Thankful for Life

Today I’m sick. It’s a common flu. Man-flu to be precise. It will be most likely gone soon, afflicting me for just a few days in total.

It’s somewhat frustrating, being sick. All the things you expect to do are no longer possible. You’re tired, in pain, and have little strength. Not to mention a bit unpresentable socially.

But it’s a great time for reflection – at least when the brain fog starts to clear.

I’ve thought back to a few other times I’ve been sick. Like the time on our honeymoon when, defying the normal incubation time, I got dengue fever within 24 hours of arriving in Asia. Renee thought I was just being a melodramatic man-flu hypochondriac until we got the pathology results. It was a sweet honeymoon, despite Renee also getting bad food poisoning on our last day in Asia.

My catalogue of infectious diseases is quite impressive – not that it’s something I’m looking to add to. I’ve had dengue twice, malaria twice, and Lyme disease once. As well as glandular fever. It all took its toll on my energy levels, particularly during a 10 year period 2001 to 2011.

Even though I was a prime candidate for chronic fatigue, I’m thankful that I only needed a couple of extended periods of downtime for recovery. One was for a few weeks, while working in Sydney, after returning from living in southeast Asia. The other was a few months, while doing my PhD and struggling with Lyme disease. I had recently returned from volunteering in Africa.

In hospital recovering from accident in 2013

On top of my catalogue of infectious diseases, I also have an equally (un)impressive list of trauma injuries, from an almost fatal accident riding my bike in 2013. A motorbike hit me, head-on. I lost my spleen, broke several bones in my torso, arms and hands, and needed emergency surgery to arrest potentially fatal internal bleeding.

As a result of that trauma, I was medically assessed to be 88% of a whole person. I’m incredibly thankful, though, despite all that I’ve suffered, to continue to experience life to the full – 100% normally. At least it’s normal to me!

What have I learnt from all the challenges to my health?

First, happiness is not dependent on health. It is a choice made in our thinking, and is not primarily a function of our physical circumstances.

Second, God is the ultimate source of life and health. A couple of times when my life has been in the balance, I believe God’s healing power pulled me through. Actually, I’m sure it’s more than just twice but I’ll recount two occasions here.

The first was when I had Lyme disease. My symptoms were progressively getting worse. I was getting high fevers despite taking antibiotics, and my energy levels were depleting fast. The doctors were not able to provide any other treatment approach. So I went looking for alternative sources of health and healing. I did two things at the same time: 15 fever baths over three weeks commencing straight after anointing with prayer. From the time of the prayer and anointing ceremony I did not experience any recurrence of Lyme disease symptoms. I thank God!

The second was at the time of my bike accident. The surgeons operating on me realized that I was close to dying. One of them, a Christian, asked his church to pray that I would survive. Many of my family and friends were also praying. I survived, was able to leave hospital after staying only six nights in total, and as a bonus discovered that I’m in the minority who happens to have a viable accessory spleen. Mine is slowly growing, taking over the function of the old one.

The third lesson, and perhaps the one I need most to be reminded of, is this: it’s important for me to depend more and more on God. This can be difficult for me to do as I get busy doing life, but forget the real source, meaning and purpose of life which is all centred in God. Being sick helps me to once again realise that I can’t ultimately depend on myself for anything.

The Livingston family, early 2017.

God’s love is 100% dependable. It doesn’t mean that we’ll never suffer, but it does mean that He is prepared to suffer with and for us. Jesus’ death on the cross for us provides for both our eternal happiness and security, as well as the freedom to choose it for ourselves, or not to choose it.

Tribute to Dad (Eric Livingston, 1946-2016)

My Dad was my hero as I was growing up. He had a massive influence on my life. In fact livos-barefoot-grasshe still does. I’m going to miss him a lot.

I want to highlight some of the ways my Dad’s life has impacted me. His legacy lives on.

My Dad was the most frugal yet generous person I know. He would somehow manage the family finances on very little income for long periods at a time. Yet he was hardly ever in debt. Somehow he was still able to give a lot of help to people in need. He helped me out in quite a big way when my wife and I bought our first house a few years ago. Not just financially, but also spending long hours helping with all the painting and a lot of other work on our house.

One little story demonstrates his desire not to waste anything. He was painting our house – so I guess this story demonstrates his generosity too. Dad was painting in a difficult place to get to. He had to climb onto the asbestos roof of our old carport. He had a plank down to distribute his weight more evenly as the roof was old and brittle. I was in the house and heard this crash bang outside. I ran outside fearing the worst. The old asbestos roof had given way. Dad fell about 3 or 4 metres to the ground. But when I got there Dad was on his feet scrambling to make sure he didn’t lose any paint. His paint tins fell down with him but he managed to salvage most of the paint. He didn’t feel the bruises until the next day or so. That was only about 3 years ago.

