Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The importance of hope

The cancer with which I live is a chronic, fatal disease, i.e., there is no known cure.
To my surprise, I recently saw an article in the popular press that a reported a case in which a woman appears to have been completely cured of multiple myeloma. I've not seen similar reports nor have I seen any scientific evidence that supports the possibility of a complete cure. Is the woman's alleged cure a fluke, a case of remission masquerading as a complete cure in a way that her healthcare providers do not provide, or an actual cure? I don't know.
What I do know is that the article added a small amount of light at the end of the dark tunnel (the valley of death?) through which I am currently journeying.
As a long-time supporter of the right to die and of assisted living, I have given considerable thought to what happens when life becomes devoid of hope. That, I'm discovering, is not the same thing as valuing hope for the ways in which it strengthens and enriches.
In the current US presidential contest, Donald Trump has tapped into a group of voters who are angry because they feel abandoned by the system and who often are unable to see hope for a better life. Trump's popularity indicts the American political and economic systems for having become so skewed in favor of the rich and powerful that many of the most vulnerable among us lack hope. Their hopelessness stands in stark contrast to the hope for a better life that migrants generally see, a hope that fuels long journeys at great cost and risk to a state (e.g., the UK or the US) in which the migrant perceives real hope for a better life.
Karl Marx and many others have criticized religion in general and Christianity in particular for emphasizing that hope primarily means looking to life after death. Too many theologians and believers are guilty of emphasizing that understanding of hope. My experience with cancer, Donald Trump's appeal to Americans who lack hope, and hope's power to motivate human migrations all underscore the importance of hope for a better today as well as a better tomorrow.

For what do you hope? How does that hope strengthen or enrich you life?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Virtual community

An ongoing conversation among many religious bloggers and internet writers about religion is the possibility of virtual community.
The number of responses, in various forms ranging from likes to comments, I received following my Ethical Musings' post about having cancer both surprised and encouraged me. The responses were all positive; a majority promised prayers, though none – thankfully – responded with meaningless platitudes about God's healing power. A substantial number of times, the response came from someone with whom I had once worked, whether as his or her boss, his or her priest or chaplain, or his or her colleague or friend. The internet does not have to be a bad, mean, or scary place.
Juxtaposing virtual with physical community seems to me to create a false dichotomy. Physical community – actual human contact – is essential. Virtual community can enrich, expand, and extend physical community but is never a substitute for the foundational experiences of actual physical community.
I also have learned in very personal ways that community, whether physical or virtual, requires significant commitment of time and energy to sustain. No longer can I deal with every email the day I receive that email, a praxis I learned and adopted when in the Navy. These days, I often lack the requisite emotional and spiritual strength to reach that goal. My "good" days – days when my energy seems relatively high and I am more focused and optimistic – in contrast to my "bad" days limit my ability to respond.
I hope that people do not interpret a delayed response negatively. Delays reflect my reaching the extent of my perceived capacity in that moment. Not all things are in every moment possible for every human. Rejection of that view, with its implicit judgment of the person who fails to break through illusory constraints, is one of the harms that I had not previously recognized yet is inherent in most versions of positive thinking and its close cousin, the prosperity gospel. There is a time for all things, even a time for answering electronic communications. Real community, whether physical or virtual, provides persons the space and time needed to process ideas and feelings.

So, I am grateful for community whenever I experience it and in all of its forms. However, I know that healthy community offers me the space and time I need, which, given my cancer, may not always match the expectations, even the most well intentioned of expectations, of other community members. I am especially appreciative when a correspondent explicitly acknowledges that the ravages of cancer may limit both my ability to respond and the predictability of that response.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The future of Ethical Musings

As Ethical Musings' followers and subscribers probably know, I have not posted an Ethical Musing since the beginning of September. And from the middle of July, my posts on Ethical Musings consisted of sermons and two articles written for the Episcopal Café.
The paucity and nature of my Ethical Musings' posts point to physical problems that I began to experience in the spring and that culminated in a diagnosis of multiple myeloma in September. Multiple myeloma is a relatively rare form of cancer that attacks the blood and for which no cure exists. Chemotherapy can usually achieve a relatively positive short- and mid-term outlook (6 years or more of enjoying a reasonable quality of life), but multiple myeloma is fatal.
Multiple myeloma is difficult to diagnose. In my case, pain caused by a collapsed vertebra and cracked ribs, along with several other symptoms (hypercalcemia, poor kidney functioning, and anemia), ultimately pointed to the correct diagnosis after some missteps.
After consulting with some Ethical Musings readers, colleagues, and friends, I've decided to resume writing the Ethical Musings blog with some changes. First, I doubt that the blog will appear with consistent frequency, so encourage those interested in reading my posts to subscribe or follow Ethical Musings in one of the several ways identified on the blog page.
Second, having multiple myeloma has somewhat altered my worldview. That is, although the diagnosis has not caused me to change my basic theological and ethical beliefs, my diagnosis has rearranged subjects that interest me. Cancer and healthcare, unsurprisingly, have moved up; military ethics has become less of a focus.
Third, posts will probably be shorter and contributions from others will be more important. Cancer and chemo combine to leave me with less energy; chemo and sometimes the cancer's effects have diminished my capacity for thought. Consequently, reader comments are even more welcome and essential than when I began writing Ethical Musings.

Finally, I anticipate Ethical Musings continuing to evolve in ways that are unpredictable yet hopefully meaningful. The number of followers and subscribers has continued to grow slowly; the number of visitors per page is up significantly, though I do not know how many of these visitors spend much time on each page or whether the page's content has any influence on a visitor's thoughts or life.
I am sorry that I lack the emotional and physical energy to notify all of my friends who are part of the Ethical Musings' community of my medical condition. Moving ahead with Ethical Musings, however, seems like a constructive step forward.