Saturday, October 14, 2017

Physician, heal yourself

What makes a doctor good?

ABC-TV is betting that it's the image and likeness of the lead character in its smash hit series, "The Good Doctor." So far, the network seems to have nailed America's ideal of the perfect physician, boasting 33 million viewers for the drama series in this young fall season.

British actor, Freddie Highmore, channels the endearing childlike personality of the fictional surgical resident, Shaun Murphy. The youthful character is autistic and has Savant syndrome. His messianic healing talents include the uncanny ability to quickly diagnosis diseases and conditions as he visualizes human anatomy in the virtual imaging chamber of his mind. The 3D, anatomical graphics dazzle viewers as Dr. Murphy remarkably perceives the seriousness of rare circumstances and seems to detect what is undetectable to even the most savvy and experienced surgeons at his hospital.

Murphy's "disabilities" make him eccentric and give the young doctor a laser-like obsession with human anatomy and its miraculous inner workings. But there is more to Dr. Murphy's allure than his abnormal brilliance. Like a child he is disarmingly genuine. He tells the truth, sometimes brutally to both colleagues and patients. He's humbly saintlike, free of ego and even the need to claim credit for his insights and ingenuity.

Dr. Murphy tells his boss, "You're arrogant. Do you think that makes you a better surgeon?"

He reveals a terminal diagnosis in front of an unsuspecting patient, "She has a sarcoma." Later he identifies the unorthodox strategy to remove one of her healthy kidneys, clearing a path for surgeons to cut out the tumor around her heart. The unconventional idea saves the woman's life.

The same good doctor tells a hypochondriac, "People can die of a heart attack at any time."

There is something beautiful and innocent about this character. So honest and yet so caring. Personally, he reminds me of Jesus.

Dr. Murphy  is in tune with his patients and their concerns and not afraid to tell them the truth, with compassion.

More than anything, I think that's what makes a good doctor.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Modest Proposal 2.0 or Bulletproof 360

Acknowledgement: This blogger recognizes Irish satirist Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) and his original "A Modest Proposal" as the inspiration for what follows here. Those unfamiliar with this particular Swift work can read it at this link: http://art-bin.com/art/omodest.html

For your consideration, here is my modern Modest Proposal 2.0:

Now that the echoes of rapid, automatic gunfire and mass murder have quieted in Las Vegas, Nevada, the political Gatling guns in Washington, D.C. and across America are blasting away at the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the right to bear arms. This inevitable debate will lead to much hand-wringing, threats and promises to fight, until the gun controllers rhetorically pry firearms from the "cold, dead hands" of the most ardent gun advocates. Nothing real will likely happen to secure safety.

It must be admitted that gun ownership and its use is as fundamental to the American system of governance and freedom as the right to resist taxation and the right to speak our minds, criticize the state, assemble to protest against it in public or in private or shoot a handgun in the air on Independence Day. Essentially, without the Second Amendment and the unlimited and inalienable rights it guarantees to bear weapons, all other rights are at risk. That's why the founders wrote:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

The key words here are "well regulated Militia." Certainly Steven Paddock, the prolific shooter from Mesquite, Nevada was a one-man Militia. With more than 40 weapons in his personal cache and the ability to adapt them for automatic fire, he proved his ability to inflict significant harm on any conventional threat by injuring nearly 500 and killing 58 at a country western concert. He was within his legal right to own all those weapons. Since Militias are necessary for our country's safety and freedom, Paddock obviously had the need to drill and regulate his performance with his arsenal. What would our police, sheriffs, National Guard, Navy, Air Force, Army, Marines, Coast Guard and special forces do without the assistance of these Militias and more than 300 million guns in the hands of private citizens? There are many other one-person Militia's like Paddock. A review of the latest data reveals 3% of the U.S. population owns approximately 50% of all the civilian-owned U.S. weapons. In other words, there are millions of other Steven Paddocks in America who own from eight to 140 weapons. With that many triggers, it would be very hard to track if one goes missing or is stolen. That must be the reason only nine states and the District of Columbia require firearm owners to report a lost or stolen weapon. We can't expect these well regulated Militias to know where every weapon is at all times. It's estimated a half-million guns are stolen annually. They often end up in the hands of criminals.

