Monday, October 31, 2011

The Redemptive Pursuit: Our Bodies Redeemed

Our Bodies Redeemed
by Laura Ziesel
October 31, 2011
"Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body." 1 Cor 6:19-20

I've always had a pretty healthy relationship with my body. Other than normal adolescent awkwardness, I have enjoyed the body I have. Unlike many of you, I've never suffered from a physical disability. I've been in good health most of my life and I've only broken one bone. For nearly all of my life, I can honestly say I have loved and valued my body.
'Lakeside yoga' photo (c) 2004, Quinn Dombrowski - license:
When I left home for college, I discovered dozens of amazing friends, most of whom were brilliant, beautiful, creative, and fun women. Sadly, as our friendships deepened, I discovered that I was one of the only women around who actually loved her body. In fact, I discovered that most women would change many things about their bodies if they were able. This baffled me. My friends were all stunningly beautiful. For a variety of reasons, many women I knew treated their bodies as the enemy. Many women wished to disavow their bodies because of sexual pain it had seemingly brought upon them. Many others self mutilated in the privacy of their closets. And sadly, yet more of my friends suffered from eating disorders, the most common method of bodily-hate I encountered.

Until recently, I had a hard time relating to my friends sometimes because I never really understood why you would view your body as the enemy.

But after my miscarriage in April, as my body was failing at the most mysterious thing it could do--give and grow life--I understood. I felt that my body had failed me, my husband, our child, and our families. And I felt a strong urge to punish it. I thought that if only my body had been healthier, stronger, or more determined, my miscarriage would not have happened. I hated my body for the life is had relinquished to death. As I bled endlessly, I felt myself at a fork in the road. That could've been the beginning of hating my body for life.

I didn't share the negative thoughts I was having about my body with my husband or my closest friends. Yet somehow, in my dark moments of self-hate, the truth of God spoke to my broken heart, saying that my broken body was not to blame. God's grace intervened and I surrendered to it: My body was not the enemy. In fact, my body knew my pain intimately and ached with me. Further, I realized that hatred of my body was hatred of myself. I wanted to blame myself for what had happened. And I think this is often the case when we view our bodies as our enemies; our self-judgment, self-loathing, self-blame gets channeled into how we relate to our bodies.

My recent struggle illuminates a deeper problem many Christians have: The separation between body and self is a false separation. When we view our bodies as our enemies, we are encouraging the fallen state of this world. Satan attempts to drive wedges between things: us and God, man and wife, brother and brother, science and faith. We must fight the lies that lead to the compartmentalization of our bodies, souls, minds, and hearts. To believe in the wholeness and peace of God requires that I submit my body to Yahweh along with my whole life; I cannot withhold any part of myself from His redemptive plan. When I submit my body to God I surrender my desire to hate it, judge it, or condemn it. Like the rest of me, it is broken. But it is being redeemed just as I am being redeemed. And I must be my body's greatest advocate, not its greatest enemy.

So if you have ever struggled with hating your body, I understand your struggle a little bit now. And it's a horrible struggle. But you're not alone. Not only do you have sisters who sympathize with you and want to help, but you also have a God who took on the form of a human body Himself, not despising it as dirty or ugly, but dying to redeem it and all of our bodies. I want you to know, in the fullness of God's truth, that your body is not the enemy. So now let's move into the light of God's truth and away from our dark places of self hate.

Lord God, creator of the Heavens and the Earth, help me to see that I am created beautifully. Help me to see my body as something that is valuable and precious to You, not as something that is holding me back. Help me to accept the limits you have placed in my life through my body's need for sleep, food, clothing, and love. Give me boldness to share any feelings of self-hate with a friend, and show me your truth as I seek to glorify you through the use and treatment of my body. Thank you for dying to redeem all things. Amen. 

