Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Last Rites

The Ambulance Driver blog recalls the moments, over seven years, when he had to tell anxious loved ones the person he was crouched over was dead; beyond his help. There were men gone from old age, young blond accident victims, the middle-aged expired from a heart attack, daredevil young men on their shattered motorcycles. And the anxious survivors "... and then I say The Words. 'I'm afraid she's dead.' "

As children we know one sort of God, the kind who loves us like our parents. He is the God who we spoke to just as if He was in the next room in the moments before we went to sleep. And as we grow up, the God of our childhood slips away forgotten, but He is replaced, if we are in Grace, by one we can speak to as adults. He never truly goes away, but as we are adults, leaves us mostly on our own. The God of adulthood comes seldom and usually in moments of great happiness and loss. There finally is the Lord who speaks to us when we are old, when we awake bewildered to watery brightness of each new day, when we know we are close to leaving the flowers and yet are not wholly despairing of meeting them again.

The Ambulance Driver captures the most secret moments of society. The ones most hidden from view. Here's the end paragraph from one of his most interesting vignettes.



"Are you a Christian, AD?" she asks. "All this time, and I've never asked."

"Yes, Ma'am," I answered. "I am. Not as good a Christian as I should be, but I believe, yes."

"The doctors all say that Jeremy wasn't aware of anything. He had never been Baptised before the accident. I didn't find my faith until after it happened. He was born out of wedlock, you know."

"Yes Ma'am, you told me."

"Do you believe people can go to Heaven if they've never accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior? My religion says no."

"I believe in a loving and merciful God," I tell her, "one who wouldn't condemn Jeremy as he was. So yes, I believe he's in Heaven."

"So do I," she smiled with utter conviction. "So do I."

"Tell ya' what I believe," Pardner broke in laconically. "I figger Jeremy wouldn't be sittin' here gettin' all weepy like this, wonderin' if he's with Jesus or not. He'd be up, actin' up and bein' a sixteen-year-old kid. Then he'd grab Heather's boob."

And we all laughed uproariously and listened to funny stories of Jeremy's childhood, many of which we had heard before. When the coroner arrived, he thought we were all nuts.

32 Comments:

Blogger Doug said...

When I Get Where Im Going
---
Found at this tribute to a Heroic Warrior:
The Fallen Lion
---
American Legacy: Wayne Downing
Michael Yon

7/24/2007 07:49:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

I've heard it said young men want justice because they had no choice coming into the world. Old men want mercy because they have no choice in the leaving of this world.

I find a good strategy for prayer is to just listen to yourself and pray the other way. Pray away from all the crazy, sad, fearful, anxious, stupid things you might think of. Listen to the noise in your head and then pray silently and intentionally against it.

Why bother? As a man thinks in his heart so he is. You cannot stop the natural claptrap of the modern brain--especially if you feed it trash. ie garbage in garbage out. But even if by some act of God you were hearing the music of the spheres all day long -- your mind would still conjure a snake...after all we did not hear about the Snake until the Garden.

Therefor. Pray. Thank You Jesus. Thank you Lord.

7/24/2007 07:54:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The Ambulance Driver's tagline is interesting too. "I doubt, therefore I think I am."

People in certain professions -- I think of doctors, paramedics, policemen, soldiers and clergymen administering the last rites -- routinely go where people avoid going in "normal life". To some extent the whole point of "normal life" is the same as staring ahead when walking a tightrope. It is not to look down at the abyss that yawns underfoot. That's too scary.

But people who live where routine has fallen apart -- the cop dealing with the human detritus, the priest giving extreme unction to the dying or the ambulance driver "Saying the Words" the abyss is all around. And in that place words like "God", "the Devil" and "forgiveness" don't sound strange at all. It's only in artificially normal where those words are banished.

7/24/2007 08:21:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

... not to look down ...

You have your finger on the pulse today, Wretchard.

7/24/2007 09:40:00 PM  
Blogger Sparks fly said...

Acts 4:12
" And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."

That name,of course, is Jesus Christ.

I know there is something wrong with me that I can't fix. Save me Jesus. Don't let me go down to the pit on that day. Thank You.

7/25/2007 12:07:00 AM  
Blogger B'ham said...

“He never truly goes away, but as we are adults, leaves us mostly on our own.”
I don’t believe that God treats us differently as adults than He treated us in our childhood. We change. Not only do we take some things for granted, but we also add distractions to our lives. He still speaks to us, but we find it harder to listen, until an event pushes away the distractions.

7/25/2007 04:52:00 AM  
Blogger otpu said...

