Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Monday, December 31, 2007

hospital charts

The following are actual sentences found in patients' hospital charts:

  • She has no rigors or shaking chills, but her husband states she was very hot in bed last night.

  • Patient has chest pain if she lies on her left side for over a year.

  • On the second day the knee was better, and on the third day it disappeared.

  • The patient is tearful and crying constantly. She also appears to be depressed.

  • The patient has been depressed since she began seeing me in 1993.

  • Discharge status: Alive but without my permission.

  • Healthy appearing decrepit 69 year old male, mentally alert but forgetful.

  • The patient refused autopsy.

  • The patient has no previous history of suicides.

  • Patient has left white blood cells at another hospital.

  • Patient's medical history has been remarkably insignificant with only a 40 pound weight gain in the past three days.

  • Patient had waffles for breakfast and anorexia for lunch.

  • Between you and me, we ought to be able to get this lady pregnant.

  • Since she can't get pregnant with her husband, I thought you might like to work her up.

  • She is numb from her toes down.

  • While in ER, she was examined, X-rated and sent home.

  • The skin was moist and dry.

  • Occasional, constant infrequent headaches.

  • Patient was alert and unresponsive.

  • Rectal examination revealed a normal size thyroid.

  • She stated that she had been constipated for most of her life, until she got a divorce.

  • I saw your patient today, who is still under our car for physical therapy.

  • Both breasts are equal and reactive to light and accommodation.

  • Examination of genitalia reveals that he is circus sized.

  • The lab test indicated abnormal lover function.

  • The patient was to have a bowel resection. However, he took a job as a stock broker instead.

  • Skin: somewhat pale but present.

  • The pelvic exam will be done later on the floor.

  • Patient was seen in consultation by Dr. Blank, who felt we should sit on the abdomen and I agree.

  • Large brown stool ambulating in the hall.

  • Patient has two teenage children, but no other abnormalities.

Here's wishing you a happy, medical-chart-free 2008!


Saturday, December 22, 2007

ten years on the web

On December 22, 1997, I uploaded my first personal web page to Southwind Internet. Back in those days, most web pages were pretty simple. E-commerce really hadn't taken off yet. Not only was "google" not yet a verb, did not yet exist. Nor did Wikipedia. Most sites were personal experiments, little more than a few paragraphs of random text with a too-busy background image and an "under construction" icon. My own site read like a personal ad.

The Wayback Machine discovered my site on February 14, 1998, and here's how it looked then. Here's my "awards" page -- a list of comments from visitors -- as it was archived on October 8, 1999. The comments get more, um, interesting toward the bottom of the list. My links page, also first archived on October 8, 1999, links mostly to sites that are no longer active. Most of my friends who had websites back then have since moved to other states. I hope it's not because of me.

My website featured a "joke of the week," that I updated manually every week until I got tired of it. It would be nearly six years before I added scripts to my site to automate updates.

I was hampered in my site development by the fact that I was still using an old 386-based machine running at 33MHz, that I had bought back in 1993. It had Windows 3.1 installed, but the processor was too slow and the memory too small to run it, so I was stuck using MS-DOS and the text-based Lynx browser. I had no idea what my site looked like, and in fact went through maybe a dozen background images that looked cool in my paint program but clashed with the text of my web site. After getting complaints about every single background I tried, I settled on the dull beige background seen in the Wayback Machine archive. If I had known how ugly it was, I would have picked a different color.

As an homage to my text-based eary days, I still keep the "Lynx friendly" logo on my site, though it's not as Lynx friendly as it could be.

A lot has changed in ten years. I wonder: In December 2017 will this blog seem as archaic as my original home page looks now?

Labels: ,

Thursday, December 20, 2007

how do you decide?

In response to my recent post the role of the bible, Robert commented:

I believe the meat of [Ebonmuse's] point can be found in these two sentences:

What are the liberal believer's criteria for deciding whether a given verse reflects God's message or human error? Since they don't credit all parts of scripture with equal truth, they must have some way to decide which verses to follow and which ones to disregard.

I too am curious how a liberal believer decides which verses are divine and which are human. I often pose this question and receive a myriad of answers. What keeps it all--including the Resurrection--from being assigned to the figurative (or human-produced) category?

I think there are actually three separate issues here. As I see it, the questions are:

1) How does one determine whether a particular scripture passage is of divine or human origin?

2) How does one determine whether a passage should be followed or disregarded?

3) How does one determine whether a passage should be interpreted as literal or figurative?

