Wednesday, May 31, 2006

RE: Posting Comments on H-n-T

A few people have told me they've had trouble posting comments on this blog. If your comment isn't posting, please feel free to e-mail it to You also can use the permanent link to the right, "Contact H-n-T," to send e-mail.

Thanks for contributing to great discussions!


Too Many Cons to Both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice

There are a few topics I avoid discussing at all costs. One is abortion.

So when the topic came up in a recent conversation, I started to squirm. Not because it was heated (it was calm). Not because it was irrational (thoughtful opinions from different perspectives were offered).

I was horribly uncomfortable because this is the one topic where no woman is allowed to remain neutral, to waffle, question, or ponder. Both pro-life and pro-choice sides throw hard punches, and those who attempt to stand in the middle get pummeled the worst.

Yet, I try to ride the fence. Though I'm an evangelical Christian, I can't line up under the pro-life banner because there seems to be a lack of compassion there. And neither can I cling to the pro-choice side because the battle cry there is about rights rather than what is right.

For starters, the language in the abortion debate is all wrong. "Pro-life" connotes that the opposite is pro-death. Pro-murder. Some pro-life extremists would have us believe women who have abortions are cold-blooded killers. I've never met or heard of any woman who said, "I'm going to do everything I can to get pregnant just so I can have the experience of killing an unborn child." It's preposterous.

By the same measure, the "pro-choice" movement isn't really about creating options; it's about supporting one single, particular selection. Wouldn't it be refreshing to hear pro-choice hardliners say, "You know, gals, you also have the right to choose to not have an abortion. In fact, there are many choices at your disposal ... ."

It bothers me that many pro-choice politicos refuse to recognize there's a real baby involved. They use the word "fetus" to make it sound more medical, more clinical. And yet, women who've had abortions tend to use the words "baby" and "child" in talking about their own experience: "I chose not to have my baby." "I'm not ready to have a child." (By the way, I pulled these quotes from a pro-choice web forum.)

Any way the fertilized egg is packaged, the idea of destroying it nauseates me. I developed strong feelings about this in college, during a biology class where we broke open incubated chicken eggs to study the developing systems. We could see a tiny spine, a network of veins, the flutter of a beating heart. The idea of developing life awed me, and when our professor told us to "clean up our areas," I nearly started to cry. Even knowing the exposed organs would soon fail, I couldn't terminate my project. "That ... is a chicken!" I protested to my fellow students. My instructor countered, "That is an egg. And that is your grade." My kind lab partner allowed me to look away as he disposed of our study material.

Maybe it's been wrong for me to look away all these years--nauseated, knowing, and still silent about abortion. Yet I'm equally troubled by the heartlessness of many pro-lifers who refuse to recognize there's a real woman involved. Or, as is most often the case, a real girl. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), which began collecting abortion statistics in 1969, the largest number of abortions occurs among girls younger than 15. Rather than offering counseling and comfort to pregnant teens, some pro-lifers merely hand out pamphlets which graphically explain how abortion would rip her baby apart inside her body. I'm all for education and providing constructive information so others can make an informed decision. But do young pregnant teens really need more condemnation and guilt heaped on their already overburdened shoulders? Shouldn't a young woman chose to keep her child out of love, not fear?

It seems perspective can get

clearer if we're closer to the

people than the issue.

Pro-lifers argue that if they don't take a hard line, abortion will become a method of regular birth control. They say some women might develop a flippant attitude toward abortion. There's possibly a teensy grain of truth to this: Of women having abortions in 2002, 18.5 percent already had two or more abortions in the past (that's about 100,000 women on record). Still, CDC records show the total number of abortions has declined steadily and significantly from 1990 to 2001, then remained essentially the same from 2001-2002 (the CDC's published reports through 2002 are currently available online). And abortions are lowest among women in their prime childbearing years, from age 20 to 40. So it doesn't appear to be the birth control of choice in the U.S., probably because most women understand the chemical and/or surgical process involved with abortion has a pronounced negative effect on the body. It's no secret women who've had abortions suffer emotionally and psychologically. I can think of no greater tragedy than of the numerous Christian women who quietly bear the pain of abortion alone, afraid their churches and Christian communities will expel them if their secret should be revealed.

