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How Hobby Lobby is Biblical but not Christian

Hobby_Lobby_Supreme_Court_LGI don’t want to write about Hobby Lobby.

This is not my issue.

I am Canadian.

This Supreme Court ruling doesn’t affect my daily life. Here in Canada, healthcare is universal, and while birth control (for both men and women) isn’t always covered under the public mandate, it is usually covered under extra employment health benefits if prescribed by a doctor.

I am Lutheran.

And if anyone is wondering, the health plan that covers the pastors of my denomination does include coverage of all the birth control that Hobby Lobby wanted to be exempt from paying for. So not all Christians agree with Hobby Lobby’s religious views on birth control.

But today, I have to write something. This Hobby Lobby issue is nagging my writer’s soul.

hobbyShortly after the US Supreme Court’s decision, I tweeted some questions and comments regarding the decision. The ruling brings up so many questions, including how it is that a corporation can have a religions belief. I guess Americans believe in the separation of church and state, but not separation of church and corporation. One of my tweets resonated with a lot of people:

These questions about the personhood and religious belief of a corporation are deeply troubling, even for a Canadian like me.  Yet, more and more I am thinking about this issue affects women and how Hobby Lobby, with their “religious belief,” understands women and what they have been granted the authority to do on the basis of religious belief.

As I read through articles on the fallout of this decision, I came across a couple of great articles explaining the science of what Hobby Lobby is claiming about birth control and why it is so wrong.

(Update: If you want to read even more about abortificients, read this article)

However, as with the Creation vs. Evolution debate, the science doesn’t really matter to fundamentalists. The pseudo-science of creation and their understanding of birth control is only a means to an end. And that end is promoting a deeply flawed, yet self-serving, understanding of scripture.

Today, I am sure many people wonder, what exactly is Hobby Lobby’s issue with women. Why do Christian fundamentalists like the owners of Hobby Lobby, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Gospel Coalition and many mega church pastors make such a big deal about issues of contraception, LGBT issues and the role of women in church and home. They will claim their view is scriptural… and well it is… kind of. In fact, these groups probably don’t really understand just how scriptural their views on women are… and just how much they miss the point.

The fundamentalist Christian problem with women originates from these unlikely places in scripture:

1. The concern for the sanctity of life in much of the Bible is not necessarily for all life, but Israelite life. The book of Genesis shows that one the of the chief concerns of the descendants of Abraham was continuation of the line. It wasn’t life in general that they were concerned about, but particular life. This is why God killed both the enemies of the Israelites who fought them in battle and God killed the sons of Judah who spilled their seed on the ground. They were all “killing” the descendants of Abraham and so God judged them.

The whole book of Genesis is about how the line of Abraham hovered near extinction for generations, yet God had made the covenant of many descendants and land. The chief concern of the Israelite people was continuing the line. This was the path to immortality and legacy.

2. The ancient understanding of reproduction categorized men and women differently than now. Seeds or sperm (the same words in Greek and Hebrew) were believed to contain the entire person. So to be someone’s descendant meant you were contained entirely (in a tiny seed) in your father, grandfather, great-grandfather etc… So when people protested to Jesus that they were the children of Abraham, they meant that they had literally been inside Abraham at some point.

Women were understood to be the field. A seed was planted in the field, died and turned into fruit. If a seed didn’t grow, it was because of an inhospitable field. This is why only women are barren in scripture. Wombs and fields come from the same word in Hebrew.

3. Women were property. Many books and articles have been written about how women were property in the bible. And this is correct, but chattel or animal property wouldn’t exactly describe it entirely. Animals required some care, but women were more like land (fields where seeds were planted). Land was plowed (torn up) in order to plant seeds. When it didn’t produce it was plowed even more.

Just as farmers were concerned about neighbours planting and harvesting over property boundaries, husbands were concerned about someone else’s seeds getting planted in their wives’ wombs. There were no paternity tests, so the only way to make sure your line continued was to maintain strict control of your land/womb. This is how a deceased man’s brother could provide children to his widowed sister-in-law. Brothers carried the same seeds from their father, the woman was simply the field.

4. Adultery was not an issue of fidelity. In the same story of Judah’s sons spilling their seeds, it was natural that Judah would go to a prostitute. Men have needs. However, an adulterous woman is like damaged property. A man could never know if his kids are his if a woman cheated or if she is raped. Another man has sowed his seeds in the field. Damaged property is pretty much only good for destruction. This where the one sided laws in the Middle-East and Africa that punish rape victims come from. The punishments are a means for destroying the damaged goods of men.

