Friday, May 27, 2005

Something about Mary: Truth or Fiction?

The first time I realized there was “something about Mary,” I was taking a Ph.D. course in “Women of the Renaissance.” I wanted to look at some paintings for a project I was doing, and I did a Google search for paintings of “Mary Magdalene.”

Strangely, I kept coming up with scenes that showed Mary Magdalene with her sister, Martha, and their brother, Lazarus. Huh? I thought. That was Mary of Bethany. I want Mary Magdalene.

It wasn’t long before I discovered that most of the painters of religious works during the Early Modern period thought Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene were one and the same. Not only that, they portrayed her as a public-“sinner”-turned-believer, and the “sinner” part was in quotes, if you know what I mean.

So I did some further checking and I discovered that the confusion about Mary started about a millennium earlier than the period I was investigating—in A.D. 591. Back then Gregory the Great preached a sermon in which he lumped together several women—the “sinful woman” who anointed Jesus’ feet with her tears (Luke 7), Mary of Bethany (John 11–12) and Mary Magdalene. It took another thousand years for the confusion to get cleared up. The Second Vatican Council made the official correction in 1969, and Mary M. was vindicated.

Apparently Mel Gibson didn’t get the word. His “flashback” scene for Mary Magdalene’s character in “The Passion of Christ” connects Mary with the woman caught in adultery (John 8)—taken, incidentally, from a section of scripture that experts across the board agree probably was not even in the earliest manuscripts.

The gospel record is that Mary Magdalene had seven demons cast out of her (Luke 8:2), and some have connected demon possession with immorality. While that’s possible, a search through the Bible for demon possession demonstrates that sexual immorality is never actually mentioned in association with possession.

In The Da Vinci Code, slated to appear in theaters next May, Dan Brown presents the extreme opposite view of Mary. The story, which he tries to pass off as non-fiction when it comes to history, presents Mary Magdalene as never having been a prostitute. So far so good. But then he goes on to assert that she was married to Jesus and even bore him a child. Oh please.

Now, Gregory the Great’s mistake was understandable. He couldn’t do a computer word search like we can to find all the references to Mary Magdalene. A modern search for “Mary” in the New Testament turns up a bunch of possibilities. No fewer than fifty-one passages in the New Testament include the name, as there were several Marys. And while it’s fairly easy to sort through them when we have a list of verses in front of us, sixth-century manuscripts weren’t so easily compared.

Brown’s error is much less forgivable. Scores of conservative scholars insist there is not one shred of evidence, either in- or outside of scripture, to suggest that Mary and Jesus had such a relationship. Scores of liberal scholars say the same thing. Incidentally, conservative and liberal scholars agreeing on a point of theology is about as rare as a water pump on the moon. Brown is way out on his own on this one. As my dad would say, “It’s nothing but pure, unadulterated hog wash.”

So what’s the truth about Mary? We know, as I mentioned, that at one time she had seven demons cast out of her. We also know that she was an eyewitness of the sufferings of Jesus. In addition, she was among the first at the tomb. After the resurrection Jesus appeared to her. As a result she had the privilege of announcing to the apostles, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18). For this reason the church fathers later called her “the apostle to the apostles.” An apostle is a “messenger,” and she was blessed with the task of relaying the good news to the disciples.

What are some of the larger messages we learn from Mary? We see that Christ has the power to change the life of someone—man or woman—who has been in spiritual bondage. And we learn something about the validity of the New Testament. Anyone trying to fabricate a convincing history wouldn’t have made women the key witnesses at a time when a woman’s testimony didn’t “count” in a court of law. Yet other than Joseph and John the apostle, women were the key witnesses in the major events of the gospel—Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. God was willing to choose women as witnesses when their word in the legal culture carried as much weight as a dust bunny—maybe less.

Yet the best part about Mary is what we learn of Jesus through her. The Oxford-educated British author, Dorothy L. Sayers, summed it up beautifully in a piece she penned nearly sixty years ago, though it could’ve been written yesterday:

“Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man—there has never been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as ‘The women, God help us!’ or ‘The ladies, God bless them!’; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything ‘funny’ about woman’s nature.”

