12.27.2013

A Bedside Confessional [Excerpt]


Richard J. Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline has a chapter on confession. He writes,
Confession is a difficult discipline for us because we all too often view the believing community as a fellowship of saints before we see it as a fellowship of sinners. We feel that everyone has advanced so far into holiness that we are isolated and alone in our sin. We cannot bear to reveal our failings and shortcomings to others…Therefore we hide ourselves from one another and live in veiled lies and hypocrisy.
As I thought this, it dawned on me that I’ve almost never practiced confession with the two people in my life for whom it is perhaps the most important: my children.

[Read the full article at Practicing Families]


12.19.2013

Phil Robertson didn't say what you heard he said...

I've started to wonder if I'm reading the same interview that everyone else is reading.

Duck Dynasty from Flickr via Wylio
© 2014 Mike Mozart, Flickr | CC-BY
In case you missed it, 'Duck Dynasty' star Phil Robertson has been suspended from his "reality show" (whatever that term even means) after the magazine GQ published an interview with him which has made the news because of some controversial comments about homosexuality and the pre-civil rights era.

You can tell that people haven't read the whole article. Some of Robertson's Christian fans would probably have a conniption over the profanity contained therein. Robertson doesn't cuss anymore. God rescued him from that. But sexually graphic language? That he does.

I'm confused by the responses to this situation. 

First of all, some are apparently saying that the network's suspension of Robertson is somehow a violation of his free speech. This confirms some of my own disturbing suspicions about how spoiled we are. The way some talk, you would think Robertson has been arrested, jailed and tortured. None of that happened. Why? Because he DOES have a right to say what he said, and he is still a free man who can work, vote, and drive to the store. This is actually a beautiful, perfect example of what free speech looks like. He is free to say what he wants, and A&E is free to stop paying him.

It's not a religious discrimination issue either, and one blogger aptly explained why: "Phil Robertson’s views are not necessarily what got him in trouble. It is how he said it that got him in trouble. If he would have just said that he felt homosexuality was incompatible with his beliefs, we would have all said, 'Well, duh!' and moved on..."

But I'm even more confused by those who have defended Robertson by saying that he was merely stating a simple, biblical, Christian principle on the issue of human relationships.

I don't want to repost the quote, but I guess should for the sake of clarity about what I'm addressing:

"It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man's anus. That's just me."

I'm having trouble finding the part about human relationships. Where in the quote does he address that subject? What Bible verse does he cite? He didn't address relationships, he addressed copulation. All he did was somewhat graphically describe a sexual act with his only source material being his own subjective aversion to the idea.

Come to think of it, I'm kind of turned off by the idea too. That's what makes me a heterosexual. It's not for Phil, and it's not for me either. Pastors and political figures alike have made news this past year by asking their largely Christian, heterosexual audiences to vividly imagine gay sex and thus spur their revulsion. They successfully reminded heterosexuals that we are heterosexuals.

Robertson didn't say anything about a Christian view of human relationships. At least, not in what the GQ writer chose to quote. He really didn't say anything about same-sex relationships either. He did what too many Christians do: he focused on the bedroom aspect. It's nothing new. He joined many others who seem unable to think of relationships outside the realm of sex. That's kind of revealing, if you ask me. Worse yet, he apparently sees some human relationships as morally comparable to bestiality.

broken dreams, broken heart, broken relationship, broken key from Flickr via Wylio
© 2010 Andreas Wieser, Flickr | CC-BY
I'm married. Am I physically attracted to my wife? Yes. Is that the only reason I married her and the thing that's keeping us together? Obviously not. From the day we met, she has made me a better person. We enjoy each other's company. We pick on each other. We struggle through life and raise our kids together. We worship together. We have memories, family pictures, and a network of family and friends that we share and love together.

That's what a relationship is. That's what a relationship is regardless of your sexual orientation. But Phil Robertson compared some of those relationships to bestiality and reduced them to the tiny box of his own sexual imagination. And for doing so, he is being heralded as a champion of Christian values.

All this in the same interview in which he told the reporter to "put in your article that the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off." Indeed. Which is what led blogger Jerod Clark to observe that Robertson missed a great opportunity.

In the meantime, if you can overlook foul language, you should read the whole GQ article. There are some other fascinating parts in it that I don't address here, such as Robertson implying that African-Americans were in fact not dissatisfied with their circumstances before the civil rights movement, or the reporter challenging him on why his own repentance and conversion did not include apologizing to people he had hurt.

I'm not out to get Robertson and his family. I've heard them say some funny things, and I've heard them say some admirable things. I'd be willing to bet Robertson is good to his family and is an honest businessman. I defend his right to speak, but he doesn't speak for me.