It's easy for me to personally say I wouldn't have an abortion at this point. I'm happily married, and while my husband and I have no immediate plans for children, we'd warmly welcome a baby. That said, I can't very well put myself into the shoes of the unmarried pregnant women (in 2002, 80 percent of women who had abortions were single) who don't have the financial or emotional support of a loving husband. And I don't know how I would react if I was raped and became pregnant. I don't know how my husband and I would respond if a pregnancy put my life in danger.

I know Christian singles and couples who've found themselves in all of those situations. More often, I've been encouraged to see their churches surround them with support. It blessed me personally to witness their pro-life Christian friends step up and say, "We will love you unconditionally, and we will help you through this, regardless of what you decide." It seems perspective can get clearer if we're closer to the people than the issue.

And yet ... there are so many arguments. Too many. I've noticed a great number of friends are torn by this issue, and they qualify their responses to it just like I do: with a healthy dose of "ifs," "ands," and "buts." My friend M diplomatically suggests this is one issue for God to deal with on an individual basis. I can imagine both Lifers and Choicers ripping into M. They'd both dismiss him, "Because he's a Christian! Because he's a Democrat! Because he's a MAN!"

And I almost wish I could dismiss M's thought, too, because it requires me to remain on that fence, teetering precariously. Then again, trusting God has always worked well for me in the past.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Perception is Everything: A 'How-Not-To' Lesson from Franklin Graham

It's said a picture's worth a thousand words. What does this one say to you?

To me, evangelist Franklin Graham appears to be looking down on the world in this photo, which appears in the current issue of Time magazine.

The photo is shot from an ever-so-slight upward angle, imbuing an air of superiority. His arms are crossed, causing him look unreceptive and unfriendly. Judgmental, even. Behind him, a set of windows forms a cross, and it's all aglow in pure white light--a stark contrast to the darkness which surrounds him. More interestingly, the frames of the windows form two unique shapes: There's an arrow at the top pointing downward to a horizontal line at the bottom. The photo is shot at the perfect angle to show the horizontal line just inches above Franklin's head. The arrow pointing downward to that line seems to say, "Can you measure up to this Christian? He doesn't think so."

Before you throw open your window and yell out, "H is a judgmental meanie!" please let me explain myself. As I looked at this photo and read the accompanying Q&A in Time, I wondered, "How will someone who isn't a Christian view this?" I can't imagine the pressure of being Billy Graham's kid--having every word and action scrutinized. That said, I just gotta scrutinize a couple things in Franklin's interview because it helps me understand how Christians are perceived.

As Christians, our lives are scrutinized, too. We may not have our doings broadcast worldwide like Franklin, but we do add or subtract to others' perception of the church on a daily basis. Let's look at what Franklin said in the Time Q&A, how he had the opportunity to say a little more (or a little less), and what we can learn from his words:

Q: What would Jesus say about AIDS today?

Franklin: In his day, there was leprosy, which was incurable. And Jesus healed lepers. He didn't turn them away. That would be the same reaction today. But Jesus did tell people he healed, "Go and sin no more." And I think that to a person with HIV/AIDS, he would tell them, "Go and sin no more."

Q: Would he tell that to someone with cancer?

Franklin: I think so, because Jesus said that time and time again. I think there are times where a sinful lifestyle can lead to a disease in our bodies. I think Jesus would heal a person who drinks too much alcohol and ends up with cirrhosis of the liver and say, "Don't go back and do that again."

Missed opportunity: While it's true we sometimes cause our own problems, Franklin instead could have acknowledged all of us are sinners--including himself. He could have expanded on Jesus' point: It's awesome to get physical healing, though what we're really in need of is spiritual healing though God's forgiveness.

Side note: When we talk about "sin" with people who aren't Christians, it's good to explain what this means. And really good to explain everyone sins--including ourselves and all Christians.

Here's another passage from Franklin's interview:

Q: Do you still ride your motorcycle and, if so, do you wear a helmet?

Franklin: I do, and yes, it's a state law [to wear a helmet]. ... You know, when I was young, I didn't wear a helmet.

Q: Is it a sin not to wear a helmet?

Franklin: No, it's not a sin. You know the Bible says our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. And if we do something to hurt the bodies that we have, eating too much, eating the wrong foods, drinking too much, we are hurting this body God gave us and I think putting your body at risk when you don't need to put it at risk, like riding a motorcycle without a helmet, I just don't think it makes sense. I think God gave us a brain. He expects us to use it.

