My 2022 Health Story

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  • Last Update: 2022-05-20 06:25:49

I came into the hospital here in Mistelbach on Tuesday 26 April with a recurrence of atrial fibrillation.

I was first diagnosed with this in 2016 when it manifested in extreme breathlessness and was combined with massive fluid deposits (to the tune of 40kgs). I was prescibed a cocktail of meds which rapidly reduced my weight and seemed to keep the aFib under control,.

Lately the fluid deposits have gone up again and this past weekend I semed to be back at square one: extreme breathlessness after just a couple of steps.

When we moved from Vienna to Gross-Schweibarth in 2016 we had stayed with our Vienna GP, but he shut up shop a month ago.

So Tuesday morning my wife went to see our village doctor to ask if he would take me on as a patient and to make a house call. He went one better: on the strength of Geraldine’s description of my symptoms he gave her a referral to the nearest hospital and called the ambulance service to take me there.

Blood analysis suggested a massive infection somewhere in my body, which was quickly localized and identfied as being centered in a phlegmon on my inside thigh, caused by skin rubbing against skin.
Also said my blood pressure is very low.

So first order of the day is fighting the infection, with an antibiotic infusion and more fluid while at the same time raising and stabilizing my blood pressure. Since Tuesday they have easily added 10 litres of fluid to my system; fortunately they inserted a urine catheter which takes care of going pipi.

We seem to now (April 30) have come to the point where they will try to extract all that extra fluid again, while still supporting my blood pressure. For this I will still be in the IC Monitoring unit where I have been so far.

Here in the monitoring unit I am massively wired up:

  • a wire in the urine catheter measures the temperature;
  • a tube in an arterial port constantly reports blood pressure;
  • a wire-attached sensor on my finger reports on the blood’s oxygen saturation;
  • five wires attached to stickers on my chest supply ECG data;
  • a port on my neck provides access for fluid and medicine infusions;
  • and a tube around my neck and into the nostrils supplies increasingly reduced oxygen (currently 2ltr/hour).

All of these attachments do not like to be disturbed, making typing longer texts extremely difficult.

They also make it extremely difficult to sit up by myself, because they will always catch somewhere. Sitting itself is also a pain because my belly is now so blown up with water that I cannot sit with it hanging between my thighs; and if it sits on top of my thighs it interferes with sitting and makes it very uncomfortable.

I said to my wife the other day that this is a way of learning (a) patience because one can’t do anything for oneself, and of (b) humility because one has to abandon all shame when lying naked in a room and half a dozen of people of both sexes mill around and interfere with those body parts one normally hides from everybody.

For the next stage I will be moved to a normal ward, with most attachments except the infusion port on my neck and the urine catheter gone. There a slower diureses will begin, for the fluid deposits I brought with me, while at the same time adjusting my meds to better control my aFib (beta blocker, ace suppressor), ongoing diuresis (Lasix based), and prevent blood clots.

I have no idea how long this phase will take, nor how long before I have recovered reasonable mobility, but God knows, and he will give me the necessary patience – I think he’s already helped immensely with the humility.

I will add to this story as it progresses.

Continued Tuesday, May 3rd

Yesterday, May 2nd, I was moved to a normal ward or “Bettenstation”. This was delayed a couple of days after the IC nurses noted some suppuration from the phlegmon at the top of my right leg and a surgeon was called in to cut it open and flush and drain it. It was confirmed that this was the source of my massive infection: an instance of erisypelas; they did not want to move me right after this surgery so my move was delayed until Monday.

I am now also being treated for diabetes; it is not clear whether this is a permanent diagnosis or whether the messed up sugar values are a temporary side effect of fighting the infection.

Yesterday the doctor said I would need to stay here for at least another week; as soon as the wound at the top of my right thigh has healed a bit better we will work on increasing my mobility. This would allow me to get dressed a bit more decently and thus take advantage of the fact that since the weekend limits on number of visitors have been removed (although they still have to be vaccinated/recovered/tested and wear FFP2 masks)[1]. So at least some afternoons I should be able to look forward to some entertainment.

