Archive for December, 2008

Forgive Me.

December 28, 2008

Surely there has to be some greater issue.  Practically anything would do, frankly.  Anything more worthy of thousands of people’s virtual indignation than this – a Facebook ban on breastfeeding photos.

I suspect this will be one of the historical assessments of the Internet  – that it provided an ingenious way for people to feel connected and alive and aware and socially conscious without actually doing a damn thing.  Another mechanism for frittering away time and energy – and even the awareness of a need for actual action, because the act of virtually protesting is seen as some sort of useful action in itself.
Which, frankly, it isn’t.
And I’m just as guilty.  Sitting here pointing fingers at those silly people getting all riled up over practically nothing. Yet at the same time, right now, there are homeless and hungry people in my own community, probably within a half a mile or less of me.  I could be out making an actual difference to an actual person at an actual moment in time.  But I’m not.
Mea culpa.  Mea maxima culpa.  
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Curses!

December 27, 2008

Ummm…curses!  Once again, I am uniquely unoriginal.  

Binge Blogging

December 27, 2008

Apparently I’m a binge blogger – going for days or weeks without saying anything, and then indulging wildly for a day or so before going ‘dark’ again.  I don’t know if someone has coined the term binge blogging yet, but if not, I am.  And I’m also denying any responsibility for irresponsibly mixing metaphors.  

To whit, I found this editorial vaguely interesting.  Unfortunately, it too mixes metaphors and seems to contradict itself.  We’re obviously in need of being rescued from ourselves, yet are to also dig deep and find the divine within us that, to a greater or lesser degree, apparently is going to save us?  We suffer from ourselves, yet we are also our own salvation?
I don’t see me in the manger.  I don’t see the divine in me, and Jesus didn’t call anyone, ever, to recognize the divine in themselves.  He called them to repentance, and to accepting the change that only God could work in them, and then through them and yes, despite them – which would be the coming of the kingdom of God.  The entire ministry of Jesus – as the entire revelation of Scripture up to and after Jesus – is a witness to the fact that we cannot save ourselves.  That we are not divine in any sense other than reflection – and that this reflection is now distorted as well.  We are created in the image of God, but that image has been twisted by sin.  We retain our value as creatures of God – unique from all the rest of creation in that likeness we bear to our Creator, no matter how mangled that likeness has become.
But we aren’t divine.  We aren’t the implementers of justice and mercy and peace.  You and I at our best are simply reflecting for a brief moment, the glory of our Creator, and allowing that reflection to shine a little more clearly.  
Don’t look for yourself in that stable – you won’t find you.  But you will find something far greater than yourself or myself or all of creation combined.  You’ll find the love of God incarnate in human flesh, sent as a reconciler, the one who could be what Adam failed to be, and what no other human since Adam even had a chance to be – obedient.  Fix your eyes on that baby.  Fix your hope on that baby.  God with us, God for us – not God within us.

Radiohead

December 27, 2008

If you had roughly 20 minutes a day to talk to someone that you’ve never met before, what would you say to them?  For 20 minutes each day, they’re going to give you their more or less undivided attention.  They aren’t going to say a word.  They aren’t going to interact with you during that time, ask questions, ask for clarification, or otherwise even let you know that they’re listening.  You have no idea who they are.  You can’t even see them, to gain any sort of feedback through body language or facial expression.  You don’t know if they’re even really paying attention – you just have to assume they are.

What would you want to say to such a person?  Would what you say change if you thought you were speaking to 10 people?  What about 100?  What about 1000?  10,000?  
I’ve been toying with the idea of a radio ministry for some time.  I’ve always had an interest in radio, though it’s a much different animal now than it was when I was growing up.  But, for a relatively small amount of money ($2000/month, maybe more, maybe less), it’s possible to put together a digital program that’s fairly professional and will be aired on a local radio station.  It’s not the logistics of a radio ministry that perplex me, or cause me the greatest confusion.
Rather, it’s what to say.
I know other folks in town that do this sort of thing, and they air their material on the county’s Christian radio station.  But I’m not really interested in doing that.  There is plenty of material on the Christian radio station already.  I have no desire to compete with others in that arena, and I don’t know that I have anything terribly important or different to contribute to those listeners.  I’m much more interested in creating something that would be played (ideally) on a secular radio station.  Probably late at night, after their normal programming has ended.  I might be able to reach a different group of people.  A group of people that might not consider flipping on the Christian radio station.  A group of people who might be caught off guard by what they heard in the wee-hours of the morning, during their dark night of the soul or hangover or whatever.  
The question becomes, what to say to them.  Or more importantly, where to start, how to say it so that it can be heard.  How not to make assumptions.  How to meet them where they might be, and lead them to where they were meant to be.  That’s a big challenge, and one that has largely encouraged me to put it on the back shelf.  Partly because I don’t have the financial resources for such a thing.  
But mostly because I’m not sure what to say, and I’m afraid to mess it up.  I’m just feeling more and more that it’s time to step away from that fear, and just do it.  
So what would you say?

