Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cancer Survivor Jim Glanzer Tells His Story

Jim Glanzer
My long time friend and fellow counselor James Glanzer and I have worked together at the Family Life Resource Center almost since its beginning over 25 years ago.

Last fall Jim was diagnosed with colon cancer which had metastasized in his liver and he's since been undergoing undergoing regular chemotherapy treatment. In spite of his having gone through a lot of pain and fatigue in recent months, he has returned to work for several days a week and is bravely doing his best to meet as many of his clients as possible.

Some time before some of us had discussed the idea of having a cancer survivor share his or her experience at FLRC's annual spring fundraiser set for June 8 this year, never thinking that one of our own might become that speaker. When asked, Jim expressed his willingness to address the guests at our dinner almost without hesitation.

Jim's first wife Jan died of leukemia in June of 1994, almost 19 years ago, so he knows first hand what it means to battle with cancer, and Jim has since been a major source of support and help for countless individuals and families going through grief and losses of many kinds.

I admire Jim for his willingness to share his story, and look forward to having you join us at the EMHS dining room Saturday, June 8, at 6 pm to hear him speak and to hear a performance of the Walking Roots Band.

Please contact FLRC at 434-8450 or by Monday noon, June 3, if you can attend. There is no charge for the meal, but your generous tax-deductible gifts will help FLRC serve more clients without insurance or ability to pay for our services.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Does the World Need a New Religion?

As a convinced Christian pacifist, I feel a special sadness every Memorial Day. On the one hand, I deeply respect the courage and heroism of the thousands who have fought, suffered and died in our nation's wars, and mourn the terrible loss of life and limb associated with being a victim of bombs, bullets and other weapons of terror.

I am also disturbed by the way we use terms like duty, honor, service and sacrifice in ways that whitewash the horror, brutality and utter insanity of the practice of war itself. How can we, along with civilized nations around the globe, still defend a way of resolving conflicts that is so blatantly cruel, immoral and barbaric?

I'll never forget some of the anti-war commentary by the late Andy Rooney, who had seen the awful waste of war as a World War II correspondent. He once stated on "60 Minutes" that the world may need a "new religion," one that would prohibit people from declaring war on each other, a faith in which all forms of organized killing and destruction would be banned.

I believe such a religion already exists. Ironically, it is only Christians who fail to see that Jesus and his early followers consistently refused to take up the sword and serve as soldiers, choosing rather to die themselves than to have any part in killing others.

Why are professed atheists like Rooney often more clear in their denunciation of war than those who profess to follow the Prince of Peace? Or for that matter, millions of others around the world who profess faith in God as Yahweh or Allah?

Any religion that doesn't denounce one of the most inhumane practices on earth is, in my view--and even in the opinion of an atheist--seriously deficient.

Here's a link to an example of Andy Rooney speaking out against war.

And for more of my posts on war.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Best Vehicle I've Ever Owned

Me in front of the Family Life Resource Center where I work
I just got a copy of a new book by Howard Zehr, "Pickups, A Love Story: Pickup Trucks, Their Owners, Their Stories"  featuring pictures and sketches of over 60 pickup owners, including me and the little "hickup" I've enjoyed for the past seven years. 

I frequently thank my good friend Guy Vlasits for making available one of the best and most trouble-free vehicles I've ever owned.

The narrative that follows, which makes up chapter 14 of the book, is based on recordings of interviews Zehr did with me last year for his book.

"It's more of a Charlie Brown kind of thing"

This is a ‘97 Nissan pickup. One of our good friends wanted to sell it, so he let us have it for a very reasonable price. He had taken care of it so well, and of course I try to do the same.

I don’t know what I would do without a pickup. It is so handy, so practical and useful. We just have a half-acre lot, but we burn wood. I have my own chain saw and cut our own wood. It’s good exercise, and I enjoy it a lot. And I like to garden. So when I need to haul mulch, some horse manure from my neighbor, or something like that, it is just so nice to have a pickup. And I use it to go back and forth from work.

