Some [Scattered & Disjointed] Thoughts on the ‘Problem’ of Preaching

Ever so often, perhaps every generation, a new paradigm for preaching emerges — the new aim of homiletics, so to speak. More likely than not, this is grossly understated. One could probably make the case that this sort of shift is a phenomenon evidenced every few years, really.

In their course of study, ministerial students learn, debate, & ramble on about sterile terms like ‘exegetical’ interpretation & the dastardly ‘eisegetical’ interpretation, expository preaching & topical preaching, etc. No criticism here, folks… I’ve taken all of the responsible classes myself, & now I teach them to others. 

In the pastorate, there is a real dilemma in keeping a properly measured balance between the philosophical & the pragmatic.

Let’s face it: Many folks nowadays just want to be told what to do… They long for a sort of dumbed-down utilitarianism. To be sure, not everyone in the pew wants this, but certainly many of them do. You’ve heard their questions; in fact, you’ve even asked some of them yourself. I know that I have.

There’s a tension in the pulpit. In proclaiming the Gospel, we must call unbelievers to repentance & faith, while also calling believers to righteousness & faithfulness.

Pastors have the hard task of lifting the name of & celebrating the presence of Christ, encouraging heavy & weary hearts, challenging disbelief, confronting unfaithfulness, & much more.

What’s a preacher to do? [Ironic, I know.]

Perhaps, our models should be broad but simple. For example: wrestling with broad but simple questions like What must we know? & What must we now do?.

Behavior not bound up in & grounded upon Truth isn’t redemptive. Truth which does not substantiate itself in behavior, likewise, isn’t redemptive.

So, it seems that our preaching must both share & invite, proclaim & call, declare & demand.

Within & throughout this simple, 2-fold structure, of course, we ought to weave story, humor, narrative, illustration, experience, perhaps even some sarcasm, satire, or self-deprecation.

But, if we aren’t helping people think & live biblically, are we actually proclaiming the Scriptures?

 

* I recorded these thoughts while driving down the road almost 13 months ago. That being said… (1) I was voicetexting on my phone’s notepad, so it was safe! Relatively-speaking. (2) Hopefully, this explains the scatteredness & disjointedness. (3) I then emailed the note to myself & lost it in my inbox, so this has been a long time coming.

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reflections on Advent from a hospital room (months before Advent)

Something I wrote during my third night in the hospital, room 521…

I’ve been standing at the window with all of the lights off — as dark as the room can get. I’m waiting for a helicopter. I’ve been waiting for what seems like half an hour already, but there’s still no helicopter insight. I know it’s there; I can hear it. In fact, I’ve been listening to it for quite a while now. Nevertheless, here I stand… in the dark… in the quiet… in my hospital room. Well, it’s not completely quiet, for I can hear the sounds of my own IV pumping fluids into my veins. I’ve been hearing them rhythmically for three days now, helping me to regain my health. And then, there’s that sound of the chopper coming. I know it’s coming, for I can hear it. I just can’t yet see it. I think it’ll be here any minute, but still I wait… in the dark… in the silence — save for these sounds of promised health. Both: rhythmic sounds, steady and strong. But the sound of this elusive descending bird grows stronger and stronger with every passing second. This helicopter is coming to bring rescue, to bring hope, to bring life. But when it will get here I do not know. All I know is that it is indeed coming… coming soon… bringing rescue, bringing hope, bringing life. I look to the ground where it should arrive and wait. I look to the heavens from whence it is coming and wait. I look. I wait. It is coming. It is almost here. Soon, surely soon it will descend with its rescue mission, its longed-for hope, its much-needed life. Ten minutes have now passed, and it dawns upon me how reminiscent of Advent this waiting, this longing, this expectancy, this eagerness, this anticipation is. I just want to see the helicopter land. I know that it’s bringing hope to some family. It’s on a singular mission: to rescue someone who’s desperate. Its pilot is feverishly though cooly trying to snatch life from the clutches of death. So I wait… and keep looking. And I pray for this family wishing for hope. I pray for this one who’s desperate for rescue. I pray for this life that is encompassed by death. And so the Church militant must do as It awaits its Lord’s second Advent, its Redeemer’s return. We must wait in darkness. We must wait in silence, yet with the rhythmic hums of renewing health and eager anticipation. And we must pray, ceaselessly. “You must watch and pray,” said our gloriously descended Partridge concerning His second Advent during His first. That steel bird still has yet to land, and another ten minutes have passed. I’m almost, almost ready to give up hope, to call it a night, to think that it’s just not coming. But I know that it is. I hear the sounds amidst the silence. I see the prepared, awaiting lights on the pad below amidst the darkness. Surely, it is coming quickly. Soon…


Ministry to the Elderly

For the last 5 years or so, I’ve delivered a Meals-on-Wheels route to the elderly in a community not far from ours. I deliver on this route twice a month, and over the years, this ministry has proven to be quite a blessing to me.

I first began alone; then, a dear friend began to deliver with me during his senior year in high school. Now, for the last year or so, my daughter (now 9yo) has been delivering with me. She is more faithful to these “customers” than words can express. She loves these people… people who are in such a diametrically different station in life than she is, people who have a raging stream of memories behind them rather than a vast sea of possibilities before them as she does. But she cares and cares deeply. Her love for them is a thing of beauty. She prays for some of them daily… EVERY DAY. She talks about them with her siblings and mom. She talks about them at church. She cries over the thought of losing them to death. She smiles when she tells her Momma Bear stories that they tell her. She cherishes (and keeps!) cards they give her. She’s even received some gifts from a few of them. They love her, and she surely loves them.

Though some of my “customers” have changed in these 5 years, several have been with me since my very first delivery. One who’s been with me from the very beginning is Mrs. Margie. When I first met her, she was was 91 years old and full of life and vigor. She was always one of the most delightful people to be around, and I’ve always regretted that my visits with her have to be so brief. After all, I’m delivering to 16 other folks along the way, and I’m supposed to complete my route within an hour and a half. (I’ve probably only accomplished this goal twice out of what has probably been over 130 attempts.)

