Monday, March 13, 2006

On Nieztsche--"God is dead."

Friedrich Nieztsche wrote, in the 1960’s, that “God is dead.” I recall that everybody was horrified that he would say such a thing. I was one of those who thought Nieztsche was awful, even though at that time, I was into believing that you couldn’t know for sure if God is real—hypocrite that I was.

A few days ago, I was preparing to give a talk about the importance of “Growth through Study” for a Walk to Emmaus. I decided to show the effects on my li fe of things I have studied and read, at different times in my life. So I looked up Nieztsche, and I was amazed, lo, these forty years later, at what I found.

Contrary to what I, and everybody else I knew, thought at the time, Nieztsche was not literally claiming that God is dead. He personally did not believe it. What he meant was that people in Western culture had become so self-sufficient that they no longer depended upon God for anything. He was saying that life for such people was going to be very difficult, lonely, and pointless. He was lamenting the state of the human soul.

I wish I had paid better attention back then.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

To Take a Stand, Part 2

Continuing this line of thought—about abortion—I want to say that I have no first-hand knowledge about that experience—only what I have observed and read. Several years ago, a young friend of ours had an abortion, and she was devastated afterwards. At first, I didn’t know what was wrong.

Gina* came to my office but could not tell me what was troubling her so deeply. Her eyes were dark and tragic, and she was very pale. I thought she was sick at first, but soon I could tell it was something worse—a sickness in her spirit. She just shook her head and sighed, and her eyes were filled with tears. I hugged her as she was about to leave, and she clung to me and sobbed for a long time. I was bewildered—she had never been so serious before. Then she left my office; she went to live in another state. Several months later, a friend of hers told me about the abortion. I understood, finally.

I should have known that Gina might do that. Gina had told me some time earlier about her friend Megan*, who was pregnant and considering an abortion. I suggested that maybe Megan should put the baby up for adoption, and said that I would help her. Gina said, "Oh, no, if Megan went ahead and had the baby, she knows she wouldn't be able to give it away!"

Before I could even think about my reaction, I blurted out, "She couldn't give it away, but she could kill it?"

Gina scolded me: "Judy! Don't say 'kill'!"

A blog called "Beer, Barbecue, and Bible Study” tells a similar story—from a man’s point of view. Not only is the woman who has an abortion affected; any time a baby has been conceived, there is a man around somewhere who is involved, too. Men—fathers—can be just as deeply impacted by abortion as mothers. This is Pauly's story.

25 years ago, I took part in a decision that separated me from the life of my unborn son. I can only imagine what type of young man he would be today. Sometimes when I mow the lawn or am doing work around the house, or on my car, I think how much I miss not having him here next to me, helping me, telling me about his day, learning from me, sharing jokes, or telling me his plans. The decision for abortion didn't seem like much of a 'choice' at the time. It seemed like there was no other choice. We were pressured by the doctor, society's view at the time, and the fact that we weren't married. It seemed like such an easy thing to do at the time, and I had no idea how it would impact my life for years to come.

I lived with this silence for the next 16 or 17 years. There were many manifestations of my shame and guilt, mainly in the way I related to women and even other children. I could never get close to my daughter, who was a year younger than what my son would have been. Even though I loved her so deeply, there was a part of me that could just not let her in too close to me. How I wish I could have dealt with the grief and shame earlier in my life. Abortion recovery is not really talked about openly in most churches. Even though the subject of abortion is sometimes addressed in churches, it is usually brought up in the context of sin to be avoided, not something of the past to be dealt with. I'm afraid many pastors or congregations are not really equipped with the understanding or sensitivity to deal with post-abortion recovery, especially when it comes to men.

We can all relate to why a woman who chose abortion would need to deal with that decision at some point in her life. Certainly, any woman who would carry her baby to full term, and then lose it suddenly would be looked on with compassion and be recommended for counseling. And even worse, if a woman gave birth to her baby, and then purposely ended its life, she would be looked at as evil, sinful, and judged by society, the church, and the law. But because ending a life while still in the womb is 'legal' under U.S. law, that 'choice' can be made in secret, and it is between a woman, her doctor, and only those who she shares it with. Many women live with shame and guilt, in silence; grieving alone, and dealing (or not dealing) with the loss of her child. It is an awesome burden, and for some, one too great to bear alone.

