Despair. That’s the word that comes to mind when I hear the news stories of late.
This morning, while I was getting ready to go to church, my husband sat at the kitchen table shaking his head. The news story about the two L.A. police officers, shot while they sat in their police car was on his news feed. “This is just disgusting! What is the world coming to!” he moaned.
My husband doesn’t yet hope in Jesus. I’ll spend my life praying, believing and living so that one day he will. Today, it was apparent to me, knowing where your hope lies is so important.
I asked my husband, “What’s your hope?” He struggled to voice a solution he thought might fix the problem of violence against police officers and the rhetoric he sees playing out in the public that makes it seem he’s the bad guy for being a police officer. His hope is that someone will someday fix this societal problem of violence and hate. He sees the bad guys, and hopes someone will stop them. The question that looms is, who’s going to fix the problem of evil?
What is my hope? A politician? Philanthropy? More police? Stricter laws? A different governmental system? Who’s going to fix this mess we’re all in?
When I voiced my hope to my husband this morning I got a bit of what the apostles got in Acts 4 when the leaders around them were, “…greatly annoyed because they were… proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” (Acts 4:2). My husband wasn’t greatly annoyed. But he was a little annoyed. “I don’t buy it!” he quipped. “I don’t think Christ is going to change these thugs’ and make them good people.” He couldn’t believe that Christ could make life-giving good people out of murders. And I get it. I don’t want Christ to make them life-giving good people. I tend to want Christ to just destroy them! I have a Jonah problem. But that’s another blog.
What my husband was annoyed at is my hope that the resurrected Jesus I believe in, who can’t be seen and touched, can make any difference in the world. And that’s just it. I believe he does, and is and will.
Right now, he’s in me and many others, moving us with his heart of perfect love and justice to self-sacrificially love others, forgive, stand up for the truth, for those who are oppressed, extending our lives and the good news that this Jesus we love is the only one who really can make all things new.
It’s good for us to use the systems we have to do as much good as we can, but ultimately, it is only Jesus who can take a dead, evil-infested heart, and make it alive with love and truth.
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
This weekend me, my friends and neighbors are going to BBQ and blow up things. My social media feed will be full of American flags and Happy Independence Day GIF’s and memes.
I enjoy a good 4th of July celebration. Fireworks are nostalgia for me. Growing up in a small town of log truck drivers and mill workers (my dad one of them), the 4th meant BBQ’d chicken, which my dad joked was a burnt offering. It meant parking alongside the road up the hill from our fair grounds to watch (for free) the explosions in the sky.
As my sons entered their school-aged years, I began searching for stories and lessons from history that would help my sons know more about their country than the suburban white culture they lived in was teaching them. My mom tried to do the same for me, taping images of babies from various ethnicities to the wall next to my crib. As I began my search for more diverse material to inject into my kids’ senses, I began to learn what I was never taught growing up.
Yesterday I listened to a podcast with Dr. Walter Strickland. Strickland discussed his book, For God So Loved the World- A Blueprint for Kingdom Diversity. Strickland described the African American Christian community bringing to Christian theology a Berean-like practice that chews the meat of the gospel but spits out the bones of errant tradition. Strickland pointed out this Biblical practice has been part of the African American Christian way from it’s inception. Why? Because if African Americans had swallowed whole the Christian faith they were force-fed as slaves, they would have rejected it all together. The gospel the slaves learned and embraced was filled with a bunch of dead boned theology that their slaveholders used to defend slavery.
The Africans who were enslaved in the U.S. and on whose backs the U.S economy and government structures were built, were able to chew the meat of the gospel that Christ died for their sins to reconcile them to God and spit out the bones of the evil of their slaveholders. How can I do any less?
In Fredrick Douglass’ now famous speech What to the slave is the 4th of July, the former slave eloquently lays out the irony and wickedness that young America was willingly blinded to. He pointed out how our father’s thought it right and noble to seek independence from Britain’s crown, and celebrated their victory in gaining this freedom, while chained to the dark-skinned men, women and children they denied this freedom too.
“You can bare your bosom to the storm of British artillery to throw off a threepenny tax on tea; and yet wring the last hard-earned farthing from the grasp of the black laborers of your country. You profess to believe “that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth,” and hath commanded all men, everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate, (and glory in your hatred), all men whose skins are not colored like your own. You declare, before the world, and are understood by the world to declare, that you “hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; and that, among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which, according to your own Thomas Jefferson, “is worse than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose,” a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country…. ” (What to the slave is the 4th of July, 1852)
But even Douglass, so freshly scarred and wounded in a time of open slavery, was chewing the meat of the virtues America ironically violated in their slave holding, while spitting out the bones of our country’s wickedness.
“Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age.” (What to the slave is the 4th of July, 1852)
I love America. I love her diversity. I love that she has an ethic of hard work and human rights. I love that she invites the immigrant and the poor. I love the bravery of those who fought and died for her. But those very appetizing traits have come with centuries of splintery bones we all too easily swallow in our fourth of July nostalgia. Tomorrow I’ll eat barbecued chicken and cherry pie. I’ll light up some store bought fake fireworks and sing our national anthem. But I want to celebrate with the wisdom of the men and women who perhaps sang the greatest anthem to come from America’s freedom- the cries of former slaves who discerning wisdom from above, took the meat from America’s declaration of independence and spit out all her bones.
I’m learning that the heroes of my American Christianity held out the gospel with one hand and the chains of their slaves with the other. I’m learning that the history I’ve been taught has left out a lot. As a result, I have believed a whitewashed narrative that made the wickedness my country’s greatness was built on look like noble American Christian bravery.
I’m learning at the least, the American church has turned a deaf ear to racism and at worst has preached and practiced it as Biblical. I’m learning that there are structures and practices in American government and in the church that have marginalized the lives and worth of black people.
I’m learning that my black friends are tired. Tired of trying to explain why. Tired of my passivity and ignorance. I’m learning that I don’t know what I don’t know.
I’m learning that I resist listening to people I can’t help, don’t understand, disagree with or feel uncomfortable around, and that in refusing to listen, a part of my heart has grown cold. My refusal to listen has increased my comfort and decreased my compassion. My refusal to listen has let the lies that have propped up my white sons’ insecurities go unchallenged. And because I haven’t listened I haven’t learned. And because I haven’t learned my neighbors have not experienced the hands and feet of Jesus that come with the hope of his gospel.
I began by listening to my Eritrean American friend, and fellow nurse. She told me in an aisle at the grocery store about her thankfulness for what she sees as God’s protection on her life and her family these 20 past years in America. I listened as she asked how my police officer husband was doing and told me she was praying for him. I listened as she told me she is afraid for her black sons.
And then I listened to my white teenage sons spout off support of President Trump. I asked questions and challenged them to explain what they supported about Trump. As a mother and a Trump detractor, my skin crawls thinking that in their teenage insecurity, my white sons might be drawn to and impressed by the machismo of the Trump presidency. I want to take Trump down in their minds with a lot of bad words, but instead I listened, trying to understand why they are where they are in their thought process. Then I told my sons we were going to listen to the Color of Compromise together. We sat, listened and began a dialogue.
I listened as the administrators of the Be the Bridge group I joined asked me to be quiet for three months on their social media group and do the work they provided me to learn. It’s an act of repentance of my ignorance to do the work of hearing from my black neighbor’s perspective.
I listened as a white, mentally-ill homeless woman told me how she got where she’s at and why she feels so stuck. I listened as she told a story of a lifetime of abuse, rejection and poverty.
Then I turned off the social media and listened to Moses and Job and Isaiah and David and Daniel and Jesus. I listened as the Spirit of God began stirring a fire in me. The cold places of my passive heart began to warm with compassion and conviction. The notes section of my iPhone are filled with quotes from scripture all telling me, “I am the God who saved you out of slavery to the sin of cowardliness. I am the God who lowered himself taking the form of a servant to lift you up and make you a child of God. Turn from your ignorance, your passivity, your cowardliness, your silence. Learn to listen. Learn to speak. Speak the truth in love. Love your neighbor and your enemy.”
I listened to God tell Cain, “Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground” and Job’s friends tell him all the reasons he was wrong about why he was suffering. I listened to Job tell me to stop being a miserable comforter to my black friends.
I listened as God called Moses to go to the government structure enslaving his people and insist that they let them go. I listened to Isaiah and the prophets pleading with me to learn to do good, love mercy and work justice. I listened to David declare the heart of God for the widow, the oppressed and poor. I listened to Daniel confess and repent of his sins and the sins of his fathers.
I listened to Jesus declare that I must love others, including my enemies and those who see me as an enemy, just like he has loved me. I listened as he and his apostle’s declared that love born from his Spirit in me will not only declare the gospel but extend a healing hand and care for the physical needs of the people around me.
And I listened to my pastor call for me to examine myself to see, am I a Jesus person? Do I believe Jesus makes me righteous and do I love my neighbor by speaking the truth in love and, “disadvantaging myself to advantage someone else”?
I know, like any work of the Spirit of God in me, this must be an enduring work. Listening must become a practice. A rhythm. Speaking the truth in love must become a discipline. Working justice for the oppressed must become part of a gospel-driven, “long obedience in the same direction.” Saying and believing black lives matter and living a life that repents of the racist thoughts and beliefs that have become an ingrained part of the narrative that has kept me quiet and ignorant for so long, must become as daily as breathing. Something my black neighbors have been fighting to do for generations in this country and in the church.
