Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Suicide by Faith

OK, it wasn't really suicide, as she didn't intend to die. It was an unintentional death, and tragic. What raises it to bizarre is that so many who loved and cared for her were forced to collude in her death. The reason: her faith.

New Orleans had a cold snap last week with overnight temperatures dropping into the 20s. On Thursday the body of a woman was found in a park on the West Bank, across the Mississippi from the main city. According to the report she was a homeless woman who had been sleeping on a bench there for two weeks. Cause of death: hypothermia.

The mind easily fills in the rest. Homeless, probably mentally ill, abandoned. No money, no friends, no family, probably barely knew where she was. Sad, yeah, but it happens, buddy.

But it wasn't so. Times-Picayune columnist Jarvis deBerry wrote an article about her today, giving the name he knew her by at their church on Sundays, Lovie Collins. He knew she had been on that spot not for two weeks, but for at least six months, and he sometimes would drive by on his way home from work just to see her. The church members saw her as one of their own and were deeply concerned for her, offering her food, shelter, clothing, blankets, medicine. She was not diagnosed as mentally ill, because for that you have to see a doctor, and she wouldn't. Her family, far from being distant and oblivious, was on the spot, and as the cold was moving in two of Lovie's sisters had come to beg her to please come indoors, just for a few nights.

Except for the food, she refused everything. God had told her to.

She believed that the ministry God had called her to was to live unprotected out in the elements. I suppose that it was a demonstration of faith, based on one or the other of those Bible verses that say "God will provide." She also was convinced she was physically safe because God had told her she would be raptured into heaven on the Day of Judgment, so she couldn't die before then. She told deBerry all this when he spoke to her to see if she needed anything and, he wrote, "I knew not to argue with her."

So she froze to death alone in a park, with good people all around the city safe in their homes, worried sick about whether Lovie would make it. Reading deBerry's piece, what struck me was how these things happen because our whole society and legal system has decided not to argue with Lovie. If the convictions or beliefs or fantasies that kept her out there had been more ... secular ... social services surely could have intervened at her family's request, as she had certainly become a danger to herself by refusing even blankets as the temp dropped below freezing.

Stay out in the cold in the name of Jesus, however, and society raises its hands and backs slowly away. Stand on a street corner downtown and berate strangers, and you're arrested as a public nuisance. Do it with a Bible in your hand, and the cops look the other way. That the leading Republican presidential candidate can say he doesn't believe in evolution and not get laughed off the stage is just another example of America deciding not to argue with Lovie.

Look where it got Lovie.

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