Sacrificing the Common Ground

During the recent elections, the topic of abortion came up, but not framed in the typical pro-life vs. pro-choice categories. This time it was framed as the condoning or condemning of rape. One politian’s remarks about whether he supports abortion in the context of rape became framed as the condoning of rape and using his spirituality to do so. From the sound bite I heard, this seems incredibly unfair. He seemed to be commenting that God willed the life of the child, not the rape. It is unfortunate how the way we frame an argument can actually create more conflict and reduce the chances for agreement, especially in this case, when the fundamental question is “When does life begin?”

We all can agree (I hope) that there comes a point in a child’s life when the mother no longer has the choice to end his life regardless of the circumstances around his conception. It would be considered murder for a mother to decide to “abort” her daughter when she is 5 years old, despite the fact that the daughter was conceived during rape. So that brings us back to the question “When does life begin?” which enlightens the question “When does abortion become murder?”

Some argue that life begins at conception, or at implantation, or at some time in the first two trimesters, or even once the fetus is viable outside the womb, whether on its own or with artificial support. There are still those who believe that life doesn’t begin until birth. Regardless of the position, there is an agreement that at some point, termination of the development process becomes murder. When approaching the topic, people are coming to the table passionately opposed to murder. However, the political posturing and rhetoric is demonizing opponents not because of their view of when life begins, but rather on the implications of that view.

Of course, if I believe life begins at conception, then I will consider abortion, IVF, cloning and embryonic stem cell research as acts of murder. Likewise, if I believe life doesn’t begin until sometime after the nervous system is formed, then I would see these processes no more as murder than me having my gall bladder removed. Can we know for sure? Unlikely. We can’t even agree on a technical definition for life. Thus, the dilemmas and conflicts around euthanasia also.

Yes, it is the mother’s right to choose. To choose what to believe and how to act on that belief. When she considers whether to abort, she takes a position on when life begins and acts accordingly. May we only limit freedom when there is general consensus that aborting at the time would be murder (i.e., the third trimester) and give freedom when it is unclear. Giving the freedom to choose still allows those women who abhor abortion to reject it.

Let’s be careful how we frame these topics, as it may only bring additional conflict and unnecessary harm rather than resolution.

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Fearless

The question was stated, “How do you get rid of fear?” In the responses you would have heard various mixtures of fight and flight. In this case the fear is relational. Trust is broken. The community is divided. When relationships are fractured how do we restore them. We ask “why?” or we explore how we got here and who’s to blame. But ultimately fear is not owned by the one who is feared, but by the one who fears.

Sometimes the fear is prejudice and unjustified perception and the one who is feared has no knowledge or control of their actions and attributes that inspire fear. At other times, they have learned how to inspire fear to manipulate and control their environment. Regardless, the one who fears owns the fear.

So how do you overcome relational fear? You can punish the person who is feared, however despite the catharsis it does not alleviate or eliminate the fear. You can get away from the feared one and never interact with them, yet again this only reduces the acuity of the fear and it still remains. The only effective option is to confront the fear. This is often fulfilled through communication; through interaction with the feared one. This will take courage despite the fear.

Sometimes this isn’t possible. The person cannot be reached but they are still given power over your identity and security. It is here that we see the boldness of the teachings of Jesus. In this circumstance, we can be liberated from that fear by love and forgiveness. It is not easy, but as it is said, “nothing worth doing is ever easy.”

Courage is not the absence of fear but the decision to act despite the fear. Likewise, faith is not the absence of doubt but the confidence despite the doubt. May you discover how forgiveness can be more for the one who forgives than the one forgiven. May you stand with the millions throughout history who acted despite their fear and believed despite their doubts. Those who loved significantly and forgave generously.

Tithing Is Not Giving

This bold statement was made last Sunday, “Tithing is not giving!” This idea flies in the face of how many perceive tithing. After all, don’t those who make enough money in America list their “tithe” as a charitable contribution to reduce their tax burden? We cheer when it’s time to give our tithe in the service because God loves a cheerful giver. Despite the impulse to consider tithing giving, I would have to agree. Tithing is not giving.

The tithe was a property tax. The collections of that tax were used to provide welfare for the priests, the poor and the immigrants within the community. Compulsory payments are not giving. They are payments. I pay my taxes and if I lived in ancient Israel and owned a farm I would pay my tithe.

Today, our tithe takes many forms such as sales tax, property tax, and income tax. These taxes fulfill in part the requirement of the ancient tithe in caring for the poor and immigrants in our society. To help the priests (and many others) the government allows for its people to give to them and even encourages it through tax deductions. The catch is that many churches turn this generous gift to provide for the priests into a compulsory gift, a membership fee or effectively a tax. Yet a life lived according to the teachings of Jesus is not compelled by church leaders or even God to pay a tithe but inspired to give to those in need.

I think of it much like that scene in Office Space where the amount of flair is up for debate. The supervisor is disappointed with the motivation of his employee which leads her to only wear what is required of her. To her, it comes off as he wants her to wear more and she looks for the new minimum, but he refuses to give one. The act of mandating self-expression prevented it from occuring. Likewise, mandating generosity prevents it from ever being realized.

The ancient requirement of tithing is fulfilled by simple generosity. Tithing is life according to the Law. Generosity is life in the Spirit. Paul was quite clear about the impulse to return to the ancient practices of the Law in his letter to the Galatians. Give joyfully. Give extravagantly. Give sacrificially. Give what you can because you can and not because you have to.