Ask a Funeral Director...(Response)

Transient

Not surprisingly, our friend Caleb Wilde hit it out of the park in his responses to your questions for "Ask a Funeral Director."  

Caleb is a licensed and practicing funeral director in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  He was born from a Romeo and Juliet romance, as his father and mother are the son and daughter of two competing funeral home families.  On his father’s side, Caleb is the sixth generation of Wilde funeral directors and he would be the fifth generation on his mother’s side.  Caleb says he didn’t want to be a funeral director when he grew up.  He always wanted to be a missionary.  After two years with YWAM (Youth with a Mission), he decided that he was called to be both.  For the past 10 years, he has served God in the darkness of death, where God and humanity often intersect.  

Caleb also has a graduate degree in theology, and will soon have a certificate in thanatology. A consultant for a National Geographic project on death, he was recently featured on ABC’s 20/20. He blogs regularly atCalebWilde.com, and is nearing the completion of a book that journals how death has buried his perspective of God.  Caleb hopes to pursue a Ph.D. on the intersection of God and Death.  He is currently without a publisher and a university, so if you can provide either, he promises that “undertakers are the last people to let you down.” 

His responses to your questions are part of our ongoing interview series which has featured everyone from an atheist to a Calvinist to a humanitarian to a nun to a gay Christian to a pagan. You can see all the interviews here. Enjoy! 

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From Marcus: Based on the numerous funerals you've had to observe, what's the one (or as many as you'd like!) suggestion you'd give to pastors?

Marcus, here’s three suggestions:

Orthopathos.

I’ve rarely seen very religious people weep.  Cry, yes … but the body weakening, tears streaming, snot producing weeping? Rarely.

Very religious people are used to putting on a front and/or trying to accept the belief that “it all happened for a reason” that when it comes to grief and loss, they have a hard time realizing it.  They’re trying too hard to act like their immutable and impassible god that doesn’t exist.

Part of the reason death doesn’t affect us is because we have a theology that promotes an unaffected God. I wonder how pastors would approach funerals and the bereaved if we really believed that Jesus not only wept, but he probably still weeps with us today?

For many Christians, it’s too easy to major on orthodoxy and minor on orthopathos.  During death, perhaps there’s nothing more in line with living like Jesus than attempting to feel with the bereaved family. 

It’s easy to say the right stuff. It’s easy to memorize a funeral sermon or two. After some practice, it’s easy to visit the bereaved families. It’s too easy for this to just become a job. And it’s rare to feel as Jesus felt upon learning about the death of his friend and actually weep. 

It may not be your friend that you’re eulogizing; it may not even be an acquaintance, but I wonder how the Holy Spirit would minister through a pastor who communicates orthopathos at funerals? 

And while you might get your orthodoxy right, and even your orthopraxy, if you can find orthopathos, the family will never forget you or the God you represent.

Try not preaching the Gospel.

Pastors are losing touch, and celebrants are taking their place in the funeral industry. The reason for pastors losing touch is that their Gospel is out of touch with the present, as it’s so focused on the future.

Many Christians are more worried about getting the individual soul to heaven than about bringing the kingdom to the world. We’re more worried about getting “decisions for Jesus” than we are about making Jesus disciples who will transform the world now.

 In the context of a funeral, part of “transforming the world now” is addressing death as real, our grief as real, acknowledging the sorrow of God over death, and yet planting that seed of hope in the Kingdom come and resurrection. It’s bringing our memories of this world together with our hope of the world that’s been inaugurated by Christ and is here but is still not yet. The Gospel isn’t about bringing somebody to heaven. It’s about bringing heaven to us. If heaven can be brought to a funeral through good memories, love, tears, laughter, correction, and the hope of Christ, then by all means, preach it.

Allow others to share

Allow others to speak during times of ministry and comfort and during the service. Less of you is more: more laughter, more tears, more people paying attention, more life amidst death, all by allowing the plurality of others' voices to shape the life of the deceased during the service. 

Learning the art of encouraging people to share during the service takes time, but it’s well worth it and starts with a simple question, “Who’d like to share some memories?”  Sure, the service might take longer. Sure, there might be a story or two that makes you feel uncomfortable.  But then, when everyone’s done sharing, they’re ready for you. You, the pastor, who has shared in their bereavement and shared in their Holy Saturday – they’re ready for you to share with them the fellow suffering of Christ in death and the hope of the resurrection.

From Chad: Caleb, what is the best part of being a funeral director? What are the bright spots in the dark business of death? How do you keep your soul alive in the midst of such loss and grief?

Great question, friend!   

This is a picture of some of the Thank You Cards we’ve received over the years.  Each one represents a death.  Each one represents a family we’ve served.

