Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Most. Narcissistic. Song. Ever.

Otherwise known as Mirrors by Justin Timberlake.  First time I listened—casually—I thought, Oh, that’s a good song. Good beat, lots of possibilities for harmonizing. The music video had this charming older couple mirroring the young ones.

Then I listened to the words. OMG, as the kids would say. “It’s like you’re my mirror, my mirror staring back at me. I couldn’t get any bigger, with anyone else beside me.” Am I the only one who thinks that is slightly—uh—pornographic?   And really girls, can I just say, if any boy ever says to you, “You’re my mirror staring back at me” that means (pay attention, here), “I don’t see YOU, I see ME!!!” and, my dears, you should run, not walk, run the other way.

Listening to this song makes me wonder where Carly (You’re so Vain) Simon is when you need her.  Now there’s a woman who understood men.  I mean, I think I understand why kids these days are having relationship problems if this is what they are listening to.  Whatever happened to the good wholesome stuff I used to listen to - the Eagles, Lying Eyes, Rolling Stones, Satisfaction,  Doors, People are Strange. 


Never mind.

(Well they aren’t narcissistic!)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Letter to my State Senator and Representative

If you read my previous post on my opinion on abortions you may be somewhat surprised at this one, but I am trying to be consistent in my own views while supporting public policy that I may not like, but that takes into account an imperfect world.  This is such a difficult topic, with one side seeing only murder and the other side seeing only choice. While I supported the Abortion Bill that was recently passed, it has come to my attention that there is another much more restrictive bill in process.  So this is the letter that I sent to my Congresspersons today. If you agree with my point of view you might want to send a similar letter to yours.  

To: Senator Jane Nelson and Representative Pat Fallon

Re: H.B. No. 59 and any similar bills in the House or Senate

First let me say: I am morally opposed to abortion.  However, since I am not clear when life begins, I support—however reluctantly—the legalization of abortion, up to a point.  I was in favor of the bill that was recently passed limiting abortion after 20 weeks to those with special circumstances.  My concern was not so much fetal pain, as it was viability; the previous limit of 24 weeks seems too close to the point of viability to me.  I also support higher standards for abortion providers.

My purpose in writing today, however, is to urge you to vote against H. B. 59 and any equivalent in the Senate. If I am reading the bill correctly, it would outlaw abortions after the point at which a fetal heartbeat can be detected. While I would rather women not have abortions at all, I recognize that there are times when an abortion is the better of two bad solutions.  I think that as the state we do our duty by insuring that we are not killing a fetus who is potentially viable outside the womb.  But although a heartbeat indicates that a fetus has the capability of later viability, a 5 or 6 week embryo is not yet viable.  And there are different opinions on when that embryo or fetus becomes a person worthy of protection.  So while it breaks my heart to think that women are aborting their fetuses, I don’t think we should limit them to such a drastic extent.

What I would strongly urge you to do is to write and sponsor bills that give access to birth control to all women and provide for sex education for children and youth.   We need health care for women and children, regardless of economic or social situation.  We also need to work on providing child care for women who are trying to work their way out of poverty.

I have always been on the conservative side of the political divide, and still am to some extent.  And as an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, I think we are shirking our own responsibilities in the church to work with the poor. There is so much more that we need to do as a religious community. However, it is clear to me that the problem of poverty needs to be addressed at both the state and the church level. 

I do not make a large amount of money, but I am willing to be taxed at a rate needed to provide for all children to have a safe and healthy start in life and a real chance to succeed. 

Martha Myre

Friday, July 19, 2013

Agreeing with the President and Reflecting on the Trayvon Martin case

Trayvon Martin and father Tracy Martin from family photos.
I don’t always agree with President Obama, but in this case, I think I have to.  He acknowledged that the judge did a professional job and the jury did its duty; that reasonable doubt was relevant. As the President he was right to affirm that our justice system must be honored. But he also talked about how the verdict made many African Americans feel and I think that is important to hear.  He is right that history and context make a difference.  I have witnessed the kind of fear of African American men that he talked about.  And I don’t think it is possible to argue that African Americans are treated differently in the criminal justice system. 

