A Quarter Century of Jersey Shore HIV/AIDS Response @NJShorePatch

Tyler Alyxander and Ina Kaplan at "A Night of Illusion" fundraiser.

I well remember when the thought that I could have AIDS first occurred to me. It was 1986 and I was newly married. I had gotten pregnant by an East African man two years earlier and my husband had fallen in love with both me and my baby.

All seemed well, until I began paying attention to the news that AIDS had first appeared in sub-saharan Africa among heterosexuals. I dutifully got tested, then waited anxiously for the phone call that told me I was not infected.

Other people I knew heard different news. There were whispers that a high school classmate who had been an intravenous drug user and died of a drug overdose had taken his own life after getting the diagnosis.

It was a scary time, especially for anyone who had been anything but virginal. …

Read the rest at Manasquan Patch.

What I Wrote This Week @UrbanFaith: January 9-13

Hitchhiker, NYC

  • Religion Wins Big; Pastors Protest Loss: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that religious schools can fire ministers and more New York City pastors were arrested while protesting fallout from the court’s decision not to hear a Bronx church’s appeal.
  • Politics Are Personal: In her new book ‘Left, Right, and Christ,’ Lisa Sharon Harper models a civil and redemptive discussion of divisive political issues. She spoke to UrbanFaith about Christians in the public square, and the dangers of winning political and religious debates but missing the truth.
  • Pastors Protest School Worship BanSome New York City pastors are protesting the Board of Education’s ban on worship in public school space as the ban threatens to spread beyond schools.

What I Wrote This Week @UrbanFaith: January 2-6

Hitchhiker, NYC

Lifelong Ocean Grove Resident Takes Helm of Camp Meeting Association @NJShorePatch

The Great Auditorium, Ocean Grove, NJDr. Dale C. Whilden succeeds Scott Rasmussen (who ended his six-year term in mid-October) as president of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. Whilden is a life-long Ocean Grove resident. He has served as an OGCMA Trustee since 1983 and has chaired both the Development and Program committees. Patch Faith & Family columnist Christine A. Scheller interviewed Whilden about his new role.  

Christine A. Scheller: How did you come to be involved with the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association (OGCMA)?

Dr. Dale C. Whilden: I came to Ocean Grove when I was three days old right from the hospital. My parents had purchased a home here back in the mid-1940s. In the early 50s when I was born, we lived here year round for a number of years. Dad was principal of the school here in town, then we had to move to Toms River based on a new job he had as county superintendent of schools. We kept our little summer house here, and so for my entire life I’ve been coming to Ocean Grove every summer. Growing up through the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting programs, the childrens’ programs, the youth programs, Bible studies, beach activities, and choral and dramatic events, all those things over the years has led me to a sense of how important OGCMA has been in my life and in our family’s life as well. That history has certainly been a factor in my wanting to be involved.

Then when I graduated from dental school and did a residency at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, I couldn’t imagine not opening my dental practice in Ocean Grove. All those years growing up, it was sort of my Shangri La. I’d go to school in Toms River and we’d be there all winter, and then come summer time, this was the place. This was the epitome of my dream escape and it’s worked out very, very well. I think it gives me a good sense of the community and the history of the community. …

Read the whole interview at Manasquan Patch.

Thoughts on Getting Through Thanksgiving After Suicide @NJShorePatch @HuffPost

How gratitude, a change of scenery and sharing stories have helped me face the Thanksgiving holiday after my son’s suicide.

Memorial Tree from 2010 New York City Survivor Day event.

My son Gabriel was a Thanksgiving baby. His birthday didn’t fall on the actual holiday until his second birthday, but it does every four years, including the year he died by suicide, 2008. The association between his birthday and our most heartwarming holiday presents both challenges and opportunities for getting through what has become, for me, an emotionally-fraught month.

When the leaves begin to change color and the air begins to bite, I start wrestling with memories of baking Turkey-shaped shortbread cookies for his school celebrations and his favorite apple pie for our family one. The pain of creating new memories that don’t include my son is one I don’t think will ever subside entirely.

But, in my family, Thanksgiving isn’t about football, movies or family fights, though the day may include all of those. It’s about gathering around an over-stuffed table to give thanks to God for his sustenance and his faithfulness, no matter what the circumstances of our lives have been. …

For tips and information about International Survivors of Suicide Day November 19, read the whole thing at Manasquan Patch or at The Huffington Post.

Photojournalism by Explorations Media, L.L.C.

I’ve recently created what I think are some compelling photo sets on Flickr. As a journalist, I prefer realism to photo-shopped images, though artistic renderings can sometimes reveal truth better than fact. I recommend viewing these sets as slideshows, as I’ve arranged each one to tell a story.