Lord help me. Help me to be a listener. A learner. A repenter. A servant. A lover of my neighbor and my enemy. Help me to boldly declare the scandalous gospel that saved me and boldly decry the injustice that your gospel and your kingdom are driving out. Please call my sons to be men who chose the sufferings of Christ over the riches of this world and lay down their lives for others.
When you shake a cup, what comes out reveals what’s been in there all along. The global corona virus pandemic has brought out the suspicion, anger and conspiracy theories in many.
I’ve been thinking about why so many of us are given to believing or promoting conspiracy theories. Folks who do so seem to be self-proclaimed prophets with their memes and YouTube videos. Their practice is name-calling, blame-shifting, complaining and crying “corruption” at every news story or government decision. Their gospel seems to be, “Repent of being dumb sheep who listen to science and news. Turn and become suspicious! Watch this enlightened person on YouTube or take this alternative supplement or treatment, or follow the politician I approve of.” They peddle their own sources and accuse those who don’t agree with them of being gullible or worse.
Many of these folks call themselves Christians. And I’m not say they aren’t. My question is, how should the Christian approach news, disease, government and disaster? With suspicion? Anger? Blame-shifting? Slander? Pride? Arguing? These kinds of responses are not fruits of the Spirit. They aren’t Christ-like. They aren’t spiritual gifts. Those given to these practices should turn from them for the sake of love, for the gospel and for Christ’s name sake.
I have to begin by confessing my personality type would rather ignore all bad news and hide myself away in a convent somewhere, where I wouldn’t have to deal with people’s problems. My tendency to be passive and avoid conflict isn’t a fruit of the Spirit either. I am not here to say that evil should be ignored, or that justice should not be called for. I am not saying wisdom should not be sought or that conflict should be avoided. What I am saying is that scripture, Jesus and the saints who have suffered much worse than we, point us to a godly way of responding to news, government, disease and disaster. And it’s not passivity, nor is it to spread suspicion or promote a conspiracy theory. Ed Stetzer is right, spreading conspiracy theories is hurting our witness and is foolish. So when suspicions arise, when bad news comes, when you find yourself angry about what the government is doing, what should the Christian do?
Check your eye for logs. I’ve found that the things I’m most upset about, whether in my personal relationships, or in relation to the public or government about social issues or moral issues, usually are the result of my own idols, my own faulty way of seeing the world and my own attempts to self-preserve. When Jesus taught us how to deal with people we see error in, he told us to first examine ourselves. When the corona-virus pandemic began to impact your own personal way of doing life, your bank account, your health, etc., was your response anger, blame-shifting, suspicion? Did you turn to YouTube? Did you use God’s word to scratch your itch? Ask yourself why? Why are you angry? Is it because you feel your freedom has been taken away? Do you fear being out of control? When the news is bad, or the government makes a decision that imposes on your way of life, don’t examine the news, or the government first. Examine yourself. Take scripture, look at Jesus, look at other Christians who’ve suffered well throughout history and hold it up to your own life first.
Humble yourself. The book of 1 Peter is addressed to suffering Christians. The Christians Peter wrote to suffered at the hands of a corrupt government because they were Christians. If what’s driving you to conspiracy theories, anger, or withdrawal is your belief that the government or some evil power is corrupt and out to destroy your way of life, look to the folks in 1 Peter. That was their reality. “Even if,” is one of the phrases Peter uses to encourage married women in that tumultuous time to submit themselves to their husbands, even in that culture, even if their husband’s didn’t believe the gospel of Christ. “Even if,” should be our mantra. Even if our government is corrupt (Newsflash- it is. Has there ever been a government without corruption? Are there humans in power? Then there’s corruption in power), even if there is a secret society of power trying to poison us or oppress us, 1 Peter tells us, to submit to those in authority the way his sons and daughters do. We humble ourselves. We are sons and daughters of God. We are heirs with Christ. Nothing we suffer here compares to what God has for us in Christ. So if the government is corrupt and we suffer, let us suffer as little Christs (Christ-ians), not as those promoting suspicion, anger, rebellion, pride or slander. We will not be under corruption forever. The One who rules the powers we cannot even see will, at the proper time, lift us up.
