Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Medicine" vs. God

Ok, look.  I am not one of those people that thinks "trusting medicine" is somehow "unfaithful" or "not trusting God."  It's quite clear to me that medical skill, knowledge, and wisdom is one of the gifts God has given this world to treat and cure illness, alleviate suffering, and extend life.


This bothers me: "If you're on the birth control pill, there's no medical need to have a period every month." 

First of all, the birth control pill acts to suppress a natural function, ovulation.  It does not treat a disorder. (although it may alleviate the symptoms of one)

I am turning into one of those naturalist "crunchy cons", to be sure, but if having a period is not inextricably linked to ovulating (which it's clearly not, because someone on birth control has a period but does not ovulate), then perhaps, there is, in fact, a reason to have one. 

Scientists may not know what that reason is, but it doesn't mean that there isn't one.  In biology class, we always learn about form and function being linked - that if something is shaped a certain way or does a certain thing, it's for a reason.  Which is basically an acceptable-to-the-public-schools way of saying, "maybe God does know what He's doing, after all." 

I for one, find it odd that anyone would actively force artificial hormones and other chemicals into their body, in a manner that suppresses not one, but two, natural bodily functions, for the purpose of having sex without the responsibility of a child. 

It just seems like a strange calculation, to value "free love" over one's health. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Road Trip + 5K

Although the road trip brought back lots of memories, and made me realize a lot of things about myself, it also encouraged me to, how do I put this?, move forward.  I realized that while I'd been nurturing my dreams, I'd been doing so rather passively, and kind of living in the past.  Not totally, but living in a past rendition of those dreams.  Enough of the "variables" in those dreams are changing now, that in some ways, the dreams have to change and grow and develop.  Not that they are "wrong" at their core, but just that...well, I'm not the same person I was when I graduated from college. 

In line with my New Year's Resolution to "do things", I'm taking more responsibility for making those dreams come true, instead of just expecting them to happen to me.  I'm working on becoming "me", and learning to feel good about that.  Not in a self-centered, the-world-revolves-around-me, don't-feel-any-responsibility-for-my-fellow-man kind of way.  Just in a healthy, self-confident, God made me and delights in me and so I should delight in me, kind of way.

This is going to sound really strange, but I have this tshirt that I've had since college.  I've worn it to bed (only) in kind of an on-again, off-again sort of way.  Different periods of my life since college, you know.  It's a comforting shirt, because it's nostalgic.  But it carries with it a lot of emotional and political baggage, and even a little heartbreak.  I've kept it in circulation out of a sense of...missing the past, dreaming that I could undo or redo certain parts of my life, a kind of safety in knowing who I am and what my life is.  But somewhere along the way, I changed.  Not entirely - my heart and my dreams and my desires are still the same.  But I've moved on into new things, a new person, a new life.  And so the tshirt is going in the box every girl has of tshirts and greeting cards and pictures that will always make me smile, but that aren't a part of my life anymore. 

In its place is going the tshirt I got from doing the 5K.  It's a very tangible way of reminding myself that I'm moving forward and reaching for new dreams, that I'm going to be confident in myself and who I am and what I can do.  It's a little sad, but it's good.  It's all good.

Some "Me Time"

I haven't written yet about the crazy road trip I took last week.  (Two weeks ago, now?)  Anyway, "Big Church" that's providing my internship supervision was taking a bunch of staff to a "big church get-together" at Gigantor Church, my home congregation.  They asked if I wanted to go.  Um, yes. 

Problem, though.  They wanted to drive down all day on Monday, do the "get-together" all day Tuesday, and then drive back Tuesday night.  Um, no.  First of all, I'd be super crabby by the time we got back, because that is way too much time in the car, and so not enough time with Gigantor Church or people who live in Gigantor Church Town.  Second, I've been looking for a chance to get back to College Town, which is an easy drive from Gigantor Church Town. 

So instead of driving down with the Big Church staff on Monday, I left Sunday right after church and headed for College Town.  I had dinner with an old college professor and his wife, spent the night with my college roomie, and then coffee in the morning with another former professor.  Then I headed over to campus and spent some time wandering around there, and ended up having lunch my major-department secretary.  Then I hit the road to Gigantor Church Town, got my oil changed at the best place ever, met Big Church staff at the hotel, and then we all had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. Phenomenal.

Tuesday was the "get-together" with staff from about 10 other "big churches."  There were tours of the building, a worship service, lunch, and some hangout-with-your-interest-group time.  By mid-afternoon, we were ready to head out.  I met my BFF for a quick dinner, and then hit the road for Seminary Town.  Spent the night with friends on the floor of a dorm room, visited one of my parishioners in the hospital (total God thing that one of my people from my intern congregation would be having surgery at this out-of-town hospital right when I was going to be there), grabbed a very fast lunch with my CPE group, swung by discipleship group, met with my advisor to work on my class schedule, and then hit the road back to Small Town for the Church School Easter Pageant.

