible is the Word of God (Surah 5:43, 44, 46, 68; Surah 4:136; Surah 10:91; Surah 15:9; Surah 6:34; Surah 10:64). If the Bible was corrupted, was it before the time of Mohammad? Why then would God (Allah) tell Mohammad to look to the Scriptures for guidance and light? If the corruption occurred after the time of Mohammad, then why don’t Muslims accept the Bible as authoritative as our current translations are based upon manuscripts that predate Mohammad by hundreds of years? The earliest textual evidence we have for the Bible (the Dead Sea Scrolls and thousands of partial and complete Greek New Testament manuscripts dating back to within the first three centuries A.D.) simply does not allow for the claim of widespread corruption of the Bible.

The gap between the earliest New Testament manuscript fragment – the John Rylands Fragment (117-138 A.D.), which contains five verses from John 18 – and the original is less than fifty years. Another New Testament fragment, the Bodmer Papyri, which contains most of John’s books and Luke, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude, is dated circa 200 A.D., so there is a gap of between 100 and 140 years between the manuscript and the original. Even more impressive is the Chester Beatty Papyri (circa 250 A.D.) – a gap of 150-plus years from the completion of the originals – which contains most of the New Testament. The Codex Vaticanus (325-350 A.D.) contains the great majority of the New Testament and the Greek Old Testament. The Codex Sinaiticus (340 A.D.) – found on the Sinai Peninsula – is the oldest existing manuscript of the entire New Testament, and contains much of the Old Testament. These date some 250 years from the originals. Again, compared to existing manuscripts for ancient secular texts, the gap between the original and the copies is much smaller for the New Testament. The time gap between the original Iliad and the oldest existing manuscript of the work is between 350 and 400 years, but for most other secular works the gap exceed a thousand years.

The New Testament documents are copied accurately, and there are more copies, with many earlier copies, than any other book from the ancient world. As British paleographer and biblical and classical scholar Sir Fredric Kenyon states, “The interval between the dates of the original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”

I never had any doubt.

REFERENCES

Carlson, J. (Mar. 19, 2014). Responding to the Muslim Claims That the Bible is Corrupt. [Msg. 1] Message posted to: https://www.chess.com/clubs/forum/view/responding-to-the-muslim-claims-that-the-bible-is-corrupt

Limbaugh, D. (2017). The True Jesus: Uncovering the Divinity of Christ in the Gospels. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing

 

The Genesis Problem: The Methodological Atheism of Science

“There is no such thing as philosophy-free science. There is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.”
– Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

YOU DECIDE TO SIT DOWN and examine science in order to come to a better understanding of the empirical world around you. This seems to be a sound proposition, yet there is a problem. The issue is not with modern science itself, but rather with a faulty view of science: The idea that science is a complete framework for understanding man and the universe, and that unscientific claims should be automatically rejected. Scientists naturally like to think of themselves as reasonable people, ready to follow the path of evidence no matter where it takes them. Carl Sagan’s boast is typical in this regard: “At the heart of science is … an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counter-intuitive.” Of course, we must also remember that virtually everyone comes to a subject matter already in possession of a particular bias or worldview. That’s fine. What is not okay is when an individual denies his or her biases or presuppositions, or, worse yet, is dishonest about them when presenting their findings.

Stephen Hawking explains why a large number of theorists were attracted to the steady state theory of the origin of the universe. Steady state theory posits that the universe is always expanding, but it is maintaining a constant average density, with matter being constantly created to form new stars and galaxies at the same rate that old ones become unobservable as a consequence of their increasing distance and velocity of receding. He said, “There were therefore a number of attempts to avoid the conclusion that there had been a big bang … Many people do not like the idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine intervention.” For some time Hawking had given the impression that he is neither a strong believer nor disbeliever in a higher power, but in 2014 he told a symposium, “Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation.” This is decidedly quite a reversal of opinion.

Astronomer and physicist Lee Smolin complained, “Must all of our scientific understanding of the world really come down to a [seemingly] mythological story in which nothing exists … save some disembodied intelligence, who, desiring to start a world, chooses the initial conditions and then wills matter into being?” Man must ultimately confront nature in order to develop a sense of who he is within nature itself. Indeed, by default one’s worldview will have an impact on how one defines nature. For example, Western societies do not generally confront nature with the same sense of respect. For us, the physical realm of “not man” is indifferent to man. In the Western Hemisphere, we believe nature exists for man to harness for his own purposes. We do not conform to the universe; rather, we seek to conform the universe to us and our needs. Phillips, Brown & Stonestreet. (2008) How we confront and interpret nature has a direct impact on understanding our place in it.

Today all evidence of God is a priori rejected by science. Even empirical evidence of the kind normally admissible in science is refused a hearing. It doesn’t matter how strong or reliable the evidence is, scientists acting in their professional capacity are obliged to ignore it. If you know anything about the history of the church, all of this may seem surprising, in view of how science developed out of the theological premises and institutions of Christianity. Copernicus, Kepler, Boyle, and others all saw a deep compatibility between science and religion. All believed in God. Today, however, scientists typically admit there is a specific orderliness to the universe and nature, but refuse to consider the source of that orderliness. Science has front-men like Stephen Hawking to attempt to convince everyone that the laws of physics and the language of genetics came from nothing.

Today’s atheists, Dawkins and the others, seem naively to believe they are the apostles of reason who are merely following the evidence. It is important to note that modern science seems to be based on an unwavering alliance to naturalism and materialism. Naturalism is the doctrine that nature is all there is. It is a philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes. Supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted. Materialism is the belief that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications. Material reality is the only reality. Of course these philosophical doctrines – naturalism and materialism – have never been proven. In fact, they cannot be proven because it is impossible to demonstrate that immaterial reality does not exist. Naturalism and materialism are not scientific conclusions; rather, they are scientific premises. They are not discovered in nature but imposed upon nature. In short, they are articles of faith.

Here’s something to ponder which was written by Richard Lewontin, geneticist and author of Billions and Billions of Demons:

“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment – a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori commitment to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” [Emphasis added.]

The million-dollar question: Is science intrinsically atheistic? Well, yes. From a procedural or narrow sense, science is anti-God. And this is probably okay, because we don’t want scientists who run into difficulty proving their theories to get out of the dilemma simply by saying, “You know, I’m not going to investigate this any longer. I’m just going to put it down as a miracle.” Could you imagine what would happen to the “reputation” of miracles if we called everything we cannot understand a miracle? Moreover, there are many religious scientists who find no difficulty in working within the domain of procedural atheism while at the same time holding their religious beliefs. Biologist Francis Collins says that as a biologist he investigates natural explanations for the origin of life, while as a Christian he believes that there are also supernatural forces at work. Science is not the only way of knowing.

The more I read the works of today’s apologists and the counter-arguments of today’s atheists, the clearer it becomes to me that we are slowly uncovering scientific facts that speak loudly of the existence of a creative force in the universe. I see that reality goes much deeper than the scientific portrait of it. Many people regard scientific and religious claims as inherently contradictory simply because they are unwitting captives to a second type of atheism, which has been identified as philosophical atheism. The best way to define this term is the dogma that material and natural reality is all that exists. Everything else is illusory. Atheists of this persuasion, and this would include Richard Dawkins, pretend that because God cannot be discovered through science – which is a dubious claim anyway! – God cannot be discovered at all.

