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.

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.

Will Graham on Preaching, Public Statements, & His Famous Family @ManasquanPatch @TheHuffingtonPost

William (Will) Franklin Graham IV is the grandson of Billy Graham and the son of Franklin Graham. Graham is an associate evangelist at Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and assistant director of The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. He just returned from the Philippines, where he preached to 97,000 people in four days. Graham is a graduate of Liberty University and holds an MDiv. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Kendra, live near Asheville, North Carolina with their three children.

Last time we talked, I asked you if you thought the press was unfair to your father, Franklin Graham, because his public statements generate more coverage than the humanitarian work he does with Samaritan’s PurseNow, he’s drawn criticism for making statements to Christiane Amanpour of ABC News that seem to imply that he doesn’t really believe President Obama is a Christian and that he does believe there is merit to the claim that President Obama was not born in the United States. I have two questions about this issue. First, do you believe President Obama is an American citizen and a Christian? 

It seems from all standpoints that we can tell, yes. I have no reason not to think it. Do I know him as a Christian? I’ve never spoken to the president about his personal walk. I’ve never met him. …My father and I, we’ve never discussed the president’s [faith]. My father’s had more intimate conversations with the president than I have, so I can’t speak to that. He claims to be a Christian, I do know that. …

His job is the toughest job in the world. I don’t think anybody really knows the pressures the president goes through. I know for certain, my grandfather, my father, and my family, we all pray for our president, just in the sense of  “God, give him wisdom.” He’s got to make decisions that you and I will never know about in human history. We know that that burden falls on his shoulders and his alone. God’s put him in that place to make those decisions. We just pray that God will direct him on the decisions to make. Not to make our decisions, but to make what God wants to do and those are tough.

When it comes to his birth certificate—if he was born American—it looks like he’s produced documents that say without a question anymore, it’s laid to rest. I think even [Donald] Trump waved his white flag.

That brings me to my second question. Many BGEA staffers have told me over the past few months that you are more like your grandfather than your father. When it comes to making political statements, whose footsteps do you intend to follow? …

To find out the answer to that question and others, go to Manasquan Patch. To find out what HuffPost readers think, go here.

Christian Music, Divorce, & Triathlons: An Interview with Big Tent Revival’s Spence Smith @TheHuffingtonPost

When I talked to Spence Smith, a founding member of the five-time Grammy-nominated band Big Tent Revival, he had just come back from a run, which was appropriate given that Smith is a triathlete who took up the sport after a divorce left him feeling like a failure.

These days, if Smith picks up his drum sticks, it’s usually to play with one of the bands he collaborates with as an artist relations professional with the international aide agency Compassion International. He’s also a social media and marketing consultant.

On a trip to Ecuador earlier this year, Smith asked a Compassion coworker to marry him. She said yes.

Scheller: How do you maintain your faith and spiritual life both in the Christian music industry and traveling so much?

Smith: I grew up in the Church of Christ, which is notorious for no instruments in worship. … So when our band formed, I was not listening to Christian music. I did not know there was a Christian music industry. I just knew that there was this guy named Michael W. Smith and this girl named Amy Grant out there. …

When we started the band, we started because we really loved music and we really loved Jesus. That was about it. Walking out of the Church of Christ and into that environment was pretty eye-opening because I literally had grown up thinking — because that’s what we were taught — that we were the only ones going to heaven.

When you get outside of that and realize there’s tons of people in the world that love Jesus just as much, if not more, it really questioned my faith. What I realized after a few years of being in the band was that I wasn’t in this band because this band needed me or that God needed me to be in this band to help lead people into relationship with Christ. I really felt like I was in this band because it’s where God needed me to be to keep me in check and help me to grow.

So it was a growing experience for your faith rather than a destroying one?

Right. But because of that, you start walking through all these different denominations, playing for everything from Southern Baptists to the most Charismatic church out there. So you see everything in between. None of us spoke in tongues, so we played shows where promoters spoke in tongues and if they found out we didn’t speak in tongues, it’s like they were trying to get us saved again and that just wasn’t us. …

We ended up seeking out different people to walk alongside of us as road pastors or advisors or mentors. A guy that we had for a really long time who still does this for a bunch of mainstream artists is a guy named Michael Guido, and he was pivotal in our growth and in how we handled things relationally within the band. …

People always thought that we had tons of groupies and girls hanging around our band. For whatever reason, we just weren’t that band. … We took steps to make sure we were being accountable to each other and to the people we were working with. And so, I think that set us up for some pretty big success when it came to relationship and family and how we lived out our lives.

I will say this: there are lots of things that I experienced in Christian music that makes me very leery of Christians in general. Me, being a Christian, I walk very gingerly into situations where I know it’s going to be a heated discussion or a controversial issue, because most of the time I think they’re uncalled for.

What do you mean by that?

It could be anything. It could be walking into a church that you’re going to play at and all of a sudden you find out that the pastor is pretty egotistical. You basically want to kind of separate yourself from having to play to the whims of the senior pastor. If you walk into a situation where the senior pastor or the youth pastor is the big man on campus, and all of a sudden you’re 10 times bigger in popularity than he is, then it becomes an interesting situation.

We stayed away from issues that people fought about denominationally. For instance, our lead singer was very adamant about presenting the Gospel at as many shows as possible and giving people the opportunity to come to Christ at the show, and we were fine with that. That’s just part of who Big Tent was. In the process, we would go hang out during the day in this town, and we would ask questions like, “What’s it like for the church here in town?” Nine times out of 10, people would say, “We’re having a real problem getting the churches to come together to help this town out. These denominations just will not work together.”

Our lead singer would get up and he would present the Gospel and all these people would come forward and pray to receive Christ and it was all good. … Then he’d go through the whole line of denominations and he’d say, “We talked to people in this town and you guys have a real problem about churches coming together. Why does it take a show coming to town to get you guys all in the same room?” He would just encourage them to get in a room together more and to do things together. We really wanted to try to bring people together.

