Madonna, Abortion, and Capitalism

Living in a material world
And I am a material girl
You know that we are living in a material world
And I am a material girl

I don’t think Madonna knew just how accurate her words were when she sang Material Girl. Unfortunately, we are living in a material world and we are all quickly becoming material girls. In a market dominated culture, we are quickly commodifying all aspects of life.

The value of human life has been called into question in thousands of subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Pornography. Child prostitution. Sex slavery. Abortion. Euthanasia. Genocide. Beauty pageants.

The commodification of human life is a startling dark side of our materialist world. We are constantly grasping for the next great pleasure or satisfaction. We will stop at nothing, including the inconvenience of another’s life, to reach our dreams.

In a chilling article for Salon.com Mary Elizabeth Williams states:

Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.

She argues that the lifestyle of the mother trumps the baby. Every time. I will grant that she is among the more radical voice of the pro-choice side, but opinions like this are becoming more commonplace.

Once we enter the debate around which life has more value, we are finished as a civilized society. Subjective value is no value at all. If our value does not exist outside of ourselves, with the One Who Creates, then we are just cells or stardust, if you prefer. We are just another commodity to be traded; sex is just one tool of many, beauty is great because it gives you an advantage, children are just weaker parts of the society destined to be used, the elderly have nothing to give and have lost their worth.

We poke fun at the pc world we live in-every child needs to get an “A” so that they don’t get their feelings hurt, we only know how to have virtual relationships because we don’t talk face to face anymore. Yet, anti-depressants are the number 1 prescribed medicine in the United States to people between the ages of 18-44. Children as young as 12 are committing suicide. We chase after value that fades, value that can be achieved. We exist on a never ending cycle of achievement that is hollow and exhausting.

We have forgotten “I am.” (Exodus 3) The one who gives rest to the weary (Matthew 11:28). The one who declares his pleasure with us, that we are very good (Genesis 1: 31). We forget that we were worth dying for (Romans 5).

My thoughts on Sandy Hook

By now, most everyone has learned of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary. Unspeakable emotions course through my mind as I try to comprehend the reality that children were murdered at school. In the coming days, more details will come to light – perhaps the shooter himself suffered unspeakable horrors, but that will not make our grief any less pointed.

There are legitimate questions being posed, as is always the case when our fragile and temporary existence is shattered. Where is God in all of this? How can something like this happen to innocent children? What do we do about it? How do we prevent this from happening again?

To the questions of what do we do and how can we prevent this from happening again, I have no answer. There is nothing about this situation that makes sense. Comfort feels far removed, a mere intellectual idea rather than a living thing. As is true in many situations, a great irony abounds. In this time when we celebrate the birth of Immanuel, God with us, we feel far removed from God or that He is far removed from us.

Yet, God is with us. The anger, sadness, and unspeakable grief that we feel is a reflection of God’s anger, sadness, and grief. Deep in our souls we know that this is not right. This is not how a perfect world should operate.

In a move that can only be described as miraculous, Jesus came down to meet us in this mess. This world where children, learning their A, B, C’s are killed; where millions of people die because of disease and famine; where women and children are sold into slavery for the pleasure of others. This is the world that God entered. This is the world that God died for.

In times of grief when God seems most far away, we often find him closest to us. Not born in a palace, but in a foul-smelling manger. Not exalted high as victor, but lifted up to die on a cross – closer identifying himself with us as broken, needy people rather than the most holy God that he is. Yet, he emerges victorious. We are assured that death has been defeated. We serve a King who grieves with us and has assured us of the coming redemption and restoration; when children are no longer buried, when tears no longer flow, and when senseless actions are put to death. This is our hope right now. We cling to the God who came as the most innocent of children and now lives as the mightiest of Kings.

…Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

Road Rage and Flirting

Sometimes, I like being a girl. Sometimes, when I am caught in traffic I appreciate the fact that I can shamelessly make googly eyes at a guy and he’ll let me in the fast lane – because I’m a girl. Also, I have road rage.

You see, today I was cruisin’ in my tricked out 1999 Tahoe – my personal up-yours to the environment – young, wild, and carefree. All was right with the world, and then BAM! Traffic was at a dead-stop on the interstate.

