Fifty Shades and BDSM: A Biblical Perspective

171976248_2e47577f6e_oWith the release of Fifty Shades of Grey this coming Friday, we can expect one of the largest audiences for a film of such risqué material in a very long time. Far from the sexually charged films of the past, this is a movie that will primarily draw women who will bring their (all too willing) boyfriends and husbands.

As a card-carrying member of conservative Christianity, I am fascinated as I see the church responding to Fifty Shades of Grey. It seems that most of the church is quietly ignoring the film, hoping it will go away. Another segment is quietly planning to see the film as a guilty pleasure. A final group is vocally calling the film out.

Let me be clear, Fifty Shades of Grey is high budget pornography. The film quality will be good, the artistic merit will be higher the most porn, and the harm will be that much greater because of it. A full twenty minutes of a one hundred minute film is sex scenes. To pretend this is anything but pornography is to practice an amazing level of self-deception.

Take it from an expert rationalizer.

In my own thinking about the film, I have seen some reaction from Christians that has not attacked the graphic nudity and blatant sexuality on a screen, but rather the bondage itself as evil. It made me wonder, is there a biblical case against BDSM (Bondage, Domination, SadoMasochism)?

While the topic of BDSM is  broad one and I couldn’t address every specific case (nor would I want to), from here on out, let me refer specifically to the bondage part of BDSM as it seems to be the most common sexual practice that falls under the term BDSM.

As I’ve considered the actual teachings from the Bible, I have noticed that the focus of the sexual morals in scripture are focused on who I have sex with (only my wife), when I have sex (only after marriage), but not how to have sex.

It seems that God has left the specific practices of sex to the consciences and preferences of the husband and wife. I find no case against use of ropes and candle wax and gags. While these practices are by and large distasteful to me, I would be unable to make a case that another husband and wife should not do them.

Then a caution arises. While the scriptures do not specifically say how to have sex, they have a lot to say about what our motivations and desires should be.

As a husband, I am going to speak to husbands now. Not to say these commands don’t apply to the ladies too, it’s just that I feel that the bulk of the sin here lies with us men. It is also my practice to police my own team first and guys, you are my team!

Your Body is Hers

The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 1 Cor 7:3-4

Far from saying her body is yours, the focus is on how you can serve her. This is not a weapon to force an unwilling spouse to uncomfortable sexual situations, this is a call to serve in the bedroom.

So be careful that when you might desire to use a little rope or blindfold, that your first priority is to serve her. What can you do to make her experience better? If these tools help her enjoy your sexual relationship more, then good. But be careful of your deceptive heart.

Submission in the Bible

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Eph 5:21-23

Yes, submission is in the Bible. Submit to one another. Far from forcing unwanted sexual experiences, we need to submit to each other. Gentlemen, we tend to get what we want in the bedroom (the ladies, not so much), let’s be careful to submit to our wive’s requests. Submission is the action taken by a serving heart.

Make sure your wife is safe

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. Eph 5:25-28

The main point of this verse is that husbands should love their wives sacrificially because Jesus loves his church sacrificially. With that is the instruction to love you wife like you love your own body. Part of loving her is making sure that what you are doing sexually is safe. Many of the BDSM practices can injure and sometimes kill.

For example, there is a part of the BDSM community that uses asphyxiation (placing plastic bags over their head to heighten an orgasm). This can and has killed before. It is not loving to risk your wife’s safety.

Does it serve your wife spiritually

There are many women out there that have an unhealthy view of themselves as somehow deserving to be humiliated or shamed. These ladies might take part in bondage because they see it as fitting and not because they would naturally enjoy it. A thoughtful husband would not encourage a harmful view in his wife of herself.

When Jesus loves the church, he makes her feel special and deeply loved. Jesus washes away our insecurities by demonstrating that he will love us as we are. We aren’t loved because we are just that great, we are loved because he is that great.

If bondage hurts your wife spiritually or emotionally, then avoid it. It is far better that you demonstrate restraint for yourself to serve her.

Will it enslave you

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 1 Cor 6:12

Just because something is enjoyable and not specifically banned by scripture does not make it good. Even if all of the conditions above are met, would bondage start to dominate you. Would you get to the point of being unable to enjoy sex without ropes? Would your wife become and object to be used and not a person to be loved? Would you enjoy sex and forget about the God who made sex to be enjoyed?

Of course, there are a million ways our heart enslave us. For some, these practices would be a delightful way to enjoy their spouse and that enjoyment is a great good. For others, it is another trap they need to avoid.

BDSM practices are never specifically mentioned in scripture and, in my opinion, should be used with caution. Those who say they are banned by the Bible have no case that I know of from scripture. Whatever you believe, be careful to love your God and love your wife. It is hard to go wrong by fighting hard to please your wife and your God and it is impossible to go right if you only want to please yourself.