Coming out of working in Big Tent and working for Compassion has been an even more incredible experience because I got all that experience dealing with different denominations and people, and now I work for an organization that is very adamant about staying non-political and non-denominational. … When you walk up into the office in Colorado Springs or hang out with any of the staff, the denominational lines aren’t there at all. It’s that way politically too. … We have one goal and that is to help release children from poverty in Jesus name no matter where we go to church.

Tell me about Big Tent Revival. Did the band break up or go on hiatus?

We basically started forming in 1990. By the time we got on the road and started playing shows, it was around 1993. Our first record came out in 1994 and then we came off the road at the end of 2000. When we officially came off the road, we told people we broke up. There was all this record company politics of saying, “No, tell people you’re taking a break.” We said, “Wait, man, we gotta go get jobs. We can’t just tell people we’re taking a break. No one’s going to believe us.” We worked that all out and, about a month after we got off the road, I got this job with Compassion.

Since then, we get together and play shows every once in a while. … We left as friends and we’ve become better friends since. I think for us it’s just a matter of wanting to play together because we miss hanging out with each other.

How did you come to work for Compassion International?

Big Tent represented Compassion International and I really fell in love with the organization the first time I went on a trip. … I told the guy who was our artist guy, “If anything ever happens to this band, I’m coming to work for Compassion.” I didn’t realize that years later that would actually happen. …

When I got the job, it was a big risk for them because they’d never hired a musician. It’s been one of the greatest experiences of my life. … My job specifically is to work with artists and creative people. Part of my passion is to bring people into a bigger worldview than just what they’re dealing with locally.

Your other passion, I know, is triathlons. When did you start doing that and why?

I was coming out of a divorce about six years ago and I really needed to get my head together. I felt like a complete failure. I had failed in one of the greatest gifts we are given in life and I (we) just couldn’t make it work the way it was supposed to. The YMCA had this sign on the board that said “Running Group: Tuesdays and Thursdays 9:00, Brentwood Y.” I thought, “I work from home. I can do that.” I went the first time, I walked in this room and there’s like 20 ladies standing in this room. … I was the only guy that ran with them and they just totally took me under their wing. … It was cool and I did it for a year and I loved it.

I noticed at that time that I wanted to get stronger as a runner. I used to be a swimmer and I heard about this swimming group that was in town and I went to check them out and lo and behold, they were a swimming group that trained for triathlons. … I started swimming with them. … I did one triathlon at the end of the summer, and I fell in love with the sport. The next summer, I trained for triathlons for the whole summer. I did eight triathlons that next summer, sprint distance and Olympic distance. At the end of that summer, because of all the community and friends that I’ve made through that process, a bunch of us decided to do Ironman Louiseville for 2009. … I’ve been doing it ever since.

How do running and triathlons nourish the rest of your life?

There are good days and there are bad days when you run. There are some days when your legs are sluggish. I think life is like that. There are some days you wake up and you feel like you can tackle the world and things are going to be good, and there are some days when you get up and you’re like, I don’t even want to get out of bed. I can’t do this. But you have to make a choice. Part of this comes from going through my divorce. I chose to say, “I’m not going to be one of those guys who’s going to wallow in this and let this get the best of me. So, I’m going to choose to get up and make the best of it.” …

What I learned through training for Ironman is that there are a lot of Type A personalities that do triathlons. They’re very competitive. They’re very high energy. But doing something that’s an endurance sport separates those who are driven from those who are determined. Driven people usually quit. What happens is they drive, drive, drive and they go for it; and then they decide when they hit a roadblock, they’re not going to do that anymore because the path isn’t that easy, so they go a different direction.

Determined people will see the end result and when they hit a roadblock, they go, “All right, here’s a road block. How do I get around it? Does that mean I have to back up a few steps, take a break? If I get injured, do I have to call it off for a little bit? But I still have this goal ahead of me and even on the days that completely suck, I’ve still got to recognize that these are sucky days and I’m OK with that. There’s going to be a better day coming. So, let’s just get through.”

That helped me get through Ironman. It’s helped me get through difficult times in my life. It helps me walk with my relationship with the Lord in a way that’s much more honest and real than it ever has been because I have days where I have to recognize that my relationship with Christ is truly a relationship and he is perfect. I in no way can expect to be perfect. So I treat my relationship like I would with anyone else that I dearly love. And that is, some days I’m going to have bad days and some days I’m going to have good days. That if a friend is truly a friend, they’re going to be there for you no matter what.

Because you’ve talked about your divorce, I want to get some context for it. Was being on the road so much a contributing factor?

I was off the road by the time we divorced. I was traveling still, about half as much. No, it was definitely a relational thing.

How did you navigate that within the Christian world that you move and work in?

It was difficult, to say the least. Part of it was because she and I together in town were kind of high profile in the circles that we move in. She does publicity and we both work in the Christian music industry. So we definitely had to deal with a lot more than probably the average person would have to deal with in a divorce when it comes to stuff like that.

What I basically did was I just laid low. I set some ground rules in my personal life and I just made sure to not cross those lines so that I could be very accountable and know that I walked through things the best way that I could. There’s nothing easy about divorce. When we went our separate ways, even though it was rocky, when it comes to the friends and people that we deal with, we didn’t lose that. In fact, I think it kind of enhanced some friendships.

We only see each other two or three times a year at an event, but I would say over the past year, we’ve had some pretty good reconciliation on the level of friendship and respect. When it comes to dealing with each other in work-related matters, we’re both right on top of it. It’s been a real blessing for me and I’m really proud of her. She’s remarried and she’s doing a lot of cool things in her life, so it’s just been good.

I think the interesting thing is that it’s taken something like that to bring me into really discovering the person that I am now. I think walking into this next marriage, had I not gone through the divorce and learned what I’ve learned about myself, I don’t think I could walk into this marriage as well as I feel like I’m going to.

Congratulations to you both!

This interview has also been published at The Huffington Post.

When Tragedies Are too Big to Absorb, How Do We Find and Give Comfort? @TheHuffingtonPost

I wonder if any of us is really capable of handling the scope of sorrow that technology now exposes us to.