Church Recruitment?

December 27, 2008

I hate church.  Not the Church, but the traditional instantiation of The Church known as the local congregational entity.  I hate the waste and the territorialness and the obsessiveness that quickly eclipses the purpose of the church (in many cases, though I’m sure not all), and thereby guarantees a gradual (or swift) decline in spiritual focus and overall congregational health.  My idea of how the local church looks and feels has little to do with this traditional approach.  I don’t want there to be walls and pews and rooms and carpeting to fuss over.  I don’t want there to be electric bills and groundskeeping bills and refurbishing costs that create a financial and emotional black hole, drawing all of the congregational resources inwards onto itself.  

But getting this idea going isn’t very feasible with people who are deeply committed to, or experienced with, the traditional church model. So it’s necessary to reach out to people who aren’t interested in coming to church, but might be deeply interested in getting to know Jesus Christ, and in living out what that relationship means to them in very intentional ways.  But how do you find these people?  How do you let them know that there’s someone out there that understands that in rejecting the church they aren’t necessarily rejecting Jesus, and is committed to working to find a way to foster a community comprised of the convinced and the curious, where questions are welcomed and responded to, rather than discouraged.  Where new ideas, where tangible expressions of love in the community are not committee agenda items, they’re just what we do, day in and day out.  Where the monies that people give to ‘the church’ go to benefit the people of God, rather than a place for God.  
I hate the business model that has dominated church thinking for decades now.  I hate the emphasis on metrics and demographics and marketing or branding.  And yet, at a certain level, we are culturally conditioned in these ways as well.  But might there be times when a certain amount of this is necessary, just to get the ball rolling?  I struggle with that tension, and with the dangerously slippery slope that awaits in either direction.  But I also desperately need to interact with people who are passionate about their faith in a very non-traditional way.  Is this a good or a bad thing?  Time will tell, I suppose.

Pushing

December 24, 2008

I thought this was an interesting opinion article on the topic of midwifery.  Since Gena and I had all three of our children delivered by a midwife at home, as opposed to being in a hospital or even a birthing center, we’re convinced that this is the best option for delivering babies.  Healthiest for everyone concerned, quite frankly.  And, as the article notes, far less expensive than a typical hospital birth.

Each of our children’s births cost us $2000.  Of course, this wasn’t covered by the insurance coverage that we had at the time.  Had we opted to deliver in a hospital, it would have been covered.  But not for home births.  Not for midwives.  We had to pay for the costs out of pocket, but we budgeted for it, and God was good in providing for us.  
I wish that more people knew about and understood the role of midwife and the process of an at-home birth.  I didn’t know anything about it beforehand, but thanks to the Internet, it’s easy to become educated pretty quickly.  One of the issues that this article doesn’t deal with, is that every state has different attitudes towards midwives.  We assumed that moving to the Midwest from Phoenix, we’d find that midwifery was more common and supported.  It turned out – at least in the case of Missouri – to be just the opposite.  The closest birthing center was over two hours away.  In the end, we decided it was worth the additional time and hassle of returning to Arizona to use our midwife, Mary.  Definitely worth it.
When we’ve talked with other couples about their birthing plans, we’re careful not to come off too strongly on this topic.  There is a lot of fear around the whole birth process.  In some ways, that’s to be expected.  It’s an amazing event – particularly for the mother, and especially for first time mothers.  But more than that, our culture of Experts has convinced people that hospitals are the safest and best places to have a baby.  That the only safe way to have a baby is to let the medical professionals, the medical experts handle it. 
Never mind that the status of expert or professional can be rather arbitrary!  Despite the fact that hospitals are more crowded and busy than ever.  Despite the fact that hospitals are dangerous places for infection.  Despite the fact that, due to time constraints on the doctors, births are ‘scheduled’ and the odds of a Caesarean being performed to accommodate the doctors’ schedule are frighteningly high.  Despite the fact that hospitals generally discourage the sort of movements and positions that are most natural for the mother to deliver, opting for one of the least conducive positions, simply because it provides more control – for the doctor.  Despite the fact that episiotomies are given in up to 40% of all hospital births, primarily to expedite the birth process, rather than allowing for natura, full dilation to occur.  Despite the fact that hospitals require parents to sign consent forms which essentially require the parents to allow the hospital to do what they want to care for the child after birth – including separation from the mother and isolation in an incubator, etc.  
The main things that hospital births have going for them are coverage by insurance, the assumption that doctors know best how to deliver babies (regardless of the fact that a given doctor may have actually delivered very few babies personally), and the availability of epidurals to alleviate the pain of childbirth.
I know that many women have perfectly wonderful experiences in the hospital.  I’m glad for that.  But I’m even more happy that we decided to birth at home, and that Mary our midwife was as experienced and no-nonsense as she was.  I can’t recommend this experience strongly enough.  But, based on some of the numbers presented in this opinion piece, I may not need to recommend it.  It might become more common simply out of financial necessity!

