Archive for March, 2009

Cultural Disintegration

March 25, 2009

I haven’t written a blog in weeks.  I’ve just been the literary equivalent of “struck speechless”.  I was summoned for jury duty early this month, and selected for a jury to hear a murder trial.  The defendant was charged with second degree murder in the death of a girlfriend’s 22 month old son.  It was the most eye-opening, horrible, horrific case I’ve ever heard, and I’m still having dreams about it.  Its one thing to read about our society’s pathology and quite another to see it up close and personal.

The defendant was a 28 year old man who has four illegitimate children by four different mothers.  He hasn’t been the ideal father.  His oldest daughter has been raised by his mother because the baby’s mother was only 14 at the time she gave birth.  That child is now with her natural mother, who has finished school and is able to support her.  His second child has been raised partly by his mother and partly by the baby’s natural mother.  The third child is with its natural mother.  The fourth child is being raised by relatives because its mother is in jail.  According to the defendant, “I don’t pay bills, I don’t do housework, I don’t take care of kids.  Its not my responsibility.”

The defendant really lives everywhere and nowhere.  He has usually had more than one girlfriend at a time, friends, and always the fallback of his mother’s home.  He might show up at a girlfriend’s house at midnight and stay the night, or stay over with a friend, or sleep at his mother’s house.  He truly has no address.  Sometimes he has a job, and sometimes he doesn’t.  He has been arrested several times for assault against a girlfriend.

The child who was murdered belonged to one of his girlfriends.  The baby had been reported to Child Protective Services twice before, and the cases were closed for “invalid report.”  There is currently a lawsuit against CPS, who truly let this baby down.  By the time of the second report, the child had broken ribs, cigarette burns, numerous bruises and welt marks.  At the time of the second report, the defendant was “in a relationship” with the baby’s mother…whatever that meant, as his relationships were clearly not monogamous.  It was reported, however, that he disciplined the baby by hitting it with a belt–as young as 18 months!!

The baby’s mother hasn’t exactly a stellar record, either.  She was involved in slugging matches with the baby’s natural father when the baby was newborn, and he moved out by the time the baby was a couple months old.  Mom worked at various times and at various jobs, and whenever she was at work she had multiple backup babysitters–neighbors of all ages and backgrounds, relatives, numerous cousins, friends, etc.  Some of the homes appeared ok, some were “trap houses” where various illegal activities were taking place.  The only stability was the paternal grandma who took the baby for 48-72 hours whenever she had days off from her job.  She kept the baby with her overnight during those times.  She was one of the reporters of the child abuse.   It appeared that the baby’s mom took him off milk at 5 months of age and he had rickets, as well as all the evidences of overt abuse noted above.

The morning the baby’s mom left her baby with the defendant, she was going to a doctor’s appointment because she believed she was pregnant with the defendant’s baby.  According to the medical examiner, the baby died of either a massive blow or crushing injury to the abdomen, a couple of hours after the mother left.  What the jury couldn’t know was whether the defendant was simply angry at being left with the baby and manhandled it, or if he was engaged in deliberate child abuse.  The baby had all the usual marks seen before as well as some recent head traums and cerebral edema.  There was confusion about who was abusing the baby, exactly when the abuse took place  and the possibility that  more than one person had been abusing it.  Anyway, the defendant was convicted of manslaughter, the baby’s mom was convicted earlier of child abuse and serving a five year sentence, and the baby, of course, is dead.

What still haunts my dreams is the unconcern expressed by both the baby’s mother, and the defendant.  They were like hollow, unfeeling people.  As a fellow juror noted, she had also grown up in poverty, but this was a culture shock to her, because in her day poor people loved their kids.

Both the defendant and the baby’s mother grew up without knowing their father, and indeed lived in homes where the male influence was either absent or revolving.  In the case of the baby’s mother, she didn’t know either of her parents, and was very much the same kind of  “village child” her dead baby had been.

When I was in college I studied sociology, psychology and criminal justice.  What we learned over and over was that children need stability and two parents.  The face of poverty is most often a female headed household.  Children with no dad are lower achievers, and children who grow up in homes with revolving men are more likely to experience violence, and be violent themselves.  I doubt this information is any less true today.

Soon after the trial was over, I saw a headline stating for the first time the majority of babies born in America are born to unwed mothers.  God help us!!!!

In Winter

March 4, 2009

I have been praying a long time for a person who is very smart, talented, charming, and was at one time quite beautiful.  She has become bitter over her disappointment in life, depressed, angry, and seems to have little of her beauty left.  I pray for her daily, and my heart aches for what could be. 

I had a dream last night, and in my dream I was rubbing my hands over the stump of a rose bush.  There was not a trace of life left in it.  In my dream I heard God’s voice say: ” Can you believe in the roses inside?  When spring comes, the life will come back and this stump will once again bloom with beautiful fragrant roses”.   I understood, even though dreaming, this was God’s answer to my prayer for my friend.  I must have faith to believe roses are there in embryo form, although I can’t yet see them.  I have hope to believe  the life will come back, although I see no hint of it now.  I do know roses bloom every spring from lifeless twigs, and I do know God does bring renewal, to roses, to nature and to human souls.

Prayer for the Nation

March 2, 2009

I came across something I think is very appropriate for this time in history.  Peter Marshall was chaplain of the U.S. Senate at the end of World War II.  It was a very difficult time for the economy, with many people out of work, a huge national debt, and the nation trying to rebuild the destruction in Europe.  This could have been written today.  I hope our president is a man of prayer although I don’t see an indication of it.  I hope he is praying for the wisdom and character he needs to lead this nation.  Surely, we need to pray for him and for the country.