In fact my dad would probably have been able to lift more weight than me even just a year ago. Throughout my entire life dad kept on working out several times a week in his garage gym. He even tried to lift some weights this year when he was doing a bit better. In hindsight that probably wasn’t a good idea. We didn’t know at the time that the cancer had spread all up his spine, so he probably very nearly broke his back.

As a boy growing up I would often work out with my dad in the backyard gym. Dad definitely encouraged my interest in keeping fit, enjoying exercise and recreation. I never quite managed to get the physique that dad got, but thanks to my dad I’ve always put a high value on physical fitness.

I can thank my dad also for a few quirks and eccentricities.

I’m getting deaf and will need hearing aids at some point soon. But like my dad, I just wish people would stop mumbling – in fact it seems like people’s mumbling just gets worse over time. In the last few years Dad preferred communicating by email – even with family. And in the last few weeks we had to write everything on a white board because he could hardly hear even if we yelled in his ear.

I don’t know if my dad ever did any of those Myers Briggs personality tests. But if he did, he would have scored off the charts in a few different areas. I can relate to some of these. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Dad was very details oriented. In fact, a perfectionist in some areas of life, while other areas might have been neglected. He tended to have very high standards of accuracy – and achieve them often. But often at the expense of other areas of life. I can relate to that. Like Dad, I like study – reading and writing. My wife wonders why I spend so much time at the computer. I don’t have quite as many books as Dad amassed, though. His library just about fills the house – and garage! We might need some help in finding a suitable new home for a lot of them.

My dad was very task oriented. There always seemed to be things that needed to be accomplished which far outweighed the things to be enjoyed. I have that same tendency.

My dad was also quite introverted, especially toward the end of his life. His deafness probably had a bit to do with that.

And Dad would expect truth, evidence and morality to have ultimate sway for everyone and everything else. It frustrated him when injustice and falsehood weren’t immediately corrected.

That last character trait explains a lot of his big life decisions, values and priorities. It explains the years of academic research Dad put into the theology of God’s investigative judgment. I can understand why the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment resonated with my dad on multiple levels. It resonates with me too.

dad-front-of-programIn fact my dad was particularly motivated to research this truth because firstly it revealed the goodness and justice of God. And the picture of God has received a bit of unfair distortion. But also because that particular teaching itself has been distorted and maligned. My dad wanted to see it restored to its rightful state.

In fact my dad named me after the two main apocalyptic prophets who wrote the most about end time judgment – Daniel and John.

I love my dad for who he is, even with all his quirks. Because he pointed me to Jesus, the one who truly is perfect. Perfect truth and perfect love.

I’m happy that he got to see his three score and ten years. For a while there we never thought he’d make his 70th birthday in July of this year, or see the birth of Ethan which was shortly after his birthday.

I’m going to miss my dad. But I look forward to seeing him again.

Dad had two main concerns as he was dying.

The first was that someone would keep going with his research on the Investigative Judgment and vindication of God and His goodness.

The second was that we would all plan to be there at the grand reunion when death will be defeated. And we will live forever in perfect health and happiness. Dad will be young and fit again. Throughout eternity we will be with our Creator God who loves us so much.

Gun control – my attempt at a biblical perspective

It’s hard for me to think of any biblical reason for desiring the use or availability of weapons. Yet conservative Americans, including many Christians, and indeed friends of mine, argue against gun control.

Why?

It baffles me.

I don’t have as much personal interest, experience or detailed knowledge as others in this debate. I will make a few high level comments, though.

Historical Accident

The Second Amendment to the US constitution provides for ‘the right to bear arms.’ Now I don’t have any additional personal insight as to why the founding fathers thought that was important to put there. There are a variety of views held by people who know a whole lot more about it than I do. There were no doubt a number of relevant contributing factors.

But I do put forward two thoughts for consideration:

  1. If the founding fathers were alive today, and they were creating the constitution in today’s world of weapons of mass destruction, they may well have written the second amendment differently, if at all. If you find yourself recoiling at that idea, then consider the following.
  2. Even if those particular individuals would have written it, in light of today’s weaponry, exactly as they wrote it over 200 years ago… so what? The fact that something is in a nation’s constitution does not make it sacred. It does not mean that it shouldn’t be questioned, reinterpreted or even changed. Although it does make it more legally complicated to change course.