How Did We Live Before iPods?

December 20, 2008

I came of age in a cultural Dark Age, listening to 80’s music, working dead-end part-time jobs just to put myself through school, driving around in a beat up Mercury Capri with a boombox in the passenger seat because the radio in the car wasn’t working – or wasn’t loud enough.  I swore that CDs were going to be the 8-Tracks of the 90’s.  I read Bloom County.   I hadn’t Googled (at least not with a computer).  For a while, I had taught myself programming with a TI-99, but those days were in the past.  I would futz in the Mac Lab at ASU playing Hunt the Wumpus and other mind-bogglingly complex games.  I had yet to Yahoo!, but then, nobody had.  

I still lived at home, in large part due to an utter lack of imagination or the ability to think much more than one day into the future.  I had friends who lived on-campus, off-campus, and various regions in between.  To the relief of my parents (no doubt), and the chagrin of some of my friends (well, one), I didn’t really drink alcohol until I turned 21.  I’ll let your mind play with images of just how incredibly cool I must have been in High School, let alone most of college!
Partly I didn’t drink because I felt like I should wait until I was legal.  Without a fake ID, I assumed (probably incorrectly) that I would never be able to get into a bar, let alone fool the clever people working at Circle K into believing that I was old enough to buy whatever liquor happened to be most on sale.  
Partly I didn’t drink because, frankly, I lived at home.  And while my parents didn’t know everything, I’m sure they were more than smart enough to figure out if I had come home drunk the night before.  Alcohol has a pretty pungent aroma, and being hung over and having my clothes smell like cheap beer, even if I managed to brush my teeth, probably would have given me away.  Granted, my parents were equally law-abiding folks who would never have tolerated their children drinking before they could legally do so.  If they had found out that I was drinking, there would have been Hell to Pay.  And if I couldn’t afford  to share an apartment with someone, I certainly couldn’t afford any additional payments of the infernal kind.  Additionally, my parents more or less knew where I was going to be, and who I was going to be with.  Not always, but I wasn’t terribly imaginitive, and since I wasn’t cool enough to hang out with the people who did have access to alcohol, it wasn’t too big a deal.
I just didn’t drink.
Apparently though, those techniques that worked pretty well at least on my pea-brain, aren’t of any use any longer.  Children are beyond our ability to influence or control, and the best we can do is try to keep the precocious darlings safe.  Or more accurately, give them the tools to help keep themselves safe, since we have no idea where they are or what they’re  doing.  
Behold, the latest in technological devices to assist kids (and adults) in determining whether or not they have had too much to drink. Because, apparently, their parents are nowhere to be found, and never bother to inquire as to their children’s whereabouts or activities.  I find this quote in particular to be amusing:
“You know how they are — they’re going to sneak it if they can. They don’t listen to their parents, but they listen to their iPods,” Bassler said.
Of course they don’t listen to their parents.  Their parents obviously don’t see an issue.  Because if their parents really had an issue with their underage, high school or college-aged kids drinking, they would actually do something about it.  There would be Hell to Pay, because they would be interested enough to know what their child was doing, and whether or not they had been drinking.  And the child would know that such behavior wouldn’t be tolerated, that there would be Hell to Pay, and that they couldn’t really afford that sort of payment.
Yes, kids are going to try and sneak drinks.  Yes, they will sometimes succeed, even if their parents are doing their duty in keeping track of their kids.  But, if kids know their parents are invested and interested in them enough to keep up on what they’re doing (allegedly or actually), who they’re with (allegedly or actually), and how they look and smell the next day, kids are probably going to think twice about getting loaded the night before.  Maybe they’ll have a beer.  Maybe two.  But I doubt they’re going to get blitzed.  They know there are ramifications to doing so.  They obviously aren’t concerned about legal ramifications, a la the police, etc.  But they could and should be worried about the ramifications of their parents.  
Parents who have decided that their kids aren’t going to listen to them and therefore they shouldn’t bother performing their parental duties are really frightening.   Another reminder of the pendulum swing to the left that says that parents are to be friends, rather than guardians.  That if you have to make a rule or inflict a punishment, you aren’t loving your child.  That you’d hate to damage your child’s psyche with some firm, consistently enforced rules about how to live their lives – at least until they’re old enough to be out and paying for their own lives (and mistakes).  
When my kids are old enough to face that kind of peer pressure (and yes, it starts earlier than high school), I pray that I’ve instilled in them by that point a respect both for the law, as well as an understanding of the risks of certain types of behavior.  But, even if that sort of understanding isn’t shared, I’ll make it crystal clear that – at least as long as they live in my house, and my money is supporting them – they will at the very least follow the house rules for those rather crass reasons.  They may not agree.  They may not be happy about it.  But they will be expected to obey at bare minimum out of respect and love for their parents. 
And if not, I guess I can always just buy them an iBreath and pray for the best.  
Naw.  They can buy that themselves.

