Sunday, June 28, 2015

Why I Am Not "Celebrating Pride"

It’s interesting to me how I never had the desire to enter the debate over homosexual behavior, yet how I feel forced into it by the constant assault on my Facebook newsfeed from those who not only believe that this is acceptable, but that I must celebrate it along with them. The debate over homosexual behavior is not my hill to die on. I do not think it is the most pressing problem facing Christ’s church, I do not think it is worse than other sins which run rampant among those who call themselves his followers, and yet, at this point I don’t feel like I can totally be silent on the issue either. So here goes:

We come from different world views, you and I, and that is why we disagree; it’s not because you love and I hate. It’s not because I’m intolerant or bigoted or fearful. We see the world through different lenses, we have different values, different moral compasses that point to a different north. I refuse to enter this debate with a Facebook meme or a trite statement that can so easily be misunderstood or misconstrued, so if you want to disagree with me, you’ll have to hear me out fully, and engage me respectfully. That’s the only way for two worldviews to meet.

1)  I believe in a God who intelligently and purposefully designed this world. If you do not believe in God of course we disagree, but the existence of God is an entirely different debate. It’s not that I’m unwilling to undertake that debate, I’d love to, but space is limited here, so just hear me out, if for nothing more than trying to understand me better as your friend, and for being careful that you’re not misrepresenting my view when you argue against Christianity.

2)  As designer of this creation, I believe God has the final say as to how his creation should behave. I believe God has revealed his will for the moral behavior of his people in the Bible. (Why I follow the Bible and not any other holy book is also another subject which I have given much thought to, but can’t engage here.) Yes, I have read all of your memes and your attacks trying to tell me that the Bible also commands lots of other things that I do not follow such as stoning people who commit adultery. There is so much to say here, but I will have to summarize: I believe the Bible is a progressive revelation of God to his creation, meaning that the Bible unfolds as a story in time and that some commands that applied to Israel under the old covenant existed for specific reasons for a specific time, but no longer apply to the new covenant church of Christ. (Yes, we can talk reasons and times…later.) Yes, there are laws in Leviticus that no longer apply today: fair enough. However the apostle Paul condemns homosexual behavior (see Romans 1:18-32) even well into the new covenant era after Christ’s death and resurrection, calling the behavior “unnatural” and “shameful.”
        Ah, but Jesus never says anything about homosexual behavior! Well, true enough. He also never speaks about pedophilia, and never prohibits skinning a cat and feeding it to a crocodile. This doesn’t mean he endorses these things, it means it wasn’t the most pressing matter for him to deal with in the first century Jewish culture. Jesus spoke almost exclusively to Jews about how they fell short of God’s laws so that they would see their need of forgiveness and the power of his Spirit to change their lives so that they could live in a way that pleased God. He was concerned that although they obeyed all the outward, obvious laws of God (such as not practicing homosexuality—see those passages in Leviticus), they neglected to make sure their hearts really loved God and loved their neighbors. They were often arrogant, hateful, uncontented lovers of themselves. Jesus saw that and he preached against that, as our churches should as well. Like I said, I don’t think homosexual behavior is the most pressing problem that the church of Christ faces, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong, and it certainly doesn’t mean we should celebrate it.

3)  I believe the most loving thing that I can do is to speak the truth to others, even if it feels hurtful to them. As long as I honestly have what I believe to be the other person’s best interest in mind, it is not hateful but loving to speak the truth. Consider this example: Dad leaves for the weekend and tells his three daughters that they may not drink alcohol while he is gone. That night Sisters 1 and 2 pull out a bottle of wine and begin to drink. When Sister 3 objects, Sisters 1 and 2 counter:
-“But we’re not hurting anyone else, we’re both consenting here.”
-“Furthermore, our drinking alcohol is not hurting you, therefore this is none of your business.”
-“We have a natural inclination towards drinking alcohol. Dad knows that, and in his heart of hearts he really wants us to be happy. We need to drink alcohol to be happy. Dad would not want us to have to deny ourselves of what would truly make us happy, therefore he really won’t mind if we do. In fact, he will be happy that we were true to our heartfelt desire and celebrated who we were."
-“Dad also told us when we were toddlers that we shouldn’t cross the road alone, but he lets us do that now, therefore we don’t need to listen to Dad’s rules. Obviously he can’t make up his mind and he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing.”
-“You just like to judge us. Why are you so ‘holier than thou’? Dad is going to be even more angry at your pridful heart than at our drinking.”
Sister 3, knowing that Dad must have his good reasons, and knowing that she ought to obey him even if he hasn’t explained his reasons, has only tried to show love to her sisters by hoping to turn them from their errors and later punishment, yet they assume she acts out of hatred. She knows that despite all of her sisters' reasonings her father will not be pleased when he returns and it is loving of her to warn them.