Wow.  Okay.  So, takeaways from this crazy four days:
  • There is a very large part of my heart that is in College Town.  An extremely large part.  Simply put, it is home for me.  When I came around the curve of the interstate and saw the first big green sign that said College Town, with the down arrow for the right lane, I breathed a sigh of relief just to be there. 
  • My college professors are awesome, and they know me so well.  I had really been stressing about a lot of things, and they were able, separately, but sort of together, to pull it all out of me and help me get my head on straight. 
  • Rural ministry is not for me.  And it is okay to say that. 
  • "Pick up your cross and follow me," "deny yourself," and "sacrifice" does not mean "Make yourself miserable for Jesus."  "A new creation" does not mean "continue to reject/not use the gifts God has given you because you think that they/you are 'not good enough,' and cram yourself into a lifestyle/career that is really not what you're suited/called to, because you're convinced that God 'wants to make you into a new creation.'"  Taking on a career and a life and a calling that you are passionate and joyful about is not selfish, elitist, or arrogant.  The "different members" of the body of Christ is for real.  If you're an arm, be an awesome arm, and don't worry about whether you're supposed to be a liver, or whether God would love you more if you were a spleen.  Just be a fabulous arm. 
  • God loves me.  When Awesome Senior Pastor of Gigantor Church preached at worship on Tuesday, he said lots of great things, I'm sure, but what I heard, that I remembered, was "I know we're all church people and we're used to judging other people's sermons instead of listening to them, but for today, please just hear that God loves you."  I had not heard this in a very, very long time.  It was very nice to hear.
  • I think I am a strange introvert.  I need the quiet time to "recharge", but too much quiet time and I turn into a crazy person.  I need people around me.  I need friends and relatives and engaging conversation and intellectual stimulation. 
  • I'm definitely looking forward to being back on campus - I just wish that so many of my friends weren't in the class below me and thus, going to be gone on internship when I get back.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

New Year's Resolution - May Edition: My Achin' Patootika

That's something my mom used to say, and it's totally appropriate here.

I walked my first 5K last night.  The closest "big city" was hosting their annual marathon today, and there was a "day-before" 5K and 10K.  I don't know why I felt the need to do this - I just did. 

So I registered for it a few weeks ago, turned in my $35 check, and started training for it.  Well, sort of.  I'd been walking a mile or so a couple days a week, but I decided if I was going to walk 3.whatever, that I'd need to get on the stick.  I basically had three and a half weeks to get ready, so my plan was to walk a mile a day for the first half-week, 1.5 every day for the next week, 2 miles/day for the second full week, and then 3 for the final week.  Of course, that was my plan, which doesn't mean it actually happened.  I did decently until the last week, when I basically did nothing at all. 

By Friday morning, I briefly considered not going, since I hadn't worked out all week, it was raining and icky, and just, you know, I don't do these sorts of things.  But remembering that I had paid $35 and wanting to feel good about myself, I went.  I got on the road a little later than I planned, but I thought I would have plenty of time.  Apparently I was wrong.  The "race" was to begin and end at the arena where the local university plays basketball, and traffic was terrible.  The parking lot was full (for the 5K??), so I parked in a hotel parking lot about 2 blocks away, and was sprinting to make the deadline to pick up my "packet."  (Dude.  It's a 3 mile walk.  How much of a 'packet' do I need?)

Regardless...I get inside the arena, and immediately spot two volunteers.  I ask one where I go to check in, and they direct me to "section 24/25, and then go down to the floor."  Sounds good.  So I get down to the floor, and it's a madhouse.  Apparently there was more than just "check-in" going on at the arena.  There were all kinds of exhibitors - everybody from adidas to Topricin.  A local gymnastics group performing at one end.  Scheels selling bottles of water.  Nowhere do I see what looks like the registration table. 

So I grab one of the adidas guys and ask if he knows where I go to register.  He thinks it's against the back wall.  I head that direction, even though I don't really notice anything different, and eventually I come to an "information booth" of sorts.  By this time, I'm panicking, thinking they truly might not let me pick up my packet if I was late.  The info booth sends me "over there, to the 5K line."  I can barely see, because apparently the people designing the banners to mark all these lines did not consider the background they would be hanging against.  The color blended right into the arena seats, making them virtually unreadable.  Anyway...I get over the 5K line, step up to the front, and tell the lady volunteering there that I need to pick up my packet.  She wants to know my number.  Huh?  My number?  I don't have a number.  I registered online, but I don't have a number.  She points me in the direction of the number pick-up line, marked by an equally unreadable sign.  In that line, it takes the lady three tries to find my registration.  A little receipt printer thing prints out a little slip of paper with my "number."  Now I can go to the 5K line to pick up my packet, which consists of my "bib" (Seriously?  Am I a toddler at the dinner table?), the timing chip for my shoe, a tshirt, and a semi-permanent bag to put it all in.

