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Mini Ramblings: Be Careful for What You Wish For

Throughout my life, when asked about my dream job, I would always say that it was sitting by a fire in a cabin, on a mountain lake, writing fiction, with my Saint Bernard (my wife and kids are a given so not mentioned in this dream). Yesterday it dawned on me that I was sitting by the fire, in an old house (rather than a cabin), on a mountain lake, writing fiction, with my Saint Bernard at my feet.

Mike in chair by the fire

If this was still my days of magical thinking, 30 years ago, back in my hard-core evangelical epoch of my life, I would twist this into God did all of this (cancer and all) just to get me here, writing fiction, by a fire, on a mountain lake, with a Saint Bernard at my feet. I would stand up and share this in church with a big smile on my face as a supernatural miracle (but then go home and cry into my pillow where no one could see me).

In those days, we had Romans 8:28 well memorized, although out of context or without thoughtful exegesis or hermeneutics. It was the stuff that made great greeting cards, song lyrics, posters, or cliches when we wanted to look spiritual to impress other evangelicals. But it wasn’t well thought out.

So, if this was God’s plan all along, giving me cancer, destroying my kidneys, giving me this god-awful neurological disorder, allowing me to live through hellish suffering for the first nine months of 2019; then to have me laid off and my career suddenly ending, just so I would be sitting by a fire, on a mountain lake, writing fiction, with a Saint Bernard at my feet; it would make this God very small, ignorant, and profoundly  masochistic. It would be like me telling one of my children, “Yes, I chopped both your legs and arms with my axe, gouged out your eyes with a screwdriver, just so you wouldn’t have to go to work any more, and trust me, I did it because I love you.

But more than that, it makes that theology not God-centered as we thought. We would always boast how big our God was, how our relationship with this God was better than everyone else’s, and that he would orchestrate every detail of our lives just to fulfill our wishes. That notion sounds precious, but really, it makes us the chief of narcissists.

For example, if this was all God’s plans for me, then think about the impact it has had on others, just to serve my interest. I can’t begin to describe Denise’s hell this year, for weeks saying goodbye to a husband she was sure she was loosing to death’s grip. That just scratches the surface for her. But then think about other people, my kids, my family, or my patients.

I’ve talked to several of my patients since it was announced that my headache clinic is closing. Some of them are devastated, not just about missing me, but knowing without a doubt (from their previous experience) that they will not get the level of care that they got from Dr. Moren and me anywhere else. It is not boasting, it is factual. So, how does God working this all out so I can sit by a fire, in a house, on a mountain lake, with a Saint Bernard at my feet, writing fiction work out for their good? I could go on and on in this convoluted web, but this over-simplified theology puts Mike (meaning me) at the very center of the universe and God, in a bottle in my back pocket, like a genie, fulfilling every wish and qualm that I have. It is, “It’s All About Me” theology.

But it does make good posters, greeting cards, and shallow  conversations around coffee in the vestibule of an evangelical church. I am often attacked by these evangelicals when I dare say that my suffering was not God’s intent, that he feels my pain and comforts me, not as an impotent friend wiping my brow with a wet cloth and saying he’s sorry, but as one of such hugeness and mystery that I can’t even start to think what this is all about. So I don’t bother trying. Certainly, I can’t put him in a box . . . or bottle.

What am I saying?

Mike with fire

Of course I trust God in the big picture and if I hear one more evangelical tell me that I don’t have the right faith because I don’t believe God designed this suffering, I am tempted to punch them in the face. I will then tell them that God made me do it for their good. But I know that God could not love me and intend for me to suffer as I have, and certainly not make me suffer so much simply so I can sit by a fire, in a house, on a mountain lake, with a Saint Bernard at my feet and write fiction. We have to stop this silly nonsense of trying to contain God within our thoughts. I know that evil is real and for some reason the evil has touched my life this year. What I do know that it was not payment for anything I did wrong. I also know it wasn’t God’s doing. But I look to Job as an example where God is a willing bystander to evil and suffering. Yes, of course I believe that God could intervene and cure me today and I am continuing asking him to do just that. But, I also respect him when he doesn’t. But in the end, somehow he brings us glory. Believing this is the essence of faith.

Greta

Now, one may ask, I must be very content to see my dream fulfilled like this, meaning, sitting by a fire, on a mountain lake, writing fiction, with my Saint Bernard at my feet. In many ways I do! I do love this part of things. But, take away the, now 11 days, of continuous diarrhea related to my chemo, take away my constant myoclonus (twitching and jerking), take away the nasty cancer crawling in my marrow whose intent is to kill me, and I would be as euphoric as hell, without a doubt.

 

UPDATE:2/6/20-Part II

Good News!

I have  my labs back, which looks directly at the cancer. We do this one every three months. My last one, done 3 months after my stem cell transplant, was confusing and mixed (too complicated to explain here). This one, which just came back today, was clear and shows only a “faint” trace of the cancer. This is very good news. If the stem cell had been perfect, there would be nothing. But a faint trace proves that the stem cell transplant did put me into a good partial remission. My doctor first reported in October (based on the confusing tests results) that the stem cell transplant had done nothing for me, which was quite depressing. This should mean that the cancer will be easy to control, until it decides to surge. . . which could be months, years, or decades. Thanks for your prayers about this.

