HEADlines: Love or Lust

Published in The Mustard Seed Sentinel, August 28, 2021~

Covenant: “a formal agreement or contract, between God and humans or between two human parties to do or refrain from doing something. Sometimes only one party was responsible to carry out the terms (a unilateral covenant, which was essentially a promise). At other times both parties had terms to carry out (a bilateral covenant).”

Commodify: “to turn (something, such as an intrinsic value or a work of art) into a commodity–a good interchangeable with other goods.”

We were unhappy with our cell phone carrier. The pricing was erratic, sometimes shocking. “Customer service” was a frustrating, time-sucking vortex.

When our contract was up, we jumped.

We’d ended the relationship with a business that didn’t seem so interested in serving our needs. We found a business that would serve us better. Much better.

So we begin and end business relationships.

And so, as Dr. Tim Keller explains, do we often treat our romantic interactions today, making them more accurate reflections of business dealings rather than lifetime commitments.

In his sermon/podcast “Love and Lust,” he draws a distinction between the virtue of love as seen in covenant relationships, and the vice of lust, manifested in a business-like approach to romance.

Committed love is a covenant relationship. “Sex is supposed to be a symbol of what you’ve done with your life,” Keller says, that you have fully committed to another person, way beyond a physical relationship.

“You must not do with your body what you’re not willing to do with your whole life.” The language sounds limiting, binding. It is. Yet living love this way provides amazing benefits.

“In a covenant, when you have made a promise, sex becomes like a sacrament . . . . an external, visible sign of an invisible reality. . . . That’s why it’s so meaningful. “

In this way, sex reflects the intimate love God has for our souls.

“When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine.” (Ezekiel 16:8, ESV).

Covenant, Keller says, provides a “zone of safety where you can be yourself.”

Covenant produces deeper feelings. “When you are committed to a person in spite of your feelings, deeper feelings grow,” Keller says. As in parenthood, covenant marriage requires giving without regard to receiving, thereby producing “a deeper, richer kind of feeling.”

“Covenantal relationships bring freedom.” He references Kierkegaard who claimed non-covenantal relationships make us slaves. Commitment brings freedom. Freedom from commitment is oppressive. That can seem counter-intuitive in these days, but it’s true.

Lust, however, is a transaction. Sex outside of marriage is “marketing.” Marketing is anything but meaningful.

Keller says couples who live together outside of marriage are trying to figure out “whether this person is good enough to marry or whether I can do better . . . It’s not trusting. It’s not resting. It’s not giving.”

People who live together before marriage are learning how to live together as consumers.

As we’ve moved further down the highway of consumer/transactional sex, we see the results of sexual self-seeking instead of sexual (and otherwise) self-giving.

Our culture has almost completely abandoned any sign of covenantal love. We are becoming a strictly commodified society. Therefore, fewer are buying into marriage.

Edward Davies in “Forget Race or Class, Marriage is the Big Social Divide,” writes that marriage rates in the UK have “been steadily collapsing since the 1970s. Not just declining but falling off a cliff. Even at the height of the second world war, (sic) one of its previous lowest points, the male marriage rate was almost triple what it is today.”

America’s rates show a big drop too.

Link for graph

As my mother so aptly put it many years ago: “Why buy the cow when you’re getting the milk for free?”

Especially when the metaphorical cow you’re renting is trying harder to close the deal.

Many of us have been that metaphor. We sold ourselves short.

In the meantime, many have turned to pornography, primarily men, but women too. Porn is an enormous form of commodification, second only to prostitution.

Keller says pornography is “so focused on yourself, you don’t even have another person. . . . [It] is everything the Bible says is not what sex is supposed to be.” He says porn affects all our relationships, porn influences social aspects from fashion choices to marriage rates, asserting that the drop in American marriage rates is largely due to porn.

Keller quotes Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker’s book Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying:

“People who use pornography have crushingly unrealistic expectations regarding physical appearance and sexual performance. . . .

“A significant number of male porn users experience a diminished tolerance for the difficulties of real relationships . . . shrink[ing] the marriage pool for women. . . .”

Pornography is “why the number of people getting married is going down.”

That’s easy to see. But fashion trends?

Regnerus and Uecker assert that “All women . . . are increasingly being forced to accommodate sexual behaviors and their appearances to the images and style of pornography.”

The fashion industry influenced by porn? That seems far-fetched.

But Andi Zeisler agrees with Keller, and Regnerus and Uecker. “Porn is now not only represented in, but an indelible part of, everything from high culture to fashion magazines to college curricula,” she writes.

The discussion comes full circle when Zeisler references Naomi Wolf who predicted nearly two decades ago that “far from turning men into the raving, sex-mad predators that anti-porn crusaders . . . once warned against, [porn] is turning them off of regular, nondigital women.”

Marriage rates support Wolf’s thesis. But not all porn watchers are rejecting sex with a partner altogether.

Ponder this: Rod Dreher’s citation of The Telegraph: “A GP [general practitioner physician] let’s call her Sue, said: ‘I’m afraid things are much worse than people suspect.’ In recent years, Sue had treated growing numbers of teenage girls with internal injuries [caused by frequent deviant sex] . . . not, as Sue found out, because she wanted to, or because she enjoyed it – on the contrary – but because a boy expected her to. “I’ll spare you the gruesome details,” said Sue, [I will too.] “but these girls are very young and slight and their bodies are simply not designed for that.”

