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A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Let dads be dads...

A friend posted this article to our local homeschool message board. It gave me a chuckle...and convicted me as well!

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Up a tree

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Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Thoughts on Halloween

How cool to be putting up this post during a total lunar eclipse ;-)

Last year around this time, I read an article by John Fischer called Home for Halloween on the Breakpoint website. Fischer claimed it was a mistake for Christians to “boycott” Halloween because they cannot engage their neighbors by avoiding them at this time. I thought that was a misapplication of being “in but not of the world,” and still do. Fischer went so far as to say that by turning off the lights or going to an “alternative” celebration, one could be “lending credibility to the devil by denouncing Halloween as Satan’s day when most of those around us see it as nothing more than a day to dress up and have fun.” Hmmm...perhaps he's forgotten about the origins of the practice and the obvious questionable associations the holiday has.

Below is the text of the (long, sorry) letter (revised) I sent Mr. Fischer in response.

Dear Mr. Fischer,

I recently read your column, “Home for Halloween,” on the Breakpoint website. I applaud you for tackling the subject, and agree that “what we do October 31 is a microcosm for our positioning in the world as Christians.” But I disagree with your ideas as to how we should position ourselves.

While it is true that “morally neutral” social events, such as wedding parties, can be participated in either for God’s glory or against, I’m not convinced that trick-or-treating, in and of itself, is morally neutral. An event’s moral neutrality is not guaranteed by its being “cultural” or “traditional.”

What, exactly, does modern-day Halloween celebrate? Mere neighborliness and fun? I don’t think so. In my view, Halloween cannot be disassociated from its pagan (read: evil) origins and trappings, and to attempt to do so is irresponsible. Also irresponsible is the rationalization that it’s OK to participate because “it’s fun and everyone else does.” Halloween customs come with a lot of baggage, whether we like it or not.

Is it appropriate to practice a such questionable tradition and indoctrinate our children into it? Can we truly serve God by participating in a ritual (trick-or-treating) that has its origins in the superstitious appeasement of evil spirits? Many people are confused or deceived about spirituality and the existence of evil spirits (as opposed to demons and true spiritual warfare). Acceptance of a holiday that more or less validates spiritism is a capitulation to the occult and does nothing to educate about spiritual truth. Scripture exhorts us to be wary lest our actions cause another to stumble (Romans 15). This may be one of the most compelling arguments of all against participation in Halloween.

I personally find little that is God-serving in having children knock at doors to mock-threaten the inhabitants, even if it IS done all in good fun. The influence of evil inherent in the practice is not negated. Besides, is there truly anything of value in sending children around the neighborhood to entertain and collect candy? There must be better ways to spread good will and socialize with the neighbors. The kids certainly don’t need the candy.

The custom of wearing costumes for trick-or-treat is rooted in superstition. While I believe it’s possible and even necessary to redeem pagan customs, I don’t think Halloween does it. Sure, it’s fun to dress up, but dress-up should be a natural part of every child’s home play. Why over-emphasize it on one night at the end of October, after dark, to the accompaniment of orange holiday lights, jack-o-lanterns, hanging sheet ghosts, spider-web drapery, and stick-on witches?

Why inundate impressionable minds with darkly suggestive imagery, or participate in an activity that could lead to spiritual confusion down the road? Why take advantage of innocence? A parent should discuss all aspects of Halloween with his/her children, but not necessarily while encouraging participation. How can a parent avoid sending mixed messages? Even if a child is able to screen out all the “evil” stuff as nonsense, or else as just being “there” but having no power, he or she is still in essence paying tribute to an ancient pagan belief simply by acting it out.

And why on earth should we not give Satan credit for Halloween? Who else deserves it? Satan is real and still has plenty of credibility as far as responsibility for evil goes. Why else would we need God? Satan is the Great Pretender, the Great Deceiver. If he can fool innocent, unsuspecting people into thinking that scariness and trickiness and superstition and greed and masquerade are “fun,” then he surely is winning the battle! It’s a lie to think that if someone just ignores the “bad” stuff, it won’t hurt them or anyone else. Satan makes the bad look good. Or the good look bad. Or tries to convince us that there is no “bad” at all.

Scripture says we should avoid all forms of evil (I Thessalonians 5:22) and guard ourselves from idols (I John 5:21). This does not mean we have to pull the shades and sit, quivering and praying, in the dark recesses of our home on Halloween night... but perhaps it should!

Conscientious objection to Halloween is not an act of hiding. There may be an element of self-protection (as well as protection of the children entrusted to us) involved, but is it not John 17:15 itself that addresses this issue? A refusal to participate in Halloween activities is not to be equated with a “removal of oneself from the world” any more than a refusal to participate in any unhealthy activity is. John 17:15 says, “…protect them from the evil one.” How can this be done while participating in Halloween? Would it be permissible to go to a South Pacific island as a missionary and participate in a ritual head-hunting dance yet not do the actual head hunting? I would think it best to sit out the dance as well.

It’s wishful thinking to say that we can “redeem” Halloween by trick-or-treating in good will. Toward whom would this good will be -- those who do not understand the truth of spiritual matters? Again, aren’t we endorsing the holiday itself by participating in it? The only alternative to non-participation is to stay at home and hand out leaflets containing the history of Halloween (with appropriate verses of Scripture, plus a candy bar) to trick-or-treaters...but how uncool is that? This is why many Christians opt to send the message more subtly, by turning off the porch lights and watching videos instead. Or going to a harvest celebration.

I’m sure plenty of non-believers trick-or-treat in “good will.” What then can a believing trick-or-treater do to distinguish him- or herself from a non-believer? It’s probably not enough to just be friendly and wear a non-threatening costume. A child could dress in an angel costume and offer tracts instead of an empty treat bag, but again, a strange way to get the message out.

Why not celebrate the harvest season instead? Why not hold an All Saints Day celebration? These things are certainly far worthier of honor and celebration than some ancient pagan superstition. Let’s overcome evil with good in a substantial way!