Despite the above, I’ve been feeling much worse lately (constant diarrhea) and last night and today were especially bad. This must be a side effect from the chemo, which has been gradually getting worse over the past two months. The fact that the cancer is in check should give us the opportunity to find a different chemo that could have less side effects, at least that’s what I hope.

Mike

 

Mini Rambling: Looking for Fiction Readers

I’ve mentioned here that I’ve been working on a novel for three years. I was pretty far along with it. . .  until I got sick. It got put on the back-burner when I was going through my stem cell transplant and recovery (although I did write another book, Christina Athena, during that time).

I have finished my book and completed round one of the editing process. It is still unpolished, I’m sure there are some typos and other issues, but it is in decent, readable shape.

I’ve written two other fiction books, but this is my first attempts in writing a romance novel, and I think it will be my best work when it is done and polished.

Ristretto Rain

J. Michael Jones

Image result for a man in a wooden boat

During my writing of Christina Athena, I had 4-5 readers go through the manuscript and give me very helpful feedback in both syntax and overall narrative and characters. I am again looking for a few people who love to read fiction who would want to read this novel and give me candid feedback. I am certainly not looking for a creative writing course-level of editing, however, if that’s your thing, knock yourself out. Also, please, I don’t want anyone to volunteer to do this out of pity for me, rather than out of your love for reading.

I can provide the manuscript in any form that you want; physical spiral bound, MS Word, PDF, or even Kindle.

Here is a brief synopsis:

What does world-class coffee roasting, boats, the San Juan Islands, and a coffee shop full of lost people have in common? A sea-drifter named Winston; to some he’s a conman, to others. . .   a savior.

If interested contact me via jmichaeljoneswriter@ comcast.net

Thanks, Mike

 

Update: 2/6/20

The first round of labs are back with an over-all slight improvement (my hemoglobin when from 12 to 12.5 and my estimated GFR, which is kidney function, went from 20 to 21). Probably the highlight is the fact that my electrolytes were normal despite the fact I had been more lenient in my diet. Just a couple of months ago I was eating only plain oatmeal and noodles and still my potassium was high.

My cancer labs are not back as they have to be sent out. It will take at least two days to see the state of my cancer.

Mini Ramblings: A Career Milestone

This morning, the final nail was hammered into the coffin of my career. I mentioned before that the local hospital, to my surprise, closed my clinic and laid me off. Immediately I had a neurologist in a local town call me and invited me to come to his office and open up a headache clinic. However, he is an employee of a large hospital group (Peace Health). Once I talked to them about this idea, they seemed hesitant. This morning they called to basically tell me to go take a hike, that they are not interested in a headache clinic. Unfortunately, headache patients have always been discriminated against and in my opinion, this was more about the profound misunderstanding about headache patients and their needs than about the financial viability of such a clinic.

Looking for Meaning

All of us look for meaning in life. I think it is a natural consequence of anyone retiring or loosing a job to doubt that meaning. But in the context of so much I’ve lost this year, this black hole of despair can be tempting.

Over the years, I have learned more from my patients than I think they have from me. I will never forget one patient that I followed when I was a headache specialist at Mayo Clinic. She had been the director of a large Christian organization (I think it was the Salvation Army) in a very large Midwestern city. She, being in her thirties and single, signed up to a Christian dating service. Her first date was supposedly studying for the ministry and sounded, online at least, like the perfect Christian man. They went out to dinner and then went back to her apartment, which was in a high rise. The date had been going very nice and she was starting to have feelings for this man. Then as they said good night at her door, she let him kiss her. But then he said he wanted to come inside. She said no.

As she went to close her apartment door, the man stuck his foot in the door to her shock. To make a long story short, he then forced his way into the apartment and brutally raped her. I think at this point, he wanted to cover up his crime so he tried to kill her by beating her with a heavy object (can’t remember if it was a brick or ball bat or whatever). He left her for dead.

She was seriously injured with a brain injury. She regained consciousnesses after several days and her mind was almost back to normal, but she had severe head pain (that’s how I got to know her) and she had a stroke-like impairment with difficulty moving half of her body. She spent the next year, mostly on her back and working with PT and rehab, trying to walk again.

She told me within the distress of all of this, the PTSD of the assault and the physical pain, the worst part was her own sense of meaningless. She had always been a strong leader and the head of things like the Salvation Army of a huge city. Now, she was struggling to drink from a straw and to sit up. She realized during that first year that she always measured her worth, her worth to God, society, and herself, based on her accomplishments. Now, she felt that she was only taking up space and oxygen, and at times, wished that the rapist had succeeded in killing her. But she wrestled with her emotions, her mind and God for months. Finally she heard God say (not literally but figuratively) that He loved her and that He found her to be of great worth simply because He had created her, and for no other reason.

This is the place I find myself at times, the wrestling with the idea of finding self-worth when I have no roles in society. I’m no longer raising kids. I’m not longer helping patients, and I’m barely a husband as Denise is quite self-sufficient.