I will be posting my devotionals from The Redemptive Pursuit once a month as they are published. Sign up to receive these weekly devotionals via email hereFollow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Grace in Biblical Interpretation

'Belfast Murals' photo (c) 2009, Ted Drake - license: hope to exhibit this grace more and more:

"Once we have eliminated erroneous interpretations, what do we do when sincere believers adopt different or, in some cases, opposite explanations of the meaning of the same text? Here Christian grace must prevail.... Sadly, some Christian sects make an industry out of defining themselves by whom they are against and by separating from everyone else who does not agree with them.... One [should] say,
I don't agree with your conclusions, but in light of who you are and your community of faith, in light of how these biblical texts have been interpreted throughout history, and in light of the diligence and care with which you attempt to understand and live in conformity to the Bible's teaching, I concede your interpretation. You have responded to the Bible in a valid manner.
Certainly this is preferable to accusing our brothers and sisters of shoddy work (at best) or dishonesty or heresy (at worst), and separating from them as if they were enemies.... The landscape of Christian history exhibits tragic evidence of Christian brothers and sisters damaging each other and the cause of Christ over their preferred interpretations of the Bible.... When sincere Christians come to two different interpretations on nonessentials of the faith, we must allow that both options are possible...and support each other as brothers and sisters in the life of faith." (208-209)

From Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by Klein, Blomberg, Hubbarb

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Miscarriage Grief in Men

'Holding Hands' photo (c) 2010, Michael Patterson - license:"How's Laura doing?" 

This question sums up many of the frustrations I feel toward our culture's view of miscarriage. 

Newsflash: My husband lost a child too. 

For the past seven months, my husband has cared diligently for me. He has been a remarkable example of selflessness. In the days and weeks immediately following my miscarriage, he pulled more than his fair share of the weight in our family. 

He grieved deeply with me, crying with me in the hospital and when we came home. But in the midst of his grief he was also deeply concerned for my health and stability. He could support me, but he did not know what I was going through. Another life had died within me. He could not understand, nor did he dare try. I was the one who had become the living coffin of a child, a child whose exit from life left my body a hormonal mess. 

"Will she stop bleeding?" 
"Is this normal?"
"Should I try to force her to eat?"
"When will the life come back into her eyes?"
"Should I take her out or let her stay at home in her pajamas?"

Those were the questions on his mind. 

He felt grief, but most days he pushed it to the side to make sure I was okay.

But now, nearly seven months later, his grief rises to the surface, refusing to go away. Now he would've been preparing to hold his first child, one of the most defining moments for most fathers. Instead, we either have our noses in books or we're typing furiously at glowing computer screens. Life has kept moving, never pausing to honor our loss. 

It appears that delayed grief in men following a miscarriage is not uncommon. (Read our friend's account of his grief here.) Those of us ladies who miscarry experience a deep hormonal crash. This hormonal bottoming out almost forces us into the depths of grief. Men have no biological reaction to miscarriage, and because of that we think that men aren't grieving as deeply; but they are. Their grief is just a bit different.

As a psychologist-in-training, Josh deals with hard things a lot. About a month ago he came home from a full day of work and class. He was spent, but not because of hard things. He was spent because of his grief. In his child psych class, they watched a seemingly innocuous video of an infant playing with its caregiver. That should've been the easiest part of his day. Instead, his grief overtook him and he had to leave the class for a bit to gather himself. 

I want to take this grief away from him, but I can't. What I can do is fight for his grief to be recognized, normalized, and affirmed. My husband lost a child too. My body was more involved in the process, but his hopes for our first child have been just as dashed as mine. 

So please stop thinking that miscarriage happened to me. 

It happened to us.

(Read more about our miscarriage here.)

Monday, October 24, 2011

How to Read the Bible

'Bible Study 2' photo (c) 2008, George Bannister - license: I think about what I want to do with my life, at least vocationally, I think about teaching people the Bible. I don't want to just teach the Bible, but I want to teach people how to learn the Bible on their own. 

Part of my passion for teaching the Bible comes from the sad reality that Scripture is very often poorly taught. Most of the Bible study materials I have used (as a leader or participant) have been very disappointing, as have many sermons. 

As an example: The story of David and Goliath is NOT primarily about bravery. Why? The Bible is not an ancient book of Aesop's Fables. The Bible is the story of God, not a book full of virtues, rules, or examples for how to live. In fact, most of the stories we read show us how not to live. Of course, we can learn virtues from the Bible, but they are not the reason God gave us His Word.

Perhaps underlying poor interpretation is the belief that intelligent reading muddies His Holy Words. I've heard the "It means exactly what it says" mantra too often. Some Bible passages are clear, but many parts of the Word of God can be confusing. As you'll read below, this doesn't mean that we can't understand the message of the Bible. It just means that some things are not easily understood. 