-Chip

The image above is courtesy of Zaphodsotherhead and is used with permission. Also, Zaphodsotherhead is such a wonderful Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference!

Scrutiny

NGC_4414_(NASA-med)In a very far-away corner of the Universe, billions of light-year away. There is a galaxy. Light from this galaxy has never reached Earth, so there is no human name for it. As galaxies go, this one if quite unimpressive. A frumpy galaxy that probably was not popular in high school.

Circling this galaxy, on the end of one of its most unfashionable arms, is a lone, small star. Circling this star at a distance of about 15 light hours is a small clump of ice whose only distinguishing feature is its utter ordinariness. A small spike protrudes from the center and at the very tip, there is a water molecule.

The oxygen in this water molecule is a rather selfish habit of keeping the electrons to itself much of the time. As the electrons attempt to escape the powerful magnetic force the binds them to the nucleus, an even stronger force presses the neutrons and protons together. The glue that hold them together is also the force that created them. The quarks inside the protons attempt to leave, but the force holds them together with unimaginable strength.

Scrutinizing this amazing dance is a Creator who watches and waits. Every circle of the electron is watched and guided. Every rule in the depths of the atom is enforced by the God who make the atom. He watches and delights in the amazing symmetries. The particles try to run and to stay, to disappear and to create more, but he holds them firmly and shepherds them into their destiny.

He watches each atom in the whole ice crystal. He guides the slow 498.76 year orbit of the crystal from its distant star. He watches the star as it slowly marches through the frumpiest of galaxies. In fact, despite it’s frumpiness, He has a special affection for this galaxy that no human being will ever see or know of.

He takes a special delight in knowing things that he alone will ever know. It’s not that he is secretive, but that he does have his secrets. No one will ever know of his favorite boring star in the frumpiest of all galaxies because no one will ever think to ask. He chuckles as he considers this.

His intimate understanding extends through all the nearby galaxies. He knows every secret of every particle and wave in all the depths of all space. Every last one stands at attention to his command and every last one immediately obeys his instruction.

The immensity of his intellect and power make this intimate knowledge effortless. He could create a million such universes and know them just as well. He did not struggle to hold this together, he enjoyed holding it together. He loved knowing what he had made.

As he stares across the cosmos and feels the ebb and flow of hundreds of billions of galaxies, he has a special attention to a little planet and a moderately more fashionable region of the universe. This planet, green with life, is not his favorite, but the people who live on it are quite special to him.

One of his better kept secrets if why, exactly, he cares for these little creatures. He made them in his image and that is a remarkable thing, but many have wondered why he would do this. Even making them in his image, why does he love them so much. There are many more fantastic and remarkable things happening in the Universe at any second, yet he watches with a special attention for these ants on a little iron ball.

His explanations of why he loved them were never satisfactory to the questioner. This was another thing that made him chuckle. He could decide to love them and he had decided to. The questioner always seems to think there needs to be a better reason, but this is reason enough for a finite questioner with a finite questions.

He even finds it remarkable in his own thinking that he loves them. A testament to the type of God he is, one who loved children and not just clocks in a wound up Universe.

So let us, those very children, take a moment and realize that while he scrutinizes that atom in the depths of space, he is watching us: he is watching me. He is taking the time to love me and know me. He is the sort of God who wants to know me and be known by me. What sort of God is this?

Certainly a mysterious one.

-Chip

Consent (the new basis of right and wrong)

consentIndividualism has some profound blessings to give the world. Free markets, the freedoms of speech and religion, the marketplace of ideas, are all gifts of individualism. The faith statement of individualism is that I have autonomy: the right to choose what happens to me.

Now if I lived on an island by myself and my actions had no effects on others, then I should be fully autonomous. Free from responsibility and, somehow, miserable. Being the very social beings that we are, if I lived alone on an island, I would wish I wasn’t alone.

Then another person, maybe my wife, is added to my tiny world and I am overjoyed. I am no longer alone! But problems arise quickly. Who gets to canoe today? Why should I be the one who collects firewood? Why do you snore so much?

The dilemma is intense. While I desperately want this other person there, they cramp my style.

The broadly accepted modern solution is consent. The way we get the most out of our island is to work together and do things we agree to. We take turns. We learn boundaries (which is basically saying we learn what is yours and what is mine). Consent is very functional. If everyone is consenting, then no one is complaining.

Eventually, we decide that consent is not only functional, it is the basis of morality. Centuries ago, the argument for what is right and wrong was based on our understanding of God and what he wanted. You and I might consent to something, but he had veto power over the decision.

With the marginalizing of God, the only thing we have left to appeal to when someone wrongs us is that they violated our autonomy: we didn’t consent.

