Friday, August 27, 2010

Fake Christians!

I'm running low on steam right now, so I don't have a whole lot of commentary for this, but I feel this study is important at gauging the religious climate of our church going adolescents.  Here is the link to the article:  http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/08/27/almost.christian/index.html?hpt=C1

Essentially this professor/minister has conducted an in-depth study interviewing a myriad of Christian adolescents and has discovered that the majority of teens cannot articulate their faith, a basic theology of beliefs, etc....  Essentially, what the author concludes is:

Dean says more American teenagers are embracing what she calls "moralistic therapeutic deism." Translation: It's a watered-down faith that portrays God as a "divine therapist" whose chief goal is to boost people's self-esteem.
 Fascinating.  Honestly, when I reflect to my adolescent years.  I can say, I went to church because the family went, it was important, now I could postulate a basic theology, but there wasn't more to it than this.  The article is short so seriously check it out.

Shalom, blessings, and Grace.

J.Rat.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

PSA of the week.

Ok, so I was given a 3rd generation Iphone.  It's pretty cool with all the stuff that it can do, I'm just not really interested in anything other than can it work as a phone, but given to me makes it fantastic.

I was transferring my numbers over and started plugging in my wife's number and sticking I.C.E. next to it.  Prior to being a chaplain, I had no clue to what this means:  In Case of Emergency.  I don't know about your hospital, but in the one I worked at there is someone who wants to get a hold of your next of kin.  You may not be dead, just out cold.  Keep in mind that if you have life threatening injuries, docs can operate, but if your femur is broken and not life threatening and you aren't able to say, "Fix It."  It might just not get fixed until you can say to fix it.  All of this can be avoided, typically, if the emergency staff know who to call.  Your spouse, parent, sister, etc....  So pick up your cell phone, since it is always with you and plug a new contact, label it I.C.E. or just put Emergency.  That way, when something heinous happens and you are in the E.D. they can get you fixed, know your allergies, know who you are, all of that great and good stuff that is important when you are laid up in a hospital.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Spare the rod...what does it mean?

Heh, you probably think I'm an idiot if I don't know what "Spare the rod" means.  Good thing, I'm not an idiot.  Ok, ok.  Prior to being a parent and especially since being a parent, I have had some discussions pertaining to the Scripture passage of Proverbs 13.24:
Those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them.  (NRSV)
The more familiar version is "Spare the rod, spoil the child."  I'm not sure which version that is off the top of my head.  This verse has been used frequently to justify spanking and other forms of "physical" discipline for children.  (Now before you tune me out, automatically lumping me into an anti-spank afraid to get sued for spanking his child kind of parent, let me tell you, as of right now spanking is an option for discipline in the future for my little one as long as other forms of discipline have been tried and rendered ineffective.  Will it always be an option?  I don't know.  It's not right now, because she is not of age to associate the spank with her behavior and redirection is working so I don't need to introduce a swat or a spank.)  Allow me to proceed.  Where was I?  This verse has been used frequently to justify spanking.  Not only appropriate spanking, but it has also been used to provide a Biblical mandate that I should hit my child when misbehaving.  To this I provide a resounding, "NO!"  It's just not good responsible Biblical interpretation.

The second part of the verse speaks of discipline and love...but "those who love them (their children) are diligent to discipline them."  Love is not abusive or violent, it is NOT Abusive or Violent.  Discipline is not abusive or violent, it is NOT Abusive or Violent. (Intentionally repetitive.)  For what love is, refer to 1 John 4.7-21.  They, love and discipline, go hand in hand.  There are plenty of people who feel spanking is violent and that's fine for them.  Spanking may not be a good option for discipline in their family.  But I want to talk about the rod a little bit more.

What is the rod?  Keep in mind that society in Biblical times was primarily agrarian.  Much of the illustrations in the OT and the NT reflect this society, that is why there are parables about farming and stories about shepherding.  These things were familiar to the culture and the people could get their metaphorical meanings.  The rod was a tool used by shepherds to protect their flock from predators.  The rod was not used to pummel the sheep into submitting to the shepherd's will, it was used to protect.  The shepherd's staff had a crook on the end of it that could be used to snag the sheep from dangerous situations, but that is just FYI for this particular blog posting.  Back to the rod, it was used for protection, but I want to flush this out a little more.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.  He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.  Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff--they comfort me.  Psalms 23.1-4 (NRSV).
So most of us are familiar with the 23rd Psalm.  With this passage in mind, do we view God as using his shepherd's rod for abusive purposes?  When we deviate an iota from God's path for us, do we envision God knocking us on the head with his rod to get us back in line?  Or do we see God placing people, circumstances, events, and discernment in our lives to lovingly bring us back to where we belong?   We know that God loves us, cares for us, allows us to mess up and lovingly turns his face upon us.

