Posts tagged ‘Birth’

In a World Full of Much News, Christmas is Good News

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Credit: Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Christmas is almost here. As many of us go on last-minute buying binges while we search and shop for the perfect presents for all our special someones, it is worth remembering that what makes Christmas special is not everything we do for this holiday, but what we are called to focus on in this holiday.

The first Christmas was a birthday punctuated by an angelic announcement to some shepherds who were in close proximity to a historically incomparable infant. An angel said to these shepherds:

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

Here, in this angel’s message, we find a sort of executive summary of what not only Christmas, but Christianity, is all about. The angel explains that a Savior has been born who is “good news.”

This two-word phrase – “good news” – is the echocardiogram by which the heartbeat of the Christian faith is measured. If this phrase permeates Christianity, the Christian faith is alive and well. If it does not, the Christian faith is doomed to anemia and obsolescence. Here’s why.

Culturally, two types of religion are prevalent. In more traditional cultures, religion that demands “good behavior” reigns. This version of religion promises that if you do what you should do and don’t do what you shouldn’t do, God will be pleased with you. This version of religion rewards one who walks the straight and narrow and lives as a straight arrow. Conversely, in more progressive cultures, religion that focuses on “good feelings” carries the day. This version of religion eschews what it sees as the needlessly constrictive and primitive commands of traditional religion and instead seeks the supernatural in what makes you feel good. Creeds of this religion include, “You do you,” “If it feels good do it,” and, “God wouldn’t want me to be unhappy.” Interestingly, though these two religions sound different, at their core, they share the same assumption: the onus for spiritual fulfillment is on you because religion is about you. You are the one who is responsible for your spirituality – either by your behavior or in your emotional state.

Christianity is utterly different. Christianity is not about you. Instead, Christianity is for you. And there is a world of difference between these two.

Christianity is about Christ – His birth that an angel announces to some shepherds, His ministry that He carries out in front of a myriad of eyewitnesses, His death that He dies in place of sinners, and His resurrection by which He conquers death. This is why the angel calls Christ’s birth “news.” News is about what someone else from somewhere else has done. Christ is someone else from somewhere else – from heaven itself. And He has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He has lived the life we cannot live, died the death we deserved to die, and offered the penalty for sin we cannot pay. Christianity is news about Christ. But it is not just “news,” it is “good news.” Why? Because, as the angel says, even though Christianity is about Christ, it is “for all the people.” And “all the people” includes you. What Christ has done, then, He has done for you.

Christianity promises that responsibility for spiritual fulfillment does not rest on you. Instead, it rests on the One who lies in a manger, dies on a cross, and empties a tomb. Jesus has done all the work necessary to procure the ultimate spiritual fulfillment of salvation for you. That’s the news the angel offers these shepherds. And I, for one, happen to think that news is quite good.

My prayer for you, this Christmas, is that you think it’s good, too. And that you believe that this news is for you. For it is this news that makes Christmas merry and hope real.

December 23, 2019 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Tale of Three Kings

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Growing up, one of my favorite yuletide carols was “We Three Kings of Orient Are.”  The lilting melody and encomium to the “star of wonder” and its “perfect light” captured my imagination.  So you can imagine my disappointment when I learned that, at least from a historical perspective, this beloved song is probably all wrong.  The men who came to visit Jesus from far away were not kings, they were astrologers.  They also were probably not from the Orient, but instead from Babylon.  And although we assume that there were three of them because of the number of gifts they brought, we do not know this for sure.  There could have been more or fewer.

Even if the the song is wrong about the astrologers who come to visit Jesus, the Christmas story nevertheless does involve three kings.   The first is a king who sits on a throne in Rome.  His name is Caesar Augustus.  He received the name Augustus as an honorary title from the Roman senate thanks to, according to his own account, his “virtue, mercy, justice, and piety.”[1]  What a king Augustus must have been.

