Tuesday, November 29, 2011

God Will Destroy the Fat Cats – A word about the Occupy Wall Street movement

    As I prepare sermons each week, I download and read the scriptures called out in the Common Lectionary, a three year plan that walks us through most major teachings in the Bible.  I don’t always use every selection but as I was reading these scriptures recently I was struck by a passage in Ezekiel that would, on the surface, seem to be a rallying place for the Occupy Wall Street movement and I was, frankly, surprised that it had not already been used to proclaim that 'GOD WILL DESTROY THE FAT CATS'.  On the surface, this  seems to be the message but that didn't seem quite right, and it bothered me.  Before we go any farther, here is Ezekiel 34:16 (NIV)

 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

    God says that he will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak but he will destroy the strong and the sleek. Many translations declare that God will destroy the strong and the fat.  That certainly sounds like a condemnation of the Wall Street bankers, politicians in Washington, and most other ‘fat cats’ but, as I noted earlier, something about that bothered me and it didn’t take too long to figure out why.  The Bible is full of sheep/shepherd imagery. God, kings and church leaders are often compared to shepherds and the people of God are likened to sheep under God’s care.  This imagery is common because it was (and still is) a good picture of how we relate to God and most people who read the story understand how sheep (and shepherds) act.  The problem that I have with this particular passage is that destroying strong sheep and fat sheep is not what shepherds would normally do.  Most responsible shepherds want strong sheep and fat sheep.  Breeding for these characteristics improves the flock as a whole and makes it both stronger and more valuable.  It would be irresponsible for any shepherd to destroy his best breeding stock, so what is it that Ezekiel is trying to tell us?

    As is often the case, the key to interpreting this is found not simply in reading to find what seems to agree with your cause, but in reading more of the passage to put things in context.  Knowing the analogy, that a good and wise shepherd would not normally destroy his best breeding stock is a good start and ignites our curiosity to look deeper.  If we keep reading from Ezekiel we discover these verses as well:

18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? 19 Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

And this:

See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. 

    If we read what comes prior to verse 16, we discover that the entire section is a condemnation upon the leaders of God’s people, the shepherds who have neglected their duty to God and have scattered the sheep.  It is these fat sheep that God condemns.  Unlike some in the Occupy movement, God does not declare that wealth equates with evil, that all rick and powerful people are bad, or that they should be destroyed.  God’s proclamation is that wealth and power are given along with a responsibility to care for those that have been entrusted to you.  God condemns Israel’s leaders because they have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost and they have ruled harshly and brutally while enriching themselves.
Simply put, the strong and the fat are not condemned because they are strong and fat, but because they used their strength to abuse the weak instead of using it to care for them.  

    In my ministry I have had the good fortune to meet several people who have significant wealth, but many of them are also kind, compassionate and generous followers of Jesus Christ who treat their employees well and who use their wealth to care for others as well as the church.  In these words of Ezekiel we do not find a broad condemnation of everyone with wealth and power, but only those who do not use what they have been given in a responsible way.  This is not a condemnation of wealth and power, but a caution to all of us who lead others, whether as pastors, doctors, lawyers, employers, shop foremen, teachers, committee chairpersons or any other position of responsibility. God does not intend to destroy the ‘fat cats’ but he will do whatever he needs to do to protect his flock.  
    All of God’s people are expected to heal the sick, strengthen the weak, bind the wounds of the injured, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and to lead with tenderness and compassion.  If we fail to do that, then we are in serious trouble regardless of our relative wealth or power.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ever been caught with your foot in your mouth?

As we've been busily preparing for our annual Charge Conference and the mountain of paperwork that it is, I haven't had the time to be diligent about writing things on this blog.  Even so, a friend (thanks Ruth!) posted this link on Facebook and I thought that it was definitely worth reading and passing along to the rest of you.

Pastor Russ Ham - Listen to Yourself

Do we pay enough attention to what we say and how we sound  when we say it?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Are You Afraid?

Are you afraid?   