I'd prefer that we have robust, honest conversations about Christian relationships and what keeps them together. Robertson, despite what you've heard, did not address that topic. In the time it took him to do the interview for GQ, dozens of heterosexual marriages ended...and it's not because of what's going on the privacy of your gay neighbor's bedroom.

12.17.2013

Could We Talk About Nelson Mandela? [Excerpt]

In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s memorial service at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, the hyper-partisan, culturally isolated American public has again managed to miss the point of a major figure and event. Instead of having lively, relevant discussions about Mandela and his legacy, we are drooling over the juicy news tidbits of an Obama “selfie,” a handshake, and an allegedly schizophrenic sign language interpreter, to name a few...

Let’s talk about Nelson Mandela, and let’s talk about him in a way that honors the complexity of this man without painting him with a singular brush.

[Read the full article on Baptist News Global]

12.16.2013

Guest Post: The Imperfect Woman of Strength

This guest post comes from none other than my wife Dayna, and I'm excited to share it with you. The following reflection is an edited version of a devotion she shared at a women's Christmas party. When I read it, I really liked it and asked for her permission to post it here.

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I am married to a pastor and a mother to two busy kids. I have a 3 ½ year old girl and a 6 year old boy who started kindergarten this year. I work as a speech/language pathologist and am privileged enough to get the chance to work part time. For our family, this has meant some sacrifices but I have always felt it is what is best for me, my children, and my marriage.

As a Christian and married to a pastor I have heard a variety of comments about my working outside the home. Some are in support. Some are against, but are "relieved" to hear that I am part time.

Automotive Social Media Marketing from Flickr via Wylio
© 2014 Automotive Social, Flickr | CC-BY
On social media, such as Facebook, there are so many things posted about women--working moms, stay at home moms, etc.--on how to be the perfect this or the best that. There is Pinterest, a place where anyone can post these “wonderful” ideas for all aspects of your life. There are activities for your family, ways to decorate, games to play, even speech pathology based activities to use in therapy.

It is often the common person who posts these things, but it makes me think of Martha Stewart on steroids. It's not just some famous person you don’t feel you have to live up to. It is a mom of 6 kids who is working and still manages to make specialized, themed snacks for a party for all 6 while having a perfectly decorated Christmas tree and house.

How soon do we start comparing and feeling like we don’t measure up?  When I choose to buy ready-made birthday cupcakes or fail to decorate the string cheese like reindeer, I start to judge myself as not good enough.

As a Christian woman, when I hear things about the wonderful Proverbs 31 woman (Prov 31:10-31), it makes me think of the ideal Pinterest woman. We hear how perfect, meek, mild mannered, and godly she is. It appears she does everything right, and again, we feel as if we are not measuring up.

But a couple weeks ago a friend of mine shared an article called Misconceptions of a Godly Woman by blogger Krista Ortiz. She wrote that she recently noticed something about the Proverbs 31 passages she hadn't seen before:

"She is energetic and STRONG…"
"She has NO FEAR of winter…"
"She is clothed with STRENGTH…"

Krista emphasizes that the Proverbs 31 woman is all those things we typically attribute to her but that she is also strong. "Not anything like the passive and weak woman we are so often encouraged to be. She has no fear of winter – the difficult times to come – and is most definitely not limited to planning weddings and using crockpots!"

...or, as I would add, having the best school treats or the perfectly ordered house. The woman we should talk about is the woman who God has made strong and capable and able to handle what comes her way. She is not perfect and will have trials just like others. Are we focusing on the wrong things?

It makes me think also about what is important in this Christmas season. What would Jesus want us to focus on? Would he care if we have the cutest stockings, the best gift bags, the tallest tree? Would he want us to spend our time worrying that we are wearing the right outfit or using the perfect dish to go to another Christmas party?  Or would he want us to be thinking about how to make a difference in others' lives?

Are we helping a family make better choices for their children and families? Are we too busy to show love and compassion to a stranger, or even a loved one?  Whether a working mom, far away mom, or stay at home mom, are we demonstrating love and strength to our families? Did we spend time with our children making a Chirstmas card or cookies, letting them frost them any way they want, even if they will go to friends and family without that perfect Pinterest design? Are we teaching others that they are important and loved just the way they are; that God loves us no matter what and that is why he gave us his Son?  Are we focusing on the right things this Christmas season?

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I'm proud to say that I consider Dayna to be one of the most dedicated, hard-working, and strong women I know. She is an inspiration to me and has made me a better person.

Visit the guest posts page of my blog to read others or learn more.

12.01.2013

Hobby Lobby and the Anti-Contraception Jesus

The owners of Hobby Lobby say they are passionate about bringing people to Christ and demonstrating Christian values. It's a good thing we have them around. Their employees, customers, and the the world now know what Jesus was all about. They've been saving up their time and profits for this battle, and now we've arrived at the precipice. Under requirements of the Affordable Care Act, their female employees are getting new health benefits, and it turns out that they might use them for some evil pills.