On Friday, as the world was rightly absorbed with the epic tragedy in Japan, I was reporting on a local tragedy for A young man, Matthew C. Blum, 32, of Forked River, New Jersey, had collapsed and died after leaving a recreational hockey game because he didn’t feel well.

Blum was married just four months ago and his wife learned two weeks ago that she is expecting their first baby. A season of celebration was inexplicably shattered for this family.

As I sat next to Blum’s young, pregnant widow in the living room of her in-laws’ house absorbing one family’s grief, I was incapable of absorbing anything more epic than that.

I felt this way after the Haiti earthquake last year, only the reason was more personal. Still mourning the death of my son in 2008, I was incapable of taking in any more sorrow. My personal grief has, to some degree, emotionally disconnected me from global tragedies.

I wonder though if any of us is really capable of handling the scope of sorrow that technology now exposes us to. Famine, earthquake, tsunami, terrorism, genocide: it’s enough to tempt one to believe end times prophets have a point. …

Read the rest here.

Who knew the Ivy League gem offered a wealth of free public religion events?

As a girl growing up in Point Pleasant Beach, I didn’t give much thought to Princeton University. It was the 1970s and I was, shall we say, distracted. If I thought about our state’s Ivy League jewel at all, I saw it as an inaccessable, dusty treasure chest full of academic stuffiness and snobbery.

If we’re lucky, we grow up and find out the world’s gems are much more accessable than we ever imagined. What a delight it was then, a few years ago, to learn that Princeton has a thriving faith community and offers a bounty of free public religion events.

It’s a pleasant 45 minute drive west on Route 33 and across Route 1 to the university from coastal Monmouth County and a great way to spend an afternoon or evening while enriching one’s understanding of the religious landscape. …

Read about some upcoming events here. Plus, where to park, eat, and shop in Princeton.

Deceit & Hidden Cameras in the Abortion Debate @TheHuffingtonPost

As a Christian, a pro-lifer, and a journalist, I’m ambivalent about the Planned Parenthood hidden camera sting that was perpetrated here in central New Jersey and reported sporadically by news outlets this week. The California based anti-abortion activist group Live Action sent two actors into a clinic posing as sex traffickers and recorded an employee doling out unethical, dangerous, and illegal advice that would keep the duo in business.

As a Christian I’m uncomfortable with both the failure of the office worker to report the couple to authorities and the entrapment of her by the activists. When is it appropriate to lie? The biblical stories of the midwives who refused to kill male infants as commanded by Egypt’s pharaoh and Rahab’s deception that saved Jewish spies in Jericho both seem to affirm lying when it’s done to save lives, but I question whether or not any lives will be saved as a result of this action.

As a pro-lifer, I doubt this kind of activism ultimately advances the goal of reducing abortion. On one hand, undeniable truth is exposed. On the other, the bad will it inspires is a serious blow to the common ground efforts that I believe hold the best hope of actually bringing down the abortion rate in the United States. Also, as pro-lifer Rachael Laramore writes at Slate,

“Planned Parenthood should be responsible for the actions of its employees. It should at least be held to the same standards that the left wants crisis-pregnancy centers held to–no false advertising, no erroneous medical information. But it’s extremely unlikely that there are multitudes of men walking into Planned Parenthood trying to get cheap abortions for their sex workers. And the young women who count on the group’s cheap birth control will be the ones who are harmed if Planned Parenthood loses its federal funding.”

As a journalist, I’m ambivalent about the use of hidden cameras and deception. At the journalism resource, several articles address the ethical problems inherent in using deception to reveal truth. When it comes to using hidden cameras, an article by Bob Steele offers the following factors to consider:

The Importance Threshold

“Since we are in the business of pursuing truth, there is more than a hint of hypocrisy when we use some form of deceit to pursue the truth. We can only justify that inconsistency and the use of deception when we truly serve a greater principle, such as pursuing a highly important and otherwise elusive truth. Therein lies the first standard for deciding when it is appropriate to use hidden cameras. To justify deception we must be pursuing exceptionally important information. It must be of vital public interest, such as preventing profound harm to individuals or revealing great system failure.”

Tools of Last Resort

“This covert method of newsgathering amplifies any accusations we make. We must insure that the tone and emphasis of hidden camera video meet standards for factual accuracy and contextual authenticity.”

Trinagulate & Test Assumptions

“We must devote enough resources, time and attention to gather the right facts and make sure our facts are right. We must supplement the surreptitious video with insightful observations, seeing and retaining important details of a scene that might not be captured by the camera.”

Know and Respect the Law

“We must pay close attention to the legal land mines in hidden camera reporting. Stations must develop sound strategies that recognize matters of defamation and privacy, including false light and intrusion torts. We can be vigorous in our reporting if we are clear on the law regarding fraud, trespass and surreptitious recording of audio. The law appropriately protects citizens. We should honor the law while also responsibly serving the public.”

Live Action’s amateur investigative work meets the Importance Threshold in my opinion, but I’m not sure it meets the other three criteria. A quick search of the bios on its website reveals that no one on the leadership team has journalistic training. Their success causes me to not only question the veracity and ethics of the work, it makes me lament the fact that more professionals aren’t doing excellent, unbiased reporting like this from ProPublica’s Marian Wang.

In the New Jersey case, the first outcome is that one woman lost her job. While she seems incredibly callous in the video, I assume that hers is a tragically misguided attempt to minimize the consequences of sex trafficking on underage girls who are beyond her reach, or as one commenter at GetReligion suggests, perhaps to get them into the clinic away from the pimps so that they can be helped.

Hidden camera video doesn’t reveal what is in a person’s mind and I don’t believe this is a singular story. The woman identified in the video as Amy Woodruff is culpable for her actions, but she has also become a convenient scapegoat. It’s understandable that pro-life activists wouldn’t be interested in what it means for Woodruff’s family for her to lose a job they believe is immoral, but as a Christian I am concerned about the harm that was done to them in the name of the cause.

*Update: Three additional videos have been released from clinics in Virginia.

Update 2/7: This article has now been published at The Huffington Post.