Here’s the thing about philosophical atheism: Only data that fit the theory are allowed into the theory. By contrast, the theist is much more open-minded and reasonable. The theist does not deny the validity of scientific reasoning. Again, we have only to look to the great scientists who were Christians. The theist is entirely willing to acknowledge material and natural causes for events. After all, it is God who put the laws of physics in motion when He created the universe. I am of the firm belief that physic did not exist before the universe existed, therefore physics cannot be used to explain how the universe came into being. (Consider, for example, the first law of thermodynamics.) However, the theist also admits the possibility of other types of knowledge

Let me take a moment to point out something very few have focused on in arguing that God simply cannot exist because the explanation of a supreme deity is far too simple to be true. They claim belief in God cannot explain the complex theory of evolution. Richard Dawkins, in his seminal book The God Delusion, faults theologian Richard Swinburne’s concept that examination of electrons shows God’s hand in all of creation, and His ongoing sustenance of all that exists. Swinburne said billions and billions of electrons, all with the same properties, all working together in perfect symmetry, is too much of a coincidence. Dawkins states, “But how can Swinburne possibly maintain that this hypothesis of God simultaneously keeping a gazillion fingers on wayward electrons is a simple hypothesis? It is, of course, precisely the opposite of simple. Swinburne pulls off the trick to his own satisfaction by a breathtaking piece of intellectual chutzpah. He asserts, without justification, that God is only a single substance. What brilliant economy of explanatory causes, compared with all those gigazillions of independent electrons all just happening to be the same!”

First of all, Dawkins and many others continue to quote statements made decades, and sometimes centuries, ago in support of their attack on theists, and do not include remarks that indicate how far science and religion have come as partners in discovering the origin of life. For example, some modern theorists see randomness as a genuine design feature, and not just as a physicalist gloss. Their challenge is to explain how divine providence is compatible with genuine randomness. (Under a deistic view, one could simply say that God started the universe off and did not interfere with how it went, but that option is not open to the theist, and most authors in the field of science and religion are theists, rather than deists.)

Elizabeth Johnson (1996), using a Thomistic view of divine action, argues that divine providence and true randomness are compatible: God gives creatures true causal powers, thus making creation more excellent than if they lacked such powers, and random occurrences are also secondary causes; chance is a form of divine creativity that creates novelty, variety, and freedom. One implication of this view is that God may be a risk taker – although, if God has a providential plan for possible outcomes, there is unpredictability but not risk. Johnson uses metaphors of risk-taking that, on the whole, leave the creator in a position of control (creation, then, is like jazz improvisation), but it is, to her, a risk nonetheless. Why would God take risks? There are several solutions to this question. The free will theodicy says that a creation that exhibits randomness can be truly free and autonomous:

Authentic love requires freedom, not manipulation. Such freedom is best supplied by the open contingency of evolution, and not by strings of divine direction attached to every living creature. (Miller 1999/2007: 289)

What’s fascinating to me is that none of these cherished atheist theories can account for the origin of life, the origin of consciousness, or the origin of human rationality and morality. Any theory that cannot account for these landmark stages can hardly claim to have solved the problem of origins, either of life or of the universe. The universe could not have evolved solely through natural selection, as the universe makes up the whole of nature. Someone made the universe and prescribed the laws that govern its operations. There are innumerable life forms in the universe. These life forms are the product of evolution (natural selection), and Darwin and his successors have elegantly elucidated how the selection process occurred. Of this I have no doubt. Accordingly, I am not a hardcore young earth creationist. But evolution has no explanation for the origin of the universe or its laws. So how can evolution undercut the argument from design as it applies to the universe itself and the laws that govern it?

Simple. Scientific truth is not the entire truth.

REFERENCES

Dawkins, R. (2008). The God Delusion. New York, NY: Mariner Books
DeCruz, H. (2017). “Religion and Science.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Science. (Spring 2017 Edition). URL: https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2017/entries/religion-science/
D’Souza, D. (2007). What’s So Great About Christianity? Carol Stream, IL: Tyndall Press
Phillips, W., Brown, W. and Stonestreet, J. (2008). Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Company

 

Jesus Calling

EXCERPT FROM JESUS CALLING
©2014 Sarah Young
August 8

I SPEAK TO YOU from deepest heaven. You hear Me in the depths of your being. Deep calls unto deep. You are blessed to hear Me so directly. Never take this privilege for granted. The best response is a heart overflowing with gratitude. I am training you to cultivate a thankful mind-set. This is like building your house on a firm rock, where life’s storms cannot shake you. As you learn these lessons, you are to teach them to others. I will open up the way before you, one step at a time.

PSALM 42:7-8 NKJV; PSALM 95:1-2; MATTHEW 7:24-25

The Things They Carried

I met an older gentleman at church last Sunday who served in Vietnam. The conversation actually started with the current opiate epidemic in America. I said unfortunately thousands of young men came back from Southeast Asia hooked on heroin. He saw many soldiers smoking weed in order to cope with the horrors of what they were being asked to do, but did not personally see any servicemen using heroin. He was aware that it was going on. He related how he was able to avoid the hell of alcoholism and drug addiction that took hold of countless young men.

I became great friends with a minister who lived across the street from my parents for several years before he and his wife, also a minister, returned to Santa Barbara, California. He related to me the horrors of serving in the Vietnam war. He was a sergeant, and said several of his men died in his arms. In the interest of his traumatic experience and his privacy, I will not give any further details here. I will simply say I was shocked to see that he made it out alive, and is living a life of love and service, in full commitment to the Lord. My uncle also served in Vietnam. I know from family conversations that it was very hard on him. I never felt comfortable asking him to divulge the details. He died several years ago after fighting non-cancerous lumps in the back of his lungs, immune deficiency, and kidney failure. He’d been on dialysis for years. My aunt was told his death was due to exposure to Agent Orange. She receives an additional widow’s benefit specific to his exposure.

My conversation with the fellow churchgoer regarding heroin use among the troops in Vietnam made me think of Air America. Air America was an American passenger and cargo airline covertly owned by the United States government as a dummy corporation for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The National Security Agency farmed out the airline to various government agencies. Air America was used by the U.S. government covertly to conduct military operations, posing as a civilian air carrier, in areas the U.S. armed forces could not go due to treaty restraints contained in the Geneva Accords. Air America’s slogan was, “Anything, Anywhere, Anytime.” The airline flew many types of cargo to countries such as the Republic of Vietnam, the Kingdom of Laos, and Cambodia. It operated from bases in those countries, and also from bases in Thailand, and as far afield as Taiwan and Japan. It also on occasion flew top secret missions into Burma and the People’s Republic of China.