Transient

My grandfather has saved many of these cards that we’ve received.  I’ll often walk into the funeral home and find him rummaging through his pile of thank you cards, reading a letter like this:

Transient

That’s what keeps us going.

From Bobbie: What is the most unique funeral custom you have ever been faced with? What rituals do you find to be most helpful to the grieving?

Great questions, Bobbie!    

From Famadihana (where the body is disinterred and paraded around in a dance) in Madagascar to Sky Burials (the bodies are incised and left for the birds to eat) in Tibet, the world is full of unique funeral customs!

And although I’ve never participated in Famadihana or Sky Burials, I do live near Lancaster County, Pennsylvania … home of the Amish.  

The Amish are unique in life and death.  In death, the only part that a funeral director plays is the embalming.  We embalm the body, and then we drop the body off to their house.  The family dresses the body and the viewing and service is held in the home of the deceased.

Amish cemetery

Amish cemetery

There’s a movement within industrialized nations to go back to a more natural ritual of both dying and death.  In the West, dying and death have become a reflection of industrialization: cold, sterile, left to the professions, in their professional facilities, highly monetized and grossly mechanized.  In dying, a natural death – while not abandoning modern medicine – recognizes that the real professionals are the ones who can best care for the person and not necessarily the body.  In death, a more natural view seeks to have those who cared for the deceased in life also care for the deceased in death. 

The Amish are a prime example of rituals that I find most helpful to the grieving.  Give death and dying back to the family, with the “professionals” acting as the family’s servants.

From Rachel: Does anything about your profession trigger doubts about your faith? Do you ever doubt the afterlife?

Yes.  Most days I question.  Most days I doubt the afterlife. 

After I embalm a two year old, or watch as a spouse screams in agony over the loss of their loved one, it’s hard to believe in the goodness God.  

Here are some traditions that have helped me learn to accept my doubt:

Doubt and silence play a major role in the history of the Church; a role, that for the most part, has been written out of the Protestant and evangelical story.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the method through which they look at theology is called “apophatic theology”, which is contra the Western style of theology in that it speaks silence towards God, who is, they say, in many ways, unspeakable.  Cataphatic theology (the Western style), which is what almost all of us in America do, is the attempt to define God positively, which often involves definition and affirmation.  In other words, our theology often involves many words, while their theology often invokes silence (thus their use of icons as means of meditation during silence).

Doubt and silence has been written out of the Western view of God.

Protestant and evangelicals not only like to speak about God, they also like to assert about God. Doubt it not a part of our paradigm; thus, when somebody begins to doubt aspects of Christianity, it’s frowned upon, whereas in some Christian traditions – especially Orthodox and in some cases Catholicism – doubt is an accepted form of worship.

Holy Saturday is the Holy Day where doubt and silence is the PROPER POSITION of worship. Holy Saturday is the Holy Day between Good Friday and Easter.  It’s a day when we attempt to understand what the Disciples of Christ were feeling during that dark day of death … the day Jesus was in the tomb. 

A day when we try to understand, as the disciples had, the crucifixion WITHOUT the knowledge of the resurrection.  When death and tragedy has cast a dark shadow on life and God, I remember Holy Saturday. 

As odd as this sounds, I’ve learned to worship while doubting both God’s existence and the afterlife.

'Urn' photo (c) 2010, Chris  Murphy - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

From Sam: What are your views on cremation? Do you ever run into pastors who are opposed to it?

Sam, I thought I’d answer your second question first.

Since the joining of the Church and Rome, “Christian burial” was the mode of disposition for the Church in both the East and West.

Cremation – a disposition method that was associated with pagans – was seen as an act of disbelief in the bodily resurrection. During Charlemagne’s reign, cremation was an act punishable by death … supposedly they’d punish those who were doing the cremating and not those being cremated?

In the 1870s cremation was reintroduced in the West.  One hundred years later (1963) the Catholic Church officially okayed cremation, while the Orthodox Church remains in opposition to cremation to this day.

Here’s the Orthodox Church’s reasoning for opposing cremation:

"Because the Orthodox Faith affirms the fundamental goodness of creation, it understands the body to be an integral part of the human person and the temple of the Holy Spirit, and expects the resurrection of the dead. The Church considers cremation to be the deliberate desecration and destruction of what God has made and ordained for us. The Church instead insists that the body be buried so that the natural physical process of decomposition may take place. The Church does not grant funerals, either in the sanctuary, or at the funeral home, or at any other place, to persons who have chosen to be cremated.”  (Pastoral Guidelines by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America)

Just this week a Greek Orthodox family that we were serving decided to cremate their loved one.  We called a local Orthodox priest to see if maybe he might officiate the funeral and he turned down our request.