One thing we tend to conveniently forget, though: for every woman who terminates a pregnancy, there is a man involved too. Until a few years ago, I never thought about that impact on my life, my decision-making process, or my inability to be emotionally or spiritually intimate with my wife and daughter. Even more of a disconnect was evident with my 2 step-sons. Today I can look back and see a pattern of self-destructive behavior and sin that was directly related to my part of a 'choice' that was made in ignorance.

In 1997 I met Steve, and together we met weekly for several months to walk me through the beginnings of a painful process of healing and restoration of a very damaged and shame-filled heart. Over those weeks, I began to see how my 'choice' influenced many of the other decisions I made, especially when it involved women and children. Over the years that followed, I realized there were many other things I needed to deal with, and even today, I continue to have new revelations. The healing process is a long and sometimes painful journey. I haven't 'arrived' yet.

I'm not through sinning or making bad decisions, but now the process of recovering from those decisions is shorter, and I tend to not be so easily influenced by things I know will have long-term or fatal consequences. Every day presents new challenges. At the beginning of this year, I had a profound revelation of how short my life is. As I continue this process of healing and discovery, I am comforted by a very merciful and forgiving Father. His grace is what gets me through, and allows me to be changed, on day at a time.

I am grateful to Pauly for sharing these most personal and difficult thoughts. I think many men and women don’t have any idea that such devastating results are possible. Then they have the cold winds of guilt and hurt howling in their hearts for years.

*Their real names are not Gina and Megan!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

To Take a Stand

South Dakota lawmakers amazed everybody recently by passing a bill to outlaw abortion in their state. If Governor Mike Rounds decides to sign it, it will become law July 1.

I remember that five or six years ago—or maybe ten—some fanatical opponents of abortion were firebombing abortion clinics and even killed a few doctors who were known to perform abortions. A newsman interviewed a distraught doctor who asked, “When will the killing end?” He was talking about the killing of doctors and other workers in abortion clinics.

That seemed to me to be a very ironic question. What I wanted to know was different: when will the killing of babies end? Killing is wrong, whether we’re talking about doctors or babies. Killing babies is wrong, whether we’re talking about an abortion-style murder or a Scott-Peterson-type murder.

For several reasons, I believe opponents of abortion should not resort to violence. Killing and bombing are morally and legally wrong; people cannot be allowed to act that way just because they disagree, no matter what the situation is. And besides that, peaceful ways of showing opposition are always more effective. People who protest through violence are automatically cancelling out any good they might have intended. (See my series about Martin Luther King, Jan. 16, 17, and 18.)

According to a report by the Guttmacher Institute, Rick Santorum said this:

Back before 1973, there were all sorts of claims in favor of legal abortion. Legal abortion would lead to less domestic violence, since young women would not be forced into unhealthy and inappropriate marriages. Fewer desperate women would commit suicide. There would be fewer out-of-wedlock births. There would be fewer divorces. There would be fewer children in poverty, less crime, and less child abuse, since all children would be wanted and grow up in stable families. None of this happened. Not a single social ill improved as a result of legal abortion: in fact, they all got worse, much worse.

The Guttmacher Institute said that not all of Santorum’s stated facts were totally backed up by statistics, especially concerning crime and female suicide. But, they said, most of his assessment is true.

I would like to say that I believe the lawmakers of South Dakota displayed a great deal of moral courage in taking this action. It is completely legal, and it is the act of making a stand. Regardless of what happens as a result, it seems to me to be a step in the right direction.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

On Being Christ-Like

My cousin Mike and I have been e-mailing about the Christian life, among other things. He has some good ideas, and he told me I could include here this message that he sent me. Like me, Mike became a strong Christian not so many years ago. He is a retired football coach, teacher, and counselor. Mike wrote this:

I do believe in the unlimited power of the Lord.

I believe that his way of life is the answer to all questions.

The amount of complication we have in our life is in direct relationship to the distance we are from God. We will always have problems, but they only become complicated when we depend on ourselves for a solution. Knowing this, isn't it interesting how we humans continue to dig in and try to fix everything?

How do we learn to depend on God in all situations? Now that is a question worth consideration.

I don't think that is human nature. Maybe the more human we are, that defines us as thinking we need God less in our life. You have to admit that Jesus would not fit in our society today any more than he did in his life on earth. He would be a strange duck, so to speak.

If we can succeed in becoming strong Christians, we will move more toward Christ-like and less human-like; again, we would also become strange ducks. We seem to hate, lock up, ignore, separate, and ostracize anything or anyone that is different.

How do we make the decision to become less human and more Christian?

