Birthing Pains

Labor pains.

I hear women talk about them. Having never been there myself, I mostly rely on borrowed experiences. The common denominators seem to be 1) long; 2) painful; 3) tiring. So when David Rountree was preaching through Galatians 4, verse 19 arrested my attention. Paul talks about experiencing the pangs of childbirth as he waited for “Christ to be formed in [the Galatians].”

Salvation is begun in an instant but worked out in time and space. Very few of us grow to maturity in Christ without the help of one or more spiritual “parents” who shepherd us along the pathway of grace. Christ is “formed in us” as we are transformed by the Holy Spirit into the image of our Older Brother and Co-Heir.

I work primarily with covenant children who are in a later stage of a multi-year process of sanctification. I never know where any particular kid is on that pathway. At any given time, some may be unregenerate (but experiencing God’s grace as He works through their families and churches to draw them to Himself). Still others exhibit an amazing relationship with their Father at an early age.
Some know Him only as an acquaintance. If left alone in a room with their God, they would sit in an uncomfortable silence and stare at their shoes, at a loss for anything to talk about. I often see those kids wrestling to understand why the God at work in their lives (poking around and rattling their cages) doesn’t seem to match the picture of God they expected to see.

The process of shepherding brings with it difficulties akin to childbirth. I can see Paul’s point. It’s not like the means of grace work instantaneously. In fact, God rarely untangles situations or people very quickly. He works patiently … while we wait. The outcome often seems uncertain. Will this person continue in faith? Will the covenant promises hold true? I see a life-shattering tragedy shake someone to the core — will s/he survive the onslaught?

In the four years I’ve spent at NCS, I have wept.
I have rejoiced.
I have cried out to God in prayers that I couldn’t even begin to find words for.

And I’ve seen “Christ formed” in my kids.

Joy unspeakable

Education. We’ve all got opinions. Here are a few of mine.

Education.

Everybody talks about it. Everybody’s got an opinion.

So, lest I miss out on all the fun of opinion-giving, here are a couple thoughts that were stirred up in my head after talking to a friend of mine who’s an English teacher in Southern New Jersey. She teaches primarily “special needs” students who come from a mixture of backgrouns (inner-city kids, immigrant kids, blue collar workers’ kids).

Many of her students are functionally illiterate and/or perform very poorly on standardized tests or any “school”ish tasks. They don’t write well; they don’t read well; they fail at math. Unfortunately, by the time she gets them as high scholers, they believe that they’re idiots, incapable of ever measuring up to the standards set by society and the school system.

Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” Act is a travesty. It requires 100% of public education students, including special ed students, to pass their states’ exit exams by 2014. (Why have “special ed” then?) Districts must attain unreachable statistical goals in order to remain on the “good” list. Teachers are terrified into spending every classroom moment on the skills necessary to pass the exam. Money for the arts, vo-tech, or other vital parts of education (if you believe that humans are more than reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic) has evaporated now that high-stakes testing is all anyone has time for. Music … theater … art … carpentry — the exit exams don’t care about those.

Instead of recognizing a child’s unique gifts and crafting an educational experience that allows each person to both enter society as a functioning member (basic life skills) as well as a contributing member (by helping them unwrap those gifts and talents), public education is forced to shove each child through a particular mold (determined by the test).

As a result, states will end up lowering the bar to “pass” students who otherwise would fail (since federal money rides on these scores). And states are moving toward frighteningly draconian measures to tie teachers’ salaries, jobs, and advancement to the kids’ test scores. Is that *really* a good idea? … Would YOU put your salary, retirement, or job security on the line to teach the classroom of “struggling learners,” knowing that you will be blamed if they cannot pass the test? (Never mind the fact that you have no control over the kids’ home lives, parental involvement, or even whether they had anything in the house to eat for breakfast…..)

I’m not here to argue the morality of the current system (as in “should Christians send their kids to public schools?”). But I *do* know that there is a biblically normative way to structure education–ways that take into account the image of God stamped upon all humans–and those norms apply to the public school system (whether the system acknowledges them or not).