Continued Friday, May 6 Morning

Thanks to my dear wife bringing me my second custom pillow yesterday I woke up much more rested this morning. No longer being wired to a beeping monitor beside my bed may have helped, as well.

Now I am waiting for breakfast, which will consist of two slices stale whole grain bread, tiny portions of margarine and jam, and a small tub of yoghurt. And coffee of course.

Continued May 6 Afternoon

This afternoon a surgeon and three nurses came to thoroughly clean out the erisypelas wound at the top of my right thigh. Curious, because I had absolutely no idea what things looked like down there, I handed my phone to one of the nurses and asked him to take a photo. I will not upload the picture here, but the wound is a cavity about 1½” long and ¾” tall; I can’t tell how deep it is but I guess ½” to ¾”. In order to support healing by keeping the wound dry they inserted a silver oxyde treated sponge attached by a hose to a vacuum pump which suctions the secretions.

This sounds a lot scarier than it is; in fact the earlier dressing was more uncomfortable than this sponge.

On Monday (May 9) the physiotherapist had me sit up again, and this new dressing was a lot less in the way than the previous one, although the ongoing diuresis and loss of fluid from my tissue may also have helped. The therapist wanted me to sit for about an hour; unfortunately after half an hour I had an attack of vertigo and had to lie down again.

I asked the doctor how long my “cave” would take to heal; his answer was “Weeks!” and in all likelihood I will have to stay here in the hospital for the duration.

We shall see.

Continued May 14 

I have now definitely been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and had a consultation with a dietologist to determine my future meal plan here in the hospital. Almost instantly the food I am served is more palatable.

My wound continues to heal, but I can tell it will take some time.

Continued May 20

Yesterday, and a bit unexpectedly, I was told I would be released from the hospital today. Since my wife was busy unil the afternoon with a volunteer job in Vienna this left only last night and this morning to get the house ready for me,

I will provide more details when I am safely settled at home; but there is one important thing to consider: If you are planning to come and visit me, don’t come to the hospital but to our house, after giving us a heads-up at +43-699-1715-0995.

(To be continued)

 

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  1. The vaccinated/recovered/tested requirement is referred to as “3G” here, for German geimpft/genesen/getested[]
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Austria, Russia’s Tunnel Into the Heart of Europe?

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In an article in the “New Statesman” entitled “Austria is Russia’s tunnel into the heart of Europe Liam Hoare writes, “The country’s attachment to neutrality has led it to cultivate obsequious relations with Russian energy and espionage,” and elaborates further on the cozy relationship between Austria and first the Soviet Union and then the Russian Federation.

Some folks asked me whether I considered this a fair assessment; here is my response.

Austria’s Neutrality Law of 1955 (which has the status of a constitutional amendment) specifically defines neutrality in military terms and only forbids (a) membership in military alliances and (b) the establishment of foreign military bases on Austrian territory.

Facsimile of the “Federal Constitutional Law of 26th October 1955 concerning Austria’s Neutrality”

But throughout the history of the “Second Republic”[1] Austria has stressed that she isn’t (and isn’t required to be) politically neutral but rather is clearly part of the “West“—when it suited her purposes, i.e. in talks with Western governments. And when it suited her purposes, she has stressed her neutrality, interpreting it much more broadly, when talking to the Soviet Union/Russia and East Bloc countries.

At the same time, Austrian governments of both persuasions (ÖVP and SPÖ)[2] represented to the Austrian people that of course we are not morally neutral, voicing criticism of such Russian actions as the invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, and the threat of an invasion of Poland in 1988; and that our neutrality uniquely enabled us to act as broker and mediator between the blocs. However, at the same time as condemning Russian aggression Austria continued to maintain profitable business relationships with the Soviet Union and her client states, and then with the Russian Federation; and like all other Western countries, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union Austria welcomed Russian oligarchs and their money, even though it was obvious to every thinking person that so soon after the collapse of the Soviet economy such wealth could have been amassed only by the corrupt appropriation of the public wealth of the Soviet successor states.