Air America flew civilians, diplomats, spies, refugees, commandos, sabotage teams, doctors, war casualties, DEA officers, and even visiting VIPs like Richard Nixon. Air America moved tons of food, water and livestock into villages devastated  by Agent Orange, as well as ammunition and other materials for troop support. During the CIA’s secret war in Laos (you might remember Nixon’s secret bombings), the CIA used the Hmong population to fight local rebels. The Hmong happened to depend on poppy cultivation for hard currency. Amazingly, poppy has been used for trade in commerce for centuries. When rebels captured the Plain of Jars in 1964, the Laotian air force was unable to land their transport aircraft for opium transport. They had no light planes that could land near poppy fields to load opium. Consequently, the Hmong were facing economic ruin. Air America was the only airline available in northern Laos. Air America began flying opium from mountain villages. How can we not think some of that opium smuggled out of Laos by the CIA ended up as heroin on the streets of America?

THE REASON I BROUGHT THIS UP

I have become captivated by the history of America’s war on drugs. Sometimes, during research, we get led down paths we never expected. This is what happened when I started looking into heroin and Southeast Asia. I found a wonderfully written, haunting, vitally important piece of literature written by Tim O’Brien called The Things They Carried. I began reading, and I was there, in the jungle, with my uncle. With the gentleman from my church. With the men in the story. This was no Full Metal Jacket experience. It was not like I was watching Platoon or Hamburger Hill. Please understand me: Those movies do a great job, as does Saving Private Ryan relative to World War II. This book, however, is literature. It’s like a living, breathing journal. I could not stop reading. It’s been several months since I’ve done a book review, and this is sort of like that, but it’s more like a peek inside a piece of literature that captures the daily life of soldiering in Vietnam. The scene where I pick up the action is graphic, so please be prepared. I don’t make political statements on this blog, and I will not do that in this post. This is more about heroism, service, dedication, obedience, fear, and the raw experience of hell on earth. It’s about literature. Robert Louis Stevenson said, “The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish.”

I know what I want you to think, to consider, to feel, about this issue. I would love to hear your feedback. Maybe you know someone who served in Southeast Asia. Perhaps you have a family member or loved one fighting ISIS in the Middle East or the Philippines. Don’t stay silent. If this post sparks an emotion, post your reply. Literature at its best provides us with a blueprint of human civilization. It should remind us of what we’re feeling inside. It should provoke us. Literature plays the vital role of preserving knowledge and experience and passing it on to our successors. Literature might even make us ask the big questions: Why are we here? Who are we? What are our responsibilities? In the instant case, The Things They Carried causes us to think about the idea of war. Is war ever just? What does it mean to be noble? When should we help another nation? When is it proper to back away?

I thought you should know that this book is as much memoir as it is literature. O’Brien served in the 23rd Infantry Division.

From The Things They Carried.

The things they carried were determined to some extent by superstition. Lieutenant Cross carried his good luck pebble. Dave Jensen carried a rabbit’s foot. Norman Bowker, otherwise a very gentle person, carried a thumb that had been presented to him as a gift by Mitchell Sanders. The thumb was dark brown, rubbery to the touch, and weighed 4 ounces at most. It had been cut from a VC corpse, a boy of fifteen or sixteen. They’d found him at the bottom of an irrigation ditch, badly burned, flies in his mouth and eyes. The boy wore black shorts and sandals. At the time of his death he had been carrying a pouch of rice, a rifle, and three magazines of ammunition. “You want my opinion,” Mitchell Sanders said, “There’s a definite moral here.” He put his hand on the dead boy’s wrist. He was quiet for a time, as if counting a pulse, then he patted the stomach, almost affectionately, and used Kiowa’s hunting hatchet to remove the thumb.

Henry Dobbins asked what the moral was.

“Moral?”

“You know.”

Moral.

Sanders wrapped the thumb in toilet paper and handed it across to Norman Bowker. There was no blood. Smiling, he kicked the boy’s head, watched the flies scatter, and said, “It’s like with that old TV show, Paladin. ‘Have gun, will travel.'”

Henry Dobbins thought about it.

“Yeah, well,” he finally said. “I don’t see no moral.”

“There it is, man.”

They carried USO stationery and pencils and pens. They carried Sterno, safety pins, trip flares, signal flares, spools of wire, razor blades, chewing tobacco, liberated joss sticks and statuettes of the smiling Buddha, candles, grease pencils, The Stars and Stripes , fingernail clippers, Psy Ops leaflets, bush hats, bolos, and much more. Twice a week, when the resupply choppers came in, they carried hot chow in green mermite cans and large canvas bags filled with iced beer and soda pop. They carried plastic water containers, each with a 2-gallon capacity. Mitchell Sanders carried a set of starched tiger fatigues for special occasions. Henry Dobbins carried Black Flag insecticide. Dave Jensen carried empty sandbags that could be filled at night for added protection. Lee Strunk carried tanning lotion. Some things they carried in common. Taking turns, they carried the big PRC-77 scrambler radio, which weighed 30 pounds with its battery. They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak. They carried infections. They carried chess sets, basketballs, Vietnamese-English dictionaries, insignia of rank, Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts, plastic cards imprinted with the Code of Conduct.

They carried diseases, among them malaria and dysentery. They carried lice and ringworm and leeches and paddy algae and various rots and molds. They carried the land itself — Vietnam, the place, the soil — a powdery orange-red dust that covered their boots and fatigues and faces. They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity. They moved like mules. By daylight they took sniper fire, at night they were mortared, but it was not battle, it was just the endless march, village to village, without purpose, nothing won or lost. They marched for the sake of the march. They plodded along slowly, dumbly, leaning forward against the heat, unthinking, all blood and bone, simple grunts, soldiering with their legs, toiling up the hills and down into the paddies and across the rivers and up again and down, just humping, one step and then the next and then another, but no volition, no will, because it was automatic, it was anatomy, and the war was entirely a matter of posture and carriage, the hump was everything, a kind of inertia, a kind of emptiness, a dullness of desire and intellect and conscience and hope and human sensibility. Their principles were in their feet. Their calculations were biological. They had no sense of strategy or mission. They searched the villages without knowing what to look for, not caring, kicking over jars of rice, frisking children and old men, blowing tunnels, sometimes setting fires and sometimes not, then forming up and moving on to the next village, then other villages, where it would always be the same. They carried their own lives.

The pressures were enormous. In the heat of early afternoon, they would remove their helmets and flak jackets, walking bare, which was dangerous but which helped ease the strain. They would often discard things along the route of march. Purely for comfort, they would throw away rations, blow their Claymores and grenades, no matter, because by nightfall the resupply choppers would arrive with more of the same, then a day or two later still more, fresh watermelons and crates of ammunition and sunglasses and woolen sweaters — the resources were stunning — sparklers for the Fourth of July, colored eggs for Easter — it was the great American war chest — the fruits of science, the smoke stacks, the canneries, the arsenals at Hartford, the Minnesota forests, the machine shops, the vast fields of corn and wheat— they carried it like freight trains; they carried it on their backs and shoulders — and for all the ambiguities of Vietnam, all the mysteries and unknowns, there was at least the single abiding certainty that they would never be at a loss for things to carry.