I accept that the jury had “reasonable doubt” and it may be that Trayvon Martin wasn’t particularly smart in how he reacted to George Zimmerman. But I don’t understand how it can be okay that George Zimmerman went after Trayvon when the 911 operator told him not to.  He could have walked away. Why didn’t he?

I read the Stand Your Ground Law and I am troubled by the paragraph that reads:

(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
Maybe a person has no duty to retreat, but I don’t see that a person has a duty to move forward either.  This sounds more like vigilante justice to me. 

I also agree with President Obama that young African American boys and men need to be encouraged, mentored, etc.  Particularly now.  And I don’t think that mentoring should just be from African American men, but men of all cultures/colors/nationalities. This “crossover” mentoring wouldn’t just be for the benefit of the young, but for the benefit of the mentors as well.  I think it unlikely that a white, Hispanic (or any other brand of) male who takes the time to mentor an African American boy is going to see such boys as threatening and suspicious just because of their color or dress.  

Finally, I think the President is correct that we each need to look at our own biases and see how we are contributing to the racism problem.  While the issue of racism may be getting better, I just don’t think it is gone. For that I am deeply sorry.  

I have to say that my heart goes out to George Zimmerman and his family.  He may have been acquitted, but no one wins in this situation.  

But especially, my heart goes out to Trayvon's family. I look at those family pictures and see a young man who was at one time full of promise and joy.  His Dad was trying to get him out of a situation that was harming him by bringing Trayvon to live with him for a while. Instead his son wound up dead.  I can't even imagine how that must feel. 

May God have mercy on us all.

Monday, July 8, 2013

On Biblical Marriage: Toward a Theology of Marriage

Part 1
Part 2

Now that I have briefly discussed some of the passages in the Old and New Testaments that deal with marriage and sexuality, I will tackle the deeper issue of what marriage signifies in the biblical text.  Here I go back to Genesis, Chapter 1, which bears looking at in some detail.

How it was meant to be

Genesis 1:26-28   26 Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth."  27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  28 God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."

God makes humankind (literally adam) in God’s image; male and female together are in God’s image.  Now one way to read this is simply to say that both men and women are made in the image of God, and I certainly agree with that.  We are all image-bearers in that sense. However, I think a part of the sense of this is that both men and women are necessary to encompass the full image of God.  We see that affirmed in the New Testament as well: both men and women are necessary for the body of Christ to be complete. I would argue that the text suggests that we take this even further: that man and woman in relationship are reflective of the creative, generative, and governing aspects of God. We can only bring life into existence together; we can only be fruitful together; we can only appropriately care for the creation together.  The first of those statements is obvious to all – we need a sperm and an egg to make a new human being.  But the last two statements are just as important. In order to be truly fruitful in all ways, women and men must work together.  In order to rule creation wisely, men and women have to rule together.  This is the basis of the covenant of marriage – the fulfillment of the image of God.  

Does that mean that single people cannot be fully in the image of God? No!  Every person carries the image of God.  But we are created for relationship and the relationship that is expressed in  the marriage covenant is a sign of God’s covenant with God’s people.  Ideally, it reveals to the world how God cares for the world. 

In Genesis 2 we see another way of understanding the relationship between male and female. Here the adam (the Hebrew word for human, either male or female) is made from the adamah (the Hebrew word for “earth”).  When the breath of God turns this little “earthperson” into a nephesh, or a being full of passions and desires and “selfhood,” God looks at the person and realizes that there is a problem: the person is alone.  God says for the first time, “it is not good.” What God is wanting for the person is an ezer kenegdo—a fit helper.  In the King James version of the Bible this was translated as a “help meet” which conjured images of one who was subordinate. However, the word ezer  (whether as a noun or an adjective) is most often referring to God, as in   Psalm 30:10 Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!” A helper is one who encourages, protects and saves. A helper is life-giving. 
 When the story tells us that God took the person and used the rib or side of the person to make (or build, as the Hebrew says) a woman, the words now used are that God built an ishah  (Hebrew forwoman) out of the ish (Hebrew for man).  I think what we are to learn from this story is that men and women have a special relationship in the created order.  

