Saturday, March 29, 2008

My God is Your God--So Be Good!

My wife and I uncovered a marriage devotional that we first read together a couple of years ago, Devotions for a Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. Two of the weekly devotions go together. The first is God's Son, Gods Daughter, and the second is The Gift of Fear. The two devotions work together with the message, remember that the person you married belongs to God. You married God's Son or God's Daughter--so treat that person accordingly. In other words--guys, if you were afraid of her father, wait until you meet her Heavenly Father. Therefore treat her well.

Regardless of what we might think of the masculine image or fearful image of God here, Gary has a point. So often I think of a personal relationship with God as being between myself and God, that I have to remember that my wife also has a personal relationship with God that she sees primarily as between herself and God. The funny thing is-same God! Therefore how I treat her affects her and so also her relationship with God, then presumably also God and finally my relationship with God. Does remembering that others in our church, at the supermarket, on the road all belong to God--the same God that I sing hymns and pray to--affect the way I treat them? I don't know that I have thought about it much, but perhaps I should.

We always pray the "Our Father," but to be honest, I think I am most tempted to think, even while praying it in the congregation, "My Father." But maybe Jesus taught us to pray in the first person plural for a reason.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Birth Control--"THE METHOD"

My wife and I married at the end of our second year in seminary. Neither of us had a job, neither of us had money--we were not ready for children. As we sought various options, we were told there was really only one good option with a near perfect success rate--"THE PILL." So shortly before our wedding, Kristin began taking, "THE PILL." Once we were married, she would often comment, "I hate this. I feel like I am taking my death pill each morning." It wasn't that she believed it was killing anything living, but that it was altering her body such that it ceased to have the potential to bring forth life. After a couple of years, she reached a breaking point (and we were a little more financially secure). So we went off "The Pill" and turned to the only other option we knew (and could live with)--the ole rhythm method; which I have recently heard referred to as rhythm and blues. Three months latter, our daughter was on the way. She is a great gift from God, but not one we planned on. And perhaps that is the best kind of gift. But after our daughter was born, we went back to the doctors and said we really aren't ready for two. Are there any other options? The answer--sure, we can give you a hormone shot; oh and you won't have a period but four times a year, isn't that great!

This really bothered us. It seems God made the female body to function in a particular way, and we were medicating it as if her fertility were a disease. We soon learned of the Creighton Model. Instead of medicating to change cycles and inhibit fertility, the Creighton Model teaches couples to understand the signals that the body is made to send during cycles. We chart daily mucus activity (I'll spare details) and are able to know exactly which days are fertile and which days are not. The system has a 99.5% method effectiveness (how effective the model is when used properly), and has a 96.8% use effectiveness (how effective people are at using the method properly). This rivals that of "The Pill" and as soon as you wish to have a child, the same method that prevented unwanted pregnancy turns into a fertility aid.

In addition, the few doctors who are familiar with the method have found that charting the body's activity can help diagnose certain diseases, including ovarian cancer, long before current traditional methods of detection.

The problem is, why would no medical professional tell my wife and I of this model when we asked for a full list of possibilities? It is assumed to be a strange Catholic practice, not unlike the rhythm method. But it is very different. It is much more researched, there is an enormous amount documentation; and yet we continue to be told that medication is the only way to deal with the problem of the female body.

Finally, and sorry for the long post, it seems that this should instigate again the debate about birth control. Here is a natural method that respects the female body, avoids implicitly labeling fertility as a disease, and allows couples to have some control over when to have how many children, while giving women tools to notice something out of the ordinary long before traditional medicine would have noticed. Is it too late for such a method to even be considered? Why has this model been kept secret. It seems that objective doctors, who are indeed "practicing medicine" should at least be familiar enough with the model to let an inquiring patient how to find more information.

Friday, March 21, 2008

God is Dead

Every Good Friday we are reminded of the humanity of Jesus. Look at how human Jesus was as he prayed, Not my will, but thine--again when he declared, "My God, My God, Why...." There is perhaps no more of a human moment than when he utters, "I thirst." And yet it seems odd to me that we can separate the humanity of Christ from the divinity; as if in Jesus' most human moments he ceased to be God. It seems to me that the humanity and divinity are so interwoven, that even in the most human moments Jesus is God and vice-versa.

On this Good Friday night, I am reminded again, that in so much as Jesus is God, God is dead..

Earlier this week, a boy at a local middle school committed suicide. Parents and youth at my church are trying to make sense of such a tragedy. Another pastor and I had an opportunity to talk with our confirmation class--some of whom were very closely affected by the death. At one point the other pastor asked a rhetorical question of the group. "Knowing what you now know, imagine that you had an opportunity to talk with the boy. What would you have said to him?"

As I have thought about that question myself this week, I am pondering what it means that God has died for us.

A number of people have expressed disbelief that the life of a seventh grader could be so bad to warrant suicide. I am troubled by this reasoning on two levels. On the one hand it seems dismissive of the things that stress teenagers--as if those stresses are somehow less real because they affect young people. On the other hand, it seems to assume that it is unreasonable that a 7th grader would commit suicide and assumes that if he were much older, suicide seems a more appropriate consideration.

Another comment I have often heard is, "There is nothing so terrible that could possibly make suicide your best option." This is undoubtedly true, and a good bit of simple advice to young people. But obviously anyone who has committed suicide thought that they had only one option--and not having stood in their shoes, I wouldn't want to deny their feelings especially since it is impossible to hear them out at this point.

So what would I say?

Lets assume for just a minute that it really is that bad. Maybe the depths of despair can become so great that death is the only thing deep enough to match the pain. In fact, I find it likely that such despair exists for many of us. The good news is that the death has been died for us. God is dead. God has died. And God has invited us to cast our cares, our deepest hurts, our embarrassments on Christ--who has already died that we don't have to.