Complain to God. When I find myself getting angry, accusing, becoming cynical or suspicious of those who’ve offended or hurt me I often hear this, “Sheila, your problem isn’t with him. Your problem is with me! Come to me. Bring your complaints to me.” I don’t think we do this enough. At least I don’t. It’s no sign of moral courage to lash out with complaints, gossip, anger or suspicion when we’ve been offended, hurt or feel threatened by another. In fact, we don’t usually even take our complaints directly to the people we’re offended by. Usually we take it to someone else, or social media. It’s my conviction that when I do this, it’s because I’ve lost sight of who can make a difference in this situation. The Bible describes a good and merciful God who is completely sovereign. If our circumstances are such that we suffer, there is freedom and comfort in taking our complaints to the one who rules over our circumstances. He may change our circumstances. He may not. But He will not leave us unchanged. He promises to use every circumstance for our good and his glory. He promises to redeem it all. So we should cry, “How long!” and “Where are you?” and “Don’t you see this evil happening?” and “What are you going to do?” We should take all our complaints to the God of the Bible and throw them his way. There is no conspiracy where God is. He rules. And we will suffer. But if we cast our complaints on him and seek refuge in Him, we can rest.
Seek Wisdom.The thing with conspiracy theories and those who promote suspicion is there’s a claim to wisdom that the general population isn’t privy to. It’s a secret wisdom, that comes from the person claiming the masses are duped. But wisdom in the Bible is never a secret. The personification of wisdom in Proverbs cries out in the streets. She’s on the news. She’s heard. She speaks and points others to the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom. Wisdom is not suspicious, it’s, “…open to reason…” As we seek out what to do in this pandemic, submitting ourselves to earthly authorities, examining our own hearts, running to God with our concerns, we should let the spirit of wisdom guide us. And it will look like this, “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:17-18)
Fight the Good Fight. 1 Timothy 6 there is a description of a person teaching false teachings when comes to the gospel. It says, “...he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions...” Although I’m sure that when I am given to suspicion, and when folks turn to conspiracy theories we may not be conscious of it, but we are spreading, perpetuating false teaching. If we find in ourselves a “craving for controversy,” it may be that we need to repent of being false teachers and turn to do the good works God created us to do. There is so much good to do. Even right now, with social distancing and in financial hardship, even more right now. The end of that passage in 1 Timothy 6 tells the man or woman of God what to do. “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.Fight the good fight of the faith.” (1 Timothy 6:11) There is a fight the Christian should fight. It is not over 5G, or the origin of the corona virus, or vaccines, or government structure even. Our fight should be to live by faith and in so doing we should be making disciples of Christ, not disciples of our personal beliefs about any controversial thing.
We are being tested. This pandemic has shaken our earthen vessels. And out of us has come stuff we need to clean out of our cup. May God test us, purify us and make us useful for his kingdom, overflowing with joy, even in the midst of sorrow.
Elevenish years ago I was ready to die on the mountain of the issue of women not working outside the home.
Today I read this tweet from Jared C. Wilson:
A few years back, I significantly reduced my exposure to Christian influences that prove more passionate about “issues” than Christ & I’ve been better off for it. If that voice you listen to isn’t regularly stirring your affections for Jesus, how loud should it be in your ears?
Reading that I remembered my proud stay-at-home-mom years and cringed with embarrassment and regret.
It makes my gut ball up in knots at the thought that Josh tasted the goodness of Lord and walked away. I pray it isn’t so. I pray like Jonah, he’ll find himself hearing Jesus in the belly of a stinking situation. But this whole story about Josh makes me think about my own humbling, and friends I’ve watched fall while we stood tall, holding the issues we were passionate about high- the banner of Jesus’ love forgotten under our feet.
When I had a 3 and 4 year old at home I honed in on these verses
“Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good,and so train the young women to love their husbands and children,to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. ” Titus 2:3-5
Whole ministries are formed based on these verses. And in the conservative Christian circles where I learned of Jesus, these verses have been central to teachings in all kinds of women’s ministries. When my boys were young I clung to them. I clung to them so tightly that I remember standing outside my garage one day thinking that I’d be willing to loose my marriage so I could, “work at home” and not have to go get a job outside my house and leave my kids in daycare.
I moralized a woman staying home as righteous and working outside of the home as sinful. Makes me nauseated remembering those days. If you search my blog far back enough, you’ll probably find all kinds of posts about how Christian women shouldn’t work outside the home. Thank God he humbled me, showed me how wrong I was, and used those same verses to draw me to the heart of Jesus and true homemaking (which has nothing to do with having a paying job outside your home and everything to do with serving and loving the people under the same roof with you).
I don’t know Josh Harris. But the fact that at one time he stood tall and wrote a book on the mountain of the purity issue and now is not only walking away from his marriage but his proclaimed faith makes me think he and I share a similar humbling. Both of us, and many others, have fallen on the mountain of issues in Christian teachings. We didn’t take heed like Paul warned, and we fell. I pray like me, Josh will find Jesus in the place he’s fallen.