As you can imagine, Mrs. Margie’s health has declined through the course of these years. Actually, it held pretty strong for about 4 of these these years, but it’s been unwaveringly waning for quite a few months now. Recently, she’s been discussing the end of her days quite often. In the past couple of months, there’s not been a single time Imogene and I have visited with her that she hasn’t mentioned what seems to be looming over her… her mortality and that cursed and cruel valley of death’s shadow. She seems to be able to feel its cold and see its darkness. She cries and hangs her head low in embarrassment, apologizing for letting Imogene see her cry, and when she does, Imogene wipes away tears of her own.

A few weeks ago, she said that she’d probably be gone from this world before my next delivery two weeks later. I feared that she would be proven right. I hurt. I wept. Imogene hurt. Imogene wept.

For now, Mrs. Margie is still with us, and she’s still the subject of many of my daughter’s prayers. In fact, even after she passes through the shadow’s of that terrible valley, she’ll probably remain the subject of quite a number of Imo’s prayers. (I still remember asking Jesus to let me talk to my best friend Joey after he died unexpected in the fourth grade, and sometimes, I think that He very well might allow such conversations.)

This past Monday, I was rocked to my core by walking into Mrs. Margie’s living room and catching a glimpse of my business card next to her. She said that she’d been praying for me. Talk about having your heart tenderized… You should know that she’s insisted that her family (and the county) keep me informed as she leaves this world and passes on into the life that is to come. A few days ago, Imogene asked me if I think “Mrs. Margie [is] ready to meet Jesus”, and I said that I think she is. We’ve prayed with her multiple times, which is probably a No-No in the eyes of the state, but she’s often asked that we do so. Even still, I wasn’t prepared for what happened during this visit Monday… Mrs. Margie told us that she was ready to meet Jesus, started to cry, and began praying for Imogene and me. That’s right: Mrs. Margie, with 96 years of life’s joys and heartaches, was praying for us. Talk about humbling… My soul was devastated by the sheer humility of realizing that, while I think I’m doing HER a service and ministering to HER needs, all the while, she’s interceding in MY behalf and caring for MY needs. I was rocked.

As soon as she declared her Amen, I immediately followed her prayer with my own, primarily giving thanks for her sweet gentleness and strong joy and asking Jesus to give her His strength. On the way back to our car, Imogene asked me what I meant by asking for her to be strengthened, and I (pathetically, I’m sure) explained that we need courage and inner strength to walk through difficult times and to face scary things, death and dying surely being two of the most difficult and scary [yes, TWO, not one, for one is not quite the same as the other].

I’ll never forget those moments. I hope there to be plenty more with Mrs. Margie before the end, though I confess my doubts as it seems to be so quickly drawing near.

“Lord Jesus, have mercy on your servant, Mrs. Margie.”


Easter is not about Jesus dying for you.

WARNING: This post is intended for a certain audience… Christian believers.  More specifically, Christian believers who consider themselves ‘Evangelical’ (whatever that now means).  If you do not fall within this category, please feel free to eavesdrop a bit, but please know that my thoughts are directed toward those folks (typically within the Western Church) who pride themselves in “Bible-believing” and “Gospel-preaching” — which is to insinuate absolutely nothing about those who do not consider themselves to be ‘Evangelical’.  Seriously.  Put plainly in another way, this is not directed toward ‘Mainline Protestant’ folks, ‘Roman Catholic’ folks, or ‘Eastern Orthodox’ folks… or, for that matter, any hybrids of these branches of our great Tree.  Furthermore, if you’re easily offended, please do not read what follows.  Seriously.  You probably will be offended… not because I’m aiming to be offensive or hoping to offend anyone but simply because I think this desperately needs to be said, and we often don’t like to hear things that need to be said.  Case in point, “Sir, I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’re dying.”  How many of us have the gall to say such a thing to a home-going loved-one?  How many of us want to one day be told this by a loved one?  Some things, though hard to both say and hear, need to be said.  And in light of the subject matter which follows, how many of us think that Ash Wednesday is silly ritualism?  “To dust you have come, and to dust you shall return.”  [But I digress, so without further hesitation, please consider yourself warned.]

Easter is not about Jesus’ death on the Cross.  That’s Good Friday.  That’s right: there is such a thing as Good Friday.  Most of us have all but forgotten about this remarkable Holy Day in the life of the Church, but nonetheless, it’s still there.  Yep, Good Friday.  It hasn’t gone away.  Though we’ve neglected it, profaned it, and nearly lost it in our culture, it’s still there.  It hasn’t left us, though we’ve treated it quite poorly, perhaps most poorly by simply ignoring it.  [Be honest, you HATE to be ignored.  Other sins you can bear within yourself, but to be plainly ignored…?  That hurts.]

It was on Friday that Jesus died upon the Cross.  It was on Sunday that He rose from the grave.  Aha!  Hopefully, now we’re starting to see the importance of Easter.  Friday: the death of Jesus.  Sunday: His resurrection.

Why does this ever-so-important distinction even matter?  Well, for a number of reasons…

For starters, truth matters.  Amen?  If I went to Kroger rather than Publix, I went to Kroger, not Publix.  There is a difference.  The simple fact that there is truth to the matter (and the potential for falsehood) should suggest –or scream– to us that the truth does indeed matter.  What happened?  When did it happen?  These are not mere “details” as if they were on the periphery of the greater subject at hand (i.e., that Jesus died for us); they are the reality of what God has done in Christ to redeem us.

At this point, you might be thinking, “Come on, man.  No one’s saying that the events of Friday actually happened on Sunday or that the events of Sunday actually happened on Friday.  Neither is anyone saying that Sunday didn’t come or that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.”  I concede that this may well be the case.  However, I’m concerned that our sloppy approach to proclamation & theology unveils in us a lax approach to worship & love.  Could it be that we’ve betrayed ourselves?  If we’ll be candid & honest with one another for but a moment, I think most of us would confess a nagging doubt we’ve found within our hearts and minds from time to time: “What does it really matter?  Does it really matter?”

I know… I know… I’m losing you.  Hang with me.