At the first waterfall of the Nile River, there is an inscription lauding Augustus that reads:

The emperor, ruler of oceans and continents, the divine father among men, who bears the same name as his heavenly father – Liberator, the marvelous star of the Greek world, shining with the brilliance of the great heavenly Savior.[2]

As it turns out, Caesar Augustus was hailed not only as a king, but as a divinity.  And it is this king who lifts his finger to issue a decree for a census that sends the whole world, including a couple of peasants from Nazareth, scrambling:

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. (Luke 2:1, 3-5)

The second king of the Christmas story is local ruler named Herod the Great.  He too received a prestigious title from the Roman senate: “the king of the Jews.”  Though his title was more baronial than Caesar’s supernatural titles, he was also proud of his position and fiercely sought to protect it regardless of the cost.  He became exceedingly paranoid that those around him were jockeying for his throne so, one by one, he had them executed.  First it was his brother-in-law, Aristobulus III, who Herod ordered drown.  Then it was another brother-in-law, Kostobar.  He even executed two of his own sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, accusing them of high treason.  Herod’s murderous rampages became so infamous that Caesar Augustus is said to have once remarked, “I’d rather be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son.”

Considering Herod’s insecurities, it is no surprise that when a group of astrologers from a faraway land come to Herod and ask him, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2), Herod impulsively and impetuously gives “orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi” (Matthew 2:16).

This leads us to the third king in the Christmas story – the newborn king about which the Magi ask.  When Jesus was born, He certainly didn’t look like a king.  And yet, He inaugurated a kingdom that endures to this day, as a walk inside one of what are literally millions of churches will indicate.

Whether or not you believe Him to be an eternal king, Jesus is someone with whom everyone must grapple.   Caesar Augustus grapples with Jesus by means of indifference.  He didn’t know anything of Jesus and didn’t care to.  He was, after all, a much more important figure than some impoverished infant sleeping in straw in Bethlehem.  But what Caesar couldn’t have imagined is that it wouldn’t be his kingship that would eventually be celebrated with a worldwide holiday, it would be Jesus’ birth.  It would not be Jesus who would become Caesars’ footnote in history, it would be Caesar who became Jesus’ footnote.  We would nary talk about Caesar Augustus this time of year – or any time of year – were it not for Jesus.  Caesar’s indifference falls in the face of Jesus’ kingdom.

Herod the Great grapples with Jesus in a different manner – by that of hostility.  He hates Jesus and seeks to have Him killed.  But not only does he fail, he fails miserably.  Joseph takes his family and escapes to Egypt before Herod’s executioners can get to the child.  Herod fails to end Jesus’ life as a child even as Pontius Pilate ultimately fails to finish Him off as an adult, as the story of Easter so gloriously reveals.  Herod’s hostility, then, falls in the face of Jesus’ kingdom.

Though two millennia have passed, the reactions to Jesus’ kingship have not changed.  Many people treat the celebration of Christmas – at least the part that involves Jesus’ birth – with a mild indifference, a distant secondary feature of a holiday that primarily consists of the niceties of parties, decorations, and, of course, plenty of presents.  Others treat the story of the nativity with outright hostility – incensed that a holiday that has such blatantly Christian overtones would still be embraced and thought of as Christian by what should be an enlightened secular West.  But Christmas marches on.  And the fact that it does says something about Jesus’ kingdom.  It does not and will not fail or fall because of our responses to it.  Either it will endure for us and be a solace of salvation, or it will endure in spite of us and become an edict of execration.  Which way will it endure for you?  That’s the question of Christmas.

I hope you have an answer.

_______________________________

[1] Caesar Augustus, The Deeds of the Divine Augustus, Thomas Bushnell, trans., par. 34.

[2] Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (Eugene:  Wipf and Stock, 1952), 99.

December 19, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

What Planned Parenthood Wants You To Believe About Sex

Planned Parenthood“Planned Parenthood.” “Selling.” “Aborted Baby Parts.” When a friend first texted me a link with these words in the URL, I knew I was in for a wild ride. The Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group, released a video, recorded in 2014, of two of their operatives, posing as employees from a biotech firm, having a discussion over lunch with Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s Senior Director of Medical Research. The Center for Medical Progress claims the video blows the whistle on the trafficking of aborted baby organs. Planned Parenthood disputes these claims.  Eric Ferrero, Planned Parenthood’s Vice President of Communications, issued this statement:

In health care, patients sometimes want to donate tissue to scientific research that can help lead to medical breakthroughs, such as treatments and cures for serious diseases. Women at Planned Parenthood who have abortions are no different. At several of our health centers, we help patients who want to donate tissue for scientific research, and we do this just like every other high-quality health care provider does – with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards. There is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or for Planned Parenthood.  In some instances, actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue to leading research centers, are reimbursed, which is standard across the medical field.

