The Civil Reader–15 May 2012

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Civil Reader.  Since Mother’s Day was on Sunday (I had a wonderful one; thanks for asking!), I thought I would start by sharing a couple of blogs on the subject.

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How to Miss a Childhood

As someone who struggles to always be “present” for my children, I needed this little reminder.  Greg and I were just talking today about how we sometimes fear that our smart phones and the internet are rewiring our brains and making it impossible to just sit still and “be” for more than a few minutes.  Reading this blog gave me inspiration in my fight against internet distraction, and I reaped the benefits this week.  For example, I let Anna watch a video on my phone in the carpool line this afternoon.  Usually, I grow quickly bored without something to read, but today, I just adjusted the rearview mirror to watch her face while she watched the screen…and let me tell you, that was the real show.  I learned that, when watching a video, Anna’s brow furrows into a slight frown of concentration for most of the program, interrupted only by short, fleeting smiles or completely abrupt bursts of quick laughter, which meld back into her concentration frown almost as quickly as they come.  I spent the fifteen minutes of her video just marveling at the complexity of her features.  What a gift she is!

Where is the Mommy-War for the Motherless Child? by Kristen Howerton at Rage Against the Minivan

Kristen wrote this in response to the controversial Time magazine cover.  Only an excerpt from the blog itself will do it justice

I don’t much care if you breastfed your kid until they started kindergarten, or if you fed them formula from day one. I don’t really care if you turned your infant car-seat forward-facing prior to age 2, or if you homeschool, or if you send your kids to daycare while you go to work. Do you cosleep? Did you circumcise your son? I DON’T CARE.  Do you babywear? Push your kid around in a stroller? Use a leash for your kid at Disneyland?  Whatever.  Good for you.

When it comes to issues of motherhood, there is one issue I care about: some kids don’t have one.

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On the Bible front, I enjoyed the following three articles

Let Them Both Grow Together, by Richard Beck at Experimental Theology

If I’ve ever heard a sermon on the parable of the weeds, I have forgotten it.  Thus, the story is always a treasure to find on my tours through the Bible.  It doesn’t take much to make this story come to life, because it really speaks for itself, but I like Beck’s thoughts here.  His one misstep, in my opinion, is when he makes a small, misguided attempt to label weeds–something the parable seems to speak against.  But I can understand the impulse; I think it is part of human nature to want to classify.  I, particularly, should have been a Victorian (hello, binomial nomenclature!) because I love the idea of separating things into parts and organizing them by kind.  Thus, I am naturally prone to applying such labels as “wheat” and “chaff.”  Maybe that’s why I find Jesus’ words here to be so instructive.

We are the Pharisees, by Jenny Rae Armstrong

When I first read Luke Timothy Johnson’s description of the Pharisees a few years ago, I was immediately filled with sympathy for them.  After all, unlike most of the Israelites in the Old Testament, the Pharisees were zealous for the Law and passionate about keeping it.  Honestly, if I didn’t have Jesus’ words to contradict them, I would probably think they were right on, based on my understanding of the Law from reading the OT.  I mean, keeping the particulars of the Law was important to God.  Think Uzzah.  Think Nadab and Abihu.  Think Moses’ blessings and curses.  The Pharisees probably worked harder at staying between the lines than any generation before them.  And yet…they missed it.  My sympathy for them is part of what made Jenny Armstrong’s article resonate with me.  I think we naturally have such a knee-jerk defensiveness when it comes to being described as a Pharisee that  we immediately dismiss it.  To do so, however, misses the many important lessons that they can teach us.  They are more than just mustache-twirling cartoons.

God Behaving Badly, Part One, by Frank Viola (an interview with David Lamb)

I was excited to see this interview, as Lamb’s book, God Behaving Badly, is on my must-read-soon list.  The full title is God Behaving Badly:  Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist, and Racist?  In this interview, Viola plays devil’s advocate and asks Lamb some tough questions about God’s behavior in the OT.  I even threw in a question of my own in the comments, and Lamb gave a helpful response.  There is also a part 2 of the series, which is also good.