Final note: if we could remove all the trappings of Halloween from the practice of trick-or-treating and send kids dressed up in “clean” costumes around the neighborhood bearing gifts to give or exchange, and change the name, and choose some other day to celebrate it, then we might have a community service opportunity!

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Motherhood, Feminism, and Culture

Jeff Clinton at The Dawn Treader wrote a post recently on Teresa Heinz Kerry’s comments. He used her words to illustrate the cultural tendency to devalue motherhood in favor of careerism and other more glamorous, ostensible displays of achievement. I got to thinking about that, and left a comment to the effect that at the root of such a view could be a legitimate concern, i.e., the value of a woman’s intellect, gifts, and education. Jeff challenged me to answer that concern, which I did, though I admitted the question was still open. Jeff responded with thoughtful comments about identity and role as they should apply to the Christian.

The problem is, as much as I try to figure it out on an individual level, I keep coming back to the structure of society as a whole. Worse, I find much of the problem within the Christian community, i.e., acceptance of things like divorce, day care, and lifestyle idols such as nice homes, cars, clothes, and other “stuff,” including opportunities we buy for our kids. Yes, I do understand that sometimes divorce is necessary, as is daycare. BUT not as an enabler of selfish pursuit. I fear that many Christian women have bought into feminism and accompanying ideals.

Even homeschooling is suspicious among many Christians. Not that I think everyone has to or should homeschool, but I believe that many anti-homeschooling views have elements of feminism underlying them. (Although, ironically, many mothers homeschool for feminist reasons.)

I often hear comments from mothers like, “Oh, I could never homeschool {Johnny}...we are like oil and water.” Or, “I’m not organized enough,” or, “It’s such a responsibility,” or, “How would I know what to teach?” etc. etc. Well, that last question is a good one, but, any mom with access to the Internet, a library, or a homeschooling friend can easily find that there are a myriad of materials to choose from and plenty of sources for advice. Indeed, if you’re smart enough to raise your kids, you are smart enough to figure out how to homeschool them. These reasons are really just covers for other reasons, for the most part. They are especially hard to understand coming from women who need a job to feel competent. What, you’re too competent to stay at home, yet not competent enough to homeschool? No...there must be other reasons.

Maybe one of them is that mothers don’t get commended enough for their work as mothers. Perhaps some of them don’t feel competent because they are “only mothers.” (My mom gave me a bumper sticker: “Every Mother is a Working Mother.” Thanks, Mom :-) )

Our society, even the Christian portion of it, is more supportive of “mainstream” family values and career fulfillment than it is of the woman who decides to devote herself to her family first and foremost. Not that the working woman* can’t be devoted to her family; I have working, Christian friends who truly love their families. Yet they send their babies to daycare. I can’t figure out how they can truly build their families when they see their kids for so few hours during the week. But that’s their business :-) I am not judging.

Have I been tempted by feminist ideas? Sure. Many of them are subtle. I never bought into the demanding, on-the-warpath aspects, but did think about “fulfilling my potential,” “opportunity,” and “using my talents” for my own and society’s benefit, not necessarily in service to God. I could easily have become an outright feminist if I wanted to, as many of my female professional trumpet-playing colleagues have.

At the other end of the spectrum are the large homeschooling families in which the mother has made family her entire focus. Many of these mothers are very resourceful and have home-based businesses in which the entire family can participate. Within communities of these families, there certainly is support for “traditional” motherhood, and I applaud this, as I wholeheartedly applaud these women. I feel kindred with them.

But I have not given up my “outside” profession entirely...

Back to my point about society: It is hard to be sold-out to your children in a society that does not provide help for the mother of very young children especially. Maternity/paternity leave in this country is a disgrace; it’s far too short. Breastfeeding, while clearly superior to bottlefeeding, is still not supported as it should be. It’s definitely more demanding on the mother. It is easy for the sleep-deprived, house-bound mother of a challenging baby to feel totally out of the loop. Some of this goes with the territory, but couldn’t it be helped if some small portions of society slowed down with and came alongside the mother? How about a whole group of teenaged doulas, like babysitters, who could come and do laundry, clean, play with siblings, do the dishes, shop, cook supper, etc.? They could get training and certification at the Y like babysitters do.

And how about an overall slowing down of life, and toning down of luxury? Living more simply, as many homeschooling families do because they are living on one income instead of two? Mothers would be more available to help each other because they wouldn’t be committed to so many other things.

And here’s another idea: more part-time employment, for both spouses. Turn dad into Mr. Mom for awhile (or Mrs. Dad?) I’m not sure how that would work for things like health insurance, but at least household responsibility could be more equally shared. Dad could get a feel for what mom does all day long, get a closer appreciation of his children, and, in the homeschooling family, help more directly with his children’s education. Mom could get a chance to exercise some of the other aspects of her person besides mothering and housekeeping.

Anyone have more ideas?

*I'm referring to those who work full-time outside the home

Friday, October 22, 2004

Contraception, Part V: Other Considerations

This is the final installment in this series (for now, anyway ;-) ) Sorry for the delay in putting it up. I’ve been busy elsewhere in the blogosphere.

Many thanks to all who have contributed to the discussion so far. I appreciate your comments very much.

In this post I will share miscellaneous thoughts which haven’t yet been addressed, and perhaps expound further on some previously-mentioned ones.

Note: while the matter of contraception obviously has personal import to every reproductively healthy married person, I am not examining the topic of contraception solely from that perspective. I am interested in it philosophically as well.

Mr. Pierce has mentioned a possible adverse effect of a certain barrier method on the physically unitive aspects of coitus, including the pleasure principle for the man. If one is going to bring this up, however, one must also consider another common cultural practice: circumcision. (Not to open up another can of worms :-) ). Obviously, this was part of the Abrahamic covenant, but now that the Abrahamic covenant has been superceded by the new covenant of life in Jesus, what do we say about it? Apparently, it’s possible that a man’s pleasure can be affected adversely by circumcision. Though admittedly there doesn’t seem to be much good information available on the subject.