Not So Good, Samaritan

December 19, 2008

If you come to California, you may want to think twice about leaping in to assist someone who appears to have been in an accident, or suffered injury of some kind.  

The California Supreme Court ruled that non-professionals (doctors, nurses, etc.) who assist someone at the scene of an accident could be held civilly liable for any injuries that are determined to have resulted from their well-intentioned but untrained efforts.  The case in question regarded a woman who was in a car accident after a night of drinking (she wasn’t the driver).  Apparently in the accident her spine was injured.  A well-intentioned co-worker following in the car behind saw smoke and leaking fluid from the vehicle, and worked to get her co-worker out of the car, fearing fire or explosion.  She is now being sued by the woman, whose doctors indicate that the injury sustained to her spine in the accident was increased by her co-workers yanking her out of the wreckage like “a rag doll”, so that the woman now has permanent spinal damage.
I find this curious for several reasons.  Firstly, it’s a continuation of the trend in the last century to rely more and more on ‘experts’ to do things, and excusing – or insisting that – others do not get involved unless they are an ‘expert’.  Considering the sweeping promises of humanism to promote equality and diversity and all manner of wonderful things (which it hasn’t, and won’t), these steps seem inherently contrary to that philosophy.  We divest ourselves of kings and emperors, only to replace them with ‘experts’.  And now the Common Man can be held financially liable for attempting to help someone unless they’re a qualified ‘expert’.
The net effect seems to be that people will be less willing to expose themselves to potential financial repercussions for helping someone out.  After all, if a co-worker can (and does) sue someone they know and work with for damages, how much more inclined might someone be to sue a total stranger?  Will we have a new set of legal documents for people to sign when their car is on fire, before someone pulls them to safety?  
This is another example of our insistence on a risk-free, predictable and controllable world.  There is no room for accidents, for well-intentioned but uninformed injuries.  All damages must be compensated for.  There must always be someone else to point the finger at, to shift responsibility to.  We don’t suffer injuries as a result of our poor decisions (such as riding home drunk, with a drunk driver [my assumption only on this]).   We don’t suffer as a result of a world that is broken by sin, that is maddening unpredictable, that finds us at odds with the natural world around us, the people around us, our own selves, and the God who created us.  Rather, we suffer as a result of someone else doing something wrong.  The driver.  The well-intentioned Samaritan.  These people were wrong, and if they had just let us be, or done what they were supposed to, everything would be fine.
Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works.  Which might be what more people will find out now, when people don’t rush to pull them out of the surf when a wave sweeps them off a jetty.  Or when people don’t risk their own lives to pull them out of a burning building.  Or when they bleed to death because people were too afraid to render improper medical assistance to try and stem the flow of blood from the knife or gunshot wound.  
There aren’t enough experts to save everyone, though I would imagine that, logically, this will be the next demand.  If only the experts are qualified to take action, then we must have more experts.  And those experts MUST render aid if it is even remotely possible.  That means the doctor that drives by the scene of a recent accident, but who assumes the injuries aren’t severe, might be held responsible for not rendering the aid he was legally permitted (or required to).  GPS capabilities with cell phones and other electronic devices (including cars) will make this an easy thing to determine.  All of which is likely to reduce the number of experts, as fewer people decide they want to risk their lives and livelihood on the whims of a society that also refuses to compensate them for being Superman.  
It’s interesting to see how many holes we’ll shoot in our feet before we, as a society, have to sit down and start rethinking things.

Catholics II

December 18, 2008

It’s a Catholic morning, it would appear.