What do I think?

From a religious standpoint, I have no difficulty with cremation.  It’s only hastening an inevitable process.  My problems with cremation are more from a psychological standpoint and have less to do with cremation per se and more to do with WHY one chooses cremation. 

As a preface, I should say that I avoid right and wrong binaries concerning dying, death, disposition and funeral customs.  As my friend Caitlin Doughty says, grief produces a “snowflake of despair.”  There is no objective “right”, nor is there an objective “wrong” because our grief work is as individual as our connection to our deceased loved one. 

Instead, I like to see things on a gradient from more healthy to less healthy.  And I can only get a sense of that gradient when I have a trusting relationship with the person who is experiencing the grief. 

With that said, it’s probably healthy for the family to see the deceased’s body to help start the grieving process.  If a family we are serving requests cremation, we suggest they view the deceased if they haven’t had a chance.  It’s healthy to see death, to touch death and to know that it exists. 

It’s probably unhealthy to use cremation as a way to deny the reality of death. 

The first stage of grief work is overcoming denial.  It’s too tempting – especially for those of us in the West who pay massive amounts of money to deny our own mortality – to give into denial by ignoring the sight of death. 

Cremation isn’t healthy or unhealthy in and of itself … just so we don’t use it as a way to get around confronting the reality of the death of our loved one.

From Martha: What about grieving as an act of worship?  I'd love to know your thoughts.  My husband died two years ago.  I thought I was basically through the intense part of grieving, but recent events have forced me to re-visit some grief issues.  How can I see this as an act of worship?  How can I turn this very painful process into worship?

Martha, I am so sorry for your loss. 

In some way, Martha, your painful process is worship.

I wrote an article that was RELEVANT Magazines most popular online article of 2011 that deals directly with your question.  It’s called Worshiping God Through Our Sorrow

It’s by no means brilliant, but I do hope it’s helpful.

From E-grush: I'm a father of two young children (ages 5 and 8) and have terminal cancer. What can I do for them that would be most helpful in the dying process?  And is there anything you can recommend that may help with the challenge to faith that these circumstances present? Most Christians' answers are trite and too easy, in my experience.

I admire your courage in thinking about your children during such a personally difficult stage of your life.  You, my friend, are a father that your children will never forget!

Here are a few helpful tips that I’ve gathered from three separate Counseling journals about how to help your children in both the dying process and in death.  Hopefully one or more are helpful for you:

• Children do indeed grieve, can comprehend loss and experience grief processes.

• Stay close to your children, giving them physical affection.

• Let your children see your own grief and pain; it gives them permission to grieve your loss on their own.  “It will help the child to see the remaining parent, friends and relatives grieve.  Grief shared is grief diminished…if everyone acts stoically around the child, he or she will be confused by the incongruity. If children get verbal or nonverbal cues that mourning is unacceptable, they cannot address the mourning task.”

• Avoid euphemisms.  In and of itself, the concept of death is difficult enough for a child to understand; using euphemisms can only add to the difficulty.

• Advise your children to attend and involve themselves in your funeral.

• Gently help your children grasp the concept of your mortality.  Avoid vague explanations to your children’s questions, but answer each question as honestly as possible.

• Keep other stressing situations, such as moving or changing schools to a minimum.

• Be honest with your children about the depth of the pain he or she will feel.  “You may say, ‘this is the most awful thing that could happen to you.  And it’s the most awful thing that could happen to me.’ Contrary to popular belief, minimizing the grief isn’t always helpful.

If you can, here’s a very practical project you might want to engage in: take the time you have remaining to record videos for your children to view when they are older.  Record separate videos for each of them for when they turn 10, 15, 20, 25, etc. and offer in those videos the experiences that you had at those ages and the lessons of wisdom you learned.  Give the videos to their mother and have her give your children those videos at the appropriate age. 

As to your second question: And is there anything you can recommend that may help with the challenge to faith that these circumstances present? Most Christians' answers are trite and too easy, in my experience.

Trite answers like:

“It’s all God’s plan.”  

“God knows what He’s doing.”  

“You’ll be in a better place.”  

“There’s a reason for everything.” 

I’m sure you heard them all.

Maybe Rachel’s wonderful readership can share what they’ve learned in their times of death and doubt. How have you guys moved past the trite answers to embrace the presence of God amidst tragedy?