It saddens me that Christians, usually of the conservative camp, appeal to the constitution or the founding fathers as though the second amendment were sacred. It’s almost as if it were on the level of the Bible or a fundamental and inalienable human right.

One of the pilgrim fathers, Pr John Robinson, said something of enduring significance:

“I Charge you before God and his blessed angels that you follow me no further than you have seen me follow Christ. If God reveal anything to you by any other instrument of His, be as ready to receive it as you were to receive any truth from my ministry, for I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth from His holy word.

“The Lutherans cannot be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw. Whatever part of His will our God has revealed to Calvin, they (Lutherans) will rather die than embrace it; and the Calvinists, you see, stick fast where they were left by that great man of God, who yet saw not all things. This is a misery much to be lamented.”

Could it be that there is more light and truth available today than what was originally captured in the second amendment?

Problem Framing

Solutions invariably reflect the way a problem is framed. The issue of gun violence can be framed in a number of different ways:

  1. Big government versus small government. Going along with the conservative ideology that big government is bad, it is easy to conclude that more regulation of firearms is therefore bad. More regulations require more regulatory bodies and law enforcement resources. Further, an armed citizenry is a potential check against tyrannical government. So under this framing, minimal governmental gun control is the logical solution.
  2. Rights and freedoms. Assuming that individual freedoms are more sacred than anything else, gun control can be readily viewed as undesirable. However, a rights perspective introduces some tension. The right to life complicates matters, as that presents a direct conflict with the second amendment’s right to bear arms. Rights are only as protected as the legal frameworks that protect them. There is an obvious tension, as to ensure individual freedoms as well as protection of human life (in today’s world) requires some sort of government, laws, regulations and the enforcement of those. It may also arguably require some sort of weaponry, whether defence forces, militia or armed individual citizens.
  3. Protection of human life. If preservation of human life is the most sacred objective, and government control to achieve that is welcome and assumed to be benevolent, then suddenly gun control is the logical solution. Of course this assumption of benevolent and necessary government intervention is not widely shared in the US, preventing any likely solution any time soon. Interestingly, however, it was a similar assumption that led many supporters of gun ownership to paradoxically support US government intervention to limit supposed WMD ownership in Iraq, leading to what now is seen as a largely unnecessary war. Talk about tyrannical government!

The solution all depends on how the problem is framed. How it is framed depends on the values and ideology of the person doing the framing. And sometimes also on the information at hand, but that seems secondary in this debate.

When someone says that others are framing the problem incorrectly, or are forgetting how it was originally framed by the founding fathers, they are often just arguing that their values and ideology are more important or more correct than someone else who chooses to frame the problem differently.

Is that fair?

Sharing your views on how you think a problem should best be framed can help enlighten someone who may not have considered the problem from your point of view before – especially if there is a knowledge gap. I have to admit I have changed my perspective on filling some of my own information gaps, and still have many more gaps.

But to expect someone to adopt your problem framing after becoming aware of the same information is hardly a selfless thing to do. After everyone has absorbed all the relevant information, perspectives will still differ because we all place slightly different priorities and hierarchies on our respective values.

Isn’t this clash of values at the root of most marriage conflict? Rarely is the solution found in both parties simply adopting one set of values over the other.

Christians can look to the Bible for some helpful guidance to help resolve value conflicts. Of course the Bible does not give definitive answers on every issue, though.

The ideology and values of relevance to gun control that I believe resonate most with those of the Bible centre around the protection of human life. One of the Ten Commandments says: “Thou shalt not kill.”

The Bible has very little to say about big versus small government. It does, however, uphold respect for the role of government (e.g., Rom 13).

Regulation of Other Killers

A common catchcry of conservatives is that “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” While this has truth, it is overly simplistic. The implication is that regulations should not focus on the objects but on the behaviours of people.

Yet there are so many regulations about everyday objects that present safety hazards. We now almost take these for granted. For example, it could be similarly argued that electric wiring doesn’t kill people. Yet regulations require shielding to prevent people from accidentally being electrocuted. The regulation makes sense; it has saved countless lives.

Electricity supplies aren’t designed to kill people. But guns are. Their purpose is to kill, maim, or at least threaten to do so. Electricity has utility outside violent conflict. Guns do not. (Unless you turn off the light in the same way as Mr Bean.)

Does it make sense to only regulate behaviours relating to objects which may pose a safety hazard to human health or life, and forego any regulations about the design, location or availability of the hazard itself? I think the answer is, clearly, that doesn’t make sense.

The Right to Bear Nukes?

The Bible and 18th century America do have some affirmative things to say about bearing swords (in Bible times) or guns (around 200 years ago).