So, what's the answer? Should we risk infringing on such fundamental protection of liberty and allow any restriction on gun ownership, when we already have so many laws codified at the federal, state, county and municipal levels?

I propose a more modest approach. One that protects lives without savaging a cornerstone of freedom like our sacred Second Amendment. We simply need to bulletproof our nation, and for that matter, the world. Bulletproof 360 is the answer. Before you scoff, consider these questions. Would you drive a car without your safety belt and airbags? Would you own a home without a working smoke detector? Would you go for a walk in the rain without an umbrella? Ultimately, even the AIDS epidemic was fought with condoms and safe sex as opposed to abstinence or the suggestion that anyone should alter a lifestyle.

The answer to rising gun deaths and the increasingly frequent mass shootings by Militias and murders by criminals is a bulletproof environment. For example: bulletproof glass on our homes to resist drive-by shootings; bulletproof car windows and windshields to protect against road ragers; bulletproof baby buggies, bonnets, diapers and bibs to defend infants, especially those who are shot by unsuspecting toddlers wielding weapons. Think of the innocent lives that would be spared by a global commitment to bulletproofing, when more than 7,000 U.S. children annually experience gunshot wounds and more than 1,200 die from them. It's the third leading cause of child mortality in America.

What's surprising is that law enforcement is not recommending this technology for citizens when they use it themselves. There is a long history of body armor protection. Knights in steel suits rode into battle against sword and lance and even musket ball. A recent PBS Nova episode demonstrated that century's old metal suits were impervious to a musket shot from close range. American troops fighting in the Middle East wear body armor, when it's available. Modern materials like Kevlar are much more light weight and can be created in a variety of designer colors. Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani and Valentino would undoubtedly leap at the opportunity to work this protective weave into stunning apparel for the red carpet -- everything from dresses and suits, to brassieres, underwear, socks, shoes and boots, ties, hats and other accessories. Camo is an obvious option.
Imagine the boom in optometry of bulletproof eye wear and sunglasses.

Industry would scramble to develop newer and more effective materials to compete for consumer dollars, generating an unbridled economic boom in American design and textile industries. Virtually every consumer industry would be affected since we've clearly established the need for a bulletproof 360 society. With drones and the ability for snipers to perch at elevations, we'll need to consider bulletproof roofing; bulletproof skylights and walls; bulletproof vehicle side panels for cars, trucks, buses and trains. Besides the financial benefits and job creation, just consider how helpful it will be for Militias to be able to fire upon passing traffic without as much concern of injury or death.  Why not shoot at the driver who cut you off, when you're relatively confident he's taking responsibility for his safety and rocking his bulletproof apparel?

Just think, if only Trayvon Marin had worn a bulletproof hoodie, George Zimmerman could have stood his ground without consequence. In September 2017, Chicago Archbishop, Cardinal Blase Cupich declared all Chicago Catholic parishes and schools gun free. If the global church had adopted a bulletproof doctrine long ago, with vestments, altars and pulpits that deflect gunfire, the late Salvadoran social activist, the beatified Archbishop Oscar Romero, might be alive today. The same might be true for Dylan Roof's victims at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Extending this concept to universities and schools could have prevented the senseless deaths at, Virginia Tech, Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary and the Amish school at West Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. If every child, teacher, principal and school staffer is covered in a bulletproof uniform or active wear, the likelihood of casualties declines. Plus, the apparel obviates the need for gun free zones at schools or even metal detectors.

Insurance rates for casinos, concerts venues and arenas are likely to skyrocket after the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino Militia mishap in Las Vegas. Expect insurers to demand tighter security at every entertainment and sporting event. Bulletproof 360 would shift the security paradigm from public protection to self protection. It might significantly mitigate a business's responsibility to protect customers who are injured on its premises, by shifting the responsibility for safety to the visitor.

