Wednesday, January 29, 2014

So, My Wife and I are Becoming Germaphobes

The winter months have not been kind to our family’s health. Sicknesses of numerous kinds have wreaked havoc on our weekly schedule, taking up any writing time I might otherwise have had. Through all the complications, we are still aware of God’s provision and favor. Lord willing, I can return to a weekly blog writing schedule soon. Thank you all for your patience and prayers.

UPDATE: Now that we are home from the hospital and the most dangerous of Elanor’s pertussis symptoms have subsided, life is beginning to return to normal. This blog will once again be updated every week, starting this coming Tuesday.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Is There Ever a “Wrongful Life”?

Eliot wasn’t your typical baby. That became obvious in utero. In fact, the doctors told his parents, Matt and Ginny, that Eliot might not even make it to birth.

He did make it to birth, but without his feeding tubes and constant supply of oxygen, he was still in danger of dying. Matt and Ginny took shifts so that one person could sleep at night while the other kept watch over Eliot. Even with such dedicated attention, his life remained incredibly fragile.

You see, Eliot had a genetic disorder called Trisomy 18. Only half the children who have this disease are born alive, due to “heart abnormalities, kidney malformations, and other internal organ disorders.”

The story of what happened after Eliot’s birth is beautifully captured in what is probably my favorite YouTube video of all time: 99 Balloons, by Igniter Media. It is a poignant and life affirming story. You can watch the six minute film below.

Okay, don’t ignore the video and keep reading. Seriously. The rest of the blog post won’t make nearly as much sense.

Watched the video? Good. Now, note Matt and Ginny’s eager anticipation of Eliot’s arrival, even after learning about his disorder. They thought the day of his birth “couldn’t come sooner,” so great was their excitement. When Eliot was born, they (rightly) considered it a miracle.

Caring for Eliot obviously wasn’t easy. His life literally depended on constant, unending, 24/7 attention. I can’t imagine Shannon and me never being able to sleep at the same time because of a frail son’s (or daughter’s) desperate needs. And yet that is exactly what the Mooneys did for their son.

But notice how they weren’t begrudging caretakers. They didn’t bemoan their lack of normalcy. No, they loved learning how to best provide for Eliot. Amazingly, Matt described his late night shift as the best part of his day. The best part!

One thing that sticks out to me the more I watch this video is how much joy Matt and Ginny had in their son. This is expressed throughout the film in phrases like, “You continue to find new ways to steal our hearts,” and “Your mom and I are so thankful we know you.” They saw their son as a gift, and they treated that gift with a selfless, affectionate love that puts a lot of us to shame. Matt and Ginny were happier with Eliot than they were without him.

You may look at the end of the story and see it as a tragedy. But according to Matt, 99 Balloons tells a story about God “revealing Himself through a child who never uttered a word.” That’s often how God reveals Himself: through the gritty, unassuming aspects of daily life—through the moments of suffering we experience when the world isn’t watching.

Unfortunately, not all parents are like the Mooneys. Unfortunately, many of us don’t like it when God reveals Himself to use through our pain. We love our comfort and ease. We love our imagined notions of freedom.

That’s one reason, I think, why our society often views genetically defective children as unworthy of birth, let alone life. Heck, it’s one reason why even healthy children are often viewed as a burden and not a blessing. We place too much importance on our autonomy. Even pro-lifers such as myself can be tempted to think this way at times.

The problem isn’t with the children—born or unborn, healthy or diseased. The problem is with us. In order to overcome our society’s double standards, we need more parents like Matt and Ginny. We need more people who recognize and embrace the freeing power of self-forgetfulness. And only God’s selfless love can reorient how a self-centered culture treats those whom it considers burdensome and expendable. May we all grow to see the inherent dignity in every life—including the short and frail life of someone like Eliot Mooney.

photo credit (which, to be clear, is of a baby other than Eliot; I didn’t have any rights to his pictures): downing.amanda via photopin cc

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How to be Wrong When You’re Right

I can take even the smallest incident and use it to prove my own superiority. When Shannon and I got sick a few weeks ago, I was tempted by the thought that I was a better person because I got over my sickness more quickly than she did. Chivalrous, right? My heart wanted to turn a normal life event into a competition—all so that my self-esteem could get a little pick-me-up.

Maybe you don’t use innocuous circumstances for one-upmanship, but how do you act when faced with a hotly debated topic like abortion? Let’s say you’re of the conviction that unborn children are distinct entities that have been endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including the right to life. Such a stance is, I believe, true to science, logic, and biblical teaching. Nevertheless, it is a stance based on knowledge that must be used rightly.

Truth was never designed to be a weapon of mass destruction, but that’s how we often treat it. It’s too easy to turn a healthy exchange of ideas into a death match. If our motives are wrong, we’ll use truth to kill rather than convict, to put others in their place and shame them into submission. We can be so focused on the rightness of our cause that we’re ready and willing to sin against others in order to prove it.

Does the issue of abortion call for outrage and grief and anger? Yes, it does. The taking of innocent life—no matter how much Orwellian nomenclature is used—must be shown for what it truly is.

There’s a big difference, though, between genuine grief over sin and proving how tall we are by cutting everyone else’s heads off. Christ, after all, didn’t parade His superiority in front of us, even though He was completely in the right and we were in the wrong. We were His enemies, and yet He came to die in our place. He loved the unlovable—you and me.