References

O’Brien, Tim. (1990). The Things They Carried. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Martin Luther and the Righteousness of God

It was 500 years ago this year when Martin Luther took a stand against the various aspects of corruption and misguided doctrine within the Roman Catholic Church, thus launching the Reformation. On the heels of my class on the History of Christianity at Colorado Christian University, I read an article in Christianity Today, January/February 2017, Vol. 61, No. 1, by David Zahl, titled, “Justify Yourself.” I find the Protestant Reformation to be a very engaging and fascinating topic, and, indeed, consider Martin Luther to be one of my heroes of the Medieval Church. It was an easy decision for me to do my final paper on Martin Luther.

Luther

Zahl, wondering whether the Reformation is over, writes, “Don’t we get the message already? Aren’t we all on the same page when it comes to salvation by grace through faith? The short answer appears to be no.” This has been true for me personally, which is why I have struggled for decades with my will versus God’s, and with forgetting that I am nowhere near equipped to ever be justified by my own actions. I consider myself somewhat of an amateur scholar of the Apostle Paul, especially of his Epistle to the Romans. I find chapters six, seven and eight of Romans to explain the very essence of the Gospel. I relate fully to Paul’s commentary on warring with the flesh, especially having spent forty years in active addiction.

LUTHER’S BREAKTHROUGH

Martin Luther had an overpowering sense of his own sinfulness. He spent a great deal of time in confession, and often worried that he might have “forgotten” something he did wrong, thereby not making a thorough confession. He believed this would put him in jeopardy of losing the reward of being completely forgiven. As a monk, he was remarkably astute. He plunged into prayer, fasting, and ascetic practices – going without sleep, enduring bone-chilling cold without a blanket, and flagellating himself. As he later commented, “If anyone could have earned heaven by the life of a monk, it was I.”

Though he sought by these means to love God fully, he found no consolation. He was increasingly terrified of the wrath of God. Not knowing what to do, he began pouring over the first chapter of Romans. The 17th verse was literally keeping him up at night: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith.” (KJV) Luther had been trained in the Medieval understanding of Paul’s phrase the righteousness of God as being shorthand for the awesome holiness of God, before which all of mankind must quake in fear. Basically, Luther understood the verse to mean, “The Gospel reveals that God punishes sinners,” which, of course, is no Gospel at all.

In his article, David Zahl writes, “Brother Martin, you see, possessed what might politely be called an overactive conscience. Today he’d likely be termed a neurotic or ‘a real handful.’ Whatever the root of his sensitivities, they had already driven him into a monastery, where he hoped a life of radical service might bring him the peace with God he craved.” Finally, on this particular day, as Luther meditated on Romans 1:17, he had an epiphany. Zahl said this is how Luther described it: “I grasped that the righteousness of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon, I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”

As Zahl explained in his article, Luther came to realize the difference between the righteousness of the law and the righteousness of the Gospel, or that which can be earned by man (although not really!) and that which is given by God. Prior to this point in this studies, Luther regarded both God’s law and His Gospel as the same thing, and held that there was no difference between Christ and Moses except their degrees of perfection. Luther said, “When I realized the law was one thing, and the Gospel another, I broke through and was free.”

RADICAL DISTINCTION IN AN UNDIVIDED WORD

It’s been said many times that there’s really nothing new under the sun. What was believed hundreds of years ago is often still considered true today. I, for one, believed for many years that the Bible is divided into two halves. There is the Old Testament (the Law of God) and the New Testament (the Gospel of God). Of course, this in effect shackles the Word of God. The distinction between the Law and the Gospel is less about imposing a doctrinal straight-jacket on the Bible than about engaging a living God over the entirety of an unfolding story. If anything, reading the Bible through the eyeglasses of “law” and “Gospel” safeguards the Word from being read predominantly as an instruction manual and more as a living instrument of the Spirit that proclaims God’s work in the world on behalf of sinners in need of saving. From cover to cover, the Bible is about creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.

As Zahl puts it, “Indeed, the distinction between law and Gospel is a powerful explanation of how the Bible doesn’t just sit there; it reaches out and grasps us, shakes us, transforms us, frees, us – it kills us and makes us alive. Luther said, “There is no man on living Earth who knows how to distinguish rightly between the law and the Gospel. We may think  we understand it when we are listening to a sermon, but we’re far from it.” Luther believed only the Holy Spirit knows how to make this distinction.

THE LAW

Luther believed that God has spoken to human beings and continues to speak to human beings in two words: law and Gospel. He believed these words are distinct from one another but not inseparable. The basic distinction is as follows: The law tells us what we ought to do; the Gospel tells us what God has done. The law shows us that we need to be forgiven; the Gospel announces that we have been forgiven. The law paves the way for the Gospel by revealing our predicament, and the Gospel proclaims the Good News to those struck down by the law.

What most of us think of when we think of “the law” in religious terms is, of course, the capital-L Law of God, the Oughts and Ought Nots that we find spelled out in the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. We automatically think of the great commandments of God: don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t worship idols, love God with all your heart. This Law shows us the true outline of holiness. And in doing so, it reveals us to be selfish, obstinate, self-centered people, fundamentally flawed, turned away from what is right, away from God Himself. Of course, the Law ultimately shows us our own mortality, for it reveals the wages of sin. (Romans 6:23)

I’m impressed by Luther’s description of the law as “a constant guest” in our conscience. Zahl puts it this way: “You might say that the little-l law is the air we breath as human beings, the default setting, the quid pro quo that characterizes our internal life and much of our external one as well.” In other words, to get approval, we have to achieve something. We have to do something. Behavior precedes belovedness: Climb the ladder, or else. Zahl makes an interesting comment that we could be walking down the street, mid-week, not giving any thought to last Sunday’s lesson at church, yet our behavior is governed by subconscious commands telling us, in much the same dogmatic fashion that was once reserved for religious commands, “Thou shalt be skinny, successful, independent, self-actualized.” We have grown accustomed to the internalized voice of a demanding parent; that feeling of never being quite enough, which drives us to the point of exhaustion.

THE GOSPEL

The second word, Gospel, means good news. News is not a command. Command comes in the imperative voice – “Do this” – and news in the indicative voice – “This has been done.” Look at it this way: We typically watch the evening news to hear what has happened or has been done. For Christians, of course, the good news is Jesus Christ, who died and rose again, taking the entirety of God’s wrath upon Himself and setting us free. The Gospel announces that because of Christ’s death and resurrection we are justified by grace through faith: not by what we do, or even by who are are, but by what Christ has done and who He is. Our guilt has been atoned for, and the deepest judgment satisfied, reconciling us with the Father. While the law is conditional – a two-way street – the gift of Christ is unconditional. Like all true gifts, we have to do nothing to earn it or deserve it. His affection cannot be bought or merited. It is a free gift with no strings attached. Jesus simply gave.

Much like capital-L and little-l forms of law, there exists a corollary between the capital-G Gospel of Jesus and little-g grace in human affairs. We see this played out in our own lives  and those of others around us. When it comes to lifting the human spirit, nothing is more potent than love in the midst of deserved judgments. This is sometimes referred to as unconditional love. Grace proves, time and again, to be the force that inspires service and creativity; hope and vulnerability; new life. Biblical figures like Zachaeus and Gomer, fictional ones like Jean Valjean and Ebenezer Scrooge, and historical figures like John Newton and Martin Luther King, Jr. testify to such human qualities.

