Wednesday 14 November 2012

Savita Halappanavar - A life lost but let it not be in vain!

Woman 'denied a termination' dies in hospital 

(Click on heading above to read story from Irish Times)

This was the horror story that Ireland woke up to this morning! 

As the day progressed many voices from the ‘pro-life’ lobby protested that this tragedy was being used by some to further the cause of abortion legislation in Ireland and that it was far too soon to rush to judgement on the basis of newspaper articles alone. It was also argued that our existing case law arising from the ‘X’ case would have allowed for a termination and that the fault lay with the medical practitioners rather than the legislature.

Whatever the truth in this specific case, and it is indeed true that we cannot be sure of the whole story at this early stage, it is obvious that the current situation is untenable. It seems that despite the ruling on the ‘X’ case there is enough ambiguity and uncertainty around the grounds for a lawful termination to suggest that the events that may have led to the death of Savita Halappanavar could yet be repeated. That is an unacceptable prospect and so something must be done. Twenty years of political inactivity appears to have resulted in the most bitter of fruit.

Not surprisingly there is no political appetite to legislate for the ‘X’ case. Abortion is the single most divisive and dangerous issue that any politician will engage with. It seems almost impossible to have a reasoned and tempered discussion on the issue without it descending into bilateral abuse and rhetoric. The main problem it seems to me with this debate as it has been conducted to date is that it is dominated by the extremes. The ‘Pro-life’ and ‘Pro-choice’ groups have set themselves up in direct opposition to one another and any who occupy the middle ground run the risk of being caught in the crossfire and so have been sidelined and silenced. This despite the fact that this middle ground may well be in the majority.

There is fault to be found in both of the polar opposites as they have positioned themselves. The ‘Pro-choice’ group have failed to take seriously enough the fact that abortion is always a tragedy and should not be glossed over callously as no more significant than a tooth extraction. Whether abortion on demand (which incidentally I am absolutely opposed to) or due to threat to the mother’s life, rape or unviability of foetus, it is the termination of life and to minimize that is to undermine our own humanity. I say this not as a religious person, which I am, but as a human being. Respect for life is not the sole preserve of the religious.

When it comes to the ‘Pro-life’ group the principal fault is ironically the failure to take seriously the life of the mother. Their pro-life stance is somewhat selective. The mother is portrayed as a vessel whose sole purpose is to support the life within her with no account for her own humanity, welfare and integrity. Her motivations in choosing abortion, no matter how traumatic or medically necessary, are ignored and her actions are described in terms of murder regardless of the circumstances. This is cruel and for want of a better word tantamount to misogyny.

The only hope for a reasonable debate and a mature and responsible approach to this issue which we have never faced up to as a nation is for the middle ground to find its voice. There is an alternative to the current polarisation which has poisoned any attempts to find a way forward. It is possible to be both ‘Pro-Life’ and ‘Pro-Choice’. We can simultaneously respect the right to life of the unborn and the life of the mother. Sometimes sadly there will be a conflict and difficult choices may need to be made but if those decisions are made in the context of an overarching respect for all life then while there will be pain our integrity as human beings is maintained. If we refuse to let the extremes dictate the agenda the previously vacated middle ground can become common ground and we can show the world that there is a third way that isn’t about mothers v babies but rather about discovering a much richer and comprehensive reverence for all life 

PS: Worth reading this which comes from friend and fellow blogger Ferdinand Von Prondzynski: Cruel Principles?

Civil Conversations - Learning to Disagree

My all time favourite Radio show / Podcast OnBeing with Krista Tippett is running a series at the moment on the 'Civil Conversations Project' - The conversations hosted by Krista herself deal with all the hot button issues of our time but in a way that brings new light and hope into our human condition.
An earlier series of these conversations can be found here.
Each of the conversations is in podcast,video & transcript format.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Trust & Politics

This column published in Irish Times, 'Rite & Reason' on 24th July 2012

  Trust & Politics

‘If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists - to protect them and to promote their common welfare - all else is lost.’

Those are the words of the then Senator Barack Obama as he addressed an audience at the University of Nairobi, Kenya in 2006. The context of his speech was the ongoing and widespread corruption which was undermining the future of Kenya, but it could just as easily have been Ireland where politicians of every hue have been put under the magnifying glass of public scrutiny and found wanting.