Missed opportunity: The interviewer's real question here is probably, "Franklin, have you ever 'sinned'? Are you, in fact, a 'sinner'?"

Franklin could have acknowledged his choice to not wear a helmet as sin. Wearing protective motorcycle gear, such as a helmet, is a necessary precautionary measure. When we choose to rebel against obvious safety, we're in essence rebelling against God. He's given us common sense, and if we don't use it--whether that's not wearing a motorcycle helmet, not using our car seatbelts, overeating, undereating, or standing too close to the edge of a cliff where posted signs say, "DANGER! Rocks unstable!"--we are sinning by our rebellion. We're saying, "We know better than you, God! In your face!"

Additionally, God has put others in leadership over us, so when our government passes a law such as requiring motorcycle helmets, I believe it's a sin to break that law ... unless the government is asking you to oppose God, o' course.

Franklin's answer points to some of these ideas, but he also appears to contradict himself. Pair his second response to that of the earlier question. (He uses the example of excessive alcohol consumption in both responses.) Am I being nitpicky? Yes. Will some other readers, especially those with negative feelings toward Christians, perceive this as an apparent contradiction? Most definitely.

Another missed opportunity here is in Franklin's word choice. He begins, "You know the Bible says our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit." Many people aren't familiar with this reference, and those who are may not understand what this means because it's church language. The body is a what? And what's a Holy Spirit? We expect scientists to explain their research findings in ways we'll comprehend. We expect doctors to simply tell us how to improve our health, and we don't want a bunch of cryptic medical jargon. And we've gotta drop our Christian-speak if we're to effectively communicate with those who've never been to church.

This all may sound like Monday-morning quarterbacking, 20-20 hindsight, woulda-coulda-shoulda directed at Franklin. But this isn't about bemoaning the past--it's passed. It's about preparing for the future. We need to continuously reflect on our own interactions. Trust me, I regularly botch my opportunities to talk about Jesus. In looking back at what I've said, and what I could have said instead, I'm better prepared for my next conversation. As Franklin says, "God gave us a brain. He expects us to use it."

To ponder:
1) There's a perception Christians view themselves as perfect--that "Christian" means the opposite of "sinner." Think of one of your regular struggles (such as profanity, overeating, a bad attitude, speeding on the freeway). How can you use this to illustrate how you're a sinner, too?

2) How do you explain "sin" to someone who's never been to church? How do you explain God's view of sin?

3) In conversations, it's important to acknowledge that one doesn't need to be a Christian to be a good person. Think of some good people who aren't Christians. Choose a mix of well-known philanthropists or social activists, and friends and peers. You can use these to illustrate how someone can be a socially responsible, good person, but still lack a relationship with God.

4) Journalists argue publications must be compelling for readers--thus the strong, emotive photos and specific ordering of words. It's a legitimate argument, though it's also a way to rationalize bias. Can you spot ways the media uses phrases and photos to affect readers' perception?

Compare the Time photo with this kinder, gentler photo from Samaritan's Purse, left.

5) Consider how advertisements are set up to elicit a particular feeling. Now, read a news article or watch a news segment. How were words or pictures used in it to move you emotionally?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

"Da Vinci Code": Whale of a Tale

"Every now and then something comes along that's difficult for humans to classify. It's rather bizarre, for example, that a whale is classified as a mammal [though it] lives its life in the ocean ...

"In the world of religious leaders, Jesus is a whale. [He's] often lumped into the same phylum with other great religious leaders, including Moses, Muhammad and Buddha. But frankly, he doesn't fit. On the surface, he looks like a fish (a wonderful religious leader who has helped shape the world of faith and morals), but he taught and claimed something that, when analyzed, makes him a different species altogether. He claimed to be God."

--From The Da Vinci Code: A Companion Guide to the Movie, a Campus Crusade for Christ publication

Jesus and Da Vinci: Who was Jesus, Really? Review of the Movie

Poll Finds Da Vinci Code Alters Beliefs

*Quote edited for clarity

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Is God Really in Control of Our Lives?

As a Christian writer, I get to spend a lot of time studying and reading and thinking about God. It's my job to write about the things I learn. That sometimes makes me feel like The Answer Girl.

