Friday, March 27, 2009

A Parable of Christian Family

Please give me feedback on content and style: this is the first time putting this self-crafted parable in print, and I want to know how you understand it to know if I'm communicating my point well. Thank you to my beloved readers - that faithful and afflicted few.

A certain couple, who were married and monogamous and committed to each other for life decided while their kids were young that they would homeschool them in order to protect them from the influences of the world and the secular mindset in the public school system. The parents meticulously guarded the entertainment choices of their 5 children so that they would not be exposed to bad language, objectionable content, or kids who had bad attitudes towards their parents. The family regularly attended church on Sunday morning so that they could all hear the teaching of the Bible as their family sat together. They did not object when the pastor preached about evangelism and reaching the lost and hurting people of the world; they sometimes even complimented him on these sermons. The kids were part of children’s or youth events at the church for a time, but then their parents became uncomfortable with having them exposed to the non-Christian kids who would come to various outreach events. The family was also part of community outreach events organized for the whole church for a time, but after awhile they decided that it would be better for them to spend time as a family rather than letting church life break up their schedule of activities designed to promote family closeness. Even during days they spent at home, however, the family found that they had to watch closely how much time their kids spent with the kids next door. One time the father overheard the neighbor boy say a bad word in front of his kids. He couldn’t really blame the kid – from what he had heard from the other neighbors, his parent’s marriage was in a lot of trouble and this made the boy’s life difficult. But he didn’t want his kids to be dragged down by the kind of language this boy used. Eventually the family was able to afford a house further out of town, where they could have more privacy for their family and an environment for their children undisturbed by worldliness. This made for a longer commute to church, but they didn’t mind too much. They had cut back on involvement enough by now for the sake of their family that they were grateful for the peaceful distance.
A second man and woman, who attended the same church, thought that the first family was just plain weird because they homeschooled and were so isolationist. This had made their kids awkward and unsocialized, the mother declared, happily observing how her kids spent a lot of time with friends from school and from the church youth group. As the kids grew older, they spent more and more time with these friends because they were always seeking ways to avoid being at home. Whenever too many family members were home at once, there was always a fight going on. Whether it was between husband and wife, father and son, mother and daughter, or among the kids, these disputes made them choose different activities as much as possible. The parents made sure that their kids all attended church Sunday mornings, and most of the youth activities as well. Since they didn’t have many spiritual conversations as family, they needed to get them around people who would help them be good Christians as much as possible. But this would work better if it were people closer to their age influencing them. Just because the parents were on church committees and served as ushers and brought food to every potluck didn’t mean they were qualified to teach their kids about spiritual things. They were doing their duty as a Christian family by giving money to support the youth programs that helped their kids, getting everyone to church regularly, and by just trying to be a Christian family who kept in contact with the world, because the world needs Christians to be in it. What’s that phrase? “Be in the world but not all the way in it”…right? Yeah, that must be it.
A single mother attended this church with her three kids. The oldest had been born when the mother was seventeen, shortly after she had become a Christian through a campus ministry at her school. The other two kids were from her marriage a couple years later to a man who assured her he was a committed Christian in their online conversations. Within the first couple of years, he became less interested in spiritual things and more interested in being a tyrannical and abusive father and husband. Eventually, the marriage ended in divorce. The mother’s faith had given her strength through this difficulty, and she was committed to her relationship with Christ and the church. Many times she wondered, though, whether she was really pleasing God as much as the people seated around her at church whose marriages had lasted for decades. But since she couldn’t change the past, she just focused on cultivating a love for the Lord in her kids. They spent a lot of time serving together at church events and outreach activities, then laughing and talking together afterwards with the friends from church who came home with them to visit after the events. Usually as they were hosting others from the church, the group would grow as neighbors stopped in, knowing that this home was always inviting and full of love. Several of these neighbors became steadily more interested in Jesus Christ as they heard this family and their friends talking in such a sincere way about their faith. A couple of them became followers of Jesus, and began spending even more time as part of the life of this single mother’s family. There was something about these four people that was so real; they had faults, just like others, but the love there family expressed to each other and those around them was so, well,…it just had to be because they were Christian. Normal families don’t act like that.
Now I ask you, which one of these is the best example of Christian family?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A pause for meditation.