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Some words for Christians on both sides of the Chick-fil-A war

'Chick-Fil-A Chicken Sandwich' photo (c) 2010, Link576 - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Just some thoughts from a retired veteran of the culture wars—

To Christians speaking out against Chick-fil-A:  

I understand. I too believe marriage is a civil right in this country, and I too get frustrated when Christians appeal to their faith  to withhold this right from their neighbors. I too am tired of selective appeals to “biblical marriage” that tend to glorify the modern nuclear family as the only ideal and render real people with real lives into a mere political/religious “issue,” and I too am reluctant to support an establishment that sends part of its profits to the Family Research Council, an organization that has fed blatant misinformation about homosexuality to Christians for years. I am especially sorry to my LGBT friends who have been bullied in the name of Christ—many of you as Christians  yourself—and I long for the Church to become a more welcoming home to all who want to follow Jesus, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, or sexual orientation. You have every right to be tired of being treated as a second-class citizen.

I get it. I really do.

 But I beg you to please remember that not all Christians who speak out against gay marriage are bigots or homophobes, and calling them those names is as unjust as it is unkind. Many of the people I love most in my life fall into this “camp,” and most of them mean it when they say that they sincerely love their friends and relatives in the LGBT community and wish they knew of some way to hold to their convictions without hurting or insulting their neighbors.  

With this in mind, please make your boycott a peaceful and respectful one by simply staying away from Chick-fil-A restaurants or protesting outside of them. I am distressed by plans floating around the internet that encourage folks to demand free food or water from Chick-fil-A restaurants on August 1 or to show up to restaurants in drag.  Plans like these end up affecting restaurant employees more than anyone, and none of this is their fault. In addition, they tend to perpetuate misinformation and stereotypes about the so-called “gay lifestyle.” As one gay man I know put it: “I’ve never dressed in drag in my life! This doesn’t represent me.”  In the past, I’ve bemoaned the tendency for some Christians to confront store clerks during Christmastime, demanding that they play religious Christmas music over the PA and say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” That sort of behavior is petty and unbecoming, so let’s not engage in it. 

Also, we should all be concerned with calls from some city leaders to deny Chick-fil-A building permits, as these raise serious constitutional concerns. As representatives from the ACLU have pointed out, if a government can exclude a business for being against same-sex marriage, it could just as well exclude a business for being in support of same-sex marriage. I live near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where some government officials tried to use this same strategy to ban the building of a mosque in the area, and I spoke out against such a blatant infringement on religious liberty. If Chick-fil-A discriminates based on race, gender, or sexual orientation, then they should be subject to government intervention, but a government cannot and should not punish someone for free speech. Celebrating the withholding of building permits is not only constitutionally problematic, it’s also bad strategy. It perpetuates the fear among many conservative Christians that part of the so-called “gay agenda” involves restricting free speech and persecuting Christians. This will only further entrench the “us vs. them” mentality and break down any potential the sort of meaningful, constructive dialog that actually leads to change. 

Finally, having grown up in the evangelical subculture where boycott is something of a sport, take it from me: boycotts often backfire. Already Mike Huckabee has called conservative Christians to flood Chick-fil-A with their business, and I see many of my friends and neighbors responding enthusiastically.  Remember how you responded to the boycott against JC Penny over Ellen? (For me it was a super-cute floral top.) Well, the same thing is likely to happen in this case. Again, what concerns me the most in all of this is the drawing of unmovable lines between the Christian community and the LGBT community when these lines need not exist. As Christians, we should be working tirelessly to find common ground instead of drawing battle lines. 

In short, we can choose not to patronize Chick-fil-A  without 1) calling those who support Chick-fil-A bigots and homophobes, 2) making scenes that make life hell for Chick-fil-A employees, 3) promoting one civil right while trampling on another, or 4) focusing all our efforts on a boycott to the expense of more productive conversations and actions. 

 To Christians supporting Chick-fil-A:  

I understand.  It is frustrating and unfair be called a bigot and a homophobe just because you don’t support gay marriage, or worst yet, just because you enjoy the occasional waffle fry at Chick-fil-A.  (Mmmm....waffle fries.) Sometimes it seems like tolerance and understanding is extended to everyone except conservative Christians, and when some city governments threaten to deny building permits over an issue like this, you have to wonder where they will draw the line.  I’m sorry that you have been called names and that your motives have been questioned.  

I get it. I really do. 

But please remember, our allegiance is to Jesus Christ, not a restaurant.  Rallying behind Chick-fil-A at this time can come across as tribalistic, petty, and divisive. Please know that when you post a picture of yourself defiantly holding a Chick-fil-A bag on Facebook, it may send a hurtful message to your LGBT friends who—fair or not—have come to associate Chick-fil-A with anti-gay organizations and anti-gay remarks.  There are better causes than "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" around which Christians can rally. (Feeding the hungry perhaps?) There is no need to cause unnecessary offense to folks who have already been so ostracized by the Church, no need to wave a red and white banner through yet another culture war.  If you really want to love your gay friends and neighbors, shoving Chick-fil-A bags in their faces right now is just not the way to do it. 