What else is porn doing to women and girls?

We imagine the stereotypical porn user as a man sitting in his basement (perhaps his mother’s) in the dark in front of a flickering screen (his phone or computer). He is glassy-eyed and probably unemployed.

But Zeisler cites Adella O’Neal, publicist for Digital Playground, pointing out that “in 2000 roughly 9 percent of the company’s consumers were women; four years later, that figure . . . bloomed to 53 percent.”

Fox News reports: “Women aren’t excluded from this heavy porn-watching either. Pornhub released information in 2017 that revealed women spending more time watching porn than men, reports anti-porn advocacy group Fight the New Drug. Women were also more likely to search for harder versions of porn than men.”

That may be how we moved from the idea that porn exploits and victimizes women to the emerging notion that sex work empowers them.

Sadly many in the Church have been drinking the poison too.

Fox News continues: Covenant Eyes [a porn addiction recovery organization]” reports that “64 percent of Christian men and 15 percent of Christian women report watching porn at least once a month.” Take note: Christians.

Porn gives us a distorted view of ourselves and others. And this distorted vision is downloaded into the minds of a majority of Christian men and a significant percentage of Christian women–at least monthly–often daily.

Also this from Dreher: “At a conservative Christian college not long ago, a campus minister told me that every single young man he works with, helping them to prepare for seminary after graduation, is addicted to pornography (meaning that they use it compulsively, and find it impossible to stop, even though they want to). Sixteen young men — conservative, churchgoing men who want to serve God and others as pastors — caught in that trap.”

In Pure Desire: How One Man’s Triumph Can Help Others Break Free from Sexual Temptation, Ted Roberts writes: “Sexual addiction is not just a struggle over a mental perspective; it touches God’s very image, as well as the depths of a man’s soul.”

Here’s an ironic reality. Psychology Today quotes a scholarly study that shows porn use actually lessens sexual satisfaction rather than enhancing it.

“Notably, under no circumstances was pornography use associated with greater sexual satisfaction. These findings, while correlational, suggest that even infrequent use of pornography has negative effects on sexual satisfaction.”

Satan’s counterfeits never match up to what God intended in giving humans the gift of sex.

Where is hope for us?

As mentioned above, Covenant Eyes is a good place to start.

But first, we must recognize the problem. And it’s much more pervasive than we want to think it is.

It’s a heart issue.

We want what we want. We’ve bought so far into materialism and pleasure that we have lost sight of who we are. Of who every other person is.

Each one, imago Dei, the image of God. Each one, His poiema, God’s masterpiece.

Every one.

The child in the womb. The person on the street, homeless, alone, and hungry. The woman on the screen.

And everyone who sits on the other side of the screen.

No one is ever a commodity.

From Ted Roberts: “Numerous authors have written books concerning the clinical aspects of sexual addictions, and even more books call for believers to seek holiness. But our [ministry’s] ultimate focus is more specific . . . . [We want to] persuade the Church to become a place of hope and healing rather than of shame for those fighting sexual battles. .

“We need ruthless honesty that exceeds our comfort zones and pursues God’s heart, no matter the cost.”

Individuals and ministries need to pursue God’s heart. Such pursuit comes with a great cost.

The cost of ignoring this issue is much greater.

“Flee sexual immorality. Every other sin that a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought for a price: therefore glorify God in your body,” I Corinthians 6: 18-20.

Photo Credit: Ben White, Unsplash

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

HEADlines: Responding to Your Opposition with Grace and Love

Published in The Mustard Seed Sentinel, 7/24/21~

“Even biology tells us that a high degree of habitual well-being is not advantageous to a living organism.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Imagine being in a terrible place. The food is beyond bad. The clothing is inadequate. The weather is unbearably hot in the summer and way below what we in the continental United States consider cold in the winter. The work is hard, menial, and endless.

Then imagine you get to go to a better place. The food is better. You can be warm in the winter. You’re not afraid you’ll die from the bad treatment.

But you find out that, in order to stay there, you have to do things you don’t want to do. You have to help your oppressors spy on your fellow citizens. You have to help them send others to the place that is so bad.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn did not have to imagine this scenario.

After spending years in a Siberian gulag, he went where the Soviet government was doing research. In the 1940s, they wanted Solzhenitsyn to help them develop voice recognition technology. If he didn’t cooperate, they would send him back.

So send me back, he told them.

“Even in the camps, human dignity matters,” says Ignat Solzhenitsyn, Alexander’s son who tells the story of his father’s choosing discomfort over betrayal of his fellows. “We always have choices. Even in the camps. Even where everything is decided for you. What clothes you wear, what food … you’re given, and everything is regimented. There is always the choice to behave with freedom and a sense of dignity.”

Freedom in a gulag? Always. Freedom and dignity everywhere? All the time. Solzhenitsyn is proof that Soviet tyrants overplayed their hand.

“You only have power over people as long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he’s no longer in your power—he’s free again.”

And that statement can apply even more deeply to Christians.

Rod Dreher writes: “The Christian life, properly understood, cannot be merely a set of propositions agreed to, but must also be a way of life. And that requires a culture, which is to say, the realization in a material way—in deeds, in language, in song, in drama, in practices, etc.—of the propositions taught by Christianity. To be perfectly clear, at the core of all this is a living spiritual relationship with God, one that cannot be reduced to words, deeds, or beliefs, (emphasis his).