4)  I believe that having a natural inclination toward a certain behavior does not make that behavior right, or something to be celebrated. I do not know if some people are born with a natural homosexual desire, or if that desire arises as a consequence of their experiences in life and culture (nature vs. nurture), but I will just assume here for the sake of the argument that some people are born with a sexual attraction for people of the same gender. Does that mean that God wants them to act on those desires? Does that mean that they have no control over them?
I know for a fact that some people are born with a natural propensity towards violent aggression; it is very difficult for them to control those impulses; in fact, it makes them most happy when they behave violently. Does that make it right? Is violence something then to be celebrated? The same goes for a natural inclination towards drunkenness or illegal drug abuse: many people feel they need to engage in these behaviors to feel truly happy and fulfilled. Does that make it right or something to be celebrated? What if I have an inclination towards stealing? And on it could go.
“Ah ha!” you are saying, but those things harm other people, whereas homosexual behavior between two consenting adults harms no one. To which I will say: how do you know? Many immoral behaviors show their harmful effects only much farther down the road. Personal drunkenness may harm no one else for many years, only later may the subtle harmful effects on my family and friends be visible. But even if it were true that it never harmed anyone in this life, it would not be any less wrong. Remember that we derive our morals from different places, friend. You are living by an ethic that says anything is right unless it harms another. I live by an ethic that says there is a God who intelligently designed his creation and has a right to be the one to ask his creation to behave in a certain way or not. He is not obligated to explain his reasons. He is not obligated to justify his actions to his creation. As Paul says in Romans chapter 9, he is the potter and we are the clay. Does the clay have the right to complain to the potter, “Why did you make me like this?” Of course not. Does this rub us the wrong way in our self-worshipping culture of 21st century America, yes it does. That doesn’t make it any less true.
But why would God make someone with a sexual inclination that he never wanted them to fulfill? I don’t know. He doesn’t explain everything he does. Why does he make some people with a propensity towards pride and arrogance, lying, stealing, violence, or substance abuse? I don’t know, but that doesn’t mean he wants people to indulge in or celebrate these propensities. They are still wrong. Why does God allow natural disasters? Why does he allow birth defects? I DON’T KNOW. But I do know that he is the designer and I am the creation. It is not my place to question him.
I do know at least one reason for suffering in this life, and living a life with a same-sex attraction yet being asked not to act on that attraction could be generally lumped under being asked to suffer so here is my brief explanation insofar as my finite mind can grasp it: God allows pain and suffering in this life for a greater good: namely, that I come to love him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love my neighbor as myself; that I would become more like Christ, dying to my sinful desires, and living for the one who created me, saved me from my desire to live for myself, and gave me the power to love him wholeheartedly. The ways in which walking through suffering bring about these changes in my heart are too complex to explain fully here. Feel free to ask me more about this another time.

5) I believe that having a natural inclination towards something sinful is not in itself sin. I want to be careful to distinguish that I am arguing against homosexual behavior and not homosexual inclination or attraction. Being tempted to sin is not sinful, but giving in to that temptation is. Celebrating it is even worse. Condemning those who refuse to celebrate it with you takes it to a whole new level. What am I suggesting people with a homosexual inclination do about it? Asking for God’s help to change these desires or to live a life of abstinence from homosexual relations is no more wrong or being untrue to oneself than asking for God’s help to overcome the desire for or addiction to any other wrong desire.

6) I am not advocating political pressure to force anyone to behave by my moral standards. Note that I am not writing this piece because I am enraged that homosexuals have the right to marry in our country. I am not a political activist and I do not believe that it is the job of the US lawmakers to legislate morality. My main concern is the sudden outpouring of hatred for anyone who isn’t “celebrating pride” right now. I am concerned as to what this will mean for my ability to practice my faith and teach my beliefs in the United States. I am concerned for the oppresion that will certainly follow of anyone who is now deemed “intolerant” or “bigoted” for believing differently than the current majority. 
        I am concerned by the recent cry that any business that refuses to participate in gay weddings must be destroyed. I will bake cakes for gay people. I will invite them to dinner and listen with genuine interest to their life stories. I will run into their burning house to save their lives. If I had a restaurant I would love to serve them dinner. But I would not bake a cake for a gay wedding, and I would not cater a gay wedding. Why not? What's the difference? Listen carefully here: I will love the person, but I cannot condone the behavior, and a gay wedding is a celebration of a behavior that I believe is wrong. You cannot ask me to celebrate something I believe is wrong. But isn't refusing service to gay people the same as refusing service to someone based on their skin color? No, it isn't, because skin color is not a moral behavior. Sexual practice is a moral behavior. There is a difference. And I wouldn't refuse service to gay people, unless it was for the purpose of celebrating a moral behavior that I believe is wrong. Insisting that my life be ruined because I will not celebrate a behavior that I believe is wrong seems a little hateful and intolerant to me.
        I am concerned for the subtle effects this ruling will have on culture and for the eternal souls of those who are celebrating a behavior that our creator asked us not to. But I am not cramming this down anyone’s throat. I’m not picketing or lobbying or boycotting. I am quietly concerned over here, and I’m just explaining why.

