Monday, December 14, 2015

Looking for Joy in All the Right Places

At church yesterday, we lit the Advent candle of joy. Joy is my middle name. Literally, not figuratively . . . though I would gladly trade the literal for the figurative.

Joy seems so elusive to people. Happiness is not, although we think it is. Happiness is temporary and surface-level. I feel happy when I get to sleep in. I feel happy when the dog greets me enthusiastically at the door. I feel happy when my favorite Christmas song comes on the radio. I feel happy when I eat dark-chocolate-covered blueberries.

Joy is different. Joy is deeper. Joy is a condition of the heart, not a reaction to my circumstances. I've known people who profess to be joyful, Christians who claim to have "the joy of Christ" (or some churchy thing like that), whose daily attitudes show them up for liars. You can't have joy and grumble every time I see you about how hard your life is and how uncooperative your kids are and how inadequate your bank account is and how decrepit your body has become . . .

It occurred to me this past week (for some unknown reason) that an awful lot of us believe that our joy -- or at least our happiness, but probably our joy, as well -- is dependent on being able to do the things we want to do. Kids assume they'll be happy when they're adults and can do all the things they can't do when they're young. Adults assume they'll be happy when they're retired and can spend their days not working, but doing what they want. Poor people assume they'd be happy if they had enough money to not have to work so hard at a job they don't like. Rich people assume they'd be happy if they didn't have obligations to people to do things they don't enjoy doing.

I know that I would give my right arm for a day with no obligations of any kind, present or future, when I could spend my time on whatever appeals to me at that moment and not feel guilty doing so.

But I have enough sense to know that, although that might make me happy for the day, it would not make me joyful. Joy is different. Joy is deeper. Joy is a condition of the heart. Joy has nothing to do with doing what I want to do instead of what I have to do.

Joy, it seems, has more to do with doing the things I'm truly supposed to be doing as opposed to the things I think I should be doing or the things I think will make me happy. Doing those good works that "God prepared in advance" for me to do.

If God prepared some low-key, menial work for me to do, I will never find joy doing the grand and glorious work I prefer that gets me lots of attention and praise from the people who see me.

If God prepared some kids for me to nurture and raise, I will never find joy putting them in daycare every day and running off to a job, even if I love what I do, even if I am "changing lives" in my fabulous profession, even if I think being a stay-at-home mom will drive me crazy.

Joy comes from being exactly where God wants you, because God made you and knows how He made you and what you were made for. Because the joy comes not from what we're doing, but from the condition of our heart when we are so in love with God and so completely trusting of His love for us that we are willing to go to the lions if that's what He calls us to. When that relationship with God is completely right (which is a daily effort while we're here on earth, I think), our heart is right, and the joy comes.

This is not a revelation to most believers. We know this. The revelation comes in how poorly we are living what we profess to believe. If we believe that our joy is in our relationship to God, why do we continue to seek it in the praise of others? In the love of our family? In success at our careers? In dark-chocolate-covered blueberries? Why do we give little more than obligatory lip service to the one thing we were created for and then wonder and complain about the fact that we have no genuine joy in our lives?

Seek joy this week, friends -- in the only place it can ever be found.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Christmas and the Six C's of History

Mrs. A is the history teacher extraordinaire at our school, and last Friday, she had lunch with my daughter and her homeschool cohorts to discuss the six C's of history: change over time, causality, context, complexity, contingency, and connection. To think like a historian, you need to look for these things in the stories you study.

This conversation came back again in church yesterday as we talked about Joseph.

See, as much hullabaloo as Christmas gets, we need to remember that it is the lesser of the two primary Christian holidays. The Christmas story is only the prelude to the real story -- the one we celebrate on Easter.  But, of course, Easter wouldn't have happened without Christmas. Contingency.

And our view of the Christmas story is pretty sentimentalized. As Aaron, our Sunday School teacher pointed out, while Luke's presentation of the story could be almost lullaby-ish (and that's the one you hear the most), Matthew's brings out the brutality of the age. Herod the king was a genuine lunatic; that slaughter of hundreds of babies was bloody and unspeakable. Picture this happening in a middle eastern country today and the international outcry it would cause. But back then, the king was the king, and he did what he wanted. Change over time.

Joseph must have been a pretty resourceful man to pick up his wife and newborn at the drop of a hat, in response to a warning in a dream, and move them to Egypt (the closest place out of Herod's jurisdiction) and just live there for a couple years. Finding a way to make a living and a place to live among a people of a different language, culture, and religion. We have romantic images in our mind of them camping out or something down there for a couple weeks . . . no, it was years. Herod died and his son took over. They had started a new life. And then they picked up and came home again at another angel's instructions in a dream. Causality . . . complexity . . . and prophetic fulfillment thrown in there, to boot.

But a certain detail of the story stuck out to me yesterday. When Mary was found to be pregnant, this was scandalous. Actually, scandal is hardly the word for it. Extramarital sex is so commonplace anymore, a single woman getting pregnant is hardly news these days, unfortunately. But the Jewish law said that Mary could be stoned to death. Joseph had every right to call her out and have her executed. Context.

But he didn't. Even before the angel came to fill him in on what was going on with this baby, he had already made the decision to "put her away quietly." Just end the relationship. No public condemnation. Leaving her alone with a baby may sound cold-hearted to the modern ear, but folks, this was a tremendous act of mercy on his part. More context.

Fascinating to think: the whole story could have ended right there. She's my betrothed -- she's pregnant -- it's not mine -- hand her over to the authorities for punishment, which was death. Had that happened, of course, God would have found another way to save the world, but He chose these people for this task because he knew that wouldn't happen. He knew Joseph. He knew he was merciful. He knew he would hear God's voice and obey. And the Christmas story -- and therefore the Easter story -- depended on Joseph's mercy and obedience.


So much depends on mercy and obedience. So much that we are not even the least bit aware of. This small act of mercy . . . this seemingly insignificant act of obedience . . . could have monumental effects on your life, other lives, society, even history. I must never forget to be merciful and to obey.

And there, my friends, is connection.

Monday, November 30, 2015

What Happened to Kids TV?

Even though my girls are getting older, it seems that Disney and Nickelodeon are the most-watched television channels in our house. I can't complain too much; Lord knows they are better than a lot of the stuff out there that teens are watching.

But I have noticed over the last several years some interesting cycles in children's television. Here is a sample of some of the newest shows these channels offer kids these days.

"KC Undercover" -- a girl who is a secret spy, which all the required gadgets spies have
"Best Friends Whenever" -- two girls who can travel through time
"The Thundermans" -- a family of superheroes
"Henry Danger" -- a kid who becomes a superhero's sidekick
"Talia in the Kitchen" -- a girl who has magical spices she can use in her food
"Dog with a Blog" -- a family with a talking dog (this one was just cancelled, as was . . . )
"The Haunted Hathaways -- a family of ghosts living with another family (nevertheless . . . )

Notice a pattern here? These kids all have "powers", magical abilities that normal kids don't have. "Wizards of Waverly Place" probably kicked off this wave several years ago. Interesting . . .

Now, a few years ago, I was seeing a different trend (one that still is bleeding over a bit into today; some of these shows are still on):

"Austin and Ally" -- a couple of kids who become famous pop singers
"Liv and Maddie" -- a famous TV actress comes home to live with her family again
"Shake It Up" -- a couple of girls get gigs dancing on a TV show
"ANT Farm" -- a class of kids with unusual talents, led by a singer/musician
"Victorious" -- a school for the performing arts
"iCarly" -- a couple kids with a popular webshow
"Big Time Rush" -- a boys' band trying to make it big
"Sonny with a Chance" -- kids on a TV sketch comedy show
"Hannah Montana" -- which probably started this trend

Yep -- a bunch of shows about kids becoming famous performers.

So, where are the shows about regular kids living regular lives? There are a few, and they kind of stand out. "Girl Meets World" is probably the biggest one these days. Except for the fact that it is overtly and quite intentionally sappy and preachy, it may be one of the best shows on these channels right now.