As more and more public representatives disappoint us with revelations of their dishonest and questionable behaviour our cynicism grows and our capacity to trust those in positions of power and authority is diminished. Politicians are becoming the lepers of 21st Century Ireland.

Even the great hope that we placed in the new breed of independents elected at the last general election is rapidly waning. We have come to expect the worst of our public representatives and increasingly they are living up to our expectations.

Our response to this systemic failure is not just disappointment and anger. In the face of deepening austerity we are determined that these same politicians should be punished for their abuse of our trust. We demand a curtailment of their wages and expenses, and a level of transparency in their financial dealings that requires every last paperclip and ink cartridge to be accounted for. Accountability and frugality are good but one wonders how long it will be before the Taoiseach is expected to trade in his official car for a Dublin Bike and his mobile phone for a carrier pigeon? I exaggerate slightly but perhaps it is time to draw breath and consider where all this is leading us.

Politicians are not just a necessary evil and indeed their profession was once considered a noble one. In a democratic society they are an essential component for society to function in a way that protects the interests of all its citizens. Equally, where there is no trust in our politicians then our politics and our society is doomed to failure. That is where we are headed in Ireland today. We are becoming a nation of people with no hope, no faith and no trust in people in authority to do the right thing.

This despair is spilling over into begrudgery, one of our nations most unattractive traits, and one which will ensure that the very people we need to enter the political sphere will stay well away. Without trust we are trapped in a cycle of political negativity which must be broken if we are to progress as a nation. So much of our political energy today is taken up with inquiries, tribunals and Dail committees whose increasing frequency is a direct reflection of our inability to trust those elected to serve the people of the State.

Equally indicative of that lack of trust is the constant recourse to referenda, which demonstrate how aware our politicians are that we don’t trust them to promote our common welfare. We are cynical and they are paranoid and this is no recipe for success.

So how do we break this cycle and rehabilitate our politics? The past must not be forgotten and must serve as a lesson to prevent us repeating our mistakes in the future. However we must move on from the blame game if we are to build a better future.

The failure of our institutions, be they political, corporate or religious does not mean that we do not have need of individuals and organisations that we can trust to look after those things that are beyond our competence or immediate concern. If we cannot trust others then we shall be crushed under the weight of the World.

Trust is not just a response to good behaviour but it can also be the catalyst for good behaviour. It was Ernest Hemingway who said “the best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them”. If we can learn to trust again – to make that leap of faith, then just maybe people of integrity will step forward to accept that trust.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Setting the scene for the New Year in the Anglican Communion

I think this says it all: New Year Editorial from Anglicans Online - Well worth a read.

Time to retire the old Prophets?

It used to be a particular brand of Christianity that preached a hopeless message of fire and brimstone, despair and destruction but now that role has been userped by a new tribe of prophets who call themselves the ‘Economists’.  Just as fast as our financial future evaporates it seems their prominence increases. These high priests of doom and gloom are multiplying at an alarming rate and are increasingly monopolizing our airwaves. They have already acquired huge swathes of the broadcast schedule, having taken up permanent residence on the Vincent Browne show and Prime Time, to name but two shows where their egos are massaged and their bellies tickled on a reglar basis. Their common theme is that we are completly banjaxed and the only thing that sets them apart is the likely length of our time in the Purgatory of Austerity.

I am sure I am not the only one who is getting weary of this chorus of catastrophe they sing with such glee and enthusiasm. I was more inclined to listen and take heed when they were lonely voices often barely heard above the roar of the Celtic Tiger.  Then you could count their number on the fingers of one hand and like the propets of old there was something compelling about the lone voice that was prepared to challenge the status quo. 

Prophesy is by its very nature a minority sport.  Prophets were never meant to be popular or share the celebrity status that so many of the ‘Economists’ do today.  In their multiplication and transition from the fringes the Economists have become not so much prophets as propagandists.  They no longer ask questions as true prophets do. They do not question the truth as they see it but preach it with increasing passion and an almost sado masochistic pleasure. 