Now, conservative fundamentalist Christians will not tell you that these are the biblical understandings of reproduction and gender. However, this is where these issues about birth control come from – Ancient, patriarchal and misogynist understandings of science and gender.

Despite Hobby Lobby and other conservative Christians adopting these biblical world views (however rooted in incorrect ancient science), these views are not Christian.

Jesus and early Christianity takes a very different view on women and gender.

1. In the Gospel of Mark (the earliest gospel), Jesus forbade divorce without condition (unlike in Matthew who adds the adultery clause). Jesus was not making a moral judgement, but advocating for women. Divorce was a means for men to summarily dismiss their wives, to have them stoned for adultery so they could get rid of them. Forbidding divorce empowered women. Men could not hold the threat of dismissal (which would lead to poverty or death) over their wives. Jesus himself would not have been born if Joseph had decided to have Mary stoned for adultery. Jesus was putting husbands and wives on a level plying field.

2. Jesus often talked to women, included them as disciples, and appeared to them first after the resurrection. Jesus was constantly breaking social norms to talk to women in public, thereby treating them as equals. Jesus included women as disciples, like his own mother, Mary and Martha, and Mary Magdalene. Women were the first to find the empty tomb and the first to announce the resurrection. This was the most important moment of Jesus’s ministry, and he chose to entrust women (who were not trusted as reliable witnesses) to witness the event.

3. The early Church was radically egalitarian. The apostle Paul wrote that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Slave nor Free, Male nor Female in the community. But not long after, the Christian community began partriarchalizing itself to fit in better with society. Other later New Testament letters advocated patriarchy, and Paul’s own writings either had additions or have been misinterpreted and mistranslated to favour patriarchy.

Jesus and the early church stood in stark contrast to the prevailing patriarchal system. You might even say that they didn’t hold biblical views on women and gender. Conservative Christians would claim Jesus and Paul weren’t biblical if the two were preaching and writing today.

Hobby Lobby fought for the corporation’s right to hold biblical views, and use those views to unfairly discriminate women. (It has been noted since that they invest in companies that make birth control and still pay for men’s contraceptive products.)

But Hobby Lobby and conservative Christians are either so woefully ignorant of why the bible views women as it does and what Christianity actually teaches about gender or are intentionally using “religious belief” to justify sexism.

I suspect there is a good dose of both happening.

RBG on Hobby Lobby - blogOn Monday, I was very glad to be Canadian. The US Supreme Court has been duped, or, more likely, is striving to maintain a patriarchal world. And that is what this is really about. It is not about being against contraceptives (the science disproves the “abortificant” argument), it is about being sexist, misogynist and patriarchal. This isn’t about being biblical, this is about the fear of a loss of power, specifically male power over women.

Even from a far, I am still deeply saddened today by the state of religious affairs in the United States. Saddened that there are Christians who believe this is about religious freedom. Saddened that corporatists, privileged white males and misogynists are using “Christianity” to promote their agenda. Because actual Christianity is completely opposed to what Hobby Lobby stands for.

I wonder how the Supreme Court would have ruled if this were about men’s contraception, or if an employer were asking an insurer to cover even more healthcare benefits because of religious conviction.


How do you feel about the Hobby Lobby decision? What was your reaction Monday? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik.

PS Twitter has been flagging my blog as spam lately. If you would like to help get it unflagged (because according to wordpress and google it is fine), file a ticket with a link to my blog here

 

 

 

 

 

 

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yesallwomen

10 Lessons #YesAllWomen has taught this man

bodqhc2ciaawthw_19o506m-19o506tI am not sure I should even be writing this. I have written about women and inequality, especially as it relates to Christianity. But these past few days have felt different somehow.

Unless you have been under a rock, you will have heard of the twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen. It was begun in response to Elliot Rodger’s killing spree, because he was feeling unfairly rejected by women.

Even a 30 second glance at the hashtag gives insight into the issues that all women face, on a daily basis, because of misogyny and patriarchy. If you haven’t done so, go to twitter and scroll through the hashtag by clicking here.

#YesAllWomen is primarily about women speaking to their experience. Unfortunately, too many men have gotten defensive about it and have responded with #NotAllMen. Defensiveness, or worse misogynistic trolling masked as defensiveness, just doesn’t help. The men who are loudly declaring that they aren’t the ones treating women badly have missed the point. No, not all men are rapists, cat-callers, abusers, misogynist or sexist. But all women suffer because of the men who are.

safe_image.phpI have been hesitant to write, because I have been worried about co-opting, as a white male, the issue of a marginalized group and making it about me. After reading articles and many tweets, I realize that I do have something to say because misogyny is about me. No, I am not the one victimized directly by it, but I suffer along with all women AND all men because it exists.