Not only is Scripture confusing, but we all come to the text with perspectives about it, God, ourselves, and the world. These perspectives (otherwise known as biases, presuppositions, etc) cloud our ability to read the text neutrally. These perspectives aren't bad (such as the assumption that God exists or that Jesus was God incarnate), but in order to read the text responsibly we must recognize these biases within ourselves. In fact, if you are reading the Scriptures in English, you must admit that the translators also had biases that affected the way they interpreted the meanings of many words. 

So, in an attempt to share with you some of what I am learning about properly approaching the Bible, I typed up these points from some of my books. Please don't stop reading here. If you read the Bible at all, you should read these words:

From Bible Study That Works by David L. Thompson:

"Too many "Bible study" booklets engage the student in question and answer exercises that require one-word or two-word answers. At best such "study guides" lead the student to selected biblical information on given topics. At worst they market the study guide's configuration of the selected information as "the biblical view" on topics ranging from economics to marital relationships" (18). 

(Perhaps claiming that you have the market on the biblical view on a topic seems admirable, but it's not; it's naive.)

"No one lives directly by all the Bible's teachings at once. Its diversity prevents this. For example, one cannot simultaneously practice the sacrificial system of Leviticus and the approach to God taught in the book of Hebrews which set aside that Levitical system. Simply to say that one must "take the Bible literally" as though one could somehow avoid making the difficult judgment involved in this process will not do, for literalness is not the issue. All of us therefore must be selective in the passages we take as mandates for our own lives. We must recognize this and attempt to be consistent, and more important, to be faithful to the intent of the biblical revelation" (65-66).

(I'm sorry, but if you think you take the entirety of the Word of God literally, you have not read enough of it.)

From Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard:

"We affirm that the Bible is understandable, it is an accessible book. It presents a clear message to anyone willing to read it...This does not imply that it is a simple book or that anyone may grasp easily everything it contains. The doctrine of perspicuity or clarity of the Scriptures, so stressed in the Protestant Reformation, always referred to that which was essential for right doctrine or living--not to every sentence of the Bible" (149). 

(The overall message of the Bible is clearly understood, meaning that we can all come to know God through the text if we so desire. But perspicuity does not apply to every word of the text.)

All italics are original and all bolded words are mine.

And these, dear friends, are words from basic Bible education materials. This isn't the advanced stuff yet. Why do we give authority to people who are teaching the Bible so very irresponsibly? 

(If you can't tell, I am loving my MA Theological Studies program at Azusa Pacific! L-O-V-I-N-G.)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

How do we Honor our Loss?

'sunset from airplane' photo (c) 2008, Tiffa Day - license: hovers just around the corner. November is one of my favorite months, but this year it will be hard. I was due in November, and as my due date approaches I can feel the grief growing in both Josh and me.

In the presence of this grief, I feel the need to do something to commemorate our loss. My husband agrees that this has been lacking. We just don't know what to do. 

As an example: Our dear friends who also suffered a miscarriage this year had a quiet ceremony at the beach. This was especially important for their family because they have two small children, the oldest of whom grieved deeply at the loss. They have since framed a photo that was taken at that ceremony and placed it among the family photos on their wall so that they will always remember the short life (on Earth) of Baby Tiny. 

So, I'm asking you for suggestions. Here are some things that might be helpful to know:

We have no sonogram photo.
We have no land in which to plant a tree or bush.
We are not very creative people.
We want something that will be physical that we can take with us as we move, but the commemoration can be more than physical. 

Thoughts? Please feel free to pass this on to someone you know who has some ideas for us. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Male-female Differences: a Win-win

A friend who works in a Christian school (attached to a church) texted this photo to me last week. She found it in the youth room. I would apologize for the poor quality of the photo, but I like that the medium matches the message. 

I don't think I even need to explain the horrors found within this photo. But I will say that I couldn't actually believe my eyes as they squinted to see the photo on my little phone. If anyone knows the source of this photo (it looks like a coloring book to me, which is even more horrifying), I'd love to be informed.

Read this to discover some of what I would have to say about a marriage like this.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Deceived Shall Teach our Children

'2008-VBS-Wednesday-489' photo (c) 2008, First Baptist Nashville - license: friends in seminary are brilliant. 

The other day I was leaving my Christian Ethics class. We had just discussed masculinity, industrialization, and lots of other great stuff; it was lovely. On my way out, in the most casual way, a classmate said the simplest yet most brilliant thing:

"If women were weaker and more easily deceived, why would we trust them to teach our children?"