In the video, however, Ms. Nucatola seems to contradict Mr. Ferrero’s statement when she explains:

I think every provider has had patients who want to donate their tissue, and they absolutely want to accommodate them. They just want to do it in a way that is not perceived as, “This clinic is selling tissue, this clinic is making money off of this.” I know in the Planned Parenthood world they’re very, very sensitive to that. And before an affiliate is gonna do that, they need to, obviously, they’re not – some might do it for free – but they want to come to a number that doesn’t look like they’re making money …

I think for affiliates, at the end of the day, they’re a non-profit, they just don’t want to – they want to break even. And if they can do a little better than break even, and do so in a way that seems reasonable, they’re happy to do that.

Ms. Nucatola’s slippery language is striking. She never asserts that Planned Parenthood is not, as a matter of fact, making money off organs from abortions, she just says Planned Parenthood doesn’t want it to “look like they’re making money.” She even admits, “If they can do a little better than break even … they’re happy to do that.” In other words, Planned Parenthood does make money off selling organs from aborted babies according to Ms. Nucatola, they just don’t make a lot of money off it.

It sounds like Planned Parenthood may be gaming federal law. 42 U.S. Code § 289g–2 states:

It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human fetal tissue for valuable consideration if the transfer affects interstate commerce … [which] does not include reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue.

Selling fetal tissue for profit is illegal. Getting reimbursed for expenses associated with shipping and processing fetal tissue, however, is not. It seems as though Planned Parenthood will take any money they can claim as reasonable reimbursement for the costs of transporting and processing aborted organs, and if these monies are slightly more than what the actual costs are, so be it – as long as they’re not exorbitant enough to look like “profit.”

Planned Parenthood may not have gamed federal law as well as they thought, however. In the video, Ms. Nucatola links Planned Parenthood to an organization called StemExpress, a company that bills itself as providing “qualified research laboratories with human cells, fluids, blood and tissue products for the pursuit of disease protection and cure.” StemExpress also explains to potential allies that “by partnering with StemExpress, not only are you offering a way for your clients to participate in the unique opportunity to facilitate life-saving research, but you will also be contributing to the fiscal growth of your own clinic.” I’m not sure how “the fiscal growth of your own clinic” can be construed to be anything other than profit for your clinic. And considering the prices StemExpress charges for their fetal organs, if StemExpress does indeed share some portion of their proceeds with Planned Parenthood for the “fiscal growth” of their clinics, it seems awfully shady for them to claim they are not, at least indirectly, profiting, perhaps handsomely, off fetal tissue.

This is really bad. But it gets worse.

In the conversation, Ms. Nucatola also talks about intentional steps clinics will take during abortions to keep a baby’s organs in tact so they can be sold later:

You’re just kind of cognizant of where you put your graspers, you try to intentionally go above and below the thorax, so that, you know, we’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m going to basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact. And with the calvarium, in general, some people will actually try to change the presentation so that it’s not vertex, because when it’s vertex presentation, you never have enough dilation at the beginning of the case, unless you have real, huge amount of dilation to deliver an intact calvarium. So if you do it starting from the breech presentation, there’s dilation that happens as the case goes on, and often, the last, you can evacuate an intact calvarium at the end.

This is all deeply disturbing. What is allegedly happening is not only potentially illegal; it is profoundly immoral. In what world is it okay to turn a baby breech so you can smash its legs, kill it, and then harvest its organs for profit? Is there any conceivable scenario where this is okay? Have we decided that a baby, growing in its mother’s womb, is so devoid of any rights and is so unable to be considered life in any meaningful way that it can be stripped of its dignity limb by limb – literally?  This is self-evidentially morally repugnant.  And if you can’t see that, we no longer need to have a conversation about abortion.  We need to have a conversation about nihilism.