By the time I'm done there, I'm starting to think that the hotel is going to run my plates and figure out that I shouldn't be parked there.  I find someone with a watch (because I have neither my watch nor my phone with me) and determine that I have 20 mins until I have to be at the starting line.  So I head back to the hotel, take off one layer (it's raining, but warm, so I decide I'm going to walk in a tank top and a jacket), and load up my pockets with cell phone, ipod, keys, and ID.  The bare essentials.  I attach the timing chip to my shoelace, and pin the "bib" to my jacket, and then proceed to drive about a block closer to the arena. 

Still close to a block away, I head for the arena, find that the starting line is literally on the other side of the arena.  This is close to another block, and when I finally get outside, it's another until the actual starting line.  At this point, I'm tired and crabby and I appear to be the only person doing this by myself.  Everyone around me is in groups of friends and families, couples and kids.  I'm standing there alone, in the rain, texting my friends for moral support.  Awesome.  Eventually I met another woman (Tina?) and we bonded because she was looking for her husband but didn't have her phone, so I let her use my mine.  We were chatting until she realized that there was a separate lineup for runners, and since she was running, she left to go there. 

Finally - deo gratias - the "race" starts.  I'm not racing anybody at this point, I'm just trying to not be last.  From there on out, it was fairly standard.  I had my ipod, and listened to last Sunday's sermon at Gigantor Church, and then a Freakonomics podcast on Warren Buffett's kid and the succession of family-owned businesses.  I knew how long the podcasts were, and the route was marked, but I was surprised when I crossed the finish line in less than an hour.  Not a great time, by any stretch of the imagination, but I was super-proud, since my "2-mile practice sessions" had taken me about an hour.  I was certain it would take me more like an hour and a half. 

Beyond the finish line are a bunch of volunteers handing out water bottles and little "medals" with the race logo on them.  I grab two bottles of water and a medal, and keep walking, fearful that if I sit down I will not get back up.  I make it back to the car, get all my stuff organized and back in my purse, crank up the AC, and head out of town.  On my way out, I stop to buy gas and reward myself with Little Caesar's cheese bread.  At the gas station, I run into a guy from Omaha, who is in town for the marathon.  I went to college in Omaha, he went to college about an 45 mins from where I live now.  Cool fact of the day. 

Interesting things from my first (yikes - does that mean there are more to come?) 5K:
  • It's a 5K race, but they marked the route by miles.
  • There was a lady from Canada with a Canadian umbrella.  She passed me as we neared the finish line, still holding her umbrella over her.  It stopped raining about 2 blocks into the race.
  • As you cross the finish line and your chip registers, they call your name.  I thought this was weird, and sort of uncomfortable.
  • The volunteers handing out the registration packets should know where the starting line is.
  • One of the local group homes for the developmentally disabled had some of their staff or volunteers walking with some of the residents.  I thought that was extremely cool.
  • Two ladies walking in front of me had shirts that said, "If you can read this, I'm not last."  Haha, awesome, I want one!
  • Muscles I did not know I had are now all but immobile.  I have spent virtually the entire day laying on the floor with my Magic Rice Baby, ice packs, and topricin.  My dad swears it will be better by tomorrow.  I hope so.
  • All kinds of people enter these things.  There were fat old ladies in stretchy mom jeans, and professional atheletes in spandex and all kinds of "running accessories." 
  • I don't really understand "running accessories."  I'm not sure what you really need besides a good pair of shoes and a tshirt and shorts.  It's basically the cheapest sport there is.
I'm going to go to bed now, because I have to work tomorrow, and my ass hurts.  But, Go me!

The Rapture

So, wow.

I just saw a "man on the street" interview that asked the question, "How would you spend your last hours on earth?" 

Three people were interviewed and their answers were: "drive across the country", "spend all my money", and "have fun".

Not pray, or worship, or spend time with loved ones. 

Now, maybe it's because they're young and invincible.  Maybe it's because they didn't take the question seriously - urgency tends to focus the mind, after all.  But it says something about them, and about us, as a culture. 

Martin Luther once said, "Even if I knew for certain the world would end tomorrow, I would plant an apple tree today." 

The way I see it, if you expect the end of the world - for you personally, or for the world in general - to be imminent, you have four options. 
  1. Get on with your vocation - whatever you've been called to in this life - work, marriage, parenthood, prayer, whatever.  Do what you're supposed to be doing. 
  2. Engage the "relationships."  Spend time with family and friends.  Cherish the opportunities to love and be loved that you've been given in this life. 
  3. Pray.  Like crazy.  Worship.  Join yourself to God, and let Him join Himself to you.  Take communion. Prepare your heart for the love that you will encounter in the next life. 
  4. Party on.  Spend money, get drunk, live life to the fullest.   
Maybe most people really would choose number 4.  The problem, of course, is that it's not really living life to the fullest.  We think it is.  We've convinced ourselves that libertinism is liberty, that license is freedom.  That what feels good right now, today, in this precise moment is the only thing worth doing.  Numbers 1-3 are "living life to the fullest."  Although we feel the tug of responsibility that comes with them, we also feel the lightness of joy, that "down in my heart" kind of joy that comes when you're doing what God's put you here to do. 