Very likely, this isn't news to anyone. Kids shows have probably used these themes for years. But then I look at some of my girls' favorite kids' shows from the past:

"Drake and Josh" -- an all-time favorite, about two relatively normal kids (yes, Drake has a band, but it's not the center of the show)
"Zoey 101" -- bad acting and writing, but again, pretty regular (albeit rich) kids
"Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide" -- regular kids surviving middle school
"Lizzie McGuire" -- my eldest STILL watches old episodes of this at night and loves it because the characters are genuine and real.

I don't know that there is a particular point I want to make here. Just observations -- mainly that writing a good TV show for kids must be pretty difficult because it's not often done very well.

Monday, November 23, 2015

On Coughing and Praising

Although I feel like I've been blessed with generally pretty good health, I have two chronic problems that have plagued me for years. One is the sleep stuff that I'm sure you're all tired of hearing about. The second is that when I get a cold, the cough settles in my lungs and makes my life hell for weeks. Doctors have tried inhalers, all sorts of drugs . . . nothing helps. It's awful.

And after a week of a normal-person-common-cold, I have my cough again. I'm miserable. But a comment from someone in my BSF group is giving me a different perspective on it.

We studied the fourth chapter of Revelation last week. This is the first part of the vision John has, and it is all about the throne of God. The majesty of it. His awesomeness and splendor. There are living creatures and twenty-four elders (the details of all them I don't get, but it doesn't matter) surrounding His throne and worshiping Him day and night.

[Sidenote: Some people have said that heaven sounds boring, doing nothing but worshiping all day. But you know, I'm not convinced that we have nothing to do there but to stare at God and be awed by Him. I think we'll have plenty to do – scripture talks about us ruling with him (what that means exactly, I'm not sure, but it sounds pretty active). I suspect that this vision of John's is a piece of figurative imagery for us: "rejoicing in the Lord always", "praying continually" . . . that constant attitude of worship that we are called to be in even here on earth. In heaven, we won't be hindered anymore by our sinful, fleshly natures and that worship will come naturally. And won't that be wonderful?]

But back to my friend's comments. She told us how it hit her that, when the attacks happened in Paris, nobody in heaven suddenly stopped and looked and said, "Whoa, God . . . what's going on here?" No, they continued to worship – day and night, just like always. Because what happened in Paris was not a shock to anyone up there like it was to us. They know what we don't know. They see the big picture. They see what's happening on a macro-level and on a micro-level with all this chaos and tragedy and they know that it is all under God's control . . . it is all working toward His grand and glorious conclusion . . .  and they know that even in the midst of this, He is still worthy of all praise.

Now, it's not like I didn't know that in my head. But somehow, it penetrated my heart this week. And I needed that.

If God is working through even the tragedy and sin of terrorism to accomplish His will, what up with my whining about a cough? Like God isn't bigger than that? Like my irritated lung tissue is suddenly evidence of His negligence and impotence and lack of compassion? Like He clearly doesn't know what He's doing if He isn't going to stop this cough?

So, I'm coughing and praising. As best I can. Lord, I believe . . . help my unbelief.

Monday, November 16, 2015

On Paris, My President, and my Lack of Confidence

Paris. So sad. And what happened in Beirut last week is so sad, too. (How many of you even heard about Beirut? Look it up.) What's been happening in the Middle East and Europe for months. Sad, sad, sad.

But now the question is, what do we do about it. And that's the saddest part for me, because I don't trust our leaders to have the wisdom to know what to do about it.

Specifically Obama and his crew. And this isn't a political tirade nor a personal tirade against the man-- it's simply a fact about me right now. Personally, I don't have confidence in President Obama that he truly understands the nature of the situation and knows what to do to protect our country. I wish I did.

When I was studying psychological theories for my counseling degree in graduate school, I found
that I was able to divide the theories into two broad categories. On the one hand are the theories that are based in the idea that people are born good and only get messed up because of what happens to them externally. Bad parenting. Mean kids. Poverty and lack of opportunity.

On the other hand are the theories that are based in the idea that we are born with a tendency toward doing wrong and that it is only the constraints of society that keep us from really going off the deep end. External things can certainly affect us negatively as well -- bad parenting, mean kids, poverty, lack of opportunity -- but the germs of our problems were there from the beginning. Taking away the external wrongs doesn't fix the internal wrongs.

It is distressing to me how many people don't understand that the Bible is in the second camp, not the first. It is distressing to me how many Christians don't understand this. It is distressing to me how many Christians act in ways to try to improve things in the world, to build the kingdom of God, and do these things in God's name, and yet their actions are completely contrary in premise to the most basic teachings of the Bible.

And yes, this has to do with Obama and ISIS and Paris.

I have NO idea what to do about ISIS. I am profoundly grateful to not be in our President's shoes having to make decisions about the matter, and I have been praying for him (and all of our world leaders) daily for the decisions they need to make.

But as his constituent, one of the basic messages I have gotten from my President during his term in office is that the reason the world is the mess it is, is because the U.S. has been a busybody bully. We've stepped in to other people's business and forced our way on them, which has made them angry and made them act out against us. The answer is to back off, be respectful, give them the means to do the right things (which they, of course, will want to do) and all will fall into place.

This is right out of psychological theory camp number one. And it's foolish and dangerous.

Some semblance of this method might work on a one-on-one basis . . . for example, with me and a defiant student. On a national level, this is a disaster. Surely he knows this. But as a general rule, he seems to operate from an incorrect worldview, which makes me distrustful of the wisdom of his actions. I expect more disasters to come. I expect weak responses to those disasters. And in all honesty, I pray for a stronger leader in the White House very soon.

However, even if I am not confident in my President, I am confident that he is only in that office because God put him there. And I am confident that God is more in control of world affairs than my President is. Whatever tragedies or victories follow this already tragic week, they are of God's ordaining and will ultimately serve His purposes.

Somebody remind me of that truth when the next tragedy hits closer to home.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Getting Rooted at the Right Now Conference

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Right Now Conference in Dallas and hearing some amazing speakers (Francis Chan, Eric Metaxas, and others). I've been digesting what I heard for a couple days and want to summarize the most pertinent points here -- for your and my benefit.

- The parable of the mustard seed. Note that, when we plant a mustard seed, our end goal is . . . well, mustard. But in the parable, what God accomplishes is a huge plant in which birds build their nests. We have one goal -- God uses our work to accomplish another goal, often something that never even occurred to us. God's purposes are far beyond what we have in mind. Cool. (From Mark Batterson)

- If the Spirit lives in us -- if we really and truly believe that -- why don't we allow Him to live through us more often? Why do we insist on doing things on our own strength? (Pete Briscoe)

- We pray best when we're most aware of our sin . . . when we involve our bodies (knees, anyone?) . . . when we pray our gut-honest desires (which is risky and takes courage) . . . and when we remember God's grace. (Jen Pollack Michel)

- Plagiarism is taking credit for another person's work and words. How many of us commit spiritual plagiarism every day? Taking credit for work that was actually God's. ALL THE TIME . . . (Bryan Carter)

- Larry Osborne spoke about Daniel being a model for the Christian in this post-modern age. He teaches us how to live successfully in Babylon. So much to glean from that. Daniel had humility with the pagans around him. He never copped an attitude about how wrong they were; he spoke with respect and graciousness to them. He made Nebuchadnezzar a better king and a better person, just being with him. He had the wisdom to pick his battles rather than fighting everything wicked around him.

Something interesting he pointed out. Daniel and his friends were brought to be trained "in the language and literature of the Babylonians." That means, they were being taught Babylonian religion -- paganism and the occult. And not only did they not refuse to participate in that education, but God gave them "knowledge and understanding" of what they were learning and more, to the point that when their training was evaluated by the king, he found none equal to them. And this was the only reason that they were allowed to be in the service to the king, that they were put in places of such tremendous influence, that they had ANY credibility with the most powerful rulers of the world at that time, and that we even know their names today. A great argument against the "cocooning" so many Christians do today -- as if knowing the theory of evolution or the basic tenets of Islam will transfer heretical germs to the believer.

- When you accepted Jesus, you accepted the call to missions. Period. No further call is needed.