Unfortunately, in the next chapter the woman fails in her job as helper when she gives the apple to the man who is standing with her.  The man fails in his job as helper by failing to speak up in her conversation with the snake.  But the failure in the story should not blind us to the intent in creation.

Marriage as a sign of God’s love for God’s people

The image of marriage as a fundamental sign of God’s love for God’s people is found throughout the Old and New Testaments. 

One way in which we are shown in the Old Testament the sacredness of marriage is that it is used as a metaphor for the relationship between God and Israel.
Jeremiah 2:1-2 The word of the LORD came to me, saying:  2 Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD: I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.
Isaiah 61:10  10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
Isaiah 62:4-5   4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.  5 For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.

The analogy becomes even more forceful when used to speak about the unfaithfulness of Israel.  The people of God are called adulterous; they are named whores when they follow after other gods. This is offensive language.  I think it is intended to be offensive to give an indication of the offensiveness of seeking other gods. 

Malachi 2:11   11 Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god.

Jeremiah 3:1-3  NRS Jeremiah 3:1 If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man's wife, will he return to her? Would not such a land be greatly polluted? You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me? says the LORD.  2 Look up to the bare heights, and see! Where have you not been lain with? By the waysides you have sat waiting for lovers, like a nomad in the wilderness. You have polluted the land with your whoring and wickedness.  3 Therefore the showers have been withheld, and the spring rain has not come; yet you have the forehead of a whore, you refuse to be ashamed.

If you want more see Ezekiel 16:23-49 and the whole book of Hosea.

When we get to the New Testament, we in the Gospel of John that Jesus is seen as the bridegroom explicitly:
John 3:26-29  26 They came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him."  27 John answered, "No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven.  28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, 'I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.'  29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled.

Jesus also uses this metaphor for himself:

Matthew 9:14-15   14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?"  15 And Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

In addition, Jesus uses the image of marriage in some of his parables to describe the kingdom:
Matthew 25:1-13  NRS Matthew 25:1 "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.  3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them;  4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.  5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.  6 But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.'  7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.  8 The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.'  9 But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.'  10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.  11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.'  12 But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.'  13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Finally, Revelation has extensive references to the bridegroom (Jesus) and the bride (the church). See for example: 

Revelation 19:7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready;

Revelation 21:2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Now let’s look at that passage in Ephesians 5 that Baptists seem to love and United Methodists seem to hate:  
Ephesians 5:21 - 6:1  21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.  22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.  23 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior.  24 Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.  25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,  26 in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word,  27 so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind-- yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish.  28 In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  29 For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church,  30 because we are members of his body.  31 "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."  32 This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.  33 Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband. 

First off, it is important to start reading in verse 21 where it says to be subject to one another. So what follows can be understood as a fuller explanation of how to be subject to one another, not how the woman should be subject to the man.  This is often read as saying that the woman should be “subordinate” to the man. But that would contradict both Genesis 1 and 2 and the rest of this passage. The job of the man, after all is to sacrifice himself for the woman and to encourage her sanctification.  [Full disclosure: I am blessed to be in a marriage where my husband has made a lot of sacrifices to enable me to be a pastor because he believes that is allowing me to be all that God made me to be.  He is fulfilling the role that Paul lays out here.] In fact, I would argue that the focus in this passage is on the relationship between Christ and the church.  The marriage, the relationship between the man and the woman is a sign of the much more important relationship.  

So why does only a male-female marital relationship reveal the relationship between Christ and the church?  Why wouldn’t any marital relationship—male/male, female/female or male/female—do this equally well?  I can understand how it possible to argue that they can, as a matter of fact. But I think a stronger argument is that only in the male/female relationship is there a relationship between those who are significantly “other.”  We’ve all heard lots of jokes about the difficulties in men and women understanding each other.  Most of those jokes are just silly; but there is some truth to them.  I will never completely understand the male perspective, because I am not male.  Some of you don’t think that matters; I do. 

