Truth in pro-life advertising

09192efe-8dfb-4f88-b161-4b17203de8bcMuch to my mother’s chagrin, I’ve always found humor in the biting satire and warped comedy of Rocko’s Modern Life, a long-defunct cartoon from the days before Nickelodeon tried to out-Disney Disney. One episode follows the titular wallaby and his friend Heffer as they set out on a business trip for Rocko’s employer. After an avalanche blocks the route, they decide to splurge by taking advantage of a $5 special at a nearby ski resort. After checking in and requesting skis, they soon find out they’ve been had; every thing is five dollars. Skis. Cutting the skis down to size. Lift rides (including subsequent attempts to catch a lift after missing the first one). Bathroom use. Even the “roaring fire” in the lodge has a meter to feed.

It’s a funny episode that hinges almost entirely on a cruel advertising trick which would drive us to rage in real life. When we buy a thing, we want it to be that thing. Whether its the contents of a food product, the efficacy of a medicine, or the performance of a car, we allow for some spin in subjective claims but past a point we demand truth in advertising. Why don’t we in the conservative church demand the same of ourselves?

Pointing to the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, abortion opponents annually fill this week with events such as Sanctity of Life Sunday a few days ago and the March for Life in DC on Friday. If you don’t reside in the conservative Christian community, you may not know about these events but have likely noticed an increase in chatter regarding abortion as a result of the emphasis.

I hesitate to call these events and most of their supporters “pro-life” because I believe in truth in advertising. If only abortion is being addressed, let’s be honest and call it anti-abortion (thankfully some voices stand out; the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commision under Russell Moore’s leadership comes to mind). How can the content of a pro-life material stop at the decision to give birth? Wouldn’t belief in the sanctity of life look to pregnancy and new parent care? And why only pregnancy? Wouldn’t a pro-life ethic have to include addressing poverty, vulnerable populations (like refugeeswidows, orphans, and those in prison as demanded by Scripture), and even the environment on which we all depend and over which God has placed us as stewards? Unfortunately, such topics rarely come up in events, talks, or literature labeled as pro-life; no wonder others mock this position as simply being pro-forced birth. It seems that it’s easier to make quips about Mary not having an abortion than it is to remember that her Son was a genocide survivor and refugee who was tortured and executed as an enemy of the state.

God, however, is wholly pro-life. This past Sunday I preached from Proverbs 24:10-12. This text contains a stern call to action: “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.” I told my congregation that this text should constantly make us ask ourselves, “What am I personally doing to refute the claims of Death?” The story of Scripture (and thus Christianity and even history) is at its core a story of Death making claims it doesn’t deserve and God working to reclaim Creation. We, through Christ, have both been made the subject of this work and invited to be co-laborers in the rejection of Death in all its forms.

A complete ethic of life is not only logically consistent and biblical imperative but also incredibly freeing. As the old aphorism goes, no one can do everything but everyone can do something. Consider the ongoing plight of Flint, Michigan, a city forced to live with abhorrent lead concentrations in its water since 2014. It will take years to fully see the deadly fallout as this toxin slowly destroys lives. Roughly a year ago, hundreds of union plumbers volunteered to install filters for the residents of Flint while the government continued to squabble ineffectually. This, friends, is a pro-life act. These plumbers, Christians or not I do not know, saw a place where Death was laying claim and moved to overcome it using the skills they possessed. Abortion is an incredibly complex issue, as evidenced by the fall of the abortion rate to the lowest level since Roe v. Wade despite the decision remaining in effect. Not everyone can affect abortion, let alone wider yet thoroughly interconnected pregnancy and parenthood issues. But each and every one of us is at the absolute most merely arm’s length away from something or someone being unjustly claimed by Death. Each and every one of us has been gifted to affect the world around us. Being pro-life means partnering with God through Christ to grab hold of Creation and place it under the claim of Life using our gifts. May our pro-life advertising be true. Let’s get to work.

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Truth in pro-life advertising

Christmas is.

 

In the wee hours of December 25, my great aunt died. Christmas morning. For my great uncle’s sake, I would have been okay with delaying Christmas a day or two; maybe we should have all just fired up the phone tree and held off a little so he didn’t have to associate Christmas with his wife’s death.

I had already been secretly hoping for a delay the last couple weeks. It’s no secret that this blog has fallen quiet during my first semester as a “for real” teacher. I’ve been stupid tired, or busy, or both. Christmas gift buying/making was last minute even by my usual romcom-level standards. I was tired from work, and then had to work to remind myself it was Christmas. And I really hated that. I was genuinely sad about it. Christmas means a lot to me both personally and theologically. I love the uncompromising joy. I love the gentle defiance. The music. The festivities. Hope, peace, joy, and love in a world addicted to darkness. But my delay didn’t come. I woke up December 25th, and Christmas was here, and my great uncle’s wife was gone.