This immediately led me to think of this quote from Grace Driscoll:
As daughters of Eve we are more easily deceived, but like Ruth under the security of our husband and our God we are safe. Doesn't it limit our ability to demonstrate our gifts? No. We can lead children and women, which is what a Titus 2 woman should desire.
I don't agree with Driscoll, but let's assume I do. 

If I believed that women were more easily deceived, would I want a woman teaching my children about God? Nope, I would want my children to have the best teacher possible. And if I believed that women were inherently weaker than men, that means I would only want men teaching and leading my children. 

So sorry ladies, my children will only be taught by men. I want the best!

For those of you who don't know me, I think this is bologna. But I don't want to get into that now. I simply want to point out the contradiction at work when people simultaneously believe that women are more easily deceived and that they can and should teach our children.  

And while we're on the topic of women teaching children, I'm led to another important question:

Women are allowed to teach boys who will grow up to be men. Right? But wait, this is a problem. At what age do boys become men? 13? 16? 21? When are males too old to sit under the teaching and authority of women? And, are boys supposed to forget everything they learned while under the authority of a woman once they become men? How does that work?

But back to allowing the weaker vessel to teach our precious children: I don't know why this logical contradiction has never occurred to me. The next time I hear the "But women can use their gifts to teach other women and children" line, I'm going to scream. You know why? Because our children deserve better than weak-minded teachers, darn it! (Imagine Stephen Colbert saying that and it's super funny. Oh, if only I had an alter ego of my own. She'd be so entertaining!)

If you truly believe the Word of God requires you to believe that women are weaker and more easily deceived than men, you're still my brother or my sister in faith and I love you. I vehemently disagree with you, but I respect your right to have this opinion. But if you do, you better back up that belief by forbidding women from teaching children.

No really. I'm serious! It doesn't make sense otherwise. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Does God Hate Our Worship?

'Tabernacle wide' photo (c) 2005, thebigo - license:
I asked Who and What are Church Services For? last week. It led to some interesting comments. I've been thinking about this topic nearly daily this semester. I hope to continue the conversation, but I still have very few (if any) conclusions. However, I do have this to add to the conversation: 

Amos 5

21 “I hate, I reject your festivals,
Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 “Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings.
23 “Take away from Me the noise of your songs;
I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.
24 “But let justice roll down like waters
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

I've been camped out in Amos for six weeks now in one of my classes. Amos has a lot to say about worship. Of course, there is a story behind these words. But they are strong words and I think we ought to examine ourselves and our services in light of them. Can we learn from the mistakes of Israel? 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

An Update on Trying to Conceive

'Empty Nest Syndrome' photo (c) 2007, cursedthing - license: had a dream last night that I went to the doctor and they told me that I was 12 weeks pregnant. I assured them that I was not because I chart, I've gotten my periods, blah, blah blah. But they insisted that I was. I don't know if the math works out, but they told me I was due on May 5, 2012, and I thought, "Gosh, that's bad timing." I told them I wouldn't believe them until I heard a heartbeat, but I was really quite excited.

When I woke up in the middle of the night I had to squash my dream-induced excitement. I had to tell myself, "Laura, it's just a dream. You're definitely not pregnant."

I dream a lot, and my dreams are definitely connected to the state of my heart. I tell you about this dream to show you that even though I'm not writing about getting pregnant most days, it is on my mind. I'm trying not to make things worse by only focusing on pregnancy achievement, and being in seminary is definitely helpful in that regard. Some days I am quite successful at not thinking about the status of my womb. But as disciplined as I might be mentally, my true desires are there, just under the surface, coming to life in my dreams. 

Most days, I'm fine. Every once in awhile, it's really hard. It's especially hard as we approach November. I was due in November when I was pregnant in the Spring, and I assumed I would be pregnant by the time November rolled around. But that's not looking likely. 

One of the biggest lessons I've learned this year is that I have to change the way I think about the future. Some events were really hard for me this year because I imagined being pregnant at them. I catch myself still assuming I'll be pregnant by certain events in the future (Christmas, a wedding in March, the end of the school year, etc). But this thinking is really dangerous. I don't know what my future holds, so I really need to stop assuming pregnancy will come soon.