This is a good example of how a well-meaning reform movement (“teachers don’t have enough accountability!”) was based on faulty information and blanket statements (“The schools are all failing!!”) and chose a flawed solution (high-stakes testing) without considering the consequences.

Picky? Yes. Because it matters. [DaVinci Code – review]

DaVinciCodeSo we finally got around to watching the Da Vinci Code tonight at the Astro. Gotta love the $2 theater.

promise me you’ll read everything I write before giving up or posting a comment. 

It seems like Christians tend to embarrass ourselves with over-the-top knee-jerk reactions to pop culture. A book or film comes out that we disagree with, and everyone wants to burn it, crucify the author/director, and preach hellfire sermons against anyone associated with it. “Don’t go see it!!” This, in turn, makes Christians look to the world like we’re either
1) afraid of the “big truth” we don’t want anyone to find out about (why else would we be so intent on censoring a film?), or
2) wound so tight that we can’t handle anyone disagreeing with us (“look at those intolerant Christians!”).

Either way, our reactions can make the Truth look like it’s fighting from a defensive, weak position instead of a strong one. (It is Truth after all — and God can handle any question thrown at Him.)

The number of books, articles, sermons, TV talk show programs, and other Da Vinci Code material is daunting. Walk into any bookstore and you’ll see the battlefield right in front of you:  thinkers on “both sides” arrayed against one another, leading the average bookstore shopper to assume the truth is probably “somewhere in the middle.”

There are a lot of bad reasons for condemning the Da Vinci Code outright. It’s not the most atrocious attack on Christianity ever penned/filmed. It’s not singlehandedly able to dismantle the Church overnight. It’s not baldfaced deception so beautifully crafted that it’ll suck in anyone who reads it.  Nor can it leap tall buildings in a single bound.  *coughs*

By the way, the point of the book (a feminist diatribe about how wonderful goddess worship was before the Church screwed it up) and the thrust of the movie (Jesus was human not divine and the Church is hiding that) are quite different … but both are, at the core, an attack on the Divinity of Jesus Christ.

Brown’s historical inaccuracies are so blatant and so awful that they ought to strike people as either hilarious or illogical.  Unfortunately, even most Christians don’t know their church history well enough to refute what he suggests about the history of the Church, how we got our Bible, the purpose of the Church councils, or the fact that pagan religion did NOT venerate women. Hmph. Heck no. If anything, women were more abused in pre-Christian societies.

If anything, the Da Vinci Code left me angry and grieved — the same way I’d feel if someone attacked the character of my husband or my pastor or my best friend.  Because that’s what it is — an attack on who Jesus is … and, by extension, an attack on His Bride. (The book/film targets the Catholic church but make no effort to separate Protestants out of the mix … all us Christians are lumped together as “hiding the truth.”)

The Church should respond with grace, not with a sputting kind of outrage that just plays into the hands of people who’d like to chip away at Truth. Censorship would be foolish. At least people are talking about who Jesus is/was. He’s certainly not a marginal issue at the moment.

But Christians should be ashamed that the Da Vinci Code, even riddled with so many historical errors that it can hardly stand up for itself, catches most of us flat-footed.

  • Can you explain how the Bible got here and what “inspriation” actually means (and doesn’t mean)?
  • Do you understand why it’s wrong to think that the Council of Nicea “decided” which books are inspired and which aren’t?
  • Can you explain to someone else why it’s not accurate to say that the Council “decided” that Jesus is divine?
  • Do you know why we defend both Jesus’ divinity and His humanity?

… and those are just the theological issues … I’m not even asking the Church History questions or about the pagan / goddess worship stuff he throws in there. 

heh. If I were a seminary professor teaching Apologetics this year, I’d spring this essay question on my students:
“Given [such and such] passage from The Da Vinci Code, point out the logical fallacies and historical inaccuracies in Brown’s argument, note any areas of truth, and state the orthodox response.”

