...are the ones that make the biggest difference


Sexual ethics

Adam, over at Pomomusings, has posted a
of the sexual ethics presented in a book called Love Does No Harm by Marie Fortune. Here they are:

5 Guidelines for Sexual Ethics

1. Peer Relationship: Is my choice of intimate partner a peer, i.e. someone whose power is relatively equal to mine? We must limit our sexual interactions to our peers. Some people are off limits for our sexual interests.

2. Authentic Consent: Are both my partner and I authentically consenting to our sexual interaction? Both of us must have information, awareness, equal power and the option to say "no" without being punished, as well as the option to say "yes."

3. Stewardship of my Sexuality: Do I take responsibility for protecting myself and my partner against sexually transmitted diseases and to insure reproductive choice? This is a question of stewardship (the wise care for and management of the gift of sexuality) and anticipating the literal consequences of our actions. Taking this responsibility seriously presupposes a relationship: knowing someone over time and sharing a history in which trust can develop.

4. Sharing of Pleasure: Am I committed to sharing sexual pleasure and intimacy in my relationships? My concern should be both for my own needs and those of my partner.

5. Faithfulness: Am I faithful to my promises and commitments? Whatever the nature of a commitment to one's partner and whatever the duration of that commitment, fidelity requires honesty and the keeping of promises. Change in an individual may require a change in the commitment which hopefully can be achieved through open and honest communication.

All in all, these are not a bad set of guidelines. I don't think there is a whole lot in there to argue with - possibly the "ensure reproductive choice" thing and the part in the last one about how fluid our sense of commitment should be. It is also clear that number 3 doesn't actually require a pre-existing relationship. If I've got some disease, I could just be following simple human decency by putting on a condom; no long-term relationship is necessary. But for a secular set of sexual ethics these would probably lead, if followed, to some healthier choices regarding sexual activity.

These are, however, not written by a secular author but by a minister. And while the author's intended audience is not specifically Christian, "she believes these guidelines would be put to good use in Christian circles as well." Really? A set of ethical guidelines that fails to include any consideration of the biblical witness, the historical witness of the Church or any reference to God or Jesus could be well-used by Christians? I find that sentiment deeply troubling. Moreover, I find Fortune's assumption that an ethic of love that separates and subordinates the Gospel to itself is even possible for a Christian to ponder repellent. Yes, God is love, but we cannot extract that statement from the love God has shown us in Christ. We cannot attempt to shake off the rootedness of that reality in the narrative of God's activity in the world, first through Israel and then through the Church. That is precisely how we know God is love! We are not permitted to take that statement out of its context and try to develop an ethic, a theology or any other system of thought. If we do that, we immediately demonstrate that this is not something we are trying to say about God but about ourselves, about our own way of thinking, our own goals and desires. Which is why we can talk about "reproductive choice" as if it impacted only us as individuals, and not the child in the womb or God in heaven. It is why the sexual ethics we try to create for ourselves make no mention of any external moral set other than respecting the other person's freedom. It is only our choice and their choice that matters, and it is little surprise that Adam's post includes negative commentary on the propensity for the "modern" church to focus so much on convincing youth not to have sex. That is forcing something upon them, not respecting their choices and making them feel guilty about something that should be celebrated.

Needless to say, this is a dangerous game to play. It is true that the evangelical church's youth culture has seized upon abstinence as seemingly the end-all and be-all of youth programs. This is clearly imbalanced - the norms of chastity need to encompass more than just sex, but it is also obvious why sex is so important to youth leaders: it damages people. As does every sin, of course. But the difference is that most other sins do not undermine a future marriage relationship as much as premarital sex does. And a failed marriage hurts kids and thus the damage is perpetuated. So no, these are not good sexual ethics for Christians to use, as they are not Christian and do not take the reality of sin into account.


Just 2 short weeks...

...and this semester will finally be over. No more painfully boring anatomy lectures, no more Saturday morning microbiology labs - ahhhhh, sweet freedom. I've only got a brief presentation for micro, and the 2 finals. I've currently got 101% in my micro class and could actually fail the anatomy final and still make an A for the semester, so I'm really not sweating finals this time around. While next fall will likely be rather nightmarish in terms of class-load, I'm going to put that out of my mind and enjoy the next few months of school-free days.


Paschal vigil

Saturday night the wife and I went to the Paschal Vigil at St. Nick's. She actually got there a little later since she had been out of town with her mother at a woman's retreat that day, which unfortunately left her with a horrible sinus headache which caused us to leave early. When your wife is on the verge of tears because her head hurts so badly (and you know the incense only makes it worse), you just gotta leave no matter how much you want to stay or how much she protests that she's ok. So we left before the processional, which was unfortunate, and the post-vigil feast (even more unfortunate), but what I saw was enough. I craved what I saw, I wanted to be able to fully participate in that. When the catechumen came forward to be chrismated, I wished we were up there beside her. I want the fullness of the faith and I believe I saw it Saturday night. Which, of course, makes the tension between me and the wife on this issue all the more acute. We see eye-to-eye on practically all other matters - most without need for discussion, so how can we be so far apart on this?


Odd going back

Friday night we went with the mother-in-law to her church's Good Friday service (the father-in-law is in Africa right now). It was the first time I had been to a Protestant church since starting at St Nick's back in late August or early September. The church is fairly large with about 2000 members (I think) and 3 services on most weekends. I've met the senior pastor before and heard him speak on other occassions; he's a good preacher if a little frenetic at times.