Why does Christmas matter?  Isn’t that what the whole Gospel is about?  God is with us.  Why does Jesus’ death matter?  Isn’t that what the whole Gospel is about?  God has rescued us.  […not in some sick, depraved, the-Father-taking-His-frustration-with-us-out-on-His-innocent-Son-in-divinely-gleeful-rage sort of way, but perhaps that’ll be the subject of another post at some other time.]  With the acknowledgement that I may now be crossing a liturgical line, I’ll tread lightly…  Why does the Ascension matter?  Why does Pentecost matter?  Is this annual proclamation & celebration perhaps just vain repetition?  Are we any better than Celtic pagans?

The difference: The Good News of the Church is the story of what God has actually done in history, real time & space, to rescue humanity.  History, ergo time, necessitates sequence.  This happened; then, that happened.  What the Church for centuries, even [Now I’m stretching it.] millennia, has done is summarize the Gospel into an annual pattern of proclamation & celebration, which creates for Itself a rhythm of life & worship into which It invites It’s members & those who drop eaves to participate & dance.

The fact is that there is a lot to the Gospel.  While it might can be summarized in tracts [though I prefer creeds], It really demands more than just a few lines.  It demands a life.  It demands much more than we all-too-often regrettably offer it.

Okay, but what about the whole Friday-death-Sunday-ressurrection distinction?  Here’s the sum of it… We live our lives far too fast-paced for our own good.  We have instant oatmeal, instant Jello, instant pudding, and instant RICE for crying out loud!  IT ONLY TAKES 15 MINUTES TO MAKE PLAIN, OLD-SCHOOL RICE!!!  WHY DO WE NEED INSTANT RICE?!  We love our fast food options.  We expect things now, and even when we pray for patience [if we pray at all], we ask for God to give it without delay.  This is not good.  This is not healthy.  This does not build character.  This does not shape a virtuous life.

We like our Gospel like we like our preaching on Sunday mornings.  We like it hard and fast.  While we’ll take being preached to, we’d much more prefer being preached at.  We want sweat dripping & spit slinging.  We want to front row, “real-big” Christians to be nasty by the time it’s all over.  We want a huge black Bible being thumped, even pounded against the top of a big oak pulpit.  Composite leather, please.  Hopefully, you’ve noticed my use of pronouns here…  We.  The world, of course, doesn’t like this, but we do.  The “others” outside of ‘Evangelicalism’ might be turned off by this sort of Gospel, but it sends a chill up our legs.  This chill is sometimes vocalized with a shout of “Amen!”  Why?  “Because people need to hear this!  They need the Gospel!  This church ought to be packed on Sunday mornings, because someone’s missing out.”  Yep, betrayed again.  We like our ‘Evangelicalism’ like we like our termites.  Though they fascinate us, we’d rather them “abide” in someone else’s house.

The Gospel offers us good (in exchange for our bad).  It offers us health (in order to purge our dis-ease).  It seeks to build character within us (having given us a fresh start).  It seeks to shape our lives through virtue (as we follow our victorious Lord).  Yes, it saves, but salvation is full not partial.  It doesn’t offer a quick fix.  It doesn’t offer a free ticket for eternity.  It offers us redemption… real redemption… complete redemption.  It is the story of how the one true God has fully embraced our humanity, taken it into Himself, and rescued it through participation.  We, now, are called to embrace Him (the incarnate One), invite Him into ourselves (our lives, our families, our relationships), and participate in His plan for rescue.

In making Easter Sunday into just a bigger Good Friday, we risk making the Gospel only about the forgiveness of sins, neglecting that it is also about the resurrection of the body.  The Creed, anyone?  When we reduce the Gospel to a mere tag-phrase (e.g., Jesus died for you.), we suspiciously offer only a fresh start, not a new life.  Easter is about the shocking, other-wise impossible miracle of the Resurrection of Jesus.  Friday: the Crucifixion.  Sunday: the Resurrection.  Friday: the blood-stained Cross.  Sunday: the chillingly-empty Tomb.  The Man was dead.  His body was laid “to rest” in a tomb.  [By whom?  If I were a betting man, I’d be putting a heap of cash on you not having any clue.]  As the Apostle Paul would have us believe, though, while His death affords us forgiveness of sins, His resurrection raises us to new life [victorious life!] through faith.

It’s obvious… While we’ve perhaps made the Gospel too complicated for others, we’ve surely made it far too simple for ourselves.  Holy Week which has [Alas!] already passed us, invites us to walk carefully, slowly, intentionally, prayerfully.

Easter is not about Jesus dying for you.  What’s crazy: today is Easter Tuesday, the first Tuesday after Easter Sunday.  The season of Easter actually goes on for a few more weeks.  [Ha!  You’ve been snookered, haven’t you?  It’s only just begun, my friend.  Karen Carpenter?  Hmm.]

Indeed.

Indeed.

Most of us are far too busy to worry with Good Friday… and don’t even think about Maundy Thursday!  We’ll make time on Holy Saturday for our Easter egg hunts, and we’ll talk about nothing but Jesus’ death on the Cross for our sins on Easter Sunday morning, when we should be proclaiming, “He is risen!  He is risen indeed!!!”  Most of our churches are far too big to worry with the distinction.  After all, we need a Friday evening service, a few on Saturday, and a couple on Sunday, and we can just say that they’re each our “Easter” celebration, right?  Logistics, really.

This is no criticism against working on Good Friday.  This is no criticism against being busy.  This is no criticism against large congregations.  I swear it.  This is simply an anecdotal observation of what we’ve become in the Western world of ‘Evangelicalism’.  My suggestion is that we slow down and walk carefully and intentionally.  The liturgical calendar could help in this regard, but that might not be your sort of thing.

[I’ll probably need to clarify a few things in subsequent posts.  We’ll see…]


Literally.

Ah, Literally.