"Ma'am, If you were God right now wouldn't you be looking for some way you could get him into Heaven even if all the preachers in the world said you couldn't?

Victim's mother, of course, answers yes.

"Well then, since God is a lot smarter and a whole lot more merciful than you, me, and all those preachers combined, don't you think that maybe he just might find a way?"


I've used this a couple of times to try and comfort a mother whose child had committed suicide and the preacher at the victim's funeral decided to preach to the mourner's on the subject of irredeemable sin.

otpu

7/25/2007 06:53:00 AM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

Thanks for this post (& thread)--it's a sermon and a good one.

7/25/2007 08:59:00 AM  
Blogger Yashmak said...

That was a gut-wrenching read.

7/25/2007 09:04:00 AM  
Blogger Ardsgaine said...

Religion is the illusion that there is a net over the abyss.
A comforting thought, but you pay for it. The net is not for everybody, only the ones who submit to the will of God. To save your soul, you have to give it up.
I'll keep mine.

7/25/2007 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger John Wright said...

"Religion is the illusion... The net is [for] ... the ones who submit to the will of God. To save your soul, you have to give it up. I'll keep mine."

Have you never loved a woman? Have you never held a child? We give away our souls in times like those. What we get in return is everything and more than everything back.

If you keep it to yourself, your soul is without value to you, to me, to anyone.

Be content in your stiffnecked pride, proud man, because you will never be happy.

7/25/2007 11:25:00 AM  
Blogger Yashmak said...

Why is it that the religious have such faith that those without religion cannot be happy? Is it because those same people weren't happy before they came to religion?

I see comments like yours, John Wright, frequently. I find them interesting, because I have every bit as much faith as the religious. . .just in different things. More importantly, I'm as happy (if not happier) than most of the religious folks I know.

But hey, whatever keeps you believing you've made the right spiritual choice, eh?

7/25/2007 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger weswinger said...

Wretchard,
Thanks for the great post and the BC for the thread. Just one thing. . .

Charles,
King David and his descendant the Lord Jesus gave us the Psalms and the Lord's Prayer as an instruction set for prayer:

Using those for our models, we can see that although our thoughts and desires are known in advance, we benefit by expressing them. Even if they seem materialistic or vengeful or worse, praying helps us to understand ourselves and to better love the Lord and our neighbor.

7/25/2007 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Beyond The Rim... said...

"Why is it...?" Some things just are, the why not accessible. To those who seek a simple answer, either religious or non, dissonance always intervenes. It is contained oh so graciously in Jesus' statement to the woman caught in adultery, "Neither do I condemn you." Such comforting words, but brought up short by the next declaration, "Go and sin no more."

Forgiveness and accountability, to receive one, requires the other. These dependencies are everywhere and freedom is not belied by their existence, but like a Bhuddist koan, found within.

How does God judge? Only he knows. He has given us warnings by which we warn others, not to condemn but to save, not to judge but to free from the need of judgment.

As was sung so eloquently by Janis Joplin (though written by Kris Kristofferson), "Freedom is having nothing left to lose." Who better fits that definition than one resting in the everlasting arms?

7/25/2007 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

Yashmak, evidently your spiritual anchor is yourself. Yet you say that you have faith. Faith in what? Yourself? Christians lose their way on their path through life all of the time and are guided back to a standard direction by their faith in a single being, and those others that he has appointed to help. If you lose your grip where do you go? Are you an island? This isn't presented as a challenge, just questions that others have had to answer. Including me.

7/25/2007 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Two individuals as far apart as you can imagine faced the problem of the abyss in the same way. The first, Jose Rizal went to his death for defying the Spanish theocrats who ruled the Philippines. He died an opponent of obscurantism, but a believer in the ultimate meaningfulness of things; he died in faith, but of no particular religion. He wrote this the night before he faced the firing squad.

Mi patria idolatrada, dolor de mis dolores,
Querida Filipinas, oye el postrer adiós.
Ahí te dejo todo, mis padres, mis amores.
Voy donde no hay esclavos, verdugos ni opresores,
Donde la fe no mata, donde el que reina es Dios.


"I go where there are no slaves, hangmen or oppressors, Where faith does not kill, and where God reigns supreme."

The other person, not to be compared with Jose Rizal, was Saddam Hussein, whose was hanged even as he recited the Muslim profession of faith.

This is how each faced the abyss. As a practical question, we must all live as though our lives mattered, if we choose to live at all. That it isn't all going to be lost in some Big Crunch or Terminal Whimper. And therefore it seems to me that it is better, if we intend to go on living, to truly believe our lives do matter. Faith, I think, is related to freedom in this way: freedom means we get to make the choice. Faith means that our choices make a difference. Freedom says we get to pull the voting lever. Faith says the votes are counted.