Enter: Mr. Mitsubishi Man.

I, along with 20 of my closest friends were trying to merge into stopped traffic; good times I tell ya’. At this point, everyone is moving at the blistering rate of 1.333 mph. I. kid. you. not. I really did calculate it. Clearly, allowing 1 person to merge in front of you will really kill your chances of making it anywhere on time, or so thought Mr. Mitsubishi Man. He tailgated the bumper of the guy in front of him literally inches away, speeding up then slamming on his brakes so that no one could get in front of him. At this point I may or may not have let an explicative escape from my mouth. Then I called down curses on him that would make King David proud.

Obviously, this is an injustice worth righting. Each time my lane inched past Mr. Mitsubishi Man I smugly grinned in self-satisfaction. Mr. Mitsubishi Man and I had a nice long HOUR drive over a mile and a half during which (about 20 minutes in) I realized a few things:

1. I have road rage. bad. I mean, I was raging before I even got off the on-ramp.

2. My heart is seriously jacked up. Thoughts crossed through my mind that are not fit for print. In fact, it is so jacked up that I can go from cheery to rage in about .34235 seconds. You’d think being as awesome as I am (see points 3 and 4 below) that I would be able to hide these things better, but alas, that is not the case.

3. I’m super prideful. Naturally, because I allowed 1 car (1 car and 1 car only, mind you – don’t go trying to double dip on my generosity people) into my lane I was oh so much better than Mr. Mitsubishi Man. Seriously, I was pretty sure that Jesus would be in my passenger seat cheering me on with a big thumbs-up. Kudos if you just resisted the “Jesus take the wheel” comment I know you wanted to make.

4. I’m still struggling with the same sins that I did when I was 6. I actually thought  I wasn’t “that bad” and if I wanted to be perfect, I could totally do it. Cue lightening bolts. Funny how it is the little things, like traffic, that usually do me in.

5. I’m super thankful for grace and mercy because I need a whole stinking lot every single day. I’m also thankful that I don’t have an “I love Jesus” sticker on my car or anything equally horrific because if I didn’t believe in a totally sovereign God who is bigger than my mistakes and successes then I’m pretty sure half of Greenville county would not love Jesus because of me and my road rage.

So yeah, I’ve had this blog for less than a year and I already feel like we keep coming back to the same things: as a person, I suck; as a savior, Jesus is awesome.

Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes

Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes. Isn’t this how we so often feel? I want to speak truth, hard truth, but I’m scared because my voice will shake. How often have I wavered, hesitated or doubted the truth because my voice was shaking inside of me?

The courage to speak our convictions comes from something deeper and stronger than ourselves. If I was strong enough to convince myself, then I would not need God. I would actually know the price of my sin, both in my head and in my heart. I would feel it in my bones; God’s word would penetrate and pierce my joint and marrow, soul and spirit (Hebrews 4:12). Spend about 30 minutes with me and you will know that is not the case. I can’t even convince myself that what I want (ie: following my heart) is not what I want. Does that make sense? I know (head knowledge) that my heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9), but I still “want what I want.” I want to be skinnier, prettier, healthier, smarter, kinder, more athletic, etc. because I ascribe value to those attributes. I trust in them to give me worth, to make me happier. Any one over the age of 17 has at least sensed that these things are not true, if you have not already figured it out completely.

So what’s a girl to do? If I can’t convince myself of something that I know is true, how do I live it? Jeremiah 17:7-8 says:

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.

Confidence. Hope. God is our hope and confidence. period. I don’t have to be bothered by heat or worried by long months of drought. I am free to speak the truth because Truth produces fruit (Galatians 5:22-23). My confidence is not in my looks, abilities, reasoning skills or cunning – my hope is the Lord. He is the one who proclaims truth through me and will not be hindered by my own shortcomings, not the least of which is my shaking voice.

Make War

I just got back from my 4th weekend in a row out of town; 4 down, 2 to go! Most recently, I was on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas with the Fastzskie Family. I will write more on that soon. I am still processing through the question: what does it mean to live missionally in my daily life?