The Catholic and Orthodox churches have sent representatives to a conclave to discuss an exploration of shared understandings and teachings on the topic of the family.  The resulting joint statement can be read here.  
While much of it is not surprising and a good starting point for further joint discussions, I found one aspect particularly interesting, as it’s something that doesn’t seem to get a lot of press in religious circles – the issue of education and the primary responsibility thereof.
This document emphasizes and affirms that the parents have the primary obligation and responsibility of education.  What a welcome change to the prevailing attitudes (at least in the US) that education is strictly a matter of outsourcing.  Don’t get me wrong – I believe that public (and parochial) educational institutions can and do provide a very valuable resource for parents in educating their children.  However, the schools remain only that – one resource.  Moves in recent times to prevent parents from exercising oversight of the education their children are receiving are disturbing at a fundamental level that echoes now-denounced practices in the early 20th century of removing children from their cultural environs to impose a ‘white’ or ‘Western’ education and world view on them.  As quickly as most people would be to decry these practices as grossly misguided, many people would argue that today, the schools know best, and therefore need to be allowed to develop and implement educational policies and content without having to gain parental approval – or even allow parental oversight.  
However, criticism of the school system is not the intent of this Catholic joint statement.  Rather, it ultimately is a criticism of the philosophy that parents have been sold, which says that they are not qualified to oversee their child’s education, and that they further shouldn’t be held responsible for it, since they need to be busy at work.  Economics is seen as more important than the education and development of a child.  Parents need to be brought back to an understanding that, while they may choose to augment their child’s education with public or private educational institutions, it ultimately is only an augmentation, and the primary responsibility remains theirs.
What remains now is for the Church to work towards providing the sort of support structures necessary to convey this message in meaningful ways to families.  It’s one thing for the Church to blaze the moral trail, but such admonitions and exhortations are meaningless without focused, specific strategies for assisting parents in taking responsibility again for their child’s education.  Partly, this means equipping parents to do so.  Partly, it means challenging the idea that economic issues of production and consumption necessarily need to eclipse the primary duty of the family to raise up responsible members of society.  
Once again, I have great admiration for the Catholic willingness to take hard positions on important issues.  I pray that there will be plenty of people – Catholic and other denominations – willing to take up the cry and the struggle and to reach out to parents who desire to fulfill their God-given duties, but need help in doing so.  And I hope parents everywhere won’t sit still and be told that their child’s education is none of their business, or that they don’t have the right to make decisions about the education their child receives in a system that their tax dollars directly support.

A Day in the Life

December 18, 2008

Tomorrow, the Catholic Church is set to release the first statement in over 20 years related to sexuality and in particular, assistive technologies for fertilization.  Noting that this arena has exploded since 1987, the Church is stepping forward to once again assert the Biblical assertion that the creation of life is not a matter of human decision, but a gift from God.

http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2008-12-12-biomed-catholic_N.htm
They take umbrage (rightfully so) with embryonic scanning that attempts to detect potential ‘defects’ so that couples can select the ‘best’ embryo for implantation.  Of course, those deemed less ‘worthy’ are destroyed.  While this may not appear to be a big deal for those who assert – illogically – that embryos are only a collection of cells and therefore no different from a fingernail clipping, it is a crucial issue for those who assert that the ‘humanness’ of a person begins not at some medically convenient, arbitrarily defined point in development, but rather at the point of conception.  
I expect the Church will be lambasted for this stand, since it contradicts notions made popular in the last 30 years about reproduction being a matter of personal choice (beyond the choice to have sex in the first place), and being a ‘right’ that all people ought to have (assuming they can afford the necessary procedures).  The Catholics once again seem to lead the way in clearly and publicly articulating a consistent vision of mankind as a creation which includes a responsible view not only of sexuality but reproduction as well, linking the two in their proper relationship and affirming the dignity of both.
They appear also to be making the argument that this is not strictly a theological decision.  While that may sound rather odd coming from the Pope, it is Biblically consistent.  The Bible does not make claims that contradict the natural order – it makes assertions about the nature of that natural order – it’s source and purpose.  Although many (though not all) people would shrink back from the horror of suggesting that we should ‘eliminate’ or ‘euthanize’ those individuals who we label as ‘challenged’ or ‘handicapped’ or ‘defective’ in some physical or intellectual realm, far fewer of these people would likely see a problem with the ‘logic’ of wanting to be able to choose to have a ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’ child – thus consigning an embryo that appears potentially ‘defective’ to death.  It’s easier to destroy a human being when they’re ‘just’ a ‘clump of cells’ in a petrie dish or a test tube, than it is to lethally inject a living child, or an adult.  However the logic is no different, and by refusing to combat the deadly conclusions at their inception, we legitimize the most audacious and counter-humane assertions.