…perhaps the most ignorantly-ironic, poorly-misused, often-overused adverb in the English language.  [Sometimes, I find myself wondering if its equivalent is (mis)used likewise in other languages.]

literally

Chris Traeger (doing what he LITERALLY does best)

In consideration of the oft-rehashed and too, too tired debate concerning Scripture and the means of interpretation (e.g., Is the Bible to be taken literally or metaphorically?), a few things have occurred to me of late.  My gift to you:

  1. The literal and metaphorically categories are not alone in the world of literature, and to be sure, yes, Scripture is (as it purports itself to be) literature.  Sure, it’s much more, but it is literature nonetheless.
  2. What’s more: literal and metaphorical are not mutually exclusive categories.  As Dr. John Walton of Wheaton often points out, sometimes the more literal interpretation of a passage is not the modernistic or “scientific” reading that we might quickly presume and thereby impose upon the text but, rather, what the author intended his original audience to understand within the historical, theological, literary (even mythological) context of the day of its writing.
  3. Additionally, those who quickly call for a literal reading of Scripture are often the most quick to assume a metaphorical reading of certain difficult passages.  How many times have we heard those who vehemently insist upon a literal 1,000-year Millennial Reign of Christ, accuse those who disagree of being ant-blbical only then to conclude that the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist is, of course, only so symbolically.  “You know… They just remind us of His body and blood, of course.  After all, that can’t be taken literally.”  Hmm.
  4. Lastly, those who readily impose a metaphorical reading upon the Bible in almost all instances are often guilty of the same bating-and-switching sins.  I know, I know — I’m using the concept of bate-and-switch loosely, here, but I hope you understand my point.  Interpreters often draw us in using wholesale language (and “bumper-sticker” cliched terms) only to  change (or, at least, adjust) the rules of the game once we buy into their all-too-simplistic thinking.

In sum, I’m literally sick of it all.  Literally?  Yes, literally.  But, no, not really.  Even still, perhaps I should be…


Considering Hormonal “Birth-Control” from a Christian Ethic…

a sight all-too-familiar to most "evangelical" Christians

a sight all-too-familiar to most “evangelical” Christians

I’ve considered doing so for quite some time — years, really.  Of late, I’ve grown more concerned: “I should, but what might the reaction be?”  Upon listening to a BreakPoint commentary yesterday (from the previous day), I was struck by the title: “The Epidemic of not Looking” [sic].

Please note well:

  • I am not (nor have I ever claimed to be) a medical/scientific professional.
  • I wrote this paper over six years ago, so I concede that some of the research could probably use some updating.
  • I haven’t read it since the night I submitted it for grading.

My overall concern is that most of us would generally just prefer not to know the details of matters which might call for serious change in behavior or priorities — especially those of us who call ourselves Christians.  With that concern in mind, here’s a paper I wrote a few years back.  Conjuring C. S. Lewis, let me simply say, “They asked for a paper.” Conjuring Headmaster Dumbledore, let me simply add, “Let the feast begin.”

—  —  —

AN ETHICAL LOOK AT BIRTH CONTROL

It is quite plainly obvious that a larger bulk of American society generally accepts birth control as a viable option for females – typically of all applicable ages – who wish to avoid pregnancy. This rather widespread acceptance is unquestionably evident in society in general, but it is likewise quite present in the minds and practice of those who openly consider themselves to be part of the Church in America. In fact, when the issue of birth control is brought into question within ethical debate, passionate reactions are rarely found to be lacking. Correspondingly, such responses are far from uncommon within the context of Christian thought and debate. Such an observation certainly could often be made of quite a few – if not most – ethical issues, for ethical debate seems to spark and ignite something deep within the human heart, something that is often found in the garb of passionate expression. Ethical issues are deeply personal and, when coupled with the evident and not so evident consequences of thought, trigger deeply passionate responses.

But even still, matters regarding the bringing of human life into the world undoubtedly ought to be appropriately welcomed within the thought life of the thinking Church, and, therefore, ethical debate should always find a home for serious reflection and discourse especially amongst Christians. In fact, it should be rather unarguably understood that the Church has even a moral responsibility to think seriously about all matters, especially those that are evidently quite serious in nature and consequentially carry with themselves rather serious implications.

That being said, the present writer is under the conviction that birth control is, in fact, such a matter – not only one that is quite serious in and of itself but also one that is accompanied by rather serious implications. Such being the case, the facts surrounding birth control and its consequential implications should be fairly and adequately considered when one – particularly here, a thinking Christian – seeks to raise and offer a reflective response to the question of whether or not birth control should be seen as an ethically viable option in the avoidance of pregnancy. Therefore, the purpose of the present paper is to offer a synopsis of how birth control is designed to work, give an observation of both the possible benefits and detriments of its use, look at some of its apparent and assumed implications, note the possibilities in play when it is used, hear from what the Church has had to say about the matter, and finally offer some brief personally reflective conclusions concerning the issue at hand.

The Methods of Effectiveness

Though there are admittedly several different kinds of what might be understood to be birth control per se, the present concern is directed to what is most often considered by the general public to be such – i.e., that which is commonly known in the medical field as “hormonal contraceptives” or, more specifically, “oral contraceptives” and commonly known outside the medical field simply as “the pill”. Oral contraceptives find their effectiveness in the hormones1 they distribute to the female body, which in turn are expected to provide a defense against pregnancy or its advancement by producing several resulting mechanisms, the first being openly acknowledged as the most directly intended. It should be noted, however, that these mechanisms are only logically ordered, for they necessarily occur neither prior to nor subsequent to one another.

By Hindering Ovulation

The first – and again, most purposed – line of defense against pregnancy or its advancement built into the effects of oral contraception is established by attempting to stop ovulation, or the process by which the female’s ovaries discharge an ovum – or egg – into the uterus – or womb – so that it might then be potentially fertilized by a male’s sperm. Ovulation, which is often said to mark the beginning of the menstrual cycle, typically occurs fourteen days before the period of bleeding and is naturally consequential to the maturity of follicles, which is intended by oral contraception to be inhibited by an increase in hormone levels, therefore, expecting to prevent the release of ova altogether.

By Hindering Conception

If, however, ovulation goes unavoided, the effects of oral contraception present a second line of defense. Due to the increased hormone levels, the female’s cervical mucus is thickened, which in turn makes it more difficult for the sperm to reach the egg. This thickened mucus also presents less suitable conditions for the sperm, having hypothetically reached the egg, to actually penetrate, which would, of course, result in conception were it to occur.