This is not to say Planned Parenthood doesn’t have its supporters, even if supporting the organization is a little untenable right now. Amanda Marcotte, writing for Slate Magazine, admits:

As someone who is squeamish, it was extremely difficult for me to listen to Nucatola talk about extracting liver, heart, and other parts to be donated to medical research. (I nearly fainted when a friend showed me the video of her knee operation once.) But people who work in medicine for a living do, in fact, become inured to the gore in a way that can seem strange to those of us who aren’t regularly exposed to it. She also thought she was speaking to people in her profession who would be similarly accustomed to this sort of thing.

Abortion is gross, no doubt about it. It becomes grosser the later in a pregnancy it gets. But so is heart surgery. So is childbirth, for that matter.

Behold, the fallacy of false equivalence. How one can equate the grossness of abortion to the grossness of heart surgery or birth is beyond me. Two of these things sustain life. One of these things, as more honest abortion supporters will admit, ends life. As any child who watches Sesame Street could tell you, “One of these things is not like the other.”

In researching for this blog, I went to Planned Parenthood’s website. I was greeted by a banner that said, “Worried? Had unprotected sex?” It is here that we find the real reason behind Planned Parenthood’s existence.  This organization exists to promote sex-on-demand, divorced from any of the entailments that come with it like, in this instance, children. Sex with whom you want, when you want, and how you want is Planned Parenthood’s holy grail.  And it is so sacred that they will kill for it – again, literally.

In other posts on this blog, I have painstakingly sought to not flippantly dismiss or diminish the desires and struggles people face when it comes to sexuality. I want to be as sensitive and empathetic as possible. These are, after all, confusing issues that deserve compassionate thought rather than self-righteous ire. But this is not about these issues.  In fact, this is not about individuals and abortion.  This is not about the woman who has suffered through the trauma of an abortion, though I grieve for you and, I am afraid, many times, with you.  This is not about the woman who went too far and is now pregnant and scared and is contemplating an abortion, though I would encourage you to seek guidance and help from people committed to alternatives to abortion.  You are in genuinely confusing and painful situations and have my concern, my compassion, and my prayers.  This is not about you.  This is about Planned Parenthood and their pack of twisted lies that unashamedly promotes the sacrifice of life for sex, which, I should point out, is the precise opposite of what sex is meant for and, by its very nature, is designed to do. Sex is not meant to take life. It’s meant to give it.  This is not about personal sexual confusion.  This is about an organization’s out and out corruption that has expressed itself again and again in the most macabre of ways – this time, in the sale of aborted organs.

At the risk of being offensive, I think it’s time for us to ask ourselves a few frank questions: Is indulging every sexual impulse in ways that transgress the sanctity of marriage and the security of family really our best strategy for intimacy?  Is this really the legacy we want to leave our children, our children’s children, and so on?  Is this really the evolutionary ethical curve we want to ride? Is it really beneficial for us to do what we want, when we want, and with whom we want and then use any means necessary to impede the entailments of our actions, even when impeding the entailments of our actions includes ending lives in utero? Is sexual self-control – even when it is difficult and involves some emotional pain – really that out of the question? Have we become that banal? Is Planned Parenthood’s view of human sexuality really the banner we want to wave and the worldview we want to adopt? And does it really take deceitful operatives from an anti-abortion organization secretly videotaping a conversation with Planned Parenthood’s Senior Director of Medical Research, which itself presents us with a whole other set of legal and ethical difficulties, to get us to ask these questions? Shouldn’t we be thinking about the weighty ethical implications and aberrations of abortion even when there’s not a titillating video making its rounds on the Internet?

Ms. Marcotte was right about this much in her article for Slate:

This latest attack on Planned Parenthood is not just about abortion, but about demonizing an organization that makes sex safer and easier, while making it possible for women to plan when they have children.

This is exactly what Planned Parenthood is all about. They’re all about “safe sex,” which, if we’re honest, is just a euphemism for what Ms. Marcotte refers to next: “easy sex” – sex without responsibility, commitment, or offspring. So really, Planned Parenthood is about easy sex – even when easy sex involves dismembering babies and selling their organs. So let me ask:

Is the easy sex worth it?

July 20, 2015 at 5:15 am 6 comments


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