Now picture country western fans wearing bulletproof cowboy hats, chaps and vests to concerts while gang bangers don bulletproof jackets and boxer shorts at rap events to protect their behinds from low-riding belt lines. Sports fans could wear bulletproof team merchandise including logo-emblazoned helmets. These could be very useful in Major League Baseball where hard hit balls bash spectators. I'll bet the parents of a certain little New York girl, a two-year-old toddler, wish they had put a bulletproof helmet and mask on her before they took her to a Yankees game in September.

All these bulletproof technologies and enhancements would be exportable, perhaps reducing our trade imbalance. And government would save resources, too. With bulletproof garb, cars and architecture, we could dramatically reduce the cost of defending presidents and other politicians with secret service.

Ultimately, that's what it's all about: personal responsibility and protection. The Second Amendment guarantees us the right to bear any arms to protect ourselves, especially from our own government. And if you can't take the responsibility to protect yourself from a stray bullet, you can't expect Militias to take additional precautions while regulating themselves. Bulletproof 360 is the answer to so many social, safety and economic problems.

The only catch is, how do we protect ourselves from those who choose to own an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) or a tank? It's their right, right?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Pray for peace

The Asian man knelt at the back of the Catholic church vestibule resting his bottom on his heels. His expression was serious, almost anguished. He watched the Mass through the glass doors and I could see tears well in his eyes. His posture reminded me of Buddhist monks who self-immolated during the Vietnam War. They were protesting discrimination against Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government, that showed Catholics preferential treatment.

That horrifying practice of setting oneself on fire is on my mind because of PBS' unforgettable documentary, "The Vietnam War." Directors Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have created a riveting series on the history of that war, beginning with the French occupation of Indochina in 1850's.

Sadly, most people won't see this series because of the fragmentation of TV audiences. Gone are the days when an epic story like Alex Haley's "Roots" (1977) could dominate viewer attention for weeks because of the dominance of three over-the-air networks. But this Vietnam documentary is not to be missed. Burns and Novick  devoted 10 years to filming and creating this masterpiece. They do an exceptional job of sharing genuine responsibility among the six U.S. presidents who presided over American involvement in the battle between the North and South Vietnamese.

But it's the stories of individuals who survived in the trenches that make this program so compelling. Sure, there are soldiers from all sides, but also, civilian men and women who endured the savage warfare at close range. This is the aspect of battles that is most often overlooked. Veterans share their war stories but rarely do most of us talk to those who lived in the communities where bombs fell and atrocities scarred.

My parents were survivors of the Holocaust and the Nazi invasion of Poland in World War II. The collateral damage of battle includes the souls and serenity of those who are surrounded by chaos, foreign soldiers barging into their homes, stealing food and resources, and threatening lives over the smallest suspicion or hesitation to obey. Imagine a submachine gun jammed under your jaw. Or pretend you're a child running to hide in the woods while the Gestapo fires upon you. How would that affect your life and for how long?

Whether it's napalm bombs, Agent Orange or mindless killing of civilians, Burns and Novick capture the insanity of the Vietnam War through so many personal accounts of unbelievable but truly searing tragedies. Stories that should make us drop to your knees, shed a tear and pray for peace.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sticks and stones

I discovered a surprisingly compelling and relevant story recently while channel surfing and landing in the jaws of ABC-TV's "Shark Tank." A 16-year-old Asian-American girl was pitching a groundbreaking technology to the cast of carnivorous investors. Astonishingly, she had created a smartphone or desktop app that could pump the brakes on social media bullies. She demonstrated how the software could identify hurtful and aggressive language and pause a post before it went live. It would caution the author of the nasty comment and urge them to reconsider.

Of course, the user had the freedom to go forward with his or her verbal assault, but the software was designed to make people think about the consequences before launching wordy weapons.

This software targets parents of preteens and teens as well as schools that are tasked to take steps to prevent bullying. However, after the flurry of stories about the Twitter assaults in the news this past week, I'm wondering if this parenting technology would be helpful in taming the egos of many adults, including pro athletes and those in high office.

