Immovable Versus Change

The sermon text was 1 Corinthians 15:50-58. Paul, in verses 51-52 says twice that we shall all be changed. Then, in a totally unexpected concept – after telling us we will all be changed – he tells us in verse 58 “Therefore, stand firm and be immovable.” I was so caught by the unexpectedness of being immovable as a response to the call to change that, even though I understood Paul was talking about the resurrection, I still thought there was more to be learned from the juxtaposition of those two seemingly opposing thoughts. You see, God has told us we WILL be changed – it will happen to ALL of us and yet way too often we hear that as a call to dig in and stand firm and be immovable. No matter how much God wants us to change we refuse to be changed.

Beth Moore, in her August 2009 simulcast, mentioned the psalmist (Psalm 37) saying, “Trust God and do good.” She said we sometimes interpret that as “do right” but it says “do good.” I was caught by the current political illustration of that “do good – do right” scenario: the conservative Christian political view seems to be that Obama (Democrats) are wrong and we (Christian conservative Republicans) are right and we will prove ourselves right at all costs. No matter what he (they) wants to do, we need to dig in, be immovable – undermine him at every turn; eventually, when he fails, we will be proved right. In the meantime, we have done nothing good for our country or our economy.

In that same vein – do good, and we say do right – God says be changed and we say dig in and be immovable. The pastor said the word immovable is a word that means settle in. That reminded me of the story from Joshua about the Israelites crossing over into the promised land and one group said, let’s settle in right here. Joshua said, “No, All you who are fighting men must continue to fight until everyone has received the promised rest and land.”  Yes, in the midst of the call to change, it would be a lot more comfortable to dig in, settle down and become immovable.

Another illustration of one who became immovable: Lot and his wife and family were told by God’s angel to move on to safety – to walk looking only forward to the future – to change, but Lot’s wife couldn’t; she looked back and became immovable.

When Jesus brought his first message it was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent is a word that means change. It doesn’t mean stand firm and become immovable; it means turn from walking in the way you were going and walk the other way – in this case, toward the kingdom that is near – and not the kingdom that is far. I believe too many of us live as though the kingdom is far, far away – over there, but I believe we were called to live changed lives with the God who is near. George Bernard Shaw said, “Beware of the man whose God is in the skies” and C.S. Lewis in “The Screwtape Letters” illustrated the distance aspect of our faith life by having Screwtape counsel Wormword to, during prayers, have his human focus on a specific high corner of his room – by so doing he would see only the corner while missing the evidence of God’s presence with him. So many of our Christian, and particularly gospel, songs stress the distance aspect of eternity. One of my favorite songs about heaven is the spiritual, “I Heard of a City Called Heaven*,” with the following phrase, “I’ve started to make it my home.” Jesus didn’t focus on the distance of heaven but rather on its nearness; he told us “This is eternal life, to know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

The Christian life isn’t about being immovable or waiting for resurrection but it is a constant and daily walk [anything but immovable, but ever changing and growing] with God who is near.

* a YouTube link for the song [the Leontyne Price version is my favorite but I thought I’d post one that might be more popular]:

Black and White Thinking

I read a Point (liberal) and Counterpoint (conservative) opinion page in the Oklahoma Gazette on pro-choice versus pro-life. The liberal viewpoint was written by a philosophy professor whose main point was that it’s a “black and white” issue with no gray areas – all women deserve the right to make their own decision about their own body and health care must provide that for all. The counterpoint was written by an attorney.

As a woman who was raised during the time when a woman who chose to get an abortion likely had to choose either a back alley abortion or some person with a clothes hanger, I believe women who KNOWINGLY choose to have an abortion should be able to have it done by a physician under optimal conditions and it should be available to more than just moneyed women.

However, I also believe that referring to this huge issue as a “black and white” issue without areas of gray is to be oblivious to all the consequences of that choice.

At the very least, I would suggest that a baby [know that no woman who’s sharing the first ultrasound photo or video of her as yet unborn baby walks up to a friend and says, ‘look at my fetus’ – to that mother, it’s a baby] should also have some rights as to the decisions regarding its own body – when a woman claims the right to control the health issues of her own body, there still needs to be someone standing up for that baby’s rights to choose the health issues of its own body.