With little fanfare from the mainstream media, the Washington Supreme Court [in 2017] . . . unanimously sided against Barronelle Stutzman, a 71-year-old florist who refused to provide flower arrangements for a same-sex wedding.

Stutzman battled the legal challenge, which threatened to relieve her of her life’s work and earnings, including her home.

She appealed to the US Supreme Court. A ruling favorable to religious freedom seemed unlikely since the court had already refused to hear an appeal from a New Mexico photographer, also sued for refusing service for a same-sex wedding. These cases are a harbinger of things to come.

Dreher: “Traditional Christians ought to see Barronnelle Stutzman as one canary in the coal mine (and there are many). The State of Washington, the ACLU, and two gay plaintiffs are trying to crush her, financially and otherwise. They may succeed in taking away her livelihood and then bankrupting her. . . . Whatever happens to her, they will not take away her faith and her dignity. She is a rock.”

And Stutzman’s faith has been rock-like. She has consistently reached out to those who oppose her with Christian grace and love.

It’s naive to think that this issue will never land at the doorstep of our churches and private schools.

The SCOTUS ruling legalizing same-sex marriage would seem to reassure churches that in the pulpit religious freedom is secure. But the devil may be found in the details of the local laws that made a florist a civil defendant.

America has reached a point where the primary social imperative is the personal impression of the individual. This impression now trumps all. And it didn’t just begin with same-sex marriage. It’s been going on for quite some time. We have largely looked the other way as moral foundations of life and marriage cracked then crumbled.

Along the way, the Church or at least pieces of it have twisted themselves into pretzel-like contortions trying to—as many might put it—stay relevant.

“50 or 100 years ago, [conservative Christians] were convinced to broaden verses like “there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female in Christ” (Galatians 3, Colossians 4) to justify our support of progressive agendas like feminism, while passing over other verses about sexual roles in the church, family, and society (1 Peter 3, Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, 1 Timothy 3, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 11…). This led us down a road that converged with the Enlightenment’s view of the individual.” David Goodwin

We stopped asking God what He wants for us and began to ask ourselves what we want. And that became our priority.

We have reached a line we cannot cross and still remain the Church because crossing that line would mean we have become something else, no longer the Church. Crossing the line means becoming a false church with a false gospel. The one that tells you it’s okay to worship yourself.

The one that tells you that you are not here to serve God; He is here to serve you.

Baronnelle Stutzman is here to serve Him. Even if it costs her everything. And perhaps it already has.

On July 6, 2021, the US Supreme Court declined to hear her case.

Stutzman’s lawyer Kristen Waggoner says, “This denial paves the way for Washington State and the ACLU to financially ruin Baronnelle.”

The picture is not optimistic. But we are not without hope.

The world rushes in with its noise and threats of coming persecution. We can set ourselves apart—even in the midst of chaos and decadence. We can be the people of hope who shine light in darkness. But only if we stand in the light against the darkness. And we can know we do not stand alone.

And if we do stand, we may see that the American left has overplayed its hand.

In prison, Solzhenitsyn found he could speak freely. He was already in trouble. What else could they do?

Even later in exile, he spoke. His iron will was forged behind the iron curtain. He was a man whose heart was full and whose character was steel.

He said,You can resolve to live your life with integrity. Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Love, Lust, Porn and the Church

Pornography is “so focused on yourself, you don’t even have another person. . . . [It] is everything the Bible says is not what sex is supposed to be.” Dr. Tim Keller

I remember a college class called science, technology, and society, actually a philosophy class, in which the professor posited that the images we watch on television become more real to us than the reality around us.

He gave as his example the first (the second hadn’t happened yet) Challenger disaster. He talked about how the tragedies we watch on television can affect us more deeply than local events we don’t see.

What we watch on screens affects us more than we know. And what others see influences the world around us more than we realize.

In his sermon/podcast “Love and Lust,” Dr. Timothy Keller explains that porn affects all our relationships. That porn influences social aspects from fashion choices to marriage rates, asserting that the drop in American marriage rates is largely due to porn.

Keller quotes Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker’s book Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying:

“People who use pornography have crushingly unrealistic expectations regarding physical appearance and sexual performance. . . .

“A significant number of male porn users experience a diminished tolerance for the difficulties of real relationships, . . . shrink[ing] the marriage pool for women. . . .”

Pornography is “why the number of people getting married is going down.”

That’s easy to see. But fashion trends?

“All women . . . are increasingly being forced to accommodate sexual behaviors and their appearances to the images and style of pornography.”

The fashion industry influenced by porn? That seems far-fetched.

But Andi Zeisler agrees with Keller, and Regnerus and Uecker. “Porn is now not only represented in, but an indelible part of, everything from high culture to fashion magazines to college curricula,” she writes.

The discussion comes full circle when Zeisler references Naomi Wolf who predicted nearly two decades ago that “far from turning men into the raving, sex-mad predators that anti-porn crusaders . . . once warned against, [porn] is turning them off of regular, nondigital women.” 

Marriage rates support Wolf’s thesis. But not all porn watchers are rejecting sex with a partner altogether.