    Every day we open the newspaper or we turn on the radio or the television and we hear bad news.  Our economy is not in great shape.  Our government is spending more than it can afford.  Unemployment is at near historic levels and showing no sign of getting better soon.  We hear reports of doom and gloom almost constantly. 

How has this constant barrage of bad news affected you?

    As I have been reading reports from churches and other charities across the country the reports seem to share a common thread.  Fear.  After listening to the constant cries of disaster and doom people begin to grow afraid for their future.  When people are afraid, they begin to act in ways that reflect their fear.  When we are afraid, we become far more conservative financially, our worries for the future cause us to spend less, pay down credit cards and even save a little more in the bank.  When we are afraid, sometimes without even being consciously aware of it, we pull back and prepare for a rainy day; we are, as a society, waiting for the other shoe to drop.  This mentality is widespread.  The stock markets react violently to even the tiniest piece of bad news and only hesitantly move forward when there is good news.  Retail sales and other measures of consumer spending are not especially good at least partially because people are not confident of how things will be next month, or next year.  People are afraid.

The funny thing is that most of us have no real reason to be afraid.  

    Most of us have the same jobs that we had last year and the year before that.  Many of us have continued to get the same sorts of raises that we have always gotten.  Except for what we seem to be spending on gasoline, our expenses are not significantly changed from what we have been accustomed to for a long time.  Obviously there are exceptions.  One of my brothers has been out of work for more than two years and he is not alone.  Many folks are hurting.  The rest of us however, are living pretty much the same lives that we were living before the recession began several years ago.  For us, our fear has little or no basis in reality.  We are afraid, only because the evening news seems to tell us that we should be and something about that is not right.  

Why should we act as if we are afraid if we have no real reason to actually be afraid?

    As Christians we have another, even better, reason to resist this kind of fear.  Our fear seems to come from our worries about what the President or the Congress will or will not do.  Our fear seems to come from our worries about the economy and other things far outside out control or understanding.  Instead of allowing these worrisome times to make us afraid, we should remember who is in control.  Psalm 20:7 reminds us that “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”  And if we even momentarily considered putting our trust in our bank accounts or in our government, Job is there to remind us that “What they trust in is fragile what they rely on is a spider’s web.  They lean on the web, but it gives way; they cling to it, but it does not hold.”  Nahum 1:7 tells us that “The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.”  Just because we are people of faith, does not mean that we are immune to fear, but the when fear springs up inside of us we remember this: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.  In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust and am not afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 56:3-4)

    As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to put our trust in him and not in the fluctuations of economies and governments that we cannot control.  All of these things are under his command and it is our job to trust in him.  Daniel was literally thrown to the lions but we should remember that “when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.” (Daniel 6:23) 

    We hear bad news every day and honestly, I have begun to listen to the news less often because of it.  I am not hiding from the truth, but I don’t need to be constantly beaten with it either.  I hope that you will remember that we have no need to fear.  Whenever we are tempted to be afraid, we need to ask ourselves a single important question…

Who do you trust?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, 2001 - 10 years later

Help us overcome, Lord, this evil which has descended
Help us understand, Lord, why so many lives too soon have ended

Help us heal, Lord, as we recover from the pain
Help us cope, Lord, show us sunshine after the rain

We put our trust in you, Lord, as you watch us from on high
Help us grieve, Lord, and hold us while we cry

Written by Jim Lane
Fair Oaks, CA , September 2001

This morning in church we remembered.  Many in our congregation could remember exactly where they were and what they were doing on the day that Pearl Harbor was attacked and the same applies to the days that John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Ronald Reagan was shot, and Challenger exploded.  Likewise we remember where we were ten years ago today during the events of September 11, 2001.  Although  we will likely never forget, I pray that God will continue to bring healing to all those who were wounded both physically, mentally and spiritually.  Similarly, I pray that we will learn the right lessons of September 11th.  There are many messages but I pray that we hear the messages taught to us in scripture, messages of love, forgiveness, healing and hope and not the messages that we sometimes hear that play to our baser instincts to hate, destroy and seek revenge and retribution.