Having received the amazing grace of God, we are called now to pour that same grace onto others. If we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, and if our neighbor includes anyone with whom we come into contact (as the story of the good Samaritan shows us), what does that mean for the abortion debate? It means that our neighbor is not just the unborn child who doesn’t have a voice of his own. Our neighbor is also the pregnant woman abandoned by her significant other. Our neighbor is that significant other. Our neighbor is even the abortionist himself.

When it comes to any debatable topic (whether it’s abortion, the gospel, or something else), if we enter the fray self-righteously, our motives will likely be apparent in our words and actions—even if we are in the right. People will be less likely to hear our words if our actions are speaking more loudly.

In his book Charity and Its Fruits, Jonathan Edwards gives some helpful advice for how someone can avoid being wrong when he is right:

He may reprove his neighbor; but if he does, it will be with politeness and without bitterness, which still shows the design to be only to exasperate.

It may be with strength of reason and argument and serious expostulation, but without angry reflections or contemptuous language.

He may show a dislike of what is done, but it will not be with an appearance of high resentment; but

as a man would reprove another that has fallen into sin against God, rather than against him; and

as lamenting his calamity more than resenting his injury, and

as seeking his good rather than his hurt;

more to deliver him from the calamity into which he has fallen than to be even with him for the injury he has brought on him.

Are we willing to harbor bitterness and hatred in our hearts toward proponents of abortion? Are we willing to mix our passion with contemptuousness? Are we willing to belittle our political opponents and shower them with condescending spite? If so, then we are wrong—even if we are absolutely right.

photo credit: RLHyde via photopin cc

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Becoming More Like C. S. Lewis in 2014

I have a problem: I want to be famous. As a college student studying film and video, my “famedom” took the form of wanting to win an Oscar for my amazing abilities, purportedly for the glory of God. Hindsight is 20/20, and I can more readily see how my aspiration was really for the glory of Cap.

To date, I haven’t produced an Oscar-winning film. And even though that ship has been unmoored (it’s getting ready to set sail), I still find in myself a desire to be publicly lauded and appreciated. To a certain degree, I think we all want that. (Yep, I’m dragging you all down with me on this one. I don’t want to hang out in this dirty pit alone, so welcome to the club.)

Which brings us to the example of C. S. Lewis. This past November marked the 50th anniversary of Lewis’ death. A recent national conference, The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life & Imagination in the Life of C. S. Lewis, sought to explore the key to Lewis’ influence. To begin with, though, conference host John Piper blogged about an important distinction. That blog post pierced my fame-enamored heart:

I want to know the keys to [Lewis’] influence because there is a difference between wanting fame and wanting influence. Christians should want to be influential. We should not want to be famous. Wanting fame means wanting to be known and praised by lots of people. Wanting to be influential means wanting lots of people to know and praise God because of how you spoke of him and lived before him.

When left unchecked, my heart gravitates toward a pursuit of fame instead of influence. Sometimes the two overlap; often they don’t. A proper spiritual alignment reminds me to set my sights on influencing others for the glory of God, whether my sphere of influence includes three people or three million people. On that final day, the Lord will reward His children, not for their level of worldly success, but for their faithfulness with what God had given them, whether it was a lot or a little (Matt. 25:14-30).

Over the past several weeks, Shannon and I have been going through the main sessions and small talks given at this conference. We’ve learned several fascinating things about C. S. Lewis that we had never heard or read before. You can go to this page to view all the messages for free, but I want to recommend a few in particular.

Why Lewis abhorred typewriters (9 minutes). Why did Lewis never back down from his refusal to use a typewriter? The ultimate reason is intriguing.

When Lewis declined to write for Christianity Today (15 minutes). I didn’t know that Lewis was given the opportunity to write for Christianity Today magazine. I also didn’t know that he turned down the offer. Find out why here.

Lewis on Biblical inerrancy (60 minutes). This main session doesn’t shy away from Lewis’ doubts about the inerrancy of Scripture. In fact, it digs deeply into the matter, unearthing some revealing facts.

C. S. Lewis is quite different from a lot of famous and influential Christians today, as Piper explains in his introductory blog post:

Some people are influential because they attract attention with their avant-garde, unorthodox views. C.S. Lewis boasted of being an “intellectual dinosaur,” not avant-garde. Lewis was not at home in the modern world. He never learned to drive. He never learned to type. He rarely read newspapers. And his clothes were frumpy. The air he breathed was medieval. In other words, he was not influential because he was cool.

Remembering C. S. Lewis, I want to avoid the traps of coolness and fame. Granted, coolness and fame aren’t knocking on my door to begin with. They’re more like the angel of death avoiding the doorposts stained with blood. Nevertheless, my heart’s motives are important. I don’t want to foolishly step outside those doorposts in pursuit of popularity; doing so might just kill me.

With that in mind, I want to glorify God and love others in how I write here at Happier Far. God willing, that goal will inform my efforts on the blog this year. Maybe I’ll never make it to the “big time” (whatever that actually means)—and that’s probably a good thing. Whatever the case, may this blog be a place where readers encounter the grace of God, not a megalomaniac’s ego. Lord, let it be so.

photo credit: crowderb via photopin cc