Ponder this: Rod Dreher’s citation of The Telegraph: “A GP [general practitioner physician] let’s call her Sue, said: ‘I’m afraid things are much worse than people suspect.’ In recent years, Sue had treated growing numbers of teenage girls with internal injuries [caused by frequent deviant sex] . . . not, as Sue found out, because she wanted to, or because she enjoyed it – on the contrary – but because a boy expected her to. “I’ll spare you the gruesome details,” said Sue, “but these girls are very young and slight and their bodies are simply not designed for that.”

What else is porn doing to women and girls?

We imagine the stereotypical porn user as a man sitting in his basement (perhaps his mother’s) in the dark in front of a flickering screen (his phone or computer). He is glassy-eyed and probably unemployed.

But Zeisler cites Adella O’Neal, publicist for Digital Playground, pointing out that “in 2000 roughly 9 percent of the company’s consumers were women; four years later, that figure . . . bloomed to 53 percent.”

Fox News reports: “Women aren’t excluded from this heavy porn-watching either. Pornhub released information in 2017 that revealed women spending more time watching porn than men, reports anti-porn advocacy group Fight the New Drug. Women were also more likely to search for harder versions of porn than men.”

That may be how we moved from the idea that porn exploits and victimizes women to the emerging notion that sex work empowers them.

Sadly many in the Church have been drinking the poison too.

Fox News continues: Covenant Eyes [a porn addiction recovery organization]” reports that “64 percent of Christian men and 15 percent of Christian women report watching porn at least once a month.”

Porn gives us a distorted view of ourselves and others. And this distorted vision is downloaded into the minds of a majority of Christian men and a significant percentage of Christian women–at least monthly–often daily.

Also this from Dreher: “At a conservative Christian college not long ago, a campus minister told me that every single young man he works with, helping them to prepare for seminary after graduation, is addicted to pornography (meaning that they use it compulsively, and find it impossible to stop, even though they want to). Sixteen young men — conservative, churchgoing men who want to serve God and others as pastors — caught in that trap.” 

In Pure Desire: How One Man’s Triumph Can Help Others Break Free from Sexual Temptation, Ted Roberts writes: “Sexual addiction is not just a struggle over a mental perspective; it touches God’s very image, as well as the depths of a man’s soul.”

Here’s an ironic reality. Psychology Today quotes a scholarly study that shows porn use actually lessens sexual satisfaction rather than enhancing it.

“Notably, under no circumstances was pornography use associated with greater sexual satisfaction. These findings, while correlational, suggest that even infrequent use of pornography has negative effects on sexual satisfaction.”

Satan’s counterfeits never match up to what God intended in giving humans the gift of sex.

Where is hope for us?

As mentioned above, Covenant Eyes is a good place to start.

But first, we must recognize the problem. And it’s much more pervasive than we want to think it is.

It’s a heart issue.

We want what we want. We’ve bought so far into materialism and pleasure that we have lost sight of who we are. Of who every other person is.

Each one, imago Dei, the image of God. Each one, His poiema, God’s masterpiece.

Every one.

The child in the womb. The person on the street, homeless, alone, and hungry. The woman on the screen.

And everyone who sits on the other side of the screen.

From Ted Roberts: “Numerous authors have written books concerning the clinical aspects of sexual addictions, and even more books call for believers to seek holiness. But our [ministry’s] ultimate focus is more specific . . . . [We want to] persuade the Church to become a place of hope and healing rather than of shame for those fighting sexual battles. . . .

We need ruthless honesty that exceeds our comfort zones and pursues God’s heart, no matter the cost.”

Individuals and ministries need to pursue God’s heart. Such pursuit comes with a great cost.

The cost of ignoring this issue is much greater.

“Flee sexual immorality. Every other sin that a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.  Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought for a price: therefore glorify God in your body,” I Corinthians 6: 18-20.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

HEADlines: To Not Live by Lies: Pessimism or Reality?

Published in The Mustard Seed Sentinel, 5/22/2021.

The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means. Oscar Wilde~

I often show the movie The Natural in the classroom. And unlike what you might predict a teacher would do, I warn students against reading the book.

Spoiler alert for both: The movie ends happily; the book does not.

Bernard Malamud, author of the book The Natural, was born in Brooklyn, the son of Russian Jewish immigrant parents. He grew up to be an acclaimed American writer. When he attended a premiere of the movie based on his book, he exclaimed, “At last, I’m an American writer.”

His book was the type of fiction Russians, over the ages, had come to expect. In Russia and later the Soviet Union, people, Jews especially, lived under oppression. Those who live under such conditions don’t come to expect a happy ending in their literature or in their lives.

The movie, which revised Roy Hobbs’s story without Malamud’s input, has a happy, even joyful, ending. The book’s pessimism marks Malamud as a Russian writer. The movie’s optimism transformed him into an American one.

“It’s the only movie that’s better than the book,” I’ve told my students.

We all like a happy ending. That, perhaps, explains why I’ve discouraged students from the book. I hold the optimism of America in my heart. America has always been the better place–the place others come to escape oppression, famine, and trials.

But I also live in the real world, so I must accept that I have no guarantee of a happy ending just because of geography.

Some might call me a realist. Others could say I’m a pessimist.

Photo Credit: Goodreads

In his new book Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, Rod Dreher advises that we need to “throw away the crippling nostalgia for the future, especially the habit we Americans, a naturally optimistic people, have of assuming that everything will ultimately work out for the best.”