I remember when e-mail first became available and people cautioned about sending certain types of messages that were better delivered on the phone or in person. Communications is a dance with certain social graces, not to mention non-verbal cues that help to frame our emotions and provide context to the words. And in this era of FaceTime and Go-To-Meeting capabilities, a real eyeball-to-eyeball visit to a client, friend or family member remains the ultimate way to share, especially for delicate matters. 

For many, social media has become anything but social and provides an easy way for boys and girls to hide behind fences while they sling rocks and arrows. We seem to have forgotten that kindergarten chant, "sticks and stones can break my bones but names with never hurt me." 

Maybe because we have lost our way on many larger matters. 

One of the most memorable and important events I've encountered in my sixty years was a meeting between an assassin and his target. It took place in an Italian prison, when then Pope John Paul II visited the man who had shot him. One bullet had hit his elbow, the other his stomach brining the pontiff to the brink of death. Yet, after he recovered, he found the courage to forgive Mehmet Ali Agca and tell him so personally. The two became friends; the pope stayed in touch with his assailant and even requested a pardon for him. While in prison, the shooter converted to Christianity.

His conversion isn't surprising with the example St. John Paul set. Regardless of your faith or disbelief, consider this wisdom from the late pontiff: "Humanity should question itself, once more, about the absurd and always unfair phenomenon of war, on whose stage of death and pain only remains standing the negotiating table that should have prevented it."


Whether it's a war of words between family members, political groups in a country or leaders volleying salvos across the globe amidst nuclear tensions, we have to ask ourselves: "Why don't we just sit down face-to-face and hash this out?"

I think President, Donald J. Trump, and NBA star, Stephen Curry, both missed that point this week. And it's surprising, because jocks typically honor a code that keeps their disagreements private and in the locker room. And  during his campaign, Mr. Trump proved he's very familiar with locker room talk. If only they had agreed to meet to share a sandwich and discuss their differences. And if someone refuses your invitation, always leave the door open. By the way, rumor has it  that North Korea's Kim Jung-un loves steak and sushi.

No matter how much you revile the other side, each opportunity to engage an adversary in conversation is a chance to better understand and be understood. For example, since 1995, a grass roots movement comprised of Israeli and Palestinian families had fought for peace between the two nations, Uniquely, every one of the members of this non-violent, non-governmental organization had lost a close family member in the bloodshed. The two sides were equally represented. 

By 2012, the Parents Circle - Families Forum (PCFF) had recruited more than 600 Israeli and Palestinian families to build a reconciliation infrastructure and participate in a continuous dialogue. They believed this was essential to achieve any lasting future negotiated peace. Members shared their grief, resentment and emotions in face-to-face meetings where they had come to identify with the suffering of the other side – and discover the futility of perpetual conflict.
PCFF had worked diligently to avoid using bereavement as an excuse for retribution. Palestinian and Israeli families jointly conducted dialogues in schools and reached 25,000 students annually. Their goal: influence the public and political decision makers to choose peace. Their message: empathy and understanding.
In the Holy Land, the healing power of forgiveness had already restored serenity, while bombs and bullets continued to kill.
Here in the United States, protesting is undeniably an American tradition and defining principle. However, whether you're taking a knee during the national anthem, boycotting a business for practices you abhor or standing up against another injustice, we must always be open to dialogue.  Non-violent demonstration enabled Gandhi to liberate India and the likes of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to elevate the civil rights movement to the mountain top
In Jesus' day, tax collectors were considered exploiters and scum while Samaritans were reviled as heretics. Yet, Jesus conversed and dined with them both. In fact, he made a tax collector named Matthew his disciple and he spent two days with a Samaritan woman and her people. It was at least the equivalent of a Hatfield sharing a jug and an apple pie with a McCoy. 
But if you're not swayed by the Bible, don't forget this 20th century event of biblical proportions. the Cuban missile crisis. That atomic stare down between U.S. President, John F. Kennedy, and Nikita Khrushchev, of the Soviet Union, finally ended when back channel negotiations achieved a breakthrough and both sides gave something to secure peace. 