Second, please don’t cry “persecution!” As unfair as this boycott may seem, calling it religious persecution is insulting to the blood-stained history of the church and to the many Christian men and women who suffer very real persecution in the world today. (Keep in mind too that LGBT folks are often subjected to bullying, violence, and hate. ) We should all be grateful to live in a country where free speech is protected—whether it’s Dan Cathy’s comments on gay marriage or a protestor’s homemade sign—and we must be wary of victimizing ourselves over something like this lest we render the word “persecution” meaningless. 

Finally, I urge you to take a few moments to listen to the stories of gays and lesbians who have been negatively affected by the organizations that are supported by Chick-fil-A.  Last week, Alise Wright highlighted some of the problematic elements of Family Research Council in particular, which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and has consistently tried to link gays and lesbians to pedophiles. She concludes: “This is why I, and many others, choose not to patronize Chick-fil-A. Not because we disagree with the owner’s views on marriage equality. Not because we believe that denying marriage rights means that you hate those to whom you are denying those rights. Not because we believe that Dan Cathy’s statements constitute hate speech. But because Chick-fil-A has funded a hate group.” 

Conor Gaugham weighed in with a Huffington Post article explaining that protestors are not simply “arguing over chicken,” but over the 5 million in donations that Chick-fil-A—(the restaurant itself, not Cathy personally)—has sent to organizations that “fight to discriminate against [gays and lesbians].” 

“Eat all the chicken sandwiches you want,” he said. “But, realize that behind this debate are real people -- kids like the girl in Kentucky who fear for their safety, women like Sally Ride's widow who are denied their spouse's Social Security benefits.” 

Our friend Justin Lee jumped in yesterday and explained why Cathy’s words are hurtful to a gay Christian like himself and reminded us that just as folks who don’t support gay marriage as a civil right should not automatically be accused of homophobia and bigotry, so folks who do support gay marriage as a civil right should not automatically be accused of “pride,” “arrogance,” “inviting God’s judgment” and “shaking their fists at God.”

And today Alise warns against dismissing the concerns of Chick-fil-A protestors as silly or unimportant, reminding us that “for a lot of people, this is real injustice.”  

“...Up to 40% of all homeless youth identify as LGBT," she writes, "and of those, almost 80% left because their families rejected them when they came out...There are more than 1100 federal benefits denied to same-sex couples...LGBT youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers...That’s a real injustice.” 

Indeed it is, and I think evangelicals in particular tend to turn a blind eye to the ways in which some of these religiously-based organizations may be inadvertently contributing to these problems rather than helping  alleviate them.  Most of my gay friends have had interactions with one or two of these groups, and when they tell me their stories—of wanting to kill themselves after trying desperately to change their orientation, of feeling forced to keep their same-sex attraction a secret and date members of the opposite sex in hopes that marriage would “fix” them, of being compared to pedophiles, of being told they would suffer forever in hell for their orientation, of their parents being blamed for being “absent” or “controlling” when they weren’t and when there are absolutely no studies to suggest this makes children gay anyway, of watching gay friends get married and then divorced because they couldn’t keep up the charade, of thinking they deserved the bullying because God hates them too—it breaks my heart. 

I urge you to take a few moments to listen to people like Conor, Alise, and Justin so that you understand their perspective better, and I urge you to research the organizations funded by Chick-fill-A before jumping on Facebook to enthusiastically support them. Ask yourself - Is this a cause I really want the world to see Christians mobilizing around? Does this really advance the gospel and show the love of Christ?

So, in short, you can choose to patronize Chick-fil-A without 1) rubbing it in people’s faces, 2) crying persecution, and 3) closing your ears to the concerns of others, particularly those from the LGBT community.

In conclusion, we would all do well to remember that the genius of the culture wars is that they convince us we change the world through bumper stickers, boycotts, and ballot boxes. They mobilize us around insignificant "wins" that, in the long run, only make things worse. The truth is, this whole Chick-fil-A storm will probably blow over in a few weeks, and when we come out from our hiding place in the basement, I fear that the only thing that will have changed is the unnecessary divide between the Christian community and the gay community will have grown wider.  

And as much as we might like to, we can’t turn around and head back to the basement. 