A good example of this is Brittany Maynard, a terminally ill 29-year-old in Oregon. She has a glioblastoma, which will take her life in the next several month. With the laws of Oregon supporting her, she will take her own like on 11/1/14. In her recent campaign for more legal suicide laws, she justified her decision by saying:

“I believe this choice is ethical, and what makes it ethical is it is a choice,” she says. “The patient can change their mind right up to the last minute. I feel very protected here in Oregon.”

Her proof for the rightness of her decision is her autonomy. She argues it is right because she had a choice and because it was a choice, it is right.

Another example is when nude images of Jennifer Lawrence and many other actresses were hacked off of their phones recently. Many of these actresses had posed for nude pictures before and they had been published, yet they are outraged. Jennifer Lawrence put it this way

“Just because I’m a public figure, just because I’m an actress, does not mean that I asked for this,” she says. “It does not mean that it comes with the territory. It’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting. I can’t believe that we even live in that kind of world. ”

Of course it is an outragious violation of Ms. Lawrence to steal images of her to be ogled at by countless men. But her argument is solely based on her lack of consent. Had she consented, then displaying her nude images would have been fine.

Despite being such advocates of consent as the basis morality, we still want to hang on to objective moral authority when we need it. When Janay Rice chose to remain with Ray Rice after he punched her in an elevator (knocking her unconscious), we shook our collective heads. When she forcefully defended her husband after her was suspended by the NFL, we were aghast.

On what ground were we so stunned by Janay Rice’s decision. It certainly wasn’t consent, she was choosing to stay with him. We start fumbling with terms like “cultural expectations” and “it’s just not right.” When pressed, we might even invoke the name of God.

But this is picking and choosing. How is it that abortion, gay marriage, and sexuality are only about consent while physical abuse is different? We want to be free from any restraint for ourselves but are ready to explain to someone else why they shouldn’t smoke on their front porch.

If morality is not based on an objective, unmoving standard, then there is no morality at all. You can try to base it on cultural expectations, but this quickly becomes a mere voting contest where 51% tell the other 49% what to do. Democratizing morality is really just another form of oppression.

The Christian view of God being the maker of right and wrong is not popular until we are harmed. I don’t want God invading my choices, but I would really prefer he limited yours. We define freedom as unlimited choices when real freedom is protection from my own heart. What individualism tried to do is to protect me from you. What it could never do was to protect me from me. That’s why consent will never work as the lone basis of morality. It assumes that what I want is good and right: that I will make wise choices.

There is a long Christian tradition of distrusting my own heart that is so wise, so countercultural, and so timely. As Paul says:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. Romans 7:15-25

The cross of Jesus stands tall above us all and assumes our foolishness and forgives. It is strength for our weakness, healing for our sickness. Individualism could never do this. Consent, to my heart, is just a tool to get what I want without too much fuss. It could never change what I wanted.

Christ alone condemns my sin and forgives it at the same time. Freedom is not unlimited choices, it is making my desires congruent with His. It is the congruence of our hearts with the heart of our maker. It wanting to do what is right. That can only happen if God changes our hearts.

Consent is a band-aid we use to cover the deep wound in our souls. It masks some of the more ostentatious sins in our hearts, but it can never heal our hearts. For that, we need a healing much deeper and a physician much more powerful. By God’s grace, that is just what he provided.

-Chip

What Your Facebook Wall Says About Your Heart

facebook likeHearts are treacherous things. It is always difficult to see what this monster inside me is trying to do. My heart is deceitful, just like yours. Jeremiah even refers to it as “desperately sick.” There is a long Christian tradition of distrust of hearts and desires. As the wise philosopher Pogo the Possum once said, “I have met the enemy and he is us.”

One of the great difficulties of taming the heart is the myriad forms this evil takes. There is a modern notion that people are intrinsically good (except for those bad people). There is no justification for this idea other than it is quite comforting to believe it. Generally, when I try to assert that people are good, I am really making a much more personal statement.

I am saying that I am a good person.

Now, I must defend this sentiment. Evidence comes up all the time that says quite the contrary. If I am so good, why do I want to yell at my kids, envy my neighbor’s car, sleep with that girl? I know these things are wrong and yet I want them.

Feeling the tenuous support for my assertion of my goodness, I must do some mental gymnastics to keep cognitive dissonance from killing me (for an excellent book on the sorts of gymnastics we do, read Mistakes Were Made: but not by me). I can, for example, say that I deserve my neighbor’s car. I work as hard as he does. My kids were being little demons, yelling at them is totally justified. If God made all those beautiful girls, why would he say I can’t enjoy them.