- Eric Metaxas talked about William Wilberforce. When Wilberforce was saved, he assumed he would need to give up politics (which at the time was an even dirtier profession that it is today). But his pastor, John Newton, told him to stay, to be a light in the place where God had put him and with the gifts God had given him. Again, no cocooning ourselves from the world's dirt and grime: go engage, and learn, and salt, and shine your light.

- God's desire is for us. (Francis Chan) Why do we need to be reminded of that? But we do. Often. God's greatest desire is not for a just society or sinless followers or miserable people or even happy people. God's desire is for a relationship with us. Everything else is either a means to that end or a result of that blessing.

Yep. A good week. Thanks, Paul and Jackie.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Our Current Neurosis

A theme of distress has arisen among the females of our household: the theme of Too Much To Do in Too Few Hours of the Day.

It manifests itself differently in each of us, owing to our individual personalities, weaknesses, and neurotic tendencies. But we all are feeling that stress. I need to do this. I have to do this. I should do this. I want to do this. I feel guilty because I'm not doing this. I'm unhealthy because I'm not doing this. And this. And this.

And can I be honest? I don't necessarily look at what we're trying to accomplish in a week and think it's too much. Now, maybe my perception has just become warped -- that's certainly within the realm of possibility. But I don't feel like we're expecting a lot of ourselves.

But maybe that's because when I think of everything I have to do, I think of the big stuff. School, homeschool, curriculum writing, plays and such. That all looks busy, but doable.

Then I add in the once-in-a-while events that come up: the church luncheon yesterday (I'm just helping set up and clean up -- no big deal). Halloween (buy candy, carve a pumpkin -- not so bad). Make my Christmas list (just sitting down and thinking for a while, right?). Again, each of these are stressors, but they are just momentary interruptions.

Here's what I forget: life.

The everyday life stuff. In the midst of the big things are the little things: figuring out what to cook for meals, picking up the house, doing laundry, packing lunches, walking the dog, cleaning out the fountain, backing up my laptop, vacuuming, emptying the dishwasher, making sure we have toilet paper in the house, coloring my hair, exercising, mopping mud stains, Bible study, pulling weeds, paying bills, buying groceries, refilling prescriptions and picking them up, cleaning toilets, dumping bad food from the fridge, watering flowers, dusting, taking care of the dog's nails and teeth, finding missing items, replacing the batteries in the smoke detectors, cleaning out the microwave, showering . . .

The little things are what get missed. And the little things add up fast. And the little things undone make me feel like I'm a crazy woman and failing at life.

How does this happen? Women in my situation from the 1920s would look on my life, with all the modern technological advantages, and think I'm living on Easy Street. Nope. More stressed than ever. And I don't think I know anyone who isn't stressed in a similar way. Do you? No, you don't either.

As I said, the three of us ladies in our home all deal with this in different ways. And none of our methods are wholly successful or healthy. In fact, some of them have become decidedly unhealthy and need to be dealt with.

Which is now another item on the to-do list: fix neurosis.

Sigh. Well, despite it all, I still feel like this is the most enjoyable season of my life so far. I enjoy my family tremendously, and they all enjoy each other. I love the work I'm doing. I love the house I'm living in.

Life is good . . . I just have to remind myself of that when I see more muddy footprints at the front door. Life is good.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Good Samaritan, Take Two

So, I've known the story of The Good Samaritan probably all my life. It's one of those Bible stories that even the non-believers know and like because it's about being good to people, regardless of who they are. At least, that's what we all thought it was about.

Yesterday morning, we had a guest preacher, and he gave us a new twist on the story (a phrase which, I will say, I am always a bit cautious of when we're referring to the Bible . . . I generally have a hard time believing that a couple millenia of Spirit-filled, serious Bible scholars and teachers might have TOTALLY missed the point of a passage . . . but fresh eyes are always good, so carry on).

Our speaker emphasized that correct interpretation of scripture always requires reading in context (very true). And he made note of the context in which this story is told: 1) Jesus has just set his course toward Jerusalem for the final week of his life, so the whole dying-for-the-world business was on his mind, and 2) he has just been asked, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" So, this story, he proposed, is about how to inherit eternal life -- a remark that initially sent some alarms off in my brain because, as mentioned earlier, we read this as a story about being good . . . and being good is not how you get eternal life.

However, that was not his take on it, much to my relief. He started with identifying who each of these characters must represent, because this is a parable and symbolism is inherent in the genre.

So, if we're talking about how to inherit eternal life, who must the beaten up person on the road be? The needy person? The desperate person who requires assistance? Well, obviously, he is one who is in need of eternal life. Beaten and bruised by the ravages of sin. Ah . . . and then everything else clearly falls into place.

The priest and the Levite -- obvious representatives of the Jewish law -- pass the man by because they either can't help him or won't.

The one who stops, and picks him up, and takes him to shelter, and cares for his needs, and pays the price it takes for him to be healed -- that's the Samaritan. The Unlikely Savior. The person one would least expect. The one scorned by the establishment religious folks . . . the one who "came to his own, but his own would not receive him."

Because THIS is how one inherits eternal life: our Unlikely Savior pays the price for our healing.

Well. How have I lived in Christian circles, attended church all my life, studied scripture and Bible teaching for years and years, and never heard that take on the story?

I'm still going to need to think about it, because as he said, context is important, and the immediate context of that story is Jesus' interrogator asking him, "And who is my neighbor?" which is where we get our traditional interpretation of what Jesus is trying to teach us here. Then again, scripture is a multi-layered thing, and there's no reason the story can't have both meanings. Both meanings are consistent with the rest of the Word.

But I have to say, I like this new interpretation . . . if for no other reason, because it pulls us away from the "Do Good Things" interpretation. Not that we shouldn't do good things. Not that we shouldn't show love to our neighbor. Not that there's anything wrong with that take on the story. But as I said, even the non-believers love that one -- there's nothing distinctly Christian in the call to Do Good Things. It can be a slippery slope from there to a very worldly gospel of works that deceives many into thinking they are earning their way into heaven.

So, I'll meditate on this one for a while. After all, we can never meditate on the gospel story too much.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Too Lazy for Due Diligence

I'm not normally a . . . you know . . . activist type. But I had a thought while driving home from Kansas this past weekend.

About an hour north of Austin on I-35 (Austin! I-35! Oh, Texas friends, you know the insanity, don't you), our traffic slowed to a crawl for about twenty minutes. On a Sunday night after 10pm, I couldn't imagine what would be causing a traffic jam other than an accident, and hubby saw some flashing lights way ahead of us, so we assumed that was the case.

But as we neared the problem area, we saw that the flashing lights were on some kind of construction-looking vehicles, not emergency response vehicles. And these vehicles were empty and not moving; they were way off to the side of the road cushioned by three lanes of traffic blocked by orange barrels -- those orange barrels they use to block off construction areas.

Yet, we saw no construction. No construction work going on, of course (as if they'd be out fixing our roadways at night on a Sunday, the least busy traffic time on the highway, as would be logical). But there wasn't even any evidence of construction in progress. Three perfectly good, very drivable lanes were simply blocked off for no apparent reason, and all the Sunday night traffic on I-35 (north of Austin! Insanity!) was funneled into one lane . . . again, for no apparent reason.

Now, I know you all are thinking, "OH, yeah, I see that all the time. Drives me crazy." Because yeah -- we do see that all the time, don't we? Traffic lanes blocked off for "potential" construction zones although they are completely passable at that time and it seems they will be for the foreseeable future. And the flow of traffic is drastically disrupted because of it. We are all aggravated about that.

And my question is, why do we put up with it?

Doesn't the Department of Transportation work for us? If everyone who drove through that single lane of traffic Sunday night -- or even just half of the people -- wrote or called the state highway officials and complained about the situation, wouldn't they have to do something about it? If everyone who ever finds themselves in such a situation contacted the officials to bring the problem to their attention, wouldn't just the extra phone and email traffic be annoying enough for those officials to make more effort to prevent such scenarios from occurring in the first place? You would think so.