Perhaps more importantly, #YesAllWomen has taught me several lessons in these past days, lessons that I think are worth sharing. I hope they can benefit you too:

1. #YesAllWomen has shown me that the women in my life all suffer silently from misogyny. My wife, my mother, my sister, my friends, they have all been the victims of the entitled attitudes of men and they have not told me because getting a man they care about angry at another man seems not worth the effort. Especially not worth it when there are so many misogynists out there. Just trying to move past these experiences as quickly as possible feels like the best way to survive.

2. #YesAllWomen has made it clear to me, as a new father to a son, that he is the most important person to teach about misogyny and patriarchy. It is a sad reality that we have to teach our daughters to protect themselves from men, even sadder that we don’t teach our sons not be a danger to women. Each boy that grows into a man that we teach to work fight for, and not against, the women in their lives is so important. Lets teach our sons not to abuse, oppress or feel entitled towards women, at least as much as we teach our daughters to avoid these experiences.

3. #YesAllWomen shows just how blind men are to their behaviour. The fact that #NotAllMen exists shows just how much we suck at “getting it” as a gender. As of this writing, there is no one tweeting under #OnlySomeWomen, yet there are many men defending themselves with #NotAllMen. This only shows how far we have to go to get it.

4. #YesAllWomen has taught me that people will defend their privilege in disgusting ways. As a pastor, I have seen many privileged groups try to defend their position in all kinds of circumstances. Invariably, defending one’s privileged position never has good reasons. There are never justifiable reasons as to why I should automatically get more, be more respected and have more power than others. So to defend privilege, people resort to shame, ad hominem attacks, victim blaming, playing the victim card, verbal abuse, mind games, emotional manipulation, bullying and all sorts of absurd behaviour. It is all there is to defend privilege. And men have been doing it all in response to #YesAllWomen.

5. #YesAllWomen is for women to speak and for men to hear – a reversal of roles. Most men, myself included, are not used to others having a voice more prominent and more important than ours. We are not used to being talked over, interrupted or lectured (mansplained) to. We are not used to being called out and justifiably shamed. It is role reversal for us to listen and for women to have the megaphone. And it is time to hand it over.

6. #YesAllWomen is not about men solving the problem of misogyny. It makes me so angry to hear about people treating the women in my life badly, especially other men. My instinct is to hop on my white stallion and chop some legs off with my viking battle-axe. This is not realistic, of course. But neither would it help for men to resolve all conflicts for women. This only teaches those who behave badly, that as long as man is not around, they can continue behaving badly and that women aren’t meant to be taken seriously. Again and again, as I hear about people acting badly towards women, it is best to be an example of a man that treats women equally and with respect.

7. #YesAllWomen reminds me that I cannot help but take advantage of my privilege. As a man, I can basically go anywhere at anytime of day or night and feel safe. I can call people to task for their bad behaviour and a good deal of the time they change it. I can speak without being interrupted and know that my words are taken seriously. I carry an innate sense of authority, regardless of the actual position I have in a group. I know that my voice will always be heard and heeded. I also know that none of this will likely change in my lifetime. And deep down, I know that there is room for everyone to experience the world this way. More people living in a world of respect and equality, won’t mean I have less. Yet, so many of those (men) in the privileged position want to maintain their status, and keep the privilege to a few. This is because more respect for everyone feels like less privilege for me.

8. #YesAllWomen has taught me the absurdity of gender roles. Every time some person, some article, some meme, some thing tries to say, “Men are like this, Women are like that” it contributes to patriarchy and gender inequality. We can all sense the racism when someone says, “Black people are like this, white people like that” or the religious intolerance of “Christians are like this, Muslims/Jews/Hindus/Atheists are like that” or the arrogance of “university grads are like this, high school dropouts are like that”. Yet when we hear “Men are like this, women like that” so many of us knowingly nod along and smile. Knowingly nod and smile like many in my grandparents generation would have at racist jokes! As long as there is a gender imbalance we need to recognize that saying “Men are like this, women like that” really means “This quality that Men supposedly carry is preferred, and that quality that women supposedly carry is inferior.” We all should know that characterizing people in such broad strokes reduces our beautiful diversity to broken categories

9. #YesAllWomen has taught me that understanding this issue requires empathy. The difference between sympathy and empathy is this: Sympathy is feeling what someone else feels, empathy is understanding what someone else feels. Sympathy can be helpful when someone is happy or sad, joyful or grieving. But as someone who looks more like a victimizer tries to sympathize with a victim, it is patronizing and unhelpful. Empathy is hard. Empathy requires getting away from my feelings, away from my context, away from my experience and looking out of someone else’s window. Seeing and understanding what they are feeling, what their life is like, what they are experiencing. Like I said, Empathy is hard, but men need to learn it. All of us do.