Last week, I got a reality check.

I was having lunch with my friend Rosie, who's husband recently died from cancer. Losing a loved one causes a person to think about life and death and God. A lot. That day, Rosie gave me a lot to think about.

Rosie had deeply believed God would heal her husband, Gordon. She prayed confidently for healing and never doubted it would come, which concerned some of her friends. "What if Gordon isn't healed? Will Rosie hate God or lose her faith?" people wondered.

Rosie told me her love for God and her faith were stronger than ever. Yet she still struggled with one question: "I wonder if it was God's perfect will for Gordon to die," she shared.

Ever equipped with a "helpful" theological response, I unhesitatingly responded, "Rosie, I think you know the answer to that question. Yes, it was God's will. And God's will is good and perfect. I think your real question is: Why was it God's will for Gordon to die right now?"

"No, my question really is: Was it God's perfect will for Gordon to die," she repeated. "Because I don't believe it was."

Though I'm a woman of many words, I was, oddly, speechless at that moment. I can only guess God shut my mouth.

For days, I mentally chewed on Rosie's words, as if they were a piece of tough meat I couldn't quite digest. Rosie has to be wrong, I thought, because if she's right, would that mean God isn't fully in control? Isn't everything that happens part of God's good and perfect will for our lives--pieces of the grand, master plan? I wanted to spit out the thought, to dismiss it as emotional words from a distressed widow. I thought about seeking out some of our church leaders so they could set me straight. I thought about getting a book or searching for a scholarly article on the subject. But God made it pretty clear I needed to struggle with this alone--this was something between me and him.

Not long ago, I read an interesting quote on God's intentions, related to the biblical book of Job. It was spoken by one of my former college instructors; I'll call him "Professor Bigbrain." But first, I feel the need to paint a little picture to put this in context.

Professor Bigbrain earned his undergrad degree from Princeton, and his master's and Ph.D from Harvard. In the world of literature, he is The Man. He's kept company with literati from Nobel Prize laureates like Seamus Heaney to pop phenoms like the late Ken Kesey, author of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

Students were intimidated by Professor Bigbrain, probably because his tremendous genius was only exceeded by his tremendous ego. I vividly remember his complete disdain for our puny, undergraduate brains. Irritated by our lack of enthusiasm for his lecture one day, he kicked out our entire class, proclaiming, "You are not students! And I don't believe you are sapiens, either! GET OUT, GET OUT, GET OUT!" With each "get out," he'd flung his finger toward the door, his face turning from pink to crimson to hellfire red.

Now, back to that quote about Job. A student asked Professor Bigbrain why God had punished Job. (We won't get into a theological debate about whether God "punished" Job or merely allowed his suffering--just stick with me here for a moment.)

Professor Bigbrain replied, "You want me to tell you what God was thinking? I’m arrogant, but I’m not that arrogant."

It shocked me Professor Bigbrain acknowledged he, too, didn't have a clue about God's intentions. So who was I (remember, according to Professor Bigbrain, I'm neither student nor sapiens) to be telling Rosie it was indeed God's perfect plan for her husband to painfully deteriorate and lose his life from cancer?

By the end of the week, I'd managed to mostly push Rosie's comment out of my head. Then that Friday, I got called for jury duty. Being stuck in a courthouse waiting room with 150 strangers gives a person a lot of time to think. I didn't want to think about Rosie, so I pulled out my copy of Brian McLaren's book about evangelism, "More Ready Than You Realize." I'd previously read halfway through the book but hadn't looked at it for more than a year. I knew God was sending a message when I read:

... a Christian belief is that God is all-powerful ... but that doesn't mean that God "makes" everything happen or "controls" everything that happens. I think it's safe to say that the universe is never "out of control" ([that] God can't stop it [or can't] intervene ... ) but that doesn't mean that everything that happens in it is controlled.

McLaren goes on to say perhaps our all-powerful God has created an "interactive universe ... in which we all interact with one another and with him." Say someone commits a murder. McLaren's theory asserts God isn't surprised at the murder--God is infinitely wise and intelligent enough that it's like watching a movie with an obvious plot--but God didn't necessarily want or plan for that murder to happen. Since he saw it coming, he could have prevented it. For whatever reason, God chose to allow the murder to occur. Still, does that make it God's doing? As Rosie might say, the murder wasn't God's good and perfect will.