As Christians—conservative and progressive, gay and straight, activists and slacktivists—we must direct our efforts instead toward bridging this divide, which is going to take a lot of hard work, a lot of disappointment, a lot of tears, a lot of compromise, a lot of honesty, a lot of mistakes, a lot of apologies, a lot of listening, a lot of forgiveness, a lot of meal sharing, a lot of gospel. 

In other words, it’s going to take a heck of a lot more effort than either eating or avoiding a chicken sandwich. 

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For a group that’s doing good work to bridge the divide, I recommend the Gay Christian Network, which welcomes both conservative Christians and progressive Christians to the table for conversation. 

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Closing the comment thread at 6 p.m. EST. Dialog has been mostly civil and constructive, but until I can get a team of moderators, it's too much for one girl to handle. Thanks for understanding!

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Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.

Sunday Superlatives 7/29/2012

Around the blogosphere...

Most Inspiring: 
Charity Water with “Rachel’s Gift. One Year Later

Most Informative: 
Chris Lisee at the Huffington Post with “Religion At 2012 Olympics: From Ancient Greece To London” 

“The London Olympics will try to accommodate religious athletes with 193 chaplains, a prayer room in every venue and a multifaith center in the Olympic Village.” 

Best Conversation-Starter: 
Jeff Clarke with “Evangelicalism: A Boundless-Centered Theology” 

“The center of evangelicalism is determined by us – those who call this place home. There will be some degree of theological variety because of our varied emphases, but it is possible to gather around those things we hold in common and are deemed to be of greatest significance. On those areas where we differ, we continue to discuss them in a spirit of charity and grace, realizing that we are all en route and equally need increasing clarity for the journey ahead.”

Best Synchroblog:
Sarah Bessey’s “What’s saving your life right now?” synchroblog
[Seriously, all of these contributions are worth a read...such a brilliant prompt]]

Best Reminder:
Jonathan Martin with “Gender, race, and Pentecost: the world has moved on

“I am a Pentecostal by heritage and tradition, but culturally I am one of the bourgeois pastors whose day might seem to be coming, but in many ways has already passed.  The whole white male, coffee-drinking, apple product-using, Coldplay-listening type.  It is a very small world that we live in that feels deceitfully large.  We have blogs, we write books, we talk about the most recent issue of Christianity Today.  So it is easy to think we are the center of the universe. We did not notice that the world has already moved on.  We didn’t notice that the wind of the Spirit left us, and that there is a new world coming in Latin America and Africa and Asia that rendered us inconsequential.  We enjoyed our time in the mainstream well enough to forget that the move of God always comes from the margins...

...The average Christian in the world right now is an African or Latin American female in her early 20’s.  She doesn’t read our blogs and she doesn’t read Christianity Today.  She doesn’t know or care who I am and she never will.  The names Piper, Driscoll, Chan, Bell, Stanley, Warren—mean nothing to her.  Like most Pentecostal women coming into the kingdom around the world, words like ‘complementarian’ and ‘egalitarian’ are not in her vocabulary, nor Calvinism and Arminianism... She takes the authority of the Bible very seriously.  But more importantly, she believes in the power of the Bible in ways that are incomprehensible even for our most rabid ‘conservatives.’  The western filter and language that frames these issues will not be determinative for her, unlucky as she is not to read our blogs.  She may well in end up leading a church one day where she preaches Jesus like a woman on fire and lays hands on the sick and watches God heal them, though this will surprise those Reformed colleagues who are sure all female church leaders have been trained by godless-Unitarian-lesbian-leftist-radical feminist-seminarians (she didn’t have access to seminary at all–unfortunately she has read the Acts of the Apostles).  Who knew? The world has moved on, God has moved on, and we didn’t even notice.”

Bravest: 
Amber Haines with “Why It’s Okay to Not Be Enough

“My temptation is to say that if I nurse him more or read the Bible more or pray harder, I’ll be enough. Our temptation is always to say that our works are sufficient. But for me, let me tell you now, my marriage isn’t sufficient and nor is my house. My kids, my friends, and my insurance plans aren’t enough...”

Sweetest (nominated by Kari Baumann): 
Daniel at Shaken Parent Syndrome with "Wash Feet"

“Bath night isn’t until Tuesday, so Monday night we elected that instead of giving her a bath we would just wash her feet.  At first, I tried wiping them down with diaper wipes.  This had no effect.  Remember this the next time someone complains about stinky feet: foot funk has more staying power than feces.  So when it became clear that sanitary wipes could not defeat the feet, I went and got a washcloth and rubbed in some of her bath gel.  As we got her dressed for bed, I massaged her feet with the warm washcloth, rubbing the suds into her heels and between her toes.  Then we carried her into the bathroom and rinsed them in the sink, again massaging them and rubbing the soap away.  Then I patted them dry with a hand towel, daubing away the moisture, squeezing the towel around her soles and toes.  This process had a calming effect on her, and she watched me with quiet interest as I wrapped each foot in the washcloth.  'Wash feet,' she said softly...My spouse, who was holding her while I performed this footwashing (any cosmetic or dressing procedure requires at least three, usually four, hands these days) noticed out loud what a sweet and gentle daddy I was being to wash the stink off her feet for her.  It’s true, I can be a pretty sweet daddy at times.  But what I was thinking of as I washed my little girl’s feet I was the story in the Gospel of John where Jesus washed his disciples’ feet..."  