A grace-centered view of the world takes for granted that we are all severely handicapped in our ability to love one another, and that we stand a better chance of loving our neighbor when we aren’t looking to them to do or be what they cannot do or be. Christian hope, therefore, lies in not having to generate love on our own steam but in prior belovedness, expressed in sacrificial terms, and in spite of our being undeserving. This, of course, is the very definition of divine love. It is known by its tendency to seek out and care for the unlovable. The law commands that we love perfectly; the Gospel tells us that we are perfectly loved. Consider, for a moment, how “humanly” impossible it is to love in the manner described in 1 Corinthians 13 (“The Message” translation):

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

One of Luther’s earliest and most important expressions came in thesis 26 of The Heidelberg Disputation (1518). He wrote, “The law says, ‘Do this,’ and it is never done. Grace says, ‘Believe in this,’ and everything is already done.” As Zahl notes, “The pressure to self-justify has been removed, and it has been replaced with freedom: the freedom to die and yet to live, to fail and yet to succeed. The freedom to love, to serve, to wait, to laugh, to cry, to sit idle, to get busy – yes, even to play.”

Community: The Answer to the Opiate Epidemic

The following is taken directly from the Afterword of Sam Quinone’s bestselling book “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.” You can purchase a copy of this vital publication here.

BY THE TIME I BEGAN research for this book in 2012, we had, I believe, spent decades destroying community in America, mocking and clawing at the girdings of government that provide the public assets and infrastructure that we took for granted and that make communal public life possible. Meanwhile, we exalted the private sector. We beat Communism and thus came to believe the free market was some infallible god. Accepting this economic dogma, we allowed, encouraged, even, jobs to go overseas. We lavishly rewarded our priests of finance for pushing those jobs offshore. We demanded perfection from government and forgave the private sector its trespasses.

Part of the private sector developed a sense of welfare entitlement. Certainly, in this opiate scourge, it is the private sector that has taken the profits; the costs of dealing with the vast collateral damage have fallen to the public sector. A couple months after this book’s publication, Forbes counted the Sackler family ¹, and Raymond Sackler, the last remaining of the brothers, as the richest newcomer to the magazine’s list of “America’s Richest Families” – with an estimated net worth of $14 billion. All of that was due to sales of OxyCotin, which the magazine estimated at $35 billion since the drug’s release in 1996.²

We seemed to fear the public sphere. Parents hovered over kids. Alarmed at some menace out in public, they accompanied their kids everywhere they went. In one case, a couple was actually charged with allowing their nine-year-old daughter and her sister to go to the park alone. The term “free-range parenting” was coined to describe the daring parents who let their kids out of their sight. No wonder so many kids – boys mostly – were diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Adderall and other drugs. (I wish someone would study the incidence of opiate addiction [in] teens and young adults of people who as kids were diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed drugs like Adderall.) They spent their lives indoors, cooped up, bouncing off the walls. I can say this because I was one: Boys are like dogs; they need to run and run and run.

When I was a boy in suburban Southern California, we spent our entire free time outside playing – football, basketball, riding bikes, or just running around. We probably ran three or four miles a day every day. My knees were in an almost permanent state of being skinned, with scabs growing and being torn off by my roughhousing. My mother had a bell from her family’s farm in Iowa that she used to ring us home at dinnertime – because we were always running around out of the house. I’ve been back to the street where I grew up eight times in the last few years and have yet to see a human being outside. The park where I used to play is always empty.

Keeping kids cooped up seems to be connected to the idea that we can avoid pain, avoid danger. It doesn’t surprise me to hear that in universities, students, raised indoors on screens, apparently lived in some crystalline terror of any kind of emotional anguish. A 2015 story in the Atlantic called “The Coddling of the American Mind” reported on the phenomenon of college students – kids who grew up in the era of hyper-protection from physical pain – demanding to be protected as well from painful ideas. They were demanding professors provide “trigger warnings” in advance of ideas that might provoke a strong emotional content – for example, a novel that describes racial violence. This new campus ethos, the authors wrote, “presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into ‘safe spaces’ where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some [people] uncomfortable.”

Psychology Today ran a story on “Declining Student Resilience” that [sic] noticed increased neediness in college students, that students had called campus police after seeing a mouse, blaming teachers for poor grades, and “increasingly seeking help for, and apparently having emotional crises over, problems of everyday life.” Professors, the authors continued, “described an increased tendency to see a poor grade as reason to complain rather than reason to study more, or more effectively. Much of the discussions had to do with the amount of hand-holding faculty should do versus the degree to which the response should be something like, “Buck up, this is college!” All of this seems the predictable result of the idea that we should be protected from pain at all costs.

As a country, meanwhile, we acted as if consumption and the accumulation of stuff was the path to happiness. We leave family Thanksgivings to go stand in line to buy products – Xboxes, tablets, and the like – that keep us isolated and that poison our kids, and we go do it as if we have no choice in the matter. We have built isolation into our suburbs and called it prosperity. Added to that mix is the expansion of technology that connects us to the world but separates us from our next-door neighbor. We wound up dangerously separate from each other – whether in poverty or in affluence.

Kids no longer play in the street. Parks are underused. Dreamland lies buried beneath a strip mall. Why then do we wonder that heroin is everywhere? In our isolation, heroin thrives; that’s it’s natural habitat. And our very search for painlessness led us to it. Heroin is, I believe, the final expression of values we have fostered for thirty-five years. It turns every addict into narcissistic, self-absorbed, solitary hyper-consumers. A life that finds opiates turns away from family and community and devotes itself entirely to self-gratification by buying and consuming one product – the drug that makes being alone not just all right, but preferable. [Emphasis added.]

I believe more strongly than ever that the antidote to heroin is community. If you want to keep kids off heroin, make sure people in your neighborhood do things together, in public, often. Form your own Dreamland and break down those barriers that keep people isolated. Don’t have play dates; just go out and play. Bring people out of their private rooms, whatever forms those rooms take. We might consider living more simply. Pursuit of stuff doesn’t equal happiness, as any heroin addict will tell you. People in some places I’ve been may emerge from this plague more compassionate, more grounded, willing to give children experience rather than things, and show them that pain is part of life and often endurable. The antidote to heroin may well be making your kids ride bikes outside, with their friends, and let them skin their knees.

Sam Quinones

________________________________________________________________________________

1 The richest newcomer to Forbes 2015 list of America’s Richest Families comes in at a stunning $14 billion. The Sackler family, which owns Stamford, Conn.-based Purdue Pharma, flew under the radar when Forbes launched its initial list of wealthiest families in July 2014, but this year they crack the top-20, edging out storied families like the Busches, Mellons and Rockefellers. How did the Sacklers build the 16th-largest fortune in the country? The short answer: making the most popular and controversial opioid of the 21st century – OxyContin. Purdue, 100% owned by the Sacklers, has generated estimated sales of more than $35 billion since releasing its time-released, supposedly addiction-proof version of the painkiller oxycodone back in 1995. Its annual revenues are about $3 billion, still mostly from OxyContin. The Sacklers also own separate drug companies that sell to Asia, Latin America, Canada and Europe, together generating similar total sales as Purdue’s operation in the United States.