"Why don't we just sit down face-to-face and hash this out?" Adults shouldn't need an app for that.



Sunday, September 17, 2017

Do something

The world seems to be in more turmoil than usual lately. Perhaps it's the parade of hurricanes skipping across the Atlantic and monsoons flooding Asia while wild fires scorch America's west.  Then there's North Korea's rocket man amping up nuclear tensions while protesters shake up American cities and towns.

Do you ever feel hopeless when you follow the news? That's when it's time to do something.

As we walked home from church today through a shady neighborhood on Chicago's northwest side, my wife, Ellen, spotted two twenty-something women cleaning up the sidewalk across the street. Not particularly unusual, except they were working in front of two different homes. A little young to be home owners and too old to be doing the lawn for mom or dad. When we turned the corner and passed a young man carrying jugs of orange juice, we discovered another pair of young women picking up litter.

"Big party last night?" Ellen asked.

"Nope!" the friendly, bespeckled blonde replied. "We're from St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Logan Square and this is our service Sunday."

What followed was a chat about our churches and the captivating sermon we just experienced. The topic was forgiveness, and our pastor shared the story of a woman who confessed her anguish and inability to forgive the brother who had sexually abused her. At the time he heard her confession, he was a very young priest. "You must forgive him," Fr. Sam advised. "I'm not telling you to accept what he did to you, but you have to forgive him. The longer you hold onto this the more pain it will cause you."

A few months later the woman returned to see Fr. Sam again and she thanked him for his tough love in the confessional. It had helped her.

It's hard to imagine what the young victim felt but she told our pastor, "Whenever I see him, I want to kill him." She was cursed by her brother's evil, yet it was up to her to make the changes that would allow her to grow and improve her life. Her world was eviscerated but she had to summon the courage to begin the healing. All things are possible with God.

As we endure the news each day, it's essential that we remember two things:

1. There is always so much to be grateful for.

2. Change is not a spectator sport -- whether it's required in your neighborhood, the global community or our hearts.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Lost and found

With most schools back in full swing and the big kids away at college, there's a common cry across the land. I hear anguish like this from friends with teenagers and adult children:

"My son doesn't talk to me. I mean really talk to me. I get yes and no answers."

Or "My daughter keeps her life close to her vest. She won't share anything. And they text each other so I don't even hear their voices."

Although at least half of parenting is loving and nurturing, the rest is about letting go. Allowing our children to grow up may be the hardest part. On the other hand, it is the most rewarding. For inspiration on that, Google Kahlil Gibran's poem "On Children" from his book, "The Prophet."

But sometimes, the distance young people put between themselves and their parents lasts a while ... sometimes for decades. How does one cope with the silent treatment or that feeling that the relationship is an uncomfortable, required formality?

With six decades in my rearview mirror, I've discovered that for me the best answers are always in the Bible. How did Jesus manage to offer perspective on virtually every human condition in just three years of public ministry? But he did. Consider the powerful parable of the prodigal son, captured on canvas by Rembrandt. If you know the story, it rings so true to real life it can be frightening and yet it mirrors the mind of the almighty.

For the unfamiliar or those who have forgotten the details, a man has two sons. The younger, an ungrateful upstart, asks his father for his share of his inheritance. Dad obliges and the kid hits the road. In short order, he squanders his legacy on wine and women and ends up slopping hogs to make ends meet. As he salivates at the corn husks that the pigs are gobbling up, he realizes if he goes back home and begs his pop, maybe the old man will have pity and hire him as a servant. At least he won't starve.

So, his homecoming is driven by his stomach, not a contrite heart. Dad sees him coming at a distance and is moved. He runs out to welcome and embrace his son, before the prodigal can say a thing. As soon as the ne'er-do-well gushes his apology, the senior dude orders his servants to scrub him up, dress him in the finest duds with accessories, and slaughter the fattened calf for a party.