I contemplate my next phase of life. I must be able to do something more than to sit alone and look out the window, and think. I do love writing and could write day and night. . .  but will there be readers? Denise has always said that I should just write and then throw it away (especially when I write candid or controversial things), writing just for myself. Maybe that works for some people. There are people who play music for their own enjoyment. My father would go back to the bedroom and close the door and play his guitar. In his younger days he had played with the famous Carter family at his store in Tennessee. But he was shy when it came to music and never, ever would play for us. But I’m different. I don’t look for praise, but I write to educate and to entertain. It is important to me that people are educated and/or entertained by my efforts.

I’ve had up to a thousand people buy some of my books, but not tens of thousands. It is so expensive getting a book to market if you do it right (proof-readers, artist, etc), and the royalties are so low (25 cents to 75 cents a book) that you have to sell tens if not hundreds of thousands to break even. So, I don’t know if my writing is sustainable. We will find out when my next novel is released.

By the way, the man who had perpetrated the rape was caught and it went to trial. He and his good lawyer tried to paint the case that the woman (who admitted she was a virgin before all of this) was a tramp, liked really rough sex, and begged him to beat her. So her being raped and beaten almost to death . . .  well, according to them, was consensual. After all, the man couldn’t go to jail as he was preparing for the ministry.

Image result for puking gif
My response to the rapist being a minister

They almost won their case. . .  but thank goodness he was convicted. But the emotional trauma to her, in a trial about a year and half later, was terrible.

So, down a rabbit hole once again. I am sorry about the drip, drip, drip of blog postings but as soon as my final labs are back, my “updates” should be done for a while.

 

Mini Ramblings: The Waiting Game

No, I have no lab results. However, I was thinking this morning (once again) about this strange world that we who have active cancer face, as well as people with other serious diseases. It is where numbers on a paper (blood tests, biopsies, etc.) will tell you if life goes on the way it is, or where you might be getting a little better. . .  or, where you are starting down a grim path of great suffering and death.

Now, I’ve known Christian patients of mine who say that this waiting game doesn’t bother them, because they know that God is in control. Maybe they are being honest and I really can’t judge, but maybe they are not being honest. I’ve always said that we were human first, before we became people of any kind of faith. We all must carry the same fear of suffering, if not death. This fear has nothing to do with how spiritual we are or how much faith we have and certainly not how big our God is. It is how human (in a good sense) we are. . .  and how emotionally honest we are.

But this time around I noticed that the waiting game has bothered me less. Yes, I could claim that it is a matter of my great faith. I suspect, however, it is more my emotional state of despondency. So many times I’ve worked so hard to improve my labs, only to have them come back worse. Other times, a few times, my labs have surprised me for improving a bit. Of course I still pray that they come back great. I pray for healing too.

I am so tired of walking into medical provider’s offices, those who have seen my labs before me, and they feel like they have to tell my that my labs look like shit (my paraphrase) and this is despite me working my heart out via exercise, diet, supplements and anything I can do. How good it would feel to walk into a provider’s office and they have a smile (rather than scorn written on their face) and they say, “Great labs, Mike! Good work.”  Maybe that’s a fantasy.

Ramblings: The Loss of Truth from Aristotle to Trump, Part V

I know I’ve spread this thought out over weeks due to the (pleasant) interruption of my novel, which I’m editing at this time. I want to do a quick review before I continue and then in the very end, I want to sew this all up—I hope—to a simple synopsis.

Summary:

  • The fragmentation of information sources, made possible by the invention of electronic platforms such as the internet, cable TV, and satellite radio. These platforms made it possible to reach the whole world with a very small (relatively speaking) financial investment. However, in order to compete in the world of information dispersion, the main lanes were taken by the established networks and publications. Therefore, these “entrepreneurs” had to find niches in the extreme (left or right) in which to draw attention and profits. To consolidate their positions, these “sources” had to rely on sensational, emotionally-based, reporting (including the manufacturing of conspiracy theories). They make the consumer of their lies feel special by saying they have a unique corner on the TRUTH that no one else has, and they are the nice guys. Examples on the right are Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, and Tim Fritton. On the left, Bill Palmer, Justin Brotman, and Ana Marie Cox.

Image result for alex jones crying"

  • Philosophical movements (only two of many) that contributed to our movement away from TRUTH include Deconstruction (AKA; Linguistic Deconstruction) and Synthesis (AKA; Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis). In the first one, it states that all information is biased and therefore untrustworthy (except the information being promoted by those making this argument) and the latter says that TRUTH is no longer possible because the opposite of any position is also true. Black and white are the same. The example that Curt (comment in that post) is that Jesus is both the son of God and also, Jesus is not the son of God. While such statements can bring temporary peace to those advocating opposite viewpoints, it does no service in trying to know TRUTH as only one can be correct in the classical notion of logic.

As I mentioned, Francis Schaeffer was urging the Christian Church in the West to stand against the erosion of TRUTH, however, in some ways it has contributed to that loss. I want to next look at the Church’s role as in this process. I have to start with the fact that the West is now post-Christian to make sense of this role. This leaving of Christianity started in Europe over two hundred years ago and is now spreading quickly in the Americas. But before I can continue with this assumption, I felt that I had to address the reasons behind this departure from Christianity.