Many name Rod Dreher among the pessimists of the world, the Eeyores who cannot see good. These critics reject his arguments, claiming “he’s too negative.”

They assume an optimism about America’s future as if it’s a guarantee from God.

Even so, Dreher presents an optimism that begins with the resolve that “Christians must not surrender hope.” The harbingers that testify to coming oppression on the horizon could be delayed, even blocked.

Something positive could turn events around.

Yet, the focus on the book is on what must we do to prepare in case the best-case scenario doesn’t happen?

We can soak in the stories of those who’ve been through persecution and oppression behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. Dreher lets them tell their stories throughout his text.

While he assures us that Christians are not obligated to pursue persecution, we are obligated to honor God through it should it come to us.

And his conclusion? Optimism. But of a sort we didn’t expect,

It’s a great irony of history that Christianity thrives best in persecution and seems to die on the vine of comfort and ease.

He presents the family of Vaclav Benda who embraced discomfort–to the point of Vaclav’s imprisonment. The simple refusal to go along, to deny truth, was all it took.

The mother of the family together with her children pursued truth and worked to undermine the oppressors. The poverty resulting from the absence of the family breadwinner, and his inability to work in his field upon his release meant the children wore clothes that weren’t cool.

While the kids didn’t fit in at school, they were part of an effort, one they understood to be important.

“Vaclav Benda taught that the family does not exist for its own purpose but for the service of something beyond itself.”

Today, in freedom, after the passing of their patriarch, the grown Benda children live in faith.

They know what many today do not. Community with purpose gives life meaning. The isolation and purposelessness our society foists upon us are missing in the lives of dissidents. Dissidents share purpose and meaning. They live in community.

And while living in community is often dangerous, it also lends itself toward ministry in a way isolation cannot.

Dreher quotes Pawel Keska who tells the story of one man who “was constantly observed by the secret police, parked right in front of his home. During the severely cold winters, he would bring them hot tea to warm them up. Because they were people . . .”

Dreher’s primary mandate for readers is that we have our spiritual lives in order.

“A time of painful testing, even persecution, is coming. Lukewarm or shallow Christians will not come through with their faith intact. Christians today must dig deep into the Bible and church tradition and teach themselves how and why today’s post-Christian world, with its self-centeredness , its quest for happiness and rejection of sacred order and transcendent values, is a rival religion to authentic Christianity.”

And the book presents an authentic Christianity unlike what we in the comfortable West have lived. He shows us a picture of what our comfort has taken from us.

Joy is not something Christians can conjure. We often experience pleasure and equate it with joy.

And we don’t imagine having joy in a smelly prison where we and those around us regularly undergo torture–even execution.

Dreher quotes George Calciu: “We were in a cell without windows, without air, humid, filthy–yet we had moments of happiness [joy] that we never reached in freedom. I cannot explain it.”

The book is supremely optimistic in revealing God’s faithfulness to his people who remain faithful in Him, sometimes even unto death.

Dreher’s primary call to action for us: We must put our spiritual lives in order. We must resolve to live not by lies.

We begin with ourselves and our families.

“Christians should stop taking family life for granted, instead approaching it in a more thoughtful, disciplined way. We cannot simply live as all other families live, except that we go to church on Sunday.”

We can hold to the truth that God promises His best to those who remain faithful to him no matter what.

We must reject the lie that He has promised us a happy ending in the here and now without any sacrifice on our part.

We can live not by lies.

Top Photo Credit: Unsplash

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Upside-Down World Is Becoming Our Own

Published in Mustard Seed Sentinel, August 22, 2020.

When the Roman Empire collapsed, the loss of basic knowledge of how to do ordinary things was immense. The Oxford historian Bryan Ward-Perkins [says] that it took western Europeans something like 700 years to relearn how to build a roof as solid as the Romans knew how to build.” Rod Dreher~

When my husband retired from his office job, he leaped into a full-time vocation that he was already doing part-time–roof and chimney repair. And he added a ministry aspect.

When he needs a crew, he goes to a local drug rehab program and recruits workers for the day. A couple of them turned into long-term employees. They arrived with a new outlook and got a new set of skills.

But most of them don’t. After all, not everyone belongs on a roof. Not everyone can traverse a housetop in even a mild degree of comfort. And not everyone is willing to do the hot sweaty work required to finish the task at hand.

Some move on to other work. Others go back to the old way of life.

My husband sees two ways of thinking. One accepts responsibility for the past and doesn’t want to return to the old life. Those workers show promise and are willing to learn. They revel in a sense of accomplishment. They find success in fixing something that had been broken as they watch the broken pieces of their own lives mend also.

The other perspective shifts blame for the past. The shifting means they don’t move forward. They realize no great moments of accomplishment. Without accomplishment, there is nothing to celebrate, to pass on. There is no once-broken-now-fixed thing to see, to point to. And no set of skills attained to pass to others. They can only blame.

That is how we forget.

Decades ago, I was among an inaugural class of girls taking woodshop. I still have the finished cedar box I made complete with a crack across the top because I (apparently) hit the hammer too hard nailing the lid on.

I’m certain it was for reasons other than my cracked lid—or in addition to it—that the teacher swore he would never teach girls again. I assume he retired shortly thereafter. From then on, girls would work with wood and boys would navigate the formerly female-only domain of the kitchen.