As I fight the battle to gratefully go about the Father's business without becoming self-absorbed, Josh and I are still living in the reality of fertility charts, beeping thermometers, prenatal vitamins, and lots of mental calculations. I know that this month is October, which means that I also know that we're in the July due-month time frame. Such is the state of time in our household these days.

So all of that to say: We're still trying. Some days are hard, but most days my attitude is quite positive. When I am feeling particularly sad about it, this verse has come to mind a lot:

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matt 11:28-30

For the record, I do really appreciate your prayers. I know that many of you are praying for us.

See more of my posts on trying to conceive (ttc) here

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"I Will Wait For You"

I have a treat for you today. 

Psalm 27 is one of my favorite psalms. Verses 13 and 14 have helped Josh and I pray many times we have not had words, most recently as we trust God's timing for children. 

A psalm of David. 
1 The LORD is my light and my salvation—
   whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life—
   of whom shall I be afraid?
 2 When the wicked advance against me
   to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
   who will stumble and fall.
3 Though an army besiege me,
   my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
   even then I will be confident.

4 One thing I ask from the LORD,
   this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
   all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the LORD
   and to seek him in his temple.
5 For in the day of trouble
   he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
   and set me high upon a rock.
 6 Then my head will be exalted
   above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
   I will sing and make music to the LORD.

7 Hear my voice when I call, LORD;
   be merciful to me and answer me.
8 My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
   Your face, LORD, I will seek.
9 Do not hide your face from me,
   do not turn your servant away in anger;
   you have been my helper.
 Do not reject me or forsake me,
   God my Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
   the LORD will receive me.

11 Teach me your way, LORD;
   lead me in a straight path
   because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
   for false witnesses rise up against me,
   spouting malicious accusations.

13 I remain confident of this:
   I will see the goodness of the LORD
   in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the LORD;
   be strong and take heart
   and wait for the LORD.

A friend sent me this video recently and I wanted to share it with you. Janette, the artist, is embodying the strength and courage of Ps 27:14. She is speaking about singleness and dating, but her words are even helpful for me as I wait on the Lord, the author of time, in other areas of life.

To watch the video with subtitles, go here.

The artist is Janette Itk. You can like her on Facebook or visit her website here. The event she performed at was hosted by P4CM

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Couponing Helps Save my Sanity

'009-365' photo (c) 2010, F Delventhal - license: I have the urge to write about something a bit out of left field, something that would not fit on this blog. Back in May, I wrote this piece and submitted it to Money Saving Mom, my favorite deal-finding, couponing site.

I’m not a mom, but I’ve been reading Money Saving Mom® for years because I care about being a wise money manager. Well, that and my husband is a graduate student and I’m a freelance writer and editor. We have to pay attention to every single dollar these days.

Sometimes I get discouraged when I read other people’s success stories at Money Saving Mom® because our family is moving in the “wrong” direction: our income has decreased every year that we’ve been married and we are acquiring more student debt as my husband earns his doctorate in psychology. Our retirement contributions have suffered, we’ve tapped into our emergency savings, and we are barely making ends meet.

Paying off debt is not in the cards for us at the moment. Because of our current financial situation, I catch myself wanting to give up frugality entirely...

Read the rest of my article (and all of the amazing comments) here

Monday, October 10, 2011

Jesus as the Shape of our Stories

I'm reading a book, The Christian Imagination by Willie James Jennings, for my Christian Ethics course. To be honest, this book isn't thrilling me yet. But this one thing stood out to me:

The author begins the book by telling us about his family. After introducing his parents, Ivory and Mary, he says that they were people of strong convictions in many ways. He says:

"Foremost was Jesus. Ivory and Mary loved Jesus. To say they were devout Christians is simply too pale a descriptor. A far more accurate characterization would be, "There were Ivory, Mary, and Jesus." Woven into the fabric of their lives was the God-man Jesus, who, rather than simply serving as an indicator of their orthodoxy, became the very shape of their stories." 

Isn't that beautiful? I hope that our children grow up in a home in which Jesus shapes all of life.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

What to do When you Suspect Abuse

'Don't forget me!' photo (c) 2006, ViV@MiViD@ - license: few days ago I wrote a post in which I mentioned a few sad cases of child abuse that led to child murders. 