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And lastly, here is a great read that is about so much more than the recent NC vote:

A Challenge to Both Sides of the Amendment One Debate, by Justin Lee at Crumbs from the Communion Table.

As a “Side B” Christian who “believes that the church has mishandled its response to homosexuality,” even as I affirm that the male/female relationship in marriage is God’s plan for sexuality, I really appreciated Justin Lee’s grace-filled response to Amendment One here.  I think he shares concepts that we all need to keep in mind during this election season and beyond.

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9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Molly on May 16, 2012 at 10:27 am

    I read Justin Lee’s post about the NC Amendments and then followed his link to an interview he did on Rachel Held Evans’s site. This part really stuck out for me:

    “From Dawn: Given all the nasty rhetoric that has been aimed at the LGBT community — and in that sense, at you personally — by Christian and Christian political leaders, what is it about Christianity itself that’s so compelling that you haven’t been turned off completely by so many of its messengers?

    One word: Jesus.

    The church is human, and we make mistakes. Sometimes we don’t represent God very well at all. But Jesus represented God perfectly as the incarnation of God. He loved the people his culture didn’t love, he interacted with people he wasn’t supposed to interact with, and he refused to distance himself from the people others called “sinners.” Jesus’ harsh words were aimed at the religious leaders of his day who, in their zeal for correct doctrine, were pushing people away from God. He didn’t run for office or yell at sinners through a bullhorn. He loved, healed, and fed people, and then he let them beat him and hang him on a cross.

    That’s my God.”

    Being Catholic, I get questions like that a lot – how can you be a part of a church that has always and continues to screw up as often as I breathe? I’ve never had a really answer for it other than because I love Jesus and I love his imperfect bride, the church. While I know Justin is talking about the larger church, I was really moved by his response. It not only reaches to the heart of my own struggle to love the church with all of its mistakes and self-inflicted wounds, but also challenges me to be a more perfect imitator of Christ by simply loving the person in front of me.

    Reply

    • I like that, too, Molly. On a sidenote, a Christian, it is sometimes hard not to get defensive when you hear others bashing “your people.” As tempted as I am to defend “us,” I try to save my breath for more important things, like living out the gospel.

      Reply

      • Posted by Molly on May 16, 2012 at 1:27 pm

        While I see your point, I do feel like there is a difference between defending ourselves because we feel attacked and explaining ourselves as a way to further the gospel. So many people genuinely have a beef with Christians and Christian leaders that keep them from accepting Jesus’ love. Providing a thoughtful and honest answer to their concerns is a way to showing them that the love of Jesus transcends even our very imperfect imitation of Christ. And so, while I may be expending my breath to do so, I think that it is a way of living out the gospel.

        Reply

  2. Posted by bekster081305 on May 16, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    I’m really not sure what to think about the “weeds” parable. I can see a lot of different explanations. However, something that came into my mind as I read the post was this verse (which has been in my mind a lot lately, actually):

    “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” —Romans 7:21

    It seems to me that the difference between what would be “weeds” and what would be “wheat” is not so clear. The two have got to be very close to each other; otherwise, what would be the trouble in pulling out the weeds as they spring up? I’m not sure what the other side of the analogy is exactly, but the thing I get from it is that those who are “good” are not fully good and those who are “evil” are not fully evil. There is a lot of grey area. Yes, I believe that there are those who are saved and those who are not saved, but we can’t just look at who is in the church and who isn’t in the church to figure that out. That would be too easy. (And how exactly would we define “church” anyway? The answer would be different depending on whoever we asked.) To fit with the parable, it has to be more complicated than that. Like I said, I don’t get it exactly. I only know that good and evil are intertwined in a way that they can’t be separated from each other until the end. As someone who tries to be “good” (well, someone who struggles to surrender her whole self so that Christ can make her good), I have to recognize that, despite my best efforts, “evil is right there with me.” Also, those who seem to be “evil” to me still probably have a kernel of goodness inside them, so I shouldn’t write them off as un-savable. (Of course, salvation doesn’t depend on our own goodness but on our willingness to admit our evilness and humbly accept God’s grace.)

