Deuteronomy, Ministry, Thinking Out Loud

Words from the Wise

(Thinking about Deuteronomy 18:15-20)

"The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from
among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet." (Deuteronomy 18:15)

How do you know who to listen to?

Okay, that's a bad sentence from a member of P.O.E.M.* Perhaps the question should be phrased thusly: "How do you know to whom to listen?"

Anyway, it's 2009. How do you know who to listen to?

I've just started watching the new season of "Big Love" on HBO, that salacious delight about suburban polygamy among none-too-believable FLDS beautiful people. The sect in which the lead male character grew up revolves around an aging prophet played by Harry Dean Stanton. In the midst of machinations and manipulations, he reigns over the compound, pronouncing prophecies and making matches and counseling couples, blessing those who wish to have more children and cannot conceive.

How do you know who to listen to? Who do you trust?

I'm not sure why I find this show so fascinating. Is it the interaction between the three wives? It's not their husband, whose attractive qualities escape me. "Our heavenly Father has a plan," he says, and he experiences various revelations that affect everyone else's lives but seem to me more like expressions of his desire.

So how do you know who to listen to?

I have certain ideas about the future of my ministry, just as I have certain ideas about what I hope for the church I'm serving and had for the other ones, too. Those ideas come from impulse and intuition and, I hope, inspiration.

"I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will
put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I
command." (Deuteronomy 18:18)

Being a prophet sounds scary. And yet I would like someone else to be one, for me, to let me know I'm on the right road, to let me know whether I have the right ideas.

"We're both trying to maintain a sacred life in the midst of a culture that has forgotten what is holy." Those are the words of Big Love's Bill to the Native American he hopes to partner with on, get this, a Mormon-friendly Casino on tribal land.

You can see how complicated this gets. I find the whole notion laughable, using a gambling resort to maintain what's holy, but I get what Bill is saying. I try to maintain something sacred, too, in my family. I try to be faithful to God. But the ways in which this faithfulness and this sacred trust ought to play out are not always immediately apparent.

How do *you* know who to listen to?

"Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I
myself will hold accountable. But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in
my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak–that prophet shall
die." (Deuteronomy 18:19-20)

The stakes are high for prophets. God threatens the false ones, and people threaten the real ones. I wonder who will tell me what I need to know, but would I really listen?

*Professional Organization of English Majors

Thinking Out Loud

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy

It will come as no surprise to any of you that teenage pregnancy, reproductive choice and contraception came up as topics of conversation at my house this Labor Day. As the mother of two teenagers and one former teenager, I have been party to any number of awkward, heartwarming, grave, entertaining, lame and marvelous conversations on these topics.

This one started humorously, at least on the surface, when Snowman, 17, asked me: "Would you be proud of me if I got some girl pregnant?"

"I," I replied, "would kick your butt."

Of course after saying that, I had to stop and think about it. I feel confident that my children are well-informed about contraception and safe/safer sex. Our schools in City By the Sea do such an excellent job of teaching these subjects, all three of my children have claimed to be terrified by what is taught at the middle school, terrified enough to put off activities that might lead to trouble.

I write that and feel the need to knock wood, but so far, so good.

Still, if Snowman, as he put it, "got some girl pregnant," I would start with the butt-kicking, if only because of the choice of these words: "some girl." Now, we were speaking in familiar tones, and I don't believe he would choose to put "some girl" in such a tenuous position, that if such a thing were to happen it would more likely be a case of a particular partner, perhaps even a treasured partner, certainly someone about whom he cared enough to not be stupid.

We've talked a lot around here about not being stupid, about making choices based on a Love Ethic, about treating others in a spirit of respect for the other person, for yourself and God.

It all turns on choice, when we have it.

I must admit to being fascinated and horrified by Sarah Palin. I've always had an issue with seeming Super Moms, those women who can look great and work hard and raise a family and hold onto a marriage and find success in worldly terms, never seeming depressed, never having a hair out of place. When I read that she dismissed the staff at the Governor's Mansion in favor of doing her own cooking and cleaning, I felt like crying.

I wish I were kidding about that. She has given me a tough weekend. And it's not just her Super Mom credentials, being able to juggle breast pump and Blackberries, that gets to me. I'm disheartened by her personal story, by her shining confidence that a special needs baby will not slow her down one bit. I'm disheartened by the voices in the blogosphere, otherwise pro-choice voices, that can't understand why Trisomy 21 would even be a consideration for terminating a pregnancy. And perhaps I'm disheartened to consider how unsupported I felt when I made that decision, that even though I knew it was a choice, it didn't really feel there were viable alternatives at the time.

I've written about it a few times, the decision to end the pregnancy in 1992. I've touched on it, glided past it, circled around it. As an adopted person, I have a conflicted perspective, but in the end, when I had to make a choice myself, having it be legally and medically available mattered. It mattered a lot. It mattered especially because the lack of support came not from the doctors or the nurses involved but from a sense that I didn't have an extended family that would welcome a disabled child, and a certainty that it was more than I could handle, or would want to handle, alone. Given that my marriage did not survive even without the added challenges our son would surely have brought into our family life, I cannot say I feel that was the wrong conclusion to reach. My other sources of potential support would have been my parents, still living then, and you might think, surely they would have stepped up and provided help! But I remembered my first meeting with a person who had Down Syndrome, a little girl in an adorable bonnet being carried in her mother's arms at a church fair, and I remember my mother's shock, the way she turned, my question to her — I was 7 or 8 — and her sharply whispered reply, a reply I hesitate to record, because although we had a difficult relationship, she wasn't the worst person in the world, but in this case she would sound it.