In a situation where there was never any risk of hostile action by Western nations or NATO but very much a risk of hostile action by the Warsaw Pact, the official position conveyed to the citizenry was that each of the two blocs guaranteed our security vis-a-vis the other bloc, and that our military, small and ineffective as it well might be, only served to symbolically show of our willingness to defend our neutrality while leaving the heavy lifting to the signatory nations of the “State Treaty”.

In the Austrian population today the idea is widespread that criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by Austrian government figures violates our neutrality and is thus ill-advised; in the face of news that as a result of Russian aggression Finland and Sweden are prepared to abandon their neutral status and join NATO, the percentage of Austrians who believe that Austrian neutrality, perceived much more comprehensively than the text of the law, is essential to Austria’s existence and well-being, has risen to 91%. This seems to cut across the entire spectrum of political views and ideologies.

Austria’s opportunist attitude to her neutrality is cut from the same cloth as her official insistance that she was one of the first victims of Nazi Germany rather than an integral part of the Third Reich or a nation of largely willing collaborators and perpetrators of Nazi atrocities. I grew up with my father quipping, “In Austria, Hitler was a failed house painter; it took the Germans to turn him into Der Führer”, thus blaming the Germans for Hitler and Nazism while ignoring the fact that not only had Hitler’s ideology grown and thrived in the political and intellectual climate of the “First Republic”, but that a sizeable proportion of Austrians had welcomed the 1938 Anschluß.

It wasn’t until 1991 that then-Chancellor Franz Vranitzky acknowledged and apologized for Austrians’ role in the Nazi reign of terror both at home and abroad, thus abandoning the claim to have been Hitler’s first victim—and he was not universally praised for that admission and apology.

So in my view the New Statesman article describes reality as it is now and has been ever since 1955.

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  1. Austria became a republic in 1918 after the First World War and the demise of the Habsburg monarchy. That republic, which ended with Austria’s annexation by Germany in 1938 (the “Anschluß”), is typically referred to as the “First Republic“. At the end of the Second World War Austria regained her independence and became a republic once again; this is typically referred to as the “Second Republic” and continues to this day.[]
  2. During the Second Republic Austria has been governed by two parties, the Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP) which identifies itself as  “Christian social” and used to be characterized by alignment with the Roman Catholic Church and conservative values, and the Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (formerly Sozialistische Partei Österreichs) (SPÖ). These two parties either governed alone, or in coalition with each other, or one of them in a coalition with one of the smaller parties.[]
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Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

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The Easter Anthems from the Anglican Liturgy
1 Corinthians 5.7b, 8; Romans 6.9–11; 1 Corinthians 15.20–22 (ESV)

Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
Let us therefore celebrate the festival,
  not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
  but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Christ, being raised from the dead,
  will never die again;
  death no longer has dominion over him.
For the death he died he died to sin, once for all,
  but the life he lives he lives to God.
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin
  and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Christ has been raised from the dead,
  the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For as by a man came death,
  by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

Glory to the Father and to the Son
  and to the Holy Spirit;
  as it was in the beginning is now
  and shall be for ever. 
Amen.

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The Sudden Moral Outrage at Russian Oligarchs

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The news recently has been full of reports of the “suffering” of Russian oligarchs in Western countries due to the sanctions imposed on them in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s illegal and unjustifyable attack on Ukraine. Most of these reports assume a stance of moral outrage and ridicule at the complaints of these folks who suddenly are not able to live in the “state to which they had become accustomed”.

An example is this piece in the UK’s Daily Mirror quoting an anonymous “personal assistant to Russian oligarchs” who expresses his outrage at his clients’ whining and lack of concern for the people dying in Ukraine.