Yes, there’s something about Mary. She was transformed by the power of God and she had the honor of seeing and speaking with the risen Christ. But there’s more. In hearing her story we too can “see the Lord”: He had the power to transform. He esteemed women. He cared for the humble. He suffered and died. And He is alive!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

That Same-Sex Thing Hits Close to Home

Sharon (not her real name) used to sing a favorite duet with me—a song about the Morning Star who knows my mind, the Mansion Builder who’s not finished with me yet. I watched as she shared the gospel and prayed with Liliana, who placed her faith in Christ when our church team went to Mexico. Shar and her husband, A. J., supported us through the high highs and low lows of the adoption roller coaster before our daughter was finally placed in our arms. Shar and I loved to talk literature, to eat scones and drink tea together, to jam to Keith Green and Rich Mullins music.

Then depression hit. Her occasional suicidal thoughts became daily obsessions. She went on medications that made it worse. I visited her in hospitals where I had to remove my shoelaces before I could see her. In one such center (one that was Christian in name only) her counselors expressed doubt in the absolute truths of the Bible. With the help of a little alcohol, Shar engaged in several sexual relationships with other women from her therapy group. Finally Sharon left her husband of twenty years and their two children for the woman with whom she now lives in a “committed relationship.” Since the divorce, Shar and A. J. share joint custody of their son and daughter.

Sharon knows I love her but detest her decisions and what they’ve done to her family. And she knows I grieve her absence. I saw her after a funeral not long ago.

“I’d like to talk theology with you sometime,” she said.

“Really? What would you like to discuss?”

“My lifestyle—I’ve been reading,” she said. “I used to think what I am doing is wrong, but I don’t think so any more. All those Old Testament laws …” she continued. “There were laws about how to cook meat and wear linen, laws we no longer follow. And the statements about homosexuality are right in there with them.”

I could see where she might think that. “Yes, sometimes the ritual purity laws and moral laws appear in the same sections together, and we can talk about that at some point. But beyond that, what do you do with the apostle Paul’s statements about same-sex relationships in Romans 1 or 1 Corinthians 6?” I wanted to know.

“According to the Greek, Paul wasn’t actually talking about homosexuals—he was talking about temple prostitutes.”

Shar has never been to a Greek class in her life and it showed. I’m guessing my expression gave away my thoughts.

“But it doesn’t matter anyway” she added quickly, “because I don’t do Paul any more.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’ve had problems with Paul for a long time. So I don’t include Paul’s writings any more.”

All those epistles gone, just like that. I wanted to ask if she missed knowing all things work together for good; that there is no condemnation for those in Christ; that by grace we’re saved through faith; that love is patient, love is kind. But I tried to stay focused on the discussion at hand. We didn’t get very far, and I wept as I left.

These days when people at church make witty but insulting remarks about homosexuals, I glance around, hoping Shar’s kids aren’t within earshot. When the pastor preaches against same-sex marriage, I’m glad he’s holding fast to the Bible, but I also wonder how Shar’s kids are processing it. So does their dad.

Some who speak against same-sex marriage warn that it opens the door to polygamy, to marriage of blood relatives, and to legal marriages among three or more people. While all of that could happen, even if it never leads to anything else, same-sex marriage is wrong in and of itself. The writer to the Hebrews (probably not Paul), wrote, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral (Hebrews 13:4).

Most people approach marriage as a way to meet needs for love and sustenance, and, for some, to reproduce. Period. But it’s way deeper than that. It’s a covenant that’s a physical picture of a mystery, a metaphor for something profound. The mystery is this: marriage pictures Christ and the church. It’s a union of two separate entities, something God joins together. Man and woman become one flesh in a union that is more than physical. Two become one, just like Christ and the church are joined inseparably. The wife and husband are body and head; the church and Christ are body and head. A headless body is dead; a bodyless head is dead. Together body and head form a union, a unity picture, a metaphor for a whole, living body that is one unit, knit together, strengthened, nurtured and built up in love.

We who are people of the Book know this. But we can be right in our doctrine and wrong in our approach. So what can we do beyond what the politicians recommend?

Pray. Really pray. In his recent book, The Truth about Same-Sex Marriage, Dr. Erwin Lutzer says, “We must seek God. Physical battles are fought with physical weapons. Debate, political action, pro-family events and resources are essential tools, but they cannot win a spiritual battle. As believers, privately and corporately, we must confess our sins, turn away from our own idols, and fervently pray that God will intervene to rescue our families.”