Wisest: 
Christina Gibson with “Packing Bags on Holy Ground

“And if I’ve learned anything the past few years it’s this: there is no way we can fully prepare ourselves for pain.  You can brace for impact, but you can’t stop it from hurting.  Preparing for pain is a waste of time.  We’re far better off embracing difficulty instead of padding against it through cynicism, escapism or control. For the first year after Ellia’s diagnosis, I refused to embrace the pain.  I wanted to escape.  I wanted to avoid fear and anxiety, even if it meant rejecting the journey. And in refusing to embrace the difficulty it became clear that I was forfeiting the potential to meet with God.”

Most Thoughtful (nominated by Travis Greene
Beth Norcross with “Eye on the Sparrow

“Howard Thurman could not have foreseen the extent to which humans have used their power to unravel the original harmony of creation, most notably by significantly altering the climate of the planet. However, his most famous book—Jesus and the Disinherited, published in 1949—offers poignant insights as Christianity attempts to come to grips with the impacts of climate change on the earth’s most vulnerable. In this work, Thurman made the compelling case that, despite Christianity’s historical use by dominant powers to affirm their dominance, “the basic fact is that Christianity as it was born in the mind of this Jewish teacher and thinker appears as a technique of survival for the oppressed.” Jesus stands, side by side, with those who have “their backs against the wall.”

Most Encouraging: 
Karen Walrond with “45 Things I Know at 45

In the spirit of the Olympics... 

Best Responses to the Chick-fil-A Flap:

Gold—
Jen Hatmaker with “In the Basement

“If you are weary of the storm, come on downstairs. We’re going to get on with the business of loving people and battling real injustices and caring for the poor and loving Jesus. We’re going to go ahead and offer mercy to one another, even if it is viewed as ‘soft’ or ‘cowardly’ or ‘dangerous’... We’re going to trust that Jesus is actually at work in this world like He said, and when he promised that “His kindness leads us to repentance,” we’re just going to believe Him. Sure, the storm will rage on up there. But you can find refuge just down the stairs. We have a whole thing going on underground. Gay friends and family, you are welcome down here. Marginalized women, come on down. Isolated and confused by organized religion, afraid your questions aren’t welcomed? Join us. Activists and bleeding hearts, you are our heartbeat. Plain, old, ordinary sinners saved by grace, you belong here. Misfits, ragamuffins, and rebels, bring the party. Reformed legalists, you are my people. Pastors contending for God’s glory and people, help lead us. Dissenters, dreamers, visionaries, we need you...”

[Pretty much sums up how a lot of us feel about this.]

Silver
Alise Wright with “Chick-fil-A and Hate Speech

“We can acknowledge that there is a difference between hurtful words and hateful ones. We should acknowledge that. But, what also gets lost in this is the actual hate speech that is going on, not with Dan Cathy, but with Chick-fil-A.... This is why I, and many others, choose not to patronize Chick-fil-A. Not because we disagree with the owner’s views on marriage equality. Not because we believe that denying marriage rights means that you hate those to whom you are denying those rights. Not because we believe that Dan Cathy’s statements constitute hate speech.But because Chick-fil-A has funded a hate group.”

[By far the most reasonable, charitable, and informative post I read from those avoiding Chick-fil-A] 

Bronze
Caryn Rivadeneira with “Remember Chick-fil-A Next Time You See Any Bullying

“...The second time I ate Chick-fil-A this week, I knew I was making a huge statement: that I support free speech and the right for anyone to say or not say anything without fear of government reprisal or of attacks for the sake of ‘honesty.’”

[I'm not convinced that one side or the other has the edge on 'bullying,' but I certainly share Caryn's serious concerns over governments threatening to withold building permits from Chick-fil-A, (the same strategy was used here in East Tennessee to try and prevent local Muslims from building a mosque), and her critique of the unfortunate public "outing" this controversy inspired.]