By Hindering Implantation

There are, still, admittedly rare cases in which these first two lines of defense inhibit neither ovulation nor conception. At this point, though, oral contraception provides yet a third line of defense. The natural mechanisms of the menstrual cycle cause the mucous membrane lining of the uterus – or endometrium – to mature and, hence, thicken, providing the opportune circumstances for adequate and proper implantation of the egg. The raised hormone levels caused by oral contraception, however, prevent the maturity of the endometrium, therefore, making the womb inhospitable for a hypothetically fertilized egg, even if both ovulation and conception were to occur.

The Potential Goods

There are, unquestionably, certain “goods” related to the argument in the defense of birth control as a viable means of avoiding pregnancy, and such benefits should certainly have a fair hearing by anyone wishing to take seriously the subject at hand. Two such benefits are most obvious to all and are commonly expressed by advocates of preventative birth control.

The Convenience of Timing

One such benefit to birth control is related to timing. Though many things in life are clearly out of the personal control of those affected by them, some things undoubtedly lie within the reach of human control. The timing of when one has or avoids having children is in many cases one of those things within the grasping distance of modern Man. Further, timing is unarguably an issue related to convenience. There are some things that a person might not mind happening just so long as they occur at the right – or, at least, a somewhat bearable – time. Today, the convenience of timing when having or not having children is considered by many to be a convenience offering adequate justification for the use of birth control.

The Convenience of Limiting

Another matter considered by many to be a benefit to birth control is that of limiting the amount of children born to a couple. It seems that even most married couples in America see limiting the number of children born into their household as a potential good and would, therefore, see birth control as a viable option in bringing about such ends. The popular assumption is that one child is enough and two are plenty. If one happens to be a boy and the other happens to be a girl, it is often considered that a family is just what it ought to be and that the only thing lacking is a nice house and a cuddly pet. The rhetorical question must be raised, however: Are all assumptions necessarily true? And, likewise, are conveniences always – or even ever – the best determining factors in moral decision-making?

The Potential Bads

Though birth control certainly offers a share of “goods” to its advocates, it also often carries with itself a share of undeniable and consequential “bads”. At least three such unquestionable detriments should be considered if one wishes to take seriously the possible results of birth control.

Later Infertility

Even today, it is a common assumption among the general public that people can typically have children whenever they want. However, the passing of time and the advancement of medical understanding is progressively challenging such an assumption. The fact is that having children is not quite as simple as it is often thought to be.

Not only are there natural conditions related to the human body – both male and female – which prevent pregnancy and childbirth even when the timing is seemingly right, but there are also other conditions which have a negative effect on pregnancy and childbirth. Simply based upon the numbers, conception is not the rule but, rather, the rule’s exception; even more so is uninhibited delivery. Quite frankly, it is usually the case that people have sex much more than they get pregnant and much, much more than they are actually able to carry a baby to realized viability. In fact, it is beyond dispute that, as time passes, a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant begin to quickly diminish as she steadily approaches her time of infertility.

Birth control, however, causes still more hindrances to pregnancy, even beyond its immediate use. Even after the discontinued use of birth control, its consequences can be sustained for some time. Certainly, there are many cases in which the effects of birth control quickly – almost immediately – subside and the potential for pregnancy is immediately resumed, but there are also many cases in which its effects remain long after its use. In such cases, the female is often hindered from conception for several months – if not years. In a few of these cases, based on the duration of use and the consequential effects of birth control, the female finds that she will never again have the opportunity to conceive and bear children.

Consequential Miscarriage

Though infertility may not be the most consciously understood or feared result of the use – especially the prolonged use – of birth control, there is yet another result that is often more sobering. It is considerably common for a female to discontinue the use of birth control and later conceive – sometimes relatively soon, sometimes relatively not so soon – only to miscarriage shortly into the pregnancy.

Such miscarriages are often caused by the lingering effects of the birth control she previously used. In many cases, though conception occurred without fault, proper implantation was yet hindered, later causing dire complications and inevitable death to the once living and growing embryo. When such occurs, the mother is often devastated by the miscarriage, which often goes unacknowledged as the result of the birth control previously taken.

Chemical Abortion

There are still yet other detriments related to the use of birth control, one in particular that is directly connected to its simultaneous and continued use. Though they are certainly rare in occurrence, there are indeed times as noted above, when both ovulation and conception occurs but the fertilized egg is hindered from implantation, an occurrence referred to by some as a “chemical abortion”. Due to its nature, chemical abortion could also be seen as including those miscarriages which occur consequential to the use of birth control even after its use is discontinued.2

The Seeming Implications

Having seen some of the goods as well as some of the bads related to the use of birth control, another less direct avenue of thinking ought to be explored. One wishing to think seriously about the viability of its use should take into consideration what seems to be some implications inherent in the use of birth control to avoid pregnancy.

The Inconvenience of Children

The first – and, personally, the most easily inferred – implication is the idea that children are really an inconvenience. Such thinking seems to be increasingly common in the general public. Oftentimes and among other things, children are seen as a barrier to freedom – i.e., personal freedom, financial freedom, marital freedom, etc. This is seen very clearly in the common assumption that people should travel or “live a little” before they even consider having children. Even within the context of family, children are sometimes spoken of as being mistakes, plainly indicating the presence of the idea that they are often seen as inconveniences, or results that must be borne.

The Assumption of Promiscuity

Another – though probably not as easily inferred – implication seems to be an assumption of promiscuity. Often, parents are encouraged to get their daughters birth control under what is mindlessly considered to be the inevitability of promiscuity. This is especially encouraged as teenage girls approach their advancement into their college years. In many cases, seemingly birth control becomes viewed as simply one of the necessities of living a “normal” life in “the real world”.

The Possible Ramifications

Putting aside – even if just for a moment – the potential benefits and detriments of birth control in avoiding pregnancy, one should weigh the possibilities of birth control’s results when its methods of prevention are indeed effective. Might its potential ramifications play a significant role in judging the ethical viability of its use?

