Saturday, April 30, 2011

Parkinson's disease

I have been working on my ethics assignment and doing some research into the ethics of stem cell research. This lead me to look into Parkinson's disesase. This is what I have learnt so far:

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disease caused by the body not producing enough dopamine which is needed for the smooth flow of muscle movement. The symptoms are therefore rigidity of muscular movement and tremors which can be expected to increase as the disease progresses. It is a neurological condition.

Using stem cell research technologies scientists extract particular cells from embryos and manipulate them into developing into nerve cells which can produce dopamine. These cells can then be transplanted into the patient. So far scientists haven’t been able to produce the nerve cells in such a way as to produce pure dopamine and be complete effective. Some doubt they ever will; others feel better results are be obtained from using stem cells obtained from adults called IPS (induced pluripotent stem cells). Meanwhile research is continuing in other areas to create better drug treatments of symptoms as well as looking at other ways of curing the disease. However it seems that any cure is a long way off.

Michael Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1997 and several years later formed a foundation to raise funds for research into Parkinson’s disease and other neurological diseases. Fox was 30 years old when diagnosed. This is well below average and it is rare for people to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease before they are 50. As a high profile celebrity Fox has been able to raise significant funds to put towards research. By being a sufferer himself and at such a young age he has been able to present strong emotional arguments for in favour of stem cell research and he has been influential in this area.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Devotional Thought : Luke 9:34

While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” Luke 9:34-35

The word here for "covered" is the same word Luke uses in 1:35 where it is translated “overshadow”. It is the passage where the angel explains to Mary how she will become pregnant: “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you." God’s spirit overshadowed Mary and the impossible happened – a virgin was pregnant.

On the day of Pentecost we again see the Holy Spirit overshadowing his people and empowering them to do the impossible – speaking languages they had never learnt, preaching sermons they had not written. It is a great encouragement that God doesn’t expect us to do his work in our strength but his Holy Spirit enables us and equips us.

It is also a great challenge because it requires a responsive heart. When Peter, James and John were covered in the cloud it made no difference to the lives. They were afraid as they entered and no doubt afraid when the cloud left. Mary however responded to the angel, “I am the Lord’s servant…May your word to me be fulfilled.” She was open to whatever the Lord wanted to do in her life and she was greatly blessed with the task of coaching, nurturing, and teaching God’s son. It was also a decision that caused her a great deal of pain. She would have been greatly misunderstood, criticised, and ostracized.

Nevertheless Mary’s suffering, and ours, is short lived when we consider the glory that is to come. Meanwhile we can ask God to overshadow us with his power and his presence.

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Ethical dilemmas

I have just had two very relaxing days. Today I went for a drive in the sunshine it was lovely. Meanwhile I’ve been pondering some more ethical questions from my Ethics class. Here’s one for you to ponder too: If a homosexual couple wanted to adopt a baby who would otherwise remain in institutionalize care, possibly indefinitely, would you agree to the adoption? Would you allow a single person to adopt the baby? Or an unmarried couple?

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Review : The Memory Keeper's Daughter

I finished reading this book over two weeks ago so it has taken me a little longer than expected to write this. The particular copy of the book that I read had a section at the back containing an interview with the author, Kim Edwards. Interestingly enough this story was based on a real event, though in reality the wife gave birth to twin boys, rather than a girl and a boy, and one of the boys had Down’s syndrome.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter begins during a snow storm which prevents a doctor from getting his wife to hospital to deliver their twin babies. The doctor delivers the babies himself with the help of his nurse. The first baby is a healthy boy but the second is a girl with Down’s syndrome. He gives this baby to his nurse to take to an institution. When the nurse sees the conditions these people live in at the institution she is unable to leave the baby there and makes the decision to keep her. The rest of the book follows the lives of these two children for the next 25 years. The doctor is plagued by his decision which has repercussions for his marriage and his relationship with his son. Meanwhile his daughter is happy, well-cared for, and loved.

This is a well written story, although with just a tad too much description for me, (more about this here) but it was easy to ‘see’ the events as they unfolded. At a deeper level it makes me wonder how many people are living with regrets? Not many people will have given away their child but nevertheless I am sure there are many who are plagued with guilt over bad decisions, momentary lapses in moral behaviour, or unwise words said in anger. The book made me thankful that as a Christian I don’t have to live with guilt.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Devotional Thought : Luke 8:15

But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. Luke 8:15

It is interesting to note that it is different things that keep people from continuing with God. For some people it is the good times, "riches and pleasures" (v.14). For some it is the hard times, "in the time of testing they fall away"(v. 13). Others simply allow the opportunity to pursue a relationship with God to be taken away (v.12).

What is needed is a "noble and good heart" (v.15). The NLT version describes these people as “honest, good-hearted people”. People with honest or noble hearts will thoughtfully consider the claims of Christ. C.S. Lewis famously points outs that when we consider His claims we have three options: Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic or Lord.

C.S. Lewis writes: "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg - or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us."

People with noble and good hearts are honest enough to consider Jesus’ claims. Having considered them, they will often come to believe and grow in faith, persevering through good times and bad.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

When life begins

As part of my ethics subject at college we were discussing stem cell research. Most of the debates over these types of issues, including IVF, is really about when you believe life starts. Most Christians seem to believe that life starts at conception, that is the moment the female egg is fertilized. I’m not necessarily disagreeing but I would like to raise three interesting points.