It’s hard to know what to make of this “personal assistant’s” moral outrage which causes him to hang up on his clients when they come with various demands—how much of his unwillingness to do their bidding is in fact due to their inability to pay him, with their accounts frozen due to sanctions?

After all, it was never a secret to any thinking person that the only way these Russians could suddenly acquire great wealth after the collapse of the Soviet Union was by corruptly grabbing the most lucrative pieces of the formerly state-owned Soviet economy, while the likes of Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Putin, etc. either looked the other way or actively assisted them. In other words, all of these oligarchs appropriated for themselves the most desirable pieces of Russia’s national wealth—they are simply thieves on a grand scale.

That did not seem to bother this “personal assistant” as long as his no doubt considerable salary was being paid; nor did it bother the many in the West, including individual politicians, political parties, and even governments, who made lots of good money doing business with these crooks, following the ancient motto, “pecunia non olet”.

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Backing up GMAIL with GMvault

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For the past twenty years or so I have been using Google Mail, or Gmail, at various times both the consumer version (addresses xxx@gmail.com) and what used to be called Google Apps, G Suite, and now is called Google Workspace (addresses with your own domain name).  When Google Apps was introduced many years ago there was a paid edition for larger businesses, a special edition for educational institutions and non-profits, as well as a free edition for small organizations and families; I signed up for the free edition with my doulos.at domain and have been using it for both my non-profit consulting and for my family.

In 2012 Google stopped offering the free edition to new users but existing users continued as before, and then in January this year Google announced that the free edition would be discontinued and users would have to decide by May 1 which alternative they would like to purchase before the service would definitely be turned off by July 1, 2022. They offer to upgrade users to one of their business editions based on the services used in the free edition, at a cost of a minimum of $6/month per user. They have however hinted at a cheaper (but not free) alternative for people who use the free edition for personal and family use (i.e. not for business) only.

For this reason I have been encouraging my children to switch from using their @doulos.at address to some other e-mail provider and address; an obvious choice would be a standard consumer Gmail address, and I was looking for a way to transfer their content (i.e. old mails) from their @doulos.at account to their new account.[1]

Another reason for investigating Gmail backup solutions is the fact that while I find Gmail as well as other cloud offerings extremely useful, I do not like to rely entirely on them, and prefer to have a local copy as well.

Google Takeout was created in 2011 as a mechanism for folks who cancel their Google account to take their stuff with them. It is cumbersome and does not store the data in a very accessible way; and there seems little point to having all your e-mail data available locally if you cannot access it in a convenient, mail-like manner.

A few years ago I came across GMvault, a Python script for synchronizing Gmail data to a local repository, and exporting it to a number of different formats compatible with various e-mail clients, and started using it; but after a while it stopped working due to changes in the way Google handles authentication.

Due to the need to migrate our data from the Google Workspace Free Edition I looked at it again, and they have caught up with Google’s authentication and now it works with application-specific passwords[2]. So I set up all my GMail accounts with two-factor authentication and an application password for GMvault, and am almost finished doing an initial backup of all my accounts. Once that is done I will get started on exporting the kids’ e-mail data, ready to export into their new accounts.

Here is how to install GMvault on your Windows computer; if you are a Linux or Mac user you probably are savvy enough to figure that out yourself or to read the instructions at the GMvault website:

  1. Go to the GMvault website and click on the  Download GMvault  button.
  2. You may have to confim downloading (or “keeping”) the file.
  3. When it has finished downloading, double-click it to start the installation. By default it installs in your personal profile; you can change the install path to C:\Program Files\GMvault if you want to install for all users.
  4. When the installation has finished you should have a GMvault folder in your Start Menu’s “All Apps” section; click on it and then on “gmvault-shell“.
  5. You are now in a Powershell window with all paths and other environment variables set correctly for GMvault; once we have set up your GMail account to work with GMvault we will come back to this.