There are other arguments against contraceptives which focus on one or another supposed disruptive, distractive, or contrived element which robs the marital act of total unity, but none of them hold water IMHO. Anything could be viewed as a “distraction” or “disruption!” No need to go into detail :-) And there is certainly potential for much more to be contrived in the marital act than use of contraception. This is not to say that contrivance is good thing, but rather to say that use of contraception doesn't have to be any of those things.

On the issue of whether or not certain forms of contraception are abortifacient, I refer the reader to Imago Dei, where OMF Serge has written quite thoroughly on the subject.


Due to the medical advancements and improved nutrition we enjoy today, survival of women and children is much greater than in the past. How might this relate to God's view of "limiting" production of children? In Biblical times, it’s probably safe to say that health was not as good. There were surely more complications/deaths from pregnancy and childbirth-related problems. (Or maybe not; I haven’t researched this, but seem to remember mention somewhere that feto-pelvic disproportion -– baby too big to fit through pelvis -- occurs with much greater frequency in the present day than in the past.) If I were living a few hundred years ago, I would most certainly not have three beautiful children nor anything else (except eternal life, and that’s the ultimate, so maybe we are missing out on what God wants...?), because I’d be, well, dead. I'd have suffered death from failed childbirth, joining countless women of the past. Dear Lord have mercy.

Which brings up another issue: does God want us to bear children “naturally?” I thought He did, when I was pregnant with my first. The pregnancy was perfect; I jogged up until my 7th month (what was I, crazy?) and everything seemed A-OK until...I went into labor. Then things went south in a hurry. Yet the midwives coached me on. After more than 24 hours of excruciating, dysfunctional labor, it was determined that the baby was stuck. The inevitable C-section apparently saved us both from uterine rupture! Aaaaaaaaaah! So much for natural childbirth!

But thank God for medical technology.

When it came time for #2, my doctor recommended a pelvimetry/sonogram test for cephalo-pelvic disproportion (baby’s head too big to fit through pelvis). Though I really didn’t like the idea (x-rays, being in that claustrophobic scanning bed for 20 minutes), I went along. Well, the ratio of disproportion was so great, the technicians thought there must’ve been an error. So they re-entered all the data and came up with...the same ratio. Translation: baby’s head was most certain to be bigger than the available pelvic opening, meaning forget about a VBAC (vaginal birth after Cesarean). We can’t always get what we want! (BTW, I had a spinal headache after that C-section...and it didn’t respond to a blood patch right away either...)

But anyway, what was God’s plan for me? To die in childbirth? To die and have no children? Or to take advantage of a medical accomplishment and be able to continue my life and raise 3 fantastic kids? Likewise, is contraception a tool to better our lives? Or a sinful intervention? Is bettering our lives bad???

There’s an old cemetery I walk by occasionally. In plain view of the sidewalk is a family plot with 6 headstones: a mother, a father, and 4 little stones all marking babies that died before age 2. Did you get that? Also, our local museum has a display that I’ve always hurried my kids past: a child’s coffin. The exhibit describes the booming youth-coffin business of the 19th and early 20th centuries due to the large number of childhood deaths.

Again, if it were a couple hundred years ago, and presuming my pelvis had been adequate to deliver my children, at least one of them would be gone from this earth already due to childhood illness. Of course, if this had happened, I could’ve kept having children, to “refill my quiver.” In some ways I see the merit of this, but in other ways there is no true “replacement” for a lost child, either before birth or after. And I would like to think that children have a value beyond simply a number in the quiver.


Could it perhaps be idolatrous to make non-management of family size a doctrine? Certainly a mother’s worth is not based solely on whether or not she bears and raises her full potential number of children.

I'd like to conclude by making clear that I have nothing but praise to God and admiration for families who do not use contraception. And yes, I'm a bit envious of these families :-) I am grateful for the example they set, and for the valuable wisdom they can impart to us all.

Which leads to my parting question:
If contraception is wrong, and all reproductively healthy married couples are to do nothing to restrict their numbers of children, then are some meant to be granted relatively manageable lives, adequate health, adequate sleep, adequate help, and opportunity to pursue other interests, while others are doomed to great struggle and hardship? Perhaps yes, if one is to be theologically consistent. Actually, it already happens this way, even with use of contraception. Therefore, could one not say that God grants couples with different circumstances the allowance to limit their family size?

Thanks, everyone, for reading. :-)

Monday, October 18, 2004

Contraception, Part IV: A Mother’s Talents and Training -- Forsaken?

Here’s another question (to add to the list): would God want a woman to completely give up her area of expertise in order to bear large numbers of children? This seems to be a question of stewardship, and of honor. Of course there are countless women who have areas of expertise applicable to or compatible with motherhood. These women would not be required to “turn their backs,” so to speak, on their talents (as well as the resources which have been put into materials and training) in order to mother.

But consider a set of loving parents who have spent their hard-earned dollars on higher education in a specialty for their daughter. Suppose the reason for this commitment is their daughter’s substantial talent and love for the specialty. Then, suppose said daughter meets the man of her dreams, marries soon after graduation, and...proceeds to birth children, one after the other. What might her parents make of this? Does that even matter? (Let’s assume that they support their daughter and love their grandchildren.) From the daughter’s standpoint, does she “owe” them a return on their investment? Perhaps not, or perhaps yes: it’s a matter of honoring what was given to her in good faith. More importantly, is she obligated to God for provision of talent and the means to develop that talent?

When you think about it, it doesn’t make much sense for a young woman and her family to spend gobs of money on higher education in a particular trade, when it’s not possible for said young woman to pursue said trade once she gets married and has lots of children. Nor does it seem right for her to pursue it for a year or two, only to give it up to raise children. It'd be 30 years or so til she'd have opportunity again, unless by then she's helping to care for grandchildren. (I don’t know the practicalities of getting back into a trade after 30+ years; probably depends on the trade.)