    Reply

  3. Posted by bekster081305 on May 16, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    When I read the description of “God Behaving Badly” I thought it sounded incredibly interesting, and I was excited to read Lamb’s answers in the post. However, while actually reading them, I began to feel that he was taking the mystery away—and I still wasn’t quite satisfied with the explanations. I mean, yes, I think he made a lot of sense, but somehow it all just didn’t feel right to me. I guess the thing is that I am just used to trusting that God is good and that everything He does is just. I don’t feel like I need the explanations to feel good about putting my trust in Him. There are definitely times when I wish I had sufficient explanations for naysayers, but even then I know that people don’t come to God because of logic. It is a “feelings” thing for them too.

    Still, I would love to read the book.

    Reply

  4. Posted by bekster081305 on May 16, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    As for the Amendment One thing, I really loved the overall thought of Lee’s post. There are way to many knee-jerk reactions about homosexuality, and people on all sides of the issue need to be more loving to each other. However, even gaining more “understanding” about the issue won’t change the fact that the Bible clearly portrays homosexuality as a sin. Sure, gaining more understanding can help me to treat homosexuals with more compassion, and, even though I am not gay myself, there are other sins I struggle with about which we could commiserate. The thing is, though, I already think I have godly love for gay people. The problem is, at least in my experience, they won’t accept my love if I continue to see homosexuality as a sin. As much as I may wish the best for them and treat them with kindness and respect, anything I say that hints that their actions are wrong is viewed as hate. I totally agree, like you quoted “that the church has mishandled its response to homosexuality,” and I would say that I am on the fence about gay marriage from a political standpoint (I am feeling more and more that spiritual issues should be handled by the Church and not by politicians). I can even go along with the idea that they are “born that way” (just as the rest of us are born with the tendency to be tempted by other sins). But, I honestly don’t know what to do to get the homosexuals and their supporters to understand that I really do love them, even as I believe that their actions are wrong. I don’t know how to explain that the REALLY hateful, unloving thing would be to let them go on thinking that they are “okay” when, in actuality, their actions are coming between them and God. I’m not interested in taking away their rights and freedoms. I don’t believe that laws do anything to take away temptation (though, certainly, there are other reasons to have laws). But, on a personal level with these people, I can’t deny what I believe to be the truth about the matter. I just wish I knew how to communicate it in a way that let them know that they are still loved.

    Oh, and I really like what Molly quoted above from the Rachel Held Evans post. It really does all come down to Jesus.

    Reply

    • I am in near-total agreement with you (including the political side, and the idea of being born that way), Becky. And as fascinating an insight as the linked article provided into the psyche of a Christian gay person, I was specifically linking because of the overall graciousness of his view of his opponents, separate and removed from the “gay issue.” I would need to go back and reread the article–perhaps there is that suggestion that if only people had more information, they would agree with him. I don’t immediately remember it, though. For me, it just served as a reminder not to look at people as one-dimensional characters.

      Reply

      • Posted by bekster081305 on May 17, 2012 at 12:50 pm

        I agree that it is a good reminder. Just to clarify, though, this is where I got the idea about “understanding.” Lee says (emphasis his):

        “Is there a lot of prejudice in North Carolina against LGBT people? Absolutely there is. But it’s not, as some have imagined, just a matter of ‘bigoted homophobes.’ By and large, the prejudice that exists is a matter of a lack of understanding. Many of the folks I’ve talked to honestly believe that people choose to be gay and could choose not to be. They think that giving legal recognition to same-sex partnerships would increase the number of people choosing to be gay, and would therefore encourage more people to turn away from God’s plan for their lives. When they talk about homosexuality as a ‘perversion,’ they’re not trying to be bigoted or mean; they’re being quite literal about it.”

        Reply

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