Our powers of rationalization are nearly limitless. When Muamar Gaddafi was killed by revolutionary forces, one of his last words were, “What did I do to you?” I think he meant it. I think he had no idea why these people he had brutally ruled for decades would want him dead.

What is frightening is that I have the same monster living in me. Mark Sayers in his book Facing Leviathan argues that one of the great problems humanity has is that when our heroes save of from a monster, they don’t account for the monster inside them.

We would be wise to identify the monster and name it for what it is. One useful tool to do this is actually just a few clicks away. That’s right, your Facebook wall.

Take a look at the last ten posts you put up.

It’s OK, we’ll wait.

….

Back, good. Why did you post what you did?

Maybe you lambasted those idiots at some organization. Was it a selfie? Maybe it was an adorable thing you kids just said. A quote that you found inspiring. A rant about that guy who cut you off in traffic earlier. A complaint about the weather.

Behold, your heart.

I recently was talking to a friend about selfies and he noted that they are usually put up by ladies more than men and more often by single eligible ladies than any other. So a selfie, for them, it partially motivated by the desire to get a guy. There is that desire that everyone feels to be wanted and attractive and nothing does that like a selfie with 42 likes.

How many men have put a picture of themselves up with their beautiful girlfriend? In their hearts, they know they are showing everyone else how special they must be to have that girl at their arm. What about that picture of a cat? Part of the message you sent was, “See how funny I am.”

Closer to home. Here is the last post I put on Facebook.

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. -Animal Farm

Now this appears harmless. I just finished reading Animal Farm and this is one of my favorite quotes in all of literature. It is also important to me that you knew I read it. I want everyone to know that I am a literate and intelligent person and nothing does that better than to post a quote from a book. Yep, none of you will think I’m stupid. I read a book.

What about the post before that?

You just know that every tech company is right now developing a phone bending machine to determine if their phones bend too easily.

This is innocuous enough. But I know that this will affiliate me as part of the cutting edge group discussing the recent difficulties with the new iPhones. Chip sure is a cutting edge guy. To top it off, do you sense that fun sarcasm? I sure hope you do!

Even as I write this blog post, the monster inside me stirs. Wow, people will sure know that Chip is a guy who knows his weaknesses and is willing to be out there: authentic. honest. Chip is one great guy. One of the great joys of Heaven will be to have that monster silenced forever.

Some will object that I am being too harsh. The post of grumpy cat was actually quite funny and harmless. If we second guessed every single sentence on we wrote or said, we would quickly stop speaking. Every sentence could have a possible poor motive ascribed to it.

This is true. A result of reading this could be that everyone is so concerned about this that they never post anything, write anything, or speak to anyone. The goal of life is not simply to fail to sin but the honor and love God. I hope to cause some introspection, but only enough to cause you to look outside yourself to the God of all speech.

But in your searching of your heart, consider not just what you posted, but what you didn’t. There are many things that are not appropriate to place in a public setting like Facebook. Your bathroom habits should not be a public discussion nor your brothers troubled marriage. We should keep these private matters just that, private.

There are also those matters we fail to bring up because they reflect badly on us. I have been known to go back and correct spelling in my posts not because I want to make a more pleasant appearance for the reader, but because I don’t want to look stupid. Would you ever post a bad picture of yourself because it is a great picture of someone else? There are a delightful few people I know who regularly talk about their weaknesses and pains, but most only discuss their successes and virtues.

I don’t mean to say that everything said is done from a poor motive, I hope this whole blog post is helpful to me, my friends and family, and the church. I know my motives are mixed. Knowing that does not force my silence. Reticence to make a mistake is as dangerous as being cavalier. Edmund Burke said it well, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”

While some will be tempted to silence, most of us will fail to take Jesus seriously. For example,

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, Matthew 12:36

The monster inside me starts to justify against the words of Jesus. Then James follows up with an even harsher message.

So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. James 3:5-10

What? A fire lit by Hell! The monster revolts at these words. James is clearly exaggerating. What Jesus and James are asking is impossible!

How can I fight the monsters out in the world when even when I defeat them, the monster in my heart will replace them. This is the dilemma when Frodo offered Gandalf the One Ring, he responded:

Gandalf: You cannot offer me this ring!
Frodo: I’m giving it to you!
Gandalf: Don’t…tempt me Frodo! I dare not take it. Not even to keep it safe. Understand, Frodo. I would use this ring from a desire to do good…But through me, it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine.

Human beings are far more majestic and powerful creatures than we ever imagined. We are more like Gandalf than we realize. Being image bearers of the Holy and Powerful God of the Universe is something we barely understand.

So what do we do? Clearly we need to talk and clearly our hearts have deep motives that we don’t understands. Thankfully, God did not leave us without guidance. The Psalmist struggled with his Facebook feed just like we do.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139: 23-24

Talk to God about it. He knows you fully and loves you! He knows what is good and what is evil. The technology is new but the hearts are not. The Psalmist had a problem in his heart too and he felt safe to go to his God with it.