Our more modern outlook did well to invite boys to pursue competence in the kitchen and girls to use tools. We taught skills and children accomplished meals and boxes–even those with cracks.

I read recently of schools eliminating home-economics classes–now named Family and Consumer Science.

And I remember the sense I felt a few years ago at seeing a sack lunch for sale in a grocery store. It’s hard to give that feeling a word. But “loss” comes the closest. Are some of us no longer willing to pass along the small accomplishment of packing one’s own lunch?

Think about the exchange so many of us have made. We’ve traded the ability to prepare our own food (let alone grow it ourselves) for going to the store or restaurant, or now to have it delivered.

We have to realize that we are teaching the young how to do things. We are showing them how to accomplish tasks themselves–or how to get others to do things for them. We are always teaching something.

We are missing important components of ourselves in these deficits of basic competencies. With such seemingly small losses come even bigger ones hidden under our radar.

Dreher writes about a conversation he had with someone who works with victims of sex trafficking. He calls the conversation “deeply shocking.”

“He said that in his line of work, he hears from fertility doctors — not one fertility doctor, but several — that they are having to teach married couples how to have normal sex . . . if they want to conceive. These young people have been so saturated in pornography, and have had their imaginations so thoroughly formed by it, that the idea of normal reproductive sex acts are bizarre to them.”

Bizarre. Can it really be that bad?

Yes. It can.

Porn use in America is pervasive. And more harmful than we may realize.

At the Thrive Summit Conference (warning, some images are suggestive), Don Brewster said that, depending on the survey, somewhere between 51 and 86 percent of American men aged 25 and older use porn at least occasionally.

Forty-six percent use it regularly. Males ages 13-24 use porn at a rate of 67 percent.

Younger people (females use it too) using porn affects brains, shapes brains that are still developing. Porn makes physical changes, objectifies others, and effectively makes sex only about self, never a sacred, exclusive, mutual connection.

These effects wire the brain in a way that is very difficult, but not impossible, to undo.

Using porn affects our view of the morality of porn. In The Porn Phenomenon, Barna says, “The more you use porn, the less you think it’s wrong.” For example, 97 percent of monthly porn users believe that porn involving children under 12 is wrong. Only 90 percent of daily users believe child porn is wrong.

Moreover, only 45 percent of monthly users believe porn that depicts someone in a demeaning way is wrong. The number drops to 28 percent of daily users. That’s a large number of people who think children participating in porn is morally neutral and putting someone else in a demeaning situation, not for their own pleasure, is just fine.

While 54 percent of those surveyed said using porn at all is wrong, 58 percent agreed that eating too much is always wrong. Stealing something is always wrong for 95 percent.

Our society is sexually off the rails when married couples don’t understand how to act in order to conceive a child, when young people lack moral discomfort about 11 year olds (or younger) having careers in porn, and when the perception that it’s okay to make others uncomfortable for your own pleasure is just fine.

For many, porn use isn’t just a series of unrelated acts strung together. It’s an addiction. Addicts feel shame. Wives (usually the partner) feel betrayed. There seems to be no way out of a cycle of triggering, failure, and shame resulting in the partner feeling betrayed and the user feeling rejected—usually prompting a new trigger, perhaps with periodic episodes of successful avoidance punctuating the in-between.

There will be those who blame others and perhaps dabble in solutions the way some of my husband’s short-term employees do. But there will be those who seek a way out of addiction.

Some will search for a way and never find it. A young man went to a local social service office seeking help in my town. “Looking at porn is normal” was the reply he got to his request.

I hope he kept looking. But it takes a great deal of work to overcome an addiction, and few people can do it by themselves.

The Church is where people should be able to find the help they need to escape the snares of addiction and loss of understanding. Because of the shame involved, addicts don’t want to admit their problem to a pastor or church leader while many church leaders seem averse to addressing the issue (perhaps because of their own issues with porn).

So it’s up to those who understand the problems and the solutions to step up and create safe, non-judgmental places where people feel they can bring this burden and find assistance.

There is help out there. The Conquer Series and other materials by kingdomworks.com are great resources for individuals or groups. Blazing Grace offers resources as well as online forums for a number of sexual issues.

There is no substitute for walking through tough times with someone who’s walking through or has already walked through such challenges themselves.

Imagine a world where the idea of having your leaky roof fixed is the stuff of fantasy. Where the idea of fixing your own sandwich is passé.

Now imagine a world where God’s intentions for sex, exclusive marital connection and procreation, are completely lost. Where the idea of the normal way to make babies happen is bizarre.

That world is becoming our own.

What will we do in response?

Photo Credit: Ethan Sykes, Unsplash

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

When the Basics Become Bizarre

“When the Roman Empire collapsed, the loss of basic knowledge of how to do ordinary things was immense. The Oxford historian Bryan Ward-Perkins told me that it took western Europeans something like 700 years to relearn how to build a roof as solid as the Romans knew how to build.” Rod Dreher~

When my husband retired from his office job, he leaped into a full-time vocation that he was already doing part-time–roof and chimney repair. And he added a ministry aspect.

When he needs a crew, he goes to a local drug rehab program and recruits workers for the day. A couple of them turned into long-term employees. They arrived with a new outlook and got a new set of skills.