In Hobby Lobby, we have reached the pinnacle of Christian leadership and witness in the fight for religious freedom. Never mind that people were once arrested, banished, and killed for their religious beliefs. Pity the fool who thinks that our ancestors not being able to worship in the way they chose even holds a candle to the tremendous burden placed on Hobby Lobby's religious freedom.

The Green family has worked hard to earn a profit off of beads, fake flowers and glue. What an assault it is to them that their female employees might use those profits to get a pill that doesn't work in the way the Christian faith requires. I was previously unaware of this requirement, but thanks to all the expert theologians around the Hobby Lobby's executive table, I now know that it's crucial to following Jesus that sperm and eggs never slow dance or kiss unless it's time to have children. They even have some medical experts too, and they're way ahead of the times. Even though the rest of the medical community debates exactly how pills like Plan B work, Hobby Lobby has the answer. The moment you have a zygote, you've passed the point of no return. They are showing they care by being there for their female employees where they need them most...in their bedrooms and during family planning conversations. Even if those naughty women insist on doing the nasty without the intention of having children, Hobby Lobby is there to make sure it goes the right away.

In fact, thanks to Hobby Lobby, many conservative evangelicals finally found their true selves and have realized that, all along, they've been Catholic cardinals at heart. That's right, friends, even though neither case the Supreme Court will be hearing was brought by a Catholic, we've realized they were right. Contraception is bad. In fact, Monty Python was right: every sperm is sacred. Some forms of contraception are an offense to religious sensibilities, and evangelical Protestants are now on board. We've all been awoken to the fact that it's not enough to stop abortion. We must make sure every zygote gets implanted. After all, we prefer to live in denial about the 50-60% of fertilized eggs that never implant. That's a lot of souls that end up in someone's toilet or underwear! Mother nature doesn't need our help disposing of any more! We need to hold out hope that we may yet reach that perfect, moral world where the law recognizes every zygote as a person and women who use IUDs or other effective forms of birth control are put where they belong: behind bars for first degree murder.

Of course, those of us on the inside know what this is really about. The deeper problem is that birth control is all about sexual promiscuity, a thing used only by "sexual libertines." Rick Santorum made this clear in a video interview once, saying, "[Contraception is] not OK, because it's a license to do things in the sexual realm that are counter to how things are supposed to be." The problem is that women have the audacity to have sex without the consent of morally upright Christians. Rush Limbaugh was right when he said that contraception access is for those who want to be promiscuous. Obstetricians and gynecologists make all these claims about other functions outside birth control, but come on, who believes them? Forget that research has shown that contraceptive use dramatically decreases abortion rates. Who believes that?! And as previous Pope Benedict XVI made clear several times, we can't get caught up in things like effective prevention and stopping the spread of disease if it makes us give up on our ideological purity. We must continue to teach only abstinence, that crucial and highly effective part of a teen's education in which we tell them, "Don't have sex. Because we said so."

How dare the Obama administration think that it's enough to give exemptions to churches and religious schools. The owners of for-profit businesses, who otherwise have to comply with all federal laws, want their exemption too! And in all honesty, it's helping some faith-based organizations find their souls. Wheaton College, a Christian school in Illinois, had previously covered contraception in their health plans, but when the mandate came out under Obama's healthcare law, it thankfully made them realize that contraception coverage is just unacceptable!

But here's the really exciting part for Hobby Lobby and their fans. If they win their legal battle in the Supreme Court next year, it will open the door for us to be able to stop many other shameful things in this country to which people have religious objections. If a for-profit business can disobey a law on religious grounds, there's no stopping the parties of God! 

You see, the Green family of Hobby Lobby have the message of Jesus figured out. The rest of us reading the Gospels have somehow gotten the idea that Jesus prioritized things like the Kingdom of God, sacrificial service, etc. We always thought that Jesus criticized the Pharisees for emphasizing doctrinal purity and religious rules, but thanks to Hobby Lobby, we've found the true Jesus. This Jesus is not a radical, despised by the religious establishment, but is among the powerful religious elite who invest their life's work in making the rest of society conform more closely to their religious rules. This Jesus is so angry about pills that he will proudly march right up to the highest court in the land, using his political clout and large wallet to fight this worthwhile battle. Thank goodness we've found this Jesus. The other one was too dissimilar from modern day Christians, and we were starting to get uncomfortable.

Oh, one more thing. I've got the inside scoop from the Hobby Lobby executives. This isn't the end; they're planning ahead. They've just been finishing up a Bible study on Judah and Tamar, and have been inspired and convicted by the way God put Onan to death for pulling out during sex and "spilling his semen." So men, get ready: you're next!

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Please don't quote me out of context. This is satire.