Using the rod is disciplining in a loving and caring manner, protecting children from predators, I don't think, though,  that it is a mandate for spanking, slapping, swatting, etc....  I don't think this because the mandate can, has, and will be taken too far and the "rod" won't be used for loving guiding discipline.

Now for the tricky part.  Anyone with a half-way decent concordance can find that Proverbs has another verse referring to using the rod as discipline for your children.  This verse is actually kind of disturbing for me:

Do not withhold discipline from your children; if you beat them with a rod, they will not die.  If you beat them with the rod, you will save their lives from Sheol.  Proverbs 23.13-14. (NRSV)
So now literally, "If you beat...they will not die."  Ok, ok.  So the writer of Proverbs did have in mind that the rod be used upon some of the reader's children as a tool of physical discipline.  Here is what I have to say to this:  "Maybe so, but not in a harmful, abusive manner."  No never, never, never.  We as parent's are to take care of our children, all children, ours, our neighbors, etc....  The reason for this is because we live in a time where we reconcile and place into conversation with each other the wisdom and teaching in the OT with the wisdom and teaching of Christ in the NT.

In Matthew, Jesus is talking about stumbling blocks or temptations to sin.  He says, in regards to children,

If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.  Matthew 18.6. (NRSV)
Now that's serious.  I have to think of this verse any time I am with children, not just my little bean either...any kids.  There is a profound innocence and for those parents who have sat with their infant long before pseudo-words were formed, long before they could communicate, and all they could do was cry and we had to figure out what it was about....these parents have seen the divinity residing in the sleeping child, residing in the eyes of the content child just gazing back upon you.  An abusive use of the rod strips this divinity away.  An abusive use of the rod provides a stumbling block for the child, and it would be better for you to have a stone around your neck and tossed into the sea.

Let me wind this down.  All of this is to say that disciplining your children is warranted and necessary.  The overuse of "Spare the rod, spoil the child,"  without real thought, provides a doorway for an irresponsible Biblical interpretation to mandate that "I can beat my child if I want to, Spare the rod and all that stuff."  (In my best Appalachian accent I can muster.)  No, we don't want to spare the rod.  Our children need our guidance, they need our discipline.  And remember that when we think of this verse, we have to also remember how a true shepherd uses the rod:  for protection of his flock--thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.  They don't inflict pain, harm, or instill fear--they comfort me.

Shalom, Grace, and Blessings.

J.Rat.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What's your calling?

Call.  Most often the term is used when people feel led by God into the ministry.  "I am called to the ministry of the church to be a pastor."  Yet, I think for most persons of faith, their call does not necessarily mean with the church.  Many of you career minded, and not so career minded people may agree with me.  For example, I think that nurses are called to their jobs.  I would hazard a guess and say that my wife would agree with the statement that she is called to Social Work. Both of these careers are a ministry and a calling to take care of others who were also made Imago Dei.


My struggle is that I know I am called, but have not discerned my niche.  I am called to ministry; ordained ministry, chaplaincy, non-paid ministry...to be truthful, I don't know.  Oftentimes, I have not prayed enough for discernment.  Oftentimes, I plain flat put my own wishes and desires in the way.  I do, however, feel that my calling was, is, and will be multi-faceted.  I wrote in a previous posting that I am learning to be happy in the moment.  I am embracing what God has for me now, today.  I would be remiss if I didn't look toward the future, but I cannot dwell upon what might be or what might should be and miss everything that is.  Today I am called to my family, to continue to learn how to be the leader of my household.  Tomorrow, I may be called to lead a church, or shepherd the physically, emotionally, spiritually, or psychologically ill.  I don't know, nor should I let the unknown consume me.  To be cliche, I continue working on letting go and letting God, and remain in the peace and grace of the current moment.


Shalom, Grace, and Blessings.


J.Rat.


And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? Matthew 6:27 (NRSV).
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.  Isaiah 55.8-9.  (NRSV)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I'm a stay at home dad...by choice.