Note that what I’m referring to is not a temporary “putting on hold” of the practice of a particular skill, nor even “compromising” the expression of said skill for the sake of raising a family. I’m talking about, essentially, forsaking this skill.

Now, no doubt it is difficult for someone who is not in such a position (or familiar with someone who is) to fully appreciate my question. So let’s imagine a ballerina. From an early age, she exhibits unusual ability to move her body well. Her parents, noticing this, enroll her in ballet classes. She excels in these classes and progresses quickly, having what it takes to be good both physically and mentally through ups and downs of training. She revels in this thing she’s been created to do. She dances for her Creator. (Like Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire: “When I run, I can hear God laugh.”) So, after high school graduation, her parents send her to a fine dance school. She receives further opportunities to hone her dancing and to develop her professional dance career.

But then she gets married. She becomes pregnant, and bears a child. Without much chance to return to professional activities, she becomes pregnant again. And again. And again. And again. Years go by – the prime years in which she would otherwise have developed and peaked as a professional dancer. Money is tight, so she can’t really afford to send her children, some of whom also show promise as dancers, to ballet lessons. Though she tries to provide what instruction she can herself, this proves difficult due to her other responsibilities to her children, husband, and household. Perhaps some generous benefactor offers to sponsor training for her children...but perhaps not. And in whose footsteps, down the road, may her daughters follow??

The debate on contraception and childbearing/raising often hinges on the value of life and the value of children, which I don’t dispute. However, suppose we examine the purpose of a woman. Is a woman’s sole, overriding purpose to bear and raise children? (This is not a feminist question ;-) ) If so, why would God give her certain talents that, in order to be substantially realized, must compete with other callings in regards to time, effort and resources? Yes, we all need to make choices. In the case of multiple talents, one must seek God and use wisdom and judgment as to the purpose of those talents in one’s life and in the big picture.

The book of Ecclesiastes tell us that "there is a time for everything." And I believe this is true. But what does that mean for a woman of certain talent in a reproductively healthy marriage, who does not use contraception?

Part V: “Other Considerations” to follow.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Notes on Christopher Reeve

Well...Christopher Reeve has passed on. Death is certainly no respecter of persons. But still we grieve the loss of his life and pray for comfort and provision for his family.

It was slightly jarring to see Reeve's face smiling from the cover of the Reader’s Digest magazine on my neighbor’s coffee table a couple days ago. The caption read, “Chris Reeve - A decade later: hope, determination, and faith.”

It's a sad irony, considering he died during the month this issue was published, and considering that those things apparently meant something different to him than they might mean to others.

The article (an interview) was both tribute and revealing picture of the man. Though Reeve's injury was tragic, his fierceness and tenacity helped him achieve superior rehabilitation.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

RD: Has there been a change in your optimism (as of late, regarding gaining movement or sensation)?
Reeve: ...yes, there’s been a change in my state of mind, because in May of next year it will be ten years [since the accident], and I doubt if by that time there’s going to be a procedure suitable for me...I didn’t think it would take this long. (emphasis added)

RD: What’s been the hardest part?
Reeve: Watching the slow progress of research in this country. I don’t know if it would have made me walk sooner, but I would have had the satisfaction of knowing we’re all on the same page. Groups of people who have differences about all kinds of issues are united to fight against AIDS. Wouldn’t it be great if we were as united about biomedical research for diseases that affect 128 million Americans?

RD: What’s your position on embryonic stem cell research?
Reeve: I advocate it because I think scientists should be free to pursue every possible avenue. It appears, though, at the moment, that embryonic stem cells are effective in treating acute injuries and are not able to do much about chronic injuries.

RD: How have political decisions slowed stem cell research?
Reeve: The religious right has had quite an influence on the debate. I don’t think that’s appropriate. When we’re setting public policy, no one segment of society deserves the only seat at the table. {no one is saying they do, Mr. Reeve} That’s the way it’s set in the Constitution. So debate all we want, hear from everybody. And then allow our representatives to weigh the factors and make laws that are going to be ethically sound, moral, responsible, but not the result of undue pressure from any particular entity. {hasn't the representation actually been biased in the opposite direction? -- my comments added}

RD: You’ve talked people out of suicide who’ve just suffered the kind of injury you had. How do you do it?
Reeve: I tell them about a lot of things that are available, what’s happening with research, particularly for the acute phase of injury, and what opportunities there are for rehabilitation. ..

RD: You went nearly 50 years without religion in your life. What made you recently join the Unitarian Church?
Reeve: It gives me a moral compass. I often refer to Abe Lincoln, who said, “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. And that is my religion.” I think we all have a little voice inside us that will guide us. It may be God, I don’t know. But I think that if we shut out all the noise and clutter from our lives and listen to that voice, it will tell us the right thing to do. The Unitarian believes that God is good, and believes that God believes that man is good. Inherently. The Unitarian God is not a God of vengeance. And that is something I can appreciate.

RD: What really keeps you going?
Reeve: The love and support of my family, and the fact that I’m needed. I’m working. I focus on the opportunities that come my way rather than on the things that haven’t arrived yet. {I’m not sure this is 100% honest}

RD: What has been the biggest loss as a result of your condition?
Reeve: The loss of freedom as I used to understand it. I still have creative freedom, and I have basic freedom, but not the way it used to be.

The complete article is available here, along with further comment from Reeve that was not included in the printed article. An excerpt:

I look at things in a pretty logical way and try to keep the emotion out of it. And if you ask a very simple, two-part question of some opponents of embryonic stem cell research, it's incredibly hard to get a straight answer. The question is, Where do the embryonic stem cells that scientists want to study come from? Answer, in vitro fertility clinics. There are 400 of those clinics around the country. There are 185,000 Americans walking around today who were born in those clinics.

The second part of that question is, if you're opposed to the harvesting of embryos from leftovers in those clinics that are going to be discarded as medical waste, do you object to in vitro fertility clinics? And they can't answer that.