One of the things that bothers me about Gay and Lesbian relationships has to do with the issue of leaving out the “other.” I don’t see relationships between two men or two women as a full expression of the relationship that God intended.  While two women or two men can love each other dearly and intimately, they can never be “one flesh.”  They can’t reflect the relationship between Creator and created who are very different but meant for one another.  

In Closing – A personal plea

This is a very brief overview of how I understand marriage on the basis of the Bible. I know this will not “convince” many people to change their stance.  But I deeply dislike simplistic views of scripture from both camps and I am trying to be faithful to a reasoned and faithful view of scripture. 

In all honesty, I would rather hold a different view of gay and lesbian relationships.  It would be simpler and people would not hate and ridicule me.  I could go along and get along. I could affirm the love that I know is very real in GL relationships without having a problem with certain aspects of those relationships, and therefore would not be in conflict with some wonderful people. I could present myself as modern and relevant and it would be a lot easier to reach out to the “nones.”  However, because I read the Bible as I do, and because I understand it to be authoritative for my life (see Excursus in Part1), it would be hypocritical of me to present myself as totally accepting of open marriage (and ordination) and I don’t think that would appeal to the “nones” either.   I maintain that I can love people with whom I disagree and I will keep trying to do that.  I hope that those who know me will try to love me back.   

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Christian View of Sex Education

I have been thinking about this issue for a long time, but the recent debates over abortion and women’s health care have brought it to the fore in my mind once again.  I have come to some conclusions, though I think it should be said that on just about any issue, I am open to honest discussion that presents a differing and coherent point of view.  These remarks use theological categories and are therefore directed at those who are in the Christian camp, but others might find them useful as well.  Let me know (courteously and thoughtfully, please).

I have decided that I disagree with an abstinence-based Sex Education program for our public schools.  I disagree, not in spite of the fact that I am a fairly orthodox Christian, but because I am. You see, I think that an abstinence-based program fails utterly to take into account the doctrine of sin.  Supposedly, as Christians, we believe (at least from the orthodox point of view) that everyone is a sinner. We acknowledge the difficulty of dealing with temptations.  We think that a relationship with Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit is necessary for a life of holiness.  So teaching our
children, many of whom do not share our religious views, that they should simply abstain from sexual activity is not consistent with our beliefs.

Having said that, I do, in fact, believe that abstinence is the best practice. And I think any Sex Education program should encourage abstinence, but that should not be the focus.  I think the fundamental reason for having Sex Education in public school is for protection: protection from disease and protection from pregnancy.  I don’t think that the schools should be in the business of helping our young people develop a “gender identity.” And I don’t think they need more than the basics of physiology and mechanics.  (though maybe a bit more than the children at right) But they DO need to know how diseases are transmitted and how pregnancy happens. And they need both information on and access to birth control.  

Now about the birth control: no, I don’t think we should be handing out birth control pills or IUDs to minors without parental consent.  The reason for this is medical: birth control pills are hormones that can have effects on still developing young women; IUDs are physical devices that can have physical consequences.  But I would urge parents to give consent.  Your child will not engage in sexual activity because you give them birth control pills.  

Everyone, boys and girls alike should be able to get condoms easily and freely.  In fact, I think if I had it to do over again, I would give my girls a package of condoms on the occasion of their first period.  Not, not, NOT because I would want them to have casual sex, but because the consequences of even one “moral failure” are so high.

As Christians we understand moral failure and we have a remedy – grace!  We believe in the power of God’s grace to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  But we can’t “fix” unintended pregnancy, at least not without abortion.  We really can’t fix an STD like HIV/AIDS, which we need to emphasize can be spread to females as well as males.  

Along with teaching about how to protect themselves from disease and pregnancy, I think we should also try to instill in both young men and young women a sense respect for their own bodies.  We need to encourage each of them to make intentional decisions about their bodies, not just fall into something because everyone is doing it and it looks like such fun on the sitcoms. 

