Bloody Thoughts

For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.
Leviticus 17:11 (NRSV)

I grew up delivering newspapers. As a young boy I helped my older brothers on their “paper route.” When I was old enough, I had my own. By the age of eleven I was helping my buddy Scott with his route. Scott delivered both the Des Moines Register (morning) and the Des Moines Tribune (afternoon) to the Veterans Hospital in our neighborhood. When Scott was on vacation, I covered his route.

It was the mid-1970s. Veterans Hospital was filled with aging World War II veterans as well as young men who had only recently endured the horrors of Vietnam. I would carry an armload of newspapers to the ward rooms at the end of the corridor on each floor. The giant rooms held 10-12 beds. I would shout “Paper!” and wait to see if any of the patients indicated they wanted one.

For a young kid, the experience was chalk full of intensive life lessons. Delivering papers at “Vets” was a crash course in harsh realities. Old men lay naked on beds, shaking, and crying out in hallucinations. Former soldiers suffering from various mental issues were tied to beds to protect them from themselves. “Hey kid! There’s a hundred dollar bill in that drawer over there. If you untie me, you can have it.” Men coughing up mucus and blood. Men speaking through the strange robotic device that allowed speech through the tube protruding from their trachea. Then there was the time Scott showed me the splattered blood and chalk outline on the pavement just outside the hospital’s back entrance where a veteran had jumped out an upper floor window to his death.

I’ve always found it odd when people pass out at the sight of blood. I’ve never been bothered by it. Perhaps it was those early experiences at Veteran’s hospital.  Perhaps it’s because blood has been consistently present in my family’s back story.

My twin brothers were born at a small town hospital in Le Mars, Iowa. They were born breach (feet first) and my mother experienced severe internal hemorrhaging in the process. The hospital needed blood to keep her alive. The local radio station put out a call for donors. Farmers came in from the field. Shopkeepers left their stores. Their sacrifice kept my mother alive. I’m here because of their blood. My father made a commitment to be a regular blood donor in gratitude of the blood sacrifice others made to save my mother’s life. I grew up watching my dad bring home t-shirts, coffee mugs and lapel pins that announced his ever, increasing count of gallons of blood donated.

The ancient Levitical sacrificial system was based on blood. Blood carries oxygen through our bodies and with it, life. The loss of blood means the loss of life. Blood is integral to God’s story. The consequence of sin is death. The spiritual solution is sacrifice. The blood sacrifice brings life from death.

This morning I’m thinking about blood, life, and death. I’m remembering blood splattered on the pavement in a gruesome scene of death. I’m thinking about the sacrifice of blood that gave my mother life years before I was even a thought in my parents minds. I’m thinking about the time, energy and blood my father shed over the years in gratitude and the desire to pay it forward. There is a hymn from my childhood running through my mind…

Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood;
Sin-stains are lost in its life-giving flow;
There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.

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