Humility is not the failure to be proud. It is to stare deeply into the soul of your God and to be overcome by Him. We have a God who is surrounded by unimaginably powerful angels day and night yet somehow, amid all of that grandeur, he loves you. This is an amazing thing.

So look at your heart for a minute and look at your God forever. Some should leave Facebook because it is too tempting for them. Most of us should live in it wisely. As Jesus said:

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:45

Who is the good person? The lover of God. If you want to redeem your foolish heart and speech, God alone is the source of a pure heart. How is the monster slain? By going to the God who has already killed it. Jesus killed the monster. It is in its death throes in my heart today. Soon, very soon, I will die and it will die too. Then I will be free.

Until then, rejoice in the slayer of monsters. Watch the monster in you die slowly and Jesus’ power in your life grows. The solution to the weaker joy of wanting approval from people is to trade it for the greater pleasure of being approved by Father or Heavenly Lights! That, my friends, is very good news.

-Chip

The image above is courtesy of Sean Macentee and is used with permission.

Against Againstness

against

Inside my generation is a gnawing need to be part of something. To belong to something greater than ourselves, to be part of something great.

The problem is that belonging to great things involves a lot of work and determination. We aren’t really into working or determination, so we choose the next best thing.

Againstness

You see, it is easy to belong to a growing mass of critics. You read watch a video of Ray Rice punching his wife. You are filled with outrage. You tweet a nasty denunciation of Ray Rice, Roger Goodell, The Baltimore Ravens, the Western Culture, Men, and the spiraling failure of humanity. If you are especially industrious, you even wrote a blog post about it.

Take a deep breath. That was hard work. You did something.

But you didn’t. What you did was join the large mass of humanity in agreeing that Ray Rice had done something terrible. You aren’t a lone voice bringing attention to a terrible situation. You are part of a large self-congratulating mob patting each other on the backs for how much they are against domestic violence. Againstness gives you the illusion of doing something. As Barnabas Piper clear shows in his article Defined by What We Aren’t, againstness is at its best laziness and at its worst Pharisaical.

Throughout my teen years I traveled with an organization called Teen Missions International. Every year, the great Bob (he has a last name, but we all just called him Bob), would stand in the darkness on commissioning night. We were all ready to have a pizza party that night as we headed out to our overseas work, but Bob would solemnly say.

“Do you see this darkness. It is better to light a candle than it is to curse the darkness.”

He would light a single candle in that large tent. We would see the outlines of people even in that large space, with the lighting of a single candle.

Darkness cursing is easy. Candle cursing is even easier. Wouldn’t a bigger candle be better? If you really want to light that space, why not get some big halogen bulbs? Candles are bad for the environment. That message he spoke after lighting the candle wasn’t that inspiring.

Bob did something. The rest of us are just critics.

Hating sin is not loving God. Hating the effects of sin is not caring for people. We need to define ourselves by what we are FOR.

Yes, I know. This sounds an awful lot like work. We need to make a hard choice, stop pretending we are loving people by being critical of their enemies. Don’t pretend you love God because you hate his enemies. We need to actually love our God and love his people.

Ironically, this is really mundane. Loving God looks quite boring, even domesticated. For most, it means living a quiet life working their jobs and loving their families. It means we complain less and compliment more. It means looking at God and asking why I don’t delight in him more.

The greatest sinner you know is reading this article right now. Is it possible that you are so critical because you feel your own sin. It is easier to justify my sin if Ray Rice and Chris Brown are evil. At least I don’t do that! But that nagging knowledge that you have failed your God won’t go away.

The cure for againstness is to look deeply at what God has done FOR you. If you are so screwed up (and you are, much more than you realize) and God loves you so much anyway, WOW. That is good news. When you look out of your broken heart and see other sinners, the bent of your heart won’t be to condemn, because if I condemn them, I condemn myself. God does not condemn me, even though he really should.

I want that for others too.

We stand with the God of the Universe at our back and in front. With that kind of security, we have so much to be for and too much work to do. Sometimes that means being against evil. Most of the time it means proactively teaching and training and loving and building. It means being rather boring most of the time. If we don’t build, the world will fall apart.

So let’s do some building.

-Chip

I would also like to recommend the excellent book Facing Leviathan by Mark Sayers. In its pages, I discovered much of my own againstness and where it came from.

The image above is courtesy of Acid Pix and is used with permission.

The Miracle Drug for Ebola

1280px-Ebola_virus_virionWe Americans love our medications. It seems every other Ebola news article spends a few paragraphs talking about ZMapp or a possible vaccine or even a homeopathic cure for Ebola. We crave the silver bullet that will take Ebola down and (more importantly to us) make us feel safe from it.