All of this traveling has made me realize the incredible freedom that I have right now. If I want to be gone for 6 weekends in a row, I can. However, this past week I was challenged to think is that really the best use of my time? Am I being selfish in how I spend my time? Do I love waking up at 8 on a Saturday, going for a run, reading a book or studying my Bible and then meeting up with a friend for dinner? – of course! But all of those activities are about me, often even my Bible study. I frequently find myself motivated because my “day feels right” or “I like the mental challenge” when I read my Bible – pathetic, I know. Bible study is not a ritual to make my day go better or make me feel good, but is an act of worship and a privilege to be in a relationship with a holy, holy, holy God and yet I still make it all about me. I am daily reminded of Paul’s words in Romans:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:15-25) (emphasis mine)

Does it get any clearer than that? I don’t think so. Paul clearly identifies the struggle I face daily. I can hardly resist (my 4th) Girl-Scout cookie on my own, much less follow the perfect, righteous standard of God. Even when my mind says “do this” or “don’t do that” something deeper inside of me draws me away from what I want.

Right now, time is one of my greatest assets and I want to use it wisely. I don’t want to create business for business sake, but I think I can be more intentional in my relationships. I have done a terrible job keeping up with friends from college and I have let down my 8th grade small group the past few months. I have not reached out to them like I should, not engaged them and tried to get to know them as individuals with unique struggles and joys. I let my own selfishness get the better of me.

I have become more of an introvert in recent years. In part, I think because I am no longer driven (as much) by people’s approval of me. However, I also think that I am becoming more selfish in my time simply because I can. Living on my own has blinded me to the daily reality of living in relationship and it is easy to avoid sacrifice if I don’t want to.

I guess all of this is to say, if you know me feel free to call me out on this and challenge me to live my life in intentional service to the One who died so that I can wage war on my inmost members, wretched man though I am.

If you’re still reading, you might enjoy this 6 minute sermon exerpt by John Piper or song about making war against sin that inspired the title of this post.

To the Cross I Cling

Today, as is customary of every first Sunday of the month, my church celebrated Communion together. It is always a special time to remember Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for the redemption of our souls and bodies.

Several years ago, I connected the significance and implications of the Passover celebration with the Lord’s Supper (Communion), which forever changed the way I viewed Communion. However, today another shift occurred.

One of my favorite songs is To The Cross I Cling, which we sang this morning. This song echoes my heart’s cry:

All things in me call for my rejection                                                                All things in You plead my acceptance                                                               I am guilty, but pardoned                                                                                By grace I’ve been set free                                                                              I am ransomed through the blood You shed for me                                           I was dead in my transgressions,                                                                 But life You brought to me                                                                               I am reconciled through mercy                                                                         To the cross I cling

This song has always moved me and pierced right through my thoughts, emotions and soul in a way that few other songs can and coupled with the celebration of Communion, it is almost too much to bear. Today, one of our pastors spoke on the solemnity, but also the celebration that exists when we share in Communion. One line that has always bothered me in the song is All things in You plead my acceptance. You see, to me that just doesn’t seem right. I know that I am forgiven, that I have been imputed with Christ’s righteousness, but in the back of my mind and in my heart, I don’t believe that all things in Christ PLEAD for my acceptance. I don’t get it. I imagine reluctance, a moment of hesitation, a fleeting doubt, but not this. Not down on His knees, begging for my acceptance. Not legions of angels celebrating, not rejoicing. No, it is too much for me to handle.

How is it possible that a man so perfect, God, would subject Himself to the frailty of humanity, the shell of a life, to live in anonymity for most of His life only to then suffer in humiliation, a cursed death, all because everything in Him pleads for my acceptance? As I sit here to write, I am uncomfortable, overwhelmed and a little angry because, get this; selfishly, I don’t want to change my life to reflect this reality. If this is true, which I believe it is, then my life must be reordered. My priorities cannot lie in what I want, how I feel or what my culture tells me I need. If this is true, then I have an obligation to worship, serve and glorify this God who ransomed my life through His blood. It is not good enough for me to feel a little “emotional” singing a song, to allow the tiniest portion of my heart to be pricked by shame from my own deliberate sin. No, I am overwhelmed by my sin, but drowning in God’s grace and mercy which are renewed for me everyday, not because of what I have done or who I am, but because of who He is: YHWH.

