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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Todd Akin and His Mission from God

By now we're all aware of Missouri Congressional Representative and Senate hopeful Todd Akin's inflammatory comment about women rarely becoming pregnant as a result of a 'legitimate' rape.  Several others have already posted (ranted) about the insensitivity, ignorance, and sheer idiocy of that statement, and, since I have nothing new to add to that particular discussion, I'm content to let their words stand in regards to how I feel about the whole thing.

One detail caught my eye, however, that has received much less attention, and I think it needs to be highlighted.  The New York Times ran an article two days ago entitled, "A Politician Whose Faith is Central to His Persistence."  It describes Mr. Akin's Evangelical Christianity, as well as his desire to return America to its "Judeo-Christian roots."

Putting aside for the moment the fact that America has never been a theocracy, nor should it ever be, I personally get interested whenever a politician tries to legislate according to his or her "Christian" values.  What are the Judeo-Christian values that Mr. Akin embraces and believes we should all pattern our lives around?

The best way I could think to answer this question was to look at his voting record.*  I'll confess that I stopped after reviewing the last two years because frankly, the House votes on a lot of bills, and I don't have days to spend on this.  I think his record over the last two years should be sufficient to extrapolate Mr. Akin's values from his votes.

We all know how Mr. Akin feels about abortion, so I'm sure it comes as no surprise that he consistently voted against everything that included any provision for abortion or any support for any entity that might somehow be related to an abortion provider (i.e. if it had Planned Parenthood anywhere in the text of the bill, Mr. Akin voted against it, even if it was for something like breast cancer screening.)  The overreaching aside, I'm willing to consider the rights of the not-yet-born to be a legitimate Christian concern.  Whether those rights are absolute and always override the rights of the mother is still a matter of debate, and something I have absolutely no intention of tackling in this post or on this blog.  But trying to protect those who are unable to defend or even speak for themselves, yeah, I'll agree that that's a value I recognize as Christian.

Except Mr. Akin's concern for the not-yet-born seems to disappear once the mother makes the decision not to abort.  He voted against HR 3470, Infant Mortality Pilot Programs.  What this bill did was identify areas within the United States that had unusually high infant mortality rates, and provide funding for those communities to better support pregnant women and new mothers, to improve the health of mother and child alike, as well as reduce the odds of preventable miscarriage.  Keep in mind that this bill was in no way connected to Obamacare.  Yet Mr. Akin's Christian values didn't inspire him to support these efforts.

He also consistently voted against everything to do with Obamacare, because he doesn't believe the government should be involved with health care at all.  Caring for the sick is not a priority, according to his Christian values.

Mr. Akin voted against H Amdt 1127, which would have repealed indefinite military detention provisions.  People suspected of terrorism can sit in military prisons--without charge and without trial--forever, as far as he's concerned.

Fiscal responsibility is a big concern of Mr. Akin's.  It's also a big concern of mine.  I believe the government is going to have to realize that it can't have everything it wants, and is going to have to make some hard decisions about what it can and can't afford.  So does Mr. Akin.  Let's look at what choices he made, based on his strong faith and desire to legislatively recognize the Creator God.

Despite the deficit, small businesses should be entitled to hefty tax breaks.  Individuals, however, should suck it up and lose the payroll tax holiday, pay more income tax on their social security benefits, have unemployment benefits reduced, and lose all federal assistance to stay in their homes.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense should get every penny they asked for, but funding should be reduced for the United Institute of Peace, and food assistance to low-income families and children should be reduced or eliminated.

And federal funding should be prohibited for the financing of presidential elections and National Public Radio, but allowed for NASCAR sponsorship.  (Seriously, H Amdt 92.  I wouldn't dare make something like this up!)

When I think about what a Christian is called to do, I think about Matthew 25:31-40:

31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (NRSV)

To me, that is what a Christian looks like.  Someone who gives food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, and clothes to the naked (social programs to help people make ends meet).  Someone who welcomes the stranger (sane immigration policies).  Someone who takes care of the sick (health care).  Someone who visits those in prison (recognition that even those who wish to do us harm are human beings, and deserving of the respect and courtesy they would never dream of giving us).  Jesus never made a distinction between the 'deserving' poor and the 'undeserving' poor.  Jesus certainly never identified the mark of the righteous as those with the strongest military, but rather emphasized the role of peace in God's kingdom.