When I went to the doctor in 1976 feeling extreme discomfort every day in my stomach, I was fearful of cancer or any number of unknown and possibly tragic possibilities. When I arrived they sent me to the restroom with a cup to provide a urine specimen and then out to sit in the waiting room until I was called for my appointment. It wasn’t long before the doctor’s assistant called me back for my appointment, or so I thought. We walked into her office instead of an examination room and she said, “Congratulations, Mrs. Brown. You’re pregnant. Do you wish to carry the baby to full term?”

I could not have been more surprised by any of her words. It had been 15 years since I’d been pregnant and we had hoped for many years to have more children but my husband had an almost 0 sperm count, which the doctors said was deteriorating, so pregnancy was not even on my radar screen when I viewed the possibilities of my stomach distress. But to go from ‘congratulations’ to ‘do you wish to have the baby’ was a giant leap I would never have expected.

Because those words came from my respected physician’s staff, I assumed there must be a problem with the pregnancy. I actually weighed those words and worried about my decision to continue with the pregnancy throughout the remainder of the term. My son, David, is a wonderful young man, a blessing and delight to my heart and his son, Aaron, is equally wonderful. I am so grateful that my value system allowed me to choose to walk through the pregnancy instead of around it.

I wonder how many wonderful children have been robbed of life because of the fear of a mother that she would not be able to meet the present and future obligations of a pregnancy. How many brilliant minds, fabulous musicians and artists, gifted orators or even how many grandchildren have been lost because of our fears and our insistence on instant gratification. Statisticians are saying MILLIONS of babies have been aborted since Roe vs. Wade.

Another area that is not black and white to me is that some of these women make the choice to abort without adequate preparation and counseling and spend much of the remainder of their lives in emotional agony over their choice. I believe that if a woman has looked at EVERY option as calmly as possible and with personal intelligence plus supportive and encouraging professionals to guide her in her decision and still opts to have an abortion, the medical community should offer her a proper medical environment in which to do so. We should definitely be out of dark alleys with women risking death, dismemberment or the inability to conceive or have a pregnancy at another time in order to avoid the consequences of a current pregnancy. But, in my opinion, a world in which killing babies becomes a method of birth control should be unacceptable to everyone; one of the old sayings I grew up with was, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – probably never more true than in the case of pregnancy.

Living in the Bible belt is also not an area of black and white to me where too many religious groups have stopped adequate sex education in schools so that our young people are inadequately prepared to meet the sexual encounters they experience. Our rate of teen pregnancy in Oklahoma is one of the highest in the nation. In fact, unwanted pregnancies in divorced women are equally high – presumably because it would be unseemly to be prepared ahead of time for such an encounter, so women are willing to risk pregnancy rather than to seem immoral by planning ahead. Living in a time where a substantial number of teenagers are sexually active before high school is over is not a time to put our heads in the sand and hide information from them that could protect them from not only unwanted pregnancies but sexually transmitted diseases as well.

And speaking of hiding information, we have people in this city who try to inhibit our libraries from providing information on sex education. They want any books with any reference to sex in them to be placed on shelves that are too high for short bodies or behind the check-out desks so they can’t be seen by our youth. They also want the libraries to allow parents the right to see any books their children may have checked out – in case some of them decide to fend for themselves. They have written editorials and scheduled interviews with reporters to express their views that the library carries pornographic materials available to children. When I saw a newspaper article that listed some of the books they were claiming were explicit in their sexual depictions, I wanted to see for myself if my library system was guilty as charged. When I didn’t find the materials I was looking for, I asked one of the librarians about the materials; I was told they were unavailable because the people who were fighting the library had actually removed some of them from the library. I did manage to find and check out a couple of the books and reviewed them myself; I found them to be clear, unbiased, sane, educational accounts of sexuality. I handed them to my son, who was about 16 or 17 at the time, and one of his friends to get their opinion. I explained the news reports of pornographic materials in the library and waited for their response. It was quite funny and revealing. They each quickly and, obviously hopefully, flipped through the pages and then handed the books back to me with the comment, “where are the pictures.” These were, in fact, textbooks.

Whatever else the prolife/prochoice situation is, it isn’t black and white and we need to be willing as a democratic nation to address all of the ramifications of this complex issue in order to come to a rational public policy to deal with the physical, emotional, spiritual, familial and financial consequences of unplanned pregnancies.