I have spoken before of how the Church in America is dying and that dying is inevitable. This makes many of my Christian friends very angry when I say this, but I’m only the message bearer. The statistics are overwhelming. I may come back and talk about this issue again at another time. But one point I want to make today is that for those who love the organized Church, don’t worry there will still be churches in 100 years, but rather than a small town having 10 active church communities, it will be consolidated down to 1 or 2. The Church will also have a diminishing influence in our society over time. Also, this death of the Church is not necessarily a bad thing for those who simply want to follow Christ. His followers thrived in the ages when the Church would be considered dead, or in the pre-315 AD period, when the organized Church wasn’t even born yet (for all practical purposes). But let me also define “Church,” in the way I’m using it. I share this definition in my feeble attempts to cut down on the hate mail I expect to receive. For “Church” I don’t mean the invisible body of believers and followers of Christ as some people mean when they use that term. I’m talking about the human institution of the Church; buildings, programs, and intricate extracted doctrines (in another article I will explain what I mean by “extracted doctrines” as compared to simple and obvious teachings of Christ).

 Why We Live in A Post-Christian World

I am going to describe this from two perspectives. The first perspective is from the white evangelical baby boomer viewpoint (which I will call WEBB). I know the WEBB viewpoint well because I was a WEBB for more than 20 years. I have also had many conversations with WEBBs in recent years. I don’t think this viewpoint is accurate (at all) but I must share it as a contrast to what I think is the real reason.

WEBB Viewpoint:

Before the 1960s America was great (from where the slogan “Make American Great Again” has its roots), people then went to church, they all loved God (think of the show The Andy Griffith Show). In those days, sex outside of marriage was only done by the very few bad people, there were no drugs, people worked hard, and were honest. There was also no homosexuality and America had no racism because we were mostly white, and those people of color knew their place in society.

Then the 1960s came and the kids (wink, wink; who are now in their 60s) started using drugs, having sex outside of marriage, and turning their backs on God and the church. This was caused by our kids being exposed to liberal ideas and godless philosophies in schools; some of those philosophies include evolution and secular humanism. I call these ideas “Plausible Alternative Explanations (PAEs).” For example, for hundreds of years the only explanation for why humans existed was being created by God (there were very few atheists during this period). When Darwin first made observations about evolution, his purpose wasn’t to supplant the belief in God or even his faith in Christianity. However, near the end of his life he started to have serious doubts about God. So, the WEBB’s belief that allowing these philosophies into our schools and “liberal” media sources, that our kids were brainwashed in turning away from God.

The WEBB “ace” that they play (but I think is more like the “joker”) is what I call the eschatological cop out. Eschatology of course deals with issues of the end times. The view adopted by the WEBBs (but wasn’t part of the previous Church’s doctrines for over 1800 years, or most other, non-American churches today) is that we are living in the last days, that there will be a great falling away from God as part of the plan. Then there will be a great and bloody war (Armageddon), and then Jesus will return. So many of the WEBBs I’ve spoken to will complain how lazy and selfish the younger people are, but it doesn’t matter because “it’s all going to burn and Jesus is coming back soon.”

Image result for Jesus is coming and its all going to burn"

Their solution is turning back the clock, making America great again, ridding our society of these godless philosophies. As an elder said in my previous church, “No child should ever go to anything but a Christian school and never go to college where they are exposed to these godless philosophies.” (quoted but my paraphrase).

Historical Viewpoint: History, if studied carefully, tells a very different story than the above. But like with the rise and fall of all great movements (e.g. Roman Empire) the story is complex and multifactorial. In my remaining space I want to pick out just a few of the reasons we are moving into a post-Church, post-Christian epoch of western civilization. While the story of why the West has left, and continues leaving, Christianity as a worldview is convoluted, there is a simple theme behind most of the mistakes and that is the Church’s historical lust for money and power. I will pick just a few major landmarks to illustrated this.

The first was the French Revolution (1789) and the deliberate de-Christianization of France. In France, the Aristocrats was the highest social strata and was made up of the powerful nobility, the very wealthy, and the Church leaders. The problem became that the Aristocrats made up only a very small percentage of society, yet they held the vast majority of the power and wealth. The common people were becoming poorer and poorer and were starting to starve. The Church, rather than showing compassion to the masses, who were in dire straits, sided with and were in bed with (figuratively and literally) the tiny minority who were powerful and wealthy aristocrats.

The Goddess of Reason Crowned in France

When the common people took over the government during the French Revolution, they started the “reign of terror” where they chopped off the heads of the nobility, the rich, and the clergy. Hundreds of priests were beheaded, and tens of thousands had to flee France to save their lives. The climax of the revolution was when an exotic dancer was brought into the Notre Dame Cathedral and crowned, the Goddess of Reason, as the new religion of France, replacing Christianity. This became the watershed moment for much of the departure from Christianity in the West, as many anti-Christian writers grew out of this movement in France and spread their ideas to the rest of the West.