But the technology of violence has moved from hand-to-hand combat capable of killing one person at a time to weaponry capable of wiping out entire nations at the push of a button.

Would anyone in their right mind want to allow all their neighbours to carry nuclear bombs?

However, on the other hand, nobody would want to make it illegal for anyone to carry a kitchen knife.

Both the nuke and the knife can be used to kill if placed in the wrong hands. But some weapons are clearly a whole lot more dangerous than others.

So it makes sense to have regulations limiting the dispersion and availability of the most dangerous of modern-day weaponry. The key question should be where to draw the boundaries so as to maximise quality and quantity of life.

Countries without anything like the second amendment are not, so far as I am aware, suffering abuses because of that lack. Therefore, in my opinion, questions about the role or size of government in light of a 200-year-old constitution should surely be secondary.

Statistics

There are many factors to consider. It is never so simple as comparing the statistics of one country against another. There are other differences beyond the level of gun control regulation.

However, the statistics must surely tell a significant part of the story, even if not the complete story. And the statistics from the Human Development Report do not look good for America. The US tops the pile for the gun violence, with daylight second:

  • #1: USA: 29.7 homicides by firearm per million people per year
  • #2: Switzerland: 7.7 homicides by firearm per million per year

Australia has just 1.4 homicides by firearm per million per year. And significantly, the rate here halved since tightening of gun laws in 1996.

So I continue to have a hard time understanding why some Christians (or anyone else, for that matter) argue against tightening gun control in the US.

More than just numbers

According to the CDC, 11,208 Americans needlessly lost their lives in 2013 due to homicide by firearm. If the rate of deaths by firearm could be reduced to the level in Australia, that would save 10,680 American lives per year.

These are people like you and me. Fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers. For each life needlessly lost, countless more are affected by the loss.

While gun control is not the only relevant factor it is by far the most obvious.

The conservative right was quick to take advantage of government power in response to the loss of 2,977 innocent lives lost in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Many now view that government response as tyrannical. The United States excused their declaration of war on Iraq by alleging significant hidden stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction that still have yet to be found.

The tyranny of government over-reach isn’t just felt in the Middle East. There is widespread recognition of loss of rights and personal freedoms through heightened internal security measures. Some would say it is oppressive or abuse. The world is a different place since 911.

But in the face of ongoing loss of life numbering an order of magnitude higher due to domestic (US) gun violence, the conservative right tend to ignore the numbers, human suffering and loss. They appeal to the second amendment. It seems they place a higher value on individual freedom to own weapons as a check against a perceived threat of tyrannical government abuse.

I am not arguing for or against a particular political party or policy option. I am not at all partisan. It’s not hard to find both good and bad on both sides. They’re all as human as the founding fathers, you and me. I.e., prone to mistakes. I simply care about human life.

For me to be prepared to elevate the value I place on an armed citizenry being a check against tyrannical government, I would need someone to point me to an example of a nation or state where the lack of a ‘second amendment’ type of legal provision has led to tyrannical government abuse. Until then, I will place a higher value on avoiding the needless violent deaths of 11,208 Americans every year.

11,208 human beings with families, friends, emotions, hopes and plans. Like you and me.

2013 in Review

2013 was very eventful for the Livingston household. We bought a house in need of renovation and Daniel had a serious accident. We also had weddings, funerals, pets, birthday milestones, church events and holiday adventures that all made up a rather full year.

Our first home

Our first home – in original condition

Our renovation project started out reasonably small. The intention was to focus on repainting and doing minor adjustments to largely make do with a basic and aging house. But as we went we kept on deciding to add to the scope of pur renovation till eventually all rooms as well as the structure have had major work. We have done as much as we can ourselves to keep the costs down and also had a lot of help from friends and family. We really appreciate all the help from so many people. We couldn’t have done without it!

That help became so much more valuable when Daniel had a serious accident that left him with both arms in casts for several weeks. His spleen also ruptured and had to be removed.

Daniel when discharged from hospital

Daniel when discharged from hospital – recovering from a serious accident

The accident happened on Oct 2 beside playing fields on an access track between Belmont and the Fernleigh track (in Newcastle). Daniel was riding his bicycle to a physio appointment at ATUNE Belmont (where Renee was also working). He was hit by a dirt bike although he doesn’t remember the accident at all.

Thanks to the prayers, well wishes and support of friends, colleagues and family, Daniel is making a strong recovery. He is back to doing most things normally although still requires rehab work on his left arm.We especially thank God for keeping Daniel alive and bringing us both through a tough year!

Daniel and Renee

We’ve also put together a 7 minute audio-visual of our year, following.