“Our once great western Christian civilization is dying. If this matters to followers of Jesus Christ, then we must set aside our denominational differences and work together to strengthen the things that remain and reclaim what has been lost. Evangelicals and Catholics must stand together to re-establish that former Christian culture and moral consensus. We have the numbers and the organization but the question is this: Do we have the will to win this present spiritual battle for Jesus Christ against secularism? Will we prayerfully and cooperatively work toward a new Christian spiritual revival ― or will we choose to hunker down in our churches and denominationalisms and watch everything sink into the spiritual and moral abyss of a New Dark Age?” - Mark Davis Pickup

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Storming the gates of secular Babylon

We are approaching the 2nd anniversary Terri Schiavo’s state sanctioned execution. What was Terri’s crime? Her disability fell below an arbitrary level of 21st century public acceptability. She bore silent witness to America to be a society of justice, mercy, and love for life.

She was dragged to the abyss of death by court sanctioned starvation and dehydration. Her situation demanded justice; her predicament cried for mercy; her humanity called to a nation’s allegiance to protect and treasure the Right to Life (even for the weakest), -- as was proclaimed at the birth of America.

Those who espoused Terri’s contrived right to die seemed to believe it’s better to be dead than disabled. Based on some passing remark Terri made back when she was in her twenties, her estranged husband said she didn’t want to live with profound disability. Who does? But that did not mean she was better off dead.

Love is the final arbiter

I am seriously disabled with MS and I wish it were not so. But disability (or ability) does not decide the value of life. It never has. Love is the final arbiter of life’s value. I want to love and be loved, I want to be valued and included in the lives of my family, and spend time with my grandchildren. I want to receive the Body of Christ and bask in His eternal love. Love is the glue of human and divine connection. I have those things. And so my life is worth living despite increasing paralysis, the contraptions of disability the slow, unstoppable physical degeneration. My future may be as disabled as Terri Schiavo. The difference is that she was robbed of the human love of her family … and they were robbed of her love. An estranged husband’s infidelity was portrayed a fidelity, his abandonment as love.

Bioethicist and Judge reveled in the logic of spiritual darkness; savage and savants, they hovered over a voiceless and defenseless woman. It was a bitter foretaste of things to come for the disabled and deranged, those born too young or those who live too long. Tiger and tyrant, will deliberate and pontificate on which lives meet arbitrary standards for quality and which fall below.

We the people

It can be stopped by good and decent people. Their weapons are the ballot, their wallets and their voices. Vote in only those who believe in the dignity and equality of all human life. Politicians who will not protect the Right to Life are unfit for public office. Media that promote abortion and euthanasia should be boycotted and (using the liberal tactic on themselves) shouted down and protested at every turn.
We the people can turn around the dissolution of western Christian society by secular elites of the judiciaries, bioethics, education and media.

Nothing less than the value of every human life is at stake! If we will not stand up for the value of human life, and the previous Christian consensus many of us held dear, what will we stand up for? It is time for Christians to stop the madness of secular North America and take back the culture. Do not overlook the magnitude of what is unfolding before our eyes. The blood of over 50 million aborted children cries to our consciences. The blood of Terri Schiavo (and millions of disabled people yet to be euthanized) will either serve as a rallying cry or indictment of North American society.

Strengthen the things that remain of a former Christian consensus. Reclaim what has been lost. The culture itself is dying. Storm the gates of the secular Babylon!
Mark Pickup

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Take up your cross daily

Disease might deprive me of physical dignity but it can not deprive me of my spiritual dignity, unless I allow it. I am a child of God, who bears His image and likeness. Although it is a mystery to me, I trust there was an ordained purpose to my suffering and slow destruction.

After nearly quarter of a century (I’m a slow learner) suffering has taught me that at the foundation of existence rests a heartrending and beautiful mystery. Once that mystery is glimpsed, everything else becomes an irrelevance, a diversion. That mystery is the light of Christ. Suffering can create a renewed quality of conversion, so-to-speak. Many people throughout history have discovered this truth, including Saint Francis of Assisi, John Milton, John Donne and millions of ordinary people.

Suffering has the capacity to allow the sufferer to transcend their situation -- and even themselves -- with spiritual illumination (if the sufferer allows it). Suffering can draw the sufferer closer to Christ and transform them toward Christ’s likeness (if the sufferer allows it). Christ grants a special grace that transcends the suffering – if the sufferer allows it.