So why don't we make such calls? I submit two reasons. One, we are lazy. Two, we assume there is a reason for the blockage that we just aren't aware of. The first reason is obviously unacceptable; citizens cannot be lazy in a democracy. And I'm not sure the second reason is acceptable, either. We're not stupid. We can look at a piece of highway and tell if it is drivable or not. Why do we assume such incompetence from ourselves?

It concerns me a bit that we have this tendency to look at situations created by our government agencies -- situations that seem to all intelligent observation to be useless, wasteful, inefficient, perhaps even unethical or illegal -- but we don't trust our instincts about that. We give our government the benefit of the doubt. Do they deserve that benefit? Perhaps. But I think we lose something important in our lack of diligence in their oversight. And it starts in the little situations . . . the three lanes of traffic blocked off for no apparent reason.

But I'll admit: I'm too lazy to do anything about it. Sigh! We deserve the government we get.

Monday, October 5, 2015

My Social Justice Problem

I realized something in Sunday School yesterday that I'm not happy about. The word "justice" -- especially the phrase "social justice" -- when it is used by fellow Christians sets alarms off in my brain.

I'm not happy at that discovery. It shouldn't be so. And yet it is.

"Justice" is one of the attributes of God. God is just; even more, God IS justice. Our only conception of the idea of justice comes from God's interaction with us through the law. It's not like it's a cuss word or anything.

But it has seemed to become a buzzword for a certain segment of the Christian world, a segment that I have unfortunately often disagreed with on a variety of issues, issues that those brothers and sisters promoted in the name of "social justice." I sat yesterday and tried to pinpoint for myself again what all it was I disagreed with them on . . . and I had a hard time doing so. The biggest differences were political, I think. My social-justice-loving Christian friends seem to also want to use the government as a means to achieve this social justice, which I often question the wisdom of.

Ah . . . and now I think I remember the big culprit in this: Obamacare.

It was when Obamacare was being debated that I found myself mentally setting apart a camp of people (Christian and nonChristian) who seemed to be all about "social justice" and seemed to be getting it all wrong.

It went like this: As much as I am concerned about making good health care available to all who need it, I was very reluctant about Obamacare (and still am). Admittedly, the people on "my side" of the argument had not approached the problem which much sense of urgency, to their shame. But Obamacare didn't seem to be the answer. I saw too many problems with the proposed system. It just didn't seem to be the best way to do this; it seemed to be an emotional, rushed reaction to the problem.

But the real stunner was the reaction I got from social-justice-touting friends when I expressed my concerns. Rarely were those concerns addressed in a reasonable manner. I was called selfish. Completely uncompassionate. Unchristian. Clearly unchristian. I was told I obviously hated poor people. Obviously. I was called a spoiled rich girl who had never had to suffer in my life and so my opinion had no validity in this debate.

Yes. Those very things were said to me. Often implied, but sometimes directly and bluntly. And it hurt me and angered me.

And so, my social-justice-promoting Christian friends got put in a mental box in my mind: they are WRONG. They are wrong about me, they are wrong about Obamacare, they are wrong, wrong, wrong about so many, many things. It was an emotional reaction, and it kept me from seeing what they were right about.

Which, I imagine, is exactly what they did to me, too.

I still get alarms up when my Christian friends start talking "justice" too much . . . partly because I think in the fight for justice, they often forget the need for "justification" (as we eventually got to in our Sunday School lesson). And I acknowledge that in my corner, the pendulum often swings too far in one direction, too. But I was reminded yesterday of how past wounds and personal feelings can color our "theology" and make us haughty. And wrong.

God gave us emotions, and they motivate us to act, which is good. But even our emotions are fallen and cannot be trusted alone. The heart is deceitful above all things, Jeremiah tells us. We would all do well to remember that. I'm trying to, at least.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Why I'm Angry

A young man in our lives just moved himself to Texas. He has little or no family support; he's here on his own, trying to get a new start on life.

He drove here in a car he spent a long time earning the money for and fixing up. And within a couple weeks of his arrival, a hit-and-run driver ran a red light and totaled that car. Because he could only afford liability insurance, our young friend just completely lost that car he worked so hard for.

So, he worked more to earn the money for another car, which he bought from a local guy in his home. He later realized that the title of the car only has the man's signature -- his wife was co-owner and needed to sign the title, too. But the man now insists that our friend never paid him; he won't let his wife sign the title until he gets paid for the car again.

Soon the car's registration will run out, and he can't get it legally registered without the title signed. Our friend's only recourse, it seems, is taking the man to small claims court -- which, of course, costs money he doesn't have.

But the immediate issue is getting the car back into his possession. While parked overnight in his apartment complex -- with his parking decal sticker in the window -- the car was towed by the towing company (Bexar Towing, for you locals) that the apartment complex hires to monitor its lots.

After a bunch of rigmarole to get them to give him access to the car (because his proof of ownership was in the car), he showed the towing company employee the parking decal in the window as they walked to the vehicle. Hmm, the guy said. Well, let me talk to my manager and get back to you.

And the next day, they produced a photo from the man who towed the car -- a photo that shows our friend's car with no parking decal. How did this happen, our friend asked, when you yourself saw the decal in the window when you finally gave me access to the car?

Oh, I didn't see a decal, the man says. You must have put that there after I let you in.

(Again, Bexar Towing Company, people. They have an F with the Better Business Bureau . . . many complaints for similar issues . . . they have more complaints than any towing company in the county . . . they were fined $19,000 by the state a couple years ago. In other words, we believe our friend.)

Again, the only apparent recourse is taking them to court. (Unless he wants to pay the $200 plus $20 per day for every day the car has sat in their lot while they gave him the run-around.) And again, going to court costs money the boy doesn't have.

Two observations here. First, this is why so many young men from troubled backgrounds become thugs. They are targeted, taken advantage of, and have no resources to protect themselves or fight back. They quickly learn that to survive, they have to get the "bad guys" (whoever they might be out there) before the bad guys get them.

And secondly, this is why the church needs to be the church. The Biblical admonition is to help widows and orphans, but the principle there is to stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves. Bear each other's burdens. This is a burden our friend can't bear, and luckily a lawyer at our new church home has offered to help him out. (We don't yet know the extent of that help or the cost, but it's a start.)

I'll add a third observation: I'm angry. So angry. Our young friend is trying to be responsible, trying to get his life together, trying to do everything right . . . and he keeps getting screwed over. I can't stand it anymore.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

On Saying No to God

It's a sad thing when you are convicted by your own words.

In Sunday School last weekend, I made a brilliant and insightful remark that everyone ooh'd and aah'd over. (At least, that's my recollection of the moment.) We were discussing how we distinguish the Holy Spirit's communication with us from our own self-promoting desires speaking to us. And I mentioned a lesson I learned many years ago: if I really want to hear clearly from God on a matter, I have to put myself in a neutral stance on that matter. I have to get myself to the point that I am genuinely willing to obey God in whatever He says -- even if it is the complete opposite of what I want, even if it makes my life difficult or possibly downright miserable, even if I lose friends and loved ones as a result -- whatever you want, Lord, that's what I want. I am in complete submission. Once I'm there, I usually find God's will is quite clear, because my own baggage has been removed from the picture.

My words came back to haunt me as I was eating my fourth or fifth hot-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookie later that evening because the thought suddenly came to my mind:

I am NOT neutral on sweets.

I would NOT be willing to give up sweets if God asked it of me.

Never again bake another chocolate chip cookie? No. Never again enjoy a cup of custard or froyo out with the family? Wrong. No more candy corn at Halloween, caramel popcorn at Christmas, jelly beans at Easter, caramel apples in the fall? Watch everyone else at the table enjoy the gooey chocolate cake without ever again indulging myself? That is not going to happen.

Oh, I talk a good game about it, believe me, especially to God's face. And God and I have had this very conversation on a regular basis for the last few years because I have often wondered if . . . no, suspected that . . . no, feared that God was asking that very thing of me. Give them up. All of them. They affect your mind and body and stand in the way of our relationship. You use them to meet needs in your life that I'm supposed to meet. They are an idol. They have to go.