10. #YesAllWomen has taught me what my role is in supporting the empowerment of women and ending misogyny. I should have made the connection sooner, as it is my job as a preacher. As a pastor I point to God, I name what God is doing in the world. That means pointing away from myself, that means getting out of the way. As a man who is a feminist, who supports gender equality it is my role to support by pointing to women. By lifting up their voices and by getting myself out of the way.

So these are the lessons I have learned. Now I am going to get out of the way. Go read #YesAllWomen on Twitter. Find the articles by women about how misogyny and patriarchy and sexism and sexual violence and abuse affects them. Read. Think. Be changed like I have been.


How has #YesAllWomen affected you? What is your experience? Share in the comments, on Facebook at The Millennial Pastor Page or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Special Thanks to my wife, Courtenay, who worked through these thoughts with me and is my brilliant editor. You can follow her on Twitter:  @ReedmanParker

 

areopagus

St. Paul and Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Acts 17:22-31

Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, `To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you… (Read the rest).

Sermon

image019It would serve us well to listen carefully to Paul today. Paul is telling us about a radical God that we don’t get to hear about very often. His words might have originated in Athens, from the place where Greek philosophers would gather to argue and debate ideas. But make no mistake, Paul is speaking directly to us. And there is a sadness in his sermon and there is a certain joy. The joy is the proclaiming the living God in whom we live – we move- and have our being. The sadness is in realizing that God is essentially unknown to most North Americans.

The place and people to whom Paul was speaking was not much different than our world today. The Athenians were careful folks who liked to hedge their bets when it came to religion. Scattered throughout the city would have been statues and temples to numerous Gods. To Greek Gods, Romans Gods, Persian Gods, and many more. Newborns would often be dedicated at each temple, just to make sure that all the bases were covered. Zeus, Athena, Mithras, Poseidon were all honoured just to be sure.

And just in case any gods had been overlooked, there was the statue to the unknown God. A coverall, so as not to offend any other gods out there that didn’t have specific statues or temples.

When Paul was in Athens, his purpose wasn’t to preach or evangelize. He was just visiting, waiting for his friends to re-join him while they preached in a neighbouring city. Paul, was more like a tourist than a traveling preacher. Yet, when he saw this statue to the unknown God, he must have seen an opportunity. An opportunity to address a culture that was quite concerned with covering their religious bases by doing the right rituals and keeping the right rules. The Athenian philosophy of religion was, make the gods happy and they won’t bother you,

The pluralistic religious system of the Athenians is not all that far off from our modern version of religion that is practiced today. In fact, sociologists have come up with a term for the most widely “practiced” religion in North America, and it is probably not the familiar name of a denomination. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. This term was born out of study North American Teens and their views on religion. There was a surprisingly high level of agreement on what teens thought about God and the faith. There was no difference in views between those who were regular church attenders their whole lives to those with no church background at all.

monkimage

 

 

 

 

These are the core statements of their faith:

1. A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.

2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.

3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.

4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.

5. Good people go to heaven when they die

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is basically the belief that God sets out some ground rules for behaviour which is the moralistic part. The Therapeutic part is that God is a being who exists to make us feel good and solve our problems. Deism is belief in a God who just created the world and left it to its own devices, God does not have much bearing on the rest of our lives and doesn’t really engage us personally.

The God of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is the God of Oprah, Hollywood and financial gain. It is the God of inspirational greeting cards, reality tv, music videos and consumerism.  Making money, being self-centered and ignoring the big issues of life are also encouraged, because God wants to send us to heaven as long we are good people, which most of us are.

This distanced, self centered approach to religion is precisely what Paul’s words address today. And this kind of religion is exactly what our sinful selves wish religion to be. The pluarism of the ancient greeks and modern day Moralistic Therapeutic Deism appeal to us at our basic levels. They are religions were we get to be in control, and God gets to be a divine therapist and butler. They don’t demand anything of us, and they don’t intrude on our daily lives in any kind of real way. They are the perfect religion for a curved in on itself humanity.

As Paul walked around the Aeropagus, looking at the variety of statues he must have been asking himself,

What about sin?

What about evil?

What about death?

What about hope?

What about grace?

What about love?