But most of them don’t. After all, not everyone belongs on a roof. Not everyone can traverse a housetop in a mild degree of comfort. And not everyone is willing to do the hot sweaty work required to finish the task at hand.

Some move on to other work. Others go back to the old way of life.

My husband sees two ways of thinking. One accepts responsibility for the past and doesn’t want to return to the old life. Those workers show promise and are willing to learn. They revel in a sense of accomplishment. They find success in fixing something that had been broken.

The other perspective shifts blame for the past. The shifting means they don’t move forward. They realize no great moments of accomplishment. Without accomplishment, there is nothing to pass on. There is no once-broken-now-fixed thing to see, to point to. And no set of skills attained to pass to others. They can only pass along blame.

That is how we forget.

Decades ago, I was among an inaugural class of girls taking woodshop. I still have the finished cedar box I made complete with a crack across the top because I (apparently) hit the hammer too hard nailing the lid on.

The teacher swore he would never teach girls again. I assume he retired shortly thereafter. From then on, girls would work with wood and boys would navigate the formerly female-only domain of the kitchen.

Our more modern outlook did well to invite boys to pursue competence in the kitchen and girls to use tools. We taught skills and children accomplished meals and boxes–even those with cracks.

I read this week of schools eliminating home-economics classes–now named Family and Consumer Science.

And I remember the sense I felt a few years ago at seeing a sack lunch for sale in a grocery store. It’s hard to give that feeling a word. But “loss” comes the closest. Can we no longer even pass along the small accomplishment of packing one’s own lunch?

Think about the exchange so many of us have made. We’ve traded the ability to prepare our own food (let alone grow it ourselves) for going to the store or restaurant, or now to have it delivered.

We have to realize that we are passing along ways to do things. We are showing others how to do things themselves–or how to get others to do things for them. We are always teaching something.

We have to ask if we are losing ourselves in our loss of basic competencies. With such seemingly small losses come even bigger ones hidden under our radar.

Rod Dreher writes about a conversation he had with someone who works with victims of sex trafficking. He calls the conversation “deeply shocking.”

“He said that in his line of work, he hears from fertility doctors — not one fertility doctor, but several — that they are having to teach married couples how to have normal sex. . . . if they want to conceive. These young people have been so saturated in pornography, and have had their imaginations so thoroughly formed by it, that the idea of normal reproductive sex acts are bizarre to them.”

Imagine a world where the idea of having your leaky roof fixed is bizarre. Where the idea of fixing your own sandwich is bizarre. Now imagine the world where the idea of the normal way to make babies happen is bizarre.

That world is becoming our own.

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Photo Credit: Paul Head

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have a material connection to the entity I have mentioned–my husband’s roof repair business. I have no material connection to any other entity mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Human Enough

“Throughout modern history society has been eaten away by a series of internal maladies, man turning against man and class against class: all societies have been characterized by the warfare of opposing interests, by competition, by the isolation and dereliction of each individual man.” Rod Dreher

Roland C. Warren sees a disturbing trend in the argument over human life. Early in the abortion discussion, advocates for abortion (and euthanasia) argued that there was “human life” (with regard to abortion: the mother; with regard to euthanasia: the healthy) and “not yet life” (the unborn), and even “no longer life” (the sick or infirm).

So we had life and non-life. And then ultrasound technology let us peer into the womb where we clearly see–life!

Now, advocates for “freedom of choice” are acknowledging that life is present–and even human. But there is a structure of hierarchy. Some lives supersede others.
Warren cites Mary Elizabeth Williams who penned an article titled “So What If Abortion Ends a Life?” Williams acknowledges that life begins at conception. And acknowledges that the admission can weaken her own argument.

But…

“All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.”

Note that Williams defaults to the essential red herrings of the pro-choice set. “Her life” and “her health” as if her life is enhanced and her health restored because a baby she removed from her womb is dead. The hard cases–life, health, and rape/incest–add up to 1.23 percent of all abortions.

Sandwiched between life and health is “her circumstances”–the situations that motivate 98.7 percent of abortions in the US. Difficult circumstances mean the child–he or she–must step aside.

Take further note that the criterion for getting to decide is autonomy. The shift in thinking has taken us from thinking “It’s not a life” to “It’s a life–a child even–but a “non-autonomous” life. The ability to be independent determines the value of life.

Such a notion fuels the so-called “right to die” movement. In her article, Williams mentions “grandma” before she mentions “baby”. Grandma may herself decide to live no longer–or someone else may decide for her. Killing with consent leads quickly to killing without it.

It’s not a big step from Grandma is in pain to Grandma is a pain–and an expensive one at that. When we arrive at that determination, we have made Grandma subhuman. Then, every one of us becomes subject to the same devaluing. No one is exempt.

But Warren argues: that is not who we are.

He paints a hypothetical situation. You are crossing the street and you see two people carrying their groceries. One is a healthy 25-year-old man. The other is an 85-year-old woman. Both of them drop their groceries at the same time. Who do you help?

We help the woman. The one we perceive needs help more. “It’s wired into us,” Warren says. “It’s what makes us human–how we apportion compassion.” He adds that animals–creatures less than human–operate in the opposite manner. Strong animals eat weak ones.

Humans, at their best, help the weak. When we live otherwise, we live like animals. And then we have all become less.