Is Rosie right? Is Brian McLaren--an admired pastor who Time magazine named as one of The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America--right? Or are those who say everything is part of God's plan right?

How much does God control? It's a question Christians have been chewing on for ages. Folks on all sides of the discussion will quote Romans 8:28. They all have some good arguments and all back their theories about God with scripture. But can any human claim to definitively know the will or the way of God?

It's important for all of us to share our thoughts about God, and to try to piece together ideas about him. It's also important to distinguish fiction (such as The Da Vinci Code) from fact.

But, I've learned, it's not helpful to define God for others. No one can grasp God in his totality, and I suspect he shows us small parts of himself according to our needs. So God personally will make himself known to a hurting widow. And to a celebrity pastor. And to an arrogant professor.

And this week, he used all of those people to teach a talkative little writer a thing or two about him.

To ponder:
1) Are there things you wonder about God and faith, but are afraid to say out loud? What keeps you from sharing your thoughts (eg. feeling like you won't be taken seriously, thinking you'll sound silly, assuming you're wrong)?

2) Throughout our lives, all of us are sometimes teachers and sometimes students. Try to think of a time you unexpectedly taught someone (maybe you saw them as smarter or more powerful, or maybe they were older or in a leadership position over you). Try to think of a time when you unexpectedly learned from someone.

3) Consider how you interact with different people in your life: your parents, individual friends, spouse, children. How is your personality distinct with each person? Do you sometimes change the way you act based on your loved one's needs? Now, apply this idea to God's character. Think of the ways God has interacted with you throughout your life: as a Father, friend, comforter, provider, protector, etc.

4) If it seems hard for you to know God, consider your own relationships. Are you open with close friends, or do you keep things on a strictly need-to-know basis? Do people know the real you?

Think about why you keep people at a distance, then start telling God these things. (Some examples: "God, I have a hard time talking because my parents never talked to me." "God, I don't trust easily because my friend let me down." "God, I can't allow myself to be loved because I've had my heart broken.")

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Doc Didn't Own a Mercedes or a Mansion--Which Made Him All the More Impressive

I admit it: I google my own name every once in awhile. And by "once in awhile," I mean, ahem ... once a week.

I count the number of Google search pages my name appears on. It's vain, I know. But honestly, it makes me feel like my life is meaningful. I don't make much money or wield any power. I sometimes feel invisible to the world, insignificant in it. So when I see someone posted my name on their website, I get a bit giddy. Ahem, a lot giddy. It pleases me that I've perhaps impressed someone.

Yesterday, my dad handed me a newspaper obituary about someone who was truly impressive: Dr. Albert Goldstein.

You probably don't recognize the name, and there's no reason you would. Dr. Goldstein ran a small private medical practice in a small town. He offered medical aid primarily to poor families who couldn't afford health insurance. When he opened his medical practice shortly after the end of the Korean War, he charged patients $2 for an office visit. Over the years, he did raise his rates--he was charging a whopping $5 this year. No, I didn't leave off any zeros there, and let me spell it out so it sinks in. A medical doctor ... who cared for patients who didn't have insurance ... and he charged them FIVE DOLLARS for an office visit.

There was no secret fund or money-making scheme; Dr. Goldstein's lifestyle and possessions were humble. He retired from full-time work in 1990 at the age of 70, but never fully retired--he kept his clinic open three days a week until less than a month before the end of his life. Just so he could care for poor people who had nothing to give him in return.

And those who he cared for never forgot him. Like my dad. Back in the 70s, my dad needed a physical exam in order to get a job with the postal service. Dad didn't have medical insurance, and didn't know how he'd be able to rake together enough cash. So he went to see Dr. Goldstein.

Along with the discounted medical service, Dad had appreciated Dr. Goldstein's easy-going, down-to-earth demeanor. He handed me the obituary, verifying every word of praise in it was true. "That's exactly who he was," Dad said.

My dad had been deeply impressed by this man's life.

Like me, Dr. Goldstein didn't make much money or wield any power. I googled his name, and it only returned a couple hits. It seems Dr. Goldstein worked on the Manhattan Project, something which might impress a lot of people. But when asked about it over the years by local reporters, he'd always downplayed his role.