2 OxyContin is a dying business in America. Literally. With the nation in the grip of an opiate epidemic that has claimed more than 200,000 lives, the U.S. medical establishment is turning away from painkillers. Top health officials are discouraging primary care doctors from prescribing them for chronic pain, saying there is no proof they work long-term and substantial evidence they put patients at risk. Prescriptions are declining amid increased scrutiny over drug addiction, down 12% since 2012 according to data from healthcare information firm IMS Health. OxyContin saw prescriptions fall 17%.

The Blind Shall See

The following is an excerpt from “As Easy as Drinking Water: A Muslim Forgiven,” by Afshin Javid. Afshin, an extremely devout Muslim boy, had sought to please God in every way by following the words of the Qur’an. Having committed himself to live and die for Islam, at the age of 12 he joined Hezbollah. Later, in obedience to his grandfather’s commission to preach Islam to North Americans, Afshin attempted illegal immigration to the West. Plans went awry when he was arrested and imprisoned in Malaysia’s infamous Pudu Jail.

“As Easy as Drinking Water” is the life story of Afshin Javid, who, in an hour of darkness, had an encounter with Jesus that would change his life forever. As you will see from reading Afshin’s memoir, he cried out to God in desperation in his cell one night. He felt a hand on his shoulder and asked who it was. A voice said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Not sure what this meant, or who the presence was, Afshin again asked, “What is your name?” The voice said, “I am Jesus Christ.” Afshin said he fell immediately to his face on the floor of his cell. From that point on, he was commissioned to tell the world of God’s marvelous love and His desire to forgive. This excerpt is from the chapter titled “The Blind Shall See.”

***

DURING ONE OF OUR Friday evening services, a young blind Bengali man in his late twenties or early thirties tapped his way through the entrance of the church with a cane. He sat and listened to the service, and at the end he came forward during the prayer time. One of our members greeted him at the front.

“How can we pray for you?”

“I was born blind, but I would like to see. Can you pray for me to be able to see?”

“Of course we can pray for this,” someone said.

“Yes,” I said, “there is no reason why you cannot be healed today. There are plenty of stories in the Bible where Jesus healed incurable diseases, including blindness. There is no reason why He can’t do it today.”

There happened to be a doctor in attendance who was visiting our church. Having overheard the story, he felt he needed to protect us from embarrassing ourselves and making God look bad in the process.

“Everyone should know that if this man was born blind, it probably means he had an infection in the womb that destroyed his retina, or maybe he has some other inherited problem. Whatever the cause, the nerves from his eyes cannot carry any signal to his brain. The connections are broken. I don’t think that praying is going to work here.”

“I really don’t understand what you are trying to explain to us, and further, I don’t want your thoughts to stand in the way of us trying to pray for healing,” I said.

“It’s like the plug for a lamp,” he said. “If you cut the cord, you can’t get any power to the lamp. Praying for this man is going to put us all in an awkward position. When nothing happens, we will have to explain why. It would be better to not pray at all.”

I didn’t understand anything about how eyes work, how nerves work, or how the brain works – and I still don’t. What he was saying was all mumbo jumbo. I only knew one thing. James 5:14-15 says, “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” (NASB)

It does not say, “Pray only for people with certain diseases.” It says, “Pray for the sick.” For me, praying for the sick was as simple as that: “Pray for the sick.” It did not seem all that complicated. It was not my responsibility to be certain that God was going to do what I asked for. It was my responsibility to be obedient to His command, which was to pray.

Sometimes God does not heal but says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9), and other times He says, “Yes, I will heal.” Why He says what He says, and how He answers prayers, are His business. These are management decisions. I am a soldier. I don’t get to make management decisions. I just have to do what I am told.

So I turned and said, “Doctor, I don’t care what you say. I am not deterred by the specifics of this man’s medical problems. I am approaching the One who created this man, and I am asking Him for healing. I can assure you I have no power of my own to do anything. I just take orders.” I felt a little bad for the doctor. I understand that as a medical professional and an intellectual, he was trying to help us out. But sometimes, too much knowledge has a negative effect on our ability to take God at His word.

We all gathered around the man and prayed a very simple prayer, short, to the point, in faith, and in obedience. “Lord, would you stretch out your hand and heal this man in the Name of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Please give him back his eyesight, Lord.”

The next thing we knew the man said, “I can see something! It’s kind of blurry, but I can see!” We all immediately burst into praise and shouts to the Lord. We were so excited to see such a miracle happen right in front of us.

“Hallelujah!” people were shouting.

“Praise God!” echoed around the room. It sounded like the home team had won a football game. The doctor tried to calm us all down and assure us that we were completely deluded.

“Hey, everyone, just settle down. There is no way this man can see anything,” he assured us. “Look, I will show you.” The doctor raised four fingers in front of the man’s face. “How many fingers am I holding up, sir?” he said. Without waiting for a response, he looked over to us smugly. He was certain that the man would not be able to answer. “Four,” the man said.

“You see? He can’t see anything.” The doctor looked down at his own hand and realized he was holding up four fingers. I must confess that the fact that the doctor could not remember how many fingers he had held up added to the moment in a most gratifying way. I am not sure who was more shocked – the man who had been healed or the doctor. Jesus performed this miracle for the Father’s glory in the same manner as when He was living among us: “As He went along, He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.'” (John 9:1-3)

Sometimes, as Christians, we try too hard to protect the reputation of the God we serve. Because we are afraid He might not answer our prayer, we avoid praying altogether. We don’t want anyone to say, “Your god does not exist!” or “Your god never answers!” That day I learned we should never assume the role of God’s protector and defender because it may lead us to misguided inaction, preventing Him from doing a miracle. On the flip side, many have tried to defend God with misguided action, and in so doing have wrongly shed blood in His name. It’s best to let God defend His own reputation, and do only what He commands.

This experience built my faith tremendously. After that day, I fully believed that whenever I had the opportunity to pray for the lame, the blind, or the sick of any sort, they would be healed instantly and restored to health. I thought of these words from Scripture: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” (Mark 16:17-18)

Afshin Javid

Of Modern Poetry

Ask ten different educated, well-read people to define modernism, or the “modern” era [you know, the one right before our total disillusionment and our adoption of post-modern thinking] and you’ll likely get ten different definitions; or at least ten different sentiments about that period in our history as a nation, as a people. Certainly, going in to the modern era, we thought (or were at least were hopeful) that science would solve all our problems. There would be vast improvements in industrialization, medicine, peacetime, reduction in world hunger, and the advancement of the rights of man, woman and child. Then came World War I, the stock market crash, and World War II. We dropped a nuclear warhead on a Japanese city, instantly killing 80,000 people. The shock wave was felt for over 18 kilometers.