These questions are not interchangeable. A passage may reflect the thoughts of its human author, may at the same time be literal, and may or may not be applicable within a given culture today. Another passage may have been received by the author directly from God, and at the same time be a parable, and again may or may not be applicable today.

Furthermore, these questions contain hidden assumptions. Question 2, in particular, is not relevant to certain types of Scripture. What would it mean, for example, to follow Psalm 139 or other psalms of praise? What would it mean to follow Micah 4 or another passage about a future peaceful kingdom? Does anyone really think the stories about Jacob in Genesis are an example to emulate? But just as Jacob wrestled with the angel, the proper response by a believer sometimes is to wrestle with the Bible text, to grapple with it to find a meaning. The follow/disregard dichotomy that the question presupposes may be appropriate for some parts of Scripture, but for others it simply doesn't make sense.

Likewise, the literal/figurative dichotomy presupposed by question 3 is not always appropriate. Sometimes a passage is both. In Galatians 4, Paul allegorizes the story of Sarah and Hagar from Genesis. This does not mean Paul believed the Genesis passage to be non-literal. He found a new meaning in the text. The author of Hebrews says in chapter 9 that the tabernacle, animal sacrifices, and objects relating to worship from Jewish Scripture are merely symbols or copies of the true heavenly worship. Again, this does not mean the author believed the tabernacle did not literally exist. Matthew allegorized passages like "The young woman will be with child" from Isaiah and "Out of Egypt I called my son" from Hosea to apply them to Jesus. In the second and third centuries, some Christians -- particularly those in Alexandria, Egypt -- allegorized nearly all of the Hebrew Scriptures to find references to Christ in every book.

This leads me back to question 1: Which parts of the Bible are of God, and which are of human origin? According to one understanding of inspiration, God uses Scripture to speak to us what we need to hear. The message may not be the same for each person. It may be a literal command or an allegorical interpretation. It may be a word of encouragement. It may simply be a word or phrase that leads to a train of thought that ends with the message God wants to reveal. So the real question is not whether a passage is of God or humans, but whether the interpretation of that passage is of God or of human origin.

And ultimately, we can't know, not in an absolute sense. We can pray, we can study, we can seek advice from others, we can meditate, we can act based on our best understanding. Ultimately, the Bible is far too complex a book to squeeze into a one-size-fits-all systematic theology.

Faith is often described as a relationship with God. Relationships are built on subjective experiences, not emperical data. Every relationship is different. That's why two believers may give different answers to these questions. And that's why I can't give a definitive answer myself.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

when santa met darwin

What do Santa Claus and creationism have in common? The Ship of Fools has the answer.

Labels: ,

Monday, December 10, 2007

the role of the bible

I have a confession to make: I love reading atheist blogs. I enjoy them because they challenge my faith and make me think about why I believe what I believe. They expose the irrationalities of Christianity, and remind me that the reasons for my faith are experiential, not rational.

Ebonmuse at Daylight Atheism has a pair of recent posts, Making Excuses for the Bible and Instruction Manual or Chronicle?, which offer a critique of "liberal Christians."

In Ebonmuse's classification system, there are only two types of Christians: "fundamentalists" and "liberals." Throughout this post I will put the two terms in quotation marks because most Christians self-identify as neither fundamentalists nor liberals.

The difference between the two camps, according to Ebonmuse, is this:

In the eyes of the fundamentalists, the Bible (or Qur'an or Book of Mormon or whatever other text) is God's word, dictated with infallible perfection to the minds of his followers. It's meant to be the deity's instruction manual, telling human beings everything we need to know about how to live.

For liberal believers, by contrast, the Bible is not a direct pipeline to God, but a chronicle of events put together by human beings doing their best to interpret history in the light of their beliefs. God did not speak directly to his followers and tell them what to write down - or, at best, he only did so rarely. Instead, God's followers tried to discern his will in the flow of events and infer what messages he meant to convey.

Ebonmuse notes that the criticisms of the Bible atheists use against "fundamentalists" -- e.g., immoral actions attributed to God -- don't apply to "liberals." If the Bible is understood as as "chronicle of events put together by human beings doing their best to interpret history in the light of their beliefs," there is a possibility that those human beings made some mistakes.

Still, Ebonmuse contends that there are some valid criticisms to be made against "liberal" Christianity.