That's right.  My official capacity since August 17th, 2009 has been to be a stay at home father.  No, I wasn't laid off nor am I incapable of finding a job.  First off, this choice was one of pragmatism.  August 17th meant that our firstborn was 3 months and that my wife had to go back to work from maternity leave.  At the time, I was wrapping up my residency as a chaplain at VCU Health Systems MCV Hospital.  Essentially, this meant that I would have completed an educational program that provided me the training and skills to get a job as a chaplain.  While not laid off, I would find myself unemployed as my contract with VCU Health Systems came to an end.  Since we needed to have food and shelter and one of us had permanent employment, the pragmatic piece indicated that I would stay at home and she would return to work.  Especially since childcare for a newborn is in the $800/month range and we are experiencing the worst job market in decades (no link, just plug it into Google and search the term).  Awesome!  Now don't get me wrong this was a fairly tough decision to make for me.  That whole male instinctual "hunter-gatherer" thing kicked in and I had to wrestle with my testosterone and be okay not being the "bread-winner."  That was somewhat tempered with the, "I'm not going to work just so I can make a check that enables me to pay someone else to raise my child for me."  Yet, I'm not even going to look for a job was daunting.  Especially since I'm learning as I go on how to be a good father.  I have only one chance to get this right for her and that's some pressure.

Now that the pre-amble is over, I have much to say about this past year.  First of all, I ended my residency the most physically, emotionally, and spiritually spent of my life.  Much of this was due to negligence of self-care, and the fact that when I was not on shift at the hospital, I was on shift figuring out how to be a parent to a newborn, maintain as a positive supportive influence for a post-partum new-mom who was facing the imminent arrival of returning to work, and figuring out how to process some highly difficult situations that had arisen daily at a Level 1 Trauma center.

Once again, I was spent.  I spent the next few weeks (read: months) recharging.  This involved much sleep, much basking at the inherent divinity of a newborn, and much wondering how I survived chaplaincy placing God on the backburner in such a spiritually demanding role.  (Needless to say, God is faithful even whe we are not.)  After feeling much more rested and recharged, I began the true and honest reflection of my time at the hospital and began to appreciate at much deeper levels the work God allowed me to do in His creation. I sat with uncountable families as they lost loved ones, hearing the most magnificent stories about strangers' (to me) lives.  I shared stories with people who just needed to talk and saw a glimpse of what it meant to be them.  I was able to be with many families hours after welcoming new life to their own families; and I sat with inmates who wanted to talk to someone and share their own stories to someone who would listen without judgement.  (For one gentleman who was incarcerated at a supermax, I was the only person not affiliated with the penal system nor medical staff that he had contact with for years.)  I was able to see the many blessings the Lord allowed me to share in with these people and am forever grateful for my year and couple of months at MCV.

Recently though, I've had the itch to go back to work full-time.  Somedays its just hard being a stay at home parent and I lose that instinctual battle of "I am the man of the house, I need to be contributing financially."  Today and yesterday, though, I am happy in the moment.  My wife and a good friend of ours have both mentioned to me about being happy in the moment.  I am happy and grateful.  I remember telling my father, when I was in high school, that I would like to retire when I'm thirty.  Well, I retired when I was thirty.  I'm not living off an annuity coming out of the vast fortunes that I made in my twenties, but I'm retired and happy.  My wife, the Lord, and the choices in my life have given me the rare chance to be at home for a year with my daughter.  I have learned much grace from her, much love from her, and much peace from her.  I am a better man as a result.  I'm not completely emotionally crippled anymore, like most men in our society.  The choice to be a stay at home father, while initially pragmatic, has become the most important decision I have made in my life after my faith/decision to follow God, and marrying my wife.  Sometimes I struggle internally with the desire to return to work, figuring out what my next career move will be, or just wanting a change of scenery, but....

Every morning I am awakened at least an hour before I want to be awake by some babbling, maybe and thump or two, and always a "Hah Dah! with a hand in the air, a laugh, some bouncing, and a good hug...then after a few chugs of some milk, the best conversation I could hope for the whole day.  So there you have it, my 3 followers and any other random perusers. I am a professional stay at home dad.  It was by choice.  It is still by choice.  I wouldn't change it and you may not know it, but you are jealous of it.

Shalom, Grace, and God Bless.
J.Rat.

And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? Matthew 6:27 (NRSV).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Death of the Bookstore.

