Archive for July, 2009

Perspectives

July 31, 2009

As a lifelong Lutheran, I’ve been inculcated with a respect for Martin Luther, our denomination’s namesake, and the man responsible for the launch of the Protestant Reformation in the early 16th century.  He’s usually portrayed as a firebrand for truth, or a reluctant hero, forced into opposition to the Roman Catholic Church he simply wished to help reform.  He’s no saint, of course.  His anti-semitic polemics are not generally discussed in Bible Study presentations of his life, and much of his rhetoric, which at times was, dare I say, over the top, is glossed over in favor of emphasizing his theological brilliance. 

Of course, not everyone finds him as compelling a hero.  Other protestant denominations feel that he remained to closely tied to Roman Catholic practices and traditions.  And of course, the Roman Catholics were not entirely enamored of him.  While there has been some willingness in certain quarters of Roman Catholic academia to revisit Luther with less of a polemical eye, there are others who still feel that he was thoroughly and completely in the wrong.

Such as this writer

I think it’s a good idea to listen to those who disagree with you about things, to better understand – and hopefully love – both your opponents and yourself.  I personally feel that this author makes rather light about the seriousness of guilt that pervades the Roman Catholic penitential system.  If one takes seriously the teachings  of the Church about sin, and about the necessity for Confession and Absolution as the sole means of mitigating those sins in this lifetime, then Luther’s reactions – while perhaps excessive compared to others – can hardly be ruled unfounded.  And to emphasize Luther’s guilt in contradistinction to the requirements of his particular Order is to really miss the larger issue.  Can one be callous or light in regards to one’s guilt, when one’s eternal destiny is tied to these things?  It would seem that the New Testament teachings on grace were lost in the larger Catholic system.  In an effort to create a system of daily, practical acts of piety (none of which are specifically Biblical in and of themselves)  the overarching atonement of Jesus Christ for all those who place their faith in Him is lost.  I would argue that it still is lost today, even as the Catholic Church places a renewed emphasis on indulgences of various kinds.


The writer also over-emphasizes Luther’s polemical statements after Luther’s initial efforts simply at dialogue were rebuffed by local Church and eventually Papal representatives.  If Luther is guilty of some overarching rhetoric that clearly seems misplaced, the Catholic Church ought to look to it’s own systems and procedures for handling calls for discussion and clarification from within itself.  Luther did not begin by seeking to overthrow bishops and the papacy.  He began by seeking dialogue.  As some Catholic academics are admitting, the Reformation might have been averted – or delayed, or substantively altered – had Luther’s concerns been granted proper hearing rather than being shuffled off as impertinent.

Still, a good, brief, accessible piece on how some Catholics view Martin Luther and his effects on the Church at large.

One for the Road

July 31, 2009

I tend to agree with the overall proposition of this brief essay – that the current approach to preventing underage drinking (a Federally stipulated no-drinking-under-the-age-of-21-state-law-or-the-state-will-lose-10%-of-it’s-Federal-Highway-Funds) isn’t exactly effective.

However, it leaves me with a basic question.

If we’re really serious about curbing underage drinking as well as drunk driving, why don’t we do these things anyways, with the current drinking age of 21?  Why do we have to repeal one measure in order to experiment with other measures?  It’s not an either-or premise – we could do both.  Frankly, this would be a much stronger way of demonstrating that the 21 and over drinking age requirement could be done away with.  And in the meantime, keeping the legal drinking age of 21 seems to make more sense than eliminating it in blind hopes of alternative approaches being more successful.

You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide

July 31, 2009

This is just an awesome video clip, apparently of someone in Utah who stole a car in order to avoid having to go to church.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJ09P0w7u1c&eurl


Ever feel like doing this? 

The Difference Between Facts and Data

July 30, 2009

There is a common confusion – an intentional one, I believe – regarding facts and data.  People tend to treat these interchangeably, and I suspect that there are folks who have a good reason for encouraging this kind of confusion.

