Mercy (or the lack of it) on the road to the White House


Mercy Monday smallMy title today probably evokes an instant reaction. Everyone is well aware of the nosedive in common courtesy—a baseline standard for treating others with mercy—shown by the candidates in this presidential election.

And lest you think I’m aiming this only at one side of the Great Political Divide, let me say that I have only watched one debate this year. The Democratic candidates had me cringing and writhing so acutely, I had to turn off the TV after 45 minutes. (I haven’t had the emotional strength to attempt a Republican debate.)

Civility doesn’t garner hits; respect gets you ignored. It says a lot, none of it complimentary, about the kind of people who aspire to high leadership roles in this day and age.

But blistering the candidates for their lack of civility (i.e., baseline mercy) is an easy idol we throw up in order to avoid confronting a much more unpleasant reality:

We’re not treating them with civility (i.e. mercy), either.

A few days ago someone on my Facebook feed pleaded with us to ask ourselves if we would say the things we’re saying if the person him/herself was standing in the room to hear it.

We all need to take that question to heart…and then take it one step further.

After all, people didn’t start pursuing this brand of politics because they like being horrible to others. They did it because that’s what we respond to. They turned debates into “reality” TV, devoid of substance but rich in the worst of human nature, because that’s what garners ratings. America loves shows in which people’s human dignity is shredded, in which they are called names and kicked off the team/island/show, in which women or men are pitted against each other (and frequently, if the things I hear from people who are addicted to these shows, asked to do incredibly degrading things) in order to win the guy/girl–even though the success rate of the relationship is abysmal.

We are the culture, and if our culture is devoid of mercy, it is because we have made it that way.

Photo by Donkey Hotey, via Flickr

This presidential election is what we have asked for, via the choices we’ve made in entertainment, by the things we have chosen to make bestsellers and worldwide sensations. It is a cultural shift that we have caused by filling our Facebook and Twitter feeds with judgment, sweeping generalizations based upon a sliver of the full story and without any attempt to enter into someone else’s chaos, and lack of respect for those who see things differently than we do.

Our politicians don’t seek solutions and compromise anymore because we have quit trying to understand where others are coming from.

Please understand: I am speaking to myself here as much as I am to anyone else. I cannot deny that Donald Trump frightens me as no candidate has ever frightened me before. For the last several days, while this post has been stewing, I have been struggling with that question posed on my Facebook feed. If Trump did somehow appear in my living room, how would I speak to him? I could not in good conscience remain silent, but how could I say to him the things that need to be said and still honor his innate dignity as a human being?

It is not an easy thing to apply mercy in this arena, when all the voices around you are shrieking, interrupting, not listening, and playing fast and loose with the truth.

But we, as Christians, are called to be the yeast that leavens the whole loaf. Even when it seems hopeless. Even when our passions are crying out to the contrary.

I might fail—and fail spectacularly—but that doesn’t absolve me from trying.

Holy Spirit, in this election year, touch us with your grace. Help us to act and speak from the best we have within us, instead of the worst.

*Note: I would love to have conversation on this topic, but please, please, please refrain from turning it into a political debate. This is about mercy, not candidates.

Find more “Mercy on a Monday” posts here.

We Need a Thoughtful Discussion About Birth Control (A No Easy Answers Post)


No Easy AnswersThere is a reason I generally don’t post about headlines: it takes me time to process things and make sure my first reactions all hold water. I hate the tendency to react without thinking, the way it leads us to view everything in black and white and fail to acknowledge the nuances in every situation, and the fact that if you stop and reflect for a while before posting, the topic has passed and no one cares anymore. But usually I choose to sacrifice timeliness in the service of thoughtfulness.

All this as a preface to the fact that my sister, the lawyer, pointed out that my post on Zika and contraception included a rather major flaw that, in my attempt to react in a timely fashion, I somehow overlooked. Namely, the whole flap about Zika really is about preventing pregnancy, not just about preventing disease spread, so the whole argument about barriers vs. hormonal birth control doesn’t hold up.

I feel particularly embarrassed because the topic of sexuality and its relation to family planning is so important to me, and I get so frustrated when people of faith end up turning off those they’re trying to convince by reacting without thinking things all the way through. It’s called shooting ourselves in the foot.

I think I shot myself in the foot, and I spent half the weekend cringing about it.