As I loitered in the lobby of the funeral home this afternoon, I found my gaze incessantly returning to a large, bright Christmas tree and its neighbor, a particularly ornate nativity scene. I wasn’t angered in grief by the presence of celebration; instead I felt puzzled by such joyous and carefully arranged items surrounded on all sides by rooms meant for preparing both the dead and the living for burial. But there, in a funeral home on December 29, I realized that’s how Christmas works.

candleTowards the end of a mostly meh episode of Family Guy, the Griffins are horrified to learn that Peter didn’t like The Godfather. When asked why, he simply responds, “It insists upon itself.” I’m still not entirely sure what that says about a movie, but Christmas insists upon itself. God doesn’t ask our permission in 2015 any more than He asked the world’s permission on the eve of Jesus’ birth. No matter our busyness, or distractions, or celebrations, or mournings, or the chains we wear or place on others, Christmas arrives with the quiet yet unmistakable insistence of a rising sun ruining the darkness.

A lot of things in or world, both in 2015 and the ancient Near East, try to insist upon themselves as well. When you find your eye drawn to these things, consider how much flailing and flapping they had to do in order to distract you. War sets fire to the good things it can’t possess like a spoiled child who just learned how to use a lighter. Emperors of all titles parade naked while their sad acolytes implore us to praise their purple robes. Talking heads and self-proclaimed leaders find new demographics to disregard from the podium and the pulpit. Death must lash out at our very bodies and loved ones in order to hold our gaze.

Not Christmas, though. Christmas, like the One it celebrates, just is. Stripped of all the added pageantry, it still is. A holiday devoted solely to the candle at midnight that begs to differ. The fire is sparked, the sun peaks over the horizon, the Son is born, our fallen world is re-inverted, and no amount of insistence can do a thing to stop it.

What are we to do as the unrelenting dawn advances? Join! Unlike the insistent and incessant noise around us, Christmas insists not for its own sake but for ours, and that is truly worth celebrating. You don’t even have to wait till next year to start. Christmas isn’t over until January 6; I’m not kidding, look it up. So leave those decorations out. Let that cherished Pandora station keep playing. Throw out a “Merry Christmas” at work or on social media. Throw one more party, maybe around Epiphany on January 6 or for friends you didn’t get to see back during the wild rush known to the world as Christmas but to the world as Advent. Do something so unselfish it’s confusing, the kind of thing that happens at Christmas in the movies. The darkness doesn’t want to admit its reign is over, so insist.

 

Christmas is.

Executed man left to rot

Today’s blog concerns Holy Saturday. To start at Good Friday, click here.

Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day,and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.-The Gospel According to Lukedead jesus That’s what our headlines would read concerning the mutilated corpse of Jesus of Nazareth. “Executed man left to rot.” Petty and vindictive, if anyone cared at all past Friday afternoon. He got what He had coming. Justice achieved, and the fun of the macabre spectacle over. Saturday found a dead body, stiffening in the ground, in need of spices to mask the odor soon to come. Saturday found disciples, friends, and family waking up to suddenly remember Jesus was dead. And He would be dead tomorrow, and Monday, and Tuesday, and always.

I live close to a large cemetery, and errands and trips often take me past the vast field of the dead. More than once it’s struck me as unsettling to see how many pretty days shine down upon a last farewell, and how the rest of us keep going. Sure, Friday gets some attention. People cook food and click “like” on an emotional Facebook status. But Saturday always comes. That isn’t to say the tears of are friends aren’t real; I have both given and been the grateful recipient of such gestures. But after the diagnosis, the lost job, the broken relationship, the death, the adrenaline ebbs and new triumph, tragedy, or inanity buries the Facebook story. The food is eaten. The guests go home. Those who held your hand have lives that demand their attention. Saturday always comes.

Maybe you find yourself in Saturday. We have all woken up on Saturday at least once. Saturday can be lonely. Saturday can come soaked in guilt and despair. If it does, it isn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last. But if Saturday comes to you, remember that Saturday came too for Jesus and those who loved Him. I don’t know how long you’ve been bearing your cross. Maybe you’re alone, with your now cross bearing you. Jesus hung on His cross until He couldn’t take Himself down. Remember that. Powerless and gone, the shell of a man was removed. Bound, as if cloth would prevent movement any more than the death that already came. And left to rot.

Executed man left to rot