I've learned a lot about child abuse during this past year because my husband became a mandated reporter. Before this year, I probably would not have known what to do if I knew a neighbor or family member was being abused. But as result of his training, I have come to realize that we are given dozens of resources in the event that we need them. 

So what do you do if you suspect abuse?

First, learn to recognize the difference between harsh, physical parenting and actual abuse. Spanking is not abusive, but spanking that leaves physical bruises or sores is abusive. Grounding your children from privileges is not abusive, but depriving them of food or physical shelter is abusive. Also, in most cases, children who witness domestic violence between adults are considered abuse victims themselves because their environment is abusive, even if they have not been touched themselves. If you are unsure if the information you have qualifies as abuse, continue reading to find out about your resources. 

For all of us, including mandated reporters and those of us who are ordinary citizens:

Where you live there is a Department of Children and Family Services. Most of these agencies are based at county levels. Google your county DCFS now. Find the website and save any Abuse Hotline numbers to your phone. It might even be worth Googling your state-level DCFS and perusing their website as well.

This website from the Illinois DCFS is a great example of the resources you will find if you do a little digging. It answers questions like these, which many of us have:

What are Child Abuse and Neglect?
When Should I Call the Hotline?
What Happens When I Call the Hotline?

If you are in distress and need counseling because of a situation involving child abuse, even if you are distressed over whether or not you should call to make a report, you can call the Childhelp National Hotline at 1(800) 4-A-Child. Childhelp's hotline will also provide you with local resources if you are unable to find them. 

Are you a mandated reporter? If you are clergy, a medical professional, a school employee, or a person who works in a job with regular exposure to high-risk groups, you are probably a mandated reporter. If this is you, you have NO CHOICE but to report abuse when it is occurring. Remove the decision-making aspect from your mind when you think you see abuse. You MUST report it. If you are unsure if abuse is occurring or if you have enough information, talk to a supervisor or call your local DCFS office. They will provide you with counsel.

Lastly, and most importantly, view abuse intervention as a way to get resources and help for both the children and the parents. When DCFS is called, children are rarely taken from parents. The vast majority of the time, DCFS acts to equip parents to be better parents so that children can stay with their families. You might want to take children who have been abused away from their parents right away, but that can often cause more harm than abuse itself, depending on the situation. View your role as someone who can trigger a wealth of resources being opened up to that family. Often, abusers were abused themselves and simply do not know a better way to parent. Have compassion and pray for the healing of the whole family, not just for the healing of the child victim.

You cannot solve the problem alone, and turning to government resources for help is wise and necessary. 

If you are a mandated reporter or trained in identifying and combating abuse, feel free to leave any additional information in the comments.

An update from my hubs: In the state of California, striking a child with ANY object, even a belt, spoon, 1/4 inch plumping pipeline, or any other type of "rod," might be a reportable offense. Mandated reporters might need to report it, even if it doesn't leave marks. Call your local DCFS office for exact guidelines.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Who and What are Church Services For?

To say that this topic has been on my mind for decades probably sounds a bit dramatic. But it has. 

My first memory of a church service was in the mid-80s. I was in some sort of nursery class at Calvary Evangelical Free Church as a 3-4 year old girl. I remember crying during this class because I was scared of the man singing us songs on his guitar. I have no idea why I was scared of him, but I was. 

From that first memory, my life has been lived in and out of church services of all kinds: Southern Baptist, Presbyterian (PCA), Charismatic, Anglican, Methodist. These churches have ranged in size from 30 to 6,000 attenders. I've heard "practical" preaching and expository preaching, 5 minute sermons and 50 minute sermons. I've seen (and been in!) lame skits and "hip" videos. I've sung out of hymnals a capella, out of service programs to jazz, and off of powerpoint to rock. I've kneeled, I've stood, I've sat, I've jumped up and down.

I've traveled a hard road in my mind and heart concerning church services, a road full of pit stops, back-tracking, and wrestling with God and man. Now my time in seminary is demanding that I ask some hard questions, some questions that I've pushed down deep, down to the recesses of my I-feel-guilty-that-I-can-always-find-a-flaw-in-things self. Letting them surface has been difficult. It is difficult to even write this for some reason.

So I am going to ask some hard questions. I want your honest feedback if you'd like to offer it.

Who are church services for?

What are church services supposed to accomplish?

As fodder for our conversation, consider this video, a parody of the cookie-cutter services across America:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Train up a Child in Whose Way?