If we were to base our lives on their message then our future would be on indefinite  hold – there would be no tomorrow and even our children and perhaps our children’s children would face a bleak and hopeless future!  There is no denying that we are in a difficult place but we know that now and we don’t need it repeated daily like a mantra which grinds us deeper into despair! We need to hear a new prophesy – we need to hear of a future that is not determined by our present – of a hope that is not destroyed by the failures of the past. Otherwise the message of the Economists will become a self fulfilling prophesy.

Thankfully not everyone has fallen under the spell of the Economists – There are still people who believe that there will be a tomorrow and that the Sun will rise again.  The most tangeable sign I see of this is the baby boom we are witnessing in Ireland at this time, and a trend that is the opposite of the rest of Europe.  This very day I will visit three families for baptism preparation and in the past year I have baptised almost more babies than in the previous 3 years.  What greater affirmation of the future can there be than to bring a baby into the world?  

Those of us who call ourselves Christian bear witness to the transformative power of the birth of a very special baby into human history - Could it be that the current baby boom is a harbinger of a transformation of our future? Could it be that Ireland instead of being an example of economic ruin could become a beacon of hope for the rest of Europe? I wonder....

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Where have I been?

Some readers of this blog may wonder about my silence in recent months - The following is an explanation. It is an article I wrote in late July 2011 for the Church of Ireland Gazette for which I write a regular column.

Saturday 9th July 2011 was the darkest day in the life of our family. We had travelled to Tenerife just a few days earlier for a very welcome holiday. It had been a busy few months and our son Aaron had not been in the best of form – Nicola & I hoped that the holiday would bring much needed refreshment to us all. However Aaron had not improved and we called a local doctor on the evening of Friday 8th July who diagnosed dehydration and a tummy bug.

In a dramatic turn of events the next morning it became clear when Aaron suddenly lost consciousness that something much more serious was wrong. Within minutes a doctor, two nurses and three paramedics were on hand fighting for his life. Our apartment resembled a scene from E.R. with drips and tubes and monitors attached to our critically ill son while the floor was littered with discarded needles and vials used in the lengthy attempt to bring him around. An hour later he was deemed stable enough to be moved by ambulance to the emergency clinic nearby. Nicola and I travelled in the front while the team worked on Aaron the whole way to the clinic. After a series of tests which yielded no answers while Aaron gradually deteriorated it was decided to do a CT scan.

Holding Aaron in the scanner I saw the face of the radiographer as the image formed in front of him and knew the news was not good. He had a brain tumour and of even more immediate threat he had an immense amount of pressure on the brain which was threatening to kill him within hours. They drained some fluid to relieve the pressure and then transferred Aaron to a major hospital in the capital city, Santa Cruz for emergency surgery.

Thankfully there was a neurosurgeon available and that night he underwent an operation to place a permanent shunt in the brain to drain the excess fluid generated by the tumour. We were told that he might never wake from the surgery and that even if he did there could be profound brain damage and blindness! It was a crushing prospect and one we found impossible to contemplate.

But thank God at 2.30am on Sunday morning he woke and recognised us – he couldn’t talk as he was intubated but seemed very alert. His recovery was dramatic but tests confirmed that more surgery was essential and so we eventually transferred back to Ireland with an ICU nurse and a family friend who had come out to support us. In the early hours of Wednesday 20th July we arrived in the children’s neurosurgical ward in Beaumont hospital in Dublin. Surgery quickly followed that Friday and as I write we are finally home with Aaron for a few weeks rest before a six week course of radiotherapy. The prognosis is good and we are very hopeful that Aaron will make a full recovery.

Despite the terrible experience of these last few weeks we have never felt alone. It was difficult being so far from home, from friends and family. The language barrier didn’t help either but the constant messages and prayers via phone, text, email, facebook & twitter were a lifeline for us. Ironically in a previous column you will recall me being very critical of the modern tools of social networking but it was these very networks that kept us going and the kindness not only of friends expressed through them but also of strangers. One facebook friend from Tenerife, Sara travelled the length of the Island with her mother and brother to visit us and bring gifts including blankets to make our stay in the hospital room with Aaron more comfortable, fruit picked from their garden and a compilation of soothing Canarian music she had put together on CD. It was a powerful example of how a virtual friendship can become real.