Finding Comfort Where None Is To Be Found @TheHuffingtonPost

I was asked to write something about spiritual comfort after shocking sudden death for the HuffPost Religion channel, and only had a few hours to do it. Here’s what I came up with:

It took me all weekend to get used to hearing the name Gabrielle Giffords reported in the tragic context of the Tuscon shootings. Not only was the event horrific, but I also couldn’t shake the similarity of the congresswoman’s name to that of my late son Gabriel Gifford Scheller. The endless stream of news triggered a wave of memories from when police showed up at my door in the early morning hours of March 29, 2008 to report that Gabriel had killed himself. The horror of an event like that is so vast that unless you have lived through one like it, you can’t truly comprehend it. One moment, life is mundane, ordinary, perhaps even joyful. The next, it is torn to shreds so completely that you believe with every ounce of your being that it is over. At least I did.

And I was right, in a sense. Everything I thought I believed was called into question and everyone I thought I trusted was placed into one of two categories: safe or unsafe. Safe people didn’t say much and if they did, they most certainly did not speak in spiritual platitudes or pronounce judgment on the situation or on my son. Unsafe people did and do pretend to understand, minimize the horror or its impact, express some perverse need to identify with it, or otherwise just creep me out.

My husband had absolute peace that Gabriel was with God, but he really struggled with flashback images of how Gabe killed himself. I didn’t wrestle as much with our son’s final moments as I did with where he is now and why he did what he did. A friend who is a psychiatrist counseled me early on to give up the second battle because, he declared, “Suicide is inherently an irrational act; it will never make sense.” (Likewise, random acts of public violence.) A Lutheran pastor comforted me by saying that how we die doesn’t determine where we spend eternity.

Over the past couple days, I have heard the tragedy in Tuscon blamed on irresponsible political rhetoric and mental illness, neither of which provide satisfactory answers. In situations like these, we long for some kind of solace, for someone to tell us we and our loved ones are safe. In D. Michael Lindsay’s book Faith in the Halls of Power, former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson is quoted as saying, “When people are presented with entirely unfair and unreasonable suffering, the president of the United States has to assure them … that the universe has meaning, and that the universe is not an emptying, echoing void.” Gerson goes on to say that complaints about politicians’ use of religious rhetoric don’t often emerge in the context of public tragedy. Thus we waited for our president to speak.

We don’t want just anyone to tell us that everything will be okay both in this life and in the next; we want someone with authority to say it. My husband, a former pastor and longtime Bible teacher, was too paralyzed with grief and shock to attend to the practical details of our son’s funeral, but he was able to get up and spontaneously preach a mini-sermon that comforted many, including me. I couldn’t access my faith, but I was able to take comfort in his. Conversely, as he struggled with those terrible mental images, I shared with him something that had helped me when I kept mentally replaying the final moments of friends who had died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. I realized one day as I was praying that they had only lived through the horror of Flight 93 crashing to the ground for an instant and then it was over. The same was true for Gabe’s final moments.

An old friend also sent me a note encouraging me to take solace in beauty wherever I could find it. As I took her advice, the beauty around me ministered to me and reminded me, as Gerson suggests, that order coexists with chaos. The universe is not an emptying, echoing void. A glorious California sunset would break through the kitchen window as tears flowed over the dishes I tried to do. The bougainvillea came into bloom despite my grief. My other son, who had been suffering from clinical depression for five years, finally received a correct diagnosis and the help he needed. We moved home to New Jersey and to the warm embrace of the family and friends we had missed so much when we lived out west.

There was good to be found, but none of it made up for, or brought meaning to the loss. It co-existed (co-exists) with it. Violence, whether it be self-inflicted or directed outward, teaches us that ours is an undeniably broken world. Yet even in this horrible moment when one young man walked into a crowd and shattered the lives of so many, another ran toward the bullets to provide triage to his wounded boss and to others around her. Three people conspired to stop the gunman as he struggled with his weapon. In a split second everything changed again. For him, for the people present, for their families, for his family, for the Congress, and for us. As we haggle and fight over what happened and about what needs to be done in light of it, may we not forget the sustaining beauty that exists in every moment we are privileged to live on this earth. Even the dark ones.

Check out what HuffPost readers are saying here.

Prosperity Gospel: Will Jesus Buy Me a Double Wide or What? @TheHuffingtonPost

I had a great time interviewing Karen Zacharias for this article. She’s not only a wonderful storyteller who writes about things that matter, she’s also feisty, generous, and smart. You should read her book; it’s engaging and thoughtful. I’m following it up with her memoir: After the Flag Has Been Folded: A Daughter Remembers the Father She Lost to War—and the Mother Who Held Her Family Together. Here we are, two incredulous faith-filled women, taking on the prosperity preachers:

In her new book, Will Jesus Buy Me A Double-Wide? (‘Cause I Need More Room For My Plasma TV), veteran journalist Karen Spears Zacharias takes on prosperity gospel hucksters. What began as a humorous look at a troubling phenomenon took a serious turn when the U.S. economy tanked in 2008, and another when Zacharias lost her job. Prosperity preaching wasn’t just something to report on; it was a personal attack on her faith.

I know what that’s like. After Janet Jackson scandalized U.S. audiences by exposing her breast at the 2004 Superbowl, I wrote an essay on the indecency of Christian television. In it, I critiqued a married televangelist couple’s shows. A producer from one of those shows invited me to be a guest for what she thought would be a “lively discussion.” I politely declined. The host e-mailed me directly. She took me to task, saying my article was misleading and that I was pompous. Never mind that she had claimed gold was literally raining down in her studio in one of the episodes I examined. She wrote, “The bottom line is that you have a small theological box that you live in and it wouldn’t matter what I said because until you open your mind and heart to the supernatural things of God, you will be quite content writing your cynical judgmental articles and watching your public television station,” which her network was suing to purchase against its wishes.