It fits in with my pragmatic nature. I’m big on getting exercise. I’d much rather do exercise that’s useful, and the same way with this. It’s fun to have the pickup, but you get to do a lot of useful things with it. Plus I enjoy loaning it to my friends. There were years when I had to borrow a pickup every now and then for something. So I just enjoy being on the other side of that and letting other people use it.

These days, people—men especially—like these huge, massive V8s that make this truck look like a pygmy. So it’s not a prestige vehicle, for sure. I love it anyway. It’s certainly not like the mid-life sports car that’s going to make me look bigger, younger, whatever. It’s more of a Charlie Brown kind of thing.

(copyright Good Books, 2013)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

One "Truth" All Schismatics Seem To Agree On

In an email response to my article "Conflict is Inevitable, Divisions Are Optional" published in the June, 2013, issue of The Mennonite, a pastor friend of mine took exception to my position that church unity should take priority over even our understanding of theological truth--that in fact unity is itself a primary part of the "truth" we are to hold.  

My friend wrote, "(I)f unity is paramount to sound faith, there would be no Anabaptists. We would still be in the Catholic Church, simply agreeing to disagree in love... (F)aith is not a matter of opinion, but of truth. We hedge on this, and imply that truth itself is simply a matter of opinion. But such an 'opinion' is neither biblical nor Anabaptist!" 

I certainly respect where this person is coming from, but the fact is that in every church division I have ever known, this has been the one thing people on both sides have actually affirmed. Each side insists that the one and only reason for their split is because they want to be faithful to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Our problem is always in knowing for sure how that truth is to be defined and lived out.

For the first 1000 years of the history of the Christian movement, the church remained substantially united, in spite of the existence of subgroups within it that were considered heretical by many, and in some cases resulted in a disruption of fellowship. But it was not until the year 1054 that the church officially and permanently split into Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox branches. 

In this second half of the church's history, and especially since the Protestant Reformation of 1517, we have split and splintered into thousands of pieces. The so-called "bride of Christ" has become something akin to a harem, an offense against the one who prayed fervently that "they be one," that there be one loaf, one faith, one Lord, one baptism.

I see sixteenth century Anabaptists as attempting, imperfectly, to maintain that unity. Early leaders like Blaurock, Manz and Grebel continued to see themselves as members of the Reformed church as they and others repeatedly asked for public "disputations" on the issues they felt were important, like church membership being entirely voluntary, and that the church should be free of state control. But they were forcibly driven out, excommunicated and even killed by the thousands for preaching this message and practicing the kind of faithfulness to Jesus to which they believed they were called. 

But now, nearly five centuries later, when many Christians around us agree on most of those points, maybe we should be actively trying to mend fences and restore some scripture-based healing to the badly broken body of Christ.

When Jesus describes himself as "the way, the truth and the life," he is not referring to a set of propositions or a single statement of creed. Our Lord himself represents a life to be lived, a truth to be sought, a way to be followed--together.

Here's a link to some other posts on church unity.

Monday, May 20, 2013

For Our Granddaughters: This Is Our Dream

 “I have a dream that... children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

I, too, have a dream, especially for our young daughters and granddaughters. It is not about the color of their skins but how we judge the attractiveness of their bodies.

My dream is that all children and teens could grow up in a world in which they will be valued solely for how they take care of themselves and care about others, and for their own worthwhile efforts and accomplishments.

In contrast, our daughters and grandchildren are exposed to a barrage of media images of air brushed and artificially endowed female models intended to define what it means to be beautiful and popular--for the purpose of making them feel inadequate if they don't buy certain products to help them achieve these goals. They are a part of a world in which someone like Mike Jeffries, CEO of the popular clothing manufacturing firm Abercrombie & Fitch, in explaining why they market clothes only in more petite sizes, openly states, “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids... Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

I’m OK with the “great attitude and a lot of friends” part, but Mr. Jeffries' own attitude is just plain wrong at so many levels. Not even one child should ever be seen as anything but beautiful in their own unique way. No one of any age or body type should be made to feel that unless they fit certain arbitrary, superficial and nearly impossible criteria, they will always be seen as second class--no matter how decent, hardworking, kind and generous they are.