Christ’s grace allows inklings of comprehension of a glorious, transforming liberty of the children of God, regardless of their physical circumstances

Saint Paul referred to this liberty in his second letter to the Corinthians:

“…but whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image of glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2Corinthians 3.16-18.)

This spiritual liberty may well up internally when, in any human context, the sufferer possesses no liberty whatsoever! Even in a wretched physical state and surroundings, salvation and Joy can emerge. Into the sufferer’s inky darkness of despair a great light can shine as the individual unites his suffering with Christ’s Passion,

Yes, the truth and liberation of Jesus Christ’s light and truth can penetrate through human suffering. Christ’s truth can (and does) set people free, even today.

The Cross of Christ has given a context to my suffering. His Resurrection intensifies my longing and desire for eternity. By allowing Christ as my interior Master and Guide, he is revealing new dimensions of the Kingdom of God being built by the saving power of His love. Christ is slowly leading me into his world, uniting my suffering with his – inviting me to take up my cross daily. (Luke 9:23-25, 14:27)

He is my example. My hope and my destiny are with Him.

Mark Pickup

Monday, February 12, 2007

Autonomy versus community

Advocates of euthanasia and assisted suicide talk about incurably ill people having the autonomy and freedom to choose the time and place of their own death. As an incurably ill person, let me comment.

Self-destruction is not a rational act. It may be chosen out of despair, or depression, or desperation or abandonment … but suicide it is never “freely” chosen. Implanted deep within humanity’s make-up is a strong instinct for self-preservation. A man may willfully over-ride this instinct and die to save others. Jesus said there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for his friends (John 15:13). Such a great love is ultruististic not self-serving. A person may choose death rather than betray an ideal. Countless Christians have chosen death rather than deny Christ. Again they are over-riding the strong instinct for self-preservation for the sake of a higher ideal: Christ. There is also a divine dimension that comes into play.

The person who chooses self-destruction because of incurable illness desires relief or escape from pain. In the 21st Century, there is no need to die in physical pain. If a person is dying in pain, they need a new doctor. All physical pain can be aleviated or eliminated. Emotional or spiritual pain is more difficult to address. The answer to this kind of pain can be found in reconciliation (with people or with God). It can be found in connecting or re-connecting with a sense of community. It can be found in feeling loved and significant and giving love and significance to others. Love validates human connection -- assisted suicide denies it. Euthanasia says there is such a thing a life unworthy of life.

The acceptance of assisted suicide is the result of personal autonomy gone amuck! It is the result of a generation of individuals who believe they have no responsibilities, only freedoms. The feel no responsibility to a larger common good. Each individual is an island entire unto themselves.
Autonomy or community?

Those who place personal autonomy as the highest ideal have abandoned community and the common good. The freedom to choose death for themselves (or others) is their legacy. When life ceases to be fun or self-serving then autonomy advocates champion bailing out of the world and into the abyss; to them, the abyss is better than the world they helped to ruin. But that is a wicked blind faith. How do they know the dark unknown is better?

Jesus’ reference to that place is not so reassuring (See Matthew 8:12b, 13:41-42, Mark 9:43-48, Luke 16:23-24, John 3:36)
Choose community

I choose to reject autonomy in favor of community. I believe I have a greater responsibility to the common good than my own interests. I believe interdependence is better than independence. The Bible says much about defending the rights of others but very little about defending one's own rights. (See Philippians 2:3-4)

A world filled with defenders of inalienable rights of others will find their own rights being defended. A world filled with people who demand their own rights will find that in the end only those who bellow loudest will prevail. The weakest voices will be drowned out. That is not a community, it is a jungle.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Unconditional love

In October of 2006, I was invited to Lansing Michigan to give a keynote address to a community fundraising banquet for the Mother Teresa House for the care of the terminally ill. (For photographs of the event go to: http://www.motherteresahouse.org/BENE_06/VIEW_BENE_06.HTM )

According to their website, “Mother Teresa House is a communion of persons inspired by Mother Teresa, in which the terminally ill find a home and care in the love of Jesus Christ.” And that’s exactly what happens at Mother Teresa House. Followers of Jesus Christ give unconditional love and a final earthly home to terminally ill people who are homeless, those who have few supports or are alone in the world. For the last few months of their lives, they are adopted by volunteers at MTH. Mother Teresa House can serve up to four people at a time.