Dr. Goldstein didn't need a resume, a cool car, or a big house to impress others. It's got me thinking about the person I want to be, the impression I want to leave. Do I want to be best-dressed, prettiest, or the girl who died with the most Google hits? Nah. I'd rather be a person who inspires a look like the one I saw in my dad's eyes--to be someone totally unforgettable for all the best reasons.

To ponder:
What are some ways you try to impress people? What are some of the qualities of those people who truly impress you the most?

2) Jesus Christ left the biggest impression in history. Think about his life. How does his simplicity factor into how impressive he is? Do you think you'd be more impressed if Jesus had been a rich king?

3) Many celebrities give tons of money and contribute much to charitable organizations. Yet, we hear little about their benevolence and much about the details of their wealthy lifestyles. Why do you think the media and the public are more interested in wealth and fame than in kindness and generosity?

4) Think about an uber famous celebrity, such as Steven Spielberg. Now, think about a nameless, starving child in another country. Honestly, who would you rather impress? Think about your reasons for your choice. If you did a favor for both Spielberg and the starving child, which one do you think would be left with a deeper impression of you?

4) Consider this verse: "... don't be conceited or make others jealous by claiming to be better than they are." (Galatians 5:26, CEV). Think about the ways we try to impress others. Are wealth and power likely to cause conceit or jealousy? Are the so-called "
fruits of the spirit" (such as kindness, patience, and peace)--the evidence that shows how God is reshaping our character--likely to cause conceit or jealousy?

Pomona doctor really cared for needy

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Apartment Owner Boots Bible Study Group

"We have had a situation where our property manager got phone calls at home calling her a devil worshipper."

--One Management Vice-President Jenny Petri, commenting on her company's decision to ban a Bible study group from meeting in a lounge of one of their apartment properties.

Residents of Heritage Court Apartments in South Carolina received a notice Monday that all religious activities were prohibited in the complex's common areas. It was particularly directed at a group of about 20 residents that meet on Monday nights for a one-hour Bible study. The management company said it issued the ban to avoid accusations of religious preference. The ban was temporarily lifted today after federal officials questioned the new policy.

Full Story:
Bible study banned

Spartanburg apartment complex to permit Bible study

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Dangers of Secondhand Witnessing

My husband and I recently became victims of a horrible social crime: secondhand witnessing.

It was a gorgeous, sunny Saturday afternoon, and we'd decided to have lunch at a nearby cafe. We were fully enjoying our meal, our time together, and the wonderfully comfortable silence when another couple plunked down at the table next to us. The man began to make overly loud conversation with his female companion.


Her (barely audible): Yes, it's beautiful today.


Her: Uh ... yup.

Each time the man made a comment about God or his faith, he'd give us a little sideways glance, estimating our reaction. And each time, his companion also would sneak a peek at us, her eyes full of apologies.

Before they'd received their beverages, we knew which church they attended, how long the man had been a Christian, and what he prayed for every day. All without him speaking a direct word to us. When the waiter brought their sandwiches, the man grabbed his companion's hands and yelled, "LET'S SAY GRACE, HONEY!" He thanked God profusely for the food, practically praising the good Lord for every ingredient in his sandwich. And after he uttered, "AHHHHHHHH-MEN," he turned to stare at us, waiting for a reaction.

My husband and I kept our heads straight forward, our gaze glued on each other. But out of the corner of my eye, I could see the woman across from me, almost lipping the words, "I'm so sorry." She didn't say it out loud, but she didn't have to--the embarrassment was written all over her face. I wanted to reach over, pat her hand and say, "It's all right, dearie. It's not the first time I've had to endure a secondhand evangelist."

As they began chomping on their sandwiches, comfortable silence reigned once more. I figured the worst of it was over. Suddenly, the man broke out like a preacher on Easter Sunday, "OH, WHAT WOULD I DO WITHOUT MY SAVIOR! MY LIFE WOULD BE IN UTTER SHAMBLES, YES IT WOULD. GLORY TO GOD FOR THE DIFFERENCE HE'S MADE IN MY LIFE! THERE'S POWER IN THE BLOOD. I CAN'T IMAGINE HOW ANYONE CAN LIVE ONE DAY WITHOUT CHRIST--NON-CHRISTIANS TRULY ARE LIVING IN THE TOILET."