Sadly, our young are growing up in a world in which a very profitable company like Victoria’s Secret is targeting ever younger women through its recent PINK campaign, using the slogan “Bright Young Things.” Their spring line includes underwear with words and phrases like “dare you,” “feeling lucky” and “call me” on the front and back, and while the company claims they are appealing primarily to college age girls, Stuart Burgdoerfer, CFO of Limited Brands, which owns Victoria’s Secret, recently said of teen girls, “They want to be older, and they want to be cool like the girl in college, and that’s part of the magic of what we do at Pink.” 

I’m glad to hear that lots of women and mothers are speaking out in protest, according to a recent ABC News report, and recent campaigns by the women of Sojourner’s magazine of Washington, DC, and others have added to efforts that have resulted in things like a “Dear Victoria’s Secret: Pull ‘Bright Young Things’” Facebook page and a petition penned by a mother of three in Washington that has more than 1,000 supporters.

In addition, Evan Dolive, a Texas father of a 3-year-old daughter, has written an open letter to VS that has gone viral. He states, “I don’t want my daughter to ever think that her self-worth and acceptance by others is based on the choice of her undergarments... I want my daughter (and every girl) to be faced with tough decisions in her formative years of adolescence should I be a doctor or a lawyer? Should I take calculus as a junior or a senior? Do I want to go to Texas A&M or University of Texas or some Ivy League school? Should I raise awareness for slave trafficking or lack of water in developing nations? There are many, many more questions that all young women should be asking themselves…not will a boy (or girl) like me if I wear a ‘call me’ thong?”

One woman, defending the brand, wrote on the Facebook page, “OK, honestly who cares if they (VS) are wanting to reach out to a younger crowd? Isn’t that the point of business, to expand their fields and make money?"

That's a big part of the problem, isn't it, that its all about making money, but the point of our business as parents is to pray that families, communities, schools and congregations everywhere will speak out for values that do really matter to girls, like respect, safety, opportunity and decency. Only these can help stem the epidemic of eating disorders, depression, low self-esteem and sexual assaults that increasingly threaten our young. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

New Gun Law For Nelson, Georgia

Members of the City Council of Nelson, Georgia (population 1,324) recently passed a so-called "Family Protection Ordinance" by a vote of 5 to 0. According to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, it requires each household in Nelson to be equipped with a gun and a supply of ammunition.

This suburban area just north of Atlanta hasn't actually had a violent crime in the past ten years, but its good, church-going city elders thought it should make a statement about gun rights and the need of citizens to be prepared just the same.

Oddly enough, there are no actual penalties if the town's citizens don't comply. Anyone can opt out, and there are special exemptions for felons and people who are mentally unstable, so one wonders about the point of this new law. One Council member described as the equivalent of "a security sign for our city."

It seems that not only are many Americans "clinging to their guns and their religion," as President Obama once inelegantly stated, but that guns have to represent a form of religion in itself, one with the motto, "In Guns We Trust." NRA evangelists are promising all of us a kind of sure salvation they assure us only arms and ammunition can provide.

Meanwhile guns are involved in the murders of an average of 32 men, women, and children every day in the US, plus in far, far too many suicides and gun-related accidents.

Incidentally, the Brady Center has just filed a lawsuit against the City of Nelson, alleging that its new ordinance violates citizens’ First, Second and Fourteenth Amendment rights. According to the Center spokesperson, "A gun should never be forced on anyone who chooses not to own one."

You can put me down as one of those.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"To Knot or Not to Knot?" A Case For Pre-Engagement Counseling

I've had lots of opportunities to do premarital counseling in my years as pastor and counselor. 

I've always realized though, that by the time most couples arrange for their first premarital appointment, it's almost too late to be asking the critical question of whether it's wise for them to get married at all. Usually their wedding date has already been set and the couple is well on their way to the altar. 

Some years ago I began encouraging seriously relating couples to arrange for pre-engagement counseling--or at least talk things over with a pastor or other counselor before actually announcing their engagement. That idea spread, and numerous couples began to ask for such sessions. 