This morning's worship service began by reading together from the Psalms and remembering that we find strength in God's tower and not in towers of our own making.  The opening prayer was the one I have included above.  It was written by a fellow rocketry hobbyist and an online friend, Jim Lane in 2001 after the events of September 11th.  It sums up many of the feelings that we had then and feelings that have resurfaced this week as we remember.  I include it here with his kind permission.  Thank you Jim.

My message this morning was a story of remembrance but also a reminder that the thing that makes followers of Jesus Christ different is our calling to love and forgive our enemies.  This is not an easy thing, in fact, it may well be one of the hardest things that we can do but Jesus tells us that our own forgiveness depends upon it.

Sunday's message, September 11, 2011 - a service of remembrance and reminder.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Divine Appointments

    This week I had a full schedule on my calendar but three times I have been reminded that my time is not my own and that we all need to be available for sudden shifts that God places in our path.  In contrast to the everyday scheduling that we do for ourselves, we sometimes call these shifts “divine appointments.”  

    Tuesday I had planned to spend the morning working in our church office and I did.  Our morning was unremarkable.  In the afternoon, after I had attended our local Rotary Club meeting I had made two appointments with shut-ins from our congregation and I planned to visit the hospital in my capacity as the hospital chaplain (several of us take turns volunteering at Barnesville Hospital and Tuesday is my day).  I got caught finishing a project in the office and I started later than I had intended but in my mind I still thought that I could accomplish all of my visitation before returning home for dinner.

    Whenever the weather is good I try to walk for as much as I can and so, since my first visit with Roy and June was only a few blocks away I set out on foot.  While I had made an appointment with June the previous week, I briefly wondered if I should call just in case something had changed, bust again, since it was only a few blocks, I shrugged off my doubts and set out anyway.  When I arrived at my destination I knocked on the door and was met by Roy and June’s daughter.  She thanked me for coming but told me that June had not slept well the night before and was now asleep in the afternoon.  She thanked me again and asked if I could come back next week.  I assured her that it was no problem and, since the weather was lovely, set out immediately for the hospital.

I was hardly across the street before I discovered that God had other plans.

     As soon as I had crossed the street, I encountered two older gentlemen, one wearing an Air Force baseball cap and the other an Army cap.  As we passed one another they asked if I wasn’t a pastor.  I wasn’t terribly surprised since, living in a small town, I am often recognized by people that I don’t know.  When I said that I was, they asked which church I belonged to and I told them.  Our conversation lasted far longer than I would have expected.  We talked about church and the military.  They told me of their military service and I told them about mine.  They told me of their other relatives who had served and so did I.  Although I have been out of the Army Reserve for nearly twenty years, my service offered a place for us to connect as we spoke on the sidewalk.  I learned that one of these men had recently had some difficulty and these two men, brothers, were moving in together not far, they hoped, from our church.  Both men said that they had been away from the church for a long time and had felt a need to return.  Before we went our separate ways, both men said that I should expect to see them in church within the next few weeks.

    My hospital rounds were, for the most part, uneventful and I then proceeded to my appointment to visit with Irene.   When I arrived at Irene’s house I she did not answer the door.  This is not unusual as she cannot always hear the doorbell and so I knocked again, and even shouted but I could not attract her attention.  Since I was unable to visit I left a note and a copy of last week’s sermon and headed for home.  Within minutes of my arrival the doorbell rang and I found at our door another member of our church.  She had been scheduled for surgery in Pittsburgh the next day and I had planned to visit her there.  Instead, she told me that they had scheduled her for a very early time slot and because of the early hour and because of our distance from Pittsburgh they were leaving almost immediately and would stay in a hotel overnight.  Since they live close to us, I walked home with her, visited for a short while and prayed with both she and her husband before they left.  

    Had Irene answered her door, I would not have been home and would surely have missed this important appointment.  Had June slept through the night I would surely have missed meeting and visiting with the brothers who were feeling a call to return to church.

    Yesterday, a couple who had been living together called our church office in the morning and asked if I could marry them in the afternoon.  This doesn’t often happen (okay, it’s never happened to me before) but my schedule was free (except for my plans to write a sermon for Sunday) and since they only desired to be married in my office, there was no need to clean the sanctuary or disturb the custodian.  As it turned out, this couple had been living together for a number of years and had decided that now seemed to be a good time to get married.