It's just very interesting that, as far as I'm aware, there's never been legislation, since 1981, to ban fertility clinics in any state. And yet, people have a problem with taking, with informed consent of the donors, the excess embryos that aren't used. And there are 400,000 fertilized embryos sitting in freezers that will be thrown away as medical waste. They keep them for a brief time as there's a possibility of a sibling. And by the way, you don't need to have a perfect embryo to get embryonic stem cells. It doesn't need to be that viable. Because you're talking about the cells when they're only three to five days old. So this is not like a baby that you're killing.

Reeve asks a very good question regarding IVF. It has been quite puzzling to me that the pro-life leaders most outspoken about stem-cell research have been strangely silent on IVF. I wrote a letter to one of these leaders a few years ago; unfortunately I've misplaced the response but remember it being less than satisfactory.

But Reeve’s statement about a 3-5-day-old embryo not being a baby is odd; he doesn’t say that all of them are not viable. At what point does he suppose the viable embryo (or appropriate portion of it) becomes a baby? At what point does he suppose he or his son Will became a baby? Would he have been willing to sacrifice Will when Will was a blastocyst?

I truly feel sorry for Christopher Reeve (or, rather, did, and I am sincere in this). His optimism was based on a stretch -- a hope and a promise that even he admitted was not a given. However much he claimed to be a pragmatist, I still hear beneath those words an idealistic optimism and a refusal to accept the “ugly,” or, rather, a re-defining of what “ugly” is. (Actually, I’ve noticed this to be a characteristic of those who consider themselves “liberal.”)

That said, I’m the first to admit I can’t imagine myself going through what Reeve went through, nor having his courage should the same fate (quadriplegia) befall me. Yet his story stands as a contrast to the testimony of Joni Eareckson Tada, who dealt with her quadriplegia in quite a different way. Her biography, Joni, is powerful and encouraging. I highly recommend it.

edited for clarity 10/19/04

Friday, October 15, 2004

Kerry's reference to Mary Cheney

during the final presidential debate, as quoted by FoxNews:

We're all God's children, Bob, and I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she's being who she was. She's being who she was born as. I think if you talk to anybody, it's not a choice.

First of all, to which God is Kerry referring? The One as revealed in the Bible? The One he supposedly worships as a Catholic?

Note to whom he gives authority to decide whether or not homosexuality is a choice.

He’s saying, ask the homosexuals whether or not they have a choice. He seems to be assuming that each individual knows themselves best, and knows the truth about themselves the best. If this is true, Sen. Kerry, then where exactly does your God fit into the picture?

There are many issues besides homosexuality, some common to just some of us and others common to all of us, that require us to look to a higher authority for truth and understanding. In one instance, we may have many choices according to God, whereas on our own, we fear we have none. Or, in another instance, perhaps we don’t have a certain choice that’s acceptable to God, but wish we did. None of us can “save ourselves.” This is why we need God’s mercy and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Not to mention His teaching. That’s the gospel.

Of course, Kerry is wrong in saying “if you talk to anybody, it’s not a choice.” I’ve read accounts by former homosexuals who testify that there was choice involved. (I couldn’t find those particular accounts online, but did find this and this.)

And then there’s the science involved, as discussed in this article.

It’s pretty clear that Kerry hasn’t been talking to just “anybody.”

Matthew 7:15-16 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?”

Monday, October 11, 2004

A photogenic day

Today being a holiday, we headed to a favorite area for enjoyment of family and scenery. It was a perfect fall day. The leaves have just about peaked. But that's not all there was to see:

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Sunday, October 10, 2004

Contraception, Part III: Contraception and Stewardship

In this post, I will examine the eschewal of contraception as it impacts matters of stewardship.

And I'll ask more questions :-)

I know of several large families in which the father holds a high-paying job. The families live modestly but well and the mothers stay home with the children. In families like these, apparently there are financial means to making a go of having many children.

Other large families I know of live a very “homesteading”-type life; they recycle, keep gardens, and otherwise conserve resources. I respect this tremendously but it's a full-time occupation. (I know; my family of origin lived like this although there were only 2 kids in the family.) Certainly not all large families can take the time to do all these Tightwad and conservation-minded things: they toss cans, bottles, etc. without bothering to rinse, crush, and recycle; they throw out leftovers instead of carefully saving them; they resort to using paper plates and plastic cups a lot; and they take many other more costly or wasteful “shortcuts” because when you’re in a crunch, something has to go. But how does one balance management of resources, monetary and otherwise, with being populous? I don’t believe that wastefulness and consumerism is included in the command to “subdue the earth...”

If you’re a mother with a baby in her arms most of the time and other children to tend to or to homeschool, you simply can’t take the time to do the most conservation-minded things. You may have to toss stained clothes rather than work all the stains out. You may need to throw out damaged or no-longer-useful things and purchase replacements rather than take time to get them fixed. (Or just live with them anyway, like we tend to do :-) ) You may need to pay someone to do stuff you can’t because you’re occupied with children – like housecleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping. Chores like mowing the lawn, raking leaves, cleaning gutters, and innumerable other household jobs may need to be hired out as well. And BTW, all of this is part of stewardship of one's property.

And I do realize that once children are old enough, they can help with some of these things.

The resourceful family with enough time and hands can do most of these chores for themselves and thereby "save" money. The family that's short on time/hands but not on money can afford to hire help. But for the family short on both...what are their options? Seems they must either take out a loan, slow down in having children, send their children away from home for schooling, or live in a dump!

And what about lifestyle and debt? How much debt should a Christian take on in order to support even a modest lifestyle? By “modest lifestyle” I mean a still essentially comfortable way of life, one that provides basic needs and is conducive to developing innate talents and educating children thoroughly. Which begs the question: Is the American way of life sinful, at it’s core? (I.e., wealth, enjoyment of life, indulgence in pursuits beyond basic survival.)