Wouldn’t it be comforting if we were infected with Ebola and an unconcerned doctor gave us some pills and said we would be virus free in a few days. Such a plan is safe, sterile, and reduces the uncertainty of our lives.

Life doesn’t have those certainties. Ebola has no existing silver bullet and even if it did, there is another virus on the horizon that also will resist a simple cure. We have been battling with HIV for decades and only recently have started winning.

The truly effective treatments for Ebola are not so spectacular or mysterious. The best treatment is prevention, which is why Ebola isolation wards are the first and best line of defense. But what of those people who do get Ebola anyway. What is the best treatment for them?

IV fluids.

Yes, I know it is disappointing. Salty water is not a sexy cure for anything. But what those patients need the most is a steady drip of sterile saline flowing slowly into their veins. Ebola kills by depleting fluid volume and IVs are the cure for that, replenishing the fluid volume.

Now this miracle cure won’t save everyone. Ebola is a vicious little bug and will kill some anyway, but the most powerful and effective weapons in the fight against it don’t look powerful. They are gloves, gowns, masks, and goggles. While we spend 42 million dollars on ZMapp, what remains the most effective treatment is the most boring ones.

We as a people and a medical community need to let go of the super hero model of health care where powders and pills have mysterious powers that will save us from our enemies. Sure there are miracle cures that come from time to time, but most of them are built on the backs of basic, boring health care and prevention.

We should pray (another boring yet effective treatment) and fight for a cure for Ebola and all other disease, but let’s also recognize the limitations of these cures and move forward with tried and tested solutions to disease.

And by that, I mean boring solutions.

-Chip

 

Ebola, Christians, and the Plague of St. Cyprian

1280px-Ebola_virus_virionIn the year 250 AD, something terrible happened. A previously unknown disease was unleashed on the Roman world. For the next sixteen years cities were decimated with up to 5,000 deaths a day at its worst. Wars were halted due to the crippling effects of the plague.

No samples of the disease remain, so we are left to guess what it was. It is possible that it was the original smallpox outbreak which hit an unprepared world with deadly force. Everywhere the disease went, death reigned. Commoners and royalty were both ravaged with even Roman Emperor Claudius II Goithicus dying from it.

We know of the plague because the Bishop of Carthage, Cyprian, recorded his messages to his followers as they dealt with the death surrounding them. He described the plague like this:

This trial, that now the bowels, relaxed into a constant flux, discharge the bodily strength; that a fire originated in the marrow ferments into wounds of the fauces; that the intestines are shaken with a continual vomiting; that the eyes are on fire with the injected blood; that in some cases the feet or some parts of the limbs are taken off by the contagion of diseased putrefaction; that from the weakness arising by the maiming and loss of the body, either the gait is enfeebled, or the hearing is obstructed, or the sight darkened;—is profitable as a proof of faith.

Cyprian had the unenviable job of shepherding his people through one of the worst catastrophes to ever happen in the Western World. He counseled that Christians should live as though we have a hope. He felt that because Heaven awaits us, we can risk our lives to care for others. He describe the courage a Christian should have like this:

What a grandeur of spirit it is to struggle with all the powers of an unshaken mind against so many onsets of devastation and death! What sublimity, to stand erect amid the desolation of the human race, and not to lie prostrate with those who have no hope in God; but rather to rejoice, and to embrace the benefit of the occasion; that in thus bravely showing forth our faith, and by suffering endured, going forward to Christ by the narrow way that Christ trod, we may receive the reward of His life and faith according to His own judgment

This is not the words of a man who is simply thinking out loud, he watched as people died all around of him of this terrible illness. Not very long after writing these words, he had to live them out. He was killed by the Roman authorities in the year 258 AD.

He faced his death with courage.

In light of Cyprian’s example, we too have a dangerous plague to face. I want to challenge you, Christian, to be willing to die. Not to be cavalier and stupid, but to be courageous and wise. Cyprian’s hope and ours is that the moment we die, we go home. We stand with Jesus forever, never to suffer again.

The legacy of Cyprian is closer to you than you realize. His work was instrumental in the spread of Christianity. The Christians were the ones who ran toward the sick and helped them when no one else would. The growth of Christianity after that can be traced ot their response to the Plague of Cyprian.

Let us, too, be the sorts of people who run to the need and risk our lives to do it. Let us “stand erect amid the desolation of the human race.” The only risk we take is that we might die and be with Jesus. The benefit is showing a world how precious Jesus is to us.

-Chip

Ebola and Barnie (a true story)

liberiaThe following is based on real events.

When Abdulah walked home that Sunday, he did not know what he brought with him. He thought he only brought home fruit. He thought wrong.