Grace_wordle

 

 

 

 

For Paul, all of the greek Gods would have been unknown. His are the questions that none of the unknown Gods could begin to answer. These are the questions that sit below the surface when life is going well, but that rise up and force us to consider them when things go wrong, when life begins to hurt, to be painful. The God of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism seems pretty empty in the face of addiction, disease, divorce and separation, in the face of death. It seems pretty empty in the face love, beauty, sacrifice and wonder too.

In fact, the unknown gods of the ancient greeks and of our modern world are not really gods at all when compared to the God who washes, names, dies with us and raises us to new  life all in the one baptism. These gods not compare to the One who feeds, forgives, joins and loves in communion. The god of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism does not compare to the God who was born, who lived with us, who died on the cross and rose on the third day in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. 

Paul sees the opportunity with the statue of the unknown God, to show his audience that God is known. And even more so, that God knows us. As Paul preaches to the Athenians:

What you therefore worship as unknown, I proclaim to you. God is known.

What a radical difference from what the Athenians knew. Paul does not just re-interpret the unknown God, but re-interprets the whole religious system. The God that Paul knows is the one who created all things. The God that Paul knows is the one who gives us life and movement and being — and does not require petty sacrifices in order to show mercy. The God that Paul knows, know us — knows what it is like to be born, to live, and die as one of us.

The God knows us sees us — all of us. Sees our faults and failures, our imperfections and loses. Our confusion and blindness. Our intolerance and bigotedness. Our despair and frailty. Our successes and hopes. Our dreams and desires. Our joys and our loves. All of these God sees.

The God who knows us hears us — our pleas for help. Our anger and frustration. Our sadness and sorrow. Our celebrations and thanksgivings. Our happiness and our wonder. Our normal and everyday words. All of these God hears.

This God who know us loves us — all of us. God loves all of us as a whole. All of us as individuals. All of us personally, intimately, completely. This God loves us despite our sinfulness and despite our faithfulness. This God who knows us simply loves us without condition.

The unknown Gods of ancient and modern times promise heaven for good behaviour.

But the God who knows us promises New Life to those that are dead. New Life for all creation. New Life for each one of us.

In a world that is often looking to cover its bases and for people whose best vision of what God could be is a divine therapist and butler, God offers so much more.

As Paul preaches to the Athenians and to us, the unknown distant gods that we try to make happy are not gods at all. The God of all creation, of all life, of all that moves of all that is. This God is known. This God is known because this God first knew us. As Paul preaches:

What you therefore worship as unknown, I proclaim to you. This God knows us. 

Amen.

li-bonifacecathedral-fire

Can we kill the church?

It is no secret that Christianity in Europe and North America is in decline, at least in terms of numbers, attendance, budgets and societal influence. Christian leaders in the United States, in particular, are really starting to name and deal with this reality more and more. What many Americans may not know, is that Canada is about 20 years ahead  in this process, and the UK 20 years ahead of Canada. In a way, I am speaking from the future of American Christianity, if things continue on the same path of decline.

dying churchThere have been a number of articles and/or sermons, making their way across social media, exploring the “Dying Church.” Sojourners (sojo.net) has recently run a series called “Letters to a Dying Church.Mark Sandlin’s letter, in particular, articulates the decline of the influential church of the middle 20th Century that rested at the centre of western society. Mark describes a church that has moved into a fringe community that exists in the largely forgotten margins. The letter also articulates great hope in dying, and promise in God’s resurrecting work.

Meanwhile, while Sojourners was running their series, Nadia Bolz-Weber published a sermon entitled, “Stop Saying the Church is Dying.” Her sermon also articulates the distinction between the social-cultural church of influence, which is in decline, versus the church that proclaims the Gospel, administers the sacraments and declares forgiveness of sins. While her title provocatively suggests the opposite of the Sojourners series, the point is largely the same.

So, we all know that Christendom or imperial Christianity is losing ground and is, by all economic and social measures, dying. 

And we all know that the Church – that is primarily concerned with announcing the Gospel, providing the sacraments, providing the Body of Christ a time and place to gather and reconciling creation with creator – is alive and well.

But there is an aspect to all this dying talk that I find curious, if not troubling. It is hard to argue that the church isn’t dying or transforming from what it was a generation or two ago. However, I think there is a flaw in our diagnosis.

I think there is no small amount of hubris in the notion that the church is dying and we are killing it. Consider the weight of this claim. In nearly 2000 years, the church has survived barely getting off the ground for 400 years, it survived being imperialized, spreading across the known world, going to war, reformations, counter-reformations, splits, scientific revolutions, the discovery of new worlds, nationalism, revival, charismatic movements and global wars.

