Thursday, August 31, 2006

Disturbing Results

In an increasingly pluralistic America, where we value diversity and individual rights above all else, or at least that is our rhetoric, some ideas are less acceptable than others.

After logging-off a popular free email service, I found a link to this story about healthcare providers who both come from and cater to a particular audience whose faith commitments prevent them from using contraceptives. I was impressed. The truth is, I think having medical practices, colleges, and financial institutions that cater to the moral needs of people of faith is a great thing. Fine, I'm a pastor, but I'm also a person of faith who would prefer to invest his money in a way that would support enterprizes I find desirable, not just whatever an investment firm finds profitable, whether it's selling Christian books, gambling, pyotechnics, organic coffee, prostitution or pornography.

Generally, Americans support the right of others to make choices. Not only is it important to our Capitalist system, it is also the primary way we exercize our personal freedom. However, in contemporary America, there is a growing sense that choices motivated by religion, especially traditional Christianity, shouldn't be acceptable.

At the time I read the article and took the poll, only 26% of people who responded to the question answered "I support them and hope they take off," to the question "What do you think of medical practices that blend health and faith?" What was worse, out of 21987 responses, 38% responded "I do not support them at all." Amazingly, a plurality of respondents would prefer to prevent individuals from having the choice to seek religiously informed health-care.

I guess this shouldn't surprise me. Catholic hospitals have been on the receiving end of attacks for years for refusing to provide abortions, and Massachusetts required Wal-Mart to sell morning-after pill earlier this year (in a reading of state law that would seem to require all pharmacies to dispense the drug, regardless of their religious objections).

I guess many Americans believe that free practice of religion should end when we enter the public sphere, whether that is in our own medical practice, while looking for a doctor, or choosing a pharmacy. I wonder if these folks think Christians should have a right to choose what books to sell in Christian bookstores, or if Christian counsellors and psychologists should be allowed to practice their trades in light of their faith?

Some of us seem to have confused living according to particular values with imposing them on others. This is truly a sad day.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Life Changes and the Life of Faith

I haven't been blogging much lately, largely because I've intended this site as a place for me to offer Christian commentary on the world I encounter. While I feel alright about posting personal stories if I think they have something interesting to say, I've avoided the "everyday life" journal stuff. So, while I've been living, I haven't necessarily had anything all that interesting to say lately.

Now that my wife and I are both pastors, our time is harder to manage. We have a wonderful situation on many levels, we can usually schedule to have lunch together, but we frequently have to eat dinner on the run to make evening meetings and events. Hey, I have lots of friends who never see their spouses during the day, but who generally get to have some evening time together... ours is just a different schedule. Still, many people ask me how we handle it, and older folks especially tend to comment how sad it is that we can't go to church together on Sunday. Changes in expectations can be hard to accomodate.

We're living in a great little city now. I guess on many levels it's nice to have curbside trash and recycling pickup and the services of urban life again, but we've traded the independence of a transfer station for the convenience of once-a-week fixed time collection. Yeah, I know trash pickup isn't exciting, but it's one of the changes that comes with moving. The truth is, changes in life circumstances are always a challenge for us, whether they involve moving to a new city, beginning a new excercize regimen, or coming into relationship with Jesus.

We in the Church often fail to recognize how dramatic a life-changing encounter with Christ can be. After we have been Christians for awhile, we have a tendency to see faith in God as normal, if not universal. We tend to tak for granted our relationship with God, to assume this must be what life is like.

Moving to a new culture, or even a new city can help remind us how radically life-changing Christian faith can be for those who are not comitted and practicing Christians. For many of us, singing the words of the old hymn "what a wonderful change in my life has been wrought, since Jesus came into my heart..." is an excercize in communal memory that carries little meaning for us personally. Yes, Jesus has changed our lives, but for those of us who grew up in the Church, what does that change look like?

New belivers whose life has been lived apart from an active, two way relationship with God have a great deal to teach us. Yes, God's grace may be reaching for everyone at all times, but not everyone is willing to engage with God in Christ, and many people in our "Christan" west don't even know how. Can we in the Church who have forgotten how different Christian life is from life apart from Christ learn how to help others experience a life-transforming relationship with God? Are we willing to learn?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Food Allergies

I was reading an online Slate article this morning, and it got me thinking. I've had a similar reaction to overcautious parents for quite some time now. Several years ago, while working in a coffee shop, the new "in" thing for parents with too much money to spend seemed to be reading all labels for any evidence of peanuts or treenuts. I guess we've gone farther, now hickory trees are apparently high enough risk for a kid with a nut allergy that a town sufficiently fears litigation to cut down several of them.

What has the world come to when a commentator has to ask:

Who is crazy here—the family that wants the trees felled or the residents who seem willing to put a child at risk? It's hard to tell. That's the dilemma of nut allergies. There are cases of real danger and real death. And then there's the huge circle of caution that often gets drawn around children when, rationally speaking, more modest precautions might do.
Sadly, that's the world we live in today -- a world where irrational parents can make normal life cease for fear of something that might happen to a child who has never evidenced risk before.

I understand food allergies -- I really do. My wife's best-friend is seriously allergic to peanuts, and moderately allergic to a host of other legumes. However, she's an adult, and has never evidenced airborne risk, so while she'd prefer you not eat a peanut-butter sandwich in front of her because she finds the smell unpleasant, she hasn't tried to ban all foods that might have made contact with peanuts from her worksite.

Some of you might be saying "so you know someone..." Well, I know several people, a shellfish (crustacea, not bivalves... yes, I know it's hard to imagine, but clams are not closely related to crabs) allergy in my family, a banana allergy in my wife's, a blueberry allergy in mine, and a serious cashew allergy in mine that leads to minor issues with other drupes (including mango and poison ivy).

The problem with too many parents is that they seem to assume, "my kid's friend is allergic to peanuts, so my kid must be allergic to peanuts too, and cashews because they look like peanuts, and probably all nuts -- we must make the world a NUT FREE ZONE!!!" Even without intensive allergy testing, parents should be able to do better -- when you find an allergy through contact, learn what's really closely related, and don't feed a kid with peanut allergies lentils without asking if it makes them itchy, but dry roasted almonds or chashews, not processed in a plant that processes peanuts, are probably alright. Better yet, make the kid go through the whole battery of tests, and then avoid what actually comes up -- not everything. Finally, try to find out how serious the allergy really is -- if it's airborne, freak out, you're one of the few with a hypersensitive case, otherwise, take reasonable and sensible precautions. If your child has a mild peanut allergy, don't quiz every potential playmate's parents to discover if there's peanut butter in the house and ban contact with all kids who might occasionally eat some, just inform your kid's friend's parents' and ask for reasonable support.

If more of us were treated as reasonable people, then perhaps we'll all be able to live in a more sane world again. If parents had done that while I worked at the cafe, I wouldn't have responded like I did a few times, telling one hypercautious mother who'd just told her friend that while her kid hadn't been tested "you can't be too cautious," not to bother with any of our food, because I couldn't give her a 100% guarantee of peanut/treenut-freeness about anything.