I would like to say I'll get up a "real" blog post during finals week. But, let's face it, it's finals week. I have been studying and meditating on James recently, and it made me appreciate the themes of this prayer I ran across in Valley of Vision. Here it is (with slight revision and redaction) for your edification:

True Religion

Lord God Almighty,
I ask not to be enrolled amongst the earthly great and rich,
But to be numbered with the spiritually blessed.
Make it my present, supreme, persevering concern
To obtain those blessings which are
spiritual in nature
eternal in their continuance
satisfying in their possession
Preserve me from a false estimate of the whole or a part of my character;
May I pay regard to my principles as well as my conduct,
my motives as well as my actions.
Help me never to mistake the excitement of my passions
for the renewing of the Holy Spirit,
never to judge my religion by occasional impressions and
impulses, but by my constant and prevailing disposition.
Give me a large abundance of the supply of wisdom,
that I may be prepared for every duty,
love you in all my mercies,
submit to you in every trial,
trust you when walking in darkness,
have peace in you amidst life’s changes.
Lord, I believe; help my unbelief and uncertainties.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A feminist in any other setting

As we draw to a close the discussion of gender issues, I want to step back and take a look at this issue in a global context. Our studies of New Testament culture have shown us a world with inequitable and often oppressive patriarchalism. Some elements of second-temple Judaism gave husbands power to divorce their husbands at a whim, and the Jewish society generally excluded women from significant roles in education, economics and certainly from religion or government. Greco-Roman culture allowed men full authority over all in their household, so that they even had the right to expose their infants so that they would die, and mothers could not stop this action. Women slaves (and men, for that matter) could be sexually exploited by the man who owned them with no recourse. Aristocratic women, however, would be strongly punished if they were unfaithful in the same way, because they were threatening the purity of their husbands’ line of descendants. Greek and Roman philosophers gave various restrictive rulings regarding women like that they should not speak in public or be educated. Into two restrictive patriarchal settings Jesus and Paul spoke and acted in a way that allowed women to play a significant part in their ministries. Thus the New Testament account of Christ’s ministry and the development of the church is sprinkled with the names of women who were prominent and influential in the work of spreading the gospel. Jesus shocks his disciples by speaking with a Samaritan woman. Jesus interacts in a compassionate way towards ritually unclean women who were prostitutes or had “bleeding” issues, ignoring cultural stigma and prejudice to lovingly respond to their needs. Paul greets many women by name in his letters, commending them for their ministries to the saints. They were believers in women’s rights, in spite of the fact that they never caused any dramatic social upheaval to change up the structure (or held any bra-burning events).

It seems that the element of Western culture that incorporated the Christian view of the value of each individual life, as that idea developed over time, has resulted in women in Europe and North America enjoying a higher level of self-determination, right to self-expression, and material prosperity than women have at any other time in history. The battles being fought now for women’s rights in our context are no longer over injustice, but over unfairness.

I find the fact that American women with the same amount of responsibility often get paid less than men annoying, because it’s unfair. It should be addressed. However, I find the fact that women in many developing and under-developed nations get treated like property and abused as sexual objects appalling, because it is unjust.

Rape is a daily, terrifying reality in war-torn regions of Africa such as Darfur and Congo. Many women deal with physical pain and emotional fear because of this. Women struggle to feed their families throughout rural Ethiopia and Kenya, often sacrificing their own food to feed their children and husbands. Meanwhile governments ignore investments in agricultural improvements and play political games that make foreign aid more difficult to receive. A steady flow of heart-wrenching stories come out of Southeast Asia regarding women and girls trapped in sex-slavery. The recent brutal murder in New York city of Muslim wife by a husband seeking to defend his honor reminds us of the repressive reality found in many Muslim nations.

There is a great chasm between the reality of Ne-Yo’s Miss Independent, the woman is free to own a home, pay her bills, and manage her prosperity, and the reality of Delirious’ Mothers of the Night (from the "Kingdom of Comfort" album) who have found no other option but to sell their bodies to feed their children.

I pray that battles for fairness never cause us to forget about battles against injustice. God has made men and women in his image, and he loves them dearly. Let us stand up for the rights of all.