For the record, I don't believe in The Rapture.  It is an unBiblical 19th century innovation.  Up until the 1850s, literally no one even jokingly suggested that this "suck up the True Believers into the sky, leaving clothing; jewelry; confused, unbelieving neighbors; and dangerous unpiloted vehicles behind" in any way approximated how "the end of the world" is going to go down.  I don't know what it's going to look like, but I'm pretty sure it won't be this.  I think there will be trumpets, though.

The other thing about dear old Harold Camping, who I think is going to be stunningly disappointed today, is that I don't know how he gets around
"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Matthew 24:36)
There are very few things in the Bible that are eminently clear, that are not subject to varying and equally valid interpretations and applications.  This strikes me as one of the few statements that can be taken entirely at face value.  We should probably do that, instead of spending all our time getting amped up about "when it's gonna be." 

But that's just me....

Friday, May 20, 2011

Romance Novels vs. P---

Can't wait for the search engines to pick this one up...

Anyhow...over at Russell Moore's site, which I know nothing about except that it appears to be somehow connected to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and was linked to by First Thoughts, there is a discussion taking place about the relative impact or effect of porn for guys vs. romance novels (particularly of a Christian flavor) for the ladies.

Moore is attempting to argue that porn, which idealizes women, should be in the same category as (Christian or otherwise) "chick-lit" or "chick-flicks", which idealize men and/or marriage.  In some sense, I get his point, and I've heard people refer to romance novels as "porn for women."  As an on-again, off-again consumer of romance novels (Christian and secular, but always cheap from a garage sale or something!), I somewhat agree.  But I don't think that I can manage to be as concerned about them as a whole as I am about porn, and I wonder if Moore pushes the issue just a little too far.

Certainly, Christian (or secular) romance novels can become a substitute for, or create illusions about, "real life," just like anything else. (E.g., video games that "teach" that there are no real consequences to violence, or Road Runner + Wile E. Coyote and their endless lives) But the difference between porn and (especially Christian) romance novels is that porn devalues the relationship and romance novels idealize it. All things considered, and knowing that no one's marriage is (or will be) perfect, wouldn't we rather have women "aiming for" the ideal? Wouldn't we rather have to tell our young girls, "This is an idealized version of a Christian marriage. Your husband will probably never be this perfect, and neither will you," than "Porn is unrealistic but it's what men want so get used to it, and with luck, you'll be able to move beyond that into some kind of meaningful relationship"?

Second, the filming of porn involves the actual debasement of actual human beings, which the writing of Christian (or even secular) romance novels does not. It can be argued that the consumption of porn-for-men and romance-novels-for-women have similar effects on the brain chemistry or emotional response or whatever for the consumer, but it is obvious that the production of the two are nowhere near equivalent.  From that perspective, the two are virtually incomparable.

Finally, even as we acknowledge that anything can be taken to the extreme, I think there has to be room for Christian freedom. My mom, who is quite content in her 40-year-marriage, likes watching a "charming romantic comedy" just as much as the next person. As a general rule of thumb, women like "nice romance stories," the same way that guys like "action movies" or a football game. It doesn't mean that my mom is unhappy in her marriage or "wishes" that my dad was more like Hugh Grant - it just means it was a nice story.

If you're burying your head in books to escape your falling-apart marriage, if you're consistently condemning your husband for not being "the perfect Christian like in all these books", if you're turning down dates because the men you know aren't James Marsden or Dean Martin or Gerard Butler or Jude Law; then, yes, that's a problem.  But if 27 Dresses or Guys and Dolls or P.S. I Love You or The Holiday simply warm the cockles of your heart on a cold evening, then I think it's no more harmful than the "princess stories" we tell our little girls: Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast.  Girls like those kind of stories.  Thus it was, thus it ever shall be.

(And for what it's worth, as my sister and I watched romantic comedies with my mom while we were growing up (I didn't really get into romance novels until after college), it gave her an opportunity to point out "timeless truths about men and women," situations that were "just so you know, that never happens in real life," morally sticky situations and how to navigate them, etc..,, which I find to be a rather concrete benefit.)


I am becoming increasingly fed up with people who have little to no command of basic spelling or grammar.

If you graduated from high school, you should, at minimum, not be capitalizing random words in the middle of sentences.  German capitalizes all nouns.  English does not.  If you graduated from college, you should be able to spell almost every word you need to write.  That little red line in Microsoft Word means you should check the spelling.  If you're unsure, http://www.dictionary.com/ or an actual, physical dictionary will help you here.  If you have a graduate degree, you should be able to - and desire to - properly use commas and semicolons to avoid run-on sentences and aid clarity. 