To carry this idea further, is it right to update one’s home or put in a swimming pool when money could instead be sent to World Vision or other worthwhile organization? (This is an area in which I think Tony Campolo is a true prophet and living example. Although he also wears nice clothes and probably eats well too :-) ) By extension, then, one may ask: should I be paying for ballet classes and music lessons,for example, for my child when I could instead be helping to keep a few children in Africa alive with that money?

All of this frames my two primary questions: 1) Does God want us to compromise what we may be able to provide for our children, development-wise, by having more of them rather than less? Does He want children’s talents to go undeveloped because families cannot afford instruction due to their resources being spread thin? Would He rather a family come down to a choice between sending their kids to public school and producing less children in order to have the resources to homeschool them properly? Or choosing to send them to public school rather than homeschooling them so that there is money for the “extras”? (Or “essentials,” depending on your point of view.)

2) Does God want families to have many biological children when there are thousands upon thousands of children already in existence who are barely surviving? Does it honor God to pour money into one’s own children, regardless of how many one has, when that money could instead be used to adopt an orphan or otherwise benefit a needy child?

Or...does He want us to just churn ‘em out and leave the rest "in His hands?"

Part IV: “A Mother’s Talents and Training: Forsaken?” to follow.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Contraception, Part II: From Whence Shall My Help Come?

Recommendation: read Part I first. It sets the context for this and subsequent posts in this series.

Warning: lots of questions coming :-)

Many women thrive on tending to large numbers of children. Their personalities and circumstances are such that they have an overall positive experience. Often they have babies that sleep relatively well (after the first few weeks, anyway) and fall into a routine that makes management of home and family a reasonable task. They don’t mind the constant activity and clamor of young children, and perhaps aren’t bothered by disorder in their homes and lives. Interruptions cause them little stress. They can juggle dozens of tasks at once.

Then there are “less tolerant” women. Why are they less tolerant? Is there something wrong with them? Do they have an attitude problem? I'm not convinced that they necessarily do; surely the healthy parent who finds themselves over-stressed does not treasure their children any less nor necessarily have their priorities in the wrong order. (I’m not talking about garden-variety inconveniences associated with raising children, I’m talking about continuous overload. Not to mention difficulty of managing those “more spirited” – or ill -- of children.)

These parents do not necessarily suffer from depression, either, though depression is unfortunately quite common among mothers of young children. Everyone has different tolerance levels. Beyond these, certain circumstances threaten ability to function. Sleep-deprivation certainly exacerbates this tendency as does illness and inadequate nutrition. These are normal human limitations, not sin. And not excuses! Basic personality is God-given and therefore not changeable by us.

For many mothers, carrying, bearing, and nurturing large numbers of children does severely affect her health and quality of life (and indirectly her family’s as well.) Under certain not-so-infrequent conditions, a mother simply cannot properly care for her children before her oldest ones are old enough to help, and perhaps not even after. Especially if she has no family nearby and is lacking means to hire help.

Apparently this was Margaret Sanger’s initial concern. Yes, I realize I’m committing suicide by mentioning even a shred of philosophical allegiance with Ms. Sanger, but let me be clear: I find 99% of her ideas unconscionable. Considering her overall viewpoints, it’s very easy to assume that her concern for women (as discussed at the link) is disingenuous. But my belief is that it is a genuine and valid concern.

I’m convinced that there is more to having a workable family life than simply having the “right” parenting method or home-management philosophy. I’m relatively familiar with most of the ones out there and have tried many of their ideas. I’ve learned a lot. But surely there is no method nor viewpoint that makes life, children, or parents even close to perfect. Surely a mother is rarely as wise with her first child as with her 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, etc. Good parenting is a growing process. And all children, indeed all parents, have their differences.

Several families I know have children that are cooperative and unassuming. I do not believe that this is merely due to good training however. God makes a vast array of personalities, and for some families, “training up” their spirited children is no easy feat. It’s perplexing and exhausting! Parent who have had “easier” babies and children are no doubt tempted to pat themselves on the back and assume that parents whose kids are not so “easy” have just not trained or disciplined them correctly. Well, let me tell you, it’s just as easy for the parent of the challenging child to know in their heart of hearts that they are not so much less wise than other committed parents, yet wonder what they’ve done wrong and why things aren’t working!

Certainly there are wiser parents and less wise ones. But’s not about standards! To say “if only I used the right parenting method and had all the right wisdom, I could handle 12 (or whatever number) children” seems a bit simplistic. (Or maybe I’m dumber than I like to think?)

Anyway, back to my main point: no human mother that I know of (OK, maybe a few, but certainly not me; I’d love to be Superwoman/Supermom, but who am I kidding??) can bear children close together, tend to them, raise them full-time, keep a house in reasonable order, tend to her spouse, and have any semblance of sanity or energy left without help. (I’m talking the human kind, dependence on God goes without saying.)

Here are some of my questions: how many families with lots of children have babies and young children that sleep less than 11-12 hours at night? How many have babies and children that continue to waken very frequently (after the first couple of months at least)? How many have babies that are very difficult to get to sleep? How many have babies that scream almost constantly for the first several months, day and night? How many have babies that do not like to be put down (and cannot be “trained” into it)? How many breastfeed their children, esp. babies who won’t even take a bottle (of breastmilk) and need to nurse more often than every 3-4 hours? How many of these mothers use a pacifier, or have babies that will even take one?

How many mothers with many children go for weeks on end, months or years, even, of severely inadequate sleep? (For those who haven’t experienced this, take it from me – it’s awful.) How many are able to properly tend to their spouses, homes, and other children while tending a very “challenging” baby? How many of these families homeschool and are therefore responsible for all of their children 24/7, with the added responsibility of educating all of them properly and fairly? A mother in such a situation surely needs periods of respite; in other words, she needs outside help.

And so I ask, from whence shall this help come? From single friends? Perhaps sometimes. From grandparents? Sometimes, but not always. From other families with large amounts of children? Perhaps. From families with no or few children? Perhaps.