I have made that decision and want to become more Christian (Christ-like), but my human traits are very strong and they are not going away, and even when I think I am making headway by getting my human reactions under control, something will happen, and before I can get it under control I am a full fledged human again, and I have to start all over again.

I hear about "born-again Christians"; my transformation into being a Christian is more like a "work in progress" no flashes or lightning. The Lord is not doing a very good job of controlling my temperament, or maybe I still haven't turned that over to him and I am still trying to do it myself. For what ever reason, when that human characteristic comes out of me, people do not see a Christian. At least, now I know what I am trying to do, and I am improving.

What Mike said sounds so much like what Paul said in Romans 7. Paul was so disgusted with himself because he kept wanting to do the right thing, but kept on doing the wrong things. Here is what Paul said, from The Message:

"I know that all God's commands are spiritual, but I'm not. Isn't this also your experience?" Yes. I'm full of myself--after all, I've spent a long time in sin's prison. What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command is necessary.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

Then, in the New International Version, Paul says

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!

At times it may seem like we are absolutely so separated from God that he would never spend a minute on us. But because of Jesus, there is hope for us.

Friday, March 03, 2006

To Say or Not Say Hello

My husband and I went into a fast-food-chicken restaurant recently; because of the long line, an employee came over to us to take our order. Beyond two or three people standing in line, I saw one of my former students, working—taking orders and going back and forth to get food. I was going to say hello to her, but she never looked at me. I felt like she knew I was there, and that made me feel strange.

This is a silly and trivial thing, and nothing to be bothered about, really. However! I am noticing a trend in that direction among the young—from about puberty to about twenty-two—okay, high school and college age people. (And I am not trying to pick on the young. It is just something I have noticed about the way they do things, which is different from the way most other people around here act.) I know I am not imagining it, because I have talked to several other people who have noticed the same thing and have been made to feel strange by it. It happens to more people than just me.

What happens is this. You are walking somewhere, and here comes the kid, whom you recognize. His eyes are looking away, down, out to the side, anywhere but at you. You are the only other person around. He never looks at you, but you know that he knows you are there. One of two things happens.

1. You assume he is busy listening to voices somewhere (his i-pod?) or deep in meditation, and you don’t want to disturb him. You just pass right by him and don’t say a word. He keeps going, never having looked at you. You feel as if you are in the Twilight Zone.

2. When you get about even with him, you say, “Hi, Kevin!” or whatever his name is.
He suddenly looks at you, somehow surprised to see you, and says, very cordially, “Well, hello, Mrs. McGillicuddy!” or whatever your name is. Then he may even stop and talk for a few minutes.

But the thing is, he doesn’t speak—or even look—unless you make the first move.

Are we all so separate from each other, or terrified of each other, or terrified of what we might say, or nervous about how we might be perceived, that we can’t even look at each other? And—why am I bothered by this?

In that chicken restaurant, I should have just spoken out across the customers and said, “Hello, Christi!”* I’ve decided that from now on, I’m going to make the first move. I’d rather do that than be in the Twilight Zone. There are enough things that separate people already, as it is—important things.

*This is not really her name!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday.

I was a Baptist for all my life until I married; at that time, I joined my husband in the Methodist church. That means I have been a Methodist for some thirty-five years. But I have been paying attention for only twelve years. So I never really knew what Ash Wednesday is until the past twelve years. Baptists don’t have Ash Wednesday services when they get a cross in ashes marked on their foreheads. Methodists do. What is the significance of that?

My pastor said in the service tonight that Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, the forty days before Good Friday. Traditionally, Good Friday represents the day that Jesus was crucified—a dark day. It is the time of an inner search, he said. Ashes have for centuries stood for darkness, heartbreak, and despair. The ash cross on the forehead is a powerful symbol of spiritual darkness. Knowing that the greatest need we have is to return to God, we dedicate ourselves to the inner search during this period.

It is a season of repentance, of letting go of secret regret or pain. It is a time to tell the truth to ourselves about our regrets, a time to make a choice to begin again through repentance. Many people give up something or do something special during Lent to remind them, through a personal sacrifice, to remain true to the search of self.

In the Bible, the prophet Joel says,

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. (Joel 2: 12-13)

The most important thing is the condition of the heart. I decided not to try to give up something; I couldn’t think of anything I’d really miss except cheese and chocolate. I’m going to follow the pastor’s advice. He said, “During this time, get to know Jesus as you have never known him before . . . .” That's what I want to do.