The only hill worth dying on is the one where Jesus laid down his life for hypocrites- blind, wretched and pathetic like me and Josh Harris. Jesus is the banner we should be raising high. Not issues. Lest the very place where we think we stand tall and right, we fall.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is in Romans 4:16-17 where it says, “…to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations;- in the presence of God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told…”
I struggle with depression. I don’t always feel like laughing or even smiling. I hear the hopeless thoughts and know what the psalmist meant when he said he pleaded for God to let him hear his voice so he didn’t become like a dead man (Psalm 143:7). The circumstances of our lives can often send us the same message Abraham and Sarah got from their circumstances, “We’re as good as dead!” God gave them an outrageous promise. He said they would have a child when they were obviously too old to do so. God’s promise was impossible in their circumstances. And just as Abraham and Sarah were promised the impossible, we too are promised something that just can’t be in our physical, mental and spiritual condition.
Abraham and Sarah both laughed at the thought that God would give them a child in their old age. Surely they laughed at the scandal of the idea. When I face the impossibility of the promises God has made to me in Christ, my first inclination is not to laugh. It’s to do what Sarah did- doubt and try to do the best I can with what I have and end up with lots of Ishmaels in my life; lots of self-made ways to try and be what only God can make me in Christ. And then when I find myself in the mess I’ve made, like Sarah I’m angry and depressed. I forget what God promised. But when I remember, when I see Christ in the scriptures, in the church, in my life, there is something in me that just wants to laugh.
Proverbs 31:25 says of the woman who fears the Lord, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.”
I used to read that and think, “How can she laugh? There are so many bad things. So many hard things. So much death. So much isn’t right in the world or in my life, how can I be a woman who fears the Lord and laughs at the future?” I had this idea that her laughter was a mocking victorious laughter. A sort of, “Haha! Give me your best shot future! I’ve got this!” But as I read about Sarah and Abraham and the laughter that came out of them at Isaac’s birth, I think this laughing at the time to come is an unexplained joy we feel when we believe God, despite all the impossible circumstances in our lives that seem to say there’s no way God can make me like Jesus and make all things right and destroy evil, sin and death. God is doing what he promised in us!
There is no way we can make the things God promises come to pass. But just as God promised and gave Isaac to as-good-as-dead Abraham and Sarah, he will make us who feel the weight of sin and death in our bodies, who were once dead apart from Christ- he will and is making us free (John 8:36), alive (Ephesians 2:5) and whole (2 Timothy 3:17) because he’s given us Jesus. He will finish what he’s started in us (Philippians 1:6). He will make all things new (Galatians 21:5). And we will reign with him forever (2 Timothy 2:12)!
First I want to confess, I’m a coward by nature. I, like Pilate, avoid conflict, washing my hands of decisions that might cost me peace. Without the reigns of the Spirit of Jesus in my life, I would trot off down the path of keeping peace, shutting my mouth. I would disguise my passivity, hoping it would come off as piety- seeing both sides of an issue- yet never taking a stand. That said, I am my mother’s daughter, and when I smell injustice I want to hunt down the predator and rescue the prey from his mouth. But most of the time this fierceness gets stamped out by the part of me that doesn’t want to deal with the damage my truth-telling might cause- mostly I don’t want to be cut off, or cast out. This putrid, passive stance would be me without Jesus every day. But I’m not without him. He exposed me with his words, rescued me with his line in the sand, calling me daughter. He’s been making me brave ever since, trading my peace-keeping comfort-lust for peace-making confrontation-in-love.
Taking up your cross and following Jesus is not a self-flagellating quality that proves your worth. Taking up your cross and following Jesus is what the Bible Project call, “the way of the exile.” It’s a practice of what they call subversive hope, where by both speaking boldly and serving self-sacrificially, a Christian exposes evil and suffers the pain of another’s sin and judgement.
So I need to take up a cross and say something: Deliberately destroying the life of an unborn human being is evil. Saying that, I hear my friends and my passionately-left, now-with-Jesus grandma’s argument that the evil done to women is too great and that if someone has to die, it shouldn’t be the woman or girl. I see both sides. I can’t help it. The self-preserving nature in me would see both perspectives and say nothing. But Jesus, who said to the woman at the well, “You’re right. You’ve had 5 husbands and the man you’re with now isn’t your husband,” and then offered her his life, won’t let me be silent about the evil destroying women and their children.
The argument that Pro-Life anti-abortionists are hypocrites because they don’t do anything but protest abortion and make women in vulnerable positions feel condemned is an attempt at diversion. In a tweet thread I read today (can’t remember who wrote it) the writer pointed out that just because a person stands openly against abortion and for the life of the unborn doesn’t mean they are not doing their part to support women and girls in crisis with unwanted pregnancies. It doesn’t mean they aren’t for life-preserving sacrifices for the elderly, the disabled, the immigrant, the poor and the marginalized.