UPDATE: Justin Lee weighed in today with another good post:

Best Women-in-the-Olympics Posts:

Gold-
MSNBC with “For the first time, women from every nation ready to rock Olymics

“For the first time in Olympic history, all 205 countries participating will send at least one female competitor. Brunei, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are sending women for the first time, while the United States will have more women (269) than men (261) for the first time in history. That’s a far cry from 1900, when women first competed in the Olympics in Paris and comprised all of 22 athletes out of the 997 overall competitors.”

Silver- 
Asma Alsharif at Reuters with “Saudi women's Olympic march draws praise, blame

“Conservative Muslim clerics in Saudi Arabia oppose women's sport, arguing that it is immodest and goes against their nature. That view was reflected in Twitter postings including one under a hashtag that would translate as ‘Olympic_Whores’...”

[These women are so brave]]

Bronze- 
Chloe at Feministing with “Faster, higher, and stronger – but no less sexist” 

“Sure, we could talk about her London medal chances, or about how much she’s matured since she was thrust into the limelight when most girls her age were busy picking their favourite Backstreet Boy. We could talk about how hard the life of an Olympic swimmer is, and what an enormous level of commitment it takes to qualify for the Olympics a record four times. Instead, we’re talking about her weight, thanks to Melbourne’s Herald Sun, which decided to publish “then and now” photos suggesting that Jones has gained weight.” 

And I was thrilled to see one of my heroes, Leymah Gbowee, chosen as a flag-bearer in the opening ceremonies!  

On the blog...

Most Popular Posts:
How to watch an entire season of ‘The Bachelorette’ and still be too good for it

and 

“Church Stories:  Embracing Faith as an Aspie (by Erin Thomas)

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Why I don’t give parenting advice

Today I’m re-opening our faith and parenting series today for my friend and fellow blogger Joy Bennett. Joy has been writing since the second grade and blogging since 2005. She grew up in a Christian home, and says she should know the answers to all the usual faith questions...but doesn’t. She has delivered four babies, handed two over to heart surgeons in the hall outside an operating room, and buried one in a cemetery just a few miles from her home.

Joy consistently writes with transparency, insight, and grace. Later this summer she’ll be headed to Sri Lanka with World Vision. Be sure to check out her blog or follow her on twitter.

***

Transient

It always surprises me when people ask me to give parenting advice. 

It also scares me a little. 

I get parenting wrong every single day. 

I lecture instead of listen and ask questions. I confuse childishness for rebellion and punish it instead of recognizing it as a glimpse of my child’s still-ripening maturity. I let things slide that I shouldn’t and then rant when things get out of control, even though I’m partially to blame. Even though I should know better after 12 years as a mother, I still expect things to be convenient, comfortable, and easy for me. Then I actually resent my kids when they make things inconvenient, uncomfortable, and hard.

I get it right occasionally, too. So do my kids. Those are good moments.

However, I don’t think that gives me authority as a dispenser of advice. My parenting choices are still largely untested and unproven. Our children aren’t even teens yet. It will be ten to twenty years before we see what kind of adults they grow into. 

Even then, are children really the best measure of their parents? I say no. This is one of the biggest mistakes we can make, both as parents and as observers of parents. It assumes that parents have total control over how their children turn out – over what kind of adults they turn into. We blame parents for the unruly, rebellious, and backslidden; we laud parents for the polite, demur, submissive, and devout. 

We forget that each child is a separate individual, endowed with a body that is unique (and imperfect). Some children have special needs or biological challenges to overcome or accommodate. Each person has a mind and will that is independent, accountable, and responsible for his or her choices. Parents have incredible influence on the way a child develops their mind and will, but ultimately each person is limited by their individuality and choices. 

If my children grow into responsible, courteous, trustworthy adults, I cannot take all the credit. And if they grow into frivolous, foolish, rude, deceitful adults, I cannot take all the blame.

If they never become independent because of brain injury, autism, or developmental delay, the vocabulary of credit and blame has no place in the conversation at all.

All I can offer as a fellow parent working it out every day is a little perspective. I can remind us both that we can’t force our kids to make good choices but we can teach them how. I can remind us that we can’t keep our kids safe – after all, my daughter died in her own bed in our home. I can’t think of a safer place than that. I can remind us both that each one of our children is unique and different and will require us to work differently with them than with the others. That has nothing to do with fairness; it has everything to do with knowing your child.

And this last bit? The part about every child being unique? This is one of the biggest reasons I avoid giving advice. Only you know your child. Who am I to listen to a few sentences about a situation and speak into it with any real wisdom without knowing your child the way you do? I can help you think through it by asking probing questions. But ultimately, I’ve concluded this: All a parent can do is the best they can at any given moment. And the best we can do to help another parent is encourage them to keep doing their best.

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