… and with that, I should probably take my own advice and read up on some of this stuff…

No Greys

I am someone who believes firmly in “the gray area” when it comes to most of the sticky issues that come up in life. Due to our human limitations (and compounded by the twisting of our sin nature), we rarely see an issue clearly enough to slam down a black & white judgment. Even if the question is clear (like “adultery is wrong”), somehow humans can get things so twisted that seeing the end from the beginning in a particular case is no easy task. Motives are nearly impossible to judge; assigning “blame” is usually a vain pursuit. Sometimes the moral course of action is hard to define.
I rest in the confidence that God sees all things clearly.

We humans are not so privileged.

But I think I’ve found a situation in which the “gray area” attitude might not apply.

Why are we so afraid to live within biblical definitions? We read the Word, see the definitions of sin and grace, and then go out to build our own fences.

Hypothetical examples:

Condemning people who smoke or drink because you think it’s unwise, even if you don’t think it’s “wrong” per se. There’s a legit argument to make about not trashing your body…and drunkenness is explicitly put off-limits by the Bible… but many people want to draw another fence around that to say that people are safer if they never drink or smoke at all.

A youth worker hides what he watches on TV or listens to (music) from the teens in his youth group.  (He listens to the music / watches the TV program with a clear conscience.)  It’s even good music. But hiding is easier than confronting other people’s opinions which have placed categories of music or TV “off-limits” to “wise” or “mature” Christians.

Or this hypothetical conversation:
“Sin comes from your heart, not from what goes into you through your eyes, ears, or mouth.”
“Dad, can I watch this war movie?”
“Maybe. What’s it rated?”
“R for violence and language.”
“Oh, no — you know we don’t let you watch movies with profanity in them. We don’t want you listening to that kind of stuff.”

In each case, the authority has created a “gray area” where an action is neither sinful nor righteous. But it’s somehow *tainted* and therefore morally unsuitable or unwise.

Everyone knows enough about legalism to recoil from actively pursuing it, so rarely do I hear people try to argue that a particular kind of music or using profanity or watching violence on TV (etc) is actually wrong.  But they make it clear that they’re uncomfortable with it… and want their kids to stay away from it.

Drawing our own lines of safety/righteousness seems to reassure us that we can take a controlling grip on this life and our loved ones…. but it’s a false sense of security. Worse, I think it confuses kids / young Christians. If something *isn’t* sin, how is it still “dirty”?

I’m not saying families shouldn’t set standards for behavior, music, or movies for their kids. Not saying that at all.

But I’m confused about the differences between legitimate fences (the teen equivalent of protecting a 1 year old from touching a hot stove until he’s old enough to obey) and creating a false “gray area” of “not sin-but not OK either.”
The latter action is very dangerous. I’d call it deadly.

The Tyranny of the Absolute

Further musings on legalism, liberty, and the difference between the two

I am frustrated by people who paint me into a corner by forcing me to defend from Scripture my “right” to do something … instead of working within the boundaries of liberty set up by Scripture.

They ask the wrong question.

I’m frustrated because there’s just no winning that argument when they get to set it up.

I’ve been down this road many times now, from both directions. I understand the holiness/pietist arguments because I used to believe them. But it didn’t take long in college for the Scripture itself to start breaking those arguments apart.  Things aren’t as tidy as they seem. And if you accept that sin is “contamination” instead of the characteristic of a sinner, you’re gonna end up in all kinds of weird places

…. like BJU allowing students to listen to soundtracks from PG movies but not PG 13 …  I guess PG13 movies breach the “sin line” too often, and we all know that listening to music associated with a film that’s “bad” must be bad too …. *rolls eyes*

But the “absolutist” comes along…

Absolutist: That’s a horrible song! Why are you listening to that?!  The Bible says to avoid evil, and that’s evil! So stop!
Me: Um, well … First of all, I’m not convinced the song is “evil” . . .
Abs: Ack! How can you not label this song evil?! They’re singing about sex! And it’s clearly premarital … and we know that’s wrong! Young minds are going to be affected by this!
Me: But singing about sex isn’t wrong! In fact, sex isn’t wrong unless  … oh never mind…..

You see? You end up looking like a fool. Or an “antinomian” who “sins that grace may abound.”  Or (at the least) “unwise” … because the absolutist can always pull out the “unwise” argument:

Me: But I can show you from Scripture that my conscience is clear regarding this issue. A Blink 182 song isn’t sin for me. I listen in faith …

Abs: *scowls dramatically* But is it WISE?!!