But, you know, that just doesn't sound like God, does it? "Give it up forever"? Give it up for Lent, maybe. Or for the week. Maybe just turn down this dessert. Or at least the second serving of it. But God wouldn't really want me to give them all up -- at least I've been able to successfully convince myself of this questionable fact.

However, with that half-eaten cookie in my hand, and with the full knowledge that I expected to eat more before the evening was over (and lick out the cookie dough bowl before it went into the dishwasher), I was suddenly driven (by the Holy Spirit, I'm sure) to face the facts.

It doesn't matter whether God would ask me to give them up. It matters that, deep down in my heart, I know I wouldn't willingly obey even if He did.


Now, some of you may find that ridiculous that I am so attached to my sweets, especially those of you who have already been forced to give them up for health reasons and your life continues quite swimmingly. But I challenge you to examine your own life: what are YOU not neutral on? What's the thing that -- if God said, "That has to go." -- you would flat-out refuse? Because I'm convinced we all have something. Some of us have less things . . . some of us have less obvious things . . . for some of us, our things are things that don't seem necessary to give up so the question has never arisen.

But we all, I'm guessing, have something that we refuse to submit to God's authority over.

So, I'll pray for you if you pray for me. Jesus isn't Lord over me if he isn't also Lord over my chocolate chip cookies. And establishing him as Lord is the first step to everything that matters.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Salvation of the Strong

Pastor Garrett told the story yesterday. A certain native American tribe lived right by a dangerous rushing river. During a conflict with another tribe, they became trapped at the river's edge, and the only way out was to cross. So, the strong ones took the weak ones (children, elderly, injured) on their shoulders and started to walk across.

And what happened? They discovered that the weight of the weak members of the tribe on their shoulders gave them more traction and they were able to cross the river safely.

The strong were saved by carrying the weak.

You know there are significant life applications to be made here.

However, the American Spirit may not tolerate hearing those applications. We are an independent, self-made people -- or so we want to believe. Americans traditionally have been all about pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and doing it all on our own.

Unfortunately, for many, this has turned into a contempt for those whose bootstraps can't support such rigorous pulling. A resentment of the idea that I'm expected to carry the weak on my shoulders.

Now, I want to clarify, because this is a criticism that American conservatives get a lot. The vast majority of us do NOT have contempt for the weaker of our society. The vast majority of us do NOT resent helping out those who need help. But we have recognized that this traditional American value has been eroded in recent generations, and many who are expecting to be carried have capable legs if they would use them. Not all, but many. And we also recognize that some of the weak will actually be made weaker through being carried -- that what they really need is someone holding their hand, walking beside them to encourage them and point out the safe path through the raging river. They need help strengthening their legs.

Nevertheless, I won't deny that there are some hard-nosed folks out there who are all about getting themselves across the river. Period. They're selfish. No denying it.

One of the reasons I see capitalism as the best choice for an economic system (although it has its faults and needs to be regulated) is because it is the only system, from what I see, that takes advantage of the natural sinful state of humanity. People are selfish by nature. Yes, we are BORN that way. Capitalism assumes that business owners will be selfish and look out for only their own best interest . . . but it also insures that in order to be successful, they have to meet the needs of their customers. If they don't, their customers can walk away and give their business to their competitors.

This carrying-the-weak business seems to operate on a similar principle. Meeting the needs of others can be in your own best interests.

Believe it or not, helping others helps you. Carrying someone else grounds you -- physically, emotionally, spiritually. Being intimately in touch with the "weakest" of our society puts us in touch with the humanity in ourselves, if we let it.

And we must let it. The strong are often saved by carrying the weak, and Lord knows, we all need salvation.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Lazy Mom

I have a confession to make. For the entire two years that my daughter went to Summit Christian Academy here in SA, the lunch I packed for her to take every school day was . . . a Lunchable.

Yep, those awful little packaged lunch things. I had mom friends at that school who were health food fanatics, so I can't imagine what their kids' lunches looked like. I never dared to ask. My shame would reach its zenith.

This contemptible habit of mine started because our first few weeks of her school, we were transitioning from an apartment to our house and my life was crazy and a Lunchable was mucho easy. But she liked them, and I never stopped. Every lunch.

I understand that this was lazy and irresponsible on my part. For one thing, Lunchables are expensive for what you get. And I'm generally a pretty thrifty person, so this was out of character for me.

I also realize that this was by no means a healthy lunch for her. Not only was she missing anything even resembling a fruit or vegetable, but it was processed foods all the way. I've come to believe that processed foods are doing great damage to the overall health of our nation. All the chemicals . . . all the carbs and starches and sugars . . . all the lack of any real nutritional value . . . I suspect it is a significant culprit not only in the obesity rate, but very likely in the increased incidences of ADHD, autism, allergies, learning disabilities, etc. etc.

And yet, I fed my kid a Lunchable three times a week.

Here's the reality: I like food. I don't necessarily mind cooking once in a while. But I HATE having to figure out what to prepare for twenty-one meals a week for my family. I would be tempted to find one of those ready-made menus with every meal set for your family for a month except that most of those are made for foodies -- they have "interesting" recipes with bizarre ingredients that my family won't eat and/or that I can't find in the grocery store. We don't really care that much if we eat the same dishes over and over -- we prefer that to "interesting" dishes that we don't like.

But even if we're eating simple foods that we all like, I don't always want to take the time to make it from scratch. Yes, I fill my freezer with frozen foods that my girls can heat up on their own for lunches or dinners when I'm not home (and that I heat up often, too). No, I did not teach them to cook healthy foods for themselves. I'm a lazy, irresponsible mom. I want easy meals.

When I come home tired after a long day, I want an easy meal.

When I've been working on the computer all morning and I'm forcing myself to get off for a little bit and eat, I want an easy meal.

When I'm brain dead and staring at the contents of my refrigerator and kitchen cabinets trying to figure out what sounds good to eat, I want an easy meal.

I wish I were one of those people who is energized and rejuvenated by some time in the kitchen chopping vegetables and all. However, I have noticed that most of my friends who find that kind of personal fulfillment in feeding others also struggle with their own weight issues. Their joy in food preparation leads to over-eating and does not lead them to the healthier choices. That would be me.

Sigh. I keep thinking that I've got to get a system in place that helps me get healthy food out there for me and my family to eat. I have no doubt that our mood and energy problems would improve dramatically. And I'm all about systems and routines. I need a system.

Or a personal chef. If anyone is volunteering, send me your résumé. Or don't even bother with that formality -- just show up with good food.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Slamming Doors with That Look

Our pastor told a story last week that I'm sure is common to most pastors. A friend of his describes how every time he makes a new acquaintance and they've spent some time talking, as soon as he has cause to mention that he is a pastor, the new acquaintance immediately apologizes for his language. (This particular pastor decided to head off such encounters and put people at ease by using some mild curse words in his own speech before the question of his occupation ever arises . . . not sure that's a good solution, but that's beside my point here . . . )

Interesting, he noted, how this is one of the defining characteristics of Christians to non-Christians: they don't cuss. Unfortunately, this shouldn't be one of the defining characteristics.

Our pastor brought this up in relation to the scripture we were examining in Matthew 23: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in men's faces."

Let's be blunt. Cussing has nothing to do with entering the kingdom of heaven. It really doesn't. Using the "H-word" doesn't make you ineligible for salvation. The fact that you don't use the "S-word" doesn't make you any more fit for heaven than the next guy. Not using the "D-word" doesn't mark someone as a believer, and using the "F-word" does not mark someone as a heretic or hypocrite. These are the facts.

Now, I'm not saying we should feel free to run around talking like the proverbial salty sailor. There are plenty of other reasons for tempering our language that I could expound on in another post on another day.

But this needs to be very clear: cussing has nothing to do with entering the kingdom of heaven.

Given that, those of us that were raised in environment where such behavior WAS treated as something that would strike you from the Book of Life need to pay close attention to how we react to this behavior in others, lest we end up "shutting the door of the kingdom of heaven in men's faces."

