For the Love: Part 1

Watch your life and doctrine closely.

Gentle Reader,

The toughest position I ever held during my time on a college newspaper was that of a reviewer. It is difficult for me to put into practice the instruction of my professor – observe and dissect – knowing how intensely artists labor over their work. They practically bleed onto the page or the canvas. Nevertheless, it is important to strive to be as even-handed and objective as possible. That is my goal in this piece, and the one that follows.

SETTING THE STAGE

When a friend of mine mentioned in early spring that Jen Hatmaker was taking applications for her book launch team, my interest was piqued. I’d never done anything like that. I knew a little about Hatmaker, having heard her speak at different venues a couple of times and through some of her writing, mostly online stuff. Nothing of hers that I’d been exposed to was “out there.”

Mostly, she was funny – and I always appreciate good, clean humor. So I thought, “Why not? I’ll apply.” I didn’t really expect to be chosen. (I also never expected that my brief endorsement would appear in the front of the published book).

Color me surprised when the email arrived in my inbox. Given a link to a pdf download, I began to read.

On my smartphone.

I know.

I betrayed my own non-ebook supporting principles.

THE GOOD

Jen Hatmaker is a warm and witty woman, and that comes through loud and clear in her writing. The Jimmy Fallon-esque “Thank You Notes” sprinkled throughout the book had me laughing out loud. Chapter Four, “Fashion Concerns,” left me tears. Leggings are not pants, tights are not leggings, and tights are DEFINITELY not pants! She hits on female awkwardness and worry in a way that allows us to laugh at ourselves, which all women need.

Chapter 10, “Surviving School,” is one that I would love to photocopy and send to all the parents I know:

They don’t need every advantage skewed their way and every discomfort fluffed with pillows. I bet they don’t even need sandwiches [shaped like] dolphins… Kiddos, make your own lunches, do your own laundry, buy your own replacement ID after you left yours on the bus. Write your teacher an apology for doing the worm across her classroom, even though Dad and I laughed our heads off. You want more clothes than we bought? Save your money. Make your own case to the teacher for a higher score. Relinquish your phone for running that mouth. Endure that class. Work for that grade. Try harder never time. Take your licks and learn from them. Put your plate in the dishwasher, for the love of Palmolive. (p. 62-63)

Chapter 21, “Poverty Tourism,” was a sobering look at the way many American Christians treat short-term missions work. The sincerity of those who take such trips is never in doubt, but it is true that we need to reconsider how we approach the work. Hatmaker writes that we need to,

…look seriously at systemic issues in that community. We [need to] learn about root causes, broken structures and societal breakdowns, such as violence and lack of subsequent justice, poverty orphans, the abuse of women and children, economic disempowerment, environmental degradation, educational disparity, maternal health, and nutrition and healthcare. We [need to] listen to local leaders on long-term sustainable solutions… (p. 145-146)

In essence, when we take the Gospel message anywhere, we need to have an understanding of the situation into which we walk. The Gospel is timeless and never needs to altered, but the way in which it is delivered and the tangible work projects that go along with it – building homes, repairing schools, putting in wells for clean water – should be determined by the particular needs of that community, not our preconceived ideas of how things should be.

THE MIDDLING

Chapter 22, “Dear Church,” and Chapter 25, “Dear Christians, Please Stop Being Crappy,” stand as yet more shots fired from within the Body, at the Body. As with all such essays, there are some valid points. No doubt we have problems. No doubt we have done ourselves no favors by entwining the Gospel with the “American Dream” and structuring our congregations as businesses.

While acknowledging the value in these chapters, I am weary of people within the Church complaining about the Church. That only contributes to its breakdown. Yes, we have issues. Absolutely. No denying it. But let’s not forget that we are the redeemed of the Lord. Let’s not forget that the Church is a good thing. If we have complaints, then we must be willing to do the work of prayer and struggle in order to come to a solution. If we are unhealthy, then we must seek the remedy.

Further, I am equally weary of seeing statistics about people leaving the Church – because I know who’s leaving. It’s my generation. It’s the fickle, entitled, selfish, self-absorbed, immature Millennials. (Yep, I said it). When we were in high school, we whined about relevance. We wanted church to be “cool.” We wanted church to “meet us.” We pushed the “seeker-friendly,” rock-show experience. Now that church leaders have bent over backwards to accommodate our whiny-ness, we leave. We say we want something “more substantial.”

Except that we don’t. We don’t study our Bibles, we don’t spend time discussing doctrine and we won’t unplug from our smartphones if our lives depended on it.

That’s not a Church problem, folks.

That’s our problem.

INITIAL CONCLUSIONS

My first impression of For the Love: A relatively light, funny book that offers women permission to be themselves. Jen Hatmaker invites her fellow females to take our places in Body life while simultaneously inviting us to step off of the hamster wheel of perfectionism. This is a message that should be oft-repeated, and loudly.