Data is information.  It doesn’t tell you anything other than a static piece of information.  Data can be interesting, but isn’t of much use until it is processed in some way.  Data has to be sifted and filtered and aggregated in deliberate ways in order to provide information.  This processed information is sometimes referred to as fact

There are those that would have you believe that while data is open to interpretation, fact is fact, and therefore is not open to interpretation or redefinition – despite the fact (pun intended) that the only reason that one arrived at a fact in the first place is through the interpretation of data. 

So, a piece of data would be that plastic bags and other polyethylene products degrade very, very, very slowly.  The fact that is taken from this piece of information, is that because it is estimated that this material will take a thousand years or so to degrade in a typical landfill, that we need to completely redesign things to avoid using this material, or find ways to recycle it.  This fact (we need to quit creating or vigorously recycle all polyethylene because otherwise it will sit in our landfills for a millennia or so) is an interpretation, an application of a particular piece of data (the estimated time it takes polyethylene to biodegrade). 

Note:  I’m a firm believer in both recycling and the reduction in the tonnage of dangerous and quasi-dangerous materials we produce in the world.  I believe that natural is generally better – if not always as convenient.  If we weren’t so obsessed with production and consumption, demand wouldn’t be as high for all of the short-cuts that technology can offer us in very complex and hard to degrade materials.

That being said, it would appear that the facts about polyethylene products are not necessarily true.  A high-school student has taken it upon himself to figure out what causes polyethylene to degrade – be it ever so slowly – and see if he can’t speed up the process a bit and shave a few years off the biodegradation cycle. 

He has succeeded.  He managed to shave off roughly 999.75 years, to be more exact. 

Here is someone who took a piece of data, and rather than interpret it the way that everyone else apparently felt it had to be interpreted, he went a different direction.  A frighteningly common sense direction, actually. 

So, continue to recycle those plastic grocery bags.  Better yet, buy some canvas reusable ones and quit taking plastic bags all together.  This is still a good step.  But if you leave those reusable bags at home, perhaps you don’t need to lose sleep about the pile of plastic bags under your kitchen sink.  It might be possible to reduce them to water and a bit of carbon dioxide in about three months.

Should We Count the Cost?

July 29, 2009

Due to the generosity of several people, my congregation has a small fund that I have discretionary control over.  The fund is used to assist those in need.  Over the past seven months, at least one family, one couple, and several individuals have benefited from this fund in various ways and to various degrees.  And each time that I receive a call for assistance, I try to determine what the best form of help might be in a given situation. 

And this is a struggle for me.

Not the helping part – I don’t have any qualms about helping folks.  But how to balance the limited resources with a desire to provide the maximum assistance…that’s the challenge that I take upon myself.

It’s not a Biblical challenge.  We’re called to help others.  Period.  Matthew 5:42 has always been very instructive to me on this.  Luke 6:30 is a good corollary verse.  Christians in fellowship and community are held to a higher degree of accountability, in that one isn’t supposed to mooch off of another.  But the general, overall principle seems to be that, if you can help, you should do it.

So I struggle with whether my desire to do the most good with limited resources is pleasing to God, and fulfills the essence of these Gospel verses.  With this policy, it means that we have some money sitting in a bank account that could be distributed probably immediately, and could help people’s lives.  I wait for people to call or to show up at the church, that’s the first stage of filtering that goes on between money that is intended to help people, and the people that need help.  I don’t have too much problem with this filter though.  The verses above deal with someone who approaches you for help – they aren’t injunctions to go out and look for someone to help.  Although I believe that we ought to be doing the latter as well, that seems to be less of a clear injunction than helping the people that do cross your path on a given day.

The next thing I do is listen to the person’s story.  I try not to make judgments, but I will ask for clarification and detail on things that they tell me.  I don’t care how messed up a persons’ situation is, I’m far more inclined to help them if they tell me the truth than if they try to tell me a story that doesn’t hold up.  This is the first layer of filtering that begins to feel uncomfortable.