If there exists – which there indisputably does – the known possibility that conception might occur, and at times does occur and is then aborted by various factors knowingly caused by birth control, the question then becomes inevitability linked to whether or not conception marks the beginning of human life for a person. Once this question is answered, it would seem that the most logical step would then be toward addressing the question of moral acceptability in regards to knowingly ending such life which would most certainly be innocent and, likewise, indefensible.

A Skeptical Approach

Simply looking at what might be considered a skeptical approach3 to the possibility of human life at conception, some significant light could be shed on the subject at hand.4 There are logically only two definitive positions one might take in regards to whether human life is formed at conception: either that it is or that it isn’t. Likewise, there are only two possibilities regarding the relationship of one’s position to the reality of the matter: either one is right or one is wrong. Consequently, there are really only four possible alternatives in the whole matter: one believes that a human person is formed at conception and is right, one believes that it is and is wrong, one believes that it isn’t and is right, or finally one believes that it isn’t and is wrong. In either case, when one intelligibly and deliberately5 decides to use birth control, understanding its methods of preventing conception or the advancement of pregnancy, one is running the risk of falling into line with all four of these possible alternatives.

The Consequential Risks

In the case of the first alternative, one such person would run the risk of what might be considered by some to be murder – the deliberate killing of innocent and indefensible human life. Even supposing this risk were not directly intended, if it were intelligible and deliberate, it would nevertheless be liable. In the case of the second alternative, the risk would be more related to negligence, based upon one’s belief that harm might have been done coupled with one’s neglectful indifference to avoid such harm. In the case of the third alternative, there is no real risk, and so “no harm, no foul”. However, in the case of the fourth alternative, the risk is closely connected to what could be considered manslaughter – for though one would have quite honestly thought there to be no harm involved, one’s carelessness would have been the cause of great harm and could consequently be seen as quite liable.

The Voice of the Church

Before drawing some personal conclusions, it might be wise to hear and consider what the Church has had to say in connection to the use of birth control. Undeniably, many – if not most – who readily acknowledge themselves to be Christians in America unabashedly believe birth control to be a viable option in the prevention of pregnancy. In fact, many openly consider birth control to be a wise and responsible option, often believing “nay-sayers” to be either far too closed-minded, far too radical, or far too unrealistic. However, authoritative voices within the Church have at times offered very clear and direct judgments concerning the use of contraception.

Even in 1930 – clearly prior to the most modern advancements in the area of pregnancy and childbirth – the Anglican Church offered a stance on contraception through the collaborative voice of Its bishops. Though it made allowance for the responsible use of contraception, it was quite clear that it must only be used when there is “a clearly felt moral obligation” and never for the sake of “selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience”. Even upon setting such standards, the Anglican Church still saw the need to demand that – even in such seemingly rare cases – contraception should only be used “in the light of… Christian principles”, standing hard against all forms of abortion and promiscuity and further calling for “definite restrictions” regarding both the advertisement and sale of contraception even within the context of marriage.6

The voice of Roman Catholicism has been plain and steady throughout the history of medical contraception. In the same year that the Anglican Church offered Its parameters for the allowance of contraception, Rome offered a counter response, pronouncing no allowance whatsoever for any intentional form of contraception. This judgment was later reaffirmed in 1968 even amidst a rapidly growing population throughout the world and ever increasing sexual promiscuity, declaring “all direct interruption” to procreation as a natural result of sexual intercourse to be “absolutely excluded as lawful means of controlling the birth of children”, including any and all acts “specifically intended to prevent procreation”.7 Though many throughout the years have considered this judgment to be too hard, and have either outright rejected it or rather ignored it, the fact remains that Rome has spoken clearly and unabashedly.

Conclusions

And so, the question: Considering all that is known about birth control, does it stand as an ethically viable option for the prevention of pregnancy and childbirth? Please, let it be known that the present writer’s opinion is in no way meant to cast condemnation upon those who have chosen to use birth control; nor is it meant to stand as either unchallengeable or even uncorrectable. Nevertheless, it seems most reasonably appropriate to deny hormonal birth control herein described as being ethically acceptable.

Though many certainly see there to be nothing inherently wrong with birth control and still many honestly have no known reason to believe otherwise, it seems quite obvious that, when the facts and the possibilities are known, there can be no escaping the reasonable conclusion that birth control is not a morally neutral option. Rather, it seems quite plain that it should never be intelligibly and deliberately pursued as a means to avoid pregnancy.

But what, one might ask, about the goods offered by birth control? First, it should be noted that conveniences should never be simply assumed as justifications in and of themselves. In fact, conveniences often end up serving as snares to freedom. It is often the case that in Man’s attempts to control his circumstances, he finds himself, consequently, being controlled by his circumstances.8 Second, it should be noted that love often calls for inconvenience. Undoubtedly, love often brings its share of intrusions, for love is always directed toward the other, making the lover vulnerable even to the inconveniences of the beloved. Love always imposes to some extent, and so convenience at any cost is never an ethical option.9 And, third, it seems to be quite plain that in connection to birth control, the “bads” far exceed the “goods” and, further, the potential ramifications certainly shed a poor light on any possible “goods” related to the matter at hand.

On another note, it should be mentioned that there are at least three natural ends in relationship to sexual intercourse: pleasure, intimacy, and procreation. Even when real pleasure is lacking and true intimacy could be considered suspect, procreation is an undeniably natural end to sexual relations.10 When all circumstances are right, procreation generally happens, and so it seems that the Roman Catholic Church should at least be given a fair hearing when It calls for no intentional interruption of the natural consequences of sexual intercourse.

There still are, however, other alternatives in avoiding pregnancy. The possibility that the easiest option might not be an ethically appropriate option does not deny that there still remain others – i.e., abstinence, natural family planning, etc. In the end, the fact remains that if one wishes to take seriously the call to ethical living and decision-making, one must be honest, fair, and consistent in one’s approach to and reflection on the issues as they present themselves, and it is the present writer’s hope that he has done just that.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bettenson, Henry and Chris Maunder, ed. Documents of the Christian Church. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Boulton, Wayne G. et al., ed. From Christ to the World. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.