Love well. In his book, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis, William Webb writes, “We have sometimes watched the physical and social plight of [the homosexual] community with callous hearts, applauding their pain as the judgment of God. Our stigmatization of homosexuals has led to an arm’s length interaction with the homosexual community as a whole. This detachment has often left these people without a tangible expression of the love of Christ…To the question, “Is the homosexual my neighbor?” we would answer with a resounding ‘Yes!’ But having given that answer, it hardly affirms the acceptance of homosexuality. The only implication coming from Jesus’ words [in the parable of the Good Samaritan] would be that we must act in a loving manner toward the homosexual person.” We might add that the families with loved ones who call themselves gay, lesbian, or bisexual also need love and prayers.

• Recognize that heterosexual marriage isn’t always the answer, either. Many singles—and there are now millions of them in North America—complain that church is a difficult place to be without a partner. Everything seems geared toward couples and families. This can be especially true when those who have lived openly as homosexuals trust Christ. For those who continue to struggle with feelings of attraction for members of the same sex, maturity means celibacy. And Christian love for others may mean biting one’s tongue when tempted to do a little matchmaking.

• Speak up. Some Christians have been strident, but others have sat at the opposite extreme, saying nothing. Shar rattled off a list of all the people who think what she’s doing is okay. Yet some of the very believers she named strongly disapproved of her choices. Shar misinterpreted their kindness as approval because they’d never said otherwise.

• Repent. A little more than sixty years ago the Oxford-educated Christian writer Dorothy L. Sayers delivered a message in Westminster, England titled “The Other Six Deadly Sins.” In her address she observed that a person “may be greedy and selfish; spiteful, cruel, jealous, and unjust; violent and arrogant; stupid, morose, and dead to every noble instinct—and still we are ready to say of him that he is not an immoral man.” She went on to tell of a young man who told her, “I did not know there were seven deadly sins; please tell me the names of the other six.”

I wish I could say Shar’s story has had a happy ending. It hasn’t. So we pray that Shar will find in Christ the completion she seeks. We cling to the words of the apostle Paul, who, while appearing to write words of condemnation, ultimately penned words of encouragement: “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:9–11).

The Mansion Builder knows Shar's mind. I take comfort in the fact that He isn’t finished with her yet.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

What Does "Workers at Home" Mean?

I've been talking to some moms lately who wonder if it's okay to contribute to the economics of their households. I'm not even talking about being gone from home from 7:45 AM till 5:30 PM. I'm talking about women working from home.

A few biblical passages come to mind...

The woman in Proverbs 31 had kids and was selling belts and buying a vineyard from her own income. This was a well-to-do woman, but she was still contributing to the economics of her household. When Paul admonished Titus to encourage older women to teach the younger how to be "workers at home" (Titus 2), he was talking about women in a culture in which, to our best understanding, more than 85 percent of the industry happened in the home. There was no such thing as a factory worker and a stay-at-home mom. Both husband and wife were usually stay-at-home parents; both raised kids, taught kids, and participated in industry.

People did ironworks or basketweaving or meat curing or whatever at home. Dorothy L. Sayers more than sixty years ago--even before second-wave feminism--wrote a marvelous piece in which she noted that much of the restlessness of women happened after the more interesting, mind-engaging work was taken from the domicile (international trade, equipment purchase, negotiation, people contact) and put in factories. Couples began to see raising kids as women's work rather than as a partnership (moms parent; dads babysit). On those few occasions when dads took the kids and the kids drove 'em crazy, it was often reasoned that women had some special inner thing that made it easier for them to deal with the constant whining and bickering and tedium. Many failed to appreciate the deep intellectual sacrifices their wives were making in order to raise their kids.

We say that the ideal is for moms to be at home, but that's only half of the story. The ideal is for both mom and dad to be home with kids. Now, that doesn't mean they're down on the floor playing with kids all day. Rather, they take their children with them as they support the weak, help the suffering, engage in meaningful (and not so meaningful) work, and get the job done.

We sometimes hold up the Ricky-and-Lucy model--or the Ward and June Cleaver model--as the ideal. We teach "if only..." the church today would get back to that ideal of Ricky going to the club while Lucy cleans or Ward going to the office while June vacuums wearing pearls. (The TV producers say she wore them only because she had a long neck, but I digress.) Truth is, the divorce rate skyrocketed when the men took off for the factories and left their wives at home. It was as high, in fact, as it is now--at a time when it was much more difficult to separate maritally. The effect of the industrial revolution on the family was devastating.