'Little boy / big castle' photo (c) 2010, Jim Champion - license:"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6, KJV

If ever parents wanted a Bible verse to cling to, to claim a promise for their own children, it was this one. 

Based on Proverbs 22:6, books have been written, conferences have been held, and prayers have been prayed. Some Christians do not take Proverbs 22:6 lightly. In fact, one of these books, To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl, has been linked to three child murders. While the Pearls advocate an extreme method of "child training" that most Christians do not employ (thank God!), most of us who have grown up in the Church have heard this verse. 

I have always had a problem with this verse for three reasons. First, it is often applied as a promise, but it simply is not. It is a proverb, a piece of wisdom. That is all. Second, I have known many individuals who were arguably "trained in the way they should go" but have significantly departed from it as adults. (Parents of wayward children have probably been guilt-ridden about this too!) Third, and perhaps most importantly, I simply didn't see how the writer of this proverb thought sin and brokenness could be so easily defeated. If having a good life is as easy as proper training, why does the world need Jesus? And why isn't it working? 

My personal problems with Proverbs 22:6 aside, there is a bigger problem with this verse.

I hate to be the one to break the news to everyone, but Bible translation has failed miserably in regard to Proverbs 22:6 and we have all been duped. 

Okay, now hold on. I hear you groaning already: "Oh great, she's going to tell us what the Hebrew really says, as if the Hebrew is clear. Pulease." I get it. I really do. If Scripture were clear, many scholars and pastors would be out of work. 

So, I'm not going to pretend as if the Hebrew is clear here because it's not. But I (via my awesome professor and a little independent verification) can tell you what Proverbs 22:6 doesn't say. Ready?


The word should, or an indication that the way is God's way, is NOT in the text at all. So what is there? The most literal translation is a bit convoluted, but it says:

"Initiate for the child on the mouth of his way; even when he is old, he will not turn from it." (A source other than my professor is here.)

Yep, that's right. There is no indication that "the way" is a good way. In fact, "the way" belongs to the boy, meaning it is "his way." A looser translation could be:

"Start a kid down his own way; even when he is old, he will not turn from it."

Now, I know it's ballsy to say that the English translation is blatantly wrong. Just to be clear, I'm not saying that Scripture is wrong; the Scriptures as they are in the original languages are holy and pure. But, for some reason the KJV inserted a "should" into this verse and it has been translated ever since using that lens. (In terms of scholarship, the KJV has a lot of problems. Some newer translations are actually better. Sorry KJV adherents. It's beautiful in some places, but it also includes the word unicorn in six places, as well as having other serious source problems.)

But translation problems aside, what does the proverb actually mean? Because of the odd wording, it's hard to know precisely. But my professor's best guess is that it means the complete opposite of how we interpret it. That one little word should makes all the difference. The proverb is a tongue-in-cheek statement about the way life works, not a prediction for those who are good parents.

Think about it this way: Give your kid his way, and when he's older he'll live life according to himself. And for the record, your children's own ways are sinful and selfish. Proverbs is continually contrasting "the good way" to "the bad way", and this verse is referring to the latter, not to the former. You know the phrase "stuck in his ways"? That is closer to the idea here. We must teach children to think about and care for others, to communicate and follow God, and not to live lives that are all about themselves.

Moreover, do you see the word train there? Neither do I. I understand how train could be one understanding of initiate (which is also translated as dedicate), but the Scripture is hinting more at pointing the child in the right direction and giving him a little jump start, not at using obedience training.

Let's all just keep in mind that children are not dogs and should not be trained as if they are. I am often flabbergasted by the emphasis on obedience training in Christian parenting advice. Obedience training is moralistic behavior-modification for children. I'm not saying teaching our children to be obedient is bad, I'm saying that obedience should not be the goal of Christian parenting. Children should primarily be enraptured by the story of God and how they fit into it, not with their own behavior. 

So that's what Proverbs 22:6 does and doesn't say. What do you think? Am I being disrespectful toward the Scriptures or is this actually freeing for all of you parents out there?

Oh, and for the record, I know I said earlier that "I hate to be the one to break the news," but that was a lie. I really love being the one who breaks news like this. Now please go tell your friends so that we can all stop throwing this verse around incorrectly. I'll go work on my degree so that I can contribute to a translation that is a bit less inaccurate one day.