I don't have a problem with Todd Akin voting according to his interpretation of Christian values; I have a problem with Todd Akin and others like him defining for the world what Christian values are, and using his warped voting record to do so.

It seems to me that there are two types of Christians in America today: the care-for-the-poor-and-needy-because-that's-what-Jesus-taught-and-did type of Christian, and the you'd-better-live-according-to-a-strict-moral-code-that-I'll-define-for-you-or-else-you're-going-to-burn-in-hell type of Christian.  I'm in the first category, and I'm happy to report that I'm not alone here.  But Todd Akin is in the second category, and he has a lot of company there, too.  Unfortunately, they get all the media attention.  Their voices are louder than ours, so they're defining for everyone who isn't in either category what Christians believe and value.  That is unacceptable.

I'm not suggesting a screaming match, because a) I don't think that would do any good, and b) that kind of infighting would seriously damage the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ.  But I am asking that some of you other social-justice-oriented Christians make yourself known, and let it be known that the Todd Akins of the world don't speak for all Christians.  There are other voices out there; let yours be heard.

*I used to see Mr. Akin's voting history.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cutting the Distractions

About a year ago I tracked my time for five weeks and reported the results in my post What Do You Do All Day?  I'm feeling the need to do that again, because once again I'm feeling slammed-to-the-wall busy while simultaneously wondering why I don't seem to be accomplishing anything.

I've been wanting to do this for a while, but it seems like there's always something 'special' going on that's going to skew my time in a misleading way.  For example, I don't plan to start until sometime after next week, because next week I'll be bringing my kids to VBS, which means four nights of not cooking supper (which I usually do) and of following a completely different routine from what we do every other week of the year.  Back in June there was the five-day retreat I took at a Benedictine Monastery, which would have totally skewered my numbers.

But looking over the post from last year, I can already see some areas where I'm going to fall down.  Mindless computer time leads that list.  I'm spending way too much time playing stupid Facebook games.  In preparation for my next attempt at better time management, I've gone ahead and disabled the applications platform on Facebook, which means not only can I not play the games, I can't even see the posts about my friends' game activity.  Sorry, friends, but something's gotta give.  I lost Bejeweled Blitz to the need to wear two wrist braces continuously, and I just don't have time for Bubble Safari or Hidden Chronicles anymore.  I'm also completely failing at exercise, so I'm going to try to pick that up again before I start logging my time.  Please believe me that I'm doing these things not to make my time logs look better, but because I'm genuinely trying to manage my time better, and I don't need a detailed log to know that these things have to change if I'm going to live my priorities.

So what are my priorities?

Taking care of my family still ranks first.  This means spending quality time with my husband and kids, individually and as a family.  It means preparing healthy meals for them.  It means having regular homeschooling sessions with my kids (I've been pretty haphazard about it so far).

Professional development as a writer ranks second.  Last time I did this I was talking about wanting to be a writer, but I wasn't really writing anything except this blog, plus editing some old sermons to send off to  Now in addition to those two things, I'm writing daily devotions at Quiet Publications, plus entering several writing contests.  I'm also trying to reformat some bible studies I've written so I can make them available for sale at Quiet Publications, and I've got a couple of short nonfiction book ideas I want to develop for that site.  And then there's the novel.  And the memoir.  Realistically I know I can't possibly do all that, and I'm going to have to pick one or two things to focus on and put the rest on hold, but for now I'm trying to do it all so I can see which of these projects really inspires my passion.

Self care?  I feel obligated to put this one in my top three, but I don't have very high hopes for it.  Don't get me wrong; it's not that I don't want self care to be a priority, it's just that it seems like a luxury I can't really afford right now.  I realize that's short-term thinking, and if I want to achieve my long-term goals (or, more specifically, live to have long-term goals) I'd better make it a priority.  So there it is, and I'll do what I can.  For the purposes of this project, self care will include exercise, time with friends, and down-time (reading for pleasure or watching TV that I choose, opposed to what my kids choose).