1. Spontaneous abortion
A lot of abortions or miscarriages occur before a woman even realizes she is pregnant. Sometimes the fertilized egg doesn’t make it to the womb or fails to embed itself in the womb. If all these aborted embryos are human life and go to heaven then there will be a huge number of people in heaven who never lived on earth. I personally find this unlikely and there seems little Biblical support for it.

2. Identical twins
If the fertilized egg splits in two 4 to 12 days after conception then identical twins have been conceived. If we believe that human life begins at conception and the embryo therefore has a soul, what happens if the egg splits? Does each twin have half a soul? I don’t believe so.

3. What does the Bible say?
It is difficult to find passages in the Bible that relate specifically to this topic, however I like Psalm 139:13-15:

For you created my inmost being; 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, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

David talks about God knitting him together in his mother’s womb and being woven together there. I think there is a strong argument to say that God gives life to the embryo by knitting it or implanting it in the womb. This happens at about day 6, not day 1.

Just a thought.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Review : Courageous Leadership

Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels was required reading for the course I am currently doing which was just as well because I would not have finished it otherwise. The first six chapters were written very much from Bill’s personality type, that is, full on, extravert, driven, goal setting, vision casting. I was exhausted just reading it and was ready to throw the book out the window. However then Bill wrote a chapter on other leadership types and I started to breathe a sigh of relief. Then there was a chapter on self-leadership and another on different ways people connect to God. All of a sudden I was enjoying the book!

In the second half of the book Bill started to share honestly, particularly about some of his struggles. He spoke about the Christian counsellor he went to and the advice he was given to build rest and recreation into his schedule. He spoke about how leaders need to have maintainable schedules if they are going to last the distance.

In the end I was glad I persisted with finishing the book. I understand that I am a completely different personality to Bill yet he was able to provide me with many valuable insights.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Devotional Thought : Luke 7:39

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner." Luke 7:39

Actually Jesus wouldn't need to be a prophet to know what kind of woman she was. In the previous verse we read, "Then she wiped them with her hair." Any woman letting down her hair in that culture had already indicated what kind of woman she was.

Simon had already made up his mind about Jesus before this happened. As the story unfolds it becomes apparent that Simon had not given Jesus the customary welcome (v.44-46) indicating Simon already had a negative perception of Jesus. It is interesting that once we have come to a negative conclusion about someone anything and everything they do or don’t do reinforces that negative opinion. We lose our objectivity and they can do nothing to please us.

However Jesus doesn’t confront Simon over his wrong perceptions instead he tells him a story about forgiveness. The more we understand how much we have been forgiven the more we will love. The more we understand how much we have been forgiven the more we will have empathy for fellow sinners.

Love and empathy don’t grow by our efforts. They grow from the realization of our true state before God and how much we need forgiveness. The woman in this story knew what kind of woman she was but more importantly she knew that Jesus accepted her and forgave her. It was gratitude for her forgiveness that would change her. Simon wanted to isolate and humiliate her as punishment but punishment doesn’t change people, love and grace do.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Going away for the weekend

I'm leaving tomorrow for a long weekend to celebrate my birthday and visit my children. I'll be back next week.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Devotional Thought : Luke 6:3

Jesus answered them, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions." Luke 6:3-4

We read in Deuteronomy 23:24-25 "If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain." So what the disciples were doing was permitted under the law. However the Pharisees had added extra requirements to the law which made what the disciples did seem wrong to them.

Jesus decides that rather than explain the error of the Pharisee's traditions he wants to make the more telling point that human need take precedence over ceremonial law. Human need takes precedence over the observance of rituals. So Jesus draws their attention to the story in 1 Samuel 21:1-6 where David and his companions ate the consecrated bread.

What David did was against what was written in the ceremonial laws recorded in Leviticus 24:9 but he was not rebuked for it. Later when he broke God's moral law there were dire consequences (2 Samuel 12:18). The ceremonial laws told Israel how to worship God. The moral laws told Israel how to live. David understood this. He knew God’s heart. It was not an outward conformity to a set of rules that pleases God but rather a heart attitude that wants to please God.

David understood God’s purposes in giving the law, something the Pharisees consistently failed to do. Likewise God wants us to understand his purposes and therefore what pleases Him.

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Saturday, April 02, 2011

On reading fiction

I often think I don’t have time to read fiction which is simply not true. However there are a couple of reasons why I feel this way. One is I don’t like to read things which are emotionally draining. I don’t believe in sad endings or endings that offer no hope. There is enough sadness in the real world without adding more sadness in the fictitious world.

My second reason is I dislike reading descriptive passages about the weather, or the scenery, or the flowers in the garden which is generally part of a novel but not non-fiction, even if it is a biography. I really can’t see the point of description. I very quickly get drawn into a story. I don’t need long descriptions for me to see the scene in my mind. Just tell me it’s snowing and I see snow. Another reason given for descriptive passages is that these passages are beautiful and it shows the writer’s ability to write beautiful passages and use innovative metaphors. Personally I can’t see the point of writing beautifully if it doesn’t move the story forward. For me it is all about the characters – what happens to them and why they behave the way they do. If the book is overburden with descriptive passages it simply slows the story. When someone launches into a story, verbal or written, I want to know: What’s the point? Where is this going? And how long is it going to take to get there?

I was thinking about this today because I have just finished reading, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards. While it did have a little too much description for my liking, it was a great read and did end well. I’ll write a book review next week.

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