Our family and friends have all been wonderful but it was this kindness of strangers that moved us the most. There are too many instances to repeat but all of them demonstrate the potential for goodness that is in everyone created in God’s image. God has been present to us through these people – They were the answer to our prayers and the prayers of so many people who have held us up before God at this difficult time. We were and are surrounded by people and situations filled with Gods potential for love and healing. In our darkest hour God was made real through them.

Postscript: Since I wrote this Aaron has had 6 weeks intensive radiotherapy under general anaesthetic daily! He is recovering well and his prognosis is excellent. We look forward to a more healthy 2012

Monday 2 January 2012

Sermon for New Year's Day 2012

It’s New Years Day and I am sure many if not all of us have made some resolutions about the year ahead. We are determined to improve some area of our lives.
Some of us make resolutions like this one I came across recently: A man said to a friend: "I love getting up at 6am, going for a 5K run, and having a nice long shower before breakfast."
His friend asked, "How long have you been doing this?"
The man said: "I start tomorrow."

We are experts at putting things off – we human beings are masters of avoidance techniques – and Christians are no exception. Remember St Augustine one of the Fathers of the Church whose most quoted and remembered line was this: ‘Give me chastity Lord, but not yet!’

Nothing changes – How many embittered people, only on their deathbeds seek to make peace with their lifelong enemies and to be reconciled with family members with whom they have fallen out for reasons nobody can remember and yet nobody has the courage to question until it comes to the crunch – a time of crisis and panic. And in the intervening years these unresolved issues just eat away at people from the inside out.
Why do we put off those things that will bring us peace and comfort and even joy! Why do we torture ourselves so much.

There is a misconception about Christianity that it is all about delayed gratification – that it is all about the after-life and that perhaps it doesn’t really matter what happens in this life (this vale of tears) because in Eternity with God all will be well.
That is nothing short of Heresy! Listen to the words from today’s Epistle: ‘God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

God entered into our humanity precisely because our humanity matters to God. Jesus is True God and True Man – we are inclined to neglect the 2nd part of that description but it is the totality of Jesus that sets us free and gives us life in abundance.

Look at today’s Gospel – the visit of the Shepherds and their response to give glory to God because of what had happened on Earth already not at some distant point in the future in the next life but HERE, NOW, in the muck and the mud and the simplicity and ordinariness of a stable or a shed where the Saviour was born.

And the closing verse of the Gospel reading “He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” a timely reminder of his divine nature which had entered the world in the most humble yet extraordinary way. God’s sense of humour knows no bounds! Here we have all these expectations of a great and mighty military ruler and God sends a baby!

One of the things about babies is they demand our immediate attention or they scream a lot and make an awful mess of their nappies – there is nothing that creates a sense of urgency in any home than the arrival of a baby. You cannot put off dealing with a baby – everything else is secondary to it.

Was that what God was thinking when he sent his son Jesus into the World? – was that what he was telling us? – This is Jesus and you’d better pay attention or things will get very messy and unpleasant. Like any baby he can be the greatest source of joy in your lives or you can chose to neglect him, to reject him and WE DID! And what did God do? – Still determined not to give up on us – still determined to convey to us the urgency of this message he goes to the Cross! It took that to get our attention!

It seems strange to be talking about the Cross so close to Christmas but it is the fulfillment of what was begun in Bethlehem. We have the privilege of knowing how the story develops –In our Churches every year we read about it, dramatise it, pray about it, sing about it and give thanks for it but we fail to grasp the urgency of it.
To be a Christian is about so much more than this hour on Sunday - the other 167 hours of our week matter as well and so does what we do with them.

No more than we should delay on those resolutions about improving our health and wellbeing in the year ahead neither should we delay on improving our lives of faith. There is an urgency about following Jesus and there will be as long as there is pain and suffering on this beautiful planet that we live on. As long as babies die of starvation in Africa, as long as young children and women are sold into sex slavery, as long as people die in unnecessary wars, as long as disease and illness afflicts humanity and the whole of Creation there is an urgency about being a follower of Jesus. Tomorrow is not soon enough – Today is the day that the Lord has made – we should rejoice and be glad in it and be witnesses to it. Amen.