The wild card is going to be my continuing education.  I've been accepted into a year-long unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, which is going to take up twelve hours a week from September through April, plus commuting time (about an hour each way).  It's part of my effort to become a certified chaplain, which is a long-term goal.  It very easily could push its way into my top three (most likely squeezing out self care), and I may eventually have to choose between it and writing.  I hope not, but it's a possibility I have to consider.  As much as I hate to admit it, chaplain is kind of my back-up plan in case writing doesn't start bringing in some money.  I want to be a writer.  I'm willing to be a chaplain.  If I have to start helping out with the bills (a real possibility in this economy) what I want to do may have to take a backseat to what I have to do.  I'm nothing if not pragmatic.  But it's also part of the reason why I'm putting such a push on writing now; I'd really like it to start paying some bills.  But in the meantime, I'm trying to pick up three more unites of CPE, one unit at a time.

These are my priorities.  When I log, I'm going to pay attention to mindlessness (mindless games, mindless websurfing, etc) because I don't really get a benefit from those things.  That's not to say that all my self care has to be intellectually challenging; rereading the entire Harry Potter series is on my short-list of things to do, and I certainly don't consider that to be challenging.  But it's not mindless, either.  Escapist fiction that I intentionally sit down to read is a lot different from random websites that distract me from whatever it is I should be doing.

It will be interesting to see if I'm living according to my stated priorities.  It will also be interesting to see where my time is going; I really don't feel like I'm accomplishing much most days.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Medical Restrictions and Deadlines

I haven't given up on the Biblical Definition of Marriage series, nor am I pulling back from this blog again.  But in the world of me there's always something, and this time the something is tendonitis.  In both wrists.

My doctor's advice was for me to take two wrist braces and call him in the morning.  Or rather, wear two wrist braces all day every day, not lift anything heavy, don't stress my wrists at all, and call him in a few weeks with an update.  Well, I've been doing this for a week now, so when his nurse called me today with the results of the x-rays I had last week (hence the diagnosis of the aforementioned tendonitis, which had previously been suspected and has now apparently been confirmed by the lack of arthritis in the x-rays--good news there, I guess), I told her I wanted to give an update now.  It's not working.  I told her I want to move forward with physical therapy or something, and get this fixed.  I need my wrists back.

See, my primary job is Mama.  And Mamas don't get sick days.  We can't use a note from our doctors to demand reasonable accommodations be made for us on the job.  Our kids don't care.  My daughter is two years old, thirty-five pounds, and still in diapers.  I can't exactly tell her that she has to stay in her poopy diaper because I'm not supposed to pick her up or do the wrist-twisting necessary to change her.  My husband's been great about taking care of that for me when he's home, but he's the one bringing in a paycheck, and that frequently requires him to do these obnoxiously inconvenient things like leaving the house and actually going to his job in order to keep doing that.

So I've gotten in the habit of checking all the bottles of juice and jars of peanut butter and jelly I'm going to have to use while he's at work, and giving them to him to break the seal for me before he leaves the house if they've never been opened.  But my bottles of Perrier that I drink during the day?  I'm on my own.

And then there's typing.  I traded in my mouse for a trackball and switched the buttons so I'm pushing down with my ring finger more than stretching my thumb, and got those annoying gel rests for in front of my keyboard and mouse, but it still really sucks to type while wearing two wrist braces.  I can barely do it at all with the good braces I bought last week.  Five minutes and I'm done, in pain, and my entire upper body is fatigued for hours.  I'm able to do better with the cheap braces I got a few years ago when I was pregnant with Spencer and had some wrist pain.  But I'm sure that the reason I can type better with those is because they're not giving me as much support, which probably means I'm aggravating my tendonitis with every keystroke.

But I'm trying to be a writer, and writers have to write.  I'm touched by and grateful to the woman at church on Sunday who offered to transcribe for me, but I can't write by speaking into a tape recorder, and handwriting is no easier on my wrists than typing is.  (Oh yes, I'm sure it was quite entertaining for the congregation on Sunday watching me try to preside at communion while wearing my wrist braces.  Thank heavens for a helpful worship assistant who spared me from having to pour the wine from the heavy flagon into the chalice!)  So I have to be selective about what I type right now, and anything with a deadline has priority.  I have new devotions being published daily over at Quiet Publications, so keeping up with that has been my number one priority.

