Saturday, May 12, 2012

Random acts of kindness

Grace doesn't always come in huge extravagant ways, yet it is always huge and always extravagant.
Love isn't always loud, yet always speaks volumes.
Service doesn't always get you noticed, but it rarely goes unnoticed.
Life should be lived this way. A collection of small graces, of loves, of service.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Trouble with Onan

   An interesting debate arose a few days ago, to which I have been meaning to respond to, but life moves on whether or not a biblical discussion is occurring, and I have gotten behind. The conversation was about the use of contraception and how that relates to being a Christian.
   I knew immediately when the conversation took place that Genesis 38:9 would come up. I knew, because I have been in the church long enough to see this verse used to defend a lot of different issues, including people's views on masturbation.
   For those of you who are unfamiliar the verse is as follows "But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother." 
   The trouble with Onan is, that this isn't really a verse that is talking about masturbation or contraception at all.
   When studying the Bible, we use a method called exegesis, exegesis comes from a Greek word meaning "to lead out". Basically it means you examine a text and you get the meaning of the text out of it. This isn't restricted to Biblical texts, it applies to any text, you examine a text and then you form ideas from that text. This is how scripture is meant to be studied. The word was given to us, that we might read it, examine it, digest it, and our lives and views would be formed by it. The issue is, most of us don't do that.
    Most of us are guilty of the opposite, which is called eisegesis. This is the opposite of exegesis, thus it means to read into a text. Basically, we have a view, and we take the text and we use it to support our already formed view on an issue. 
     This happens very often when you see someone use a variety of single verse from the Bible to defend a view they have... any view, versus placing those verses in their proper literary and historical context and then drawing a view from there.
     With the verse about Onan, this is a classic case of eisegesis. Why? Because this one verse being pulled out to support a view of not masturbating or to not use contraception, is not only isolating a verse out of it's literary context, I fear it is missing the point of this narrative all together. 
     I would say that this story is not about his semen spilling on the ground, as much as it is a story of injustice towards a widow. 
     Thus, we must first look at the fact that his wife, Tamar was a widow, and understand the historical implications of that. Widows in the world at that time, had no rights. They could not own land, they could not speak for themselves in court, they could not work. Widows were at the mercy of the men in their lives. This is not uncommon for a patriarchal society like the one structured in this part of Genesis. 
      When Tamar's first husband died, it left her homeless and without any way for her needs to be provided for.  
      God cares for widows. This is clear by the fact that the word "widow" shows up in scripture at least 108 times. It's an overarching theme in scripture that God cares for widows, and because of that, a system was put into place for widows to be cared for.
     This system is the system of a kinsman-redeemer, or in Hebrew a goel. Deuteronomy 25:5-6 spells this out "If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel."
        The system of kinsman-redeemer is what is occurring with Onan and Tamar in the Genesis passage. Her husband has died, and in order to be provided for, his unmarried brother is to marry her, and have a son that is not his, but his brothers. Thus, the land the older brother owned, would go to this son, and insure that Tamar would be cared for.
       The problem is, Onan didn't want a child that was his brothers. He was selfish. In this text it appears that he is denying his wife by spilling his seed on the ground, not because all of us for all of history are not supposed to prevent having children, but because preventing Tamar from having children in this specific time and place, was not just denying her children, but her ability to survive. She would have no way of feeding herself, she would have no where to live, she could very likely die, because Onan wronged her. 
       God's commands are clear, to love widows and care for them, because God loves us all. Onan disobeyed that commandant. I would also say, that this verse does not seem to be alluding to masturbation at all, but rather withdrawal... thus, Onan was getting sexual pleasure from someone he did not love or care for. She was being used, over and over and over again, with Onan having no regard for her or her future. He did not love her, he used her, and it is with this it seems that God is unhappy. It is for this unjust use of another person as an object with no regard for her well being that causes God anger, and causes Onan's death. 
       To pull this verse out of this context is to miss the justice application for our lives. This is so much bigger than "did you masturbate?... oh shame on you..." But rather it is about our treatment of those around us. We may not forsake someone children, but are we hindering their well being through our selfishness and injustice? Are our actions causing others to be harmed?
       This view of the story also sits well with the context of scripture as a whole. There are only 6 references in scripture to semen at all. 5 of those are from Leviticus, and all of those have to do with cleanliness. Wash yourself after an emission, bathe after sex, wash clothing that has come into contact with semen... and honestly, these are all just good, healthy things to do, and to still do (have you ever slept in a hotel room? Would you want to sleep in their if the bedding hadn't been washed after it came into contact with semen? No? Me neither!) 
          In contrast, their are 108 verses talking about widows. Only 2 of those are from Leviticus, and there are many in the New Testament as well. Whereas, all the semen references are in the old. 
      Looking at scripture as a whole is a vitally important thing to do, as well as looking at the cultural and scriptural context. If we didn't do that... then we could go further in the story of Tamar to verses 13-16, and if our husband does not give us children, we would have justification to dress up as prostitutes, sit by the side of the road, and have sex with our father-in-laws in order to have children. 
        The story rings true for all of us though, to be just, to do what is right, and to not take advantage of other people. I think that this coincides with all of scripture, and what it means to be a Christian. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Weight Loss Wednesday (a day late): Finding Comfort in God vs. Food