As the story of this pastor demonstrates, the unbelieving crowd seems to have gotten the impression that the kingdom of heaven is about our behavior -- and not only that, it is about petty details of our behavior like whether you say "hell" or "heck." And they got that impression from us, folks. Because we treat them like they are going to hell because they use the word inappropriately. They are not. They may be going to hell, but not because of that. And the problem is, they will NEVER understand why they are going to hell because they won't get past our immediate reaction to their language to ever explore the heart issues and relationship status that is the problem. And it's not just about cussing. It's about all the other external "sins" that are obvious and out there for the world to see and react to.

Sometimes, our outrage over a person's observable sin is self-righteous indulgence more than it is an expression of respect for God's holiness. We tell ourselves we react to someone's "F-word" because it is offensive to God . . . but no. We are really just reacting to something that makes us uncomfortable, that reminds us that the world does not behave or structure itself the way we want -- and of course, the way we want is right.

And our reaction is very likely to shut the door of heaven in men's faces. I'm sure first century Jews had their versions of the "F-word," and I'm sure Jesus heard it from people on occasion -- most certainly at those dinners he had with the tax collectors and sinners of the community, the dinners the Pharisees criticized him for even attending. But folks, I'm pretty certain that if he reacted to their "F-words" the way some of us do -- with the jolt, the shocked expression, the look of contempt -- the sinners he was eating with would never have invited him over, never have listened to him, never have heard truth, never had gotten "saved" at all.

And we might need to consider whether that's why our neighbors and loved ones are not getting "saved" either.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Not Really Anxious . . .

Uneasiness. Not really anxiety or fear . . . maybe stressed, but not on the extreme end. I just find myself with a general sense of uneasiness all of a sudden. Sometimes after I think of something I need to do, but sometimes it's just out of nowhere.

It's reminding me of my history with depression. Back when I was working on my master's in counseling, I read some studies that gave me insight into my own depression problems. You see, I would, sometimes out of nowhere, have this kind of blue feeling. (Our emotions, you know, are actually feelings, something we physically feel in our bodies.) I would feel down, my body would be dragging, my thinking would be slowed, and I would say to myself, "I'm depressed. Why am I depressed?"

Well, friends, if you start looking for reasons in your life to be depressed, you're bound to find one. I'm so unfulfilled in my work! My husband just doesn't understand me! You'll find something. So I would find something (or several somethings) and then obsess about that something until I had cranked that little blue feeling up into a full-blown depressive episode.

But I started to realize that those little blue feelings often had nothing to do with sadness really. There were all sorts of other reasons why my body would create those physical sensations that my brain interpreted as depression. As I've mentioned before, I'm a sugar/carb addict and have been for years; coming down off of a sugar high gives you that blue feeling. I've had sleep problems for most of my life, as many of you know; sleep deprivation most certainly slows your body down and gives you that blue feeling. I'm kind of right on the line between an introvert and an extravert, so too much time surrounded by people OR too much time isolated by myself can both lead to that blue feeling.

In other words, I had to train myself to think correctly about my body and my situation; just because my body feels this way doesn't mean I have a reason to be sad. I usually don't. And even when I do have a reason, that doesn't mean I have to be sad. I can choose to think differently.

I've been trying to apply this to my general uneasiness of late. Yes, I have a lot going on in my life. Yes, my workload has increased and I haven't yet been able to figure out how I'm going to manage that well for the long-term.

But I always do figure those things out. I have a good support system in my family, and nothing is out of control here. I have no reason to feel anxious. This is just my body being wonky.

Now, why my body is being wonky is a good question. My youngest has been having what looks to me like similar symptoms for a couple months. And my oldest has a long history of anxiety. I suppose there's possibly a chemical reason for this, too. (I've concluded that, for whatever reason, my depression setting is a bit lower than most; I start further down than the average Josie, so it's a shorter fall for me to get to the bottom of the pit. Maybe something similar is involved with the anxiety.)

So, this is the new frontier to explore in my family: what's causing this jitteriness inside? Because while I can manage this, my girls seem to struggle more than I, which breaks my heart. And we may as well do the Barney Fife thing and nip it -- nip it in the bud.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The One About Getting Fit

I hurt.

The girls and I joined Bella Women's Fitness a couple weeks ago, and now I hurt.

My husband tells me that's a good thing. I'm skeptical of that. A little bit of soreness, maybe. But to hurt every time I move, as I do this morning, is probably a bit out of line.

The Saturday morning Zumba class didn't do that. That was a healthy mix of dancing heartily to a variety of music and lifting some light weights. It got my heart rate up pretty good (although I'll admit, I didn't push myself too hard on my first class), but it didn't make me hurt.

The Monday afternoon Zumba class didn't do it either. I did have some sore muscles after this one. This particular instructor was really into the Latin body moves, swirling our torsos around in interesting contortions. I looked ridiculous doing it, but so did everyone else in the room other than the instructor. And I'll admit, it worked my "core" very effectively.

The Wednesday morning Zumba class wasn't the culprit either, although this one came closer. This Zumba instructor had a squat fetish that morning and we squat-squat-squatted our way through a bunch of songs for most of the hour. Heavens. The stairs made me wince a bit the next morning, but I was still moving.

No, it was James. James at the Monday afternoon circuit training class. Curse you, James.

I told him coming in that this was our first circuit training class here. Great! he said. You'll need a yoga mat. And some hand weights: one ten-pound and a couple smaller ones -- try five-pounds.

Ten-pound . . . five-pound . . . oh, how you lied to me, James.

I quickly realized these weights were too much for me when we were using them in two or three sets of twenty and twenty-five repetitions. Luckily, I noticed a couple other women in the room with smaller weights, so I felt no guilt when I used my five-pounder for the ten-pounder exercises -- and when I snuck over and picked up some one-pounders for the girl and me. Yes, one-pounders. Don't judge. We were there, and we kept up, and we finished the class, so we're a step ahead of many of you, yes?

And yesterday, I hurt. This morning, I hurt even more.

I hurt when I sit down. I hurt when I stand up. (Remember that using the toilet requires those moves.) I hurt when I ascend stairs or descend stairs. I hurt when I lift things. I hurt when I twist or bend my torso or arms in any direction. Thank God we didn't work out our finger muscles because I have computer work to do all day, and I'd be up the proverbial creek if my fingers hurt like my triceps do.

And it's Wednesday again, time for Wednesday morning Zumba with the squat queen. I'm hoping she has a different obsession today. Like stretching. Oh, stretching! Lord, bless me with an hour of stretching this morning.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Another One About Abortion

I re-posted an article by Matt Walsh on Facebook the other day, and I really gotta stop doing that. Even when I agree with some of his basic points, his tone and attitude offend me, and I always end up being associated with them. This one had to do with Planned Parenthood and abortion, and a friend took me to task on account of it. So, even though I thought I was done with this topic, I guess I have more I need to say.

My friend contended that pro-life advocates have fought against effective strategies to reduce unwanted pregnancies. Maybe so. Other friends have argued that pro-life advocates leave these mothers hanging when they've had the babies they didn't want aborted. True sometimes, but less often than they contend. My friend believes that pro-life tactics are at least 50% responsible for abortion rate in the U.S. today. I agree that pro-life advocates have often gone about this wrongly and irresponsibly, but the 50% figure I'm not so sure about.

My friend asked me to read the story of a couple struggling with the revelation of their unborn baby having a serious medical condition. And I truly sympathized with that; as I wrote earlier, there are certainly situations that would find me wishing that abortion was a viable alternative. I don't have answers (at least, legal answers, answers outside of my faith) for those really difficult situations: rape, the life of the mother being at risk, etc.

But those are a minority of the abortions performed, maybe 15%, according to even liberal sources. The other 85% are done for other reasons: "I don't feel mature enough to raise a child . . . I don't want to be a single mother . . . I'm not ready for a child, can't afford it . . . I'm done having babies . . ." 85%.

I want to talk about that 85%. That was the group I was talking about to begin with. Abortion is too big a topic to address as a whole: I want to talk about the aspect that we SHOULD be able to agree on. That 85%.