Here is how to set up your GMail account for backup via GMvault; this works both for the consumer GMail accounts and for Google Workspace accounts:

  1. Using your web browser, log into your GMail account at gmail.com. If you have more than one GMail account, it is best to log out of all accounts and then log back into the account you want to set up.
  2. Click on the Google Account icon in the top right corner of the browser window (it will either have your picture if you have set one in your Google account, or else an icon with the first letter of your name), then click on “Manage your Google account” below your name and e-mail address.
  3. On the next page click “Security” in the sidebar on the left.
  4. Scroll down to “Signing in to Google“, click on “2-Step Verification“, and then click on “Get Started“. Sign in again with your password when prompted and click on “Next“.
  5. Provide your mobile phone number and check “Text message“, then click “Next“. Check your phone for a SMS text message from Google and enter the Google verification code starting with “G-” in the field provided and click on “Next“.
  6. Finally, click the blue TURN ON button.
  7. Now that you have enabled Two-Factor Authentication, every time you log into your Google account on a new device/browser combination you will have to provide a verification code sent to you per SMS in addition to your acount password. Depending on the phone you have, and whether that Google account is set up on your phone, you may also be prompted to confirm the login attempt on your phone instead.
  8. Click the arrow pointing left at the top of your browser window  to get back to the “Security” section of the “Manage your Google Account” page.
  9. In the “Signing on to Google” section, click on “App Passwords“. Verify your password again when prompted, then click on “Select app” and choose “Other (Custom name)“.  Enter “GMvault” in the field provided, then click on “Generate“.
  10. Select and copy the password displayed in the yellow field (four groups of four characters) and paste it into an empty Notepad document to have it handy for the next step((There is no way to retrieve this password if you forget it before providing it to GMvault, but no worry: you can simply delete the app password and generate a new one in the “Signing in to Google” section by starting from point 10 above.
  11. You can now close that browser window or tab.

Now we can start using GMvault to back up this GMail account.

  1. Determine where exactly you want to store your GMail backup. By default it will get stored in your Windows profile directory (i.e. C:\Users\yourname) in a folder called gmvault-db. I put mine in D:\GMvault\xxxxx where xxxxx is a short form of the account name (since I have multiple accounts), because I have more space on D: than on C:.
  2. Assuming that your GMail account is called john.doe@gmail.com, and that you have decided to store your GMail data in D:\GMvault\johndoe, go back to the GMvault Powershell window and type in this commandline to get started backing up your GMail data to your local hard disk:

    gmvault.bat sync johndoe@gmail.com -p –store-passwd -d D:\GMvault\johndoe   

    You will be prompted to enter your GMail password; do not use your normal password, but type in (or paste) the app password which you generated earlier and pasted into Notepad for safekeeping.

  3. GMVault will start backing up your GMail data; this may take a very long time depending on how many months or years of e-mails you have in your account. You can stop the backup at any time by pressing Ctrl-C; in order to restart it later you will need to use a slightly different commandline, like this:

    gmvault.bat sync johndoe@gmail.com -p –resume -d D:\GMvault\johndoe

    Note that we have replaced –store-passwd with –resume: the password has already been stored, and we want to resume where we stopped last time, not restart again from the beginning.

  4. I would recommend creating a batch file (gmailbackup.bat or gmailbackup.cmd) with that second commandline in it, and running it either every evening, or once a week, however often you want to update your GMail backup with new mails.

Feel free to get in touch with any questions about this process; I cannot promise an answer but will do my best to help. Please note that I am not interested in a discussion of the wisdom or morality or ethics of using Google’s services; I have no illusions about Google but they have served me well, and if you are of a different opinion, feel free to not use them.

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  1. Another reason for making that switch is the fact that none of my kids, and certainly not my wife, are interested in computers and technology to the extent I am, and if anything happened to me the doulos.at domain will sooner or later go away. So encouraging my family members to switch to e-mail solutions that don’t depend on me seems to be a wise idea anyway.[]
  2. Application-specific passwords are specific separate passwords for different third-party (i.e. non-Google) applications. They can be set up in the Security section of the “Manage your Google Account” page; they require two-factor authentication to be enabled[]
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Pastor, What Were You Thinking?