Some people attribute poor spelling, grammar, and writing in general to the rise of texting and instant messaging.  Senders don't have time, or find it too difficult; recipients can "mentally fill in" missing apostrophes, commas, and capital letters.  I think there's some merit to this argument, but I propose that the greater cause is the decline of reading. 

Perhaps others had different experiences, but when I began to learn "conventions of grammar" in school, I actively memorized very little.  I was able to navigate lessons, assignments, and exams quite well simply by determining "what looks right."  I knew how words were spelled not because I studied hard for spelling tests, but because I had read them - in edited publications - so much that I had unconsciously absorbed the information.  When my third-grade teacher told me that we couldn't begin sentences with the word "because," I knew she was lying.  I didn't know what a dependent or independent clause was, but I knew that "Because it was such a beautiful day, many children were at the playground," was a perfectly acceptable sentence.  I knew this because I was a voracious reader and I had encountered this sentence structure on many occasions. 

I contend that many thoughtful and sincere individuals misspell or mis-punctuate many a word or phrase simply because they have never seen it in print, in a well-edited publication.  English is a language - especially when spoken quickly or sloppily, as Americans are wont to do - in which mishearing can lead to terrific misspelling and misuse.  How many times, for example, have you read a blog comment or Facebook post about something that is "for all intensive purposes"?  This is a misrendering of "for all intents and purposes", caused, no doubt, by having heard the expression without ever having seen it. 

I'm not perfect, and someone will probably come along and point out four or five mistakes I've made in this post alone.  I readily admit that I have a tendency to overuse commas and parenthetical expressions, an issue I have to edit heavily for with everything I write.  But it is my personal belief that excellent command of spelling and grammar will get one farther in life than nearly any other practical skill.  A person can say virtually anything, no matter how ridiculous, if it is spelled and punctuated properly.  The inverse is also true.  No matter how great one's ideas are, poor spelling and conventions will serve as a distraction that prevents readers from discerning and following the content. 

So, get to reading, people!  Expand your vocabulary, learn grammar and spelling and idiomatic expressions!  Learn to write and speak; let not this vulgar generation eradicate all beauty!

Thursday, May 19, 2011


"Everyone on my team [read: family] always wants something different to eat.  That's why we go to the $4.99 Cici's Buffet."

Sure, it's $4.99.  Yes, the commercial appears to take place right after a kids' summer ballgame, which I remember as being a crazy, exhausting time when Mom was a little more willing to punt on things like dinner.

But what happened to "community"?  What happened to being "part of a family"?  What happened to "you don't get exactly what you want every time you want it"? 

I think the part that bugs me about the commercial is not that the mom is taking the family to a restaurant, not that it's cheap, not that it makes the family happy.  The part that bugs me about it is that it makes the family happy in such a way that none of them actually has to be part of the family.

What happened to "Johnny's team won, so he gets to pick the restaurant!" ??  Or "Sarah picked last time so Dad gets to pick tonight." ??  Where is the sense of self-giving and communal life that comes with actually being a family??


Credit Where Credit Is Due

And "fun with evangelism", too!

Yesterday I led one of my Ladies' Bible Study groups in the "Lutheran Woman Today" Bible Study, found in the May 2011 issue.  In the past, I've had many an issue with the material provided, so my expectations as I opened the magazine to preview it were pretty low.  Especially when the Table of Contents revealed that the topic was "evangelism."  Oh Lord, here we go...was my precise thought, as I flipped to page 32.

Imagine my surprise when I found a really solid study on - and call to - evangelism.  I mean, truly, given what we'd endured over the winter ("mother Earth," "how to be nice to gay people," and "rooting out racism"), I had to check the cover and make sure this was still the same publication.  The thing I liked most about the study was that it was very clear that we are called to be witnesses to Christ (Acts 1:4-8), and that worshipping, learning, and serving, while good and valuable, are not evangelism. Evangelism is actually telling people about Jesus, and communicating that nothing else matters without the transforming power of Jesus Christ in a person's life. 

I thought it was an interesting choice of text - it's probably not what I would have picked, but it worked fine.  Some of their suggestions of the duties of an "evangelism task force" don't really work in our context (It's hard to have a three-pronged evangelism team when you live in a town of 50 and have, at best, 20 people in church on Sunday morning.)  But the main point - you are supposed to be telling people about Jesus - came through loud and clear.

So I was all excited about this, and couldn't wait to work through it with the ladies.  When I got to the home Bible Study was being held at, I found my normally friendly ladies to be quite grouchy.  "We're glad you're here, because we don't like this.  We were all just talking about it before you got here, and none of us like it." 


After listening to them for a few minutes, I suggested we just read through the study and see what happens.  First, they did not like the idea that service is good but it doesn't substitute for evangelism.  Upon further reflection today, I wonder if this comes out of an exaggerated application of the "we'll know they are Christians by our love" principle combined with the "two things we don't discuss in polite society - politics and religion" principle.  Nonetheless, I stuck to my guns, and we moved forward.