Ballajah had been under quarantine along with the whole surrounding region. The Ebola scare was felt throughout. The air itself was heavier with the silent menace. Men and women were afraid to go out and work, but they would quickly starve if they didn’t.

Abdulah was forced out of his house by his poverty. Today, he was glad for the food he had to bring home. For the first time in a long time he had plenty of food for Seidia and his two children, Fatu and Barnie. They would have a veritable feast tonight.

With a full stomach and a happier outlook, Abdulah slept well that night. As Monday morning approached, his throat began to feel sore. He tried not to worry. The Ebola patients he had heard of looked very sick and he felt fine otherwise. This couldn’t be Ebola. As the day moved forward, he became feverish, very feverish.

Seidia was clearly worried about him. She tried to feed him and give him plenty to drink, but the vomitting started Tuesday. Abdullah was beginning to look very ill. His eyes were sunken and he grew progressively weaker with each passing hour. Seidia strictly warned the children not to tell anyone in Ballajah of the illness. Whether it was Ebola or not, she knew the elders would cut them off from any community support if they knew that Abdulah was sick.

Things worsened. Abdulah developed severe diarrhea and was too weak to make it to the latrine. He soiled himself several times during the night. With no gloves or running water, she had not protection for herself and he needed to be cleaned up. She washed her hands as best she could with some bleach water left by the government in town. She prayed that God would protect them.

The days stretched on. When the bleeding began from Abdulah’s eyes and ears, they knew he had Ebola.

Mariam, a family friend, had come in unanounced and as soon as she saw Abdulah, she ran out and told the elders. Within minutes a small crowd had come to the front door. They angrily questioned Seidia as to why she had not told them of Abdulah’s illness. She tried ot explain, but nothing would pacify the crowd.

From then on, they were outcasts. Everyone gave Seidia and the children a wide berth. Fatu was chased from the market by several village men. Barnie had no playmates any more. Seitia was cursed by the local women whenever she tried to leave her home. She and the children had run out of food. They could only get water from the river at night when everyone in the village was asleep.

Abdulah had fallen unconscious. He had been sick for more than a week. His breathing had become harsh and rattled. Seitia, grief stricken and at her wits end, began to despair. When Abdulah died on Wednesday, she could only sit in a stupor, staring at his lifeless body. He had been sick for about 10 days.

Seidia now faced two dilemmas. Her husband was dead of a disease that was clearly Ebola. She and the children might get sick. Despite this, the more pressing need is for food. Ballajah had become a prison more than a village. No one would help them. No one would even come near them. Seidia did manage to get the elders to call the authorities to pick up Abdulah’s body.

And so the waiting began. One day passed, then two. No one had come to pick up the body. The smell was becoming overwhelming. It felt unloving to throw him in the street, but what was she to do. It took all of her strength to get him out the door. Tired from the effort, she walked into her house and sat on a stool. It was then that she first felt it. She was nauseated.

It came on fast. She quickly began vomiting and she spiked a fever within hours. With Abdulah’s body rotting outside the door, Seidia now was sure she would join him soon. With none of the village to help her, she cared for herself as best she could. She made sure Fatu and Barnie did not touch her or care for her.

The following day, Fatu became feverish as well. As Abdulah’s body spent a fourth day rotting by the house, a feeling of death reigned inside. Seidia instructed Barnie, who was 15 years old, to go into the bush. Maybe he could be spared this sickness. Barnie resisted but Seidia was firm. Barnie was better on his own than with them.

The following morning, men arrived from the government wearing strange white outfits. They took Abdulah’s body and confirmed that both Seidia and Fatu had Ebola. Seidia had hoped for help from the men, maybe medicine or transportation to a hospital. Instead, she watched as the man instructed the villagers not to go near them.

And then the men left.

No one was going to help them.

In a strange irony, Abdulah’s body had protected Fatu and Seidia from the village. Because he was laying next to the doorway, no one would approach the house. Now that he was gone, the unthinkable happened. The villagers covered the windows and sealed the doorway. Their home had gone from a figurative prison to an actual one.

Fatu was scared. She had been scared for two weeks. Mama had taken care of papa when he was sick, and now he had died.

There was a lot to be afraid of.

The days lengthened in the dark, hot, house. Fatu’s throat was inflamed. As the days passed, mama became too weak to care for her any more. The semi-light of the house made daytime dim and night pitch black. She cried all the time. She cried in her dreams. She cried and yet no tears came out. She was so thirsty. She screamed for help, but no one came.

On Sunday, August 10, Fatu awoke in the dim morning light and looked at her mother. The coarse breaths that Fatu had gotten used were now gone. She looked into the vacant eyes of her mother’s body.

She screamed.