    I had planned to write a blog post that was a break from the conversation of the last few days, and talk a bit about my journey with weightless. Being Wednesday, I thought it would be great to title it "Weight Loss Wednesday" for alliterations sake, but alas I was crazy busy, and opted to read a bit vs. writing. Sometimes you just have to choose your priorities for the moment.
    Speaking of priorities, that brings me to my whole journey with weight loss!
    For those of you who knew me in college, you remember me at my very thinnest and most healthiest. I rode my bike everywhere, I walked all the time, I never took the elevator. Yes, those were the glory days. Then life happened, and the stress of life came with it.
     Like many of us, I am an emotional eater. I love to eat when I am sad, happy, upset, etc.... you've heard the whole story before by countless others. Through new job, move to another state, new relationship, breakup, lost job, move to another state, new relationship, unemployment, new job, move to another state, break up, back together, break up again, new relationship, new job, move to another state, engagement, planning a wedding, adding a second job... yes the last 5 years has been this crazy insane and stressful. In between the crazy and stressful parts, there is a lot of office work, and a whole ton of pizza (I am a youth pastor after all).
      The sad part is, food is never truly as emotionally satisfying as you think it's going to be, and though that whole tub of ice cream seems like a great way to spend a day after a breakup... it really doesn't help that much at all.
     This year, I topped out the scale at a whopping 188.8 pounds, which is the heaviest I've ever been in my life. It didn't freak me out much, and I wasn't all that surprised. And honestly, I have never really cared that much about what the number on a scale says, but I realized something had to change.
       That's where "Made to Crave" by Lisa Tyrkeust comes in. I HIGHLY recommend this book. I do not agree with all of her theology, for the record, and I am not a fan of pulling scripture out of context, but I do agree with the message in the book.
        The message is basically this, we are created to crave and long for God, if we are filling our lives with other things for comfort, and not depending on God for our comfort, we need to reevaluate and change our lives.
        For whatever reason, it made perfect sense, the issue isn't the number on the scale, the issue isn't my dress size, the issue is my attitude towards food and how that relates to my relationship with God.
        I am all about holistic living. I think there is a reason holy is the base of that word, because in order to be holy, to have our lives lined up with the life God wants for us, we have got to have every aspect of our lives in tune to what is best for us, our physical bodies, our emotional well being, our spiritual being.... all of it. We would like to say "Jesus saved me, and that's good enough", but I don't really think it is. Jesus wants us to have life abundantly, now, and honestly, making unhealthy decisions with food consistently, and not exercising is not living life abundantly.
      People ask me all the time if I am losing weight for the wedding, and I constantly have to explain that I am not, that I am living a healthy life because that is what I am called to do, that's the type of person I am called to be. Someone that loves me, like God loves me, someone who cares for God's creation (which includes myself), and someone who finds comfort and meaning in God, not in a tub of ice cream.
     So, after all of this, I am as of today down to 175.2 pounds, which is pretty amazing, but what's more amazing is, I feel better. I know people say that, but I do. I am also learning each and every day that when I desire something to make me feel better, that I should go to God first, depend on Him first for comfort, and then I usually find I don't need the chocolate cake after all.
     Oh, and P.S.~ People ask me all the time "How do you do it?" And I really think they are waiting for me to say "oh I just drink this!" or "oh I just meditate." or some other sort of magic easy answer, but really it is just counting calories and moving more than I eat... it's not that hard on paper, but it takes a lot of hard work. That's another issue I'll get into another day, that God has called us to a life of discipline... So that will be on the docket for next Weight Loss Wednesday... or Thursday :)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

