January 7, 2010
Andy Crouch (author of Culture-Making) recently wrote a review of Amy Julia’s book, Penelope Ayers: A Memoir:
The same words [funny, gritty, and strangely hopeful - just what a Christian memoir should be] could apply to the biggest surprise of my reading in 2009, a self-published memoir by Amy Julia Becker, Penelope Ayers. This book might seem to have everything against it. “Self-published” is usually another way of saying “self-indulgent.” The subject, the death of the author’s mother-in-law from cancer, is so common that … every editor has a pile of unusable manuscripts from people trying to capture the experience of accompanying a loved one through illness unto death. Usually they fall into unintentional clichés, sentimentality, and too much detail.
But Penelope Ayers is written with an unerring voice, a keen eye for hard and beautiful truth, and almost no false notes. Especially significant is the way that Amy Julia (whom I met this fall through a mutual friend) manages to weave honest reflections about faith into the story without in any way giving in to Christianese or insider platitudes. This is one book a Christian could give to a non-believing friend and say, “This is what it’s like to believe, from the inside.” We’ll be hearing more from Amy Julia Becker – perhaps, with any luck, in 2010.
To read the article in full, click here.
January 7, 2010
The New York Times reports this week that approximately six million Americans survive exclusively on the support provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps (Living on Nothing but Food Stamps). While scripture reminds us to “not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27, NIV), the records of the early church show that the apostles believed giving food assistance to those in need was a core component of the Christian life. Soon after Christ’s ascension, he apostles realized that they had been so busy distributing food to widows and children that they were neglecting the spiritual side of their ministry. Rather than ending their charitable work, they asked the group to “choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:3-4, NIV). The legacy of these seven, known as the first deacons, persists in many Christian churches. May we remember that providing food to those in need is an essential witness of Christ’s presence in the world that is particularly needed today.
December 10, 2009
Jennifer Senior’s recent article, The Abortion Distortion assumes that all New Yorkers (or at least the vast majority of readers of New York Magazine) are pro-choice, and ardently so. She mentions the recent “devastating anti-abortion amendment to the House’s health-care-reform bill.” She lauds New York City as a place “where access to abortion is plentiful and unconstrained.”
It is because Senior assumes she is writing for a pro-choice audience that she goes beyond common pro-choice arguments to the complicated moral ground surrounding abortion. Senior interviews and observes real people dealing with the real, messy, heart-wrenching reality that having an abortion means ending a life. She relates that many abortion counselors and providers, “will tell you that the political discourse they hear about the subject, with its easy dichotomies and bumper-sticker boilerplate, has little correspondence with the messy, intricate stories of patients.”
It’s easy for the pro-choice movement to employ reductionist arguments that ignore the human cost of abortion. And it would be easy here to quote Bible passages to support pro-life positions. And yet, the article prompts similar reflection on the pro-life side of the debate. What are the complicated socio-economic, spiritual, and psychological realities that pro-life politics fails to appreciate? Psalm 68 declares:
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families … NIV.
How might Christians, especially pro-life Christians, better understand the complicated, messy morality surrounding abortion? How might we be a part of God’s work to be father to the fatherless, to set the lonely in families?
December 7, 2009
“What is a good marriage? How good is good enough?” asks Elizabeth Weil in Married (Happily) With Issues [New York Times]. To improve their marriage, Elizabeth and her husband Daniel consulted Oprah’s recommendations and psychology books. Her conclusion? Our culture suffers from “a misapprehension of the proper goal” of marriage - it should not be about wish fulfillment but rather about ”its capacity to allow spouses to keep growing, to afford them the strength and bravery required to face the world.”