  Every day we schedule the ordinary. 

             Once in a while, God reminds us that our time does not belong to us.  

    Once in a while our carefully crafted schedule is disrupted so that we can be present in times and in places that God has scheduled.  We must watch and be ready for a few “divine appointments” instead or being frustrated at the perceived disruption.  

  If we are ready, our disruption will be transformed into blessing.

    I pray that each of you will be open to these sorts of disruptions so that you too can be blessed by catching a glimpse of God’s bigger picture.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Better Late Than Never - My take on Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” (Part 2)

    As I said, Rob Bell asks some great questions and they are important, life or death questions but his approach to answering some of them is sloppy.  I found that disappointing in someone who writes so well.  When I say that Rob Bell’s approach is sloppy, here is what I mean:  In seminary we were taught that we should always allow the text of scripture to speak for itself.  We were taught how to properly interpret scripture, how to translate difficult words and to look at how that writer, or other Biblical writers used those words in similar contexts so that we could correctly discern the intended meaning.  Beyond this, we were taught never to proof-text.  Proof-texting happens when we decide what the Bible should say and then proceed to dig out Biblical texts that align with, and therefore seem to prove, our initial theories.  Rob Bell may not be proof-texting in “Love Wins” but he seems to draw awfully close to that line.  Bell begins his book with an entire chapter devoted to describing what he wants to find in the Bible and uses whatever texts that seem to agree with him and either ignoring or skipping over texts that present significant problems.  Ben Witherington even finds occasions where Bell has grossly misinterpreted scriptures so that they agree with his arguments where the correct interpretations would stand in opposition to it.

    Bell says that heaven and hell are real and that they exist here on earth.  It’s a nice sentiment, but that’s not what Jesus said.  Jesus said that heaven is in another place.  Jesus said that hell is real.  Rob Bell says that we can decide, after death, to accept Christ but Jesus says that a great chasm exists between heaven and hell and no one can bridge that gap.  Bell thinks that if we can decide to choose Christ after our deaths then sooner or later nearly everyone will come to their senses, follow Jesus and enter into heaven.  Jesus says that at the end of the age the weeds will be separated from the wheat and thrown into the fire.  Jesus says that the weeds are the followers of the evil one and the wheat are the followers of God.  I agree with Bell that some of the things in scripture are troublesome.  Like Bell, I wish that billions of unbelievers would not be sentenced to punishment in hell, but I can’t just pretend that scripture doesn’t say what it says.  We struggle with the texts of scripture.  It isn’t easy and we do no one any favors when we take shortcuts.

    If we have a high view of scripture, we believe that it says what it says.  If we have this view, then we must define ourselves and our beliefs why what we discern from it.  We cannot force what we wish to be true upon scripture.

    In summary, “Love Wins” is very well-written and engaging but for all the good ideas and excellent questions contained in it, there is too much theology that is poorly thought out, too much off-target interpretation and too many places where the layman (because it is well written and engaging)  is going to have difficulty discerning one from the other.  For those reasons, I cannot recommend reading “love Wins” unless you have a copy of a reliable  analysis (like Ben Witherington’s) alongside it to help you avoid the pitfalls along the way.

Better Late Than Never - My take on Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” (Part 1)

    Amid the hubbub earlier this year over Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” I had several friends who either read or commented on it (or both).  I have not been a follower of Rob Bell (although I have seen one or two of his Nooma videos) and so, despite the fuss, I wasn’t terribly tempted to read it for myself… until Pam, a Facebook friend, challenged me to read it for myself.  Up until then, I had limited myself to sharing links to some really well-researched and well-written blogs about it by folks like Ben Witherington  and Dr. John Byron  (who was my Greek professor in Seminary).  I promised Pam that I would read the book but I still didn’t want to buy it so I put my name on a list at the local library and waited.  As luck (or the providence of God) would have it, the book came in just as we were preparing to leave for our church’s Youth Annual conference.  I attend this conference with our youth, but the youth, and the youth leaders attend the business meetings and I only attend the concerts and listen to the speakers.  As a result, I was able to squeeze in enough time to read through the book.