In Rizal's case, it mattered to him that he was on the side of truth as he saw it. On the side of love as he felt it. And he was less afraid to die because of it. In Saddam's case, I think he glimpsed the possibility, however improbable, that his deeds did matter, and the weight of them bent even his proud heart. He must have glanced back at all the tormented faces in his past and faced his end with the Muslim prayer on his lips and his eyes looking over his shoulder.

More we cannot do. Humanity means that however vast the gulf between Rizal and Saddam was, they shared this dilemma in common. Once open our eyes in this world, we inevitably ask ourselves whether we are part of some long story, and after a time our answers determine how we thread our lives into the tale; whether we, like Rizal, want to play the part of the earnest knight or like Saddam the blackhearted villain.

"All the world's a stage" and if anyone is watching then we played our best. Wrote our tale. And if no one is watching, well, we did our best anyway.

7/25/2007 01:47:00 PM  
Blogger Yashmak said...

"Yashmak, evidently your spiritual anchor is yourself. Yet you say that you have faith. Faith in what? Yourself?" - mike h

Taken as an honest question, as intended.

I do have a great deal of confidence in myself to overcome difficulties life has (and will) throw at me. I have faith in my knowledge, faith in my ability to judge wisely and take appropriate (and moral) actions. I have faith in my friends and family to support me if need be, and have faith that I will support them if they need me to do so. I have faith in personal responsibility for my choices, good or bad. I have faith that what will happen, will happen, and that I will be able to accept it and move onward.

I do not consider myself an island.

I do not see religion or spirituality as negatives in general or in specific. In fact, I feel they provide a benevolent moral framework for multitudes. That religion provides these people comfort, I see as an additional benefit and applaud. Having been raised Methodist, I can point to Christianity as providing a strong foundation for my own 'moral code' if you will. However, I've never for one moment thought that religion/spirituality is a pre-requisite for morality. To believe that ignores the possibility that man can make moral decisions in absence of belief in a higher being. I know that not to be the case. Many of the morals laid out in the Bible and other religious texts are common sense, when you come down to it. One need not be religious to see the value of moral behavior and adopt it for his/herself.

Instead, I live in constant wonder of and fascination with the world around me. There are many like me.

7/25/2007 03:26:00 PM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

"I live in constant wonder of and fascination with the world around me. There are many like me."

yes, I'm one of them. I call that wonder and fascination "God". When I harm the things that are wonderful & fascinating, I feel I've made a sin, and that I ought to atone for it. Something makes that sin feeling, something makes a judgment.

Spinoza said that the thought of God in the mind is not just the proof of God's existence, but "is" God.

7/25/2007 06:33:00 PM  
Blogger newscaper said...

My family is Catholic, I went to parochial schools up to high school. Always a 'good' kid, hell, an altar boy for 6 years (in the 1970s never treated inappropriately in the slightest, thank you), by about junior year of HS I was left with the conclusion that I was an atheist.

However, I was not like that older generaiton of catholics-turned-atheists who are so bitter to the Church and Christianity in general. More than ever, I appreciate the foundations that Christianity supplied Western Civilation (in spite of the progressive CW), and the foundation s it provided in my own life.

I appreciate the ability I was taught to take moral questions seriously and try to reason about them, even when I disagree with what the Church says.

I'm 42 now, and have a 9 year old son as well as a wife of 16 years. I find myself, while still not actually a believer, much more appreciative of belief, faith, and the Church. We are raising our son Catholic, and I feel hypocritical in one sense, but there IS value in it -- perhaps it will work for him and be a great blessing in his life. And if it doesn't, if serious, well meaning thought about the big questions pulls him away, then at least I will be there for him (I had no one).

The husband of one of my wife's best friends died suddenly of a heart attack yesterday at 57.

I am less certian of my disbelief than ever. Not sure what *to* believe (all the old intellectual objections are still there) but believing in nothing is less palatable.

Its really not about our own deaths some day, that's actually tolerable in a way, assuming its not too soon.

What's intolerable is the thought of the death of those we love.

7/25/2007 07:36:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

St. John of the Cross spoke of the "dark night of the spirit" in which we are broken by the weight of God. Our self love is dismantled by a terrible realization of where we actually are "in contrast to the grandeur and glory of God." A philospher, I forget who, was lay awake nights terrified of the vastness of the Cosmos. How, he thought, could such a thing have a place of love for such as he?

John of the Cross reverses the equation. The problem for him, is not how to make such a vast God love us, but how a person can "die to itself and to all these things and to begin the sweet and delightful life of love with God."