See, although I've always believed abortion was wrong, I haven't been very outspoken about it, and I've entirely backed off of the discussion of laws regarding abortion. And I had a reason: my opposition to abortion was solely based in my religious beliefs, and I understood that the country couldn't make laws based on any one group's religious beliefs.

But the situation has changed. You don't have to be religious anymore to recognize that abortion is the destruction of a living being. I have nonreligious friends, even atheist friends, who agree with me. There is just too much information out there now to realistically believe otherwise. Yet, I have friends who apparently do believe otherwise – intelligent, thoughtful, informed, compassionate friends. And I just couldn't understand this.

Until I read another article this week entitled, "I Don't Know If I'm Pro-Choice Anymore." The author explains that he's struggled with his pro-choice stance in recent years and that the Planned Parenthood videos have just about turned him around. He says from the beginning he understood the abortion debate as "a tug-of-war between competing rights—those of the mother versus those of an unborn baby" – and yes, that's exactly what it is.

Then he said this: "I sided with the mother. And I tried not to think about the baby."


That's it – that has to be it. That's the only explanation that makes sense to me. My pro-choice friends are compassionate people. They fight for the underprivileged, the oppressed, the helpless. They see women in desperate, heart-breaking situations, and they hurt for them. They "side with the mother" . . . and they try not to think about the baby.

May I remind you of citizens in the Nazi regime who enjoyed the resurgence of their nation, the growth of their economy, the stability of their communities, the new pride in their country . . . and tried not to think about the Jews.

And of early 19th century Americans who benefited from the cheap cotton products made possible by the beautiful, well-ordered plantations run by their Christian brothers and sisters in the south . . . and tried not to think about the Negros.

Folks, I contend that we don't have the luxury anymore of not thinking about the babies, because their plight is obvious, it is horrific, and it is in our faces. There is medical information and research – there are ultrasounds, pictures, videos – there are testimonies of mothers, medical practitioners, people involved in every aspect of the birth and/or abortion industries. It's one thing if you're a teenage girl with your head in the sand not thinking further than your next crush and your weekend's entertainment. But my friends are not teenage girls; they are intelligent, informed, thoughtful, compassionate adults. And to be such a person and not recognize the nature of a fetus in the womb and what is happening to it during an abortion . . . well, I'm sorry if I offend someone I love, but I can't escape this conclusion: that seems to require a willful choice to ignore this particular category of the innocent and helpless. To try hard to not think about the baby. I recognize that if you are enmeshed in the pro-choice movement, that choice may be made easy for you by the limited amount of information you are exposed to. Nevertheless, these are lives we're talking about. If that choice is not immoral, it is certainly irresponsible.

But the truth is, I want to believe that my friends are guilty of this irresponsibility; the alternative is worse. Are you telling me that you have come to grips with what an abortion truly is, and you still support it as a valid, legal choice? You have no problem with a woman ending the life of the child in her womb for one of the reasons of the 85% given above? "I'm done having children, so I'll end the life of this one." "I don't think I am ready to be a mother, so I'll end the life of this child." (Consider, as I wrote before, what those words would sound like if spoken just after the baby leaves the womb.) You have no problem with our country having laws in place that not only make this legal, but strive to make it as easy and painless as possible for mothers to make such a decision? Really, my friends? Because if that's you . . . well, please, don't tell me so. It may affect what I think about your character, and I just don't want to believe such things of my friends.

You do understand, I hope, that "siding with the baby" does NOT have to mean siding against the mother? Not with this 85%. One thing we have learned in the last forty years is that the choice to abort is not without dramatic consequence to the mother who makes it. There is a huge wake of psychological, emotional, and even physical damage as evidence. Despite what you think, pro-lifers are very concerned about the welfare of the mother; for many, it was the heartache of the mothers that convinced them this practice had to stop. There are solutions to these desperate situations that are in the best interest of both the mother and the child. Can't we all be on the side of both?

I'm not smart enough to offer any answers for the difficult 15%. But this 85% -- this should be a no-brainer. We should all be able to agree on this. It grieves my heart that we don't.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Breaking Baptist

I grew up in a Southern Baptist church (in fact, I tell people I was a Southern Baptist nine or ten months before I was born). My husband grew up in an American Baptist church (for my unchurched friends, yes, there is a difference). Over the course of our married life, we've attended an Evangelical Free church, a Methodist church, a Reformed church . . .

But we've always been Baptists at heart, and now we're officially Baptists again. Our family joined Woodland Baptist Church earlier in the summer. And a lot of this feels like coming home. Partly, that's because it's a very traditional church: hymnals, robed choir, Wednesday night dinner and prayer meeting . . . it feels a lot like the church I grew up in.

But we're also coming back to a few things that are Baptist in practice. Such as the monthly business meeting. Baptist congregations are run by the congregation. No bishops and denominational overseers who assign leadership and set rules. No elder boards making decisions on behalf of the congregation. Baptists vote. On everything.

I have "fond" memories of the monthly business meetings at my church. Robert's rules of order. Accepting the minutes from the last meeting. Approving the budget statement for the last month. Acknowledging the change of wording in this and that . . . I move we accept the minutes as revised . . . I second that motion . . . Boring stuff, except when punctuated by the occasional fun controversy. I remember once when a youth leader I respected stood up to protest the amount of money we were spending on lawn maintenance. "I mean, green grass is nice, but it don't save souls!" I thought he had a good point. His motion did not carry.

Another Baptist distinctive: committees. Baptists committee everything to death. Within three days of coming forward to join Woodland -- in fact, about forty minutes before we were officially voted in as members at the monthly business meeting -- we were already invited to be on a committee. In our Welcome to Woodland packet was a printout of the committees and their members: the finance committee, the building and grounds committee, the outreach committee, the personnel committee, the missions committee . . . there is even a Committee on Committees, and no, I am not exaggerating, people. (At my home church, that was called the nominating committee -- same dif.)

And then there was the list of Ministries, which are essentially sub-committees of the committees, in a lot of cases. The prayer ministry, the flower ministry, the kitchen ministry, the ushers and greeters ministry, the handyman ministry. There is no lack of places to plug in.

Yesterday, hubby and I had a meeting with the Young Families and Singles committee to finalize plans for a retreat happening in a couple weeks. (No jokes about that "young families" thing; we questioned whether we still qualified for that label as well, but it seems to be broadly applied.) And while I enjoyed spending time with these people, the meeting reminded me of what I learned as a young person in my home church: running things by committee, while very democratic and safe and fair, is also very inefficient.

I had offered to help two ladies plan a teaching session they are in charge of. They wanted to hang around after the meeting and talk about it in more detail. But here was the thing: I knew what they wanted to do, and being a teacher and a writer, I knew exactly how to set it up. I knew I could whip this out at home on my own in a fourth of the time it would take to talk it through with them -- and if I had something wrong, they could point it out and I could fix it. So, I told them that. They said, "Are you sure?" . . . and I know their concern was that they were dumping all the work on me when they were supposed to be sharing the load, as committees do.

But as I said, the effort to share the load this way in a committee is usually inefficient. God set up the church (and the world, to a degree) as a Body with many parts. Each part is gifted to do particular jobs. If we find the job we are supposed to do and do it, it all works out well. If we try to do jobs we aren't good at, or try to spread the load out in awkward ways, we may look like nice people but we don't work effectively.

The Baptist church is very American in how it runs things. And while I'm quite cognizant of the need to "share the load" (or rather share the power) on a national level to maintain our earthly political liberties, my Baptist heritage has also taught me the advantages of a benevolent, wise dictatorship. Which is good, because the Kingdom that my real citizenship is in is essentially that.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The One About Abortion

This is a long post, and it's a post I don't want to write. I have some friends that I'm pretty sure will tear me up – some politely and gently, some a bit more viciously. But being a believer means doing what God calls you do to even if it gets you torn up, so here I go. Folks, we need to talk about abortion.

I had a friend in high school who worked for many years at George Tiller's clinic. When we re-connected later on Facebook, we had a very civil discussion on the topic. Interestingly enough, she said she usually respected the people who peacefully protested at the clinic (key word, of course: peacefully); they had every right to try to persuade people to agree with their opinion of when life begins, she said.