Once I’ve heard their story, I try to clarify what the immediate need is.  Do they need a place to stay?  Food?  Gas money?  I try to boil things down to tangible specifics for both of us.  Then, I try to evaluate whether or not what they need most is a good use of our small resources.  And this is where it gets really uncomfortable.

I’ll give gas money out of my own pocket.  I’ve bought food cards to grocery stores for people with my money or the fund’s money.  I’ve gotten a car out of hock and bought hotel rooms for people.  And over time I’ve tried to decide at what point it becomes pointless to offer assistance.  Is there a point of diminishing returns, in other words, for the act of helping someone in need?

I had to tell one couple our church was helping that, after several months of assisting with their rent, that we weren’t going to be able to contribute any more.  The couple has relational issues and money management problems that – despite my counseling efforts – weren’t going to be solved any time soon.  Eventually I had to make the call that while their need remained very valid, it was a need that our congregation could no longer meet.

A woman called today needing to keep some sort of roof over her head.  I weighed the need – would this be a good use of our money?  She’s starting a job in a couple of weeks, and has enough food – but no money for a hotel or other sort of accommodation.  I feel bad evaluating need.  Need is need.  And yet we also have learned to draw distinctions in terms of how need came to be, or how it remains.  There’s the need that comes from losing a job or suffering an illness, and there’s the need that comes from an addiction problem.  There’s the need that comes from catastrophic loss, and the need that comes from poor decision making.  Culturally we assign values to these distinctions.  Those that were blindsided by something in life and are in need are deemed worthier than those who are blindsided by addictions or poor choices or any number of other matters that we deem within their control.  We’re more willing to open our hearts and wallets to those left bereft through no fault of their own, but not as willing to help those we suspect are abusing the help.

Is there such a thing as abusing help?  And if there is, is it our responsibility as the giver to avoid helping someone that abuses that help, or is it a responsibility that the abuser bears – before God if not before anyone else? 

I end up with a flow chart of whether to help someone or not that basically says that if they lie about things or if I don’t think that our donation will have any long-term effect on the person’s situation, I’m not very willing to extend help beyond the $20 mark.  However, if someone appears to be telling the truth and I think that the assistance can really help them get through a rough spot and into greener pastures, I’m willing to pony up bigger bucks.  I’m just not convinced that I should have this sort of flow chart.  While we’re not called to be stupid about things, I believe that my flow chart is mostly informed by our cultural values of independence and self-sufficiency and a good work-ethic and self-control – values that have their place, to be certain, but perhaps have been blown out of proportion. 

So I struggle.  Perhaps the struggle is the point.  Perhaps the struggle highlights to me what sort of person I really am.  Highlights what bias’ and prejudices I harbor in out of the way areas of my heart and mind, that come sulking into the light when faced with these sorts of situations.  Perhaps that’s the purpose – not simply the easing of another person’s situation, but the continual molding and shaping of myself by the Holy Spirit into someone better able and more willing to lend a hand to more and more people. 

In the meantime, I do the best I can.  The woman that called today is getting a week at a hotel and some clothes from our church’s thrift store.  I don’t doubt that this is a good thing to do.  I just question how I make that decision to help or not to help.

Thoughts?  How do you determine when to help and when not to help?  What does your flow chart look like?

Gone Baby, Gone

July 29, 2009

Perhaps you’re familiar about the recent New Jersey decision to terminate the rights of a mother and father to their child and award custody to the foster parents.

If you’re so inclined to dig deeper, you can read the full court brief here.

The basics of the story are this.  A mother in labor became agitated and uncooperative with her physicians.  At one point they asked her to sign a consent for for a C-section, should they deem it necessary.  She refused to sign – which is her right.  She went on to deliver a healthy baby without the need for a C-section.