My other priority this week has been a writing contest.  My friend Jenn (she blogs at Randomness and Lunacy and Writesy, and earlier this year published her first novel Ripple the Twine) posted a link to the Center for Writing Excellence's August Fiction in Five contest on Facebook a few weeks ago, and I signed up.  The way it works is they e-mail a prompt and the guidelines on a given day (this past Monday, to be exact), and the entrants have five days to write a story and send it in.  The deadline is this Friday night.  So by design the writing has to be done this week.  When I signed up, I had no idea typing would be such a chore for me this week.  But anyway, that's a hard deadline, so that's been getting a fair amount of my limited typing ability, as well.

And now I've squeezed out a blog post here, and my wrists are killing me.  But rest assured that I'll still be here as often as I can.  I just need to slow down for a bit.

Like I have time for that!

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Biblical Definition of Marriage, Part 3: Adam and Eve (Genesis 2)

In Genesis 2 we see God creating the man from the dust of the ground before the garden of Eden is planted.  After God plants the garden and puts Adam there, God decides that "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner."  (2:18, NRSV)  God then proceeds to form every animal of the field and every bird of the air out of the ground, just as he'd* formed Adam, but none of them are found to be a suitable "helper as his partner."  So God puts Adam to sleep, takes one of his ribs, and fashions the woman out of it.  When Adam sees this new creation he says, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken."  (2:23b, NRSV)  The next verses read, "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.  And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed."  (2:24-25, NRSV)

Now we might be getting somewhere.  Eve (who won't be named until the end of chapter 3) was created as a 'helper and partner' for Adam, and is referred to as his wife.  It's hard to argue against the claim that this is indeed the first marriage, created by God.

But is this 'definition' of marriage the only legitimate definition of marriage for all time and in all places?  Does God soundly reject marriage in any other form?

If we say yes, then we have to accept that everything else about this 'definition' ('example' might be a better word to use here) must hold true today.  That includes the bit about both of them being naked and not being ashamed.  So if we're to take this as the biblical definition of marriage, then all Christian modesty doctrines are out the window.

Also out the window are any ideas of subservience of the woman to the man.  The NRSV rather clumsily renders the Hebrew ezer kenegedo as 'helper as his partner.'  This at least moves away from the subservient 'help meet' used in the King James Version.  Ezer kenegedo is literally translated as 'a helper like one opposite of him.'**  In other words, Eve is everything that is lacking in Adam, and vice versa.  While this actually bolsters the claim that marriage was initially intended for the natural complement of one man and one woman, it also defeats the claim that the woman was created as anything other than equal to the man.

So if we're going to take this biblical example of marriage seriously, then we must be willing to accept it all.  According to Genesis 2, marriage is between one man and one woman, both of whom are equal to each other, and clothing for modesty's sake is unnecessary.

But Karen, you might say.  This is before the Fall.  Because Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and gave the fruit to Adam to eat as well, modesty became important, and God cursed Eve, making her subservient to Adam.  Good point, I would respond.  But then that begs the question: if the Fall changed what God expected in regards to modesty and gender roles, might it also have changed what he expected in regards to marriage, too?  If not, why not?  If our mortal situation and context can change God's definition of shame, why can't it change his definition of marriage, as well?  (As for it changing his definition of gender roles, I'm not so sure it did.  When God said to Eve, "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you," was he giving her a commandment, or was he stating an unfortunate fact based on his knowledge of the nature of men?  Just something to think about.)

We know that God intended for Adam and Eve to not be ashamed of their nakedness, but in response to their disobedience, and in response to their new situation of having that shame anyway, what did God do?  Genesis 3:21 tells us, "And the LORD God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them." (NRSV)  Adam and Eve were acting out of their deepest feelings of shame, which were contrary to God's intention for them, but rather than punish them and insist that they remain naked, God himself made clothes for them.