As a part-time counselor at Eastern Mennonite University, I introduced an annual workshop called “To Knot or Not to Knot?” for steadily dating but not-yet-engaged couples. This three-hour seminar began with a discussion panel made up of a recently married couple, an older couple, and a divorced person, each honestly sharing what they had learned from their own relationship. The female attendees then met for questions and conversation with the women presenters and the males with the male panelists. Each couple then completed a discussion exercise using sample questions from a premarital inventory. 

A special focus of the workshop was on distinguishing between normal differences and polar opposites. Most people agree that opposites do attract, but in real life, opposite traits are sure to cause serious frustrations. This is especially true if there are drastic differences involving matters of faith and values. 

Not surprisingly, some of the young adults involved in these sessions decided against becoming engaged. This was usually because one or both were already having serious reservations and needed help either to work through some major conflicts or to end the relationship. Not a happy prospect, to be sure, but far better than having a major disruption or a divorce later.

Will pre-engagement and premarital counseling guarantee that every couple will enjoy a happy, lifelong marriage? I wish. But if it helps even a few couples avoid the heartbreak of a later divorce and establish more stable relationships, it would certainly be worth the effort. 

(adapted from chapter three of "Lasting Marriage: The Owners' Manual") 

Monday, May 13, 2013

"Not-For-Profit" Hospitals Shouldn't Make Out Like Bandits

$1.50 for a Tylenol pill.

That's what some hospital patients are having to pay for a 325 mg tablet of acetaminophen. In case you're wondering, you can order a bottle of a 100 of these from Amazon for a mere $1.49.

Then there's the example of an $84 hospital charge for a liter of saline solution that costs $5.16. And how about $333 for a chest X-ray when the billable Medicare rate is $23.83? Or $24 for a 5¢ Niacin tablet?

These are some of the outlandish figures charged to patients by certain hospitals, including many non-profit ones, as cited by Steven Brill in a March 4, 2013, Time magazine feature story, "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us".

My wife and I have personally both had good experiences in local hospitals, she at Augusta Health for a knee replacement (followed by three weeks of rehab at VMRC) and I at RMH for cataract surgery last summer, but we were fortunate to have Medicare as our primary insurer and Everence as our secondary, so we fared very well. But people without insurance but who are too well off to qualify for aid can face a real crisis.

One example given in the Time article is that of Emilia Gilbert, a Connecticut school bus driver who had to be taken to the ER of her local hospital several years ago due to a fall. She is still paying off a $9,418 bill that included three CT scans for which she was charged $6,538. Medicare would have paid $825 for the same procedures.

In spite of these kinds of profit margins, nonprofit hospitals still actively solicit donations large and small from members of their communities. Some of this may be justified by a desire to provide the most advanced medical care and cutting-edge technology available. But that money also supports the salaries of some CEO's of large healthcare organizations who are paid like rock stars. According to Brill's article, annual pay for the heads of the top ten not-for-profit hospital systems in the US range from a low of just over $2 million to a high of nearly $6 million.

Our local Rockingham Memorial Hospital has recently merged with Sentara Healthcare, which now operates ten hospitals in Virginia. I'll be eager to see how this affects costs to consumers in a US healthcare system that seems badly in need of reform.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

To Mom, With Love

My good parents, Ben and Mary, around 1970

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 

Honor her for all that her hands have done..."

(from Proverbs 31)

My mother, Mary Nisly, was child number nine in a family of thirteen; I was number eight in a family of nine. She grew up in a home with a father and mother whose simple faith was an integral part of their lives; I was well blessed with equally devout parents. She enjoyed reading, entertaining, gardening and traveling; so do I. My mother was a keen judge of human nature; could recognize her own flaws and those of others, and had a clear and certain sense of what was right and wrong. Sometimes, like her, I am too critical of myself and others, too intolerant of those with whom I differ, but I deeply appreciate the convictions she held.