The argument that women in crisis shouldn’t have to go through the torment of pregnancy and child-rearing or the torture of giving their child up for adoption comes down to a belief about suffering and human worth. If you believe that the woman’s life or quality of life is more valuable than the unborn child’s life or quality of life then you believe the child should suffer the death required to keep the mother alive and well. But if you believe that someone is going to have to die in this sin-bearing relationship of mother to child, and you believe it should be the strong who lays down their life for the weak, then the mother should be the one to suffer the daily death and maybe even the ultimate death to give a child life.
Giving life to another always involves some dying to self. It’s just the way life works. Even seeds have to die for plants to be born.
“…I wonder, had I been a German Christian, living under the rule of the Third Reich, would I have possessed the unyielding conviction to resist the pressure to conform, to see the Jews as less than human? Would I have had the courage to step forward and affirm in my actions the dignity of those being sent off to their deaths, even at a high cost to my own privilege?” (Chapter 2)
It’s easy to look back on the Holocaust and be aghast at the atrocities, condemning those who were explicit, implicit and passive in the evil done to Jews. It’s so obvious. How could they have thought it justifiable? The same way we do.
One day, just as Karen Swallow Prior wrote at Vox, posterity will look back on me, on us, and be appalled at the evil we perpetuated, justified or did nothing to speak against or stop. As I live in the presence of the One who laid down his life for me, I cannot be silent.
Today, I saw a clip from a PBS documentary on elective abortion. In the short clip, a woman early in her pregnancy with twins took the first of the two medications that would kill her unborn babies. And she knew it. And at the end of the clip she said, “What I hope I feel, is a sense of peace, not only with myself and the decision that I’ve made, but also a sense of peace with these two beings that I’ve chosen not to bring into the world. Thank you for choosing me. And I’m honored to be given this gift of life. And also I can’t do it right now. I can’t accept that mantle in terms of the other lives that I’m taking care of and I’m responsible for.”
Life is always born out of someone else’s sacrifice, someone else’s sort of death. Confusion breeds evil. This woman’s confusion about where life comes from, and who should die has her believing the evil that says, “Life. You can take it or leave it. It doesn’t have to cost you anything.” But the truth is all life is born at the tearing, the bleeding, the breaking, the dying of one for another.
I hear the critics of my convictions about abortion crying foul and I am listening. I’m examining myself. I’m asking what I can do to apply my belief about suffering and sacrifice and life and human worth to all human beings, no matter their sexual orientation, color of skin, immigration status, age, religion, income or addictions. I believe I should die. I should lay down my life. I should be willing to suffer so that others might live. I believe husbands should do this for their wives, and leaders should do this for their followers and mothers should do this for their children, and Christians should do this for their neighbors. All of them.
I know, it’s a weird thought isn’t it? Uncomfortable. I feel defensive as soon as I ask it. “I don’t submit to anyone!” Is my instinctual reaction. But it’s really not true. We all submit to other people in our lives. If we didn’t, anarchy would reign.
We all do it, but we don’t like it
The truth is we all submit ourselves to someone else throughout our lives. When we’re children we submit to our parents’ rules. In our relationships with spouse or friends one or the other yields to the other person at different times in the relationship. When we drive, live in our HOA-governed neighborhoods, engage in learning in school or college we submit to the lawmakers, teachers, police officers, etc.
Even though it’s irrefutable- we all submit to other people in our lives- we don’t like it! We’re always resisting authority, from the time we’re two, learning what mom means when she says, “No!”, to the way we speed down the highway disregarding the posted limit, looking out for those blue and red lights so we can slow down before they catch us. Submission to others is an unwelcome, necessary part of life for there to be order and peace.
But what about when the authorities are using their power to impose a law or rule or requirement on us that we know is wrong? Where do we get the sense that what they’re asking is wrong? Where do we get our sense of what’s just and right? As a Christian, I believe that we all have this sense of right and wrong within us because we are the Imago Dei ones. We were made in the image of God, and the moral goodness of God is imprinted on our souls. But it’s also marred. We know that even those in positions of authority do what’s wrong and impose oppressive wrongs on those under their authority. And we ourselves display the same brokenness we see in the authorities we call out and rale against.
As a Christian, submission is a word tainted in my mind by the evil we all at times display. As my old pastor used to say, I wish I could reach in my brain through my ear and erase all the old input about what submission means. I can’t do that, but I wonder if you’d look at John 13 with me to see what submission really means, and what, as a Christian it should look like.