Prayers for the Nation by Senate chaplain Peter Marshall  1947-1949

Our Father, when we long for life without trials and work, without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.  With stout hearts may we see in every calamity an opportunity and not give way to the pessimist that sees in every opportunity a calamity.

Lord, when we are wrong, make us willing to change.  And when we are right, make us easy to live with.

Let us not be frightened by the problems that confront us, but rather give thee thanks that thou hast matched us with this hour.  May we resolve, God helping us, to be part of the answer, and not part of the problem.

Save us from hotheads that would lead us to act foolishly, and from cold feet that would keep us from acting at all.

Help us, our Father, to show other nations an America to imitate–not the America of loud music, self-seeking indulgence, and love of money, but the America that loves fair play, honest dealing, straight talk, real freedom, and faith in God.  Make us to see that it cannot be done as long as we are content to be coupon clippers on the original investment made by our forefathers.  Give us faith in God and love for our fellow men, that we may have something to deposit on which the young people of today can draw interest tomorrow.

Help us, O Lord, when we want to do the right thing, but know not what it is.  But help us most when we know perfectly well what we ought to do, and do not want to do it.

Lord Jesus, thou who art the way, the truth and the life, hear us as we pray for the truth that shall make men free.  Teach us that liberty is not only to be loved, but also to be lived.  Liberty is too precious a thing to be buried in books.  It costs too much to be hoarded.  Make us to see that our liberty is not the right to do as we please, but the opportunity to please to do what is right.

Deliver us, we pray thee, from the tyranny of trifles.  Teach us how to listen to the prompting of thy Spirit, and thus save us from floundering in indecision that wastes time, subtracts from our peace, divides our efficiency, and multiplies our troubles.”

Whats Inside?

March 1, 2009

How are you doing on your New Years resolutions?  Mine was to be sweeter.  That is, until I learned trying to be sweeter doesn’t really work.  Oh, I can play the part for quite awhile, but its a phony sweetness however well I act.  How can I tell whether I have really become sweeter?  Wait till I get squeezed!  When I put fruit into the blender to make a smoothie, what do I get?  Whatever was in the fruit to begin with.  No matter how beautiful the grapes or strawberries look on the outside, I can tell by the smoothie how sweet they were on the inside.

I’m the same way.  When I get squeezed by stress, time pressure, some ridiculous driver or some general jerk, am I sweet then?

  Jesus said “By their fruit you will know them?”  Huh? Could he have been talking about me and how I act when squeezed?  Well, how can I get sweet on the inside for real?

The answer is, I can’t.  I can only let Jesus into the inside of me, into every aspect of my life and personality.  He will provide the sweetness.  I can’t conjure that up, but I can block His attempts to sweeten me.  I can be selfish, stubborn, or simply ignore Him for long periods of time.  I can stop praying, stop reading His words and stop doing what I already know He wants.  Or I can repent and let Him have his way.  Only He can grow the sweet fruit.

Another Kind of Politics

March 1, 2009

While America debates the economy and politics, and it seems to occupy front burner on everyone’s mind, another quieter form of politics goes on unnoticed.  Its the politics of personally making a difference, at often great cost to self and no cost to the recipient.

I met the most amazing couple the other day.  They started disaster relief work in the 1980s and continue to this day.  They have a nonprofit which exists for the sole purpose of providing relief in as many American disasters as possible.  They have traveled to tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, floods and ice storms.  Their assets include a warehouse, a “feeding unit” trailer, a laundry trailer and a chainsaw trailer.  They assist anytime they are called by one of the national disaster relief agencies (Red Cross, Salvation Army, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief), as long as they aren’t already gone on another disaster.  This couple has taken all sorts of disaster training, and are licensed as ham radio operators.  Oh yes, how do they fund their ministry?  They use some of their warehouse space to operate a thrift store.  This way they can help the poor in their community by selling needed items in good condition for pennies on the dollar, while their small profit funds their travel to disasters, and new equipment.  They bought their feeding, laundry and chain saw trailers with those profits as well as donations.

When they go to a disaster, they take sleeping bags and a crew to drive the vehicles.  They sleep in a host church, on the floor, in their sleeping bags.  They use the church bathrooms, but take showers in their shower/laundry trailer.  They set up their feeding unit, and sometimes in partnership with another feeding unit, are able to prepare up to 25,000 meals a day.  These are served in styrofoam containers,which they transport to feeding sites in temperature controlled “cambros” using trucks and other vehicles.  Often they are the sole “kitchen” for several emergency shelters.

They take a couple dozen people with them to assist in the work.  The team stays on site 7-10 days on average and works 15 hour days with no days off.  This involves sleeping on floors, using portable showers and eating the same meals they are putting in styrofoam containers.

What is the payoff?  Their very modest salary as ministry directors.  For the volunteers, nothing.  The volunteers pay to get themselves to and from the worksite, usually taking their own vehicles.  Why do they do it?  Simply put, they love Jesus, who told them “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.”  They hope some of the people they help will see the love of Jesus at work and want to know Jesus for themselves.  But they help everyone, without question and without any strings attached.

I learned they are just one of a network of such disaster relief nonprofits, mostly Christian, which cover the entire United States, and are the lifeblood of disaster relief.  I also learned that a lot of hotel and restaurant chains would do the same work for millions of dollars from FEMA –the same work that is today done at no cost to anyone but the nonprofits.