7) I do not believe this is the biggest problem facing the Christian Church, nor is it my greatest concern for the church. I’m going to reiterate that even though this is a lengthy treatise, it really isn’t the worst thing to happen in America. Far worse might be the dumbing down of our faith to one where God is no longer revered and worshipped with awe, but rather treated with all the honor of a fleeting teenage boyfriend. Far worse for the church is the refusal of his people to die to themselves and stop living for the pleasures in this world and take Christ seriously when he told us to spend our lives in service to others. The so-called church would do better to stop reeling with woe at the Supremem Court rulings and start getting to know their neighbors and truly sacrificing to make sure that their fellow man is loved and taken care of—to hand out cups of cold water and visit those in prison, to help the single mom and love the alchololic father. Like I said, I really would rather not be writing this right now, but I feel I’ve been pushed to do so.
Maybe, if you were one who posted how Christians need to be more like Christ and stop condemning homosexuals, maybe you’ve seen too much judgement and not enough love from the church. If you have, I am sorry. I truly am. It breaks my heart that those who call themselves Jesus’ followers are known for their hatred and not for their love. That isn’t right. But it doesn’t change the fact that some behaviors must not be condoned by the church, it only means we are doing a terrible job of getting off our lazy assess and going out of our way to love others like Christ did, and then to call them to a life of loving Christ more than they love their wrong desires, just as we should as well. We also fall short of where we should be.

8) I belive God stands ready to forgive anyone who admits their wrong ways and accepts his right as our Father to tell us how we should or should not live. I also believe it is my job, as Christ’s follower to teach what he taught and to offer to you what he offers to the whole world: a love that doesn’t just meet us in our swamp of wrong desires, but is strong enough to pull us out of them.

If you disagree with me still, at least now you know what position you are disagreeing with. I do not expect that we will all instantly see the world through the same lenses, but I would expect that you try to understand my world view and treat me with the same kindness while I live out my worldview that you would want to be treated with while you live out yours.

With genuine love to you, whatever your struggle or mine,


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Road Trip, Swim Lessons, and Cookie Crumble Cereal

It's been far too long since I've posted a real update, and we've had ever so much happening here. Since I don't have time to delve into detail, here's a whirl-wind update of the Eby family's summer so far.

In late May we took an 8-day, 1900 mile trip to the Southeastern US with five stops at family and friend's houses in West Virginia, the Carolinas, and Ohio. I was really nervous about having to pack nearly all the food for our huge family for eight days, and I was afraid the trip would be more stressful than fun, but it turned out to be a wonderful time. I spent the week beforehand making large batches of freezable foods each day: 18 pizzas one day, 4 breakfast casseroles the next, 4 shepherd's pies another day, and huge amounts of pancakes and bacon another day. We didn't need to pack all of that food, but I wanted to come home to a well-stocked freezer so I could recover afterwards. With some bread mixes and our bread maker, the generous additions of fruits and veggies by our host families, and lots of snack foods along as well we did just fine for the week.

It took a day to pack all of our bags and load them into the van. When we finally pulled out early the next morning, after several hours of excited last-minute preparations, for the first nine-hour stretch of driving, the kids were cheering. Matt said he needed to make one quick stop at his work-place before we hit the road. As we pulled into the parking lot just one mile from home Elijah asked, "What is this place? Are we there?" So we started our journey with a good laugh.

Our first stop was two days at an old, old friends house. Anne and I were best friends in 8th through 10th grades, (20 years ago!) and our families are so parallel it's amazing to see. Our husbands get along well and our girls stayed up way too late laughing and giggling together. We swam in their summer camp's pool and Naomi even got the courage to go down their 60 foot water slide! It was a delightful visit.

We also loved seeing the Appalachian Mountains for the first time as a family. All of our previously corn-field bound children kept oohing and ahhing over the beautiful scenery, plus it was fun to drive those windy, hilly roads.

Of course, all of that driving wasn't always exciting.

But the kids sure were good travelers.

Next we had a stop with dear friends from the boarding school we used to work at where we had a lovely Memorial day picnic in the Great Smoky Mountains and talked until the sun went down while the kids watched Mary Poppins inside. From there we went to visit my brother and sister-in-law and their two boys where we swam in the neighborhood pool, played in the backyard, and caught up with another old friend.