Me: *sighs*

The question is all wrong. But it’s all wrong at the worldview level! And I can’t battle the worldview on my own.

Bill Davis talked a lot in my epistemology class this summer about how worldviews are changed:  the most effective shaper of underlying core beliefs is the Holy Spirit … but if we focus on human tools … our worldviews are shaped by the people we love and respect the most. That’s why it does matter to me that I have a real relationship with the students I teach. From an educator’s perspective, I’m not even going to get in the front door of their hearts if there’s not a relationship of love there first.

But that doesn’t help me much with disgruntled legalists.

 

The Loving Touch

I was musing this morning on the Italian church in Venice, pastored by missionary Frank King. (We hope to worship with them this spring if the Italy trip works out for our 11/12th graders.)  The believers’ love for one another was so evident. Part of it was cultural — all Italians greet one another by kissing on the cheek. But the supernatural “unity” of the Spirit was beautiful in that place.

When we moved to Anderson 3 years ago, I jumped everytime a guy touched me on the arm. Heh. Ten years of “touch not!” had done its work to mold me into a “hands-off” relationship with people. I’m sure my reflexes amused men like Mike Settle and Don Hall, who literally embraced me in my role as mentor and teacher of their children. With much practice, I’ve gotten much better at receiving brotherly love.

I know men who refuse to hug any woman not related to them. This is especially true of ministers in the circles I grew up in. It comes from a well-intentioned desire to remain “blameless” from any possible charge of infidelity or temptation toward adultery.

But like the former alcoholic who cannot taste a drop lest he fall back into drunkenness, the “sin” still rules. The alcohol controls where that man goes, what he eats, who he can spend time with. He’s not living in victory over sin; he’s a paroled prisoner. Perhaps a refusal to extend the most basic of human communication–friendly affection–out of a fear of being tempted is an equal bondage.

And I’ve decided that’s a pretty sad way to live.

Hugs to you all.  Don’t flinch next time I greet you.

The Artist and The Author

To quote from a theater company I was reading about today:

Artaud put it over sixty years ago in “No More Masterpieces” “Masterpieces of the past are good for the past: they are not good for us. We have the right to say what has been said and even what has not been said in a way that belongs to us, a way that is immediate and direct, corresponding to present modes of feeling, and understandable to everyone.”

So …. does anybody else have a problem with that?

The author of this statement is a director writing to defend his decision to turn Midsummer Night’s Dream into a smoky, dark, sensuous story, playing up Shakespeare’s sexual humor and inserting it where he couldn’t find any. A newspaper critic had reviewed his show pretty harshly, and this was his response.

Shakespeare scholars, stage directors, and theater companies everywhere have ascribed to the theory that since there’s no way to know for sure what Shakespeare intended, his intentions are irrelevant. In fact, in our postmodern age of uncertainty, it is the reader’s (or watcher’s) response that matters above all else–because that’s all we can know (so the theory goes).

I can agree with about 90% of Artaud’s statement above. My main quibble is with the line “We have the right to say . . . even what has not been said.” And so you end up with sex-drenched R-rated adaptations of Midsummer . . . Or Branaugh’s Hamlet, which inserted a physical relationship with Ophelia that isn’t stated in the text . . . Or attempts to turn some of Shakespeare’s pairs of same-gender friends into homosexual lovers . . . Or Merchant of Venice into a heavy, ponderous diatribe against anti-Semitism (the most recent Al Pacino/Jeremy Irons/Joseph Fiennes adaptation, which had some definite points of merit despite its preachiness).

If we who are People of the Book insist that there is a core of eternal, unchanging truth revealed by God in His Word and knowable to all people in all places . . . doesn’t that demand a different brand of literary theory than what is pushed so hard on unsuspecting high school students and college undergraduates?

My literary friends (those with degrees in things like English literature) disagree with me here. They say that the Word is a unique book; in other literature we must operate in the realm of postmodern uncertainty, with an emphasis on reader response.

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