Pretty soon, we got onto some sort of discussion about "evangelism begins at home" or something, which turned into a rant about kids who get confirmed and never come back to church.  Interesting...veddy interesting... I thought to myself.  So I asked, "Why is this important?  Why do we care if kids come to church?"  I got the usual answers: to hear the sermon, to pray, to worship, to be with other Christians, to have your faith renewed, etc...  So I push again, "Ok, but why is that important?  I mean, who cares if 'your faith is renewed'?"  At this point, some of them thought that I was actually arguing that these things aren't important, so I corrected that, noting that I hadn't said that at all, that I was just asking questions. 

Anyway...eventually these ladies get to: faith is important because you need it to get through the daily stuff of life, I don't know how anyone who doesn't pray can survive the day, you need the good news of Christ when there's a tragedy or death, how can you go to a funeral without the hope of the resurrection, and so on... I let them talk that angle for several minutes before I interrupted and said, "This, by the way, what you're all doing right now, is evangelism."  They looked at me in complete shock.  I had completely caught them off guard.  "But we're just sitting here talking with each other."  Bingo.

After that, the ladies started sharing some other instances of when and where they are sharing their faith - "back when I used to work at the courthouse, if somebody's relative died, we would talk about church and what we believed..." "there's this lady I have coffee with who says she's an atheist, but I tell her things, and she listens and asks questions, she seems kind of interested..." 

Somewhere along the line, these ladies got the idea (like most of us, probably) that "evangelism" = standing on the street corner, shouting "REPENT!!!!"  Hearing that it's not really that at all, but this kind of natural "sharing your faith" was a completely new idea.  However, I think a lot of them are really struggling still with the difference between "being Christian" and "being a nice person."  Ah, well, I guess that's what this week's Gospel lesson (I am the way, the truth, and the life) is for...

Interestingly, also, two of the ladies (the only 2?) who are not originally from the community but moved here when they got married, shared stories that the first time they attended church here (these are all older ladies, so probably 40 years ago or something), not a single person said hello or welcomed them in any way.  Now, they kept coming because they were married, and they were "church people" already, and whatever.  But I think it got the attention of the rest of the group to hear that they are not necessarily as "nice" and "welcoming" as they like to think. 

All in all, a great Bible Study.  Good work, LWT. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Law and Gospel

I get (well, mostly) the Great Lutheran Dialectic, "Law and Gospel."  At least, I think I do.  I understand the point that sometimes God speaks "a word of Law calling you out on your shit" (aw, geez, now I sound like I work for the ELCA), and sometimes "a word of Gospel reminding you that He loves you," depending on what our own personal needs happen to be at the time.

But there's a lot of people who are very concerned about specifically, properly, and accurately "dividing" Law from Gospel, and I'm not convinced that it can be so easily done.  In the first place, what may be "Law" to one person could very well constitute "Gospel" to another.  For example, "Thou shalt not commit adultery."  Clearly, that is "Law."  Do Not Do This, lest you bring the wrath of God down upon you.  And so, spouse A, who on occasion has a bit of a wandering eye, toes the line of marital fidelity due to fear of the wrath of God.  Meanwhile, spouse B, (see how openminded and inclusive of non-gender-specific relationships I am??) knowing that spouse A has a bit of a wandering eye, but also knowing that spouse A has a fear of God's wrath, hears the commandment as gospel, as knowledge that God is protecting the heart of spouse B and the fidelity of the relationship.  "God loves me so much that He, excuse me, It, wants to protect the lifelong, monogamous nature of my marriage." 

I worked as a volunteer counselor at a crisis pregnancy center in college, and there was one girl who was in to see us just about every month, convinced that she was pregnant.  She was maybe 13 years old or so.  She was born when her mother was 16.  Her sister was 17 and had a couple kids of her own.  A sweet (but hardened-by-life) girl, all of our attempts at "sex ed," politely trying to point out "cause and effect," fell on deaf ears.  Finally, another counselor, out of love or frustration or sheer maternal instinct, (metaphorically) grabbed her by the shoulders and said, "You. have. to. stop. doing. this."  Big ol' dose of law, right, and good thing, too, because that's what she needs, can I get a "Amen!" ??  No.  This girl started crying - that was pure Gospel to her.  No one had ever told her that life could be different.  No one had ever told her that teenage pregnancy wasn't normal.  No one had ever told her that sex at 13 was inappropriate and emotionally harmful.  No one had ever told her that she didn't have to do this.  So...

Q: What was preached there, Law or Gospel?
A: Neither, because the counselor was a woman!  (Hahaha, I digress...)

Ok, back on topic.  The second thing I dislike about this "dialectic" is the idea that the primary function of the Law is to show us what miserable people we are.  A "mirror," if you will, that reflects our own sinfulness.  We wouldn't know we were sinners if we couldn't see how often we "break the Law."  This is sort of in the same category of statement as "How would you know what happiness is if you were never sad?"  Well, yes, I suppose.  But.  Whenever "Law" is "given" in Scripture, I just don't read it as "I'm telling you this so you'll know how rotten you are."  Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the First Use here.  I'm by no means denying that it exists.  Obviously, if no one ever teaches you that you need to honor your parents, then you'll never know that you're sinning by not doing so.  If no one ever teaches you to "turn the other cheek," you would probably never stop to think about what a wretched, vengeful person you are. 