In her trumped up thinking, the fourth estate is spiritually bankrupt. I don’t see that any more than I saw the gold on my TV screen. Instead, I see prosperity theology as truncated, deceptive and dangerous, as do many Christians and as does Zacharias. In the introduction to her collection of stories about how people view the relationship between God and money, she writes, “It’s a terrible theology for the poor and downtrodden. When hard times hit, it must mean that God is put out with us. We’ve been unfaithful or otherwise not measured up.” Her scope is broader than any particular denomination, however. “We Americans,” she writes, “want to believe that God loves us best of all and that all of our nation’s riches are the result of our faithfulness to God. … Entitlement theology may very well be the bastard-child born from the mating of Calvinism’s strong work ethic with Capitalism’s get-all-the-goods-you-can mentality.” Ouch!

Zacharias is a braver woman than I am. She did a 700 Club interview about her book with Pat Robertson’s son Gordon. As the interview unfolded, Robertson said, “In reading your book, I notice that you don’t particularly like TV preachers and I was trying hard not to take it personal, but you’re really starting to skewer some of my friends in here.” To which Zacharias retorted, “Some of your friends in there deserve to be skewered.” A friendly debate about Joel Osteen ensued and Zacharias concluded, “When you go before the masses and tell them that their ‘best life now‘ is tied up into the things that they own, the size of their garage or anything materially oriented, I think you’re missing it.” In the book, she says, “If there’s a secret to living your best life now, it’s this: Stop imagining all the ways in which the universe can serve you and start figuring out how you can serve others.”

I talked to Zacharias as she was preparing to travel from her home in Oregon to Washington D.C. for board meetings of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Fund and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation. She serves both organizations for good reason: her father was killed in Vietnam when she was just a girl. (She tells that story in her memoir, After the Flag Has Been Folded: A Daughter Remembers the Father She Lost to War — and the Mother Who Held Her Family Together.)

She said, “The thing I’m trying to address here is not just about money. It’s about saying to the 14-year-old girl whose father died in Vietnam that I didn’t measure up, that I wasn’t enough or that my mother wasn’t. [There is in prosperity theology] no taking into account that the Vietnam War had more to do with capitalism than it had to do with Christianity.”

She continued, “The problem with the whole formula of God’s faithfulness plus my obedience equals untold riches is that it’s a great formula as long as life’s going your way. …The moment it all comes crashing down, you don’t have a faith because that God doesn’t exist anymore.”

One of the many compelling stories Zacharias tells in Will Jesus Buy Me A Double-Wide? is about a friend of hers who she calls “the Redhead.” After the Redhead was diagnosed with cancer, her husband lost his job. She cleaned houses so they could afford to attend their child’s wedding in Australia. Zacharias grew up in a single-wide trailer and yet couldn’t imagine herself cleaning other people’s toilets, much less envision her elegant friend doing it. The Redhead told her that she prayed for her clients as she did her work. “It’s a kingdom choice to live with a grateful heart in the midst of all this,” she said. Zacharias reflects, “That’s not the power of positive thinking; it’s saying, ‘No matter what, I trust You.’ …That seems to me to be what faith is about.”

I’ve always thought that if I could have faith in light of other people’s suffering, then I best not second guess it in the face of my own. Zacharias and I have this in common. The television host and me, not so much; she closed her e-mail by saying she was content to let God judge between us and hold us accountable for our sins. I’m pretty sure that was a prayer for God to rain judgment down on me.

Check out what Huffington Post readers are saying here.

Flashes of Light in the Darkest Depths: The Faith and Life of Blind Photographer Pete Eckert @TheHuffingtonPost

Pete Eckert is a unique artist featured in the documentary Dark Light: The Art of Blind Photographers. I reviewed the film earlier this year and talked to Eckert afterward about his spiritual and artistic journey. Here’s our conversation, edited for space:

Christine A. Scheller: As you know, I was exposed to your work through the documentary Dark Light, which is about blind photographers. Do you have any vision at all?

Pete Eckert: No. I have some light perception, but I also have phantom things that go on like crackling lightning and spirals. Somebody comes up and makes a loud noise; I get a big burst of white light come across my vision.

Christine A. Scheller: Do doctors have an explanation for that or is it just something going on in your brain responding to the noise?

Pete Eckert: The last 25 years or so, I’ve been actively rewiring the optic cortex. And so, it doesn’t surprise me when a sound will generate a visual effect. Somebody comes up and I don’t hear them and they grab hold of my shoulder, or if there’s a loud noise, I get this burst of light. That’s, I think, direct evidence that there’s a cross-over between sound, touch and vision.

Christine A. Scheller: What condition caused you to lose your sight?

Pete Eckert: I have Retinitis Pigmentosa (RT). My life is divided very neatly into two sides. I started to go blind when I was 27 or so. I had 210 degrees of vision. I dropped down to 90 degrees within just a couple of months. But I had 10 years of some central vision. I was legally blind, but I was a foreman of a construction crew at that time. I could shoot at the top of National Rifle Association pistol competitions. I made a lot of use of my central vision.

Christine A. Scheller: Was that a terrifying experience to go through?

Pete Eckert: It’s very emotional. RP is very cruel. You adapt and then some more vision gets taken. You adapt again and some more vision gets taken. Depending on how long it takes for you to drop down into complete blindness, you’re always suffering a loss. It’s as if you are watching yourself die.

Christine A. Scheller: What sustained you through that continual sense of loss?

Pete Eckert: That’s hard to say. I refused to accept blindness. I always pushed out into the world. When I got my first guide dog, we had some mishaps. I almost got run over by a train. A number of cars almost hit us. It was very difficult to adapt. Finally, at one point, I just decided my independence and freedom [are things] I’m willing to die for.

Christine A. Scheller: Did your Christian faith help you deal with the losses?

Pete Eckert: Perhaps, perhaps. I’m not really sure. I could see that something was taken, but something was given. You could call that faith. … I base my life on the Ten Commandments. But then, also on the tenets of Tae Kwon Do: Courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self control, and indomitable spirit. The tenets that I just rang off there, they’re just reflections of the Ten Commandments. A lot of them, if you thought about it, they fit together. A lot of Christians, they forget to be courteous. And then, when you run into trouble, you don’t give up–you know the indomitable spirit.

Christine Scheller: You were a visual artist before you went blind. At what point did you begin doing photography?