Coming in from a tough day in the fields, big brother is stunned at the surprise bash for his punk sibling. Incredulous and seething, he barks at his father, wondering why he would reward this no-good, whoring ingrate and yet never celebrate the loyalty and service of his oldest heir.

And the joyful father responds, "My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found." (Luke 15:31-32)

That's how the famous parable ends. But we can find our better angels by chasing the devil from the details. The family obviously knew about the young son's misadventures. Mom and dad must have ached wondering about his whereabouts and his health. Yet, they patiently waited for contact. They didn't run after him and search. They were on the lookout for any glimmer of hope in reconnecting with their boy. Their doors and arms were wide open ... regardless of what other family members or neighbors had to say.

So much extraordinary advice for any one in any relationship ... but especially for those of us who are pining for contact with a dear one lost on the streets, estranged by an argument or separated by the inability to love unconditionally.

Any parent who feels the cold shoulder of someone they carried for nine months, diapered and rocked to sleep, or raised to adulthood also has a sense of what God feels like when we fail to call home.



Sunday, September 3, 2017

Casting stones and removing timber

Pastor Joel Olsteen had a rough week -- from a PR standpoint.

I don't know how he felt personally. He says he didn't pay much attention to the gale of criticism on Twitter and elsewhere. Maybe he ascribes to St. Teresa of Calcutta's (Mother Teresa's) philosophy on pride and ego: "If we were humble, nothing would change us -- neither praise nor discouragement. If someone would criticize us, we would not feel discouraged. If someone would praise us, we also would not feel proud."

This week, social media posters pelted Olsteen, the Christian televangelist and Pastor of Lakewood Church, in Houston, Texas. They were appalled at his apparent lack of empathy for the victims of Hurricane Harvey. The Lakewood congregation occupies the former Summit Arena/Compaq Center and previous home of the NBA's Houston Rockets.

Why did Olsteen and his follower have "no room in the inn" to welcome local Harvey survivors?

Olsteen said his facility was water logged and unsafe to accommodate refugees. He also said many leaders in his congregation were storm victims, some stranded in their own homes.

Those bashing the wealthy megachurch pastor, his massive congregation and sprawling Christian complex were most likely themselves not Christians. Or at least they were unfamiliar with the teachings of Jesus.

The Jewish Messiah had a lot to say about judging, criticizing and other oral afflictions. Here are a few of his choicest Gospel moments:

When a righteous crowd prepared to pepper an adulteress with rocks in order to kill her for her sexual sin, Jesus said, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." (John 8:7) The crowd quickly dispersed.

Then there was the time the Nazarene carpenter made this analogy: "How can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove that splinter from your eye,' while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first, then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:4-5)

Ouch! In other words, you better be sinless BEFORE you consider advising someone else how to avoid temptation. The truth is Jesus' message is profoundly truthful and powerful. Consider this: how much credibility does a fat guy have telling a drinker, gambler or workaholic to step away from his or her excess.

Likewise, unless I've been donating until it hurts to support storm victims I have no right to comment on someone else's charity or lack of it. And don't forget, devastating floods submerged the lives of millions across the globe this week, killing more than 1,200 in Asia and Africa. There's someone in my family or community that's under water with debt, or illness, family strife or addiction. I have so much work to do and so many people to help. How could a practicing Christian find time to boast or heckle?

Simply put, Jesus said, "Stop judging that you may not be judged." (Matthew 7:1) Great advice especially for Christians trying to actually walk the talk. He also told us donate to those in need invisibly -- in secret with no fanfare -- telling no one of our philanthropy. (Matthew 6:3-4)

Maybe Olsteen was helping displaced Houstonians in quiet, secretive ways. Only God knows his heart. Who am I to judge? For the record, I am a very judgmental person who is learning to bite my tongue off rather than offer condemnation. It's a struggle but worth it. A heavy lift but the true way to peace.

Christianity is damn hard to live up to. St. Mother Teresa once made this observation: "Gandhi felt fascinated at knowing Christ. He met Christians and felt let down."

I often have to ask myself -- if Jesus met me right now, would he say, "You hypocrite"?