Thursday, May 23, 2019

Abortion Conversation

It's heating up now. Abortion has come front and center as states pass abortion restrictions, and the U.S. Supreme Court appears to have swung to the right. Other states have passed laws guaranteeing abortion rights. The NY Times compares the new laws in this article.

While many states legislate to restrict abortions, rallies across the nation this week called for abortions rights.

There are good-hearted, compassionate people on both sides of the debate. I know them. I have talked with them. Many pro-abortion folks care deeply about the young pregnant woman who feels trapped and confused. Many anti-abortion people recognize the fetus as human life and believe it should be protected as such.

So, both sides care about people. Unfortunately, many on both sides see the debate so clearly that they cannot imagine another point of view. In fact, they think, those with the opposing point of view are motivated by hate, ignorance, political agenda, or self-righteousness. Such people don't even deserve a hearing. They are stupid. We should silence them. They are the enemy.

The sides of the abortion debate seem more and more hostile to each other. The debate has become more about winning than truth or justice. Each side thinks that the other is unreasonable. No one is listening. Facts are used as weapons to beat down the opponent, while other facts are ignored.

If both sides really care about people, shouldn't we be able to have this conversation with more civility?

Here are some observations I have about the debate.
  • Abortion is a moral issue, too often hijacked for political purposes.
  • While both sides say the issue is simple, it is actually complex.
  • Stances for or against abortion rights always include some motive, often obscure.
  • One's views on abortion are informed by experience, beliefs, traditions, culture.
  • The Bible does not directly forbid abortion.
  • The life of a fetus is distinct from that of the mother. It is human life.
  • The abortion process legally requires that this life be terminated in the womb before the tissue is removed. Because of this requirement, abortion is different from other surgical procedures.
  • The abortion option only arises because something has gone wrong. A woman did not intend to become pregnant. A fetus appears to have abnormalities. A woman was raped. A woman doesn't want more children. Birth control failed. A woman fears the consequences of disclosing her pregnancy.
  • There are different ways to measure when life begins: at conception, at the first beat of the heart, at the first breath. The most visible of these is the first breath.
I believe abortion is wrong, but I don't want to demonize people who disagree with me. I do want to persuade them.





Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Artificial Meat

I have seen a lot of news lately about "meat" produced from plant-based products. I'm not sure what to think about that. Maybe it will taste just like real meat, although the meat substitutes I have tried have been rubbery and tasteless.

But what has spurred on all this research? A lot more people are becoming vegetarian and vegan these days. I think that the market is responding to demand.

What troubles me is the underlying assumptions about the morality of meat consumption. This is probably one of those things that I'll never understand and I'm sure my musings are unlikely to change anyone's mind.

Anyway, it seems to me that some believe it is a noble thing to avoid meat consumption. One celebrity declared that he would eat nothing that has a face. And so faceless creatures are less valuable than those with eyes? How can we arbitrarily say that? And does a shrimp have a face? What about potatoes? They have eyes.

One thing we fail to realize is this: For us to eat, something has to die. It may be a plant. It may be an animal. But something has to die. For us to live, something must die.

Chew on that.

Of course the Holy Grail of food production may be creating nutritious food from chemicals. Maybe food engineers are working to create that food which requires nothing to die.

But I think God knew what he was doing when he designed this place. I'm always skeptical of our "improvements."


Monday, May 6, 2019

Legalized Abuse

How could our laws be so bad? Today I read that it is perfectly legal in N.C. to tamper with another person's drink in a public place. Seriously? See the article. Further, it is legal to have non-consensual sex with an intoxicated person who willingly became intoxicated.

Who wrote these laws? How barbaric are we? How can we not respect the dignity of others? Finally some victims of sexual assault are sounding the alarm, calling our attention to these wretched laws. Sadly many have been harmed, and only after the victims cry out do we see these twisted rules of engagement. These victims sought justice, but learned that no crimes had been committed.

We must do better.

This makes me wonder what other laws allow the powerful to exploit the powerless. Please, let's find these codified injustices and fix them! Thanks to the courageous victims who have spoken up.


Friday, May 3, 2019

Jeopardy and Life

James Holzhauer is on a roll. He now has 21 victories on Jeopardy with winnings exceeding $1.6 million. He approaches the game with a unique strategy, which allows him to wager more money on the "daily doubles." He ignores the traditional game strategy by jumping from category to category, following no particular pattern, except going for the bigger prizes early.

His approach seems so obvious now. Why did no one think of that before? Of course it helps that he has quick reflexes and knows everything about everything.

But Holzhauer was willing to rethink the game. He does not let traditions and conventions constrain him. His fresh approach has probably changed the game forever.

I need to rethink some things too. I need to question my assumptions and consider what my real goals are. There are better ways to work, play, relax, plan, eat, travel, read, pray...

I can't stay stuck in the old way of thinking. This is what makes life get better and better.




Thursday, May 2, 2019

Speaking Truth to Power

Can we hold leaders accountable?

In Acts 23, Paul stands before a Jewish court to defend himself. In his opening remarks, he declares that he has faithfully followed God's instructions. The high priest immediately orders that Paul be struck on the mouth. 