(OK, he didn't really use the word "toilet," but he did imply anyone who wasn't a Christian must be having an utterly miserable life.)

I then noticed other diners seated nearby were beginning to roll their eyes. My attention shifted to my husband, who is not a Christian. His hands were clenched around his sandwich, knuckles whitening. His green eyes had narrowed into two black death rays. I feared he'd leap from the table and commence beating down this Christian loudmouth. The next words out of my mouth were, "Check, please."

On the way home, my husband told me how offended he'd been. (His exact words were along the lines of, "I wanted to put my fist into that man's mouth to shut him up.") I apologized, explaining how some Christians thought this was a good way to share the things they believe. My husband's response was direct and simple: "Acting that way, did he actually think I'd be interested in what he had to say? That I'd want to be like him?"

Too often, we Christians witness in ways that diminish interest in Jesus rather than peak it. We try "secondhand witnessing," proclaiming our beliefs loudly in public and thinking others will overhear and want to seek God. Or we use our weird "Christianese" language: "There's cleansing power in the Savior's blood. It washes away your sin, you are forgiven and your relationship with the Father is renewed." Huh? How is someone who's never been to church supposed to make sense of that?

Sometimes we become "evangel-pests": We only talk about God. All the time. We pester, believing if we debate and prod and argue with someone enough, they'll want to know Jesus. What a mistake!

All of these ineffective means of witnessing come from a good place. We want to share what God's done in our lives. We want others to experience the difference Jesus can make in theirs.

Unfortunately, we Christians sometimes feel it's possible to convert others by our own ability, to persuade them to adopt our beliefs. We forget it's God who moves hearts and changes lives.

We don't need to use sneaky tactics, a fancy speech, or a point/counterpoint argument to be an effective witness. All we need is to make ourselves available to God, and pray he will use our lives and our words to speak to others.

To ponder:
It's easy to think about witnessing as the things we say. Think about your actions (the way you live) and your friendships (particularly, the way you listen). How do these factor into the way you witness?

2) In The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), Jesus instructs us to "make disciples." Think about the definition of disciple. How does that differ from the word convert? What are some attributes of disciples--what does it take to be a disciple? What does it take to make a disciple?

3) Think about someone with whom you'd like to share your faith. How much do you know about them personally? How much time do you spend with them socially? How much do you know about their spiritual background? (For example, how do they view God? How do they view organized religion? If they went to church and/or believed in God in the past, why did they stop?)

4) Some people perceive Christians as snobby perfectionists who look down on others. Sometimes, the most effective way to witness is to reveal where you've struggled and failed, and how God has helped you through rough times. How well do others know you? Think about specific stories that illustrate your struggles/failure so you'll be prepared if you get the opportunity to share these.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Science, Too, Requires a Leap of Faith

I've long thought of science and religion as opposites. Science, I thought, was tested, proven, fact. Religion was experiential, impossible to prove, and based on beliefs that arose from internal feelings.

So I was blown away when my friend Paul told me science isn't as actual and factual as I believed. Paul is a physical chemist, hard core as they get (meaning: I rarely understand a thing he says.) He wrote the following piece about how science requires a lot of faith--and how science and religion actually have a lot in common. (And thankfully, he's used very small words to help me understand.) -H

Much of society today misunderstands the whole premise of science. People hold a perspective that everything we observe in the physical world around us is rigorously provable through the inter-marriage of math and science. This is decidedly untrue. In a modern world, where science and society are inextricably interwoven, a clear view of science is critical to the health of that society.

As an example, let’s consider Newton’s first law, which states that force equals mass times acceleration. This really just means, for example, that if you push a chair that’s standing still, it will move. However, if you push a chair the size of Texas, it will not noticeably move, because it’s too massive. These ideas are what we would call common sense, because we have built up a huge set of evidence over the course of our lives by moving chairs, cars, doors, keys, our bodies, and countless other items … but that’s all the proof we have.

We cannot prove Newton’s first law via mathematics. So is it true? Unfortunately, we can never really know if it’s right or wrong, true or false. We can only point to about 330 years worth of experiments and experience that no one has ever measured a violation of this law. It’s simply a mathematical description that appears to be very accurate.