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This post was prompted by three different things I came across in my reading in the past two days.

I am borrowing the title for this post from an article by Joe McKeever in Christianity Today’s ChurchLeaders website which I read yesterday. He lists a number of missteps by unidentified pastors which reflect well-publicized real-life events of recent months and years, and which resulted in an end to the ministry, career, and often the marriage of the pastor concerned, and in each case asks the poignant question, “Pastor, what were you thinking?”

Then during a period of insomnia very early this morning I came across Facebook posts and discussion threads from Australian friends which posted media reports first hinting at some major scandal breaking at Hillsong Church and then reporting on an all staff meeting at the church where the lead pastor revealed two incidents of inappropriate behavior by Hillsong founder Brian Houston:

  • Ten years ago a Hillsong staffer quit her job after Houston sent her a series of inappropriate, sexually suggestive text messages; Houston acknowledged that he was at fault and when the staffer had trouble finding a new job apparently personally paid her two months’ salary. 
  • Two years ago, at Hillsong’s annual conference, a group of conference attendees, including Houston, were in the bar drinking after the evening program. All of them seem to have been drinking too much, and Houston was also taking anxiety tablets at the time. When he went to go to his room he couldn’t find his key and knocked the door of another room where a woman was staying who was also drunk.  The woman has not accused Houston of anything, and Houston says nothing of a sexual nature happened, but Houston spent 40 minutes in the room of a woman other than his wife. This incident was investigated both under the auspices of Hillsong’s global board and then also by the church’s elders, and Houston was told to take three months off from ministry. He failed to abide by that instruction and also seems to have continued drinking alcohol.

The original Facebook post by my Australian friend talked of a scandal “worse than you can imagine”, and the ensuing discussion which focused mostly on the second, more recent, incident revolved around such things as whether “worse than you can imagine” was an accurate characterization of these two incidents; whether the reports were even true, whether Christians should post such reports, the lack of accountability on mega churches,  etc. What was notable by its absence in this discussion by Christians was any sense of scandal or outrage at the mere fact of Christian conference participants, including church leaders, getting drunk at the conclusion of a day focused, presumably, on issues of spiritual growth and other topics pertaining to the Christian life.

The final piece that inspired me to write this post was this piece in the Daily Mirror about a woman in the UK’s Greater Manchester area who, having had quite a lot to drink at a birthday party and after a discussion of the war in Ukraine, had the bright idea to try and book an Uber for a ride to Ukraine, so that, in case the UK should get involved in the war and her military boyfriend was deployed there, she could join him. Fortunately for her the booking didn’t go through because her credit card company refused the £4500 charge due to insufficient funds.

All of this caused me to reflect on the problem of drunkenness. 

I have  two confessions to make:

  • I enjoy a glass of wine or two with or after a meal, or just sitting around with friends, and I have my glass of Kräuterlikör or Southern Comfort most evenings to help me go to sleep.[1]
  • I have never gotten drunk. Not because of moral probity or because of religious or spiritual convictions, but because I am deathly afraid of what foolish things I might do if I lost control of my mind and my will.

So, on the one hand I do not look at this woman in the UK or at Brian Houston or others in my immediate circle of family and acquaintances who do on occasion drink too much with a sense of “holier than thou” but rather with pity and incomprehension, echoing Joe McKeever’s question, “What in the world were you thinking?”

On the other hand I wonder what the lack of outrage at the idea of drunkenness at a Christian conference says about our Christian subculture.