Now some will say how terrible these people were to do that. But I say, how horrible the Church was for getting in bed with the corrupt rich and powerful, just because they were rich and powerful, and ignoring the needs of the masses for decades. This French church did not reflect the priorities of Christ, himself and this created a strong resentment and sense of betrayal among the masses.

The next big turning away from Christianity came after World War II. There were two major reasons for this. For one, the great disillusionment in a good God in the aftermath of such atrocities of the war. The second reason was that, like the French church in the 1700s, the German Lutheran and Catholic churches in the 1930s and 40s sided with the rich and powerful Nazis. It is hard for American evangelicals to understand this, but prior to this point, the Church had a long history of antisemitism and they welcomed the formation of the Nazi Party, which had the following statement as part of its platform:

We demand the freedom of all religious confessions in the state, insofar as they do not jeopardize the state’s existence or conflict with the manners and moral sentiments of the Germanic race. The Party as such upholds the point of view of a positive Christianity without tying itself confessionally to any one confession. It combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit at home and abroad and is convinced that a permanent recovery of our people can only be achieved from within on the basis of the common good before individual good.

Image result for German church with nazi flag"
German Lutheran Church Embracing Nazism

The great tragedy was that the German churches remained complacent (with a few exceptions) even when the holocaust developed. In the post WWII period, there was an increasing momentum of the masses in Europe becoming disillusioned with the Church.

While there are thousands of reasons for why we now live in a post-Christian society, I will including two more major event, and like the two previous mentioned ones, it is the Church finding itself on the wrong side of history, but this time I will focus on America. I considered the fact that many major churches (Southern Baptist, Presbyterian Church in American, and others) aligned themselves with the pro-slavery south (based on the income that slaves could bring the church members) and in the Jim Crow years, had a high tolerance for racism and bigotry, and those views continue until today.

Early Slave Auction Conducted by Church Members

The second reason, which may even be greater than the slavery , is the WEBBs aligning themselves with Donald Trump in 2016. This alignment was also based on money and power. Several writers have already observed how the exodus of the millennials, Gen Xers, and younger people from the Church has greatly accelerated and they say it is the support of that church for Donald Trump that has driven them away as it has lost its moral voice within our society.

Image result for evangelicals supporting trump"

From the viewpoint of the younger generations, the American Christians had long been the voice of moral criticism of their lifestyles (including then being unchurched). However, this same younger groups (per many surveys) have held much stronger moral ideals than the Church in the area of human rights, compassion for the poor, freedom from greed, and concerns for the way we treat this planet. When the WEBBs joined Donald Trump in his racist language, disregard for the environment, love of money, and immunity from telling the truth, the younger generations observed a profound hypocrisy of the Church (not to mention Donald Trumps profound moral failures in the areas of his sexuality and shady business dealings), the departure from the Church has accelerated.

I will point out, in closing, that the WEBBs viewpoint places all the blame on the people leaving the Church, while the history view places the responsibility on the Church itself. While blaming others or even one’s eschatology, is emotionally convenient, it is not consistent with how society works. Sears goes bankrupt but they knew better than to blame the customers, who no longer liked shopping there. They blamed themselves for not better responding the needs of their customers.

Once again, please overlook typos as I typed this in one quick setting. I want to get back to my chores and editing my novel.

Mike

Update: 2/01/20

Welcome to February! A year ago I was doubtful I would ever seen February 2020 and I’m glad I am here.

Summary:

  • Monday 2/3/20 I will have labs to look at my kidneys and I will get my, every 90 day, direct look at my cancer (via serum protein immunofixation).
  • My neurological symptoms are still present, but for the first time I can say with confidence that they are naturally improving, although very, very slowly. I did see two neurologists. One was expecting that I had ALS (that would make my luck pretty damn bad) but after electrical testing of the nerves, we can say it is not (although ALS was my original self-diagnosis I was confident that I didn’t have it now). So my diagnosis is most likely, uremic polymyoclonus.
  • Mental health. I’m sharing this not to add more melodrama,  but I saw a psychiatrist for the first time this week for mental health support. I’ve watched two relatives die this year that can be traced to unspoken mental health issues. So, I share that there is a need for mental health support in normal life at times, but especially when you are under a personal crisis. Denise has also paid a big price this year in her emotional health.
  • It appears, baring a miracle, that my 38-year career in headache medicine has come to an end. I was feeling strong enough to try and return to work and my post-transplant quarantine was lifted, however, due to business concerns (and I don’t protest those, as my clinic has lost money in my absence) my clinic is closing and I’m being laid off. This was a big blow.

 

Details:

To add some details to the above comments.

Regarding my upcoming labs; My highest level of cancer (aka M Spike) was 2 grams/liter. After my bone marrow transplant, the reading in October was only been a “faint trace.” You would think that the cancer is remission, but we know its not because it is still making the evil proteins. Two weeks ago, the proteins had risen after falling for months due to chemo. Our prayer is that this new lab will show the M Spike remaining almost undetectable because it if is rising like the bad proteins did, it could mean trouble.