She came from a time, you see, when anyone not "normal" went away, not to be seen or spoken of again. And when she learned of the prenatal diagnosis, she responded matter-of-factly. It was good to know and be able to decide not to continue the pregnancy, she thought, just as her friend, Nan, had been spared going to full-term in the 1950's when her young children exposed her to German Measles, and her doctor intervened.

This is the decision of the vast majority of parents who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Trisomy 21. I've seen figures quoted in the 85-90% range, and the numbers in the "What to Expect" book I had on hand in 1992 may have been a little higher.

I know there are other women out there who have made the same choice. And I wonder how they have been feeling this weekend? I wonder if they read the news stories and then peruse the comments, as I have, some threads of which devolve into characterizations of Obama as a baby-killer for his *legislative* acts. Where would that leave me in their estimation?

I once had to stop reading a blog because the author made it clear in a direct conversation with me that doctors who made this recommendation were engaged in eugenics, and I had clearly been brainwashed by them.

I told you before, we speak frankly in this house. Everyone here knows what happened in 1992. They all understand, even in those moments when I might be tempted to doubt myself, that I made the choice that seemed best for all of them at a time when it seemed clear they and I would fully bear the consequences, two little boys, one 6 and the other not yet 18 months; one little girl dreamed of but not yet with us, who perhaps would never have been. I was not brainwashed. I looked around and saw a world that was unkind to people who were perceived as different. I looked around and saw a family system that would not be welcoming to the baby or helpful to me. I looked around and saw two children who had no say in how this might draw my attention away from them. I looked at myself and saw a woman just figuring out what she might do with her life, just ready to choose to be herself and not the person others told her to be. I looked, as much as I could, at the baby himself, and realized I was making a choice for his soul, too, a choice I did not feel empowered to make, to live a life of limitations, when I felt perfectly sure that no soul would be wasted by a loving God, that the body was not an idol but a container.

Perhaps if I had been a person–well, I want to say something about courage or determination or strength, but in fact it took all those things to live through the four days between getting the news and going to the hospital. If you read the other things I've written about this experience you'll hear of my grief and the way I came to understand it. You'll know that I learned to be less sharp in my judgment of others after venturing into the greyest of grey areas in my life. I chose as well as I could in that time and place, through the filter of my own limitations.

But for now I'm a person who feels tender-hearted and defensive all at once, vulnerable yet awkwardly shielded. And I know I cannot be alone in this. I know I am not, by myself, the 90%. So tonight I write this to the women who have been where I was, who may feel as I do, or not. I write to them although it feels risky to put it out here. I write to them and say, I'm thinking of you ton
ight, because I read the news today. Oh, boy.

At Church, Romans, Thinking Out Loud

Circle Game

#1 Son on the BunnyAnd the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
Were captive on the carousel of time
We cant return, we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

~Joni Mitchell, "The Circle Game"

I love a Merry-Go-Round.

I've been on some very pretty ones. This morning I went searching for this picture of a toddler #1 Son riding an oversized jackrabbit on the Pullen Park Carousel, looking utterly delighted, sometime in October, 1988. The day stands out for the lion and the giraffe and, yes, The Bunny.

I remember my painted pony going up and down, on the merry-go-round at Virginia Beach, my father standing next to me, my safety assured no matter how fast we seemed to be going.

All our lives have these ups and downs, these spiral natures, these views to the right or left that look so familiar but that change as we change. We chase around and around the circle, because it is our nature, and we are like the rabbit with a simple goal in mind, whether it's survival or a carrot or a soft place to lie in the grass.

And we go around and around, in our families and in our churches or our jobs, and in our heads. I go around the same territory over and over, though the carousel may be moved, as the one in the picture was, thought it may grow shabbier and will certainly grow older, though it may need repairs along the way, I go around and around.

Your circle may vary.

Mine consists of a quest to be valuable, to prove that I exist for a reason, to do as much as I can to make myself believe it. Sometimes I forget that the carousel slows down and takes a rest, too.

I'm not preaching on Sunday, but I looked at the portion of Romans on the calendar for this week, and it reminded me of the circle game. We put our own gloss on the faith and works debate. We go up and down and around and around. If we have a taste for atonement theology, we like these words, and if we don't, well, we stick with the gospel this week.

As hard a time as I have sorting myself out, I know what I think about faith and works. I believe they both matter. I believe one informs the other. I believe certain practices do not guarantee anything, but that a lively faith calls us, or me anyway, to particular practices.

Which may vary.

And the very people who will tell you that "works righteousness" is somehow inadequate, that you run the risk of claiming that simply living a "good life" is enough when they are sure it is not, likely have their own set of practices and habits that they hold as dear as the first century believers held theirs when they began to bring strangers into their fold.

We do things just because we've done them that way before, because we've "always" done them that way.

As an Interim Minister, it's my job to ask "why?" And "Since when?" And to help people figure out whether they even know the answers to those questions, to ponder where God is in certain practices now, or what theology informed them in the first place.

And it feels a bit like a merry-go-round, because the answers can be confusing. We don't always know them, or we don't agree on what they are, or when this started or when that changed. Some questions cannot be answered at all, but that doesn't stop us from arguing about them, does it?

It's hard to get off the carousel. But the first step? Is to want to do it.