Pete Eckert: After I was totally blind.

Christine Scheller: How did that come about?

Pete Eckert: I was looking through a drawer and I came across my mother-in-law’s old camera. … I like mechanical things. I was fooling with it and my wife came home. I had her explain what all the settings were. There was an infrared setting on it. …I have a corny sense of humor. A blind guy doing photos in a non-visible wavelength, that just cracked me up!

Christine A. Scheller: Your process and your photos are so meticulous and ordered that it’s obvious you have a particular vision in mind. Tell me about that.

Pete Eckert: Vision is a slow process. Babies, when they are learning to see, don’t fully comprehend what their eyes are bringing to them. Sighted people, if they’re sick or preoccupied, are not getting all the data from what they’re seeing. So getting vision from sound is like low resolution detail. As I sit in the room I’m in right now, I can hear the clock going off. The sound’s bouncing off the walls; I can tell exactly where my dog is; hear the arms on the couch. Sound paints an image. It does give you the details of your surroundings.

Christine A. Scheller: Did you research sound or you just figured this all out from your own experience?

Pete Eckert: From my own experience. Now there are fancy studies on how the brain works and how blind people can do this and that. It’s pretty much documented. I was just going by the fear of blindness on my own. Once I realized and I was so quickly able to adapt, I figured, “I know I’m going to go blind; I don’t want to go blind; how can I provide a mind’s eye image?”
When I walk upstairs now, I don’t count the stairs; I listen. When I get to the landing at the top, I hear the opening. I used to teach martial arts. Learning to spar at full speed is a very good test of how fast can you change the sound into an image, because if you don’t do it fast enough, you’re going to get tagged.

Christine A. Scheller: How do you know if your work turns out the way you’d like it to?

Pete Eckert: Think of the process broken into two sides: The event and the product. As I build the image–it’s in my mind’s eye–so I know when to stop. I know what I’ve done by sound and touch. I know where I was and where everything is. I develop the film. I take the picture. I do the contact sheets. Then I get some feedback. It could have a technical problem, say, I left the lens cap on and there’s nothing there and if I brought it to the lab and said, “I want this to be two feet by two feet.” I’d be throwing money away. So, this is economics. I listen to a description and match it up with my memory–and so, did I get what I intended to get?

Christine A. Scheller: So you’re matching that feedback to the image you have in your mind and that you want to project.

Pete Eckert: Right. I’m looking for confirmation. I let the people talk–it’s a gift that they’re giving me. Feedback is a gift. Communication is a gift. And so, I let them speak as much as they want. Some people go like, “Oh, this is really scary. I wouldn’t want this in my house.” Even a negative response I think of as a gift…. I’ve got a whole bunch of work that never has been printed. People either like [my work] or they really don’t.

Christine A. Scheller: The images I saw are really fascinating. One is called “Stations” and the other is “Cathedral.” Were they made while church services were going on?

Pete Eckert: “Stations” was not. There were a few people in the church, but they weren’t in the photo. “Cathedral” was done during Christmas Mass. There was a whole lot of work that went into that. I did a film test to figure out how much light was needed. Everything that I could touch, as far as my hands would go, I touched. I memorized the layout of the church. I know the sequence of a Mass. I know when what happens. …

The parishioners weren’t too pleased that I was setting up to shoot and I knew they wouldn’t be. I wore my best clothes–coat and tie. I washed the dog. (I had a beautiful black German shepherd then.) I also had the knowledge that Father Anthony was a friend of mine and he supports what I do.

A few parishioners came, and they said, “You can’t do this.” And I said, “Yeah, I did it last year,” which was true. And they went away. Then they came back and said, “You can’t use a flash in here.” I said, “No problem, I never use a flash.” They went away. And then, they said, “Do you have permission to do this?” And I said, “Yes, from above.”

If you think about it, the Franciscan Church–its mission is to help the poor and disenfranchised. A blind person who has learned a method to see, who is more disenfranchised than that? Who should they support? They went to [Father Anthony] and I think he just said, “Leave Pete alone.” When Communion came up, Father Anthony came [off] the altar. He came to my wife and I, served us Communion, and then went back up and served the rest [of the] probably 800 people there.

Christine A. Scheller: That sends a message of affirmation.

Pete Eckert: Exactly. He was teaching the parish.

Christine A. Scheller: What were you trying to communicate?

Pete Eckert: The Spirit in a church. I had tried to find a way to show the Holy Spirit. It’s very elusive. And so, this isn’t a direct attempt for the Holy Spirit, but it’s a direct attempt to show spiritual feeling in the church.

Christine A. Scheller: And the “Stations” image–what were you going for there?2010-10-09-STATIONS.jpg

Pete Eckert: This is a little bit more controversial. If you look at the guy’s feet, he’s wearing duck boots. The Catholic Church is having a lot of problems right now. There is a lot of controversy. The duck boots are for walking through the muck and mire of controversy. Remember I have a corny sense of humor!

Christine A. Scheller: Yeah. Now, I have to look at that again, because you really do! Are you Catholic?

Pete Eckert: I don’t know.

Christine A. Scheller: Were you raised Catholic?

Pete Eckert: Yes.

Christine A. Scheller: What are you working on right now?

Pete Eckert: I’m working on a series. It’s multiple exposures. What I’m doing is I’m showing the sighted world with people ghosting out and cars whizzing around, and then, in my studio, I’m dropping in these kind of wild figures…. I’m trying to show how it feels to be a blind person in the sighted world.

If you think about it, as I’m around people, I can hear them. I can place them. But, since I can’t see them, they could be spirits. They could be an apparition. … And so, some of the misinformation or misinterpreted information–I let that go into my photos. Even when I was sighted, if I was preoccupied or sad, I wasn’t getting the same data from my vision as I was if I was happy and very attentive.

One time I was at a crosswalk and the light changed and the guy standing behind me started yelling, “Go, go, go!” I wouldn’t move and he started to step out around me and stepped as if he was going to step into the street. I reached forward and grabbed his shoulder and yanked him back. A car whizzed in front of him, and he went, “Oh.” And, he didn’t thank me for saving his life or anything.