Somehow, her behavior in the delivery room caught the attention of the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), essentially a Child Protective Services department.  Based on her behavior in the delivery room, she was ruled to have endangered the life of her child by refusing to sign the consent form for the C-section.  They subsequently sent the healthy baby home to foster parents and not to the birth parents.   The birth parents appealed this decision. 

In the course of the court arguments on the issue, it became apparent that the mother’s refusal to consent to a C-section did not in and of itself legally or ethically or medically constitute anywhere near a case of “neglect”.  At which point, DYFS basically said, let’s not talk about the birth then.  Let’s talk about the mother’s psychiatric care in the past. 

It then comes to light that the patient had received psychiatric care in the past, and this evidence was now being used to rule her (and the husband) as unfit parents.  Never mind that they had been married since 1995.  Never mind that they had no criminal record or any other history of problems other than that the mother had received psychiatric care in the past.  Never mind that the foster parents of the child reported that in the nine months of court-allowed visitations that the birth parents made to their child, they never demonstrated any sort of erratic or dangerous behavior, and all-in-all appeared to be model parents who ought to be given back their baby.

This baby is being removed from the parent’s custody – and their parental rights terminated.  Not because of any crime.  Not because of any violation of the law.  But simply because the parents have received psychiatric care in the past, and therefore *could* constitute a danger to the baby.

Several issues here.

First off, it’s perfectly allowable for a woman to refuse to consent to an invasive surgery technique for delivering a baby – or for any other situation.  Secondly, the hospital demanded her consent to a C-section in case the baby became distressed during delivery, but at no point is there documentation indicating how they determined that  the baby *might* become stressed.  To me, it sounds like simply getting permission to go ahead with a delivery method that is preferable (from a hospital standpoint) to traditional delivery because it is quicker.  An old but interesting nonetheless summary of information on Cesareans is here

I find it abhorrent that the presenting problem of the delivery room behavior (because, of course, women are traditionally known to be in the best frame of mind during the delivery of a baby) eventually becomes disregarded as the cause to pursue termination of parental rights.  Basically, it provides the pretext for a fishing expedition to see if there’s anything in this couple’s past that could disqualify them from being parents, thus upholding the State’s initial decision and avoiding the embarrassing (and potentially costly) necessity of apologizing and reversing the decision.

Thirdly, I’m not aware of any legislation indicating that someone with a history of psychiatric treatment is disqualified from becoming pregnant and raising a child.  This couple appears to have functioned quite well for 13 years before their hospital delivery experience.  They have nothing concrete in their record to indicate that they would be a threat to their child, and have since demonstrated consistent, appropriate parental behavior.  Why are they being denied the right to raise their child?  Seems like this ought to be a dream case for a civil rights lawyer, and I have no doubt that it will soon be taken up as such.

Finally, there are some who are outraged at this turn of events, but see the issue exclusively as one of a woman’s self-determination.  They disagree that the mother was delivering a baby – insisting that since the baby had yet to actually be born, it should be termed a fetus.  They see the issue here as an attempt to force a woman into doing something she doesn’t want to do – and that’s true at one level.  But they extrapolate from there to argue in defense of abortion rights and other self-determinative concepts that women ought to have available at all times.  I disagree with this application of this case.

We need to be very aware of precedents set in terms of what we can or cannot be required to do in terms of health care and medical care.  It has cost this couple the first year of their baby’s life, and threatens to cost them the rest of the child’s life.  I find this abominable, and deeply frightening and troubling.  I pray that wiser judicial heads will agree.

We’ve Only Got One Night?

July 25, 2009

You may have seen this by now.  I’ve seen it posted three separate times by various Facebook friends in the last week.  It’s apparently not a new video, but it has really touched people at a variety of very deep levels.  It has over 4.6 million hits on YouTube.