The service was interesting. There was a spoken word portion that served as a set up for some of the songs, the brief sermon and the close of the service, which was quite well done. They had a goodly sized choir that did a couple of performance pieces but also backed up the worship leader on a couple of praise choruses. Aside from being poorly mic'ed, they were also good. The worship leader was definitely not to my taste - a lot of repetition of choruses and at one point he stood for a full minute with his tead tossed rapturously back. I will give him credit for picking a couple of older hymns that were God-focused (rather than me- or emotion-focused) and which were performed well. The SP gave a brief sermon about the Last Supper and we then proceeded to take communion after taking a few minutes "to do business with God." I have always found it quite remarkable that almost everyone's business with God lasts the same amount of time, ie, until someone gets the guts to stand up. Once that individual has completed his/her transaction with the Almighty most everyone seems to wrap their dealings up pretty quickly. It was one of those serve-yourself affairs with little cups of juice and pea-sized bits of bread. The SP seemed - to me, anyways, I'm sure I'm sensitized to it given our current church situation - to focus an awful lot on the "remembrance" and "symbols" aspect of communion almost at the expense of any other theme he was trying to develop. All-in-all it was a good service, though the flow of things was a little disjointed and it ended rather abruptly and in such a way that most people weren't sure if it was actually done.

But to me it all seemed vaguely foreign. Some elements felt forced, some felt overly emotional and it all felt very showy. Having worked at a church that viewed its Sunday service as an evangelism tool and not a time of focused worship (my mother-in-law's church isn't even close to the church I worked at, but it does share some of the same values in regards to its services) I know Good Friday/Easter Sunday are one of the prime "hook" events of the year - a chance to show the crowds what you've got and see if you can't hook some of them into coming back. There are a lot of motivations behind that "hook", some very good and some quite questionable. Whatever the reason, the quality of the performance on stage, be it music, drama, speaking or other elements, is a prime focus because that is what will bring people back. It is self-conscious to one degree or another and that is something wholly lacking in Orthodoxy. For Orthodoxy, worship is worship and meant for God alone. Whatever aesthetic qualities that are present are there to glorify God; that they please human senses is quite incidental to their purpose. I'm sure there are Protestant churches that strive for this ideal, but this seems like something inherent in Orthodoxy. And having imbibed of that un(self)conscious worship for the last several months, being back in the presence of it was unsettling. It just felt odd. Wherever this church journey takes us, it cannot be to a church that is concerned with how it looks to outsiders over and against how it looks to God.


The bite of sarcasm

Jeff Wright (linked at right) has generated a minor buzz of controversy and the beginning throws (as in unwarranted mudslinging) of debate by referencing some group called "War On Easter." WOE (an ironic acronym, that one) is apparently planning on easter-egging 666 copies of some anti-Christian DVD in churches across the nation. I'd link to their website, which apparently contains a FAQ, but it is currently down. While trying to find a Google-cache of the site I discovered it was down due to a denial of service attack, which one commenter seems to think is Jeff's doing. Another claims Christians need to undergo a sex-change operation before we can understand the plight of women - what those Christians who are already women are supposed to do is as yet unclear. Hopefully future updates will clue us all in. I, too, left a post sarcastically condemning Jeff for excercising his free speech rights, which was unfortunately misunderstood and the source of his query in the comments of my previous post.


Distractions and struggle

As one can tell from scanning the last few posts, my posting frequency has fallen off quite a bit lately. There a variety of reasons for this but most have either to do with petty distractions that keep cropping up and the ongoing struggle the wife and I are having with Orthodoxy. Together, they have both served to leave me feeling somewhat drained lately. Work, which I normally enjoy, has taken on a new dimension of difficulty. As my prayer life has dwindled, so too has my ability to find joy in the simple acts of service I provide those under my care. So when it becomes all too apparent that opportunities for learning are growing ever scarcer, my motivation to work, to try to serve my patients fades away. I have also been working through a rather painful shoulder injury which I woke up with the day after we got back from our vacation in Arizona and a fairly chronic spate of fatique. Those will be addressed at a doctor's appointment Monday morning.

I think one of the biggest problems lately, though, has been the wife's steadfast reservations about Orthodoxy. I found some of the resources I had asked for on baptism a few weeks back and we had some good discussions on that. She says she understands the Church's perspective better but still has her doubts. The same is true of the Eucharist, the sacraments in general, icons & saints and the hierarchy. What, to me, are or have been completely resolvable issues, are for her major stumbling blocks. It has led to much heartache for both of us and she has stated repeatedly that she wishes there was some middle ground, some safe place between Orthodoxy and Protestantism. The only option would seem to be Anglicanism, but the Pontificator has surely turned me off on that option. And even if he hadn't, once you've become convinced (or at least largely convinced) of the truth claims of Orthodoxy, you don't want to go halfway. I don't want a middle ground; I want the solid ground of the Church, but right now, I don't know if that's ever going to happen.

Please pray for me, in my struggles with work and prayer, and for us, in our wrestling over Orthodoxy.


It seems anyone can become a hero

Yes, even Judas. A new 3rd or 4th century work called the "Gospel of Judas" claims that Christ asked Judas to betray him, which "pained Judas greatly." Apparently the struggle with the religious left has been going on for some time.

An archeologist claims the work has been age-authenticated through variuos means and is a genuine bit of "Christian apochryphal literature." I personally don't care when the document was written, but does it really make sense to call it Christian?