For the past ten years and until the Covid-19 pandemic and my own health issues put a stop to it I regularly attended a twice-yearly Christian conference where, after the evening meeting, we would gather for fellowship over a glass of wine or a beer; but I have never seen anyone get drunk on those occasions, and I cannot imagine the conference organizers tolerating it had it happened. So I am rather puzzled by the situation which resulted in Houston’s drunken incident: both that this group was drinking so much, and also that in discussing the incident on Facebook,  commenters from a variety of Christian traditions all seemed to focus on Houston’s 40 minutes in that room, but didn’t seem fazed by the idea of a group of Christian conference participants getting drunk together. The question I would like to ask the conference organizers, as well as the commenters, is, “What in the world were you thinking?”

It seems pretty clear to me that in all of these situations the answer is: people were not thinking, or if they were, it wasn’t with the brain God has given them for the purpose.

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  1. Unlike most Austrians I don’t drink beer; I just never acquired the taste[]
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Consecration to the “Immaculate Heart of Mary”?

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The Catholic News Agency reports that on March 25 Pope Francis will consecrate the Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary,  and in another article explains what exactly this means.

In recent decades many Protestant denominations have abandoned, revised or relativized essential aspects of the Christian faith as attested by the Bible. This, together with the emergence of renewal movements within the Catholic Church whose spirituality is very close to that of evangelical Christians, has led to an increasing approachment between the Catholic Church and the Evangelical movement, with the realization that our two traditions can at least both recite the ancient creeds[1] without reservation.

As an Evangelical with Roman-Catholic roots, and with both family and many friends in the Catholic Church this planned act saddens me because it underlines the major disagreements which still divide our traditions.

In view of what the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says about the cloud of witnesses which surrounds us[2] even as an Evangelical I don’t have too many problems with the notion of asking the saints, i.e. believers who have preceded us in earthly death and whom the Church recommends to us as examples of a faithful Christian life, for their intercession; this does not seem too different to me from the practice common among us Evangelicals of asking for the intercession of believers who still live among us.

But I cannot find any support or justification in Scripture for a piety focussed on the saints which credits them, including the mother of the Lord, with miracles; which considers prayers to the saints more efficacious than prayers to God himself; and I particularly cannot find any justification for consecrating people or countries to anyone other than God himself. As far as I can see this skates perilously close to the line between honoring  exemplary men and women on the one hand, and worshipping God on the other; a line which, when crossed, results in idolatry. And we have not yet even addressed whether the heart of Mary is indeed immaculate (sinless) when Scripture clearly suggests otherwise[3].

I find this planned act all the more regrettable as we have come together during the pandemic to pray across denominational boundaries for our countries, both in Germany (Deutschland betet)) and Austria (Österreich betet gemeinsam), and are just coming to the end of a week of Europe-wide, cross-denominational prayer for peace in Ukraine and Russia (Europe prays together). This act will break this unity: some will commend these two countries to God himself, while others will commend them to the mother of Jesus, as if she were on a par with the Trinity.

And this act suggests something else: that in the Catholic Church the supposed revelation of Mary in Fatima has primacy over the revelation of God in Scripture.

Sad.

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  1. even if reciting the creed is not a standard part of most evangelical worship services[]
  2. Heb. 12:1[]
  3. Mark 10:18; Romans 3:10-12[]
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“The Russians” are not the enemy!

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On social media, in addition to many positive posts and comments of support for Ukraine, and the rather annoying comments from Putin’s defenders, there are unfortunately also comments which condemn and castigate “the Russians” and hold them responsible for the disaster happening in Ukraine.

Folks, please keep in mind that Russia is still not a true, functioning democratic country; that despite the fact that there seem to be relatively free elections, the operative word is “relatively” and information in the run-up to these elections is very much restricted, and candidates are randomly excluded or sent to prison camps on various pretexts.

And unlike in our western countries, once elected the Russian president is subject to hardly any checks of his power and he can pretty much do as he pleases.

The war in Ukraine was started and is controlled by Vladimir Putin and a relatively small inner circle of influential people; a wider circle including many of the well-known oligarchs supports this system because they have used it to accumulate their millions.

Ordinary Russian citizens, including most of the soldiers on the ground in Ukraine, have no influence at all on these decisions; if they speak out against them they risk their livelihood and a prison sentence.