In the past and in other cultures, lucky mothers had servants and ladies-in-waiting. Even just a few generations past, it was common for upper-middle-class families to have housemaids, cooks, and nursemaids for their babies. Nowadays we still have maids, housekeepers, au pairs, and nannies, but not every family can afford them. Will God provide for this as well as all other needs? The testimony of some “quiverfull” families is "yes." But does the testimony of all families who attempt a quiverfull say “yes?”

Do starving, struggling families in third world countries say yes? (That’s a serious question. No snark here.)

Will God always provide needs we typically take for granted?

In my own personal, well, no, not always. So – am I and others with similar experience doing something wrong? Or, like Job, must we realize that we are clay in the Father’s hands, to do with as He wishes?

Perhaps, if it’s wrong to forsake contraception, it’s also wrong to move away from one’s parents’ community, and vice-versa. Grandparents are a natural source of help for an overwhelmed mother. But not all grandparents are willing or able to help to a degree that makes any difference. If young couples are selfish in that they want to limit their family size, then aren’t able grandparents also selfish in wanting their retirement, freedom, or whatever instead of being willing to help substantially with grandchildren? And what of the grandparents who have so many grandchildren they can’t possibly help with all of them?

The church should also be willing to help. But you’ll find thinking, even among good-hearted church people, that a family shouldn’t be having more & more children if they need help all the time, especially when contraception is available. Perhaps a family could look for another church. But surely God doesn’t require a family to forsake their church family merely to find another that supports “quiverfull" philosophy...unless children are the ultimate priority.

For the exhausted, struggling, and emotionally stressed mother, I also ask, what about the Sabbath? I can honestly say that I did not experience a Sabbath that was actually restful during the first year with each of my children, longer with my first. How does a mother who constantly, and I mean constantly, has young children to tend to, for years on end, experience the Sabbath?

And what might a husband’s role be in all of this? What if his wife begs for his help but he is not able or willing to take off work? Should a husband limit his working hours to merely 40/week? Should his family live strictly on whatever income he makes, living within their means even if this dictates an extreme limit in lifestyle? Even if it means forsaking development of their children’s talents as well as the quality of the education they may receive? What place might hired help have in such a limited budget?

We’re talking a major overhaul of society if we are going to throw out contraception entirely. The level of human suffering would certainly increase. Perhaps this is what God wants! Perhaps His desire is for certain mothers to keep having children so that they must struggle and suffer for years. This life isn't all there is, after all; those who suffer even unto death for His sake will be restored in heaven.

Well, I’m not claiming to have the answers. I’m just trying to think things through to their logical conclusions.

Part III: “Contraception and Stewardship” to follow

Friday, October 08, 2004

And this guy's a bishop?

Well, here it is:
You do not go to God to determine truth. You go to the commonly accepted knowledge that is available to you in the fields of science and medicine.
-– John Shelby Spong

Straight from the, er, horse’s mouth.

Spong is referring specifically to truth about homosexuality with this statement. He goes on to say:
My bet is that by "going to God," she [referring to a reader’s friend] means consulting the Bible, which was quoted to condemn Galileo and Darwin and to support slavery and a second-class citizenship for women. That is not a very impressive set of credentials. If we followed the Bible, we would put all homosexuals to death (see Lev. 20).*

Oh. Well. Guess I better toss my Bible.

*from Spong's weekly email column, "A New Christianity for a New World" Bishop Spong Q&A. If I knew how, I'd provide a link.

Gone bananas

Our family entertainment du jour:

The original jingle from 1944.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Abercrombie & Fitch does it again

I just got an email from the owner of the gymnastics school at which my son trains. She informed us that Abercrombie and Fitch has a new T-shirt out:

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Isn't it charming?

I feel a letter of protest coming on...

An excerpt from USA Gymnastics’ President/CEO Robert V. Colarossi's statement:
USA Gymnastics is encouraging not only the gymnastics community, but also the greater community who recognizes the value of sports in young lives to prove to A&F that “L” really stands for “lost profits” and “last time we purchase from your store.”

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Contraception, Part I: A Quiverfull?

Well, I’ve already tackled the subject of sex here (Sept. 4); might as well take this one on too. LOL

But please be assured that I do not take it lightly. Not at all.

First, the preliminaries:

The dilemma of contraception and its ramifications have been kicking around in my head for a long time. Jeremy Pierce’s excellent piece on the subject recently brought it to the fore. I’ve since been trying to coax along a decent representation of my own thoughts, but it hasn’t been easy. Some of what I write seems so – radical. Not to mention rambling. Not to mention stumbling.

(I admit that I’m also running scared from the imaginary thought police. An awareness of the personal, highly-charged, and profound nature of the topic does this to my mind...)

Know that I am writing not because I have anything earth-shaking to add to the discussion, but because I want to honor God with my thinking. As with my entire life. But on my own I'm not worth much; I need the help of the community of believers. I Cor. 12:20-27. Therefore I will write this series (of questions as well as statements) as an open book, as a record of my thoughts worthy or faulty, and hope that fellow comrades in the faith will join in. Thanks in advance!

ultimate raison d’etre: Use of contraception is a private matter, as are decisions regarding its use. This does not, however, make the moral aspects undeserving of public attention or discussion. Insomuch as (absolute) morality is involved, there must be public discussion. So here goes.

Wait, one more thing: (Is the suspense killing you?) One of the reasons this topic is so hard for me to write about is that the ramifications are so far-reaching. The process of thinking through them has been mind-boggling. I’ve always been a sort of “all the pieces have to fit” kind of person; before I can accept something, it has to bear out under every kind of scrutiny I can come up with. Naturally, not every worthy thing passes this test, nor does the test work for everything. But I’m looking for a certain basic consistency. I came to believe in the truth of the God of the Bible because it was the one explanation that repeatedly seemed to ring true no matter what question I could throw at it.

Sometimes, however, this consistency or lack thereof is something I can only sense rather than articulate.