Some point to Paul's admonition that "if a man does not provide for his own, he is worse than an unbeliever" as a prooftext for man-as-breadwinner. Right out of 1 Timothy. It even has six pronouns in many English translations. It's all about a husband providing. Or is it? Actually, in the Greek it is "someone" and "one's own," not "he/his." The context is talking of widows and caring for them, and the passage is actually more focused on women caring for their mothers and mothers-in-law than it is on men (see 1 Tim 5:16). (Imagine a culture with no nurses. Who bathes the patient?) It's certainly not talking about the man vs. the woman bringing home the pork.

Such questions tell us something about our culture. Bottom line: we are rich. We may not think we're rich compared to Bill Gates, but more than two billion people on our planet live on less than two dollars a day. I wonder if any of them would raise the question about whether it is godly for a woman to earn income...

Create in Me a Green Heart

My husband and I have a cross-cultural marriage. Though native-born Caucasian Americans, we come from different worlds. If you've seen "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," you understand the sort of differences I mean. I hail from a large, loud family; Gary came tiptoeing into the world to join the Small Family of Reserved Souls. He's an Atlantic-coast guy; I'm a Pacific-coast girl. He was raised inside The Beltway; I'm a fifth-generation Oregonian.

When we married, one of our major differences was in how we viewed our involvement in environmental issues. Gary, an Eagle Scout, was quite respectful of the natural world, but inside the house...well...let's just say that the first time I whipped out cloth napkins (to preserve trees, of course), Gary wanted to know what Senator was coming for dinner.

As the years went by, we let practical ways of caring for the environment fall pretty far down on our list of priorities. We didn't litter. We turned off the lights when we left the room. But that was about the extent of it.

About six years ago, that changed. A fourteen-year-old neighbor, who is also a fellow-believer in Christ, came to our door. She was taking a school survey about the environment. The first question out of her mouth: "Of course you recycle--don't you?"

"Uh. Well. No."

"What?" She suppressed a gasp. "But why not?"

I stammered. I had no excuses, and all my explanations would have sounded pathetic. So I mostly just stood there muttering.

She had a hard time understanding how a Christian could just throw away glass, metal, plastic, and paper. And with a clear conscience!

Ouch.

After that conversation, we ordered blue plastic recycling bags--the kind required by our community's recycling services.

Then, as if her crushed expression had not been enough, a Hebrew class later brought home to me how irresponsible I had been. Right there in Genesis I read about how God gave dominion to Adam and Eve. He made this small but gorgeous planet and entrusted it to the care of humanity.

Is global warming overly emphasized? Perhaps. I'll concede that we haven't been keeping track of the weather for long enough to absolutely, definitely confirm whether recent warming trends are caused by pollution or if they're due to normal climate changes. But I have to ask this: So what? Even if global warming is caused by nothing more than natural shifts that fall within normal ranges, does that mean I should oppose limits on environment-trashing?

Is pollution real? Yes. Can the average person take steps at a local level to make a difference? Yes. Here are some super-basic examples of what we can do:

* Recycle.
* Flip the light switch to "off" when we leave the room.
* Buy recycled paper.
* Turn down the hot water heater.
* Donate used cell phones to benefit organizations such as the Dallas Pregnancy Resource Center, which collects them for reuse.
* Wash clothes in cold water.
* Use hand-cranked egg beaters and can openers. Go manual instead of electric when buying gadgets.
* When it's time to replace your car, find one that goes easy on the gas.
* When it's time to replace your fridge, give priority to one with a great energy-efficiency rating.
* Carpool.
* Donate used clothing and shoes for resale. If you donate to benefit an organization that cares for souls as well as bodies, all the better.
* Use cloth napkins instead of paper. (Yes, you have to wash them--and that requires detergent--but surely you'll never do a full load of napkins only.)
* Insulate your house well--both attic and windows.

After God made the earth, he called it "good." When he made man and brought woman to him, He called them "very good." So I ask this... If we are the crown jewel of creation, should we disregard the crown--or should we not polish it?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Positive Adoption Language

When my daughter, Alexandra, arrived home from school today, she told me one of the girls in her class didn't "get" adoption. Apparently this fellow student looked down on Alexandra and asked, "Why don't you go back to your old parents?" Sadly, when Alexandra tried to explain, she didn't get far.