A Review of The Hunger Games

Over Thanksgiving I had the good fortune of having lots of free time to read, run and hang out with my family and friends. As promised, I am going to provide a personal review of The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I am still allowing this blog to evolve as I refine its purpose. As an avid reader, I think I would be remiss to not share my thoughts on at least a few of the books that I read. Now, lest you think that I only read best-selling, non-fiction books, I assure you this is not the case. I love reading. period. However, The Hunger Games lends itself to book review. I even remarked to my Mom, “These books would be so easy to write a paper on!” Nerd, I know, but I think we have already established that fact.

SPOILER ALERT – This post will contain some spoiled content.

The Hunger Games details a futuristic society that is a great, great, great…great grandchild of the United States. At some point in history, the districts, of which there were 13, rebelled against the Capitol only to be brutally squelched. In remembrance of the rebellion, every year each district must send 1 male and 1 female “tribute” between the ages of 12-18 to participate in the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games are a fight to the death between the tributes of each district, 24 in total as district 13 no longer exists, with only 1 winner surviving. Enter, Katniss. The heroine, protagonist and an all around bad you-know-what. Katniss is ultimately the female tribute selected from District 12 to participate in the Hunger Games.

Throughout the novels there is constant tension between the “collective good” of Panem (the nation-state), as determined by the Capitol, and the needs of the residents of each district. The Capitol represents all that is frivolous and fleeting. Their lives are nothing more than eating bon-bons and keeping up with the latest fashions. In contrast, the districts are all suffering to various extents and in many cases are literally starving.

Most of the tension in the novel stems from the collective good vs. the good of the individuals. Through no fault of their own, many of the citizens are suffering at the hands of the few. They are unable to provide for their families and are at the mercy of the decisions of the elite Capitolists. 35.9% of the population of South Carolina is considered “Low-Income Working Families”. What does it say about our society that over 1/3 of the population that has a job still live at 200% below the poverty line. The systems that cause poverty and promote injustice are multi-faceted and have spanned generations. There is no simple fix inside or outside of the government. Yet we see throughout history and in modern day that as the income gap rises (Gini coefficient approaches 1), tensions in society also rise. I am NOT advocating against capitalism or making money. I am challenging that we need to re-asses our values and our systems that are causing injustice. My apologies for that brief interruption. Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

Katniss is the ultimate survivor; providing for her family after the death of her father, surviving 2 Hunger Games and waging war against the Capitol, beating the odds at whatever she does. She is often confronted with the raw, base instincts of human nature, which are all ugly. There is no truly pure character portrayed, save perhaps Prim, Katniss’ younger sister. All characters fail morally and ethically at some point. It is here that Collins draws her final conclusions about human nature and society.

As the districts topple the Capitol in the hopes to bring about true change for the good of the citizens, the idea is broached as to whether or not to hold a Hunger Games for the children of the Capitol (Capitol children were exempt from previous games). Give them a taste of their own medicine, is the basic argument. The irony is almost too thick to handle. Here is a society that has just endured 75 years of forced murder by and against children yet they almost instantaneously turn around to do the same to another group of people. Katniss and her mentor are left to cast the final votes and surprisingly (to me) they vote yes. I expected Collins to wrap around to a storybook ending, with each character redeeming themselves and society in the end. While this occurs to an extent, the message is clear: at our base, we are all no better than the Capitolists. We would all willingly sacrifice another’s child for our own twisted sense of justice.

I am constantly amazed by the many people who believe at their core, human beings are good. Perhaps I am overly cynical, but the world today screams to me that we are NOT good. In fact, we are the opposite of good. I am glad that Collins did not gloss over this fact. Katniss does not get everything she wants. Her sister dies, she is estranged from her mother, she is torn between 2 people she loves and the memories from her times in the Hunger Games haunt her for the rest of her life. Yet, despite all of this, we feel she has won. The book turns out as it should. Despite the tragedies in her life, the story ends well.