Paul rebukes the high priest saying, "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!"

Apparently Paul did not realize this was the high priest. Those who struck Paul rebuke him: "You dare to insult God's high priest?" Paul quickly repents, confessing that he did not know this was the high priest. Paul quotes a verse from Exodus, "Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people" (Exodus 22:28).

This account seems very authentic. I can imagine Paul reacting just as he did. He did insult the high priest, but he also pointed out the high priest's hypocrisy. Is he repenting of the insult or the statement of truth?

Because we tend to respect people in authority, we also want to give them the benefit of the doubt. Often this benefit becomes ignoring or excusing their wrong behavior. This pattern then allows the leader to abuse authority more and more. No one speaks up because no one else speaks up. 

This leads to toxic cultures in corporations, communities, churches, and nations. It is a culture of oppression, in which power goes unchecked. 

And then someone dares to speak out. Often that first voice pays dearly for speaking truth. Then others come forth. And we have a #MeToo movement, or the uncovering of a pedophilia culture, or a politician in crisis mode.

We should respect our leaders. But we should also speak truth. We need to call out hypocrisy. We need to hold leaders accountable. No position places a person above the rules of morality. 

But somehow that is a mistake that we humans make again and again.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Wrestling with Baptism

How many baptisms are there?

I have noticed many reference to "the baptism of John" in the New Testament. Jesus talks about it (Matthew 21:25); Peter talks about it (Acts 1:22); Paul talks about it (Acts 19:4). Somehow this baptism of John represents something different from the baptism of Jesus.

So, why does this baptism stuff matter anyway? Why did Jesus, Peter, and Paul all make a big deal of it? Here is my understanding of the various baptisms.

First, there is the baptism of ritual cleansing. This baptism is not mentioned in the New Testament, but it is a key part of the religious context of Jesus' day. Dozens of baptismal fonts graced the south side of the Temple Mount when the Lord came to Jerusalem. For Jews to worship at the Jewish feasts, they had to be ritually cleansed by immersion. Priests baptized the faithful just before they entered the Temple grounds, cleansing them before they made their sacrifices. This baptism made them outwardly acceptable for worship.

Baptismal fonts, called Mikvehs, at the south entrance to the
Temple Mount

John (the Baptist) probably baptized thousands coming to the feasts, year after year. He may also have served as the supervisor for a staff of other priests who actually baptized. He was likely known as John the Baptist while working at the Temple.

Being the prophet he was, John recognized the hypocrisy of the religious establishment. The priests schemed with the Romans to keep their place of privilege and honor, lording it over the ordinary Jews.

When John had enough of this abusive system he went rogue. He went out into the wilderness, to the Jordan river, to the place where Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land. There he introduced another kind of baptism.

The second kind of baptism is the baptism of repentance. For John, it was not enough to be ritually cleansed. He called people to commit to turn from their sins. The baptism indicated their determination to be obedient to God, not complicit with the corrupt religious system. He was a famous prophet, leading a kind of loyal opposition. He was loyal to God, opposing the religious establishment. No wonder thousands went out to the desert to follow him. This movement prepared the way for Jesus.

Information about baptismal fonts near the Southern Steps of the Temple
Then Jesus introduced the third kind of baptism, the baptism of resurrection. When people followed Jesus, they received more than a determination to do better. They received new life. The old sinful nature was declared dead. They were raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

So baptism was practiced long before John and Jesus. But they gave the rite new meaning, deepening its significance. What baptism did you receive? It makes a difference.

And then, there is the baptism of the Holy Spirit...

Monday, April 29, 2019

Hebrew Poetry

On our pilgrimage to Israel last month, I asked our tour guide every question I could think of. As we discussed human language, he described Hebrew as a "poetic" language. This was a new concept for me. English, he said, has such a large number of words (according to oxforddictionaries.com there are about 228,000) and Hebrew has much fewer (Google estimates 45,000).

With such a vast vocabulary, English speakers and writers can express ideas with a great deal of precision. We can differentiate between a chuckle and a chortle, or a wrist and a hand. With such a high level of precision, English often leaves little to imagination or interpretation. We often know exactly what a writer means, and the meaning is very narrow.

With fewer words in Hebrew, speakers of that language make statements that are often left to interpretation. When you look up Hebrew words in a lexicon, you find wide ranges of meaning. For example one Hebrew word (nephesh) can mean soul, person,or life. Similarly the word for "spirit" can also mean breath or wind.

The Hebrew language leans heavily on context. Who is speaking? What are the circumstances? What might the speaker mean? What is the speaker talking about? Who is he talking to?

Unfortunately we read the Old Testament like English literature. We expect precision. Translators often give a precise meaning, when the author may have intended multiple meanings. This robs the reader of the opportunity to think or puzzle.

So now I know that Hebrew is a poetic language, and I'll try to keep that in mind. The meaning might not be as simple as I assume.

I can be sure that there's more than meets the eye.

A sign along the Israel/Lebanon border, written in 
Hebrew, English, and Arabic