However, I do not delete the post, because I still believe most of what I had to say is important to have out there. Every single article that touches on the Church’s teaching on contraception emphasizes that “Catholics aren’t paying attention to this teaching, anyway,” as if that proves anything other than that people do what they want to do and always have—screwing around on their wives, cheating their customers, spreading rumors, and a host of other things the Church has always taught are wrong. Yet there’s not one of those other cases in which anyone would even consider suggesting that noncompliance = an institution “out of touch” and a teaching in need of change.

Birth control is one of those topics that people on both sides—myself included, apparently—just don’t seem to be capable of thinking rationally on. We can all project some semblance of reason, but there are conversations we ought to be having but which are considered to be non-starters.

For instance: if Church teaching on contraception is so universally ignored, why do its opponents get so bent out of shape about it? Why do they feel this compulsion to bring it up at every possible opportunity? What possible threat could it pose to them?

And another one: Is birth control actually good medicine? Isn’t it possible that it’s actually bad medicine, disrespectful to the dignity of woman, to go in and shut down a part of her body that is working just fine?

And related, but distinct, because sometimes the body isn’t working just fine: Is it truly good medical practice to use pharmaceuticals to mask symptoms of problems like PMS, endometriosis, PCO, thyroid deficiency, etc.? Shouldn’t we default to “Let’s figure out what’s wrong and fix it,” and only go to “mask the symptoms” when all other efforts have failed?

These are questions that truly puzzle me, and on which I truly would like to see thoughtful, non-polemic discussion take place. Perhaps there are things I don’t see that would make a difference to my view on them.

Can we have that discussion? Are there any people out there willing to read through a post on birth control and get to the end of it willing to engage?

For other posts in the No Easy Answers series, click here.

Mountains, Molehills, Contraception, and The Zika Virus


Image by KOREA.NET – Official page of the Republic of Korea, via Flickr

When I heard the radio headline yesterday afternoon, I groaned. Because I knew I was going to have to blog about the pope’s comments, and as a proponent of natural family planning, it would be hard to convince anyone that I’m approaching the topic objectively.

But there under the awning of the Gerbes fuel station, I took a deep breath, and I said to myself, “Okay. If Pope Francis does move us away from the teachings on contraception, I will be open to the Spirit, and I will be a better person for it.”

Of course, the headline was sensationalized; when I listened to the report, it became clear that a Mount Everest is being made out of, well, a hillock at most. So here are my thoughts, as someone who’s been studying and reflecting upon this extremely complex and far-reaching topic for sixteen years.

1. There’s always been a medical exception to the birth control teaching. So why don’t we hear about it? Well, this is just my opinion, but I think it’s because it can’t be sufficiently addressed in 140 characters, and since that’s about all most of us are willing to listen to these days, it’s better to stick to the “in general” rule of thumb and deal with the exceptions case by case. There are other reasons, of course. The medical exception is really easy to abuse, for one thing. For another, hormonal birth control is used far too often as a bandaid to cover up problems that need to be addressed at the level of cause, not symptom (i.e. irregularity, PMS, abdominal pain, etc). I wrote a lot about that for this post and then realized it was irrelevant, so I may post those thoughts on Monday.

2. If you think logically, you have to realize that the only form of contraception the pope is even addressing in the case of Zika is barrier methods*; hormones are going to do absolutely nothing to prevent disease transmission. And if you think logically, it should also be clear that barriers aren’t a slam dunk fix. They’ll surely make a difference, but there are plenty of people still getting STDs in America, and we have plenty of condoms.

3. A caution about oversimplification. The story I read on CNN yesterday ended with a quote from a Catholic theologian that I am guessing was taken out of context, because as it stands it makes no sense at all (here’s the original article; oddly enough, the link I copied yesterday goes to a very different article this morning, in which Bretzke isn’t quoted at all. Hmm.):

“In Catholic Church teaching, some would say it would be acceptable to try to prevent conception in cases like this,” Bretzke said.

Why does this make no sense? Because the Catholic Church has never said you can’t try to avoid pregnancy. Never. Ever. The assumption in the secular culture, even when lip service is paid to natural family planning (as it is in the CNN article), is that there are only two paths: contraception or perpetual pregnancy. The Church never said you can’t plan your family. It just says it matters to our human dignity how you do it.

4. Finally: NFP proponents also need to take a deep breath and recognize that NFP can’t prevent Zika, either. Just as it couldn’t help the nuns in the case Pope Francis invoked–the exception given to nuns who were being repeatedly raped. So it makes perfect sense to see the Pope offering this very specific exception to the Church’s teaching on birth control. He would be less Christlike if he did not.