“Christian Ethics.” Wesley Biblical Seminary – PM 712. (class notes)

“Contraception.” http://www.rockforlife.org/know_contraception.php

“Harms of Contraception, The.” http://www.omsoul.com/contraception-problems.php

Kreeft, Peter. “Pro-Life Logic”. http://www.peterkreeft.com

_____. “Pro-Life Philosophy”. http://www.peterkreeft.com

Lewis, C. S. The Abolition of Man. San Francisco: HarperCollins Pushlishers, 2001.

Lowdermilk, Deitra Leonard et al., ed. Maternity & Women’s Health Care. St. Louis: Mosby, Inc., 2000.

Neuhaus, Richard John. The Eternal Pity. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2000.

“Pill – How It Works and Fails, The.” http://www.pfli.org/faq_oc.html

“Some Church Teachings about Natural Family Planning.” http://ccli.org/nfp/morality/churchteaching.php

FOOTNOTES OF THE ORIGINAL TEXT

1either a combination of estrogen and progestin (more common) or progestin only (less common)

2NOTE: Miscarriages in general are also termed “spontaneous abortions”.

3Such an approach is illustrative of the Roe v. Wade court ruling (i.e., “the mystery of human life”).

4It should be noted that most biologists today no longer argue that human life does not begin at conception and that most advocates for the “pro-choice” position today argue simply from the perspective that it remains a woman’s right to choose, whether or not human life has, in fact, been conceived.

5Intelligibility and deliberateness are here key.

6Bettenson, 442-443.

7Ibid., 443-444.

8See especially the basis of Lewis’s argument in The Abolition of Man.

9Neuhaus, 116-120. (“I Want to Burden My Loved Ones” by Gilbert Meilaender)

10“Christian Ethics”, class notes.


The Word Best Heard?

Just as the worlds were not written into existence but rather were spoken into being, so also should we hear the Word and not merely see it.

-Me via Twitter

— — —

Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis, pen in hand

Over the course of the last few days, I’ve been reading C. S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, Alister McGrath’s 2013 biography of the celebrated Oxford don and (obvious to those who know me remotely well) my own favorite writer. Though I’ve read much (if not most) of his work and not a few biographies of his life (even his own Surprised by Joy), I’m finding myself struck anew by Lewis’s emphasis on the voiced word–– his insistence that literature is most fittingly to be heard not simply read.

Since Trinity Sunday, our congregation has been walking through the Old Testament together, and for the last couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at the Psalms. (This coming Sunday, I plan to preach from perhaps my personal favorite: the 121st.) Back on task… This past Sunday, preaching on the 113th (a more obscure one [intentionally] than that of the previous Sunday: the 23rd), I encouraged our congregation to make use of the Psalms (i.e., the Bible’s prayerbook and “hymnal”) in a three-fold manner:

  1. Use the Psalms daily.
  2. Use the Psalms audibly.
  3. Use the Psalms prayerfully.

Having had my curiosity piqued by Lewis’s encouragement toward hearing the sound of a literary work, I’ve made a few theological/biblical observations of late…

  • Concerning the story of creation… God spoke. Further, He dialogued.
  • Concerning the prophets of Israel/Judah… They proclaimed the word of Yahweh primarily, recording it in writing generally only secondarily.
  • Concerning the ministry of Rabbis… They generally taught disciples rather than write books.
  • Concerning the life of Jesus… He was never known to have written anything but perhaps a few cryptic words in the dirt. (His disciples also considered Him a Rabbi.)
  • Concerning the Gospel of Christ… It was proclaimed long before it was written.  In fact, upon seeing the Resurrected Lord, Mary Magdalene was instructed to go and tell the disciples, not to go and record her findings and thoughts.

What does all of this mean? I have no idea at this point. Perhaps it all only points to odd and bygone phenomena of an ancient time and culture. Nonetheless, my attention has been grabbed.

— — —

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:

How beautiful are the feet of those

Who preach the gospel of peace,

Who bring glad tidings of good things!

-St. Paul to the Romans

(10:14-15; cf. Isaiah 52:7 and Nahum 1:15)


Hip to the Jive, Yo!

I’m currently reading Hipster Christianity by Brett McCracken which –so far– has been a thoroughgoing and thoughtful trek through the origins and significance of ‘Christian Hipsterdom‘.  Over the course of the last few days, I’ve made my way through the first two sections, which have covered the history and meaning of the concept ‘cool’ and that of cool Christianity respectively, and I’m soon to make my way out into testy waters of the final section, which seems to be a judgment –so to speak– of both the benefits and detriments of ‘hipness’ in the Church, hopefully offering suggestive whispers of “a way forward” and whatnot.

Up to this point, I’ve enjoyed the book.  I’ve found myself audibly laughing [mockingly?] about some of what I’ve read only to then be insightfully delighted by other portions.  I’m trying to read as objectively as possible, which –as always– is proving to be an impossibly difficult [though nobly beneficent] task when grappling with a concept about which one holds personal opinions.  All in all, however, this book is proving –so far– to be helpful, insightful, challenging, encouraging, and so much more.  Will you like it?  Perhaps.  Will you be annoyed by it?  Perhaps.  Do I recommend it?  Indeed.

In sum, I’m personally working through the following thoughts, some of which are directly attributable to the epically-named McCracken, others of which are perhaps only logically consequential, though that’s probably debatable:

  1. Coolness is dependent upon uniqueness.
  2. The search for ‘coolness’ is a constant search for being non-derivative.
  3. Almost everything is necessarily derivative, for everything under the sun is logically dependent.
  4. One could make the case that only God is, therefore, cool, for only God is logically independent and therefore non-derivative.
  5. However, if God is trinity [And He is!] and if the Son is begotten of and the Spirit proceeds from the Father [And They are/do!] and if the Father is the Fount of Deity [And He is!], then it seems incumbent to recognize that the first Person of the Blessed and Holy Trinity is the most cool — all other coolness being howsoever derivative [really?!] of His soley-original coolness.
  6. And yet, all things bear within themselves the potentiality of coolness insofar as all things are uniquely themselves.  For example, the Son is neither the Father nor the Spirit, nor is there any other eternally-begotten of the Father [Before all worlds!].  The case can then be made that the Son is also truly and uniquely cool [redundant perchance?].
  7. Coolness is indeed a difficult [and profound?] subject, inherently and –therefore– inevitably filled with qualifications and exceptions.