A plucky half-pint of a woman, my mother died of cancer at the age of sixty-seven. On her gravestone is the title of one of her favorite gospel songs, “I need no mansion here below.” Her childhood home was certainly no mansion, and she died in the modest mobile home my parents bought for their retirement.

Frugal to a fault, she knew how to make her life truly rich in a multitude of ways, by her love of flowers and of vegetable gardening, by her enjoyment of nature and of raising canaries, by her love of music and books, and by her gracious hospitality and her many friendships. That was her legacy.

As a child I was blessed by her warm hugs and her stories and by her example of a quiet faith and unselfish life. She was well known in our community for the generous help and encouragement she gave her family, her neighbors, and her many church friends. Our house was a always a haven of hospitality.

My parents were far from perfect, and experienced their share of sad and distressed times. Like their own parents, they tended to be conflict-avoidant, and overstressed the need for everyone to be nice at all costs, even if it meant sweeping certain issues under the rug. But each was a far better parent than I could have ever deserved.

I hope that somehow my folks, and Alma Jean's, are still aware of the large debt we will always owe them. They have given us our life and, for better or for worse,  have powerfully shaped our life direction. Remembering their contributions reminds us of other members of our families and our many friends with whom we need to stay more up-to-date in the appreciation department.

I'd give anything to be able to give my folks one more hug and tell them how much I love them.

(adapted from my 2007 book Lasting Marriage, the Owners' Manual)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

If Love is Blind, Marriage is the Greatest Eye-Opener of Them All

In Leonard Bernstein's musical adaptation of Voltaire's 18th century novel Candide, the title character is madly in love with with Cunegonda, daughter of the baron of Thunder-ten-Tronckh.

In this duet the two mismatched lovers imagine themselves ideally suited for each other, in spite of their extreme differences.

(Candide's lines are in regular print, Cunegonda's in italics)

O Happy We!

Soon with the earnings from my labors, we’ll buy a modest little farm,
Our mansions will amaze our neighbors, there we'll entertain with lavish charm.

Cows and chickens,
Social whirl,
Peas and cabbage,
Ropes of pearl.

Soon we'll have little ones beside us, we'll have a sweet Westphalian home.
Somehow we'll grow as rich as Midas! We'll live in Paris when we're not in Rome!

Smiling babies,
Marble halls,
Sunday picnics
Costume balls.

O won't my robes of silk and satin be chic! I'll have all that I desire!
And someone will tutor us in Latin and in Greek, while we sit beside the fire.

Glowing rubies,
Glowing logs,
Faithful servants,
Faithful dogs.

We'll round the world enjoying high life, All will be gaiety and gold.
We'll lead a rustic and a shy life, feeding pigs and sweetly growing old.

Breast of peacock,
Apple pie,
I love marriage!
So do I!


Oh happy pair, Oh happy we!
It's very rare how we agree!

Monday, May 6, 2013

What If The First Century Church Had Split?

It could have easily happened.

In 50 AD all the factors were ripe for a major church division that could have split the church in two, drastically altering Christian history and even resulting in our having a different Bible.

The apostle Peter, the Jerusalem church's lead pastor and missionary, had crossed a line many found shocking. According to the Acts 11 lectionary text for the fourth Sunday in Easter, he had broken bread with, and actually baptized, members of a Gentile household headed by Cornelius, a well known officer of the despised occupying Roman army.

For many Jewish believers, this was unthinkable, but Peter insisted this was at heaven's urging. God's Spirit had shown him a vision of a sordid array of unclean and forbidden creatures that would have normally repulsed him, then instructed him to prepare and eat them to his heart's content, since God had declared them to be good.

This was not so much a lesson on dietary taboos as it was a powerful visual and visceral metaphor for how Peter was to overcome an equally strong distaste for fraternizing with unclean and outcast people. Any close fellowship with gentiles would once have made his stomach churn in disgust.

Just prior to this, in Acts 8, this same apostle had crossed a similar line in welcoming a group of formerly reviled but recently baptized Samaritans. But these people were at least circumcised and could be thought of as half-Jews. And they did accept the Septuagint as their Holy Book.