*This argument, it was pointed out to me, is just plain wrong; I addressed that in another post here.

Syrian refugees: A Christian’s Responsibility


Friday afternoon, Nicholas sulked and glowered and procrastinated and found a dozen ways to avoid having to–gasp–clean the bathroom sinks.

Image by CAFOD Photo Library, via Flickr

At last I snapped at him to think about the children who were crossing the sea in an inner tube in November and sleeping in the woods because it was too dangerous for them to stay in their homes, and then think about whether he really had any reason to be feeling put-upon.

I never heard another complaint.

In the past week, there has been an awful lot of hysteria around the topic of Syrian refugees, and I decided that my #smallthingsgreatlove act for today would be to take a stand.

To begin with, there’s this graphic:


With a thoughtful article accompanying it from the Washington Post.

And another, addressing the accusation that the whole line of argument is a non-sequitur.

No matter what we do, we will never…never…never be totally secure. It doesn’t exist, people. It just doesn’t. We can’t live in fear. Nor can we close our eyes and pretend we don’t have a responsibility as the Body of Christ, to the body of Christ.

Because THIS is what we are ignoring.

It seems to me, from my limited grasp of the world and its history, that we in the United States have always been insulated from the problems of our fellow human beings by virtue of those two ponds separating us from Europe, Asia, and Africa. It’s too easy for us to view things as “Not My Problem.” That as long as Those People and the terrorists who must surely be hiding within their ranks aren’t within the borders of the U.S., nothing bad will ever happen to us, and as for everyone else? Well, it’s a shame, but again, Not My Problem.

I get it–I really do. The fear of having our safe corner rendered as unsettled the rest of the world is understandable. But safety is too easy to elevate to the status of idol, and for those who profess to follow Christ, that is, as I frequently tell my kids: NOT OKAY.

Now, I’m well aware that my little blog post is unlikely to change anyone’s mind on whether refugees should or shouldn’t be allowed into our spacious, but insular, corner of the globe. But look, we have very little say on that issue, anyway. That decision is made at the federal level. The entire discussion is a distraction from the real issue, which is this:

If we claim to be Christians, we have a responsibility to act.

This is Thanksgiving week–a time for us to stop and look around and recognize the incredible bounty that surrounds us. That bounty is not ours by some divine, inalienable right. Our very blessing involves a responsibility to use wisely what have been given to help ease the suffering of others. (Remember that parable about the talents?)

So here are just a handful of the ways I’ve seen posted by which ordinary people can make a difference.

This week I learned of Samaritan’s Purse, an international aid organization, through this video shared on Facebook:

Samaritan’s Purse is here.

Travel community Trekaroo says:

Start your all your Amazon shopping from Trekaroo’s Amazon Affiliate Link. Regardless of what you buy on Amazon and Trekaroo will donating 50% of all our Amazon commissions to Syrian Refugee Relief  with World Vision through Dec 31, 2015

If you’d rather skip the middleman, here’s the link to WorldVision (our family has donated through WorldVision before, which means it passed my husband’s rigorous criteria for charities).

Travel-with-kids writer Amy Whitley lays out the reasons why she won’t let fear govern her life.

This woman started a campaign to provide baby carriers to refugees. And to piggyback on that, they now do more than just baby carriers.

And I will close with this: The World is Scary As Hell. Love Anyway.

Small Things, Great Love (Reblog)


blogger-image--817386017The past two weeks.  It has almost been too much to bear, all the heartache.  All the hatred and the hurting and brokenness everywhere we turn.  It is too much.  I am tempted to shut it out: turn off the news, avoid the rapid-fire of social media politicking.  Sink into my own comfortable life, where my biggest inconveniences of the day revolve around the fact that we have too many clothes to wash in our HE washer in our house with electricity and running water.  Continue about my day to day life, free from stigma of skin color, free from fear of opression and violence.  

What can I do about all that is wrong in this world?  I am often paralyzed by insignificance.  I don’t work in a job where I make or carry out policy.  I know nothing about medicine.  I am not educated about how to approach issues of race in this country.  I don’t have the means to travel abroad or adopt an orphan.  I don’t know any refugees.  
When God allows our hearts to be broken, what is it for?  It can’t just be so that we feel sad for a few minutes or days until we forget. ….

An Open Letter From An Unapologetic Christian to Those Who Are Up In Arms About Starbucks


Image by julochka, via Flickr

To my fellow Christians who are up in arms about the so-called “war on Christmas”:

Cut it out.