I did see my nephrologist at the University of Washington last week. The first time I saw him, in October, it was dismal. He wanted to make sure I knew that my kidneys are total crap and won’t get better. This time, it went smoother. He reviewed my labs and came to the conclusion that while my kidneys are indeed crap, they are stable and holding their own. He works a lot with MM patients (20% of MM cancer has kidney failure as part of the syndrome) and he said, from his perspective, my cancer is not very bad and should be easy to suppress, however, the damage to my kidneys has been terrible and irreversible.

This past two weeks have been especially difficult from an emotional standpoint. As I mentioned above, I did see a psychiatrist. I had asked for this appointment in October, after being told by my oncologist that my bone marrow transplant did nothing for me. I was suicidal once again and, with Denise’s urging, I ask for an psychiatric evaluation. We don’t know why it took so long to actually see one.

I am certainly not suicidal at this juncture as I’m feeling so much better than I was in October, but I want to continuing seeing the psychiatrist for mental health support. But we did have three big emotional blows in the last two week. The first one was when I was expecting to be declared “in remission” and then my light chain proteins came back elevated. This was an huge blow.

Then the next blow came as I was preparing to go back to work. I had met with the hospital several weeks ago and everything was green lights. But then I met with them this week and suddenly I had been canned, along with the entire clinic. I don’t dispute their reasons from a business standpoint as my illness took a toil on the bottom line. It is a huge blow to spend your life and career in helping headache patients and then it suddenly it ends and without fanfare. I am talking with another hospital about creating a new headache clinic, but my optimism is guarded.

The third big blow came when I had lunch with someone from my church. Things were going well in the conversation, but then he said a simple troubling statement. He described how wonderful his relationship was with God but observed, I think based on my writings here, that I did not have a relationship with God, or at least not like his.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am used to criticism. I’m used to being told I’m not a Christian, that I’m going to straight to hell, and that I have all kinds of theological errors. I get this because I write things that are candid, I show personal weakness in my writings, I write controversial things, and often I am critical of American evangelicalism.  But his remarks hit me very hard, I think because I did not see it coming and in light of the deep, in-the-trenches relationship I have had with God during this personal ordeal, to be told my relationship with God is inferior was painful. This person has apologized, especially once he saw how difficult his words were to me, and I accept his apology. However, the emotional blow has been tremendous with little sleep and prolonged agony.

While these things mentioned above happened to me, Denise has also felt the brunt of this. I’ve never seen her so low as I do right now. It think for her it is the accumulation of stress over one year. Besides dealing with a husband who has been near death for much of the year and who’s future is unclear, she has a very stressful management job. She feels obligated to keep the job because I’m not working. She is exhausted.

Our marriage has been under stress as well. Besides the obvious reasons, a recurring theme now is that Denise works such long hours, leaving often at 6 or 6:30 in the morning and not getting home often until 6 or even 7 in the evening. Like I said, she does this because she feels she has to. But for me, I am home alone for all day with no one but my dog, Greta to talk to. I am deeply grateful for Jerry walking with me every day at 3 p.m., otherwise I think I would have gone mad. But I am so profoundly lonely, then Denise comes home burnt out and exhausted after 12 hours of being gone, and she does not want to talk to me. This is the stress that we are working through.

To avoid sounding like “Debby Downer” again, I will say that I do feel so much better than in previous months. Certainly not normal, but more than half normal.

Thanks for your prayers and support. I will update the lab report when it comes in around Wednesday or Thursday.

Mike

 

Ramblings: The Loss of Truth from Aristotle to Trump: Part V

My definitions: truth=anything a particular group calls truth using terms like, “my truth” or “Biblical truth.” TRUTH = that which is consistent with reality, or the classical sense of truth.

It was very hard for me to pry my fingers away from the keyboard, where I’m editing my novel Rock Harbor, to return writing on this series of articles.

I had written the next article in this series about the loss of truth, but when I went back to read it, it was long—about six pages—and convoluted. My writing kept going down rabbit holes in order to explain my next point. So, I trashed that article and am starting over. Instead of writing in such a convoluted way, I will break it down to about three or four major topics, which I will try to tie together at the end.

But first, I must take us back to a review of my purpose for writing. I am not the only one who has observed that we have entered a post-truth era, at least in America. There have been several great articles about that, such as the one in Time Magazine.

I started my discussion talking about the breakdown in the way that we get truth with the fragmentation of reality based on personal viewpoints. This was best exemplified in the niche cable news outlets. Then I mentioned that in the 1960s Francis Schaeffer, my favorite theologian, was concerned that the West was heading back to a post-reason, post-TRUTH world. He drew on history in how the West did leave reason and truth for the period we call the Dark Ages and that was due to the Platonic influence in our basic metaphysics. He then looked at how we were heading that way again, but for different reasons.

Schaeffer believed (as he wrote about in his book, Escape from Reason) that there was a great disillusion in reason and TRUTH after the two great wars of the twentieth century. He was observing in Europe (where he lived) that absurdity movements were already starting in the arts and if it moved into science and other areas of life, we would re-enter a new dark age. He urged the Christian Church to play a role because the Judo-Christian views are that God created reason and TRUTH.