Because we both agreed that the whole issue really hinges on the question of when, precisely, life begins. If life begins at conception, there is no doubt that abortion is wrong. On the other hand, if life doesn't begin until the fetus leaves the womb, abortion might be legally justified. And if life begins at some vague, arbitrary point in the gestation period . . . which is apparently what most Americans believe these days . . . well, that makes it all awfully fuzzy.

But deciding when a fetus is "alive" is the key to the whole argument. If you believe the fetus is alive, I'm not sure how you can give any justification for ending that life. All the reasons given to justify an abortion immediately cease to apply once the baby leaves the womb and everybody agrees that it is now "alive". Consider:

If the baby is born with some defect or medical condition that wasn't previously detected, nobody argues that it is now, after birth, okay to end that baby's life. If a new mother in a hospital suddenly decides that she isn't qualified or prepared to raise a baby, nobody would argue that it is okay to end that baby's life now, after birth. If a newborn could, in some way, put the life of its mother in danger, nobody would argue that it is okay to just kill the baby to spare the mother, once it's already born. If some terrible tragedy happened in the course of the delivery and that baby will now be a daily reminder to the mother of this trauma in her life, nobody would argue that it is okay to end that baby's life, after its birth, to spare the mother her emotional struggle.  Nobody argues that, because a newborn baby cannot survive independently without the nurturing of another that it is "unviable", and it is okay to allow it to die.

These arguments only apply to fetuses, to babies still in the womb, and they only apply if 1) the fetus is not really "alive" and 2) it is just a part of the mother's body that she can choose what to do with. (And you must believe both, by the way: none of this nonsense about the baby being alive but the mother still has a legal right to choose what to do with it. That's obscene rationalization. Yeah, I'll get crucified for that statement, but that's the truth, people. If you believe that baby is alive, but you think the mother should have a legal right to end its life because "it's her choice" . . . well, I don't know what to do with you.)

Here's the heart of what I want to say: whatever your religious stance, it is hard for me to understand -- based on what we know today, forty-some years after Roe v. Wade -- how you can come to these two beliefs (especially after the 1st trimester or so) unless you just want them to be true.

I'm not going to rag on Planned Parenthood and what they may or may not be doing that is illegal or immoral. But I do want to focus on something that came out in all those videos. Fetuses that they abort have organs. Intact (before they are mangled by the aborting process), visibly identifiable human organs. Even sexual organs ("It's another boy!" one of the technicians said).

These fetuses have DNA that is distinctly different from their mothers'. I don't know the legal or scientific definitions that apply to all this, but personally, I don't need the law or science to tell me that different DNA is a clear indication of a different human being, not simply a part of a human being growing inside itself.

These fetuses have beating hearts. I heard Chris Christie say the other day that he changed his position on abortion when he heard the heart of his child beating at his wife's OB appointment soon after the first trimester. This is a common story; there are many, many people out there whose feelings about the fetus changed when they heard that early heartbeat or saw that early ultrasound. This is why pro-life clinics try to give pregnant women ultrasounds as early as possible.

(And I don't understand why pro-choice people are so angry about this practice. If they are really about women having a choice, why are they opposed to women having all the available information before making that choice? My friend told me that at Tiller's clinic, they went way out of their way to be sure these women really wanted an abortion – they had no interest in performing procedures that the mother may regret someday. If this is the case with abortion providers, why would they fight the ultrasounds?

Pro-choice people vehemently protest that they are NOT pro-abortion; it's not that they want babies aborted – they just want women to have the choice. If that's true, why would they be pushing the medical route that is most likely to result in an abortion? If they are NOT "pro-abortion," why do they seem to be actively trying to prevent a pregnant woman from having any possible reason to change their mind about the procedure, from making any emotional connection with the fetus?  Why would they pointedly discourage a practice that helps pregnant women recognize and embrace the role of "mother"?  Why would they not rejoice at this? Aren't loving connections between mother and child a positive thing for society overall? Really, I don't understand this.)

Again, I'm afraid to bring this up, because I don't have the knowledge, energy, or time to make the pro-life case to friends who will get riled by my post. And I'm quite sure anyone who wants to can nickpick a million holes in everything I've said here – in everything every pro-life advocate would say. And I'm certainly not denying that there are pregnancy situations where I might wish abortion was okay (my friend described 9-year-old girls who were brought in for abortions after being raped – dear God – no, I would have no idea how to counsel someone in that situation, and that's the truth).

But those extreme situations are extremely rare . . . and arguing the individual points here can shield us from seeing the obvious big picture of what abortion is and how it is happening in our country. Don't focus on defending the trees and miss the layout of the forest – back up and look at this forest we've created. I want to urge my pro-choice friends to really consider what brought you to this position. Listen to your heart. Your gut. To justify abortion, you must believe that there is no life in that fetus. Can you honestly look at those videos, listen to those heartbeats, view those ultrasounds, and believe this is not a life?

If you can, I guess our conversation is done. If you realize that you can't, then God has answered some prayers today.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Group Markers

My pre-teen years were pretty icky. I felt ugly and awkward, and my school experiences confirmed that: I was a social outcast. I took to faking stomachaches so I could go home when it got to be more than I wanted to deal with.

(This was my first real acting experience. I instinctually knew that to pull that off, I had to be totally committed to the role -- facial expression, physical stance, weak voice . . . I had to be willing to turn down good food offered me, because sick people don't feel like eating . . . I had to be willing to miss activities I wanted to go to, because sick people don't feel like having fun . . . and I played my role well. Apparently, my parents were worried enough about all my stomachaches to take me to the doctor, concerned that I might be under too much pressure or something. Kinda feel bad about that now.)

In any case, this morning for some reason, I was remembering the jeans that suddenly became popular in my late elementary years. They had colorful embroidered designs on the back pockets -- hearts, rainbows, stars, that kind of thing (these were girls' jeans, obviously). The popular girls all had these jeans, and I so wanted them. My mom eventually made a deal with me where she would pay what a regular pair of jeans would cost and I had to make up the difference for these fancy jeans, which I did. Unfortunately, the fancy jeans didn't get me out of the outcast corner.

Those symbolic jeans are interesting to me now. The uniform of the in crowd. Like the colors that gang members flash. Like the jerseys a basketball team wears. We put things on our outsides to identify us with a group. And we all want to be identified with a group.

Now some of these groups are logical. It makes perfectly good sense why, say, all the mothers of young children in a congregation would group up. Or all the recent immigrants from Korea in a certain town. Or all the people interested in knitting or running marathons.

Popular groups at school seem to be a different phenomenon. Sometimes wealth brings them together, or athletic ability, but not always. It's always a mystery to me how the popular kids gets "popular", especially when many of them are not very nice or very well-liked by the rest of the school community. And even more a mystery why everyone else accedes this status to them. I'm sure there are psychological studies about this stuff; I'd love to read them.

I wondered this morning, as I remembered the rainbow-embroidered jeans, whether this cliquish behavior is part of our image-of-God DNA (God is a three-person entity, after all, always existing in community), or if it is a mark of our sinfulness. I suspect it is both, a sinful warping of how God made us. When you look at scripture, God is quite intentional about giving His people instructions for setting themselves apart from the rest of the world, through ritual, behavior, and appearances.

However, they are not to physically isolate themselves from the world. Even the ancient Israelites were to welcome the gentile stranger hospitably and offer them a clear path to join their ranks once they taste and see that the Lord is good. New Testament Christians are instructed to be salt and light to their communities, to be in the world but not of the world.

So, God made us to group up, to identify with a certain people, but not necessarily for protection or for comfort or for our own selfish purposes. We are, first and foremost, made to identify with Him -- and those who identify with Him will necessarily identify with each other (like the spokes on a wheel that are all lined up evenly once they are in right relationship to the center) -- and His people will then minister to the world and draw more folks into a relationship with Him.

It's a good system, when we don't muck it up with frivolous markers like expensive Sunday suits, tattoos (or a lack of), and rainbow-pocketed jeans.