For all these reasons we should be really careful not to blame “the Russians”. And the Ukrainians demonstrate this.

In this photo taken from a video clip circulated on Telegram and Twitter, a captured young Russian soldier is seen sipping tea and eating a snack as he tries to compose himself. A woman standing next to him is trying to connect a video call to his home. Soon the call connects and the soldier breaks into tears. He looks too stunned to speak but he blows kisses to the camera, as people pat him on his back to calm him down.  In the video a bystander can be heard saying in the video, “These young men, it’s not their fault. They don’t know why they are here.” Another person joins him and says, “They are using old maps, they are lost.”

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Ukraine Invasion: Idle Speculation

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In the days since the beginning of Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine I have come across some comments from fellow Christians which leave me scratching my head. I want to address two ideas from these comments.

The End Times Scenario

This is the idea that the war in Russia is part of the scenario for the End Times predicted in the Bible, and that therefore it is (a) fruitless and (b) contrary to God’s will for us to pray for an end to that war. It’s been prophesied, it’s happening, and there is no point praying.

Folks, that is cynical, unbiblical, un-Christian nonsense!

Scripture tells us that God does not desire the death of the sinner; it tells us that Jesus is the Prince of Peace and that we should be peace makers. And while we should always be prepared and ready for Christ’s return we are to avoid idle speculations about its timing.

Therefore it is never wrong to pray for an end to war, suffering, poverty, etc; rather, it is the sacred responsibility of all who claim to be Jesus followers.

What God does in response to our prayers, how He hears and answers them, is another question; but there is no doubt that we may and should pray—and help in practical ways as we are able.

The God’s Punishment Scenario

Some Christians have advanced the idea that Putin’s invasion is God’s punishment for the Ukraine’s liberal abortion legislation and the many unborn children who die there every day – and who are we to pray against God’s punishment?

I think that is selfrighteous nonsense, a private interpretation which cannot be justified either biblically or by other facts.

For one thing, many more abortions are taking place in Russia than in Ukraine; for another, both countries have inherited their abortion legislation from the Soviet Union where laws were not arrived at democratically, by any stretch of the imagination.

Our “western” countries, on the other hand, are democratically moving to ever more “liberal” laws, not only regarding abortion but also assisted suicide and euthanasia.

So, if there is a country that has deserved such drastic punishment from God, it is hardly Ukraine; and proclaiming some catastrophic event a punishment from God is not only arrogant but also contravenes the biblical injunction not to judge.

And Putin as the defender of Christian values is a truly perverse notion.

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“Complete” Creedal Formulae?

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Yesterday, First Things magazine published a “Web Exclusive” by Theopolis Institute president, Peter Leithart, entitled Theology Is Not Archeology, He describes today’s impressive and edifying attempts by theologians to recover, explain, and defend traditional creedal and theological formulae, doing away with arrogant caricatures of pre-modern theology and revealing its impressive subtlety.

It is great article, with one caveat.

Quoting from the article:

Having retrieved with all possible care, theologians must reflect on what they have retrieved, and be willing to criticize and refine hallowed creedal and confessional formulae if they are … incomplete …

Retrieval is a theological good, but there must be life beyond retrieval.

Now I am not for one minute suggesting that Peter Leithart intended this, but the suggestion that creedal formulae must be complete implies that theology is valid only insofar as it penetrates every mystery, or to the extent that nothing remains hidden from it so  it can come up with complete formulations of truth. It ignores the fact that while God is infinite we are but finite, which in turn implies that anything we say or think about God will not completely do justice to His reality.

Of course theology must be more than archeology, of course there must be theological life beyond retrieval, but that life can and must include the recognition that we can only know about God what He has revealed to us, and that while we live this side of eternity, this revelation, and thus our theological formulae, have gaps; that whatever we have learned about and experienced of God, we need to hold in an open hand, knowing that it is likely incomplete.

As St. Paul says, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12 CSB)

 

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