 


First off, this is an incredible occurence (the video, not my haranguing about it).  Clearly these are people with a great deal of excitement and joy for the day, and they communicate that excitement and joy in a visceral and infectious way.  The house is clearly rocking.  I think that this would be an amazing and incredible way for a wedding party to arrive at a wedding reception.  What an amazing entrance this would make, what a powerful way of firing people up emotionally for an afternoon or evening of fun and friendship.  



The problem isn’t the excitement, or the joy, or the visceralness, or the infectiousness.  



The problem is the house.



So, let’s break it down.  



Yes, this is happening in a church.  And no, a church needn’t and shouldn’t be some sort of mausoleum devoid of joy or excitement.  Of any place on earth, a church that embraces and attests to the risen & victorious Son of God ought to be a rockin’ place.  But as with emotions in general, we need to really think about what is rockin’ and why.



I don’t have a problem with dancing in a church in general.  It’s not part of my faith tradition, but it’s a part of others, and I can handle that.  Expressing honest joy in the Lord is a wonderful thing that can and should take many forms.  However dance in church should not be grandstanding.  The emphasis shouldn’t be on the person dancing, but on the joy – dare I say the Spirit – that inspires that dancing.



I don’t have a problem with contemporary music in a church.  I don’t even have a problem with secular music played in the church.  Within a body of believers there ought to be plenty of room for discussion and even the use of music and other arts that may not have originally been intended for the sacred space and format.  But I believe very firmly that we need to be aware of what the original intent and focus of that song or that painting or that sculpture was.  And we need to be very firmly aware of what that art will inspire in or bring to mind in the people sitting in it’s presence in a church, and we need to be able to redirect those thoughts and feelings appropriately, if necessary.  



This song is infectious, it’s got a great beat to it that demands that you not stand still.  I had to Google the lyrics to clarify a few things, and set my mind at ease about some basics.  It’s a beautiful song about love and hope and life and joy.  It’s a great song for a wedding reception.  



But while it may be clean lyrically, a song also needs to be examined for it’s theology – if it’s going to be used in a Christian service of some sort.  And theologically, there are some issues with this song.  It’s the man singing the song, and the man promising the woman that he’s going to “take her there”, and that she just has to “watch” and follow his lead, to “trust” him.  It’s not a religious song by a long shot.  The emphasis is on the two people involved.  They’re the ones that are going to make this thing happen.  They’re the ones with the potency to make decisions and to act and to joy in each other “into eternity”.  Theologically, the song is anthropocentric – it focuses entirely on the humans involved, without any acknowledgement of either a) the role of God or b) the limitations and fallibility of humans.  



Again, a great song for a wedding reception.  But for a church wedding?



What’s the focus of a Christian wedding?  Is it on the bride and the groom and on how much they love one another and want to make this work for the rest of their lives?  No, not really.  Those are the assumptions that are brought into the church.  We assume those things are in place.  And in a church wedding, we bring those feelings and desires and emotions and hopes and dreams and we lay them at the altar.  We say here we are, a man and a woman who love each other and believe that we ought to spend the rest of our lives together.  But we can’t do this alone, and we need to hear and know that the God who created and redeemed us is going to sustain us when we’re weak, hold us together when we want to fly apart, remind us of His forgiveness when we don’t want to forgive one another, and suffuse our lives with joy even if we’re going through sickness or poverty, the worse as well as the better.



The point of a Christian wedding is not on you and I, but on God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  A Christian wedding should remind the bride and groom of this fact.  That it is no longer just your emotions and your desires and your hopes and dreams that are holding you together.  You are now bound together by this promise that you are making to one another – and to God, and that you are asking God to keep you faithful to that promise by His power – not yours.  You are changing the relationship from the self-willed relationship of dating and courtship and engagement – a relationship that either one can change or dispense with at any time – and changing it into a relationship that is in God’s hands, not your own.  You are relinquishing control.  You are acknowledging that, while you are still pledging many very real and active things to one another, you are also taking your hand off the steering wheel, removing from yourself the ability to simply say I’ve changed my mind, I don’t feel this way any longer.  