2361002313_58cdf68fffAnd while yes, the church is in decline by all social metrics and economic indicators like membership numbers, budgets and sociopolitical influence, do we really think that because current generations are more interested in iPhones, new age spirituality, worshipping God in sunsets and grocery shopping after kid’s soccer on Sunday mornings, that the church is going to die because of us.

Now let me be clear like Mark Sandlin and Nadia Bolz-Weber were clear, the Church, as the body of Christ, the spirit-led community tasked with proclaiming the gospel, administering the sacraments and declaring forgiveness of sins will continue to exist long after the structures of imperial Christianity are gone, long after the institution is gone.

But even that claim misses the point.

When I hear Christians talk about this institution-less, egalitarian, consensus church to come, I think we are dreaming. I think we have forgotten the realities of human communities. I think we have forgotten that almost immediately after the Ascension, Christian communities started setting up structures and systems to govern church life. And over time, these institutions have grown, changed, become flawed, reformed, and declined. But they are necessary.

Just like the rules of grammar that allow language to convey meaning, foster creativity and breed emotion, the structure, institution even, of the church allows the gospel to be preached, sacraments administered and forgiveness declared. More importantly, the free, open, consensus based community that many Christians hope for in the midst of decline is a church that will cease to exist faster than our current iteration. Without structures to carry on our practice, everything that we believe would be forgotten in a generation.

Even though the institution is guilty of oppression, violence, murder, war, discrimination and many other atrocities, the institution is also what carries the community through history. The institution bears the life of the community in a way that we time-bound humans cannot. The institution has preserved the good along side the perpetration of tremendous evil – a sinner/saint motif. All along the way, the institution has borne the witness of those who have gone before, whose words and music and art and actions are worth remembering beyond the lifespan of their originators. The institution is imbedded in our doctrine, theology and liturgy. The church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic, not because human beings have kept is so, but because in the traditions, structure and institution those four marks have somehow remained, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

So what does this mean for our declining church? As much as many of us would like, we are not headed to a Christianity without buildings, budgets, and constitutions. We won’t get far without hierarchies, structures and systems. We will always need pastors, leaders and teachers. We even need, dare I say, bishops. Here is the thing, we can’t all preach and nor can we all listen. There will always be some doing one and some doing the other – that is structure.

So yeah, our current version of the institutional church will probably continue to decline, at least for a while. But church has never really successfully changed itself… rather the world has changed around it. In in 1950s, the church did nothing to create a society in desperate need of an institution to rely on, to find hope in, to experience reconciliation with. Decline has mostly happened to us as the Church today, and before we can adapt to that, our world will change again.

In fact, as economic inequality grows, as conflict looms in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, as the environment faces crisis, as nations and economies become increasingly globalized, I don’t think it will be long until people start looking for organized communities and institutional structures that proclaim the gospel, administer the sacraments, and declare the forgiveness of sins. Before we can do ourselves in, the world will need us again… in fact, the world needs us now. 

So, can we really kill the church?

We never had a chance.

The Featured Photo at the top of this post is the burned down St. Boniface Cathedral in Winnipeg - this is the new rebuilt one.
The Featured Photo at the top of this post is the burned down St. Boniface Cathedral in Winnipeg – this is the new rebuilt one.

So what do you think about all this dying talk? Is the church dying? Can we kill it? Share in the comments, on Facebook: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik 

 

Image source - http://www.healthcaredesignmagazine.com

14 Things I Learned During 2 Days on a High Risk Labor and Delivery Unit

On May 1st, my wife, Courtenay, and I had our first child. We are overjoyed to have our son out in the world and in our arms. But it was quite the ordeal to get him here. For 9 months we did all the pregnancy planning. We filled our world with books, lists, websites, apps, maternity clothes (for my wife), baby stuff and plans for the labour and birth. We filled our hearts with hopes, dreams and fears for this child.

And then as the due date came and went, we were booked for a routine fetal assessment (extra involved ultrasound), and all of a sudden we found ourselves, with potential complications to an otherwise healthy pregnancy, being admitted to a High Risk Labour and Delivery unit – not where we planned on being for the birth.

IMG_0493Throughout the next 48 hours, neither of us slept for more than a couple hours and we endured a medically induced labour, all the way to the pushing stage, when my wife was told to stop pushing (and go back to the really painful part of labour) to help things progress. A few hours later we were faced with more waiting or a riskier than normal C-Section. Over the 48 hours, there were things about labour and delivery that I learned that no one teaches you in prenatal classes and that you cannot read about in a typical pregnancy book or website. They were the hardest 48 hours of my life. Here are some of the things I learned, from a husband’s perspective, about High Risk labour:

1. Things don’t go as planned.  When you are expecting a “normal” birth and show up for a routine ultra sound at a different hospital than your birth hospital and you hear the words: “We are keeping you here, looks like you’re going to have your baby today” – it is NOT COOL.