But I perhaps wonder if the Second and Third Use (egads!  I know.  Deep breath.  Grab a paper bag.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Slowly.  Again.) are really actually the primary functions.  When God gives the Ten Commandments at Sinai, He says, "I brought you out of the land of Egypt, therefore..."  "...therefore, I now give you these rules so that you will know how rotten and undeserving you are"?  No.  At least, that's not the God I know.  "...therefore, live as my people, according to my rules. 'so that it may go well with you in the land that I am to give you.' Egypt doesn't tell you who you are, I tell you who you are.  And if nothing else, even if you're not personally a fan of the rules, live this way out of gratitude for the fact that I brought you out of slavery."  That's the God I know.  And I think this reading, this interpretation of the purpose and use of the "the law" fits the typology of "rescued from slavery of Egypt" = "rescued from slavery of sin."  Sort of like "But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed..." (Romans 6:17) or "Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy....[rules for general living (Law?)]...Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God."  (1 Peter 2:10-16)

Now look, I do not in any way want to underestimate the wrath of a holy God that comes about because of our breaking the Law. God hates sin and evil and wickedness, and I think that we don't contemplate often enough just how much sin and evil and wickedness we ourselves - individually and corporately - possess and enact. 

But I also think that when we hear "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8) it's far too easy to spend too much time looking at the "while we were still sinners" part.  In the rest of Romans 5 there, Paul really does a number on "the Law" (which, by the way, is not a direct reference to 16th c. RC indulgences, but that's a whole other post...), concluding with "now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more..." Yes, indeed, grace abounded all the more.  And in Romans 6, Paul, having shown us "where we came from," so to speak, moves on to say, in essence, now, therefore, look ahead, look forward, "...present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace."  It's as though, as Lutherans, we dismiss any attempt to "live by the rules" as "works righteousness," rather than hearing Paul and Peter say that "living by the rules" is precisely what we are to do, and, in fact, empowered to do, because we have been redeemed, brought out of the land of slavery, rescued from sin, baptized into Christ's death, etc...

The other thing that bothers me about current trends in Lutheran application of the Law is the way the statement "the Law always accuses" is used.  I'm not entirely certain that this is true, as I've sort of alluded to above.  Sometimes, I think, the Law is just the Law.  Nevertheless, there seems to be a tendency among the "By God, we're LUTHERAN! (pound fist on table) crowd" to also adhere to the inverse: "if one is feeling accused/pinched/hurt/condemned, that is a sign that the Law is being properly applied and your Old Adam is experiencing a slow, painful death."  All too often, I think this is used as an excuse to justify trafficking in rudeness, offense, uncharity, callousness, and 'failure to listen.'  Sometimes people really do need to hear "The Law," and that can sting.  Or maybe somebody's feelings are hurt and it has nothing to do with "God using you to speak a necessary Word of Law" and almost everything to do with the fact that you're kind of a jerk.  Sometimes God really is letting us feel guilt and shame to bring us to repentance, but sometimes the devil gets in our heads and makes us feel guilty and shameful over stupid things.

Finally, my last issue with the "God relates to us according to a divine recipe of Law and Gospel" meme is that it makes God sound like a giant computer-in-the-sky, always looking down on us, waiting to add a 1/4 cup of Law or 3 tablespoons of Gospel...But that's not relating.  That's pulling strings.  That's not love; it's not covenant.  God loves us for us - the scandal of particularity, from Abraham (Adam?) on down.  Does he hate sin?  Absolutely.  Was He grieved that the death and resurrection of Jesus was (and continues to be) necessary?  I'm sure.  But why?  Because of some arbitrary standard of holiness?  No.  Because of who we are, who He has made us to be.  Back to 1 Peter: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."  You are not a cosmic chemistry experiment.  You are not a pot of turkey soup that could use just a little more salt.  You are not a generic Human Being who needs to soak in a bathtub of two parts Law, one part Gospel.  You are you, and He loves you.

Monday, May 16, 2011

You're Supposed to Ask

She didn't even ask if I had any questions...

My close friends know that for years (since college), I've been suffering from undiagnosed, vague, ill-defined but very intensely-experienced medical problems of a, um, girlish nature.  There's all sorts of details and qualifications that sort of come and go, but the bottom line is: PAIN, basically 3 weeks a month.  In the past, I've pretty much just tolerated it, or self-medicated with Tylenol and Motrin.  For a brief time in college, a doc prescribed Vioxx for me, which I absolutely loved, but shortly thereafter it was recalled and permanently pulled from the shelves.  Since then, I've had several doctors whose approach to my problems were one of the three things: 1) Yes, well, these things happen.  2) Well, all the tests are negative, here, have some birth control pills.  3) It's probably some intestinal bug, go home and rest.