Christ the submitting King
In John 13, Jesus is hours from facing the authorities who will mock, beat and finally kill him. In a room where his disciples have gathered to remember the old, old story about how God had delivered their people from slavery with the blood of the lamb on their homes and angry Pharaoh and his army chasing them to the sea, it says Jesus did something that blew his disciples’ minds. He washed their feet.
They thought they knew who he was. He was the long-awaited Messiah, the King of Israel, the Anointed Son of God come to save his people just like Moses had all those years before out of Egypt, only now, from the Romans. They believed he was THE king. And there was their king, getting on the floor with water, basin and towel, washing their grimy feet. And while he was down there on the floor, the King of Heaven, who made their feet, and knew the evil in their hearts, exposed Peter, and called out his betrayer. There, each disciple wondered if it was them their King was calling out. The knew they were a broken bunch. There, Judas, who Jesus made, Jesus washed, and sent to do the deed that would lead to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.
Jesus knew who he was when he performed this jaw-dropping act of submission- washing feet and exposing his disciples’ sinful hearts. In the first verses of John 13 it says:
“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father… Jesus knowing that the father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet…” John 13:1-5
Jesus knew his hour had come to submit himself to rulers who were going to kill him. He knew impulsive Peter was going to deny him. He knew Judas would betray him and kill himself. He knew all of his disciples would run away from the scandal he was about to become. He also knew he had all authority. He knew no one could really take his life from him or take away his position as Son of God through denial or betrayal or abandonment. He knew God was doing something greater than letting his son be killed. He knew he was the resurrection and the life.
This is submission. And this is what Christian submission should look like.
It really has nothing to do with women, as many in church history and abusive male authorities have taught. It has nothing to do with sex, rank, class, pedigree or geography. It has everything to do with Christ. The broken way we all begrudgingly submit to others and look for ways to avoid submitting, vying for the right to put ourselves in the position with someone under us, is not what God does. It’s what we do in our sinful selves. But Jesus came to show us what it really looks like to submit to others. And the Holy Spirit came to empower us to submit to others like Jesus did.
We who believe Jesus is the Christ, placing our hope in his atoning death and resurrection for being made right with God- we are children of God! We are not slaves. We are not victims of our circumstances.
Just as Jesus stood in that room of disciples, knowing who he was, where he came from, where he was going and out of that confidence in the Father, lowered himself under those he could have destroyed at his command, we, children of God must know who we are. We must know where we came from and where we’re going and lower ourselves. And in the lowering, we must expose wickedness and evil with the humility and power Jesus did.
Submission is not turning a blind eye to oppressive authority. It’s not passive piety. It’s not Pilate-like refusal to do what’s right. It’s not a wife thinking she has no voice in her marriage or church because she’s a woman. It’s not enabling a man to think he has the right to rule because he’s male. Submission is Christlikeness. Submission to others like Christ trusts God, obeys God, gets low to lift others up, expose dirt and sends out the evil from its midst because it knows God is in control and will not abandon us.
So child of God, who are you submitting yourself to?
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil… giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:15,20
It’s hard for me to remain calm while thinking about the insanity behind bills like the ones in Virginia and New York that seek to make normal and acceptable the act of ending the life of a late-term, pre-born human baby; and in the Virginia case, a newborn infant. But I’m going to try to remain calm and hopefully speak some reason into the insanity from my perspective as a nurse who has worked in labor and delivery.
When I became a nurse 18 years ago I worked in a labor and delivery unit in a large county and small town in Southwest Oregon. During my 4 years there I saw early and late gestation fetal demise (the death of an unborn child early and late in the pregnancy), full-term seemingly healthy infants die in resuscitation, deliveries of infants with serious health problems and still birth. I also witnessed many healthy, normal deliveries. In some of those situations when the mother’s health was at serious risk, we delivered them of their babies, often premature and then we took every measure possible to save their babies lives. Sometimes the babies lived. Sometimes they did not. In some cases the mother had to endure the pain of labor or the pain of surgery with the torture of grieving the unexpected death of their child. In other cases mothers experienced the pain of labor or surgery with the joy of a new life, which would soon be mixed with the pain of healing and long-sleepless nights followed by a life of self-sacrifice to raise the child.
I have read through some of the arguments of women I respect about why they think these late-term abortion laws are needed. The argument about women having the right to do with their body what they want without government interference I’m not going to address here except to say, I agree. It’s your body and you should have the right to care for it without interference from the government. But when you cross over from caring for your body to harming another body that’s a whole other argument. The human growing in a woman’s womb is not her body. She may not want that human growing in her body. But it’s not her body. But I digress. What I want to address here are the two arguments I keep hearing that pull at our heart strings and should be wisely considered.
It’s Not Fair to Make a Woman Suffer When Her Baby Will Die Anyway
What about the woman who’s infant is severely deformed and will die as soon as he/she is delivered? Why should the woman have to go through the suffering and dangers of pregnancy and delivery?