Almost ten years ago, Gary and I rejoiced over the arrival of the girl—an eight-month-old, dark-haired, blue-eyed baby—who came storming into our lives. (Alexandra does nothing subtly.) Her adoption is a fact of her life that we discuss openly and with enthusiasm. And we do so using positive language—adoption vocabulary chosen to assign the maximum dignity to the way our family has been built. It is language that has helped us to eliminate some of the emotional overcharging that for years has helped perpetuate the myth that being part of an adoption means that one has somehow missed out on a real (or, as in today's case, old) family experience.

Here’s how that looks in our house.

We avoid saying “our daughter is adopted.” Phrasing it in the present tense suggests that adoption is ongoing. When it is appropriate to refer to the fact of her adoption at all, we say, “Our daughter was adopted,” referring to the way in which she joined our family.

When people ask if she is our natural child, we affirm that she is—the alternative being that she is our unnatural child. As she describes it, “Mommy’s tummy was broken so I grew in her heart instead.” We refer to her genetic family as her birthparents. Everyone has birthparents, but not everyone lives in the custody of his or her birthparents.

People often want to know if we have ongoing contact with our daughter’s birthparents. The answer is yes, we have an open adoption. At this point people often shudder, confusing open adoption with shared parenting. I have never met our daughter’s birthmom, though my husband has. But we know her name and her health history and we exchange cards on Mother’s Day. We speak respectfully about our daughter’s birth parents as those in a unique group of fewer than one percent of the population who make such a loving choice.

Is our daughter “one of our own”? Certainly. We kiss her boo-boos when she hurts, we laugh when she’s funny, we pray with her. We drag ourselves out of bed in the night when she’s sick. We help her with her homework. We are her parents, and we love her as much as any parent could love a child. The very institution of marriage demonstrates that one can love as family a person to whom he or she is not genetically related. My sister, who is the biological mother of one daughter and the adoptive mother of another, insists that genetic ties are no stronger nor enduring than adoptive relationships.

Today’s birthparents do not surrender or release or relinquish or give up their child to adoption, except in rare cases of involuntary termination of parental rights due to abuse or neglect. Instead birthmoms and dads “make an adoption plan.” They recognize that they are incapable of giving their biological child all that is needed for his or her well being, so they proactively choose a life for that child which demonstrates selfless love.

Some prospective parents choose to adopt a child from another country. Formerly this was referred to as foreign adoption, but “foreign” often has negative connotations: “I got a foreign object in my eye”; “His thinking was foreign to me;” “Don’t possess foreign substances.” So the preferred label is international adoption. (In the same way, we now refer to students who come to the United States seeking education as “international students” not “foreign students.”)

We describe parents who have chosen to adopt sibling groups, older children, or kids facing unique challenges as parenting special-needs children. This is preferable to saying their children are hard to place.

We refer to our friends’ children who were adopted not as “their adopted children,” but simply “their children.” Adoption is a way children join a family, but the modifier “adopted” is unnecessary as an on-going label. (As adoption expert, Patricia Johnston, points out, we would never describe little Jimmy as Tom and Meg’s “birth-control-failure child.”)

We didn't rescue our daughter. If anyone was rescued, it was Gary and me... rescued, for example, from seeing dust particles in the sunlight as signs of filth when the child in our home perceived them as bubbles. So much beauty we were missing....

Speaking of missing beauty, that's what happened to Alexandra at school today--her classmate mistook beauty for loss. Fortunately, our daughter knew better.

Each year in the United States, more than 120,000 children join their families through adoption. In ancient history, Moses lived in an adoption arrangement, as did Esther. Paul says God has adopted us into His family.

If adoption is a metaphor for how God views us, perhaps we can find ways, dignified ways, to express that truth and, as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young would say, teach our children well.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Esther, Queen of Persia


Esther, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York City Posted by Hello

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Of Spiders and Reproductive Technologies

One of my favorite seminary courses was a media arts class in creative writing. Near the beginning of the semester, the prof gave us an assignment to write something relating to spiders or webs. Having just read Proverbs 6:6 (“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider her ways and be wise”), I came up with the following:

Why does He tell us to go to the ant?
Why not the spider who toils all night weaving web in time for morning dew?
The ant—he hustles to maintain; but spider—she spins, a pirouette of beauty in her work. Isn’t she more like Him than he?
Like the woman in fine purple, she toils, her hands grasping the spindle.
Along with some heroes from B-rated movies, we think of black widows, deception, the kill. But spider is regal. She’s far underrated.
Why does He tell us to go to the ant?