All of science rests on this and a few other laws that have held up to as much scrutiny as we care to give them, but can never be proven. From these unprovable laws, we can rigorously derive other, more sophisticated relationships to describe the world around us. An example of this is Bernoulli’s Principle, which is derivable from a set of these unprovable laws, and which describes the physics of how an airplane stays in flight. Let me restate this in another way so that we are very clear about it. Since we cannot prove Newton’s laws rigorously, we can never prove Bernoulli’s Principle rigorously (because we have to start with Newton’s laws), but we have enough faith in them that we step onto an airplane and let it take us several miles above the ground in flight.

Consider what would have happened if centuries ago everyone would have simply rejected Newton’s laws because he couldn’t prove them mathematically. Technology today would probably be stuck in the 1700s or 1800s. Instead, scientists decided to test the principles and determine if they are accurate descriptions for the physical world, if they can accept them without proof. Through the laws of science, the complicated physical world makes sense.

So how does this relate to society, then? Science appears from the outside to be a rigorous series of well-structured proofs, a series that might even appear to extend forever. It does not. It extends back to its foundation in Newton’s Laws, to a few good premises. The danger in this misconception is that we are tempted to believe that anything that is true is provable because we think (mistakenly) that everything in science is provable. Anything that cannot be proven is supposedly to be rejected.

We are tempted to

believe that anything

that is true is

provable because we

think (mistakenly) that

everything in science is


This is often a main objection to religion. "You can’t prove to me that there’s a god." True. But if we choose this philosophy, we must reject all of science as well by the same argument, because we can never get past the foundation of unprovable laws.

Surprisingly, religion works very similarly to science. As an example, consider the Bible. It begins with a basic premise, "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." It does not seek to prove the existence of God, just like no scientific research, experimental or theoretical, is currently underway to prove Newton’s laws. The Bible instead assumes God’s existence to be true.

We should not stop to argue whether or not the existence of God is provable, or whether or not the Bible is God's attempt to communicate with us. Rather, we can approach the Bible with similar tools from science. Given these two postulates, that God exists, and that he chooses to communicate to us through the Bible, we can begin to test the statements of the Bible and determine if they correlate well to our experience. One testable statement in the Bible is "draw near to God, and he will draw near to you." If we begin to seek a relationship with God, he will draw near to us. We will never be able to prove that God exist this way, but we can build up a lifetime of evidence that his existence correlates extremely well with our experience.

I would like to comment briefly on testing and experimenting with God’s promises. In science, we must be very careful on how we conduct experiments to test a hypothesis. We conduct and experiment and relate our findings to other people. When we have sufficiently tested a subject, we can feel fairly justified in our conclusions. We must take the same care when examining the Bible. If I want to test the principles of quantum mechanics, I have to think very carefully about my experiment. I can’t just say, "if quantum mechanics is true, then I’ll walk outside today and see a woman with a red jacket and green umbrella who is tap-dancing." When I walk outside and don’t see this woman, I quite erroneously conclude that quantum mechanics is wrong. I must think carefully about how to determine if by drawing near to God, he is drawing near to me.

In a modern society, we should not simply reject the things we cannot prove. Nor should we reject the things we cannot see. Rather, we should learn how to find evidence for things we cannot prove, things we cannot see. This is faith.

To ponder:
1) Consider these two definitions from The American Heritage Dictionary:

SCIENCE: The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.

FAITH: Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.

In your opinion, how are science and religious faith alike? How are they different?

2) Do you sometimes find it hard to see religious faith as "proven" or "factual"? Why do these labels feel awkward in relation to religious faith?

3) Do you usually accept science as pure truth? Why do you think so many people accept science without questioning it? Why do you think so many people question Christianity?

4) H mentioned she finds it difficult to understand Paul when he uses science terminology. In the same way, it can be difficult for people to understand when someone is speaking "Christianese."

Try to state or write down the basic beliefs of Christianity without using any Christian jargon. For example, don't say, "I've been saved by Jesus' blood." Explain what it means to be "saved," why it was necessary for Jesus to die in relation to the Hebrew tradition of sacrifices. Using very basic language, explain what "sin" and "forgiven" mean. This exercise is extremely helpful when explaining Christianity to a child or to an adult who hasn't attended a church regularly. It also can help Christians see their own faith in a new light.