Ok, this one may not have a Spiritual bend to it, but hey, it's in my head and now on the screen, so here we go!  So, tonight is "girls' night" at our house, which I don't mind.  They feel that our place is so relaxing that they would rather come here than go anywhere else...that is the atmosphere Candice and I want in our home.  Warm and inviting to our friends, a sanctuary in the midst of chaos.  Wow, once again, I digress.  Back on track.  My wife kicked me out for a little while and I wander trying to figure out where to go...(I'm a stay at home father now for approximately one year, so I feel lost when I'm heading out not to buy groceries, nor with Stinky Pete in tow.)  Naturally, I head over to the bookstore.  I hit up Barnes and Noble.  I walk in and right in front of me is this impressive display for their e-reader:  The Nook.  If I'm honest with myself and you, I think it's pretty cool.  To be fair Amazon's Kindle is pretty cool too.  Yet, I just don't want to see the bookstore go away.  I read recently where Barnes and Noble is for sale.  Borders is struggling, has been struggling.  Shuttering Waldenbooks stores right and left and other small bookstores.  (No link too many references, just google it.)

So, to me, it looks like bookstores are slowly dying.  I love gadgets like the Nook, the Kindle, I even now have an Iphone...given to me by a friend.  I love stuff like this, but I don't want the bookstore to go away.  There's something to walking into a large store with millions and millions of printed word on paper.  Conversations related to watcha reading?  Oooh, what did you think of this book.  Instead of conversations related to, how many books do you have on that thing?  Does the screen hurt your eyes after a while?  How many gigs of data is stored on there?  I prefer the feel of a text in my hands instead of a screen.  Yet I can see the up-side to having a Nook or Kindle, once the majority of books are available.  I believe, I would have rather bought one of these bad-boys in the days of Div. School and had every single textbook I needed in one device.  That would have been friggin' awesome!  On the other hand I do like my rows and rows of texts in the spare room.  I don't know.  I guess in the end there are some books I would prefer to have on an e-reader and some I would want in paper form.

Paper.  I written that word a couple of times now and it's sticking in my mind, because after I visualize the thousands of books in one B&N, then think that there are at least 3 B&N's in Richmond, 1 Border's, and 1 Books a Million, that's a lot of paper.  That's a lot of trees.  Maybe the movement to e-readers is a responsible move for the environment.  Are we not supposed to care for our environment, the earth?
Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps over the earth.  Genesis 1.26. (NRSV)
I guess I at least have to confess.  Suddenly the guy who drives a Jeep and has yet to start recycling is talking about being a good steward of the environment.  Looks like I'm going to have to change some stuff.  Even though I fear and am saddened that the bookstore may go away to digital media, maybe its demise won't be that negative.  Meh, I don't know.

Shalom, Grace, and God Bless.
 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hope when there is none.

Yesterday, I read where theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking, is suggesting that we, humanity, should abandon earth.  This was said in an article titled "Abandon Earth-or Face Extinction."  In a nutshell, or the Revised Standard Version of Joe.  Hawking is saying that humanity's future is in space and not on earth.  He talks about how we have damaged the earth and are looking danger in the face on our planet.  He cites the Cuban Missile Crisis as one of the near misses where the end result would have been extinction. Hawking also talks about our ever increasing demand on limited resources.  Ok, I think you get the point.  We have jacked the planet all up, possibly irreparably, and the only way out Hawking sees is to expand to space before the planet is inhabitable and we (humanity) can get off the planet.

So I tell my wife about this, just because I find it interesting, and since then, I have thoroughly been thinking about two statements she said.  First, she mentioned that Hawking is not a social worker, and how the population would not be able to expand off of the earth except for the 5-10% of the wealthiest who could afford the  cost of space travel.  Suddenly, one tier of the socio-economic structure would disappear and then the entire economy would truly collapse.  It's the second statement, however, that really had me thinking.  She said, "I think the Christian community would disagree because in the face of no-hope, there is hope."  I think she's right.

Hope is one of the central tenets to our faith.  Hope that tomorrow will bring something different, something greater.  Hope in an everlasting God.  God, who can provide a miraculous intervention and change the complete course of today, tomorrow, this month, or eternity.  Oftentimes this hope is not rooted in anything rational, and all "scientific proof" counters that one mustard seed of hope that we hold onto, but hope is not fruitless.  Hope provides a stimulus to change what we can, gives us endurance not to give up to see things through, and most of all provides inspiration.  In the end, what we have hoped for, might not have come to fruition, but we may never know what our undying hope may have birthed in us or in someone else.

"For the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in his steadfast love."  Psalms 147:11 (NRSV)

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  Hebrews 11:1 (NRSV)

"And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."  1 Corinthians 13:13 (NRSV)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I'm giving this another try.

This will make the third attempt for me to create an outlet for my commentary and thoughts other than bombarding my wonderful wife with all the thoughts that float around in my head.  So, let's cross our fingers, have some hope and send up some prayers.