Don’t Give, Don’t Get: Israel’s Organ Donor Law

I heard a very fascinating report on NPR last week about a new organ donor law in Israel. In response to an extreme shortage of organ donors, Israel decided to take drastic action and enacted a law that seeks to encourage organ donation by penalizing those who refuse to donate. It’s nicknamed ‘Don’t give, Don’t get.’ If an organ is available and two people of similar medical conditions are eligible for the donated organ, priority goes to the one who was a registered organ donor.

If you’re not willing to donate your own organs, you get lower priority when you need an organ.

It’s an interesting bit of medical ethics. While I think in general we should be willing to help people regardless of how much they’re willing to help others, this is a unique situation. A extreme situation calls for extreme action?

What’s funny about the story is that they talk with a rabbi who refuses to donate organs for religious reasons. Yet he’s willing to accept a donated organ if he needed one. They summarize his position so I’m not sure how accurate it is, but he basically reasons that in one instance it’s murder and in another instance they were dead anyway. I think it’s complete hypocritical garbage.

This is what happens when the shoe is on the other foot. If you’re not willing to be a part of the system, why should you benefit from the system? In other instances I’m not sure how well this logic works. What if we denied assistance benefits like unemployment or food stamps to people who refused to fund such assistance programs (not that anyone has such a choice)? What if we denied freedom to those who refused military service (interestingly enough, it’s Israel where serving in the armed forces is mandatory)? What if the Red Cross gave priority to disaster victims who had donated?

And at that point it becomes ridiculous. Admittedly I kind of like the idea of sticking it to people who won’t play along. But I think society has to be more benevolent than that. It’s not love if you only love those who love you back.

Why Haiti Matters: Compassion by Connection

As the Haiti earthquake has come and gone I still find myself transfixed by the coverage. Short bursts of 140 characters, video clips, pictures, news articles. As stories come in it’s hard to ignore. And it’s not the bird’s eye view of CNN that’s so engaging, it’s the people I know, the friend of a friend, or the city or village where I know people. I’ve wondered why Haiti is different, different from other tragedies of late. I do think part of it has to do with the spread of social media. But there’s something else.

It hit me last week when I read the story of Aaron Ivey and his adopted son still in Haiti. Aaron blogged about the earthquake:

I remember seeing images of the tsunami that hit southeast Asia in 2004.  They were on the news constantly, and I was saddened by the footage of loss and sorrow.  But, I didn’t know anyone there.  I didn’t have friends, muchless family members that were affected by the tragedy.  Everything changes when your friends and family are directly connected to something so tragic.  I feel the weight of this Haitian burden in an unexplainable way.  For my son, Amos, who slept on a mattress outside last night.  For my friends Licia, Lori & Zach who no doubt began stitching wounds in the early hours of sunlight.  For my friends Troy & Tara and their beautiful kids, who are anxious and worried about food and fuel supplies to run generators.  For all the kids that I’ve held and kissed and played with at Real Hope For Haiti and Heartline.  For my Compassion kid, Wonsli, his grandmother, and all ther kids in his project.  The list goes on…faces I’ve memorized…names I’ve learned.  Real people, because I’ve been there.  Not just images or footage this time.

Continue reading Why Haiti Matters: Compassion by Connection

Interview with Jonathan Blundell, Author of St. Peter’s Brewery

St. Peter's Brewery by Jonathan BlundellWay back before Christmas (seems like years ago) a friend of mine, Jonathan Blundell, announced that he’d published a novel. Intrigued, I ordered myself a copy and finished it before the end of the year. It’s called St. Peter’s Brewery and it’s pretty good. [Update: Score 30% off St. Peter’s Brewery when you buy at CreateSpace using the code “3YK4MGUP”. Offer valid until Feb. 24.]

It tells the story of a young man running from his problems and finding refuge in a church converted into a pub. But sometimes it’s still a church. The story represents faith in a unique way (church in a pub!)—my only complaint was a little heavy-handedness in spots.

Being a fan of the self-publishing process, I wanted the inside scoop. So I interviewed Jonathan. He pays the bills as a web site content coordinator for the Dallas County Community College District. He also blogs and podcasts (is that a verb yet?)—the podcast is worth checking out, except that he did interview me once. He currently lives just south of Dallas with his wife and dog and is hoping to foster-to-adopt in the near future (woot, woot!). So, interview!

You wrote a novel! Why?
I’ve been wanting to write a book of some sort for quite some time. I wrote two short fiction books (20 pages or so in length) in elementary school but I’ve wanted to publish something far more substantial in recent years. Since I don’t read much fiction I assumed I’d always end up writing non-fiction but I could never settle on a topic and always felt unqualified to write an extensive non-fiction work.

Continue reading Interview with Jonathan Blundell, Author of St. Peter’s Brewery

Post-Apocalyptic Double Header

So yesterday I splurged and blew some Christmas money on a post-apocalypitc double header. I went to see The Book of Eli in the afternoon and The Road in the evening, both post-apocalyptic movies released recently. I enjoyed both of them, but I’m also a sucker for post-apoc (let’s just shorten that, shall we? I spell it wrong every time I have to type it out).