This is the point of a Christian marriage.  This is what everything in the service should attest to.  Why?  Because if this is how the bride and groom feel (and they should be guided and counseled to understand this through Christian premarital counseling by the pastor who will marry them), then they want to witness to this fact to everyone else.  



Because not everyone else in the room may have that same understanding.  There may be younger men and women in the room with mistaken notions about what marriage is.  There may be other couples in the room for whom the span of the wedding ceremony will be the longest they’ve gone without fighting and bickering and hurting one another in the past three weeks.  There may be other individuals or couples in the room who are contemplating divorce or infidelity or any other number of options.  The Christian wedding is a request for God to bless and sanctify and hold together the desires and hopes and dreams and emotions of a man and a woman, and this is an important thing for others to hear.



Everything in Church ought to point away from ourselves and to our Lord.  This is the point of church.  This is the point of worship.  This is the point of a church wedding or a church funeral or any other religious service.  The point is always God.  The point is always grace from the Father, redemption through the Son, and life in the Holy Spirit.  Period.  The focus is not us.  We are there to be blessed by our God, to be reminded of His goodness and love and power, and to properly align our lives and our relationships in light of His grace.  We have an entire world that focuses on us, that magnifies us and holds us up and elevates us and helps us to obsess about ourselves in all manner of ways healthy and unhealthy.  A church is a place that calls us back to a proper perspective, to a proper focus, to a proper approach to life and the world and one another.



So yes, this is an awesome and powerful event depicted in this video.  I just wish they had saved it for the reception rather than the wedding ceremony.  Because everything that happens after this point is going to pale in comparison.  Is going to seem old and stiff and ceremonial and not nearly as fun or as energetic as this entrance.  



And that’s too bad – because the faithfulness of God is still going to be there, regardless of what happens in the relationships and friendships with these people in the wedding party, or the people gathered in the church to witness this event, or even between the bride and the groom themselves.  God’s faithfulness always outlasts our own.  



That’s something worth dancing about forever, yeah.




IVF Revisited

July 24, 2009

This post is in response to a comment I received on my “Biblical Bioethics” post a few days ago.  Fiona indicated that not all in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments create multiple embryonic lives, and therefore it is unwarranted to speak out against IVF in general.