Novelists, poets, painters, and many other artists put their angst on display through the medium of their choice. I found the following poem by Wallace Stevens. Try reading it as if you were living in the early 1900s. Feel his emotion, his worry, his outrage, quiet as it may be in this piece. He comments that the poem of the mind had not always had to try so hard to find its scene. Its place. Things usually didn’t change so fast, so drastically. Stevens wrote this poem three years before the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Many more horrific and inexplicable changes were yet to come…

The poem of the mind in the act of finding
What will suffice. It has not always had
To find: the scene was set; it repeated what
Was in the script.
Then the theatre was changed
To something else. Its past was a souvenir.
It has to be living, to learn the speech of the place.
It has to face the men of the time and to meet
The women of the time. It has to think about war
And it has to find what will suffice. It has
To construct a new stage. It has to be on that stage,
And, like an insatiable actor, slowly and
With meditation, speak words that in the ear,
In the delicatest ear of the mind, repeat,
Exactly, that which it wants to hear, at the sound
Of which, an invisible audience listens,
Not to the play, but to itself, expressed
In an emotion as of two people, as of two
Emotions becoming one. The actor is
A metaphysician in the dark, twanging
An instrument, twanging a wiry string that gives
Sounds passing through sudden rightnesses, wholly
Containing the mind, below which it cannot descend,
Beyond which it has no will to rise.
It must
Be the finding of a satisfaction, and may
Be of a man skating, a woman dancing, a woman
Combing. The poem of the act of the mind.
©1942 Wallace Stevens

The Worst Man-Made Epidemic in History

The following is comprised of excerpts from Sam Quinones’ Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic. I want to praise Quinones for this seminal work. Personally, it has defined for me the very nightmare I, and countless others, have lived, each to his or her own level, after discovering the morphine molecule through seemingly acceptable pain medications like Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin. You can purchase a copy of Dreamland here: Dreamland

AS HEROIN AND OXYCONTIN addiction consumed the children of America’s white middle class, parents hid the truth and fought alone. Quietly. Friends and neighbors who knew shunned them. “When your kid’s dying from a brain tumor or leukemia, the whole community shows up,” said a mother of two addicts. “They bring casseroles. They pray for you. They send you cards. When your kid’s on heroin, you don’t hear from anybody, until  they die. Then everybody comes and they don’t know what to say.”

These parents made avoidable mistakes, and when a son died or entered rehab for the fourth time, they again hid the truth, believing themselves alone, which they were as long as they kept silent. This pervasive lie was easily swallowed. It often lay buried beneath lush lawns, shiny SUVs, and the bedrooms of kids who lacked for nothing. It was easier to swallow, too, because some of these new addicts were high school athletes – the charismatic golden youth of these towns. Athletes opened the door for other students who figured that if cool jocks were using pills, how bad could it be?

One addict was Carter, from one of of California’s wealthiest communities, the son of a banker. Carter had been a high school star in football and baseball. With no break from sports during the year, he battled injuries that never healed. A doctor prescribed Vicodin for him, with no warning on what Vicodin contained, or suggestions for how it should be used. Sports were king in Carter’s town. It was a place of gleaming mansions, but he felt no sense that education was of value in providing choices in life, much less for the love of learning. These kids’ futures were assured. Sports were what mattered. Dads would brag to friends about their sons’ athletic exploits, then berate their boys for poor play, urging greater sacrifice. From the athletic director down to parents and teachers they heard, “You need grades so you can play. That was the vibe we got,” said Carter.

Many new athlete-addicts were not from poor towns where sports might be a ticket out for a lucky few. The places where opiate addiction settled hard were often middle- and upper-class. Parents were surgeons and developers and lawyers who provided their kids with everything. Yet sports were as much a narcotic for these communities as they were to any ghetto. Love of learning seemed absent, while their school weight rooms were palatial things, and in many of them pain pills were quietly commonplace. Just as opiates provided doctors with a solution to chronic-pain patients, Vicodin and Percocet provided coaches with the ultimate tool to get kids playing again.

Carter’s coach told him stories of players years before who were gulping down Vicodin before practices and games. “In my town, the stands were always filled. You wanted to be the hero. So you think, ‘I can’t look weak. I gotta push myself.’ I would get these small injuries. The coaches wouldn’t pay any attention. I taught myself to not pay attention to any injuries.” Most athletes on every team on which Carter played used pills, for injury or recreation. Soon Carter grew addicted to Vicodin, and then to OxyContin. From there, as a student athlete at a Division I university, he began using heroin.

Football players were seen as symbols of this American epidemic. Their elevated status on campus left some of them unaffected by consequences. Carter was caught selling pills and was told not to do it again. Above all, though, players were in constant pain and were expected to play with it. If opiates were now for chronic pain, well, football players endured more chronic pain than most. Necks, thighs, and ankles ached all season. Medicating injuries to get athletes playing through the pain was nothing new. But as oxycodone and hydrocodone became the go-to treatment for chronic pain, organized sports – and football in particular – opened as a virtual gateway to opiate addiction in many schools. Thus, with the epidemic emerged the figure of the heroin-addicted football player. Though, of course, few wanted to talk too much about that.

By 2008, when Jo Anna Krohn’s son died, these kinds of delusions had been accepted for almost a decade in places like Salt Lake, Albuquerque, Charlotte, Minneapolis, and other cities that had for that same decade been the drivers and beneficiaries of the greatest boom in the history of U.S. consumer spending. But it was in beat-down Portsmouth, Ohio, where one mother had the gumption to own the truth and say something about it.

***

ACROSS PORTSMOUTH, AT THE Counseling Center, Ed Hughes thought silence was a huge part of the story. Opiates had exploded all those plans Hughes had in the mid-1990s to consolidate the Counseling Center’s operations and focus on improving its internal workings. The center opened years before in a small house. By 1992 it began residential treatment with 16 beds. This quickly increased to 150 beds, with a huge waiting list, and a staff of close to 200. It moved its outpatient center into an abandoned three-story school due entirely to the swarms of new opiate addicts.

“We’ve never seen anything move this fast,” said Hughes. A decade and a half in, Ed Hughes was still waiting for the arc of addicted clients to plateau and curve downward. Kids were coming to the center from across Ohio. Many, said Hughes, grew up coddled, bored, and unprepared for life’s hazards and difficulties. They’d grown up amid the consumerist boom that began in the mid 1990s. Hughes believed parenting was changing as well. “Spoiled rich kid” syndrome seeped into America’s middle class. Parents shielded their kids from complications and hardships, and praised them for minor accomplishments – all as they had less time for their kids.

“You only develop self-esteem one way, and that’s through accomplishment,” Hughes said. “You have a lot of kids who have everything and look good, but they don’t have any self-esteem. You see twenty-somethings: They have a nice car, money in their pocket, and they got a cell phone… a big-screen TV. I ask them, ‘Where the hell did all that stuff come from? You’re a student.’ ‘My mom and dad gave it to me.’ And you put opiate addiction in the middle of that?” Hughes added, “Then the third leg of the stool is the fifteen-year-old brain.”

Hughes saw this all the time: Adult drug users incapable of making mature choices. This happened because opiates stunted the part of their brain controlling rational action. ¹ “We’ve got twenty-five- to thirty-year-old, opiate-addicted people who are going on fifteen. Their behavior, the way their brain works, is like an adolescent,” said Hughes. “It’s like the drug came in there and overwhelmed that brain chemistry, and the front of the brain did not develop.” He added, “The front of the brain has to develop through mistakes. But the first reaction to the addicted person is to head back to the family: ‘Will you rescue me?’ Whatever the person’s rescued from, there’s no learning. There’s no experiences, no frontal brain development. They’re doing well and then some idea comes into their head and they’re off a cliff. It may not be a decision to use [drugs]. Most relapse comes not from the craving for the drug. It comes from this whole other level of unmanageability, putting myself in compromising situations, or being dishonest, being lazy – being a fifteen-year-old.”