Fortunately, Schaeffer’s fears were not realized. It wasn’t because the Church stepped in and prevented this travesty, but simply because absurdity does not work in science. The skeleton which holds up science is mathematics. Mathematics, by its very nature, is built upon principles of logic and real TRUTH. So, it was a natural act of self-preservation that science never took this step very far, not nearly as far as the arts had (for example John Cage’s “recital” where he just sat at a piano and never played a single note).

I will give one example of how science did flirt with the absurd and then backed away. I met a PhD physicist, I will call “John,” in the early 1990s who worked that the powerful particle accelerator/collider, CERN, in Switzerland. This physicist was a Christian (I met him at a L’Abri conference, the organization started by Francis Schaeffer).  This man said he was very anal about his experiments on the collider, doing the math very precisely and doing it over and over again to make sure it was right. As a result, he had a good record there of successful experiments. But he had a colleague, I will call “Bill,” who was a bit jealous of John’s good track record, who kept saying that the giant machine, the accelerator “liked John” more than it liked him (Bill).

John thought that was silly as the soulless machine, made up of wires and electromagnets, had no will or favoritism, but it did work on the natural laws of physics and nature, which God had created, and when you got those right, the experiments worked.

In this article I will discuss a couple (of many) movements within what you might call secular philosophy which did impact the loss of truth. I’m sure I will omit many important movements and I will over-simplify the ones I will mention, so much, that some will say I did not present them fairly.

Linguistic Deconstruction (aka, Deconstruction): You can do your own reading about this movement but basically it states that we all carry a bias in the way we write or read any material. So, we have an agenda. If you take it to the extreme, because I’m a white man, then every thing I write will be as a chauvinist (when I address it to women) or racist (if I address my writing to people of color). This principle states that we cannot escape these biases. Therefore, nothing that we read or write is factual, but layers of meaning based on our biases. To try and understand what is being communicated, you must deconstruct the text. However, if you take this thinking to its extreme, you end up in a place of intellectual nihilism, where TRUTH is unknowable, but everything is chaos.

This movement has had some modest influence in our present situation with the loss of truth. It is best seen when one niche news outlet, for example the conservative Fox network, places doubt on all non-Fox news or narratives about national or world events because the other sources have a “liberal bias.” The same is said of Fox News by those who are not conservatives, but of course saying the news is not factual because Fox News’ conservative bias. But real TRUTH, should be measured on the merits if it reflects reality, while considering the bias of the presenter is worthwhile.

Synthesis (aka, Thesis, antithesis, synthesis): In the classical sense of logic, things are broken down into a mathematical black and white (most of the time). For example, a fish is not a bird. In this series of statements, the thesis is presenting the fish as a real creature. The antithesis is that non-fish, such as birds, are not fish. It is just a baby step in the long description of defining fish (where you can add things like has gills etc.).

A modern development in this classic logic was that truth (small case) can be reached by a synthesis of the two prior exclusive statements. So, in that way of thinking, you would say a fish is not a bird, but then the synthesis, you would add, however, a fish and a bird are a lot alike.

To bring this up to a more relevant level of understanding truth I will use an illustration of this phenomenon.

In 1991 President George Bush nominated the conservative Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court to replace retiring judge Thurgood Marshall. During Thomas’ confirmation hearing, after almost no objections to his character, a FBI interview with one of his previous subordinates, attorney Anita Hill, was leaked to the press. She was then called to testify before congress.

During Anti Hill’s testimony, she reported acts of sexual harassment by Thomas toward her. From Anita Hill’s entry in Wikipedia:

According to Hill, Thomas asked her out socially many times during her two years of employment as his assistant,[7] and, after she declined his requests, he used work situations to discuss sexual subjects.[5][7] “He spoke about … such matters as women having sex with animals and films showing group sex or rape scenes,” she said, adding that on several occasions Thomas graphically described “his own sexual prowess” and the details of his anatomy.[5] Hill also recounted an instance in which Thomas examined a can of Coke on his desk and asked, “Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?”[5]

In response, Clarence Thomas categorically denied every word of Hill’s testimony.

As an interesting sidebar to this, just like in the Bret Kavanaugh case, immediately conservatives, including evangelicals, sided with Thomas’ testimony and immediately started a detailed process of character assassination of Anita Hill. Liberals stood with Hill.

During this whole process, just like with the Kavanaugh one just a year ago, I was amazed how people had hard positions, not based on any evidence, by on their own political position. However, I will never forget one commentator on a Sunday morning news show in 1991 saying, in the middle of this firestorm something like, “I believe that both Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill are telling the truth, because we each experience truth in our own way.”

This is how synthesis works. While it has a good intention, of finding peace were there are opposing opinions, it harms our ability to find TRUTH. In the case of Hill Vs Thomas, either Thomas said and did those things reported by Hill, or he didn’t. I don’t know, because I wasn’t there. Even at the time I was an evangelical and very conservative, I had no clue which one was telling the truth while everyone I spoke to at my church said that Hill was a liar and a tramp. I saw the same play out with the Kavanaugh situation. So, either he did do what Christine Blasey Ford said, or she is lying. I have no clue because I was not there. But saying they both were telling the truth would be synthesis and a move away from finding TRUTH.