When you’re in the last trimester of pregnancy, there is no way around the pain and suffering your body is going to have to endure. For that matter, no matter the stage of pregnancy, even if you miscarry (spontaneously abort) at an early gestation, you’re body is going to go through some pain and healing. If you delivery your baby and he or she is dead or dies soon after birth or even days or weeks after birth, you’re going to suffer. Your body is going to hurt and have to heal. You’re going to go through the stages of grief and face the demons that want to destroy every postpartum woman. And if you elect to abort, you’re going to suffer. Your body is going to hurt and have to go through the healing process. You’re going to have to deal with the emotional trauma of the death of your baby and the decision you have made.
I believe delivering a pre-term infant that is putting the health of a mom at serious risk or the election to deliver a severly deformed infant pre-term who will not survive a normal labor and delivery at full term is physically and emotionally the healthiest way to walk through the pain and suffering of death and birth together. There’s no need for an abortion. When the oath, “do no harm” is taken, the life of the mother and the child are upheld. There will be pain and delivery and death. When harm is elected as the only option to uphold one life over another, there will still be pain and delivery and death, but with the added torture of being put in a position where people think you shouldn’t grieve because you chose to have an abortion.
My point is, when it comes to pregnancy and abortion, delivering the woman of a child, whether wanted or not will come with pain and suffering, and aborting a child will also inflict upon the woman pain and suffering. Choosing to abort your late-term baby does not delivery you of pain or suffering. I believe we honor the necessary grieving process and the image of God in both the woman and the baby human when we deliver a woman of her child, not abort her child.
The Pro-Life People Are Hypocrites
What about the hypocrisy of those who say they are fighting for the rights of the unborn but then neglect to provide for the needs of unwanted children and mothers and father’s struggling under the weight of raising children?
People who make this argument as a justification for abortion are rightly inditing pro-lifers, but they’re crossing wires. It’s hypocrisy and a shame that people will march and be filled with vitriol over abortion but do nothing to care for unwanted children.
I recently wrote a post about how even the unwillingness some of us have to lower ourselves to teach children the gospel exposes our hypocrisy in our pro-life stance. But the fact that so many among the religious right, or conservative Christians fail to do what they are commanded by God to do: care for orphans and welcome children…all children, does not mean women should be empowered to end the life of their unborn child.
The blood of many of these children may very well be on the hands of us who have done nothing to care for the children lost in the foster care system and the mothers and children living in poverty and without the gospel and love of the church. But that evil does not justify the evil of abortion.
My perspective as a labor and delivery nurse comes from a Christian ethic which says all people are created in the image of God. That means the unborn, the severely deformed, the grieving and guilty mother, the single-mom, the teenager who’s grown up in foster care, the disabled, the foreigner, the abortionists. This ethic means I must repent of and call out the evil we do that does not reflect the image of God. It means I must take up my cross and follow Jesus in laying down my life for women and children, whether they’ve had abortions, disabilities, been abandoned, or are just tired of the daily pains and sufferings of raising children. It means I must be willing to suffer along side those who are suffering. It means I don’t counter evil with evil, but overcome evil by doing good.
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit,[g] serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:9-21
Blogger and author Tim Challies asked this question on Twitter today:
If there was one song you had to sing at every Sunday morning service from now until the day you die, which would it be and why?
This evening Mr. Challies tweeted that hymns outpaced non-hymns 25 to 1 in the 250 plus responses he got to his question. My response was a hymn also: Great Is Thy Faithfulness.
Singing hymns growing up is one of the reasons I heard the gospel. I grew up in a church that doctrinally had it wrong. Their emphasis was on works, not faith in Christ as a gift of God’s grace. But despite the wrong teaching I heard from the pulpit, before each sermon I sang with my church from a book of hymns where I heard:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure,
save from wrath and make me pure.
(Augustus Montague Toplady, 1763)
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.
(Thomas Chisholm, 1923)
The seeds of the truth of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone were planted in my ears from toddlerhood.
Despite the depression and toxic atmosphere that so often permeated the home I grew up in, despite my parents divorce and sinfulness, the sound of my mom singing It Is Well With My Soul and the words she sang while tears poured from her brokenness pierced my angry teenage heart.
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so—it is well with my soul.
(Horatio G. Spafford, 1876)
And when I was lost and deep in darkness, trying to make a name for myself with The Cure and “mod” clothes as my motif, I found myself in a sea of youth singing Amazing Grace at a conference in Sacramento, California. And there the grace of God appeared to me.
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
(John Newton, 1779)
I am so grateful for the men and women who wrote the hymns of old. Their songs were used by God to awaken me to the beauty of Christ. What a treasure!