***

FIVE YEARS AFTER PORTSMOUTH found itself swept up in a national epidemic, the victims of America’s opiate scourge had emerged from the shadows and the silence. They were everywhere now. Heroin had traveled a long way from the back alleys of New York City and William Burrough’s Junky. The town of Simi Valley agonized over a spate of opiate overdose deaths – eleven in a single year. Simi Valley, conservative and religious, has long been an enclave for cops. Many LAPD officers live in the town. Simi’s vice mayor at the time was a Los Angeles police officer. So for years Simi was one of America’s safest towns. According to the crime statistics, it still is. But with pills everywhere and heroin sold in high schools, its kids were now also dying of dope. Simi youths clogged the methadone clinic. Nearby, Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, and Santa Clarita told similar stories. Low crime and high fatal overdoses was the new American paradigm.

Susan Klimuski, whose son Austin died from a heroin overdose, formed a coalition to fight back. It was called Not One More. It received support from city council and the town’s retail core. Yet these were times when heroin was still invisible, conveniently hidden away, at least to anyone who wasn’t a junkie, or a parent of one. Then, on Super Bowl Sunday 2014, America awoke to the news that one of its finest actors was dead. Philip Seymour Hoffman, forty-six, was found that morning in his Greenwich Village apartment, a syringe in his arm and powder heroin in packets branded with the Ace of Spades near his corpse. Blood tests showed he had heroin in his system, combined with cocaine, amphetamine, and benzodiazepine. The Oscar-winning actor – a father of three- had checked into rehab the previous May for ten days, and then, pronouncing himself sober again, left to resume a hectic film schedule. This death hit me right between the eyes. I was a die-hard fan of Hoffman’s acting. He had a heroin habit in college (twenty years ago), but managed to get clean. At least for two decades. Hoffman’s death awoke America to the opiate epidemic.

Within days of covering the story of Hoffman’s death, media outlets from coast to coast discovered that thousands of people were dying. Heroin abuse, the news reports insisted, was surging. Almost all the new heroin addicts were hooked first on prescription painkillers. It was not just the pain, however. This scourge was connected to the conflation of bigger forces: of economics, of aggressive prescription drug marketing, of poverty and prosperity. But this was tough to articulate in four-minute interviews, and a lot of it got lost in the media’s rush to discover and report the new plague. Attorney General Eric Holder described an “urgent and growing public health crisis,” and called on police and paramedics to carry naloxone, an effective antidote to opiate overdose. The problem also prompted Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A. to issue a report in November 2016 on alcohol, drugs and health. This is the most comprehensive health crisis report issued by a surgeon general since cigarette smoking. You can read a PDF of the entire report here.

Two decades since the evolving pain revolution,² a consensus emerged that opiates are not helpful for some varieties of chronic pain, including back pain, migraines, and fibromyalgia. In fact, it was finally decided that opiate use is risky. Many clinics and physicians developed policies against using opiates for chronic non-cancer pain. One 2007 survey of studies of back pain and opiates found that “use disorders” were common among patients, and “aberrant” use behavior occurred in up to 24 percent of the cases. It was unclear whether opiates had a positive effect on back pain in the long term. Personally, I have found that opiates do nothing more than create a euphoria that tends to distract me from the pain for a few hours, only to ebb, thus requiring more opiates. By the end of the 2000s, it was already common for people to go from abusing opiate painkillers to a heroin habit. Purdue Pharma, the inventor of OxyContin (who paid a $635.5 million fine for falsely claiming their formulation of the drug oxycodone in time-released pills was far less addictive) recognized this, and in 2010 they reformulated OxyContin with an abuse deterrent, supposedly making the drug even harder to deconstruct and inject.

Unfortunately, by this time, heroin had spread to most corners of the country because the rising sea level of opiates flowed there first. “What started as an OxyContin and prescription drug addiction problem in Vermont as now grown into a full-blown heroin crisis,” said Governor Shumlin. What made New York City the dominant heroin market for much of the twentieth century – its vast number of addicts, and its immigrants from poppy-rich regions of the globe – was now true of most of America. Most of the country’s heroin was coming from Mexico, through the Southwest, trucked into New York. The entrepreneurial Xalisco brothers from Nayarit, Mexico, devised a system for selling heroin across the United States that resembles pizza delivery. An addict calls and places an order, and an operator directs him to an intersection or parking lot. The dealer carries balloons of heroin in his mouth. He simply spits out what the addict ordered. If the cops move on the dealer, he washes the balloons down his throat with a swig from a nearby bottle of water. No evidence, no arrest. The dealers have also been known to deliver to the door for “clients” that are home-bound due to illness or disability.

What started as a concern among physicians for a solution to chronic pain was hijacked by greedy Big Pharma, eventually morphing into nationwide heroin use and addiction resulting from the medical community and the government tightened the reins on prescriptions. Of course, whenever drugs are involved, there is always someone at the ready to provide a system of delivery to dope-sick addicts and chronic pain sufferers hankering for release.

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¹ Adolescence and young adulthood is a period of continued brain growth and change. The frontal lobes, key to executive functioning, such as planning, working memory, and impulse control, are among the last areas of the brain to mature. Age is a risk factor that is associated with the onset of drug use in adolescence and young adulthood. Adolescence is a developmental period associated with the highest risk for developing a substance use disorder.

² During the 1990s changes in attitudes and techniques in pain treatment were coming quickly. In 1996, the president of the American Pain Society, Dr. James Campbell, proposed that pain should be assessed in the same manner as other vital signs. They trademarked the slogan, “Pain: The Fifth Vital Sign.” This led to the 0-10 pain intensity scale now prevalent in every ER and doctor’s office in America. Essentially, doctors were finally given more power in prescribing opiates to patients suffering from chronic pain who were not cancer patients.

References

Quinones, Sam. (2015). Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Press

Winters, K. and Arria, K. (2011). “Adolescent Brain Development and Drugs.” The Prevention Researcher, 18(2), 21–24.

Jesus Calling

EXCERPT FROM JESUS CALLING
©2014 Sarah Young
July 19

Bring Me all your feelings, even the ones you wish you didn’t have. Fear and anxiety still plague you. Feelings per se are not sinful, but they can be temptations to sin. Blazing missiles of fear fly at you day and night; these attacks from the evil one come at you relentlessly. Use your shield of faith to extinguish those flaming arrows. Affirm your trust in Me, regardless of how you feel. If you persist, your feelings will eventually fall in line with your faith.

Do not hide from your fear or pretend it isn’t there. Anxiety that you hide in the recesses of your heart will give birth to the fear of fear: a monstrous mutation. Bring your anxieties out into the Light of My Presence, where we can deal with them together. Concentrate on trusting Me, and fearfulness will gradually lose it foothold within you.

EPHESIANS 6:16; 1 JOHN 1:5-7; ISAIAH 12:2