    I was going to re-read the book and take notes but if I had, I would be writing a six part post (instead of two) and I would have been late returning the book to the library.  Besides, other writers have more ably and more thoroughly dissected it already. 

Frankly, the book made me sad.

    It made me sad because I really enjoyed reading it.  Rob Bell writes the way I talk.  He isn’t hung up in sentence structure or having perfect paragraphs but writes in a style that reflects how we speak with one another.  I find that style, occasionally, to be refreshing.  What’s more Rob Bell writes well, has many really great ideas and asks some very important questions.  Problems arise, however because of how Rob Bell proceeds after he has a good idea and after he asks a great question.

    Rob Bell seems to want to have things both ways.  He says that what Jesus did was done for us, with no exceptions, no confessions, and no believing required (p. 11), and yet he believes that this sort of Christianity should motivate us to do good.  Why?  If I believed that nothing is required of me in order to go to heaven, if I believed that I am not responsible for carrying the Good News to others (because nothing is required of THEM either), then what motivation do I have to do good or to tell others about the truth that I’ve found?

(continued in Part 2)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Reflections on Going Deaf

    Okay, to be perfectly honest, I may not actually be going deaf, but sometimes it feels that way.  I have cousins who were born with profound hearing impairments and they manage quite well, and often excel, in life with courage, determination, sign language and cochlear implants.  While I know them, this was always a sort of alien world to me.   I always had decent hearing, not like my wife who can hear every conversation anywhere in the house, but at least good, average hearing.  At least it was until about eight or ten years ago.  At first I noticed that when I went to the barn each morning to care for our animals and to do my chores, instead of the quiet that I normally enjoyed I could hear a quiet ringing in my ears.  Not long after, I was diagnosed with tinnitus and a very mild hearing loss was considered to be the likely cause.

    Sometime later, my tinnitus was considerably worse and so was my hearing loss which led to my first hearing aid (only one at first because our insurance would only pay for one every two years).  That helped, but in less than two years I needed the other hearing aid and we paid for it out of pocket.  At that point my audiologist wondered why a guy who was barely over forty had hearing loss that looked like he was sixty or seventy.  To answer that question he referred me to an ear, nose and throat specialist, who saw me, had an MRI taken of my head and then referred me to another specialist who was even more specialized (a special, specialist, I guess) and who only did ears or something.  I want to be clear, I never really liked to listen to loud music, I was in the Army Reserve but I was never in the artillery or subjected to a huge amount of noise other than our annual rifle qualification.  I never worked in a factory where I was around loud noises (on a regular basis) and although I mowed the lawn and used power tools, I don’t think that I used them any more than most people.  Ultimately, the special specialist’s determination was basically, “We just don’t know.” And that’s where I am today.  I wear two hearing aids but each year I can notice my hearing getting worse than the year before and there is nothing that I can do about it.
    Two weeks ago, along with hundreds of my colleagues, I attended our Annual Conference, a gathering of clergy and laity representatives from United Methodist churches from across East Ohio.  In settings like that, in a huge auditorium with lots of background noise, my hearing is practically useless.  Hearing aids amplify every noise and, unlike normal hearing, you are utterly unable to distinguish one conversation from another so what I hear is often just a muddle.  I could generally hear the speakers who were wearing, or who were in front of, microphones but when questions came from the floor or from someone on stage without a microphone, forget it.  I also miss many things that are said when a speaker lowers their voice for effect.  Often I can figure out parts of what was said, but not always and as a result I generally miss jokes and funny stories because I can’t hear the punch-line even if I could hear the joke. 

    Last week, we picked up our son from a week at church camp.  He had spent a week playing in a small band and the band was playing the music for a group of teens who had written their own musical.  Because the acoustics in the barn where the production was held were like many large auditoriums, even though there were two stage microphones, I understood almost none of the dialog nor any of the words of the songs.  I was glad that my son played in the band and it wasn’t his hard work that I missed out on.  