If you’re interested, The Road is based on the bleak Cormac McCarthy novel and is, well, bleak. Like most post-apoc, it has a thread of hope, though hope in The Road is the thinnest bit of thread. On a scientific level I also have issues with the nature of the apocalypse (what killed all the animals, insects and plant life but not the people?). But that also makes it that much more bleak. The Book of Eli is more your typical post-apoc based on a mysterious wanderer with a mission. In this case Denzel Washington is trying to safe-guard the last known copy of the Bible. It an interesting premise to pair with a sword-wielding assassin guy who’s hand-chopping skill earns the movie an R-rating. You’d think those audiences wouldn’t have much crossover.

The Book of Eli does a nice job summarizing one of the aspects of post-apoc that I always find fascinating:

“We had more than we needed,” Eli says, remembering what life was like pre-apoc. “We had no idea what was precious and what wasn’t. We threw things away that people kill each other for now.”

That’s why I find post-apoc so fascinating. It strips away all the junk of life and forces us to realize what’s important. In the wake of the earthquake in Haiti we get a glimpse of life in a post-apocalypse state. We got an update from the organization my church supports in Haiti that several hundred people spent each night in a soccer field near the church praying, singing and sharing meals.

When the end of all things comes, only what truly matters is left.

Color4aCause: Kids Color to Help Haiti

Buildings in Haiti that didn't break at allBy Friday morning the flood of stories from Haiti started to get to me and I wanted to help. I’d already donated, but I wanted to do more. So I started thinking of crazy ideas. And I tweeted like mad as I tried to think it through. All while Lexi sat down with crayons and paper.

Tonight we launched Color4aCause.org. Kids color to support relief efforts in Haiti. Make a donation, get a picture. All the proceeds go to my church’s Haiti relief efforts. My church has a partnership with organizations in Haiti going back more than 20 years, so it seemed like a no-brainer to support that relationship.

It’s a crazy idea. But I love it. I love watching my daughter color. I love it when she tells me what she’s drawn. And I love that we can help in such a simple way.

It’s not always easy. I told Lexi about what happened in Haiti and she was concerned for the people who were hurt and was scared that the buildings would keep falling down (once we got past the idea that Haiti was a person). She dove into the coloring but then later got frustrated. She keeps telling me she doesn’t know what to draw or how to draw it, and I keep trying to tell her just to draw—you can’t do it wrong.

When she gets really frustrated she throws up her arms and says “Kids can’t help.” She’s kind of a drama queen. I know she’s having a hard time getting her head around all of this and I’m probably pushing more than I should, but the truth is kids can help. Lexi is helping. It’s her own small way, but she’s helping. She might not get it now, but it doesn’t matter. She’s still helping.

Coloring for a cause. It’s crazy, but sometimes crazy works.

A Soundtrack & a Prayer for Haiti

We could all use some joyous piano rock. Especially after this week.

Which works nicely because Ian Axel’s “This is the New Year” is the free weekly download from iTunes. I think they switch out the freebies on Tuesday, so you’ve got a couple more days to grab this gem for free. The video nicely captures the spirit of the song.

I’ve been playing the song on repeat while working on a project to help relief efforts in Haiti. It’s an ideal soundtrack:

A cross stands amid the ruins of the Eglise Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart Church), in downtown Port au Prince, Haiti. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRSCause in the end we have each other,
and that’s at least one thing worth living for,
and I would give the world to you…

Lets tear the walls down that divide us
and build a statue strong enough for two…

This is the new year
A new beginning
You made a promise
You are the brightest
We are the voices
This is the new year

Yes, it’s a lot of generic, fluffy, over-the-top, pop lyrics, but sometimes that’s exactly what we need as we lift our arms in prayer for our fellow brothers and sisters in Haiti:

Almighty Father, God of mercies and giver of comfort, deal graciously, we pray, with the people of Haiti in the midst of the great suffering caused by the catastrophic earthquake. May they cast all their care on you and know the consolation of your love.

Give us the courage, zeal, wisdom and patience to assist them, not only in these first days and weeks of urgent need, but as they continue to need the care and partnership of all their sisters and brothers around the world in the long and difficult work of healing and rebuilding.

Grant eternal life to those who have died, healing to the injured and strength to all the survivors, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

[By the Ven. Dr. J. Fritz Bazin Archdeacon for Immigration and Social Concerns Diocese of Southeast Florida. Posted by the Sisters of St. Margaret (an Episcopal order located in Boston) who run the Holy Trinity Cathedral and School, the Foyer Notre Dame and the St. Vincent School for the Handicapped, all in Port au Prince and which my church has supported. The Holy Trinity facilities and St. Vincent’s were destroyed and the Foyer damaged. The picture is of the Sacred Heart Church in Port au Prince, photo by Lane Hartill/CRS.]

I Have an E-mail Newsletter?