Another pre-Cornelius incident described in Acts 8 was that of deacon and evangelist Philip baptizing an Ethiopian. Not only was this foreigner a member of different race, but as a eunuch would have been considered abnormal in a genital and sexual way, and thus excluded from worship in the Jewish temple, along with all uncircumcised men. All of this was based on the Torah, the only Bible these early Christians had.

Fortunately, the leaders and members of the first century Christian church were also immersed in other Hebrew scriptures that envisioned former outsiders of all nations (goyim) being gathered into God's arms. And thank God the church agreed to stay together in spite of how hard it was to deal with the implications of Peter's vision and his story. Remarkably, they did this without insisting on gentile outsiders conforming to Jewish practice.

The sobering fact is that most of us would not be believers today if members of the first century church had conveniently separated into two denominations, one circumcised (and following the Torah holiness codes) and the other made up of uncircumcised Gentiles, Samaritans, eunuchs and those who sided with them. Had that kind of schism happened, the Christian faith would not have survived in its present form, and likely not have spread as it did. Furthermore, the New Testament itself may have never come into being as we know it, as there would have been a felt need for a separate set of Christian texts for each group.

Sadly, since then we Christians have separated from each other with alarming ease, resulting in estimates of up to 100,000 different denominations, sects, subgroups and offshoots of the faith existing in the world today, in spite of Jesus' fervent prayer that there be but "one flock and one shepherd," the Lord alone. "By this shall all know that you are my followers," he said, "that you show love for each other."

This straightforward test is one we have all miserably failed.

The other lectionary texts for that same week point to the problem. We Christians, and especially our leaders, have forgotten that the church isn't about us, and that our first and foremost obligation is to join all creation in glorifying, exalting and praising our Creator (Psalm 148), and to respect God's desire that all humanity be formed together into one unified and glorious "New Jerusalem" (Revelation 21), a love-filled, holy and whole people-city that is to be God's eternal dwelling place. God wants to inhabit us, not temples, cathedrals or other human-made monuments or institutions.

But we have falsely come to believe that the church is about our personal or institutional legacies, about our own ambitions for the church's shape and its future, rather than allowing our one and only God, whose primary attribute is love, to reign supreme.

In my lifetime, Eastern Mennonite College (now EMU) became one of the first colleges in the South to integrate. This happened in 1948, six years before the Supreme Court's Brown v Board of Education ruling. Even then, EMC's integration didn’t take place until 31 years after its founding, but it was nevertheless a Cornelius kind of event.

In my own family, one of my nieces, as a young adult in the late 70's, fell in love with the only African-American member of her conservative Mennonite congregation, a young man in her youth group who has since proved to be a great husband and father. But in a still largely segregated old-South community, it was an extremely hard issue to deal with. Yet after much prayer and deliberation, the church felt led to support their marriage as blessed of God. Another Cornelius event.

An even more difficult decision faced the congregation of which I was pastor during that same time period. This one involved a young couple who were new believers and wanted to become members of our church. But the husband had been previously married, albeit briefly, and our church had never received a divorced and remarried couple as members before, so their request led to a lot of agonizing over Jesus' teachings on the sanctity of marriage.

Eventually, with the blessing of Virginia Conference, our church adopted a position of accepting people in covenanted relationships with the understanding that they remain faithful to their vows and "divorce no more." Was this another Cornelius event? Not everyone totally agreed, but we nevertheless stayed together.

In the first century, the church faced the extremely divisive question of whether to welcome "goyim" (word for non-Jewish nations or individuals) into the church. In the 21st century, the equally distressing issue we’re being forced to face is whether or how we accept “gays” (word for non-heterosexuals) into our fellowship.

Meanwhile, while theologians and church leaders continue to debate this question, how are we to minister pastorally to the estimated 3-5% of our members and potential members with a different sexual orientation from the rest of us--through no choice of their own? What help can we offer gay teens and young people who are 2 to 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers? How can we even reach them as long as they feel they must suffer in silence rather than risk rejection if they come out?  And if they do disclose, can we offer them a "cure" for their condition? Or if not, can we effectively support them in remaining "eunuch" and celibate for the rest of their lives?