Seaside Heights Italian Festival & Columbus Day Parade

Laity Lodge 2011 Writers Retreat

Blue Hole Laity Lodge

Movement Day

Movement Day at Fifth Ave. Presbyterian Church, NYC

New York City Premiere of Machine Gun Preacher

Michelle Monaghan-and-Gerard-Butler

9/11 Tenth Anniversary Memorials

10th-anniversary-of-9.11-18

Jesus, Bombs, & Ice Cream by M.W. Scheller

Jesus,-Bombs,-Ice-Cream-18

Hurricane Irene

Telumundo reporter and others at Pt.-Pleasant-Bch-Boardwalk, 8/27/11

What I Wrote This Week @UrbanFaith: September 19-23

Hitchhiker, NYC

What I Wrote This Week @UrbanFaith: September 12-16

Hitchhiker, NYC

  • Truth at a Beauty Pageant: Miss Universe winner Leila Lopes of Angola highlights her nation’s troubles, says she’s happy with the way God made her, and declares racism so last century. Is her win redemptive?
  • Psalms for Poverty Statistics: The U.S. Census Bureau released its annual report today and the news isn’t good, but the Psalms offer hope to the people of God.

Jesus, Bombs, & Ice Cream

Jesus,-Bombs,-Ice-Cream-21
Explorations Media sent photographer M.W. Scheller to cover this variety show that was co-hosted by activist/author Shane Claiborne and Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen. See the whole photo set here. Christine A. Scheller talked to Claiborne earlier in the week for Urban Faith. This is a bit of what he said about the event:

We planned Jesus, Bombs, and Ice Cream before we realized it was the tenth anniversary of 9/11, but then when we realized it was, we decided that there’s no better way to honor those who died on September 11 and those who are continuing to die now than to try to celebrate the possibilities of another, better world.

Here’s what Claiborne had to say about the event at The Huffington Post.

What I Wrote This Week @UrbanFaith: September 5-9

Hitchhiker, NYC

  • How Did 9/11 Change Urban Ministry? With the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in mind, Christian leaders Jeremy Del Rio, DeForest Soaries, and Shane Claiborne reflect on how 9/11 changed urban ministry in America.
  • Clergy Excluded from 9/11 Ceremonies: Clergy are being excluded from government sponsored 9/11 memorial events at Ground Zero and the National Cathedral and believers are protesting. Should they?
  • Shacking Up or Sacrament? More couples are living together without a marriage license. Is it time for churches to adjust or do cohabiting couples need to make their “marriages” legal?

Listening to 9/11 Stories at @NJShorePatch

Two women recall their close encounters with those devastated by the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks.

Mary Mick Davis

The first time I saw Mary Davis in the spring of 2002, she was wearing a hard hat and overseeing a group of volunteers at a respite center at St. Peter’s Church near Ground Zero. She clearly had a lot on her mind and she was clearly in charge of the smoothly running operation that provided a place of rest and sustenance for those who were working at the site.

When I saw Davis again, it was at the mega-church in Southern California where we had both taken jobs. It was early 2003 and she had just been diagnosed with Shingles, which can be induced by stress. She was exhausted, burnt out, and in need of respite herself.

Davis lives in Kentucky now, with the husband she met and married in California and their young son Mickey. I talked to her last week by phone about her memories of working at Ground Zero. Some of the details have grown fuzzy, but the people she served are etched into her heart and mind. …

Paula Griffin

Paula Griffin, Pt. Pleasant, worked for Don and Jean Peterson when the Spring Lake couple was killed on Flight 93, but she also considered Jean a friend.

“That was a true relationship, because she gave so much of herself to everybody,” Griffin explained.

The Petersons were on their way to California to visit Jean’s mother, Griffin said, and called her before they left to tell her to take a paid day off. Griffin was at home that morning when her husband came in from 7-11 and told her to turn on the TV. She watched the second plane fly into the World Trade Center.

“I knew right away something was wrong and then it clicked. Immediately it set in: ‘Oh, my gosh, what flight were they on?’” said Griffin.

The Petersons had arrived at the airport early and had taken Flight 93 instead of the later one that they had booked.

“I just didn’t know what to do at that point. I just knew that I needed to go over there,” said Griffin. …

Read the rest of their hopeful stories at Manasquan Patch.

Rationing and the NICU: An Interview with Catholic Ethicist Charles C. Camosy @TheHuffingtonPost

We’re already rationing health care, Fordham University ethicist Charles C. Camosy argues in his book Too Expensive to Treat? Finitude, Tragedy, and the Neonatal ICU, so why not reconsider the resources expended on premature babies?

Camosy was a principal organizer of Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Fair Minded Words: A Conference on Life and Choice in the Abortion Debate at Princeton University last year and is working on a book about correlations between Christian Ethics and the controversial bioethics of philospher Peter Singer. I interviewed Camosy via email about his current book and its foundation in Catholic Moral Theology and the Social Quality of Life model of bioethics.