I would have liked it if Hatmaker had maintained this focus in the book and avoided making what I would term “bandwagon” comments about the state of the Church. As outlined above, it is popular at the moment to criticize the problems of the Church without recognizing the very real good of the Church. These essays felt out-of-step with the overall tone of the work.

UNSETTLED

I have battled for weeks over whether or not to type these next words. I would prefer to end this review here, as it is. I would prefer to say that I stand one-hundred percent behind my endorsement. I would prefer to tell you that you can read this book without any problems.

Yet I am unsettled, and for what I believe is good reason.

For the Love: Part 2

My journey to faith. (15)

Planned Parenthood and Me

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I have kept this under wraps. I can count on one had the number of people who know.

But here goes.

I am one of the many. One of the women who anxiously hoped that if “Penny” ever called, her parents wouldn’t be the ones to pick up the phone.

I make no secret of the fact that Chris and I had sex before we were married. I’m not proud of it. It was wrong. But I am free of condemnation because of the cleansing blood of Christ. God has forgiven us both, and it was in the midst of this sin that He clearly drew both of us to Himself. Though we had both made commitments to Him as children, it was during this time that we both began to understand the reprehensible nature of sin. We both began to understand our depravity and our need for a Savior.

Of course, we didn’t discuss it in that kind of language. Just after our engagement in July 2005, we began attending church together. As we drove back to my parent’s house one afternoon, I commented, “You know, we probably shouldn’t have sex on Saturday night and go to church on Sunday morning.”

Hashtag duh.

Thus began the process of breaking old habits and learning to obey Him. It didn’t happen overnight, but by the time we were baptized together just before Christmas that year, we were committed to remaining sexually pure until our wedding day.

But there were stumbles along the way.

And so a trip to Planned Parenthood.

The chances that I was actually pregnant then are extremely low as the chances of me getting pregnant now are extremely low. We’re talking less than 1%. I didn’t know that then, however. I didn’t know that I was infertile. All I knew was that I was scared out of my mind. I wasn’t on any form of contraception at the time and we hadn’t made use of a condom. What was I going to do? How would I take care of a baby? What would people think? I didn’t want this.

Nervously, I made the appointment. We drove to the plain gray building in silence. It was a beautiful fall day, bright and sunny. I wore my favorite tan corduroy jacket.

I remember feeling like this was an out-of-body experience. Less than a decade prior I was so certain that I would never have sex before I was married and that I would never darken the doors of Planned Parenthood. I even signed the “True Love Waits” card and placed it proudly in my high school scrapbook.

I had no problem with the use of birth control under a doctor’s orders and supervision (and still don’t). I had been on a couple of contraceptive pills in my teens to try and regulate my unpredictable cycle, but didn’t stick with either one as they both made me feel sick. But Planned Parenthood is more than birth control. I knew about Margaret Sanger and her complex relationship with eugenics, racism, and classism, a relationship that cannot be separated from the organization she founded. I understood that the main service Planned Parenthood provides is not low-cost health care for women (of which I am an advocate), but abortion.

Yet there I was.

The lobby was ugly and uninviting. Plain gray walls. Gray carpet. Orange plastic chairs. I scribbled my name on the sign-in sheet. Chris and I sat down together. We did not look at each other. We did not hold hands. There was a young couple sitting to my left, a pair of teenagers. She had been crying. He looked afraid, bewildered.

The room was still and quiet. The receptionist worked busily behind her bullet-proof glass window.

My name was called. I don’t remember if Chris came back to the examine room with me, but he probably did. I don’t remember what the nurse looked like. The doctor was a woman. She had brown hair styled in a bob and glasses.

I won’t demonize this woman. I have no idea if she performed abortions then or if she performs them now. I’m not saying that she was right or that the organization she chose to work for is right. But she was kind to me. I told her what had happened, what I was there for. She did not pressure me to do anything. She listened to me and gave me my options: Emergency contraception (the “morning after” pill, not the abortion pill) or wait and see.

She told me that the “morning after” pill wouldn’t stop the process if a fertilized egg had already implanted into my uterus, but it would prevent fertilization and implantation from happening if it hadn’t yet occurred. She told me that I should probably go to the store and get some motion sickness medicine as the high-dose hormone pill might make me nauseated. She instructed me how to take the pill, showed me some information about it and put everything in a brown paper bag. It was my choice whether or not to take the pill (I didn’t have to take it in the exam room, in front of her), but I did need to make my decision within a couple of hours.

We went back to the car, still in silence.

I took the pill.

We stopped at Wal-Mart for motion sickness medicine, which I also took.

I will never forget that October day. It is a moment that I have long wrestled with.

When I was in therapy, my counselor and I discussed this at length. In addition to being a very wise and godly woman, she was also a registered nurse. She knew the reproductive system backward and forward. She explained to me that, since I did not ultimately go through a pregnancy, that the “morning after” pill did its job. It functioned just like taking a birth control pill on a daily basis does. I did not have an abortion, because there was no baby.