Maybe those who are contemplating suicide really are in need of death--not the kind of death that you inflict on yourself. Rather, maybe there is a need to die to that which has caused the kind of anxiety that has led the suicidal person to believe death is the only possibility.

We are invited to participate in God's death so there is no need to take our own lives. Rather we can give our lives over to the one who has died; the one who can transform death into everlasting life; the one who takes our anxiety and despair and gives us freedom and hope.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Book Quiz

Greg at Agent Orange is Watership Down--A book I like very much.  I, apparently, am Babar the King--I am not sure what I think about that.

You're Babar the King!

by Jean de Brunhoff

Though your life has been filled with struggle and sadness of late,
you're personally doing quite well for yourself. All this success brings responsibility,
though, and should not be taken lightly. Life has turned from war to peace, from damage
to reconstruction, and this brings a bright new hope for everyone you know. These hopeful
people look to you for guidance, and your best advice to them is to watch out for snakes.
You're quite fond of the name "Celeste".

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Casting Lots

There are any number of mundane decisions that we leave to the toss of a coin.  Who gets the ball first in a football game--you toss a coin.  When my wife and I are deciding what to eat, we might flip a coin to decide between Mexican and Italian.  But I also find myself drawn to flip coins when making important decisions.  When I was deciding where to go to seminary, I had narrowed the decision to two, and began flipping coins to decide where I should go.  For one thing, I found important information.  I will often think I don't really care, but find myself pulling for one result over the other--that is good to know.  But it seems there is at least some biblical precedent for casting lots as part of the process for discerning God's will.  This is, for instance, how the 11 faithful disciples decided between the two candidates to replace Judas. 

Have you ever cast lots/flip coins to make important decisions?  If so, do you readily accept the results, or do you perform the task multiple times?  Is there a difference between testing God and seeking God's will through tests?

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Joy of Being Found

For the past several weeks, my daughter has developed an interest in hide and go seek.  She hasn't figured out the seek part of the game and so she always hides.  This has the potential to be a scary game if one day we find ourselves unable to find her.  But for now, that isn't a concern.  She has a favorite spot.  In fact, she really has only one.  It is behind the curtains on the right side of the living room couch.  She will go hide, then my wife and I walk around the house looking for her--is she behind the couch?  No... Is she behind the TV?  No...  Is she under the blanket (but this time we get a little help--she says no right along with us) Hmm... I think I heard her.  We pull back the curtains, there she is; giggling non-stop.  Then she pulls the curtains back around her; again! again!  Is she behind the couch?...

It never gets old (for her).  It does seem odd that she hasn't figured out the part of the game where she tries to fool us by hiding somewhere else.  But of course she has the basics down.  In fact as much as the youth I work with love Sardines (a jazzed up version of hide and go seek) several kids are too good at hiding and end up never being found, the group gives up and the poor hider is left alone thinking that everyone is looking.  The point of hide and go seek, in the end, is for the seeker to win.  It is never much fun if the person hiding is never found.

I don't really get into all the cliche have you found Jesus/no, no, the question is has jesus found you...  All I know is all the fun is in the finding/being found; an not in the actual hiding or seeking.

Monday, March 10, 2008

March Madness

I have to admit that I have long been a basketball fan.  What can I say--born and raised in Indiana.  I remember the year my small high school made it to regionals in the state tournament.  The motorcade must have been a half mile long, including several busses full of people.  We were escorted by what seemed to be the entire Whiteland, IN police department (although that really isn't saying much).  That love of tournament basketball, of course, has continued in the form of the NCAA tournament every March.  I haven't watched a game all year, and yet it is about time to get caught up.  The truth is, the tournament has always carried me through the waining days of winter.  March comes, I am ready for warm weather, and yet it seems that often winter lingers.  But the tournament carries me through.  By the time a champion is crowned, it is early April and there are a number of warmer days to balance any cold days.

However, this year I don't know who will be in the tournament, and I have no opinions as to who should be in the tournament.  This is a fairly rare occurrence.  And it is all due, it seems, to another kind of March Madness--an early Easter.  Lent has marched along beginning nearly a month after Christmas and taken us right to the middle of march.  Unbelievably, Palm Sunday is next week--This year Easter will escort me to the spring weather.  It is appropriate that the resurrection of Christ, not basketball, is my marker of hope at the end of this dark and hopeless season that is winter.

What is this madness that we celebrate this march?  A man exalted before an exuberant crowd only to be killed by an equally exuberant mob?  The appearance of the resurrected Christ, to which the disciples respond by going back to what they did before Jesus came along--fishing.  It is a crazy season, and I can't say I really understand it--and yet it does bring hope of new life--not just the appearance of green on brown branches, but truly new and abundant life!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Is Jesus Ever Disturbed By Our Prayers?

I am preparing a lesson for our middle school class this week on John 11. The emphasis I am used to hearing on this chapter is how Jesus loved Lazarus and weeped for him. But I also remember James Efird teaching my Greek class that the word translated "Jesus was deeply moved" is more along the lines of "Jesus was indignant." In this light, he suggested that Jesus did not weep out of love, but out of the frustration with how slow his followers were to understand that when he said he was the resurrection and the life--that he really was. Mary, Martha, and the disciples are dumbfounded as to why Jesus did not come immediately to heal Lazarus. Perhaps rather than being moved to tears in grief, Jesus was moved to tears in frustration. "Jesus was greatly disturbed."

This concept of allowing the loving Jesus to also be a Jesus who becomes frustrated with his people makes me wonder if Jesus is ever frustrated with me. Do my prayers reveal a lack of understanding about the identity of the God I serve?