In September, I had an appointment with a new doctor when I moved out here for internship.  She came highly recommended (from the local pro-life pregnancy center, who I asked because I wanted someone awesome, not someone who would just blow me off again.), and she is amazing.  A very faithful Catholic woman with three kids of her own, she listens well, and genuinely wants to figure out what's going on and help me feel better.  In the last few weeks, we've redone all the ultrasounds and lab work, rehashed all the history, and still come up empty.  She's a primary care doc, and so today she referred me to a GYN (appointments being scheduled 2 months out!).  And she suggested that until then, I take birth control, just so that we can see what happens, and add another data point to the mystery.  If it helps, that tells us something; if it doesn't, that tells us something too. 

I wasn't thrilled with the suggestion, but scientifically, I understand the point.  She asked what I thought, and I told her that although I've never taken birth control at all, I was willing to take a leap of faith.  I've never really needed to, either from a therapeutic or contraceptive perspective, and then sometime over the course of the last few years, almost without even realizing it, my moral, philosophical, and theological take has shifted, and I've become wholly opposed to artificial birth control as a matter of principle.  I explained that, which of course she understood, and asked again if I was okay with it.  I told her I was, and she wrote the prescription.  I've taken plenty of medication in my life; this is no different than anything else, right?

It wasn't until later in the day that I was able to get to the pharmacy to pick it up.  Waiting in line, all of a sudden I started to hate the whole thing - myself, the drugs, the incompetent woman manning the register, the world.  I hate myself for doing something I'm morally opposed to.  I hate the drugs because (I don't know where I got this idea, and objectively, I understand that it's wrong) I'm convinced that taking them is going to prevent me from ever having children.  I hated the lady because she didn't even ask if I had any questions about the medication.  You're supposed to ask.  She just handed them over to me in a plain white paper bag, like she probably does a hundred times a day, probably assuming that I've been taking this medication for 15 years.  I wanted to sit down right there on the floor and start crying, and tell her that I want to have babies, but I'm sick, that there's something wrong with my body and I'm not taking this because I want sex-without-consequences.  I hated the world because this is what we've come to, that to take artificial birth control is "normal" and to be 29 years old and never have taken it is "abnormal," and what the hell kind of world is that? 

I've come to the conviction, lately, that the advent of The Pill is pretty much what accounts for most of the downfall of Western civilization.  That the separation of sex from babies has devalued sex, and babies, and men, and women, and relationships, and parenthood, and childhood, and humans in general.  I just didn't realize how strongly I felt about it until I had this stupid white bag, crammed down deep in my purse, so I could try to forget about it.  This isn't who I am.  Ever since I've come this moral conclusion, I've been proud of myself for resisting attempts to just treat my symptoms by stocking my body with synthetic hormones.  Even though I know it's a positive step to try to figure out what's going on, it feels like a step backward in my dreams; what I want is babies, and right now, even if Prince Charming showed up at my door tonight and we flew to Vegas and eloped, I couldn't have them.

Which isn't technically true, I suppose.  I have to wait another two weeks to start taking them.  But I'm scared that I'll never have babies, I'm scared that there's something really wrong with me, I'm scared that this is morally wrong and I'm just going along with it, I'm scared that I'm going to get fat, I'm scared that I'm going to become a crazy hormonal nutjob, I'm scared that there will be a big scarlet BC on my forehead and everyone I meet will know that I take birth control and assume that I'm just out there having sex with every random guy I meet at a bar.  I'm scared that I will go through all this work and money and time and stress to figure out what's wrong with me, and in the end, it won't matter because we'll never really figure it out, and there won't be anyone to care, anyway. 

She didn't even ask if I had any questions. 

You're supposed to ask.

Well, then.

That was one heck of a season finale.  Good work, Hawaii Five-O.  Can't wait for the fall!

Sunday, May 15, 2011


I just spend $500 on a new alternator, and probably going to have to spend close to that again soon on new tires.  Awesome.  In light of that, I should probably also spend money (not) on fun toys for myself.  Anybody have a recommendation of a sweet CD, book, or movie I should pick up? 

Back Into the Swing of Things

Man, I've been feeling the need to write - I haven't for a while, and I miss it.  I've got a couple posts that are half-done (half-baked?), but I need to get back in the "mood," so I'm going to start with something easy. 

Top Ten Awesome Things In My Life Right Now:

1. Gorgeous weather
2. Iced coffee
3. Hallmark Channel movies
4. The commentary on Genesis I'm reading
5. The fact that I get to sleep in my own bed every night this week
6. God loves me.
7. I rocked the last practice GRE practice analogies section I did
8. Coconut Mocha Frappuccinos
9. That I'm rediscovering how much I love writing
10. Learning to be honest with myself about my gifts, goals, talents, passions, dreams, and desires.