At this juncture, I will move back to talking about the influence of the Christian Church in America to this process of the loss of TRUTH. I bring Christianity back into this discussion for a couple of reasons. First, although we are living in a post-Christian world now, Christianity has had a powerful influence on the thinking of the West, including secular thinking.

Secondly, I had a twenty-year history with American White Evangelicalism and am out of that movement for an equal number of years. I am still a simple Christian, taking the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, every seriously, while I’m not a big fan of organizational religion, especially the mixture of Christianity and cultures, including the American. I don’t hate organizational religion and have respect of the positive contributions it has made to our history and have respect for whom it is very important. However, I also do not hesitate to criticize the historical darkness that came out of religion and their errors today.

Footnote: I have been blogging for more than a decade about some of these issues and have had many meaningful dialogs with friends around the world. I  mentioned before that when I was diagnosed with cancer a year ago, I had about 160 newbies come here as I also use this space for updates about my cancer. Maybe that was my mistake of mixing the two audiences in the same space. I do try to label them differently as “Updates” and “Ramblings.”

I have respect for those who simply don’t care about these rambling topics and tune them out, which is an excellent way to handle this. Unfortunately several well-meaning people who have come to follow my cancer, also read my ramblings and take great offense at or are deeply disturbed by things I say. I have had many warning e-mails and personal conversations where people are upset that a) I’m not a real Christian, or b) I don’t know God in the right way, or c) I don’t have the Holy Spirit, or d) I have some error in my theology, or worst of all, e) I am an agent of the devil. The list goes on and on and on. If what I write disturbs you, then either stop following this blog altogether or at least, only read the posts about my health.

I suspect that I have had 100 conversations or more with Christians over the years who feel called by God to tell me that I’m either going to hell or that I don’t know God in the right way. With all the things on my plate, dealing with death and cancer as major ones, I have absolutely no patience for such comments and views at this time.

Yeah, now back to the novel and without taking the time to proof-read.

Mike

 

Update: 1/23/20

Summary: I just finished my last labs on Monday (1/20/20) and met with my nephrologist yesterday of the University of Washington.

  • Kidneys: My renal labs remain terrible, but stable. Last month I slightly relaxed my strict diet, eating one tablespoons of tomato sauce for the month, a few raisins in my, otherwise plain, morning oatmeal. Despite that loosening of the diet, the renal labs (particularly the potassium) was not worse, but slightly better. This is a big help in allowing me to have more food choices.
  • Feeling: I am feeling far better than I was even in October. Most of that has to do with my anemia improving. It is still present and appears to be stuck where it is (Hemoglobin of 12) but is far better than September when my hemoglobin was 8. I can’t imagine how good I would feel if my hemoglobin was normal (14+) again, I think I would be able to fly like Superman. My side effects from chemo (stomach flu type) are still present, constant, but milder. I’m only having diarrhea a few days a week.
  • Neurological: My twitching has always gone through unexplained cycles (while never going away). The good cycles have been so low (3-4 places twitching rather than 10+) that I think this whole horrible neurological syndrome might be getting better, very, very slowly.
  • Cancer: I was expecting to announce this morning that my cancer was in remission (based on the indirect measurement of the bad proteins). My decline in protein had been steady (see the graph below) and based on the result last month, we were expecting them to be normal this morning (which would be below 26). However, to my great disappointment, the trend was bucked and the bad proteins are slightly worse. That is very discouraging after having high hopes for days. In two weeks we will do a direct measurement of the cancer via a blood test. We do this every 3-6 months. Please pray that the cancer load would be low.
  • Career: I am attempting to return to work, although this decision is not in my hands completely but will be made in the next couple of weeks. That could be me working part time back at the Island Hospital headache clinic, or, I also have an opportunity to work for Peace Health neurology, which would mean a drive to Bellingham or Sedro Woolley.
  • Writing: There is so much I would love to write here in my blog. However, I have been working on a novel for three years (with a working title of Rock Harbor, It is a semi-romance novel). The manuscript was put on the back burner when I got sick. I restarted the novel in September and finished my first writing of it about three weeks ago. I am now going back through and editing (I write in layers, fixing typos, adding narrative color, etc.). This is a labor of love and is all-consuming my writing at this time.

Light Chains Jan

 

Ramblings: The Theology of Tragedy -Follow Up

I can share more candidly now that the friend that I lost due to a drunk driver, was also my oncologist. I could not say more earlier because he was still on life-support. He was 51 and left three children. I can remember conversations with him about mortality. . .  my mortality. I was 64 and was asking him if I would make it to 65. He said, “Why not shoot for 70?”  Never, in the most distant corners of my mind did I think he would be taken long before he turned 64.  It is profoundly sad that he did absolutely nothing wrong and a careless drunk driver killed him.

Today is also my nephew’s funeral. I’ve had to bury two nephews this year, one on my side and this one on Denise’s. For the sake of confidentiality, I wish I could say more. But the family is in deep mourning, actually both Dr. Nestor’s and my nephew’s family. Pray for grace that they can get through this day and the days to come.