Christine A. Scheller: You say in the introduction that “Too Expensive to Treat?” is about “moral tragedy” that results from “two universal aspects of the human condition”: 1. We have virtually unlimited health care needs 2. We have limited health care resources. You suggest that while we must live with this tragedy, “we need not live in an unjust situation.” Why did you choose to focus on Neonatal Intensive Care as an example of this injustice?

Charles C. Camosy: My general argument could really apply to any kind of medicine. Many other bioethicists have explored rationing health care at the end of life, but I wanted to apply this argument in a new way. I also picked this topic because the very few who have looked at rationing care for newborns, like the philosopher Peter Singer, have challenged the moral worth of such babies. I insist on the full worth and personhood of even the most vulnerable newborn baby. No one should aim at the death of a patient in order to save money.

You argue that the most important issues of neonatal bioethics are primarily social, so the “social quality of life model” is the most helpful for decision making in the NICU context. What is the social quality of life model and why is it the most helpful?

Despite the secular culture’s continued attempts to get us to worship the individual and “individual rights,” Christian ethics affirms that no human choice exists in pure isolation. It is impossible to understand one person’s claims except in a context of relationships with other persons. If we are going to ask whether and how to treat an individual patient, then we cannot pretend to do so in an isolated manner — as if choices made about one patient do not affect other patients and our broader society.

You say “honest acknowledgement of the inescapable need to ration resources” and “rationing that has justice and the common good — rather than politics and the ability to pay — as its guiding principles” are two steps that should be taken in health care reform. How do you propose accomplishing these goals?

It is easy to point out that we are rationing resources already within Medicaid, Medicare, and even private insurance: certain necessary procedures and drugs are not covered, and almost nothing is paid in full. It is easy to point out that the way we currently ration care is unjust: politics and profitability drive most of it. But it is far more difficult to determine what to do instead. One thing we could do is give far more critical and public attention to the entities that are currently rationing care. What sort of people are making these decisions and how are they chosen? What is their training? Are they protecting vulnerable minorities over and against patients that might be big money-makers? How influenced are they by special interests and politics? I find it stunning that these practices still get very little attention even in our era of health care reform.

You say a broadly Roman Catholic understanding for reform according to the National Conference of U.S. Catholic Bishops would require: universal access to health care, priority concern for the poor, comprehensive benefits, pluralism, quality, cost containment and controls, and equitable financing. How does Catholic moral theology inform this list?

All people must have access to resources for meeting their basic needs, and the community is unjust when they are not made available. Indeed, the Church fathers and other great theologians like Thomas Aquinas teach that the poor and vulnerable may actually take what they need from others without it being “theft” because what they are owed to is being unjustly withheld. The bishops, therefore, start with the premise that all human beings are owed health care as necessary for their basic needs. Following in the example of Jesus, we must then have a special concern for the poor and given priority to their health care needs over those who are better off. The other aspects listed are a bit more complex and may even be in tension with each other. Yes, we should aim for comprehensive benefits, but that might be balanced by needs for quality and cost containment. The Catholic tradition takes a both/and approach to these and many other questions — believing that we must live with the tension rather than abandoning important values.

You write in the conclusion: “Perhaps forgoing lifesaving treatment for babies in the NICU will be enough to give our culture the shock it needs to clear the conceptual space needed for this kind of systematic shift in thinking about health care?” Do you think any parent would be willing to make this tradeoff?

I would be shocked. It would take a selflessness and mental strength that is close to superhuman. However, many parents are already familiar with Medicaid and private insurance denying claims for health care for their children. Again, we are already rationing health care for our children (and other patients), and I’m simply arguing that we should be honest about this and that we should try to do it justly.

In a post about the debt ceiling debate at Catholic Moral Theology, you wrote: “Christians in particular should understand that the finitude of our natures and of our resources means that rationing health care is an inescapable feature of human existence,” but research has shown that Christians often cling to artificial life extension as tenaciously, if not more tenaciously than others. What can be done about this disconnect between what Christians should understand and what they do?

Anyone gazing at a crucifix can see that preserving biological life at all costs is a failure not only to follow the example of Jesus, but of the early Christian martyrs as well. Following the commands of God to do justice to the most vulnerable, especially when it means meeting their basic health care needs, trumps whatever good can come from pumping huge amounts of money into an attempt to prolong the fate that awaits us all. Unfortunately, many self-described Christians have traded our tradition of justice for the most vulnerable and a belief in the kingdom of God for an understanding of secular individual rights which can envision no life but this one. But no one can serve two masters, and modern-day Christians should think hard about to what or whom they own their ultimate allegiance.

Here’s the article at  HuffPost.