Christine A. Scheller: Well, I want to thank you for inviting me into your world and the fascinating world of blind photography. You have much to teach those of us whose sight is limited by our vision.

Check out reaction to this interview at The Huffington Post.

On the Bridge: A Conversation Between a Pro-Lifer and an Embryonic Stem Cell Researcher @TheHuffingtonPost


When I investigated human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research for Christianity Today in 2005, the debate about the ethics of the science was heated and tense. I was a pro-lifer who’s child had an incurable disease. What I wanted to know was: what would I do if hESCs could cure my child’s Neurofibromatosis? As part of that investigation, I spent ten days attending a National Institutes of Health (NIH) training course for post-doctoral scientists at Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) in Southern California. Every other attendee was there to learn how to create and grow stem cell lines from five day old human embryos (blastocysts). Because it was an NIH funded course, no new embryos were destroyed to grow the lines the researchers manipulated.

I was the invited guest of Phil Schwartz, who is both director of the Human Neural Stem Cell Resource at CHOC and a Christian opposed to embryo destruction. Schwartz ran the course with Jeanne Loring, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California. Loring is a cell biologist who has been working with hESCs since 1997. Before that, she worked with another Christian, Francis Collins, on mapping the human genome. She describes herself as a “cultural Catholic,” but practices no religion and has never had any doubts about the ethics of her hESC work.

In 2008, Schwartz invited me to attend the course again and I did. The political tenor had changed considerably with the advent of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which are derived from adult somatic cells and thus are not controversial.

Writing on the Center for Genetics and Society’s blog, Project Director on Biotechnology Accountability Jesse Reynolds predicted,

“With the end of stem cell research as a political vehicle, its advocates are likely to temper expectations. They’ll not just move out the goalposts on the timeline towards treatments, but the touted uses of stem cells will shift from potential cellular therapies to models of human diseases in Petri dishes and better drug testing methods. These new purposes will win fewer votes than ‘your own personal biological repair kit,’ but they are also much more realistic.”

And yet, here we are again, with advocates lamenting a lawsuit that brought a temporary injunction against NIH funding of hESC research. (The injunction was quickly reversed.) So, I called Jeanne Loring and asked her thoughts on the lawsuit and the current state of the field. Here’s that interview, edited for space:

SCHELLER: What do you think of the legal situation?

LORING: For scientists, the embryonic stem cells have been the basis for all of the research, including the induced pluripotent stem cell research. Also, they’ve had a lot of influence over adult stem cell research, although I don’t think those guys would admit it. … There’s a gradual growing excitement … because of what you can do with them. So we have people with all sorts of different skills that are all focusing on hESCs or iPSCs or stem cells in general. What the legislation does is it puts a halt to an awful lot of research that’s ongoing right now. Maybe in another ten years, it wouldn’t have such an impact because people would have already done all these things and it would all be in the hands of companies, but right now it’s in a really frantic research phase. We’re discovering things all the time. It’s the worst possible time to have money taken away.

SCHELLER: Who brought case?

LORING: A researcher who used to be at [Harvard] MIT. Harvard [MIT] denied him tenure and he went on a hunger strike. That’s what he was famous for. I knew I’d heard of him before.

SCHELLER: Was he opposed to the research on ethical grounds?

LORING: There are two people: a woman from Louisiana, I believe, opposing the research on ethical grounds and this guy. In legal terms, in order to get an injunction, you have to show financial harm. He said he was being financially damaged because hESC research was unfairly competing with adult stem cell research at NIH. It’s outrageous. It’s foolish. It’s silly. Because research funded by the NIH is funded on merit and there’s no one pot for all stem cell research that gets divided up differently. There’s a big pot for all sorts of research and depending on the stage of the science and the urgency of the need, the research dollars go in a lot of different directions. Adult stem cell research gets far more funding than embryonic stem cell research and it continues to, mostly because it’s already well established.

SCHELLER: Do you think the spinal cord hESC therapy human trials that have been approved by the FDA [the first of their kind] at the Reeve-Irvine research Center in Southern California will work?LORING: I don’t know. Scientifically, I think there’s a possibility. As a scientist, what I really want are for those cells to not harm anybody because it’s a Phase One trial and the object of a Phase One trial is to show that it doesn’t do any harm, and that will be a huge step forward if they can show that.

SCHELLER: In 2008, we heard from Geron Corporation funded Oxford scientist Paul Fairchild that the immune challenge with hESCs wouldn’t be overcome. Has that changed?

LORING: No. They are going to have an immune problem, but they’re going to treat it like an organ transplant. They’re going to use the minimum amount of immune suppression that they can get away with. … This is not a fix for immune rejection. I just got a grant to develop of way to trick the immune system into thinking transplanted cells are theirs. There are several projects going on along those lines. The cells themselves are not going to move into another body and not cause a reaction, which is actually good because if your immune system is not aware of something and that cell became cancerous, you couldn’t do anything about it.

SCHELLER: California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) co-founder Robert Klein is the father of a diabetic child. I’ve never understood the trade off of insulin dependency for immune suppression that diabetic patients would potentially make if hESC therapies become available. Do you grapple with that at all?

: Sure. Ranking diseases is always difficult. A lot of what diseases are going to be treated with cell therapy really depends on a balance between how serious they are and how deadly they are and how easily they can be treated with cells. So, diabetes seems to be, relatively among all diseases, probably easier than most to treat, but it’s not life-threatening. So you have to get a really good therapy, but definitely require immune suppression before you would actually use it.

: So there’s a benefit/risk analysis?

LORING: Yeah, that’s right. So there is progress to be made. All this immune system stuff is sort of catching fire now, so people are not going to just stand by and let the immune system reject everything. They’re going to try to modify the immune system, not with immune suppression, but in a way that will last. Now people are also encapsulating cells so that the immune system can’t get at them.

SCHELLER: They’re still able to function when they’re encapsulated?

LORING: Yeah, in diabetes they certainly are because all they have to do is react to glucose in the blood and make insulin.