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Hospitality Overcomes Hostility

It was 2017. Donald Trump had just been inaugurated. The president’s bad behavior of the past frustrated many women. They decided to march on Washington in protest. But pro-life women were not welcome.

This event was exclusive to a particular mindset–one that viewed the sanctity of human life stance with hostility.

But not all the women shared hostility for all things pro-life.

And that some women learned more about the pro-life perspective that day may simply be due to an aversion to the porta-potty.

if you’ve ever marched in Washington, you are either acquainted with the porta-potty, aka porta-john, or you strategically plan your bathroom breaks. If you are marching in the cold of January, you work harder at the strategic plan of finding bathroom facilities.

In Building the Benedict Option, Leah Libresco tells the story of the Dominican friars of Washington, DC, who welcomed pro-choice protesters to use their bathroom facilities in 2017. They opened their doors to women protesting the election of Donald Trump–protesting the rise to office of a president whose past behavior had been unsavory–a president who claimed to be pro-life.

At first, it was only 12 women seeking to use the facilities; then it became more than 100. Libresco quotes the account of Brother Martin Davis:

“The peculiar situation of some people wearing ‘Get your rosaries off my ovaries’ next to men wearing rosaries on their belts did not stop many [of the women] from inquiring into what brings us to live lives dedicated to Christ” (105-06).

Libresco explains that the friars answered the women’s questions about their work and their beliefs about abortion and unborn life, among other topics. The grateful women then passed a hat collecting over $100 for the church.

They warned Brother Martin to avoid reading the text on the hat they passed.

It was an unlikely encounter and yet a profound one. The friars may have found the march discouraging. They might have withdrawn and stayed behind closed doors. They might have lost hope.

Libresco: “To be a Christian means to believe that hopelessness is always a misapprehension at best, and, at worst, a form of spiritual attack” (158).

More than 100 women saw the beauty of Christ that day and heard the message of life. The march’s organizers tried to shut out that message. But a simple act of hospitality on a cold day shut the door against hostility. And it didn’t take much.

From Libresco: “[T]he friars weren’t engaging in traditional witness. They weren’t preaching or participating in a street prayer vigil” (106-07).

They were just being hospitable Christians. They obeyed a calling from God and opened a door where minds and hearts had been closed.

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Mountains, Mallo Cups, and Train Whistles

“When a community loses its memory, its members no longer know one another. . . How can they know one another if they have not learned one another’s stories? If they do not know one another’s stories, how can they know whether or not to trust one another? People who do not trust one another do not help one another, and moreover, they fear one another. And this is our predicament now.” (Wendell Berry, qtd. by Rod Dreher)

When I wake up in my brother’s house, eight counties away from my home, the sound of train whistles reminds me of home. But those rails are so close, the sound so much louder, I know I’m not home. An early morning visit to the deck off his dining room confirms the conclusion. No mountains. A low horizon.

My older brothers were the adventurers. The eldest did a stint in the navy that took him to the Mediterranean. He settled in Texas. My next brother only moved across those eight counties that separate us.

I have traveled. But my zip code never changed.  My residence remained where the mountain ridges surround me, the train whistles serenade me as they have since my birth, and the Mallo Cups are as fresh as fresh can be because the Boyer factory is right in town.

I can’t say I made the better choice. They journeyed with opportunity. My roots grew deeper. But my brothers planted roots too. They became part of new communities. It isn’t just the sights, flavors, and sounds of home. It’s community. It’s people.

Americans are famous for being movers. Horace Greeley admonished the adventurous to “Go west!”  And westward we turned. But today most of us stay put. Fifty-four percent of us live near the place where we grew up.

Thirty-five percent of us left and then came back.

Rod Dreher is one who came back. The author had hit the big time in large northeastern cities. But after his sister died from cancer, home beckoned to him. He penned The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, chronicling her life and death as well as his journeys away from home and back.

But Dreher had another book to write. Coming home was not what he hoped. In How Dante Can Save Your Life, he recounts that the return from his odyssey did not produce the peace he sought but instead brought him a stress-related illness.

Dreher found peace partly through the pages of Dante’s journey through the eternal regions. But even more important, resolution came through the relationships that developed through his faith in Christ. Companions walked with him through the stress and illness to eventual healing and wholeness.

He told his sister’s story. He shared his own. He learned the stories of others. He found those he could trust. And those who could trust him.
Dreher says, “I came back to Louisiana looking for my family and my home. I found God and this church” (278).

Dreher traded in his professional quest for a personal one. He ended up on a journey he did not foresee. He did not get what he hoped to find.

What he got was so much more.


Restoring the Shattered: Illustrating Christ’s Love Through the Church in One Accord now available in e-version on Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Photo Credit: Joe Calzaretta, Blue Knob Mountain, Central Pennsylvania

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Prayer and Action or Action and Prayer

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.” Mother Teresa
Some Christian traditions–or just individual Christians–emphasize prayer and contemplation along with Christian action. Others emphasize action along with prayer and contemplation.
In no tradition–and I would hope, with no individual Christian–is either mode of expressing our faith exclusive. It’s a matter of emphasis.
I was struck by this point while reading Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option. In the chapter about the monks of Norcia, Dreher talks about how their days are structured around prayer, then work. Continue reading “Prayer and Action or Action and Prayer”