I understand that. I accept that.

Nevertheless, I also know what my motivation was. I know the intentions of my heart. I did not want to be pregnant. I did not want a baby to “mess with” my plans. I was afraid of being judged by my family, my friends, my church. Chris and I were dealing with some other very difficult and heavy things, and I did not want to have a baby on top of that.

It was a completely selfish decision.

As I said above, I am not one who believes that using birth control is wrong. While I would much rather see people, especially young people, embrace the safe and beautiful sexual ethic laid out by God, I know that everyone is free to make their own choices. If people are going to engage in sex outside of marriage, I would rather they use contraception than have abortions or abandon more children to a broken foster care and adoption system. Within marriage, family size and the spacing of children, or choosing to not have children, is between the couple and God. Scripture says that children are a blessing, but there’s nothing there that says they are a requirement.  So the “morning after” pill itself is not the problem, and I unequivocally support its use in cases of rape or incest.

The problem arises when a woman like me uses it out of fear and selfishness.

I also have a great deal of compassion for that woman, and won’t throw stones.

I don’t have that right.

Nor do I have the right to condemn a woman who has had an abortion, because that was the intention of my heart. I determined to end the life of the baby that we might have conceived. That’s the cold, stark truth of it.

It was fear that motivated me to go to Planned Parenthood, and fear that has kept me silent. I’ve seen the reactions when women share their stories. I’ve read the comments, heard the words. I know just how nasty people can be. And there’s no need for it. No excuse.

In this highly polarizing arena, the Church needs to get better at extending grace to women like me. We need to explain and live out the fact that there is nothing that God won’t forgive if we but ask in humility and repentance. When we talk about abortion, we need to remember that there are people in the room who walk through their days with this burden on their shoulders. Yes, let’s be truthful. But let’s not forget love. Let’s not forget that we, too, are sinners, even if this not our sin.

A “pro-life” culture cannot focus on birth alone. A “pro-life” culture must be one whose members come alongside single parents. Who adamantly refuse to be nasty. Who offer rides to doctor’s appointments, provide job references, give money, throw baby showers, offer to babysit and just, you know, practice that whole kindness thing. Be the support system so desperately needed.

I am so grateful to God. More and more I understand how wretched I am. More and more I am amazed at the marvelous gift of salvation. He justifies and sanctifies me. I can do neither of my own volition.

Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”

“I [Jesus] say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” – Luke 7:36-39, 47-48 (NKJV)

The grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. – 1 Timothy 1:14-15 (NKJV)

My journey to faith. (15)

Five Minute Friday: Learn

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (4)

Gentle Reader,

Almost two weeks with very little sleep.

Emotions are, needless to say, running a little high. This is in direct proportion to the chocolate supply running low.

Thankful for Kate and the crew. We: learn.

Go.

There are times when I wonder if I should have stuck with journalism. I love the news. I love politics (even ridiculous as all that is right now). I love asking questions and pursuing leads. I love searching for the right words to describe a scene. Words that bounce across the page, keeping the reader hooked until the very end.

Then there are times, like tonight, when I watch a national news broadcast.

And I know I never would have been able to stand it.

The story centered on women. Swathed in black from head to foot. Only their large, sad eyes grant them access to the world. They might as well be ghosts. Have their mouths sewn shut in order to become the silent property that men believe they are.

Women who fight for ISIS.

Women who beat and kill other women.

For flashing a bit of ankle. Or something equally ludicrous.

Women of the hijab, the niqab and the burka.

Women of the fist, the whip and the gun.

My heart burns. How brainwashed and beaten down does a woman have to be to harm or murder fellow women? What evil has so twisted her soul that she would think it right and proper to strike her sisters?

I am furious with the men and the religion that have slapped, kicked, screamed and shackled them into these warped beliefs. That have driven them to these actions.

Islam at its finest.

Women stripped and muffled under the thumb of male cowardice and smallness.

To the end of my days I will declare the equality of women. I will preach about a God who made us in His image. I have no tolerance for the Scripture-twisting and misapplication that results in a so-called Christian understanding of women that finds greater support in the Qur’an and sharia than it does in anything the Lord ever said. I will do whatever I can, wherever I can, to promote the bonds that tie us together in the wondrous mystery of womanhood. For we are all the same – we laugh, we cry, we love, we work, we hurt. No woman is “other” to her fellow women. We know each other’s fears, desires, longings, hopes and dreams. We’re all just trying to get through the day as best as we can.

We must learn to do better. Women, let us build each other up. Let us cheer each other on. When you win, I win. When you mourn, I mourn. Let us stop the name-calling and the shaming and the competitiveness. Let us stop the judging.

Above all, let us be the bringers of peace in an increasingly-violent world.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)