2. No seriously, when things don’t go as planned (and often they don’t) it sucks. Like the websites and books say, make your birth plan and imagine how you want birth to go when the day comes. And then be prepared to scrap it all, because when it doesn’t happen like you planned, you can be thrown for one of the biggest loops of your life.

3. No amount of preparation will give you a sense of being in control. You can throw out the lists, hospital bags, books, iPhone apps etc… You don’t actually need any of that stuff when doctors start talking about low amniotic fluids and uncertain kidney function. You can show up to have a baby with just your wallet, phone and your wife’s purse – and that is too much stuff.

4. The sounds of labour are… weird and frightening.  Women will generally sound like they are dying, shout profanity and cry out funny and ridiculous things in labour – and you can’t laugh. Well, not too loudly anyways.

5. Sometimes things don’t make sense. If the one questionable issue that landed you in the high risk unit turns out to be false you won’t get to leave. But the totally cool staff is going to come and hang out in your room as a place of refuge because you are friendly and chill. Especially, if your wife loves to chat them up and hear their life stories, even while she is in labour.

6. Singing happy birthday is not funny on a labour and delivery unit. You will think it is funny for about 2.7 seconds and then realize it isn’t. Not at all. Don’t sing it.

IMG_04927. Be prepared to do nothing. Most of labour and delivery can be doing nothing. You will just sit around, check heart beats, do more nothing, drink a glass of water, do nothing, take a walk, do nothing, sit around the hospital room looking at each other having exhausted 13 hours of conversation, then more nothing.

8. There are real life Dr. Houses (from the TV show House M.D.). There are doctors who will decide to admit you, decide your treatment, decide where you go and you will never see them, meet them or speak with them. I have been making hospital visits as a pastor for 6 years and I spent 3 months doing chaplaincy in a mental hospital – the fact that mystery, eye-in-the-sky doctors exist still shocked me.

9. Be funny. All the massaging, birth coaching, breathing stuff, being supportive is not as important as being funny. I don’t mean cracking jokes like an idiot. I mean being funny in ways that make everyone laugh especially the mom-to-be. Humour lightens the mood, keeps people relaxed and adds perspective. If you can keep the mom-to-be, other support people and hospital staff laughing, things will be so much better.

10. Labour does not look like the TV shows, websites, pre-natal class videos or grandmother stories of pre-1950 birth. Contractions can happen every five minutes like clockwork, of feel like general never ending menstrual cramps, or anything in between. Don’t expect anything, and you won’t be surprised.

11. You will not know when it is going to happen. Every time you feel like the baby about to come, it probably isn’t. Every time labour picks up a little steam, the baby is not about to come. The baby only arrives when the baby is good and ready.

12. Birth complications are terrifying and you will feel helpless. Doctors and nurses will be hesitant to give you definite answers. When hospital staff check vitals or labour progress and pause before speaking, the heavy weight of those silences will crush you. You will know that something isn’t right immediately and you will have no power to do anything about it.

Erik waiting for the c-section to begin.
Erik waiting for the c-section to begin.

13. You will not know what worry is until your wife and unborn child are in danger. The fear of something happening to my wife and child were the scariest things I have ever encountered. Even after a few days of parenting now, I know that the extra caution you take while driving with a newborn on board, or the heart-skipping-a-beat moments when you sleepily almost lose your grip on a squirming baby are one thing. But knowing that if circumstances don’t change, as in some kind of extreme medical intervention i.e., C-Section, and the two most important people in your life are in grave danger, is entirely another level of worry.

14. You will never be as grateful for a baby’s crying than at birth. Standing behind the OR screen, with your wife, waiting for the doctors to pull that baby out is an indescribable moment. You only get to be there once, and you only get to feel that feeling with those three people once. Once is enough to last a lifetime.

 

For Courtenay and I, it had been 48 hours of waiting and labour before we finally got to meet our baby. Forty-eight of the most difficult, tiring, hard hours of our entire lives. But a healthy recovering wife and a healthy and beautiful baby boy was worth every moment of fear, concern, worry, sleeplessness. To see my amazing wife through the whole ordeal only makes me love her all that much more. And today, I look at the little miracle baby that finally emerged from the chaos and I cannot help but feel like Mufasa from the Lion King.

cub-cute-lion-lion-king-mufasa-simba-Favim.com-91525

 

Have your own hospital birth wisdom? Share in the comments, or on Facebook: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

 

 

 

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For Unto Us a Child is Born… No Seriously, We Had a Baby. 