Brief Musing & Comment on 2008 Election Post

I get an email every weekday from A.Word.A.Day – I love words and have enjoyed this particular effort. The words each week are based around a theme and the theme for this week of the inauguration of a new President is words used by Barak Obama in his books and speeches. As a preface to the weeks’ words, the website’s author, Anu Garg, wrote this:

Obama is to be commended for his accomplishments. We’ve come a long way in this country. But we still have far to go before we can call ourselves truly unbiased. Real progress will be when any capable person can have a fair chance at winning the highest office, even someone who happens to be, say, a black gay vegan atheist woman.

Anything is possible… but don’t hold your breath.

I watched some inauguration programming on Sunday afternoon and there was a lot coming from black history, again supporting how far they’ve come and what Obama stands for in their minds, hearts and hopes. But Anu Garg reiterates what I was commenting on in my “Reflections on the 2008 Election.”

The Land of the Free – Home of the Brave

The last line of our National Anthem that we sing at sports events and for patriotic occasions says, “…O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” It’s true, we have so many freedoms that have been won by so many brave people who were willing to sacrifice lives to that end. But sometimes I wonder what I have done personally with my freedoms and have I, in fact, been brave in exercising them, particularly my freedom to be me.

In the book, Leading Out Loud, Terry Pearce says, “…’I called Gary’s house to thank him, and connected with an answering machine. The message was, “Hi, this is Gary, and this is not an answering machine, it is a questioning machine! The two questions are ‘Who are you?’ and ‘What do you want?’” then there was a pause and the message went on, “and if you think those are trivial questions, consider that 95 percent of the population goes through life and never answers either one!”

That hits too close to home with me. At some level, I know who I am – Donna Brown, divorced mother of two and grandmother of three; Christian, self-employed Realtor and small business owner who struggles financially, singer/musician, Toastmaster. But those are mostly roles I play.

And then comes the even bigger question for me – what do I want? Probably for most of us, the first ideas that pop into our minds are things: bigger house, bigger and/or newer car; more money, clothes, furniture, European vacation. But I think we all know that things don’t satisfy us for very long. Just about as soon as we buy that thing we’ve been dreaming of and saving for, a “new and improved” model hits the shelves and we have to start all over again. But if I could really have what I WANT, what would that be?

Many years ago, the Christian humorist, Grady Nutt, wrote a little book called “Being Me.” He wrote it for teens during those insecure years when they don’t know yet who they are and he called on them to not yield their uniqueness to conformity. There is an enormous pressure to “fit in,” to “not rock the boat” or “make waves.” And that pressure doesn’t dissipate after high school. There is the pressure to fit the mold in relationships and in jobs and in organizations.

But remember, this is the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” Why should I stuff myself in the mold of everyone else when I was created to be me? No one else can be me; if I’m not me, there won’t be a me. And if you’re not you, there won’t be a you.

In Psalm 139:13-14 the Psalmist says to God,

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…

And as Ethel Waters said, “I know I’m somebody, ‘cause God don’t make no junk.”

I did a contest speech called “The River of Life” in which I encouraged people to “sing their own song” and “make their own kind of music,” to, in fact, be themselves and I won three levels of contests with that speech. After all that encouraging others to be themselves (and feeling confident they got the message) a woman who heard the speech asked me to work with her as she prepared a contest speech. Her stated reason – because she wanted to be just like me. Many of us think there is a pattern we can follow or a mold we can fit into and success or acceptance will follow.

Unfortunately, there is no mold to be successful as yourself and you may have to exercise both your bravery and your freedom to accomplish being fully yourself.

In a conversation with my brother and niece, I commented that my brother used to sound a lot like Elvis when he sang. My niece said to her Dad, “Gee, why didn’t you keep practicing – you could have gone to Las Vegas and made it big as an Elvis impersonator.” My theory is, if he had WANTED it, he might have become one of those single-named performers – an original Mickey rather than an Elvis impersonator!

I received an email with an Oscar Wilde quote on it that first made me laugh and then I had to stop and think about it. He said, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” Obviously, everyone we come into contact with makes an impact on us and changes us in some way and clearly we want to be knowledgeable of other thoughts and opinions than our own, but only if I know who I am and what I want, will I emerge from these contacts still being me.

In this “land of the free and the home of the brave,” who are you, what do you really want, what do you really have to offer, what do you really hope for? Understanding your needs and wants and skills is critical to navigating your way from where you are to where you want to be. You are unique – distinctive – plan to leave some evidence on this planet that you have been here. What a gift you are! Exercise your bravery and your freedom and share the gift of you with the rest of the world rather than being merely a replica of everyone else. Be strong! Be brave! Be free! Be yourself!