Although I agree with her that we suffer from a misapprehension of marriage’s proper goal, I don’t think she properly characterized what that proper goal is. In Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas asks, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” This rhetorical question highlights our misapprehension of God’s design for the proper goal of marriage. God designed marriage when he created Adam and then, from Adam, created Eve. He said: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, ESV). Paul explained: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32, ESV). Since marriage is patterned after Christ’s covenant relationship to the church, therefore, the highest meaning and the most ultimate purpose of marriage is to put that covenant relationship on display. Marriage exists to glorify God. If you are married, that is why you are married.
December 3, 2009
As a culture, we seem to be perpetually surprised by the enduring fact that the human mortality rate is 100%. That is to say, we all die. And, although there are points to debate on both sides of the issue, the recent uproar over mammogram screening guidelines underscores the fact that we, as a culture, do not know how to think about mortality (see TIME’s “The Mammogram Melee“). In fact, we want not to think about death, and we try to avoid those thoughts by ensuring a healthier and healthier society with the unspoken hope that one day none of us will have to die after all. As TIME reports, “[We] still subscribe to the view that every life is worth saving, no matter the cost, and that when it comes to prevention, screening is always good and more is always better.” If one life can be saved as a result of thousands of mammograms, do it – risks and price tag be damned.
But the prophet Isaiah reminds us, ” The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:7-9, NIV).
Modern medicine is a gift, and detecting cancer early is a good thing most of the time. But here in America we rely on medicine to save us instead of understanding our mortality –that we are grass–in the light of God’s goodness. A Christian perspective upholds the goodness of the physical world and even of physical health and well-being. And yet it also affirms the transience of life under God’s providential care.
December 2, 2009
Here are two interesting articles that I commend to you for discussion:
December 1, 2009
On Thanksgiving day, along with 3 million other people, I ventured out onto the streets of Manhattan to watch the 83rd Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. As I stood and watched the enormous floats pass by and relished in the seasonal cheer, I was continually distracted by the people around me – one family in particular. The family consisted of a husband and wife with 2 small children, the youngest child being a small baby less than one year old. The baby continued screaming and crying for nearly the entire hour I was standing next to them while the mom – to no avail – tried to coax and appease her.
Instead of being annoyed or frustrated by the crying baby, I suddenly felt empathy for the mother. As she continued to point out the large, beautiful floats passing by and the other attractions of the parade, the baby continued screaming. The young child thought she knew best. She didn’t want to be at the parade no matter how much of a treat or novelty it was deemed by anyone else.
I was reminded of my behavior towards God when He puts experiences or opportunities in my life that I personally decide aren’t best for me. He, as a loving Father, tries to gives us nice things only to receive in return our grumbling, crying, and screaming. In Isaiah 55:8
, we see God warning us of this. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.
It’s so easy to recognize the outlandish behavior of a crying screaming baby at the Thanksgiving Day Parade. I hope for God to continue bringing my similarly outlandish behavior before me.
November 30, 2009
During my senior year of college, I spent an entire semester fastidiously choosing the perfect combination of color, size and style typeface for my design portfolio to present to potential employers. For most, who are unfamiliar or have never been trained in design, this would seem to be a vain effort. Michael Bierut, a partner in the Pentagram design group in New York, however, would not see my labor as fruitless. When describing an ill-fitted font that was chosen for a church in Cape May Point, New Jersey, Mr. Bierut said, “I wouldn’t choose it as a font for St. Agnes Church even as a joke. Every time I go by, my vacation is, for a moment, ruined.” [New York Times, Mistakes in Typography Grate the Purists
Ruined. That’s exactly how I feel sometimes. I can’t pass by any sort of billboard or advertisement without critiquing the selected font, size, color, and style. I don’t think in the same manner as I once did because I now have a much deeper understanding of the true beauty of design.
I often feel the same way about being a Christian. I am ruined. I have been enlightened to the true beauty of the Gospel and can no longer view the world as I did before becoming a Christian. In 1 Corinthians 13:11
, Paul describes feeling the same way: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”
When you think of your life as a Christian now in comparison to five years ago, do you feel ruined? If so, what a glorious ruin it is!