I’ve been toying with this idea for a while, but I finally got it together and started an e-mail newsletter. You can subscribe here! I plan to send infrequent updates about some of my crazy projects. I promise you won’t get inundated with garbage and I won’t send you forwards from Nigeria. Unless they’re really good.

I have several methods of keeping people updated, from the very frequent (Twitter) to the kind of frequent (blog posts here, you can subscribe via RSS or e-mail). But for infrequent updates, I’ve usually just had to cobble together whatever e-mail addresses I have lying around and send out an update. It’s usually haphazard, it takes me forever, I get lots of failed addresses and its borderline spam (literally: I have to use my Gmail account because my provider won’t let me send a mass e-mail to that many people). So I thought for those rare times when I need to update the folks who don’t follow my updates religiously (so everyone but my wife and mom), I need a better system. Hence, my own e-mail newsletter. Wacky, I know. Plus it’s powered by MailChimp, so it’s got that going for it.

I’m hoping to put a little more creativity into this e-mail so it’s not just another medium to blast updates. I’d like to call it something better than “e-mail newsletter,” but so far setting it up has sapped my time and not left me with much creativity. But we’ll get there.

And what are these crazy projects I’m working on that I need to infrequently spread the word about? Oh, you’ll see. You’ll see. (But only if you subscribe, so you better do that.)

Reflection on the Earthquake in Haiti

There is an endless stream of tragic stories coming out of Haiti right now after the devastating 7.0 earthquake that flattened Port-au-Prince. These ‘mega-tragedies,’ if you will, seem to be happening more frequently than ever before. I’m sure that’s not the case, because tragedy of one kind or another has always followed humanity. But technology has enabled us to see tragedy unfold almost instantaneously, and the result is a magnification of that tragedy. We began to see it with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and it’s become much more palpable with recent tragedies, from the Southeast Asia tsunami of 2004, Katrina in 2005, the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008, etc.

Updates come instantly, from text-based updates sent out and passed along on Twitter or Facebook to video and pictures that are captured and immediately broadcast. We no longer have to wait for the six o’clock news—or even flip to cable news, like my generation—to see what tragedy has occurred today.

This is an example of technology making tragedy more palpable, more personal, more painful. You can see it in the way we open our pocketbooks and lift up our prayers. With that endless stream of tragedy there’s also an understandable temptation to turn away. It can all be too much.

Continue reading Reflection on the Earthquake in Haiti

More People Are Dying Than Ever Before!: Facts Need Context

It always bugs me when facts are presented without the appropriate context. One of the worst offenders is when today’s numbers of a set population are compared to previous numbers in history. For example, an often repeated fact during the current National Human Trafficking Awareness Month and today’s National Human Trafficking Awareness Day is that there are more slaves today than at any time in history.

That’s true. But it shouldn’t be shocking. There are also more people today than at any time in history, by an order of magnitude. Which makes stats like this deceiving. A straight numbers comparison doesn’t give you a clear picture of what’s really happening. Slavery as a percentage of the total population could also be at the lowest point in history.

The shock and awe of the fact doesn’t stem from the injustice of slavery, it stems from population growth. More people means more slaves. A lower percentage than ever, but a higher total number than ever. It’s kind of like arguing that more people die in car accidents today than in any time in human history, so we really need to care about car accidents. That might be true (I can’t find the numbers to back it up), but if it is, it’s only because there are more people driving cars now than ever before so there’s likely going to be more deaths than ever before.

Continue reading More People Are Dying Than Ever Before!: Facts Need Context

The Difference Between Dreams & Reality is Hard Work

If you go back to the very beginnings of this blog I write a lot of self-indulgent tripe about wanting to change the world and be different and throw off the status quo. You’ll have to forgive me–I was an idealistic 19-year-old at the time.

In some ways, I still agree with some of those sentiments. I don’t like the idea of working eight hours a day 40 hours a week for the man. I don’t like the idea of owning a big house in the suburbs with a big lawn and a big mortgage and spending my precious hours off mowning the lawn to an exact length. I don’t like the idea of owning a house full of possessions, just like all my neighbors. I don’t want my life to center on work, soccer games with the kids and watching TV as a family. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with those things, but sometimes I wonder how much right there is in those things. Kids are starving in the world and we’re too busy to care—there’s nothing right about that.

I work for myself and set my own hours so I can watch my kids instead of paying someone else to do it (though that’s more necessity than plan). I own a big house, but a tiny lawn which I mow as infrequently as possible with a reel mower. I try (and fail) to minimize my possessions. I dream of sharing with my neighbors. I like the idea of only needing one snowblower on the block (growing up, that was my Dad—he had a massive snowblower on the garden tractor and would snowblow our driveway and then every other driveway around us that hadn’t been cleared yet). And I hope from time to time my efforts and time are centered on more than TV and work and I’m doing something to stop those starving kids from starving.

Maybe I am still that annoying 19-year-old. Though I think my dreams were grander back then.

Continue reading The Difference Between Dreams & Reality is Hard Work