    In the next few weeks I will see my audiologist for my annual checkup.  I will get another hearing test and he will send the results to the special specialist just in case there is anything that can be done (but there never is), and I will have him turn up the volume on my hearing aids…  again.  I know that soon my hearing aids won’t be able to get any louder and I will have to buy new, bigger and uglier hearing aids but it can’t be helped.  I work in a job where hearing other people is pretty important.  For now, with my hearing aids, things are not perfect.  I miss a lot but with the patience of my family and the people of my parish, I get along fine.  My experience with hearing loss does have one benefit I suppose.  My understanding, empathy and patience toward persons with hearing loss and all disabilities is growing and I see how much that those who are not disabled often just don’t get it.  I do worry about the future.  If I have the hearing of a sixty or seventy year old at forty six, then where will I be when I reach sixty or seventy?  I suspect that I may be having some serious conversations with my cousins about what it’s like to live in their world.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Too Busy for God?

Are you too busy for God?

    Have you made all your summer plans yet?  I have to shake my head when I think of all the activities that we have been cramming into our schedules for this summer.  We have vacations to fit in, family to visit, church and community activities to attend, church camp, scout camp, band camp, cross country camp, soccer practice, church Annual Conference to attend and other summer activities all added to our regular work schedule, doctor visits and other year ‘round activities.  The problem is that our family is not all that unusual.  Most people we know are planning equally busy schedules and sometimes more.  But amid all this hubbub and frenetic activity, where does God fit in?  

    It is well known that most churches see a slump in attendance over the summer.  There is a summer slump despite the fact that many people have been using the winter snow and spring rains as an excuse for not attending church.  I have come to believe that our summer attendance falls off not because church is unimportant.   Neither is it really because people are too busy.  Instead, attendance falls because most of us never stop long enough to really think about what we are doing.

    Most rational people understand how important it is to save for retirement and yet many of us arrive at our golden years with little to show for it.  It isn’t that we couldn’t have afforded to pass up a few lottery tickets or a second Big Mac once in a while so we could set aside a few bucks a week, it’s just that we never stopped long enough to think about it and to plan for the future.  For many, our track record for church attendance is pretty similar.  We believe that church attendance is important but we think that we’re too busy to add church attendance to our plans for the summer.  Because we don’t plan, Sunday sort of sneaks up on us and we arrive at the first day of the week tired and over-scheduled and grasp at one more free day to sleep in or to cram one more thing into our busy schedule.

    In our last church there was a family (I won’t use their names) who were leaders in our church.  They loved the church, they liked the pastor (at least they said they did) and their extended family attended our church.  They disappeared every summer.  At some point they bought expensive recreation equipment and felt that in order to justify the expense of their new toy, they should use it.  And so, during the spring, summer and fall, whenever the weather wasn’t particularly horrible, they would be gone nearly every weekend. 
They probably knew that someone in our church took attendance each Sunday.  What they probably didn’t know is that I kept those attendance sheets and looked at them at the end of the year.  Even though these were good people (and our friends) who loved the church and held leadership positions in it, at the end of the year their overall attendance fell well below 50 percent and probably below 30 percent.  I’m not certain that they would have believed me even if I had told them.

    Our friends didn’t miss church because they didn’t like it and they didn’t contribute to our summer slump because church wasn’t important.  They would be first in line to tell you different.  Instead, they, like many of us, never took the time to include church attendance as a part of their plan.  Each year we plan how many days that we will miss work.  We even try to calculate how many days we might be sick.  Sadly, even though many of us would say that church attendance is nearly as important, almost none of us have planned how many Sundays that we will miss.  The end result is that Sunday sort of sneaks up on us and at the end of the year we discover that we’ve missed far more days than we ever expected.

    As you make your summer plans I challenge you to do something unusual.  I challenge you to plan how many Sundays you will miss this year.  Decide, in advance, how important church attendance is to you. Choose how many days you will be absent, and then put it on your calendar and commit to it.

We all know that your summer will be busy.

Please don’t be too busy for God.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Living Together, No Harm No Foul?