As a follow-up, read what to do if you suspect abuse here.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Small Talk with Pregnant Women (and Moms)

'A great joy is coming' photo (c) 2010, Rachel Carter - license: I have never been noticeably pregnant, I have yet to know the world of becoming a public spectacle. I just wrote a guest blog, "On Bellies, Babies, and Unwanted Attention," about my fear of receiving lots of attention from strangers once I become pregnant again for Adam McHugh, author of the highly-recommended book Introverts in the Church.

While doing some fun research for the piece, I asked mom friends of mine for feedback about the comments people would make to them while pregnant. Although my post for Adam's site didn't include them, I still think it would be valuable to post the helpful tips my friends provided. I know that I've done a lot of these no-nos in the past, so I myself have learned from this list.

Things NOT to say to pregnant women:

Do not mention how big/small they are. Most pregnant women are worried enough about their health and the health of their child without everyone else constantly pointing out that "the baby seems small" or "that's gonna be a big one." If you think telling them that they're small is helpful, it's not. It only makes them worry that the baby isn't growing big and strong. 

Do not mention any thing else about their body. "You're carrying so low/high" of "Wow, your boobs are huge" are not helpful comments and only make them self-conscious. Believe it or not, pregnant women do look in mirrors. They are aware of how they are carrying. Body image is a big issue for pregnant women, so don't make it worse by reinforcing the idea that they are defined by their bodies.

Do not rehash horror stories from other pregnancies you have experienced personally or through a loved one. "Well you never know how things will go 'cause I was on bedrest for the last two months of my pregnancy" is not helpful. 

When you see a pregnant women with young children, do not make jokes like, "Don't you know what causes that?" Do not say that her hands are full enough already or that she needs to hire a nanny. Every child is a blessing and is worth celebrating with sassy jokes, even if it's child #15. 

Do not touch a pregnant woman who is a stranger without asking for permission. Seriously people! If you are friends and you would ordinarily hug or touch without it being weird, then touching her belly might not be so horrible. But try to think about touching someone's belly in terms of hugging them: If you wouldn't go up and randomly hug a stranger in public, why would you touch their belly? 

"You look like you are about to pop." Really? What does this even mean? She's not a balloon, and she's not about to pop. 

Things that are OKAY to say to pregnant women:

Simple remarks about her body are fine, as long as they are positive and you don't linger when looking at and talking about her body. You can say, "Oh you're simply glowing" or "You look beautiful" and then move on. 

Offering resources to a women is fine, but assess her reaction carefully while doing so. Yes, she may love to hear about your church's program for new moms or the wonderful care you received at your hospital, but she might already know about this information and be sick of hearing it over and over. 

Things that are GREAT to say to pregnant women:


Give any helpful advice if they have asked for it or if you are a close enough friend that you have the permission to speak into their life. 

"Would you like my seat?" Any chivalrous gestures of holding doors or helping with heavy lifting seem to be appreciated by all of my friends. (But don't be stubborn and insist on carrying her purse if she says she's fine. She might actually not want a stranger carrying her stuff.)

Please ask lots of questions about things other than her pregnancy. Pregnant women (and moms) love to talk about their kids, but they are also normal humans who love to talk about other things. They are teachers, daughters, bakers, authors, engineers, etc. Inquire about other areas of her life. Please, please, please, talk about something else every once in awhile.

Anything I'm missing here moms? Or do you disagree with any of these?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

On Bellies, Babies, and Unwanted Attention

An excerpt from my guest post today over at Adam McHugh's site, Introverted Church:

I'm the first to admit that I am more likely to look at a pregnant woman (and her belly) than the average person I pass in town. I can't help it sometimes. Pregnant women are quite beautiful. But once I become that pregnant woman, I know I am going to hate the extra eyes, hands, and unsolicited advice directed at me and my belly. And it won't get better once I give birth; I've heard that walking around town with a baby is just as bad, if not worse. Lord have mercy on my introverted soul!

In all honesty, I think there should be a t-shirt line for those of us who want to keep the prodding questions at bay:

Read the whole post here.

Come back to on Monday for a companion piece to "On Bellies, Babies, and Unwanted Attention" called "Small Talk with Pregnant Women (and Moms)."

I encourage you to poke around Adam's site for great posts on how to be, love, or minister to an introvert.
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