Many of you, family, friends, colleagues, parishioners, blog readers know that Courtenay and I were expecting our first child on April 22nd.  And many of you know that the due date came and went.

Well, on Tuesday, April 29th, Courtenay and I went for a routine fetal assessment. She was a week over due, and we were going to talk about induction with our Doctor.

However, the ultra sound revealed that the there was not much amniotic fluid around the baby, which could be a problem if it is not due to broken or ruptured waters. And if the water was broken, that meant it was time for a baby to be born.

So we were admitted to a hospital that was not the one we planned to birth at, and we didn’t have any of the things, like baby bag and hospital bag full of stuff that we planned to bring to the hospital for labour and delivery.

So despite our unpreparedness and surprise at being told the baby was going to be born soon,  Tuesday at 1:30pm we were beginning the long process to induction. Wednesday morning, Courtenay began feeling contractions and by 4:30pm the rest of her waters had broken.

Throughout the evening, Courtenay laboured like a professional. The nurses and doctors were so impressed, they continually thought she had an epidural because she was managing her pain so well. Around midnight (36 hours after we had come to hospital), Courtenay was told to push. Our nurse and doctor said she was an amazing pusher.

However, after an hour and twenty minutes of pushing, the baby just wasn’t co-operating. The baby just wasn’t in a good position to leave mom’s womb. All along the way, the baby showed perfect signs of health, according to the staff. This  was a pretty normal, non-invasive labour for a High Risk unit up until this point.

Erik waiting for the c-section to begin.
Erik waiting for the c-section to begin.

So after the pushing, the doctors wanted to let Courtenay and baby take a break to see if things could get into a better position for birth. But by 5:30AM, things were not progressing.

The doctor offered to let us wait to see if things changed, but recommended a Cesarian Section.

By 6:10AM Surgery had begun.

And at 6:17AM, on May 1st, 2014 our baby boy was born.

Oscar Kenneth David Reedman Parker

Oscar being assessed.
Oscar being assessed.

8 pounds 9 ounces. 22 inches long. Huge flipper feet like his dad, and strawberry blonde hair like his maternal grandfather.

He is a beautiful baby.

Courtenay meet Oscar for the first time.
Courtenay meets Oscar for the first time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although it was not the birthing experience we had hoped for, it was the result we wanted –  a healthy mom and healthy baby.

Erik gest to hold Oscar first.
Erik gest to hold Oscar first.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To all our family, friends, parishioners, colleagues, and blog readers, we are excited to share this news. We know many of you hoped to  receive updates and news along the way, especially these past few days around the birth. It was a busy time for us and concrete hospital walls don’t make for good cell phone reception. In addition, there were stretches where Courtenay and I didn’t feel like we were in the loop either. Never the less, the pregnancy, labour and delivery are complete, and now we are looking forward to getting to know Oscar. There will be more here about our experience and the baby, so stay tuned for more. But for now, one more photo – with eyes open.

Our baby boy, Oscar!
Our baby boy, Oscar!

 

Want to offer congrats, share in the comments, on Facebook or on Twitter: Erik= @ParkerErik and Courtenay = @ReedmanParker

 

 

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Guest Post for April Fiet – My Fears, Dreams and Faith for an Easter Baby

april-fiet-sbBack in February, Rev. April Fiet wrote a great guest post - In Defense of Men in Ministry – here on the blog. I was honoured to have her write here. She is the first blogger that I have connected with over social media to the point that I would call her a friend!

I am honoured she asked me to write for her over at “At the Table with April Fiet.”

Click this link here >My Fears, Dreams and Faith for an Easter Baby

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As some of you know, Courtenay and I are expecting our first child. Well, the due date was yesterday and we are still waiting. But as we wait, I have been thinking in new ways about how this child-on-the-way will change our world. I was delighted to share about my hopes, dreams, fears and faith over at April’s blog.

So go read my post there, and then click around on her blog. She has some excellent stuff, like “RIP Women in Ministry” or “At least I’m Better Than You.

You can also find April on Facebook at April Fiet or on Twitter: @aprilfiet

As well, if you want to follow Courtenay, you can find her at @ReedmanParker on Twitter. 

And as usual, you can share here in the comments, find me on Facebook at The Millennial Pastor and on Twitter: @ParkerErik

An iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church

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