NOT reasons we are getting married

     My fiancĂ© and I both attended a small private Christian university. This may have been evident by the fact that I am a full time minister, and you usually don't go to a big ten school to study ministry. For the most part our experience was great, we made lots of great friends, were taught by great professors, and were challenged about a lot of things.
    That being said, there are a few things we disagree with, one of those being the overwhelming amount of pressure to get married. Don't hear me wrong, we had nothing against marriage, or getting married. We do have an issue, however, with pressure to get married. We think this creates a whole bunch of issues, from people getting married to young, to the wrong person, etc.
      It is ok to be single. It is ok to not get married at all (Paul even said it's better for you to not be married). It is also ok to wait to get married until you are sure this is the decision you should be making.
    One year, we were subjected to an entire semester long chapel series on marriage, where they continually said "Someday you will get married", which seemed presumptuous, and I felt the entire thing just added to the pressure to have a ring by spring. The divorce rate from our school is insanely high (I know more people from college who are divorced, than those who married their high school sweethearts from my high school... Truthfully). There has got to be a reason behind that, and maybe we should start having chapel series on poor or bad reasons to get married, and on that it is ok to be single, vs. pushing for marriage and ending up with lots of divorces.
      That being said, I have compiled a list of things that are NOT reasons we are getting married. Because we have seen people get married for these reasons, and it has not ended well (not always in a divorce.... sometimes it just takes a lot more hard work to overcome, and we applaud those who work hard, but are saddened that such heartache was unnecessary).
1) We are not getting married to have sex. Sex is a great addition to married life. It is a blessing and something to be cherished by 2 people who have a life long commitment, however, when it is treated as a means to an end, it can leave people with unrealistic expectations, and disappointment. I understand that the desire to have sex can be strong and overwhelming at times, but you do not want to wake up after having your desire fulfilled and no longer want the person next to you. You should marry someone you want to be with, whether or not sex is involved, because love isn't selfish. Love isn't about what you get out of it, it's about giving to another person. Honestly, if we never have sex, I will still want to be with him, because I love him, and the joy he brings to my life. The rest is just very good commentary.
2) We are not getting married so we don't break up. If your options are "get married or break up" please choose the latter. Marriage is not a magic wand that fixes your issues, in fact it is probably more like a magnifying glass that shows them more. If your issues are so severe that you are contemplating not being together, you just shouldn't be together.
3) We are not getting married because it's the next thing on a check list of things to do in life. Yes, we both want to get married. Yes, we have both dreamed of being married and having kids long before we met each other, but we don't think that is a good reason to get married. The type of things you check off a checklist are laundry, paying bills, going to the grocery store, not choosing a life mate. Getting married or having a relationship with someone should be a beautiful addition to your life, something that brings color, excitement, adventure, and yes sometimes danger, not something that you have a time line for. If you aren't married when you are "supposed to be" you are just going to feel bad about yourself when you have no reason to.
4) We are not getting married because everyone is doing it. We understand that most of our friends are married with children (remember that whole christian school thing.... yeah, a lot of people get married at 22 or 23... or 19). We are 27, we'll be 28 when we get married, and while at times watching our friends have babies and celebrate their 5 year anniversary has had us feeling behind at times, at the end of the day we realize that is silly. Everyone has a different path in life, one is not better than another, they are just different. It's what you do with the life you have been given that is important. While we were single, we traveled, went to more schooling, experienced a whole bunch of things that would be hard to do with children tagging along. Just because everyone else is doing something is almost always a bad reason to do something... remember, don't give in to peer pressure.
5) We are not getting married because we are destined for each other. We don't believe in "the one". Why? Because I am choosing to be with him, and he is choosing to be with me, and there is something so much more romantic and loving about someone forsaking all others because they want to, and not because the stars aligned just right so they had to. Love is love because it is a choice, not because there is some dictation to do something. We love each other, and we are choosing to be together. We are choosing to forsake all others and be by each other's sides forever. It involves sacrifice, and that is the type of love story we really want to live.
6) We are not getting married because I only have so long before my uterus dries up. My ability, or his ability, to bear children is not part of the deal. We are marrying each other, for each other, not for our baby making abilities. The value of a person is not measured by their ability to have children. Even if we can not have our own biological children, we still choose to be together, because we want to be together, and we love each other, no matter what. Do we want children? Yes, and we would be sad if like so many others we are infertile, but we are committing to walk with each other through life, no matter what that means. Part of that is grieving together, and discovering a new and different life than the one we thought we were going to have.
7) We are not getting married because we believe that marriage means happily ever after. We are fully aware that marriage is hard work (our dating and engaged relationship hasn't always been easy.... and I imagine if he leaves this many dirty dishes in my sink now, before we live together... I will only be more annoyed when we do). We understand that marriage is more like a fruit tree that needs to be nurtured, and pruned over time, than a magic bean pole that sprouts up over night. It's not easy, it's not always comfortable, and it's sometimes a struggle. It means putting someone else's needs and desires before your own, it means putting your own dreams on hold sometimes to support someone else's, but we also believe that hard work bears fruit. That the joy that comes from self less love, always outweighs the selfish side of things. That together we will be able to accomplish so much more for the Kingdom of God, than we ever could separate. We know that we will laugh more, push each other to do more, and always have someone to lean on. So, maybe this one we do believe, that marriage does mean happily ever after.... if you work and sacrifice for it. Because sometimes the best things in life, are things worth sacrificing for.

So there you have it, folks! The 7... or rather 6 reasons, that are not reasons we are getting married (say that 6 times fast!)