My professor wrote a reply that fascinated me. What I had read as a limit—go only to the ant—he urged me to observe through new eyes: “Why do you assume He means you to observe only the ant?” Dr. Grant wrote. “Perhaps He means for you to start with the ant, then let that lead you to other observations. Why make God’s instructions limiting here when they aren’t intended as a prohibition but rather as a springboard to further discovery?”

He asked a question that struck at the heart of my worldview. Is God ultimately a rule giver or a life giver? Do I see limits where there are none, making His words red and blue when perhaps they’re varying shades of purple? And do I categorize rigidly as sinful/acceptable issues that might more properly be categorized as wise/unwise?

In his award winning work, The Mystery of Marriage, Mike Mason observes the apostle Paul’s discussion about celibacy vs. marriage and notes that no hard-and-fast rule is given stating which is better in every case. Then he observes that our Lord was concerned “not just to give advice but to withhold it. His way was not always to provide answers, but more often simply to create a climate of moral and theological questioning such that a true searcher could himself hit upon the right answer.”

Such is our Wonderful Counselor that in many cases He would prefer for us to make decisions based on love, which looks different in different circumstances, than to make a hard, fast rule which applies to every circumstance.

My experience in discussions about surrogacy is that most people of faith respond immediately with “that is wrong.” And I was one of them. Yet what about couples who have already allowed the creation of “excess” embryos? If they want to donate one of their embryos to a husband and wife who are unable to have children, isn’t a gestational surrogacy arrangement the moral high ground compared with donating the embryo to science for dissection?

I have found instructive this prayer by Susanna Wesley: “May I adore the mystery I cannot comprehend. Help me to be not too curious in prying into those secret things that are known only to thee, O God, nor too rash in censuring what I do not understand.”

Friday, May 20, 2005

Truth: A Casualty in the Schiavo Case?

The best workshop I attended at the Evangelical Press Association meeting in Chicago this year was the one covering bioethical issues. It was led by a high-ranking Christian doc at a US well-known med institution. And we discussed the Schiavo case at length. In one sense that's old news; on the other hand, the issues are not going to go away...

So let me begin by asking, Do you think the journalistic coverage by the secular media was fair? What about that of the Christian media?

Both sides of the journalistic coverage on that case, it seems, were slanted. We expect the secular press to get it wrong. But the Christians also "missed it" considerably in several ways. Here are some questions to consider:

1. Do we really believe parents' rights trump spouses' rights. What does it mean to "leave and cleave"? Do good parents trump a lousy spouse? Do we think the courts were so dumb as to be blind to the husband's conflict of interest?

2. The parents said on the record that even if Terri Schaivo had said she wanted to be kept on a feeding tube, they would have disregarded her wishes. Wasn't a patient's right to choose whether to be left on life support at the core of what this case was about? Do we really think it's not up to the patient in such cases? Must we ALWAYS opt for artificially prolonging life?

3. Do we really believe someone is obligated to keep a spouse alive indefinitely on a feeding tube because death is the enemy? Do we think it's a sin ever to discontinue feeding? Are we really promoting life in such cases or are we prolonging death? Most Christian ethicists believe the patient's wishes here should be respected and there is no obligation to keep someone on artificial support indefinitely. Did that come through in how Christian views were presented in the religious press?

4. Should we really be happy when a court decides that a feeding tube is not medical treatment, as one conservative group was this week? Do we really believe a feeding tube is not medical treatment? A nice rule of thumb is that if the doc in Little House on the Prairie didn't have it as an option, it's probably medical treatment. Are we doing the medical equivalent of trying to define what "is" is?


5. The courts found over and over and over that there was enough evidence that Terri Schaivo would not want to be kept alive. We are suspicious about this because her husband had a conflict of interest. Fine. Why didn't we go grab the transcripts and see what testimony it was that convinced every judge that listened? THIS is where our journalistic talents should have been focused. We assume that because the court is secular, it's biased against life, yet the way the law is now, it is actually pretty consistent with what Christian ethicists believe.