To start out with, I would like to acknowledge that Fiona is correct – and some clarification is warranted.  Not all IVFs are created equal, as it were.  There is a particular IVF procedure known as intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), in which a single sperm is injected directly into a single egg.  Doctors can know within 24 hours if the egg has been successfully fertilized and is developing appropriately.  This procedure does not necessarily entail the creation of multiple embryonic human lives.  While I still feel that we need to as Christians consider many different ramifications in the application of technology and science to our bodies, if ICSI does not create and destroy human lives to achieve pregnancy, a major concern of mine has been eliminated!  I’m glad to know that this option exists!
However, my preliminary research indicates that ICSI is a fairly new procedure, and is typically reserved for situations where there is a concern regarding the viability of the father’s sperm.  I’m guessing that this procedure is more expensive based on the extra work that needs to be done.  
Traditional IVF harvests multiple eggs, fertilizes multiple eggs, then waits to determine which eggs appear the healthiest.  The healthiest one or more embryonic lives are then introduced into the mother’s uterus to see if they will successfully attach to the uterine wall and continue development naturally.  Outside of the US, most countries have a limit on how many embryonic babies can be introduced into the uterus, since multiple pregnancies can result.  In the US, there is no real limit – as was discovered with the recent Octomom news event.  
It should be noted that this process of determining the healthiest embryonic babies is misleading.  Those embryonic babies deemed less robust or ‘viable’ are not in any way abnormal or deformed.  If they were introduced into the uterus and attached themselves properly, they would develop into equally normal children as the other more robust embryonic lives.  They are, rather, arbitrarily designated as less likely to implant than the stronger or more robust embryonic babies.  The effect of this arbitrary distinction, however, is to begin the psychological and emotional process of weeding out certain embryonic babies.  Only the most ‘robust’ embryonic babies are introduced to the uterus, because of the assumption that they are more likely to successfully attach.
How many embryonic lives are created in anticipation of implantation varies a great deal on the number of mature eggs harvested and the viability of the father’s sperm.  It’s not uncommon to have 4-6 embryonic lives created, with only a couple being introduced into the uterus for attachment and development.  I’m sure there are times when there are more created, as well as times when there are fewer created.
What happens to those embryonic babies deemed less robust?  Already the terminology has begun to treat them as somehow less than human (as though referring to them simply as embryos or fertilized eggs wasn’t already dehumanizing enough!).  There are really only two options for dealing with the excess embyronic lives that are created in IVF:  they can either be deep frozen through liquid nitrogen, or they can be immediately destroyed.  Even if they are frozen, some do not survive the freezing process.  Others won’t survive the thawing process.  Others could be lost due to equipment failure or human error.  To say that they are simply stored as future siblings – while technically possible – is not really an adequate description of their condition.  While this may happen sometimes, it can’t be counted on due to the unpredictability of the freezing and thawing process.  
A relatively recent initiative is to offer up frozen embryonic lives for adoption.  However, one article I read indicated that only 2% of all excess embryonic lives are offered up for adoption.  And adoption is at best a make-shift way of dealing with a problem.  It doesn’t remedy the problem itself.  In any event, most embryonic lives are either frozen indefinitely, or destroyed immediately.  Both of these options deprive these embryonic lives of life itself.  
IVF is an expensive process – on average between $10,000 – $15,000 per IVF cycle in the United States.  This means that if your first attempt at IVF doesn’t work, you have to pay another $10,000-$15,000 to try again.  Hence the pressure on harvesting multiple eggs, fertilizing multiple eggs, and attempting to implant the embryonic lives most likely to result in a healthy pregnancy.  Sheer economics alone is going to drive people to try and ensure that it takes as few cycles as possible to achieve pregnancy.  Granted, not everyone is constrained by finances, and therefore might opt for more selective processes such as ICSI that do not necessitate the creation & destruction of human life.  But again, this would appear to be the vast minority of IVF situations.
So thank you, Fiona, for encouraging me to be more specific in my assessment and description of IVF!
Also, I want to emphasize that the desire to have biological children can be a very, very strong one, with intense emotional and psychological – as well as spiritual – repercussions.  I am adopted – and am grateful that my birth parents put me up for adoption, and that my parents nurtured and raised me.  I’m a strong advocate for adoption in situations where couples can’t conceive naturally.  Yes, adoption is also very expensive and can take a long time.  But I obviously think it’s a fantastic alternative to facing some of the moral and theological quandries which assistive fertilizationn techniques involve.
I’ll also say that as the father of three children, I can’t fully empathize and understand the frustration and hurt of not being able to conceive children without assistive techniques.  That doesn’t make me hypocritical, or make the points I’ve made irrelevant, but I try to come to these sorts of discussions honestly as well.  
I am called to two courses of action when discussing these (or any other!) issues with people.  First off, I am called to love them as fellow creations of God.  I am called to sit with them in their sorrow and questioning and frustration – not to judge them or to offer glib sound bites about the will of God or other popular pop Christian slogans.  I need to love them and respect their desire to have children of their own.  
I am also called to try and convey to them my understanding of God’s will in our lives.  And while the Bible doesn’t speak specifically to the issue of IVF, it does speak to the sanctity of human life, and to the idea that it is not our privilege to determine who is human enough to be allowed to live, and who is not human enough to warrant that sort of consideration.  An embryonic life doesn’t look much like you and I.  However, at one time, you and I looked a *lot* like that embryonic life.  It isn’t the number of cells in our body that makes us human.  I need to witness in love and patience to these truths to the best of my ability – assisted by brothers and sisters in the faith blessed with more tact, or deeper understanding or knowledge than I may have.  
And then I’m to re-enter
the first stage again, of empathizing and loving and supporting.  And it’s this first and last stage that many Christians have a hard time with.  It’s easy to spout off doctrine or applied doctrine, to wag our fingers at others and tell them what they ought or ought not do.   To judge and condemn others.   It’s much harder to listen to them.  To hear their pain.  To pray with them.  To intercede in prayer on their behalf. This is the hard work – and the great joy – of Biblical Christianity.  The bond that unites us all to our Creator Father through our redemptive Lord and Brother Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  That bond is strong enough to carry us through whatever we struggle with, whatever we long for, whatever we desire – knowing that the God who Created us has never abandoned us.