The care they provide is love not rocket science. The science of pain relief is left to health care providers. Mother Teresa House works in concert with medical people but they provide that which is most important: love, acceptance, and shoe leather Christian witness. They understand the human anguish of the Psalmist’s words:

“I cry out to the Lord with my voice;
With my voice to the Lord I make my supplication.
Look on my right hand and see,
For there is no one who acknowledges me;
Refuge has failed me;
No one cares for my soul.
I cried out to You, O Lord:
I said, “You are my refuge,
My portion in the land of the living.
Attend to my cry,
For I am brought very low;
(Psalm 142. 1, 4-6a, NKJV)

God’s people in Lansing have rallied behind the work of Mother Teresa House. Evangelical and Catholic Christians have come together in this outreach for Christ to the dying and destitute of their community. (Romans 12.3-5)

I can think of no higher privilege for people who live in hope -- having encountered the living Christ -- than to share that hope with a lost soul about to leave this world. By our actions of practical care, acceptance and expressed love, they are worthy emissaries of our Savior.

Like the old chorus says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” By their actions and unity, Christians of Lansing Michigan speak volumes to their community about Christ’s love that transcends denominationalism, and God’s wish that none would be lost. (2Peter 3.9b)

Mark Pickup

Monday, February 5, 2007

Shadows of suffering fade in the light of Christ

Maurice Ravel’s Pianoforte Concerto for the left hand was written for an Austrian pianist (Paul Wittgenstein) who lost his right arm in the 1st World War.

Imagine Wittgenstein’s grief! Music was the center of his world. He grew up in a prominent Viennese household visited by composers such as Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, and Richard Straus: As a boy, Paul Wittgenstein occasionally played duets with them. He was close to 30 years of age when he lost his arm. It must have been a terrible shock!

Victory over adversity

Despite losing his arm, Wittgenstein did not give up. He went on to a successful career as a concert pianist. He commissioned various works that he could perform from composers such as Benjamin Britten, Paul Hindemith, Richard Strauss and, as I just mentioned, Maurice Ravel. Wittgenstein was a wonderful example of human capacity to overcome and triumph over adversity!

The public loved Wittgenstein most as a one armed pianist. (Everyone loves an over-comer!) Did Paul Wittgenstein play Ravel’s Pianoforte for the left hand better than any two armed pianist? Probably not, but the public wanted it played by someone who had earned the right to play it. The musician’s suffering was as important to the composition for the left hand as the notes themselves; together they made the music more beautiful and compelling.

Disability or suffering need not eclipse or darken the human spirit. Adversity can darken a person’s life for a period of time, yet nature itself tells us that shadows will pass. Hurting people usually emerge from the shadows of suffering inexorably changed. The sufferer decides how they are changed by suffering. They can use suffering as a vehicle for internal growth or a stumbling block to it. To remain unchanged would be to render the darkness of suffering without purpose.

In a spiritual sense, our sufferings, sorrow and pain may seem to eclipse our ultimate source of light: Christ. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” At our deepest point of personal darkness we may lose sight of the light. At such times, we must cling desperately to God’s promise not to leave us nor abandon us (Hebrews 13.5-7)—regardless of appearances or feelings. We must remind ourselves that God’s promises are reliable, feelings are not.

Fertile ground for growth

Even though our bodies are wasting away, God is working an ultimate glory that will surpass all our suffering (see 2Corinthians 4.16-18). We walk by faith not by sight (2 Corinthians 5.7.) Shadows and darkness can provide fertile ground for faith to grow.

The Scriptures tell us that faith is the realization of things hoped for and evidence for things not seen (Hebrews 11.1). And what is it we hope for? A Christian’s hope is that yet unfathomable reality of standing in the full light of Christ’s love and glory of eternity. For now, it seems so faint. We have only inklings and Divine promises to steady our pace toward the final goal. Saint Paul put it this way:

“At present we see indistinctly , as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially, then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13.12

That’s what awaits those who are in Christ Jesus! No more reflected light, just the real thing. No more shadows or darkness, just the light of Christ. We will understand just as we are already understood. He leads us by His light through the shadows of a darkened world toward eternity where nothing is dark anymore. Life’s present sufferings are nothing compared to the glory that awaits us.

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.” (Romans 8.18, 24-25.)

May God bless you today.

Mark Pickup