No, really. Just stop. You’re giving all of us a bad name. And worse, you’re giving Christ a bad name.

There is no war on Christmas. Christian America quite successfully corrupted Christmas into a free-for-all greed fest without any help from people who hate religion.

And as for the rest…Does it really matter if Starbucks prints a red cup instead of a red cup with completely non-religious ornament shapes on it? Is anyone’s right to worship really being curtailed by the failure of the city to put a tacky light-up Nativity scene on public property? Have we forgotten that when people say “happy holidays,” they are actually, literally referring to a holy day? And why are we making such a hullabaloo about Christmas in the first place, when the reason for Christianity’s existence is Easter?

Christ in Christmas

Credit, I believe, goes to “Wild Goose Festival,” via Facebook

There are plenty of things in this world worth raising the ire of those of us who profess to follow Christ. Violations of human dignity in many forms we’d rather not confront, because the fingers point back at us as often as they point elsewhere. Violence. Pollution and overconsumption. (See: disposable red cups.) Refugee crises, and the violations of human rights and dignity that cause them. Various -isms. A government full of politicians who can’t play well enough with others to do something as fundamental as pass a budget.

But no, by all means, let’s focus on the design of disposable cups and whether we say “happy holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” Priorities, you know.


And with that, I’m going quiet for the week. I need to circle the wagons and get some work done.

A Christian Mom Talks Sex Ed


Photo by Thomas Rousing Photography, via Flickr

We spent the summer of 2015 preparing rooms and moving kids around the house. Partly, this was because Nicholas and Alex were driving us insane with their nonstop bickering. But even more so, it was because Julianna, at age 8, was still sharing a room with Michael, age 3. Let me illustrate the problem:

Bath time. Michael in the tub. Julianna getting in. Michael looks up at Julianna and gets a horrified look on his face. “DADDY!” he yells at the top of his lungs. “JUWEEANNA IS MISSING A PENIS! JUWEEANNA NEEDS A PENIS!”

Sex ed in our house has always been ongoing and ubiquitous, in part because we have four kids who seem incapable of covering their bodies before they go running from one part of the house to another, but also because of course, we teach natural family planning in our living room. We have a much higher comfort level with topics surrounding sexuality than most people do. This became clear when Christian went to back to school night and the 5th grade teachers told the parents this is the year they start breaking open the topic. Apparently there was a noticeable undercurrent of discomfort among the parents.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about issues of sexuality over the years—as you can tell by the number of posts on the topic—and the more I think about it, the more convinced I am of the dysfunction in our collective relationship to our sexuality.

In some parts of the world people refer to Americans as puritans about sex. For a long time, I found this puzzling. How can you call us puritan about sex when the entire civilization seems structured upon sex, from advertising to entertainment and right down the line? But I’ve come to realize it’s true.

We want unrestricted access to sex, but we don’t want to talk about it. We get squeamish about the details, to the point where most women really have no idea how their body works, and can’t read the signs of fertility and infertility that have always been there, except when they’re suppressed by drugs. Nobody ever acknowledges that sex pretty much never plays out like it does in the movies—it’s not nearly as pretty. Whether we want to admit it or not, our cultural norm surrounding sexuality is that it is something naughty, dirty, and salacious, and hence, any discussion of it will automatically corrupt our children’s blinding white innocence on the subject.

It is our own dysfunctional attitudes toward sex that make it so hard for us to teach it to our children in a healthy way.

The thing is, kids are getting messages about their sexuality, whether we teach them or not, because it permeates the popular culture. It even permeates the news, for Heaven’s sake. And like it or not, they’re getting messages and formation about their sexuality from every single interaction they have with their parents, too, even if the parents punt and freak out and avoid the topic. It’s just that the message that’s being sent, in that case, is one that perpetuates the dysfunctional relationship with our sexuality through another generation.

Obviously, I feel strongly on this topic. I think it’s a bad idea to put off all discussion of body and sexuality until age 10 or 11. I think we as parents have to get over ourselves. We have to admit that we have hangups that we need to hang up, and wounds for which we need healing. And I say this, not from a perspective of judgment, but from the perspective of one who has had to (and continues to) face my own hangups and wounds on the topic.

I speak now specifically to Christian parents. We cannot sit around gnashing our teeth at the misuse of sex in our culture, and fail to admit our own part in perpetuating the problem from one generation to the next. As parents, we can teach our kids a healthy view of sexuality, or an unhealthy one. And if we’re scared of the conversations, it’s virtually guaranteed that we’re going to do the latter rather than the former.