6. Do we think the Bible teaches we must prolong life at all cost? Isn't prolonging life sometimes really just prolonging death? Do we want to outlaw the option of "do not resuscitate "?

One of my journalism students noted that the apostle Paul wrote that he faced a dilemma between staying and ministering or going to be with Christ. What if he had been in a persistent vegetative state? Would he want to stay if he could not minister? Should we artificially prevent a believer from going to be with Christ?

I'm not saying Terri Schaivo's husband was right. I'm not saying her parents were right. As a journalist, I'm asking why I didn't hear much about these questions during the entire fiasco. If we hold truth as a core value, why didn't we pursue it more enthusiastically?

Infertility Tries Patients' Patience

Last week was Mother's Day. And once again I watched a lot of people around me hurt.

Mother’s Day, like all holidays, can be difficult for some. Those who have lost or are estranged from parents or children feel tinges of pain on the day set aside for honoring mothers. Yet the infertile find Mother’s Day particularly painful. For them it serves as a reminder of the gift they long to have but that continually evades them.

The subject of infertility is surrounded by many myths. So we'll look at some questions/answers that help us put a few of them to rest:

Are infertility and sterility the same thing?
Infertility is not sterility. Infertility is the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected relations and/or the inability to carry a pregnancy to term (600,000 women miscarry in the U.S. each year). Secondary infertility is the diagnosis when couples who have had one child (or more) are unable to conceive or carry to term again.

What causes infertility?
Common causes of infertility in the female are ovulation or hormonal problems, endometriosis, anti-sperm or anti-embryo antibodies, blockage that prevents eggs and sperm from meeting, and structural or functional problems with the uterus or cervix. In men infertility is caused by poor sperm penetration or maturation, hormonal problems, and blockages of the male reproductive tract.

Is infertility on the rise?
Yes. The number of couples diagnosed with fertility problems is on the rise. Delayed childbearing and sexually transmitted disease are partially responsible. Environmental factors may also play a role.

Is infertility a woman’s problem?
The diagnosis “infertility” is shared about equally between men and women. About 30 percent of infertility problems are due to female factors, 30 are due to male factors, and 35 percent are a combination of both. The other five percent are unexplained.

Don’t infertile couples just need to relax?
Infertility is not caused by stress—but it causes a lot of stress for many couples. Ninety-five percent of the time infertility is due to diagnosable medical factors. More than sixty percent of couples who seek medical treatment will eventually have a biological child. The percentage is much lower for couples who do not pursue assistance.

Isn't it true that if you adopt you’ll get pregnant?
No. Adoption is not a cure for infertility. The chances of an infertile couple conceiving are unaffected by adoption.

Aren't couples going through infertility at least "having fun" trying to have a baby?
Fifty-six percent of couples experiencing infertility report a decrease in the frequency of their intimate relationship. Both women (59%) and men (42%) report a decrease in their level of satisfaction, and infertile couples overall report having five times the sexual difficulties of fertile couples.

About one in six couples of childbearing age experience fertility problems. If you have friends who are infertile, the best way to encourage them is to refrain from giving advice, especially if it involves one of the above myths, and instead to "weep with those who weep."

For more on infertility, listen to my Mother's Day (May 8, 05) conversation with Neil Tomba in Dallas:

http://www.nbctexas.org/media/various.htm

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Sunday Meditation: The Queen and Miss Congeniality

The biblical character, Esther, has a few things in common with "Miss Congeniality." No, really.

I admit to loving that movie--as do most of the girls in my extended family. Call us shallow, but we love to get together to watch Sandra Bullock morph from a clumsy FBI agent with scary eyebrows and nasty hair into an undercover (and actually believable) beauty pageant contestant.

Bushy-browed undercover agent becomes believable pageant contestant; little no-name orphan girl becomes the Queen of Persia. See the similarity? It's all about the big reversal of events.

In the case of Esther, you-know-Who was working undercover. We never hear His name mentioned, but he leaves fingerprints everywhere.

After we read the entire biblical story, we get the point the author is making: The God of Israel shows loyal love time and again to His covenant people; the Almighty Lord is sovereign in all His dealings; and the Lord of providence kindly cares for His people despite their disobedience.

The believer's own story is not all that different from that of Esther and of "Miss Congeniality." Consider the grand reversals. We were once lost, but now we are are found. We were once poor, but now we are rich. We were once lonely orphans, but we have been adopted by the King.

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