What just happened?


How I make ribs…

It’s Labor Day weekend. College football is kicking off. [Georgia plays tonight! Go, DAWGS!] I made ribs yesterday. I haven’t posted in quite a while. [I’ve been suffering from a bit of BD (i.e., bloggers disfunction). The ideas are there; they just haven’t been substantiating. Ugh.]

For all of the above reasons (and, perhaps, more), it’s time to talk about barbecue. Ribs are what I prefer barbecuing. So, here goes…

Yesterday's batch along with a mess of home-made macaroni and cheese.

Yesterday’s batch along with a mess of home-made macaroni and cheese.


First things first: pork, not beef. I’ve made beef ribs, and they end up tasting alright enough but are just too “greasy” and chewy. Stick with pork. It’s easier to manage, tastier, and just downright better.

Furthermore, I’m unwaveringly adamant that if one wants to prepare a proper slab of ribs, one must smoke them. There’s no way around it – smoking is the way to go, even if you don’t have a “smoker” in your outdoors arsenal.

Now for the recipe: the following dry rub is enough to cover a couple of slabs unless you’re the stingy-on-the-seasoning type. If that’s the case, sure, you could make this work for three slabs.

my dry rub:

1 cup of brown sugar

1 tablespoon of sea salt

2 tablespoons of dried oregano leaves (or you can use fresh leaves, chopped)

1/4 of a teaspoon of ground mustard seeds

1/4 of a teaspoon of garlic powder

1/4 of a teaspoon of onion granules (or you can use powder)

1/4 of a teaspoon of celery salt

1/2 of a teaspoon of ground coriander seeds

50 “turns” of freshly-ground black peppercorns

The sauce will come in handy toward the end of the cooking process but should definitely be prepared ahead of time so as to have plenty of time to “marry” and cool off.

my barbecue sauce:

29 ounces of tomato sauce

6 ounces of tomato paste

1/2 of a cup of apple cider vinegar

10 tablespoons of yellow mustard

30 shakes of Worcestershire sauce (preferably Lea & Perrins)

50 shakes of Tabasco Sauce

5 tablespoons of honey (preferably something local)

1 1/2 cups of sugar

3 tablespoons of sea salt

1 handful of garlic salt

1 handful of onion salt

50 “turns” of freshly-ground black peppercorns

[Combine over heat and simmer for half an hour or so, stirring often.]

I generally prepare the ribs the night before I plan to smoke them – cutting the slabs in half, applying the rub generously, wrapping each half-rack separately in heavy duty aluminum foil, and refrigerating over-night.

On the day of the smoke, I take the ribs out and bring them to room-temperature. Then I begin preparing my smoking vessel. I have a traditional charcoal/wood smoker, but I often just use my large kettle grill. Either is fine for smoking as long as you have room for the meat to hang out indirect from the fire. If you have room for this, you also have room for a moisture source. [See the bowl behind/under the ribs in the first three photos below.]

I generally start my fire using natural chunk-charcoal, adding wood (oak, hickory, cherry, or apple, but definitely not mesquite) once the fire’s burning well and then throughout the cooking process.

While they’re cooking, I check the ribs roughly every hour – adding more wood as needed, rearranging the ribs if necessary (N. B. hotspots), and adding more liquid if necessary.

Believe it or not, no sauce has yet been added and they already look this gorgeous.

Believe it or not, no sauce has yet been added and they already look this gorgeous.

After a couple of hours or so of cooking, you’ll know when the ribs almost done as a couple of things should be happening:

  • the meat will have pulled in from the tips of the bone, leaving bare about half an inch of bone

  • the half slabs bend significantly (the meat barely pulling apart) when lifted with tongs

Please keep in mind that properly cooked ribs should best be described as “pull-off-the-bone” not “fall-off-the-bone” – according to my preferences, at least.

If grease (or, melted fat) touches fire, flare-ups are sure to follow.  Manage your ribs carefully, folks.

If grease (or, melted fat) touches fire, flare-ups are sure to follow. Manage your ribs carefully.

Once these two phenomena occur, I begin applying the barbecue sauce I prefer to apply it as a glaze in layers. Rather than just dumping on a bunch of sauce, I lightly apply a single coat at a time, allowing the ribs to continue cooking while each layer caramelizes and “gets friendly with” the ribs. Depending on how the ribs are looking, I will apply anywhere from 2-4 thin layers of sauce as they finish smoking.

No doubt: delicious and delectable.

No doubt: delicious and delectable.

Once the ribs are finished cooking, I let them rest for 10-15 minutes before cutting them into single ribs. To be sure, though serving the half-slabs together is impressive, cutting them down makes for a nice presentation of the bright pink smoke-ring and makes for easier handling throughout your delightful consumption.

Holy pork! Look at that smoke-ring!  [not even edited in the least]

Holy pork! Look at that smoke-ring! [not even edited in the least]


John Wesley’s accountability questions…

A short and “loose” background: John Wesley formulated this list sometime before 1729-1730 (when they were first published) to be used by his accountability group, which was mockingly called “the Holy Club” by fellow students who thought that he, his brother (Charles), and their friends took their accountability too seriously.

  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
  2. Do I confidentially pass on to others what has been said to me in confidence?
  3. Can I be trusted?
  4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?
  5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
  6. Did the Bible live in me today?
  7. Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?
  8. Am I enjoying prayer?
  9. When did I last speak to someone else of my faith?
  10. Do I pray about the money I spend?
  11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
  12. Do I disobey God in anything?
  13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
  14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
  15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
  16. How do I spend my spare time?
  17. Am I proud?
  18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican?
  19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
  20. Do I grumble or complain constantly?
  21. Is Christ real to me?