    Folks inside and outside the church are known to ask the question “Why not?” when discussing the idea of living together prior to marriage (or simply outside of marriage altogether).  Such a choice is often defended by suggesting that there is a benefit from “getting to know each other” prior to making a major commitment.  Obviously, from the perspective of the church there is no half-step toward marriage.  Few of us are na├»ve enough to believe that a man and woman who live together will refrain from sexual relations and so we assume that living together implies a sexual relationship outside the boundaries of scripture.  Simply put, no one believes that you can “live together” without committing sin in the eyes of God.

    None of that is news.  Most people, whether they attend church or not, know that this is the position of the church.  What’s new is that the Bible and the church aren’t the only ones suggesting that living together might be a bad idea and it’s the new voice that you might find surprising… the federal government.  Some years ago federal research revealed that women who had even one abortion had nearly double the risk of cervical cancer but that news was politically unpopular and got little press.   Likewise, I suspect that you will not hear the Surgeon General say this at a press conference any time soon, nor do I expect to hear this from any major news outlets.  

The news that I read today was on Jim Daly’s (Jim Daly is the President of Focus on the Family) blog, Finding HomeDr. Bradford Wilcox from the University of Virginia is a researcher who has studied and written extensively on “marriage, parenthood, and cohabitation, and on the ways that gender, religion, and children influence the quality and stability of American marriages and family life.” (from the UVA website)  Dr. Wilcox has been analyzing a recent federal study on marriage and finds some truly startling statistics.  I have asked Focus on the Family for the name of the study – I will let you know if hear anything

The data tells us that, at least if you have children, living together is far more dangerous than being married.  According to Dr. Wilcox:

"...children living with their mother and her boyfriend are about 11 times more likely to be sexually, physically, or emotionally abused than children living with their married biological parents.  Likewise, children living with their mother and her boyfriend are six times more likely to be physically, emotionally, or educationally neglected than children living with their married biological parents.

    The church (and society, generally) has long held that it was best for a child to be raised by both a mother and a father whenever possible.  This research indicates that this is true when that man and woman are married.  In the words of Dr. Wilcox, “one of the most dangerous places for a child in America to find himself in is a home that includes an unrelated male boyfriend--especially when that boyfriend is left to care for a child by himself."

    No one is saying that women who live with an unmarried partner are bad parents.  Neither do I suggest that single parents have it easy and that living together doesn’t solve problems related to finance, child care and time management.  What these findings do suggest is that single women with children should consider such living arrangements with great care because there is a significant risk to their children.  Although I am certain that the federal government will not draw the obvious conclusion, I will.  Marriage does make a difference and the commitment represented by a simple piece of paper does mean something.

Startling news, because of its source.

Scripturally, not at all surprising.


Thursday, March 31, 2011

20/20 Blindness

    This week at the suggestion of several church leaders, I joined the Barnesville Kiwanis club.  I've attended as a guest before, have met several members and several others belong to our congregation.  At this week's meeting I met Donald Lynn.  Many people in Barnesville know Donald and most everyone has seen him around town with Bobby his guide dog.  Donald has impaired vision but he gets around pretty well and does most things that you and I do.  At the Kiwanis meeting on Monday, Donald was telling us about a recent experience that had bothered him.  It seems that a Chinese restaurant near Wal-Mart in Cambridge (Ohio) had refused him service and asked him to leave because of his guide dog.  Besides that fact that this is probably illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other legislation, most of us at the meeting found this action to be offensive.   

    In the Gospel of John (Chapter 9) Jesus heals a man who was blind since birth and the leaders of the synagogue cannot believe that the healing really happened.  They deny that this man, who can clearly see, is the same man that they had seen for years begging at the gates to the Temple.  When the man's own parents testify that this is the same man, the leaders then deny that it was Jesus who did the healing.  In John's story we are told that the church leaders are the ones who are truly blind.  It seems strange that in two thousand years we are still hearing the same story.  For all of our modernity and sophistication it seems that not much has changed.

    Donald Lynn may be a man with impaired vision, but it is pretty obvious that someone else suffers from a far worse sort of blindness.

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