I don't know much about these things, but it seems to me a way of repeating the old Gospel message that we must pass away in order to blossom. That a life well-led must should end in ashes, not dust, if it is to flame. That we must walk upon the water, even though we are sure to drown. For the glimpse, for the touch of the hand whispering in the gale.

7/25/2007 08:22:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

I'm in las vegas this week for a desalination membrane conference. Flying in on monday from the east coast the old desert valleys of western utah and nevada look like the old dead seas that they are. Except for the blue tangle of finger lakes among the carved brown mountains that mark lake powell and lake mead. Man made lakes. both are now half full. I asked a leading question at one of the meetings of a representative of the epa and the bureau of reclamation. I said the man made lakes are great tributes to the vision and ambition of the generation of water men that produced them. Still those lakes come at the end of a great period of technological innovation from +1900-1925. We are entering a simliar period of fast innovation today. What grand vision today would be equivalent to the vision of the great water men that produced such wonders as the hoover dam back in the 1930's. This caused a stir because most there were focused on the great danger to water supplies that low rainfall through out the region was causing. The problem is no one but water men recognize the danger to the region that increasingly short water supplies pose. So consequently there is not much money available for water R&D. All agreed that people lived inside an artificial cacoon of water. People just take it for granted. Not like earlier generations of westerners. There would have to be some kind of really bad drought before people would experience a "Come to Jesus" moment. And paid up for more R&D of water resources.

7/25/2007 08:43:00 PM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.

--Aeschylus

7/25/2007 10:04:00 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

Yashmak, thank you for the answer. I understand where you are coming from because I was there when I was younger. It seems to me that an individual has to have a strong grip on the standards that guide he/she through life. I'm put in mind of a process that I underwent in the Marine Corps called an attitude check. The check went like this, you would take a snapshot of your operational mental state at the moment and compare that with the mental state that you had when you joined the Corps. What did you see as an outstanding leader? What did you expect in the way of accomplishment and what was your expectation of the way you would be treated. These questions would be stacked up against the reality that had to be dealt with and you could take your score from the result. Were you a good leader, a better than average leader, etc. The thing that was hard was remembering your initial frame of mind. Moral standards, although they can be kept in mind and adhered to by an extremely strong person, have a tendency to change as one goes through life and without an external source of replenishment can be lost. This happens when religious folks don't remember their anchor point and when goodly and moral people don't know where theirs is also.

7/25/2007 10:46:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Moral standards, although they can be kept in mind and adhered to by an extremely strong person, have a tendency to change as one goes through life and without an external source of replenishment can be lost. This happens when religious folks don't remember their anchor point and when goodly and moral people don't know where theirs is also.
/////////////////
A great example of this is the unitarians. After Herman Melville wrote moby dick he started attending a unitarian church. Several presidents of the 19th and early 20th century were unitarians.

Today the unitarians have normalized homosexuality and now they are working on normalizing various poly sexual configurations. The wiccans are comfortable sitting in the pews with them.

If you understand anything about american history the novel "young goodman brown" suddenly takes on prophetic cast to it. (rather than the condescendingly humorous air in which it is taught.)

7/26/2007 08:10:00 AM  
Blogger Yashmak said...

Intriguing conversation!

wretchard, your example of the two individuals is similar to a story my youth minister told us when I was in high school, regarding the idea that man can only come to salvation through Christ. He told of a Buddhist and a Christian on a plane which suffers an in flight mechanical failure. As it dives towards its inevitable fate, the two men prepare to meet their end. The Buddhist, who has lived a moral life, followed the tenets of his belief faithfully his whole life, is serene in the confidence that all will be well. This particular Christian, who behaved far less in accordance with the Bible's teachings, and kept his Christianity as a sort of insurance policy against damnation, frantically prays for forgiveness for his many sins.

Which is more likely to see the afterlife he expects/hopes for? The suggestion was that it would be the Buddhist.

"Moral standards, although they can be kept in mind and adhered to by an extremely strong person, have a tendency to change as one goes through life and without an external source of replenishment can be lost." - mike h

Indeed. As you say, this can happen to the religious or the irreligious alike. In my humble opinion, it comes back to the strength of the individual in question, their sense of personal responsibility to stick to the morality they believe is right. It is, in more ways than not, the same conflict for believers and disbelievers alike. Do we sway with convenience, or stand fast with our principles intact?