One Tequila, Two

July 23, 2009

Faced with a crushing level of apathy and writer’s block, I’ll simply let you know that the Trader Joe’s 100% Agave tequila is definitely passable for margarita makin’.  I haven’t sipped it yet to see how it fares against better-known (and more expensive) 100% agave options, but for $20 it’s very respectable thus far.  

Normally buying a store-brand tequila is a sure way to earn yourself a trip to the emergency room, but based on TJ’s strong $3 Buck Chuck wine reputation, I knew that this was going to be better than a bottle of Jose Cuervo by a LONG shot.  Since tequila has to be registered with a licensed producer to be called tequila, one enterprising blogger identified the source for this tequila (http://booze-blog.blogspot.com/2007/10/trader-joes-distinqt-reposado-tequila.html).  

Carry on.

Biblical Bioethics

July 22, 2009

I finished reading Bioethics: A Primer for Christians  by Gilbert Meilaender a few days ago.

Biblical Christians make headlines for their stances on a few hot button bioethical issues – namely abortion and embryonic stem cell research. Yet the realm of bioethics is much broader, and without a more fundamental approach to the role of technology and the human body, Biblical Christians seem to break down into inconsistencies very quickly. Why is it wrong to destroy embryos for medical research, yet not wrong when excessive embryos are created in the in vitro fertilization process – embryos that are ultimately either stored perpetually with no hope for life, or destroyed outright as no longer necessary?

The Biblical answer would be that neither situation is proper. Yet because IVF seeks to create life, many Biblical Christians don’t see a problem with it, even when it creates excess embryos that are then sifted through for best viability. This is an example of inconsistencies that result from not having thought (and prayed) through the many facets of biotechnology.

This book is an excellent introduction (hence the name) to a broad smattering of biotechnology applications, providing some fairly clear and lucid considerations for a Biblical Christian bioethics stance. In addition to the expected topics of embryonic stem cell research and abortion, Meilaender also covers important areas such as euthanasia, organ donation, and the quandry of the appropriateness of participating as volunteers in various medical (or other) experimentations.

Only once did I think Meilaender was way off base – and that was his argument that abortion was acceptable in the case of rape or incest. While I laud the compassion that would lead Meilaender and many others to that conclusion, two wrongs don’t ultimately make a right. I don’t believe that saddling a girl or woman with the double-baggage of both what happened to her and the destruction of a human life is ultimately the best form of compassion. But Meilaender’s stance here underscores a true compassion for the woman involved that is all too often lacking or not very visible in pro-life rhetoric.

Some areas seem very straightforward. In others, Meilaender provides food for thought and a nudge in what he feels is a good direction, while acknowledging that the individual is going to have to sort things out for themselves to some extent, hopefully through prayer and a strong Christian family & community.

This book is unabashedly Christian. However, that does *not* mean that the conclusions which are reached, or the positions which are laid out are not reasonable or accessible to an open-minded non-theist. While Meilaender’s conclusions are grounded firmly in the Biblical witness of a creating and redeeming and sanctifying God, his passionate and consistent arguments in favor of defending *all* human life in *all* stages of that life should resonate with a broader audience.

I enjoyed this book greatly, and was both challenged and informed through it.