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On Free Speech: Reasoning Together, Allowing Much, and Loving Always

Weeks have passed since my last post. What has happened between then and now? Lots of listening and talking, but mostly listening.

Listening to the screaming political rhetoric in our country. Watching people attribute evil motives to their opponents, accuse each other of stupidity, and, like little children, put hands over their ears to shut out explanations. These subjects seem too weighty for a mama-blog, but after encountering the same questions again and again this week, I share my thoughts and questions anyway.

At the week’s beginning, I participated in a conversation that alarmed me. People whom I admire and respect advocated for 1) restricting the free speech of a group whose message they found de-humanizing and hateful, and 2) explaining to the community why the message was shut-down. These Christians advocated this censure because they want the best for both each individual and the community as a whole. With love and compassion, they want to take action against ideas that limit the glorious life often experienced when we live the way God made us to live. They want to exhibit “tough love,” the kind of love that restricts a child’s freedom to run in the street precisely because that action could bring harm or death. The problem with the previous situation is that we are talking about adults – people who have the ability to reason, make choices, and experience the consequences of those choices. I believe that the truly compassionate action to take would involve speaking the truth in love to someone (even at the risk of being offensive), and to try and persuade them to a different idea or course of action. This is what the people in the conversation wanted to do. Yet in the public square, we must go a step further and allow people to disagree and act accordingly.*

In our First Amendment, we are guaranteed freedom of speech. As Tyson Langhofer said in the Colson Center Short Course on Freedom, “the only type of speech that needs protecting is offensive speech.” Yes! I find this statement compelling because it is the people in power that define offensiveness. Since one cannot know who will be in power, this amendment provides protection for Americans who disagree with the reigning authorities to speak anyway. The Christian message often seems offensive and hateful to those who reject Christ’s Lordship, yet with our right to free speech we can still have a place at the discussion table when people disagree with the Gospel. In a letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, George Washington wrote that America’s “enlarged and liberal policy” meant that citizens should neither persecute nor begrudgingly tolerate notions they find offensive, but instead respect each other’s “inherent natural rights.” To recognize and uphold these rights, it seems important to allow much and hope that reality and conversations about the truth knock out today’s more bizarre, self-harmful, and untrue beliefs from common practice.

Can we please allow our interlocutors a place at the conversation table? Can we listen to them because we are confident of the truth, and not frightened by what they might say? Can we listen to people out of respect for their being creations of God? Can we then appeal to them with the Truth because we want their best? And then turn around and love them no matter what way these same people choose?

 

* I admit that there seems to be a fuzzy area where one asks how far can a person go without censure on their words or actions, and I have not yet worked out my own ideas of those boundaries. The “do not harm” principle is a great one, but the question of where harm begins looms large. Setting this question of detail aside for another day, the basic point is that laws and regulations should be the least restrictive possible, and that people should be able to do what they want as long as they do not harm others.

 

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Goodness Lite?

Having tried to live on diet foods – light versions of dairy products, sweet sensations without calories, and air-filled versions of breads – I can testify that such foods do not satisfy. Instead of eliminating hunger, these diet foods seem to fuel it. While I can eat a greater volume of diet foods, pursuing delightful tastes without the heavy consequences, the satisfaction, in my experience, is far less. In divorcing a taste from its corresponding nutritional value, I am trying to experience a good without its natural consequences and am not fulfilling the need that made me hungry in the first place.

This is the same with other goods. In our times, people pursue intercourse without the possibility of children or the lifelong ties of relationship, standards of living built on credit, and Sparknotes® versions of books or a Dummies® treatment of topics. We substitute in lesser goods or avoid bearing the whole weight of the good itself. In pursuing the taste of something while avoiding its costs, we lose the contentment that comes from experiencing the whole goodness of that thing – the good in its natural order, how it was intended to be received.

Conversely, if I accept the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood, I find myself made rich in relationship – the essence of humanity and eternity. If I accept the hard work necessary to earn an income, I receive satisfaction from the result of my labor and appreciate what I buy all the more. If I spend the time to read and understand a book, I experience the richness of linguistic nuances, plots and subplots, foreshadowing and character development, and so much more. In receiving a good and the time, effort, and consequences inherently part of that good, I experience its fullness.

I can attempt to consume a good on my own terms, immediately gratifying desires. Yet rather than fulfilling my needs, I only appease them. Alternatively, I can cultivate delight in something on itsterms. This means smaller portions, marriage and kids, fewer books read, and no jack-of-all trades label for me. Yet when I accept goods for what they are, my needs are satisfied. Life is full, and I give thanks.

 

 

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That you may shine like the stars

My dear child,

You are soon off to school. Out of my loving care, going beyond my reach where you may be influenced by others and where you will encounter the world’s brokenness – a brokenness from which I wish I could shield you. But I cannot. Sooner or later you will experience it. You have already, in little bits and pieces. But the selfishness we experience at home, the trouble interrupting each other, and little upsets throughout the day do not begin to compare with the real havoc that Satan is wrecking in this world. Bad things, really bad things, happen. Sometimes we will be the recipients of those bad things, and sometimes we will, sadly, participate.

Yesterday you asked me to describe how big God is. Remember I said that He is like the numbers, continuing on forever to infinity? He is so big, that I can trust Him with you. When I am scared for you, I will choose to trust God and let Him be the perfect Father that only He can be to His children. When you seek Him, He will give you wisdom and everything that you need for life and godliness. Your eternal soul is safe in Him.

So as you leave the shelter that is our home, I pray that you will shine like the stars to bring God glory wherever your steps bring you. I pray that you learn what is good, true, and beautiful, and use your mind and heart for Him. Finally I pray that God enables me to give you a framework that helps you interpret what you encounter according to God’s great redemption story.

With love,

Mama

P.S. When you are hurt, remember that it is an opportunity to see God:

From One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp

            I wonder too…if the rent in the canvas of our life backdrop, the losses that puncture our world, our own emptiness, might actually become places to see.

            To see through to God.

            That that which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God we endlessly crave.

P.P.S. The “stars” quote:

From Philippians, Chapter 2

Keep on working with fear and trembling to complete your salvation, because God is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey His own purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may be innocent and pure as God’s perfect children, who live in a world of corrupt and sinful people. You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky, as you offer them the message of life.

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Why the title “Give Me Joy?”

In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with a man he later discovers to be God in human form. He struggles or strives with the Almighty, refusing to let go until his opponent blesses him. I too am fighting for a blessing.

Facing the joys and trials that any mother might face, I need endurance. When everything goes wrong from the first cry of the morning until the last wee one is tucked into bed at night, I need consolation. Living an awesome life, loved by my husband, surrounded by my children, and so obviously in the position God desires for me right now, I need to express gratitude.

So how do I reconcile the tremendous trials and blessings that fill my life? I ask, plead, and wrestle with God to give me joy. A feeling that does not depend upon my circumstances but instead exists because I trust God in the midst of it all – the good, the bad, and the ugly. A feeling that fights self-pity and expresses thankfulness. I am sometimes a mess and my life with four littles is perpetually a mess – albeit us a beautiful one. I need joy to make it through this day and into the morrow. And so, I wrestle.