First: Unless they believe that God spoke to one people exclusively - and most liberal believers don't - then they should acknowledge that their own view of scripture as a chronicle implies that other cultures will also have had contact with God, and other religious texts will reflect the same interpretive process. Why, then, would a believer define themselves exclusively in the symbols and language of one particular religion? Why call yourself a Christian if just as much genuine understanding of God can be found in the Qur'an or the Bhagavad Gita as in the Bible?

These are tough questions, and different believers may give different answers. There is a wide gap between all religions are equally valid and all religions are false except mine, and I suspect most people would find themselves somewhere in between. For myself, I will readily acknowledge that some truth can be found in other religions. I've written previously about how reading the Tao Te Ching has enhanced my faith. However, my faith is still a Christian faith. I have not converted to Taoism, and I wouldn't call myself a Taoist Christian. I still believe that Christianity is the fullest expression of the reality of God.

Ebonmuse continues:

Second: What are the liberal believer's criteria for deciding whether a given verse reflects God's message or human error? Since they don't credit all parts of scripture with equal truth, they must have some way to decide which verses to follow and which ones to disregard. In most cases this process is guided by the believer's own moral intuitions and by the moral progress society has subsequently made. Now that we know slavery, racism and sexism to be evils, modern liberal theists disregard the parts of their text that teach these things. Other verses which have better stood the test of time are assumed to be true lessons from God.

If this is true, it is surely an indictment of "liberal" Christianity. If our faith is grounded in nothing more than reading modern morals back into the Bible, then why do we need the ancient text? We might as well drop the pretense that the Bible means anything at all.

Indeed, Ebonmuse urges us to do exactly that:

However, once you've come this far, what do you need scripture for at all? Clearly, once a theist has reached this point, their own conscience is a superior and perfectly sufficient guide.

But here is the fundamental flaw of that line of reasoning: Christianity is not merely a system of ethics. If the Bible is a chronicle, it is not just a chronicle of one ancient mideastern people's grappling with their collective conscience.

The Bible does contain teachings about ethics -- I'm not denying that. But it also contains the story of God's interactions with God's people: First with a chosen people, the Jews; then through Jesus an invitation to everyone to participate in the unfolding story.

The stories of Jesus' birth, for instance, are not written as an example of good behavior that we should emulate. But what are they? Should we take them as a literal history of events of one miraculous evening long ago? Are they a romanticized tale to cover up Mary and Joseph's unexpected out-of-wedlock pregnancy? Or maybe an allegory using symbolic language to proclaim Jesus' messiahship?

I would suggest that for Christians to faithfully read the birth stories, we must not merely accept the answer that seems right to us -- whether we are "fundamentalists" or "liberals" -- but to wrestle with what God is saying to us through these stories. We might be surprised at the direction God pulls us if we move beyond the original intent -- whatever it was -- and make Jesus' story a part of our own lives.

Ebonmuse continues:

The final useful line of argument is one that works equally well against believers of all stripes. Namely, by what evidence do those believers conclude that their particular text reflects the will of God, in whole or in part? What makes them so certain that the text reflects any divine influence at all, rather than simply being the product of men, some of whom were benevolent and kind and some of whom were vindictive and cruel? Liberal believers acknowledge that the authors of scripture were wrong about many things. How do they know that those authors weren't also wrong about the existence of God?

Again, I can't speak for others. Personally, I believe God exists because of my own experience with the holy. The Bible played no part in convincing me that God is real. If I didn't believe for other reasons, I don't think I would get much out of the Bible. So why do I believe this text reflects any divine influence at all? Simply this: Jesus' story does resonate with my own story. Since that night God first became real to me, the Bible has shaped my life and transformed who I am.

Are there parts of the Bible that I believe didn't come from God? Certainly. But there are parts, too, that have shaped me even when I didn't like what they said.

I've been very brief in this post -- perhaps too brief. Each of these sets of questions deserves a much more thorough answer than I've given here. If I have time, I'll try to look at each in more depth.

Labels: , ,

Monday, December 03, 2007

look over there

I haven't found much time to blg lately, but here's some good stuff you can see elsewhere.

Henry Neufeld examines whether the penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) is central to the gospel, or whether love is.

Truevyne meditates on liturgy as memorial.

HeyJules finds a metaphor for God's work in our lives when she photoshops a picture of leaves.

Lectionary haiku at Among the Hills.

And a bit of self-promotion: I've reworked my blog post from last spring on Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion for publication at Associated Content. I'll be paid based on the number of page views, so I'd appreciate it if you would click here to take a look.