Next we stopped with some friends we met at the BBS conference last year. The kids swam in the backyard pool and Naomi got to know the girl she has been pen-paling with a little better while Matt and I got to know her parents.

Our last stop was two days on the farm of another of our favorite families in Ohio where the kids hunted for fossils in their creek, washed dogs, collected eggs, held baby chicks, and played legos endlessly while we drank mochas in the kitchen with our friends. But, alas, the pictures from all those stops are on Matt's iPad and haven't made it to my computer yet.

After eight days of adventure, excitement, and so many new experiences, the kids were ready to come home. They wanted to see Liana, our cat, again, and she sure was glad to see us! She followed me around like a puppy for two days after we got home. I think she missed us.

So what have we filled our summer days with since arriving home? The pool of course. We've gone three days in a row this week and we're all sporting tan lines and pink faces, but the kids couldn't be happier. Naomi only continues to become a stronger and stronger swimmer. She wanted to race me across the pool and I had to give it everything I had to just barely beat her. Hannah just passed the pool's swim test and got her swimsuit tagged to show that she was able to go off of the diving board. She jumped off twice today and made me a little nervous--only because I'm a mom, because she did just fine.

Emma, like with so many skills, lost a lot of her swimming abilities over the winter. One of the ways BBS affects her brain causes her to lose skills that she isn't constantly practicing. Whenever we try to stop speech therapy she regresses, getting back on the bike this spring took a little practice, and swimming was no different, but happily, after three days of coaching she is finally back to where she was last fall and swimming pretty well. Her tenacity is her savior. She just keeps trying, bless her heart, and I believe she'll be jumping off the diving board soon too.

Toby, my tough guy, has always had a deathly fear of the water. He hates the cold feeling, he can't stand splashing, and he freaks out if it touches his face. We have tried and tried to expose him to swimming, but he has panicked over and over again. His fear of water was convenient last year when I was trying to take five kids to the pool by myself and focus on teaching the girls to swim--he was happy to sit on the edge of the pool with Elijah, both of them wearing life jackets and under the watchful eye of a lifeguard, and I was happy to have them there. But this year I decided it was time for Toby to learn to swim, which made me the meanest mom in the world three days ago.

While the girls happily played near the lifeguards in the big pool, I took Toby to the kiddie pool and took his life jacket off. I sat down in the 18-inch deep water and tried to coax Toby in over his knees. The moms with the babies thought he and I were both nuts, I think, as he shook and screamed and refused to come in. Finally I had to just grab him and hold him sitting in my lap in 18 inches of water. He screamed while I said over and over, "It's OK, buddy, you just need to get used to it. It's not hurting you. Mom's right here. You're OK. Calm down now." He clung onto my neck like a barnacle and shook and pleaded to get out for about an hour, but I was firm: he wasn't getting out until he laid on his back on my lap and put his ears under water. I could tell more than a couple families and a lifeguard were wondering what would happen.

After an hour and a half he finally consented and layed down on my lap, rigid as a board, and gritted his teeth, shaking head to toe while his ears went under the water. It was a small victory. Next I encouraged him to try to relax, to feel the water holding him up, to let his arms and legs dangle and move a little up and down. Getting to that point was a full day's work, but we got there… sort of.

The next day, Toby and I were in the big pool, and after he screamed for about three minutes that the water was too cold, he actually started to enjoy himself. We practiced back floating again and then I pulled him on his tummy while he kicked and he decided swimming could be fun. I showed him how to tolerate some water on his face and wipe the water away from his eyes with his hands. Today he was back-floating by himself for a few seconds several times, and kicking across the pool with help on his tummy and his back, and he was loving it! I think the lifeguards were even impressed. It was tough love for Toby this year, but I think he appreciates it now.

Inspired by Toby's achievements, Elijah even spent a little time with his lifejacket off today, but he didn't appreciate the water over his ears. I cuddled him close while I dipped his ears under, encouraging him, "It's OK, Mommy's got you. You're my baby!" To which he replied, "Baby's crying!" So all the kids are making great swimming achievements, and Naomi's exercising daily without complaint. It's a winning time of year for that.

While we haven't been swimming, Hannah's been cooking. She made Ginger Snaps yesterday, which Elijah likes to call Ginger Snacks, and today's cookies were Pumpkin Harvest cookies. The allergen-free recipe didn't include any egg, so they ended up quite a bit crumbly. I told her that we would just add eggs next time, and that this batch could just be Cookie Crumble cereal. She grinned, loaded a bowl up with the crumbles, poured coconut milk over them and declared it a delightful meal. Guess what we're having for breakfast tomorrow.

That's how we roll with the punches at the Eby house. You're up-to-date now. I'll try to record more summer fun as it comes. Only 6 weeks until soccer season!