I'm willing to go with the idea that in God's highest ideals for humanity, marriage is between one man and one woman, and that they are to live without shame and without worry in the garden of Eden.  But since the Fall we're not capable of living up to God's highest ideals for us, and the God of the bible I read isn't in the habit of unleashing his wrath on those who are unable to live up to his highest ideals.  He gets pretty ticked when people worship other gods, practice injustice, and exploit the most vulnerable among them, but there's not a whole lot of him getting all fire and brimstone on people for their human moral failings.  In fact, he tends to use many of those people to achieve his work in the world.  As God demonstrated when he stitched together animal skins to cover the beautiful bodies he'd created because Adam and Eve needed him to, he understood where they were coming from, and he adapted his intentions to their needs.  As these posts continue to look at how marriage is depicted in the bible, one of the things I'm going to look at is how God adapts to humanity's changing needs.  If there is biblical evidence that our own human contexts can influence what God will accept from us, then I'm not so sure that we can point to the prototypical marriage, created and established in the garden of Eden before the Fall, and claim it's the only acceptable definition of marriage for all time and in all places.

Genesis 2 might give us God's original intention for marriage, but it is by no means THE biblical definition of marriage.

If you read a little further, you'll find that only six generations later, one of Adam and Eve's descendents invented polygamy.  Genesis 2 defines marriage as being between one man and one woman, but Genesis 4:19 tells us that Lamech took two wives.  Given the fact that he addresses both of them simultaneously in 4:23, there can be no doubt that he was married to them both at the same time.  Lamech single-handedly redefined marriage, essentially saying to God, "I know better than you what constitutes a marriage."  And God did---nothing.  There is no biblical evidence that God objected to this redefinition.  If he was going to nip it in the bud and enforce his original intention, that would be the time to do it, but he didn't.

It will be interesting to see how marriage continues to develop in the bible.  I hope you'll stick with me.

* For my policy on inclusive language in reference to God, see
 ** Ancient Hebrew Research Center, "Biblical Hebrew E-Magazine" July 2008, Issue #044

Part 1     Part 2

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Biblical Definition of Marriage, Part 2: Adam and Eve (Genesis 1)

Any discussion about the biblical definition of marriage must begin with Adam and Eve.  They were, after all, the first people created by God, and their story is most frequently invoked as how God defines marriage.  And there you read about one man and one woman, joined together by God.  End of story.

But what exactly does the story say?

First it depends on whether you're looking at the story that's told in Genesis 1 or in Genesis 2.

Genesis 1:26-28 tells this story: "Then God said, 'Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.'  So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." (NRSV)

Let's forget for a moment that we're looking for a biblical definition of marriage, and consider what the text does and doesn't say.

In the order of creation, humankind* alone is created in God's image.  God's intent in creating humanity was to establish us as caretaker of all the rest of creation.  Men and women were both entrusted with this task equally, as both were created in the image of God.  After they came into being God first blessed them, then commanded them to "Be fruitful and multiply."

One might infer that God just created marriage here, but nowhere in all of Genesis 1 do the words 'marriage,' 'husband,' or 'wife' appear.  To understand this as the establishment of marriage is reading more into the text than is there.  This is the story of how God established humanity as stewards of creation.

The only suggestion that this is a marriage is in God's command to "Be fruitful and multiply."  As I mentioned before, it was the first thing he said to them after blessing them.  But if we're going to read Genesis 1 as the establishment of biblical marriage, then we must also accept that the primary purpose of marriage is to reproduce, and therefore any marriage that does not produce biological offspring is contrary to God's definition of marriage.

More likely, Genesis 1 is not talking about the institution of marriage, but of the primacy of humanity over all other creatures of the earth.  Procreation does require one man and one woman, but as we are well aware, procreation can and does occur outside the bonds of holy matrimony.  God is commanding procreation not as the primary purpose of marriage, but as the way in which humankind is to maintain its dominion over the earth.

But this is all an academic exercise, because few if any point to the Genesis 1 story of Adam and Eve as God's intention for marriage (it's way too egalitarian for many, what with men and women being created equal and equally charged with managing the world).  The Genesis 2 story is much juicier!

*The literal translation is actually 'man,' not 'humanity.'  A more literal rendering of verse 27 would read, "So God created man in his image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."  Since the final stanza specifically includes both men and women as being created at this time and in this way, I'm going to continue to use the gender-neutral term 'humanity' here, as that is clearly the intent of the original text.

Part 1