We need to make sure our young women know that rape is never, ever their fault, though they also need to understand under what conditions they are more likely to be at risk. We need to let them know that telling immediately is smart and courageous; though we also need to make sure they know that falsely accusing is shameful and wrong.  We need to teach our young men that rape is not to be joked about and that rapists are the lowest of the low.

Now here is where the church can do its part (though not in public schools).  We also need to teach our children that they are made in the image of God and that this is the basis for the Christian view of sexuality.  We should give them a view of sexual intimacy as a beautiful gift of God and help them
understand that casual sex for momentary pleasure just can’t compare to sexual intimacy that truly joins a man and woman together for a lifetime of love, pleasure and (potential) fruitfulness. 

As Christians, we know the world is broken and that our children live in a highly sexualized culture.  To assume that all children can live up to moral standards that adults break all the time is contrary to our belief in the reality of and pervasiveness of sin.  Particularly those of us opposed to abortion should make sure that children (and adults, for that matter) have the knowledge and ability to protect themselves from having to make choices where no one wins. 

Comments? (Or is that a silly question?)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Whole-Life Policy (No, not insurance and, yes I do think about things other than human sexuality.)

In a discussion about Wendy Davis and the pro-life/pro-choice debate, one of my Facebook friends said this:
. . . Texas, who claims to value life just executed it's 500 inmate. Last but not least if you want to be pro-life be all of pro-life and support women who choose to be single mothers, head start programs, education, food stamp programs and the list goes on. If we are a country that tries to live by christian values then help the disadvantaged like Christians.

I have to say, I mostly agree with this.  “Mostly” because I have some problem with women who choose to be single mothers. But overall, I think that a whole-life policy requires that we think about abortion as a part of a general approach to life.  

I call this a “whole-life policy” because I oppose abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, and war all for the same reason: I think life is sacred.  

Possibly because my grandmother was a single mom before it was common, I have always tried to help and support single moms, who by and large haven’t really “chosen” that status and who have a very difficult job.  So for friends and parishioners who are single moms I have babysat, helped them fill out paperwork for Social Security, food stamps and WIC, chauffeured them to doctor’s appointments, listened and tried to be available when they just needed a break or a sympathetic shoulder to cry on. I have great respect for anyone trying to raise children on their own and I have learned a great deal about love, sacrifice, patience, frustration, and poverty from some of these single moms.  I have also learned that no matter how much government support someone has, the government support will rarely help someone change their status.  At best it will support them in their poverty; but as far as I can tell, the best way to help someone get out of poverty is to build a relationship with that person that enables you to see how all of the parts of her life fit together and how useless simplistic solutions are.  I have felt fairly helpless in trying to help solve the mountain of problems faced by some of these single moms, but at the very least I can try to help them believe in themselves and in their children. 

I have to admit, I don’t have a lot of sympathy in general for women who use abortion as birth control and there are a lot of abortions that fall under that category.  As a pastor, however, I would not condemn a woman who was feeling guilt over a past abortion.  I would assure her that God forgives her and that she needs to accept forgiveness. I would ask her to think about how she could honor her unborn child by working for life in some way – volunteering to read to schoolchildren, serving the homeless, working at a food bank.

But in terms of abortions, I think that late-term abortions are barbaric and I fully support the 20-week limit.  I would actually rather have no abortions.  I don’t think Wendy Davis is a heroine for trying to make sure that women can kill their 24 week fetuses. (See for interviews with late-term abortion providers) I urge women in particular to stand against abortion, especially late-term abortion.  But I deeply urge everyone and women in particular to stand for those who are trapped in poverty and feel that the only good choice is abortion.  

And one more issue, while I am discussing a whole-life policy.  I am totally opposed to the death penalty and I am sick that Texas has executed 500 people. (And yes, Rick Perry has lost my vote over this.) I have told my family that if I am ever murdered I want them to ask prosecutors not to seek the death penalty if my murderer is brought to court.  I would not seek it for someone killing a member of my family. Make no mistake; I would want to extract justice with my own bare hands.  But I would not.  And the time to make that decision is before anything horrible happens.

So that is a brief look at my “whole-life policy.” There is lots more to say, but that is enough for now.