(Don’t say I didn’t warn you...) Now on with it:

There is a philosophy in Christian circles known as “Quiverfull”, based on Psalm 127: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it... Children are an heritage of the Lord; and the fruit of the womb is a reward. As arrows are in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” From this verse (and a few others), the Quiverfull philosophy finds that God does not desire those to whom He grants fertility to do anything to limit or prevent the blessings of this fertility (i.e., no contraception).

However, neither Psalm 127 nor any other part of Scripture states this explicitly (except in the case of Onan, in Genesis 38:9-10, which is not addressing contraception per se. Mr. Pierce has covered this already so I will not go into it further.) The verses on barrenness and child-bearing in the Bible seem to address those who have no children. The childless are reassured that God grants these blessings as a reward for Godly living. A response to that might be, “Then why do so many ungodly people have children?” But regardless, it’s clear that children are inherently a blessing from the fact that they are imbued with life. But of what sort is this blessing?

Children as referred to in these verses are not blessings in a sentimental or even instructive sense (as they may be viewed today) but rather are material blessings: the future of a family, community, tribe, or race. They are a defense against enemies, a help. In a parallel way, children can offer social protection and help in our current society.

My interpretation of Psalm 127: It is not by striving and building things in our own strength that we gain true prosperity; any worthwhile or necessary gain is granted (given as a gift) by the Lord. Likewise, the Lord grants children as a form of prosperity. A man with a “quiverfull” will not be put to shame when battling enemies because he has an “army” of children.

The point of the Psalm is to define true prosperity. Does this definition of children as prosperity hold true today? In some ways yes, and in other ways no. The issue is a societal one, not merely an individual one. But more on that later.

Along a similar line, another “quiverfull” response to the proposition of using contraception is, “if children are a blessing from the Lord, why would anyone want to limit the Lord’s blessings?” I would answer, "Well, because there are other blessings which also come from the Lord that may be 'withdrawn' when a family has more children than they can handle." But more on that later as well.

What of the “quiverfull” idea that the Lord “opens and closes the womb?” (Genesis 17:20, 20:18, 21:1-2, 29:31, 30:22) I agree that this is so (after all, He is sovereign), but I also believe that God has made woman’s reproductive system to work with a predictability nearly on par with, say, the ability of her GI tract to digest a meal. If a reproductively healthy woman has a reproductively healthy husband, her womb is pretty much guaranteed to be "open" several days each month. The exception would be if she’s ill or breastfeeding, but even then it may remain open.

Of course, I’m well aware that not every conception makes it to birth. But this fact does not affect my main point.

A parting question: Does the fact that a woman has an open womb mean that she is to accept its maximum potential fruitfulness (in marriage), regardless of other considerations?

Part II: "From Whence Shall My Help Come?" to follow.

edited for readability 10/7/04

Monday, October 04, 2004

Life's but a shadow...

Part I

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Part II

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Saturday, October 02, 2004

The Presidential Debate in a nutshell

I know this is a little late, but I didn’t actually watch the debate. I read the transcript late last night.

Kerry: If only I’d have been President these last four years, or at least since 9/11, things would be perfect. We’d have captured OBL, North Korea would have no nukes, there’d be all kinds of money in the budget, and none of our soldiers would be dead.

Bush: We’re staying the course for freedom in the world and safety in America. It’s hard work. We’ve been working our butts off and we're making progress! Kerry changes his mind with his clothes. He says uncomplimentary things about the very folks he wants to work with and, frankly, that really scares me.*

*acknowledgment of special influence from JibJab

Friday, October 01, 2004

Sarcasm and the Christian

Several years ago I was reading a Christian magazine and found myself disturbed by the sarcastic tone of the writing. A letter to the editor questioning the propriety of such writing appeared a few issues later. The editor responded by defending the use of sarcasm.

A year or so later, I was again struck by what seemed to be mean-spirited sarcasm in the same magazine. This time I wrote to the editor myself. My letter was published, along with an editorial response. In my letter, I held that use of language which described a certain child molester as “vulture-like in appearance” was inappropriate but acknowledged that the molester’s actions were unspeakable. I went on to say that God had made the molester’s physique the way it was, for better or worse, and that God asks us to have mercy on sinners as He does, regardless of how perverse they are. While condemning their sin, He does not ridicule nor treat with contempt.

I defended my position by quoting John 14:7-30 (Jesus and the woman at the well) and Acts 9 (Saul’s conversion). (Another example is John 8:1-11 - Jesus and the adulterous woman.) Again I entreated the editor and contributing writers to “tell it like it is, but with an attitude of grace.”

The editor’s response: "We think there’s a good case to be made for the language used in [the article]. It’s true that God made man in His image, but it’s also true that man is fallen – that his image is now a very distorted version of God’s. When describing [the molester], we thought it was appropriate to describe (accurately if colorfully) his physical characteristics in a way that reflected his moral state. A vulture is a predator, and so was [the molester]. Sometimes, we simply need to focus on the outrage – as chapters and entire books of Scripture do."

No Scriptural examples were provided.

I’m aware of Matthew 3:7, in which John the Baptist calls the Pharisees and Sadducees a "brood of vipers," but John continues by challenging them to change their ways. He doesn’t berate them for being "vipers" nor condemn them to eternal viperhood.

Actually I agree with the editor that sarcasm can be useful for illustrating truth and irony. But there's a fine line between illuminative sarcasm and the hurtful, damaging kind.

There is something just plain ugly about it when it's used against someone. I’m not sure that dealing with ugliness in an ugly way really does anything to combat ugliness, know what I mean? Sarcasm also smacks of derision, contempt, and overall superiority – things which really have no place in the Christian manner of dealing with people.

Not that I am without blame myself. I am a noticer of irony by nature and pop out little quips all the time. I also confess to spewing sharp, bitter words when angry. But the good news is, I’m learning to control my tongue. :-) Proverbs 12:18: "There is one who speaks rashly like the thrust of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing." Amen.