SCHELLER: Last time I talked to you, you sounded more excited about iPSCs than hESCs.

LORING: I am more excited for a lot of reasons about iPSCs because you can make them from any individual. As far as the way they act in the culture dish, they’re exactly the same as embryonic stem cells. You have the same problems and the same advantages.

SCHELLER: Is it much harder to get them to turn into other cell types than it is with hESCs?

: No. It’s very easy to get them to turn into other cell types. They’re essentially equivalent. If you look at 100 iPSCs and 100 hESCs, you’ll find there are outliers in both groups–cells that are difficult or act funny. But on the average, among those 200 cell lines, you really couldn’t tell them apart.

SCHELLER: 2009 was the last NIH funded course you directed with Phil Schwartz. Is there no longer a need to train scientists?

LORING: My lab is still running courses. We’re doing it semi-independently and also for CIRM. They are more popular than ever. We modified them so we are actually offering them every couple of months because there are so many people in line waiting to take them.

SCHELLER: So it’s not the case then, as it was in 2005, that you have more cell lines than scientists to do the research?

: No, it’s not like that at all. People really want to get involved in this field. We still teach embryonic stem cell culture methods because that is still the fundamental technology that underlies all of this work.

SCHELLER: Do you need new hESC lines?

LORING: No, I don’t need to make hESCs. This is a dilemma. You make hESC lines from five-day old blastocystes that have been donated by people in in-vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics. I’ve been getting repeated frantic emails from people who want to donate their embryos. I don’t really have any need for them, but I’m feeling like I should start a bank. The alternative is throwing them away. Nobody’s going to adopt the embryos, so they’re paying to have them stay frozen and they want to see some good come of them. I want to start a bank. It’s just that I don’t have funding for it. I’m cooperating with an IVF physician who’s temporarily taking the embryos in. We definitely don’t need to make embryonic stem cell lines. There are probably 400 around now. All you have to do is call somebody and ask them for them.

SCHELLER: At the 2008 course, an IVF physician called his field “Cowboy Science” because of the lack of regulation. It seems to me that this lack of regulation may be a bigger ethical problem than hESC research because it creates the excess embryos.

LORING: I have no objection to increasing regulation of IVF. It’s like any medical practice. It shouldn’t be hurt by oversight.

SCHELLER: We also heard about the potential for exploitation of egg donors in 2008.

LORING: The egg donation issue in 2008 was very hot. That’s died out considerably with the advent of iPSCs because people were looking for alternative sources for pluripotent cells and now there is an alternative source.

SCHELLER: As you know, I first investigated this topic because my first pregnancy was unplanned and I didn’t believe I had the right to end it. My child was then born with Neurofibromatosis. So I had an ethical dilemma to think about when hESC research first emerged.

LORING: Yeah, I understand. I obviously don’t feel it in my heart, but I understand.

SCHELLER: How would you describe your ethical convictions about hESC research?

LORING: I find it completely ethical. I have absolutely no problems with it. It isn’t abortion, so my opinion about abortion is irrelevant. The fact that these embryos would be thrown away and not used for research, I think it would be unethical not to use them.

SCHELLER: You’ve never had any doubts?

LORING: I’ve never had a doubt.

SCHELLER: How long have you been doing this research?

LORING: I started in 1997 in northern California. I started my own company to make hESCs. I didn’t know then that there were so many embryos being thrown away every day. So it made me nervous to have embryos in the lab and I made sure that I got good cell lines out of them. It would still do that to me now. They are really precious, but if you can’t do anything else with them. I was interviewed by a reporter for a Christian newspaper maybe a year ago, I actually wanted to talk to this guy because I wanted to suggest that the churches should put up embryo banks because there’s no adoption for embryos. It would be like starting an orphanage. If they want to keep the embryos from being used for research or being thrown away, then they should set up a bank, a freezer somewhere and just keep them.

SCHELLER: And then do what with them?

LORING: Whatever they want.

SCHELLER: In other words, they should take responsibility for their convictions?

LORING: Exactly. Nobody took me up on it. I’m happy to say that again though.

SCHELLER: People say similar things to pro-life Christians about abortion.

LORING: This would be really simple, though, simple and cheap because you don’t have to raise them. All you have to do is keep them frozen. And then you can figure out what should happen to them after that. That’s not my problem.

SCHELLER: Do you get any flack from your Catholic relatives about your work?

LORING: No. As you know, many Catholics also think birth control is okay and a lot think IVF is fine. So it all follows from that. My relatives are pretty intelligent people, so I don’t get any trouble from them. There might be an outlier somewhere, but not a close relative.

SCHELLER: Thanks for talking to me Jeanne. I always appreciate the fact that you shed light rather than heat on this issue.

LORING: If somebody wants controversy, they’re going to have to go somewhere else.

Check out the reaction to this interview at The Huffington Post.

Pressing Past the Heartbreak &

Dustin, Lynn Ann & Daniel Bogard

The photo above is of Lynn Ann Bogard and her two sons, Dustin (left) and Daniél (right). She and her husband Craig were kind enough to talk to me about how they are able to continue on in urban youth ministry after their sons’ deaths. The story begins like this:

Craig and Lynn Ann Bogard grew up in a small, predominantly white community in New Mexico but sensed a call to minister to African American youth in central New Jersey after a short-term mission trip to the area in the early 1970s. Thirty-five years later, despite living through periods of relying solely on God for their next meal, the Bogards are still at it. They have faced the kinds of challenges that only a deep and abiding faith could pull them through — fundraising struggles, misunderstandings about their motives by both blacks and whites, and, most recently, the untimely deaths of their two beloved sons, Daniél, 28, in 2004 and Dustin, 25, in 2007.

I’ve been aware of the Bogards’ Aslan Youth Ministries for many years, but only just met Craig Bogard last month. As I listened to this slight, serious man recount Aslan’s history, what I really wanted to know was: How do you keep ministering to other people’s children when your own were taken from you?

You’ll find the answer to that question and a whole lot more here, and here, at The Huffington Post where the article was reprinted with permission from Urban Faith.