After firing too many personal questions at me, the hospital’s admitting rep barked, “Do you have an Advanced Medical Directive?” When I nodded, she snapped, “We’re gonna need that.”

Having lived my life in God’s loving embrace, I believe I will, when the time comes, walk through the doorway to the other side of life with confidence and peace. I’m also confident that Joanne and our children can make any decisions necessary for my care or my body.

The medical industry loves them because of convenience and efficiency, but no one is required to execute an “AD.” I only have one for my family; they can use it however they wish in the totality of what seems right at that time. I will never give it to the industry.

Rough Answers

The core truth of that episode for me was that a large organization, literally holding the power of life and death, appeared oblivious of my personal space and boundaries. Every day they handle human life. But, in my case, they didn’t show the restraint, respect, or care matching their role and power.

Perhaps my case was unusual. But I felt like I was in an auto body shop; people who did not know or care about me banged, slammed, jerked, and hammered my heart into conformity with their preferences and needs.

Since that day, seventeen months ago, I’ve been increasingly sensitized to a societal disregard or ignorance of boundaries. Our ethos seems to be inching closer to if I see it and need it, I can take it. That leads to the social condition described by an ancient proverb, “The poor man utters supplications, but the rich man answers roughly.”[1]

Too many people live on the receiving end of harsh hands and rough answers.

Do we really not know that the landscape of health, wealth, mortality, property, income, and identity is very personal real estate? If I – regardless of my legal authority or job description – were to ask someone for his or her salary, social security number, credit score, urine sample, or Advanced Directive, I’d do so very gently, carefully, and contritely.

And I would fully understand if they told me to go to Phoenix.

The Restraining Force of Law

Although they were not all Christians, America’s founding fathers accepted the Christian idea of “the depravity of man,” meaning that every human is born with a serious defect, a corruption of thinking and behavior. Because of that, we humans are prone to living a self-centered life, a life that is naturally all about me.

A primary evidence of that “me-ness” is our failure to recognize and respect boundaries. For example, infidelity is far more than a sensual search; it’s also a rejection of boundary lines. How many people, on a sexual quest, pause long enough to consider the terrain of the other person’s health, character, reputation, income, family, or future?

Laws exist because of human depravity; they restrain the rush of anarchy. Today, as so many voices despise and reject law enforcement, I often think of Thomas More’s words to William Roper in A Man For All Seasons: “This country’s planted thick with laws, from coast to coast…And if you cut them down… d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?”[2]

We should all pray that the rampant and increasing lawlessness in our society does not become a hurricane of social chaos. And we should all do what we can to stop the removal of the boundary lines that protect people, property, ideas, and traditions.

What If?

Every religion on earth proclaims a version of The Golden Rule – usually rendered “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is the most perfect law ever conceived.

So, what if we all…

  • Do to others what we would like done to us?
  • Live slower, more thoughtfully, and more respectfully?
  • Ask ourselves in every situation, “How would I want to be treated right here, right now?”
  • Teach our children to, first, see and then to respect boundary lines?
  • Wait to be invited across a boundary rather than invading it?
  • Stop wearing steel spikes as we walk across territories of the heart?


And finally, what if we all extend kind hands and speak gentle answers?

[1] Proverbs 18:23 taken from the New American Standard Bible® (NASB), Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission.

[2] Robert Bolt, A Man For All Seasons, (New York: Vintage Books, 1990). P 66

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Living on the Roulette Wheel

I went to visit an old friend in his new home a few days ago. I found “Fred” sitting in a semi-circle of 12 other people gazing at a TV. The others drooped, drooled, gaped or groaned in various depths of indignity.

But Fred, true to his nature, sat tall and regal, ignoring the TV and silently pumping hand weights; at 77 he still resists the inevitable trajectory of aging. He continues to fly above the lowlands.

Some would say that Fred lives “in community.” But he really doesn’t; he lives in a warehouse with other unique characters who all happen to fit into a box called “Alzheimer’s.” I understand; the system does not have time to get to know everyone. Of necessity, it looks past the person and focuses on the category.

Over recent decades the pace of American life seems to have become a centrifuge, spinning all of us away from a quiet, local and personal life. Like a roulette wheel, the centrifugal force throws us into the outer rim pockets of group identities – liberal, conservative, Muslim, paraplegic, gay, Gen-X, African-American, etc.

That force squeezes individuality, creativity, privacy and freedom as our larger institutions – government, business, media, religion, health care, etc. – press us into conformity with “higher” objectives. One result of that dynamic is that we are losing sight of the people right in front of our eyes. We all tend to see group labels.

When and why did that happen?

It seems to me that once upon a time, and when the pace and cadences of life were slower, our shared community values assumed that the universe was created. We didn’t “believe;” we knew that people and animals and plants and seasons and orbits did not just happen. It was self-evident; it required no proof or reasoning.

We also knew that every human bears the signature of God. And we granted respect to people because of the God Who created them. However subtle and silent, that respect recognized that the person beside you was created, and is loved, by God. The wise heart sought to find the true value and beauty of God’s design and love in that very distinctive person.

I think the loss of that assumption is a large part of why we no longer take the time to get to know people as individuals. We’ve all moved from the organic to the organizational, from relationship to productivity. Things move so fast that we have to make snap judgments; you know, for the common good. So we just identify them according to their group pocket on the roulette wheel.

Systems seem to say to us, “Yes, we know that your mother is a very distinguished lady and has a beautiful story. But we just can’t take the time to get to know everyone like we wish we could. Please understand; it’s just more efficient this way.”

David wrote an opus of our origins in a few simple lines.

You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place… (Psalm 139:13-15 NIV)

Everyone should soak in that Psalm. Those words will help us to take time to really consider the beauty of God’s intimate and elegant creation of people. I think it also helps to turn it outward. “God knit you in your mother’s womb…you are fearfully and wonderfully made…your frame was not hidden when God made you in the secret place.

Think about those verses the next time you look at your spouse, children, parents or siblings.

Meditate its meaning as you spend time with your neighbors, friends, associates, or the police officer writing you a speeding ticket. Remember it when you see the President or Sarah Palin on TV.

Get off the roulette wheel; take time to get to know people as individuals. Ignore his or her politics, race, religion, age, illness or other labels. Interview her; find her story.

From that place you just might find the road back to the high ground of human respect.

Living on the Roulette Wheel Read More »

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