While the latter has been my lifelong position, these are the kinds of questions that should drive all people of compassion to their knees--together.

You can access my article in the May, 2013, issue of the Mennonite "Disagreements are Inevitable, Divisions are Optional" with this link. Other posts on this topic can be accessed by typing in "church unity"  on my blog home page, on the upper left just above the word "Harvspot."

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Which Should Come First, Family or Church?

A service in a Meserete Christos (Ethiopian) congregation
"Whenever someone asks me why we’re not going to church, my default answer is that it’s too far (45 minutes) and that Austin has to study (he does). I say this knowing it’s only half true, because even when we lived five minutes away and Austin didn’t have to study, we... slept in and made blueberry pancakes and watched Hulu because that’s what our generation does."
                                                                                                                                           - Motley Mom blog

For most of our child rearing years I was a busy pastor and part time teacher, and our family lived in a parsonage right across from our church. Needless to say, we experienced our share of tension between the demands of church work and our time together as a family.

We all struggle with that tension, and increasingly I hear it resolved by people saying, “We’re putting our family first,” referring, of course, to their nuclear family. This may mean their taking on fewer church responsibilities, taking more family vacations on weekends, and rarely meeting with other believers other than for Sunday worship services.

I understand the need to set priorities. Looking back, we may have needed a better balance ourselves. But I’m also concerned whenever church life tends to get put further and further down the list, after school, athletics, extracurriculars, and a multitude of other competing organizations and meetings. Or has an even lower priority than vegetating around the home entertainment center.

I agree with author Tom Sine that part of the problem is that “church has become confused with buildings, budgets, and programs,” rather than seen as a family of siblings faithfully connecting with each other as followers of Jesus. Having been a part of a close-knit Amish church in the first formative decades of my life, a pastor and member of a truly caring conventional congregation for 20 years, then a member of a living-room-size house church congregation for the past 25 years, I find it regrettable when people pit family and church family against each other. Looking back at 73, I believe being an engaged part of a people who are our spiritual brothers and sisters--and who are spiritual cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents to our children and grandchildren--is more important today than ever.

Why? Because it is not just healthy families that make strong churches, but healthy faith communities nurture strong families, especially in the absence of clan, village, and/or extended family ties that have been in place for most people in past generations. Perhaps it should come as no surprise us that an increase of breakups in marriage in our society has followed an increased breakdown of community and extended family support.

Nuclear families, and the increasing numbers of single people living alone, urgently need those connections, especially in times of crisis, but also just to help keep themselves spiritually and emotionally healthy. So its a little like asking whether ones personal wellbeing or that of ones marriage and family is more important. The answer is always both.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

GuestSpot: An Ode to Love

Here's a poem a friend of mine, George Bowers, wrote some years ago based on the Bible's well known "Love Chapter," and one he has given me permission to share.

George is pastor of the Antioch Church of the Brethren in Shenandoah County.


I Corinthians 13

The words of Holy Scripture never tell us love is blind,
It says true love's a mighty gift, it's patient and it's kind.
It's certainly not selfish, not arrogant nor rude,
It must be daily spoken and constantly renewed.

It always preserves, it always hopes and trusts,
It doesn't rest on outward charm or foolish, selfish lust.
There's no delight in evil, it rejoices in the true,
It really should be seen in all we say and do.

Love, it does not envy, it doesn't brag and boast,
It is what we all long for and what we need the most.
True love holds its tongue, and it will suffer long,
It graciously forgives and won't record the wrong.

Our blessed Savior Jesus, showed us with those nails,
How love pays the highest price, that true love never fails.
Even when our lives get sad and when the road gets rougher,
We must remind our selfish selves that sometimes love must suffer.

Your feelings for each other, they will increase and will flourish
If this kind of holy love you take the time to nourish.
Deep faith, good hope, true love, you see, will evermore endure,
But love's the greatest gift of all, of this you can be sure.