Who does the religious man go to for renewal of his conviction, of his moral standards? The answer is obvious. He goes to his pastor/priest/imam etc., and also to God, confident that his pleas are heard and answered. Who does the secular man go to? In some ways, I think he must look more to himself. I'd agree that the answer is less obvious. However, I think that in either case, it comes down to the desire of the individual to maintain these standards. A non-believer can surround himself by those who maintain a similar set of morals, be they religious or not. This is what I've done.

It has, I suspect, become more difficult for younger generations. Parents seem to be passing on less of this critical moral framework to their children.

Please don't read more into what I'm about to say than is intended, because I have struggled with this particular issue my entire adult life. If He is as we are told, God asks us to choose. God is omniscient. God has desires, one of which is that we choose to believe. But how can one simply CHOOSE to believe? I can say, at any moment, that I now believe. But that doesn't make it true. Belief only comes to me with a preponderance of evidence. There's more than a conscious choice to simply believe at work here. If God is, then he made me. He made me as I am. I am as I am supposed to be according to His plan. He made me with all the doubt that is within me, made my mind far more analytical and logical than emotional. I recognize these facts about my character, and it seems that he must as well. How could a just God make me a skeptic and then hold my feet to the fire for it? I realize there is an element of predetermination present in this argument, and that's part of "The Big Question" as well.

If God exists, and is truly benevolent, how can he hold against me, the way that he made me?

7/26/2007 08:17:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

If God exists, and is truly benevolent, how can he hold against me, the way that he made me?
///////////
This is an arguement in favor of smoking. Right?

7/26/2007 03:55:00 PM  
Blogger Yashmak said...

Heh, no. . .but I must admit that I'm a smoker.

7/26/2007 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

The come to Jesus moment can come in many forms. For some it might be when they turn the spigot and no water comes out. For others it might be when they cough up blood. For me, these days, its when I invest in options.

7/26/2007 04:39:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

As happens so often, Wretchard's initial post encourages a lot of folks first to mull over some ideas, then share their thoughts. Then Wretchard outdoes the original post with an impromptu comment that distills the essence of the problem, and I have to send his comment off to the stonecarvers to be preserved.

Yous guys really do a great job --- how many places are there where people who so fundamentally differ, can discuss their views and find common ground with good humor.

Thanks, Wretchard.

7/27/2007 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger anders said...

Wretchard, the philosopher was Blaise Pascal. Here is the full quote:
"The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frighten me... How many kingdoms know us not!"

I've heard the quote used to sum up the modern (or perhaps more accurately, post-modern) attitude. Here is something C.S. Lewis said that is on that topic, which can be read as a response to Pascal:

"To look up at the towering medieval universe is much more like looking at a great building. The 'space' of modern astronomy may arouse terror, or
bewilderment or vague reverie; the spheres of the old present us with an object in which the mind can rest, overwhelming in its greatness but satisfying in its harmony. That is the sense in which our universe is romantic, and theirs classical."

7/27/2007 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger Pangloss said...

I am almost always amazed by what I find at Wretchard's site. Though Sturgeon's Law would tell us that 90% of everything is junk, the Belmont Club appears to be that place where the ratios are reversed.

Now I found a blog that can touch my soul with the same searing honesty with which Belmont Club touches my intellect. Thanks for finding A Day in the Life of an Ambulance Driver and sharing it.

7/27/2007 07:45:00 PM  
Blogger Gerard said...

Chicago Boyz » Blog Archive » Quote of the Day picked up the comment from Ardsgaine saying:
"Religion is the illusion that there is a net over the abyss.

"A comforting thought, but you pay for it. The net is not for everybody, only the ones who submit to the will of God. To save your soul, you have to give it up.

"I'll keep mine."

to which commenter Dove Says:

"This quote does not come from observation, but from vanity.

"One of the core myths of atheism, at least as it is practiced on the internet, is that atheism is the pinnacle of all reason. It is not merely a possible or even a true belief, but actually a righteous belief. All other belief is an exercise in self-deception and superstition.

"So the epic goes. The noble atheist rises above his petty fellows by sheer force of reason, intellectual honesty, and will for truth, and when he has achieved the lofty height of unbelief, he can look down upon the superstitious masses with a mixture of pity and contempt.

"To the educated and intellectually honest Christian, the story is poppycock. The reasoning is nothing like the line of reasoning that any believer will give you. No one will ever say, 'Well, I know it's all hogwash, but it's comforting hogwash, you know?'

"The tradeoff is a fantasy -- but one that makes sense when you realize atheism is a religion, not a science. The attitude summed up in the quite stems not from actual close-up observation of what religion is, but from a distant self-serving perception of it ought to be. Its roots are not in reason, but in emotional need"

Good point.

7/29/2007 06:35:00 PM  

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