For hours she screamed. The agony of the previous weeks now poured out in a stream of inconsolable sadness. The deep sense of abandonment crashed into a river of sound that would not stop coming.

And still, no one came to help her.

Barnie stayed in the bush nearby. He heard Fatu’s scream. He heard all of her screams. He wanted to go to her. He was afraid of dying. He wanted to run. He wanted to stay.  He wanted to live, but if living is like this, then he wanted to die.

Fatu screamed on and off for a day. She could be heard moaning the following day. On Tuesday, August 12, 2014, she went silent. Her corpse, along with her mother’s, was not picked up by the authorities. It remains rotting in that grim sealed tomb that used to be their home.

Barnie moved into an abandoned home in Ballajah. After the Sherrif family had been sealed in their home, the villagers fled into the bush. No one wanted to be the next victim of Ebola.

Barnie was left to survive on his own. A 15-year-old orphan, he cries all the time. With resources growing thin around the nation, the odds are not in Barnie’s favor. Even if Ebola doesn’t get him, starvation and exposure probably will. He has some of the skills he needs to survive, but lacks others.

As he sits on the stoop of his ‘new’ house. The bright African sun does not help his grief. The silence of Ballajah oppresses him. Ebola had robbed him of a family, home, a village, and probably his life. He feels his inadequacy to survive this. As he sits, he prays that someone will come and help him. Maybe God will send someone to save him, the last of his family.

Maybe God is sending you.

-Chip

The story above is a dramatization of a true story. I have taken some liberties, but I felt their story should be told. 

The Image Above is courtesy of Ken Harper and is used with permission

People Die Just Like They Lived

dying gaulThere is a belief out in the world that people who are dying are different. They look back and see their lives in the sunset and the perspective offers them fresh insight and changes them somehow. It looks really good in a movie and makes a touching story at a funeral.

The reality is both better and worse than that.

As a hospice nurse, I have seen many people die. I tried to understand what drove them in their last days. Many have died with a grave and firm dignity that I envy. Many have died desperately clawing at their lives. Many have died forgiving and being forgiven. Many have died more bitter than they were in life.

For years it perplexed me what they had in common. What does death do to all of us? What do the bitter man and the kind man have in common as they see their lives ending?

The answer, they became even more themselves.

Death really isn’t that transformational. The anxious woman is even more anxious. The caring lady is even more caring. The brave man exhibits previously unknown courage. The coward is even more afraid.

This really shouldn’t be surprising. Dying people are regular people under a great deal more stress. With the rust blasted away by the heat of the moment, the metal below is exposed. Death is, after all, the great equalizer. The rich die and the poor die. The happy and the sad die. The wise man and the fool are both going to die.

That is not to say that these people die the same. Far from it. In death, I want to be the couragious, faithful, and caring man. My hope is that I will be at peace with my own death and will be able to serve those who are going to suffer through my death. The moment I die, my suffering is truly over. I will look my God in the eyes and finally, after many years of waiting, go home. The wait will have been long, but worth it.

Why would anyone feel sorry for me? I get to go home.

Those left behind, on the other hand, will have experienced a profound loss. Doesn’t it make sense that I should make doubly sure that all debts are paid, all that needs to be said has been said, and that every support for those I love will have been attended to.

How do I become that person? The man who serves in death. Because in death I will be just that much more of what I already am, the answer is to work on the me of today. Am I a servant today? All the more so when I die. Am I kind and generous today? I will be that much more when I die.

Don’t treat today like it has nothing to do with your death. If you are unprepared for your death, those you love will suffer the most. Have the courage to face your death today so that when it comes tomorrow, you will be prepared.

We are all becoming more of what we are every day. Age accelerates this change and dying perfects it. Be very careful who you are becoming today. One day you will become that person. I hope you can look at that person in the mirror.

Or maybe I should say I hope you can look your God in the eye on that day?

-Chip

The image of the Dying Gaul is courtesy of Anthony Majanlahti and is used with permission

Naming Dying

deathWe are deathly afraid of dying.

Many years ago when we moved off of our farms and were no longer conscripted to go to war, we stopped seeing things die. With the advent of penicillin and surgeries and chemotherapy and x-rays we became good at not dying…for a little while. As our babies stopped dying as often and our older people lived longer and longer, we stopped thinking of dying.

That is not to say that we stopped dying. All of us die. We just decided not to think about dying.

This was easier for a little while. With sickness and dying segregated away in hospitals and nursing homes, we could ignore them. This worked well enough for a while, but with the advent of the internet and the 24 hour news cycle, dying has been brough back into our faces. When a young man walks into a school and shoots children, we see it. When hundreds of West Africans die of ebola, we see it.

Many of us try to ignore it with much success. You can ignore death for decades of your life. But one day, one very uncomfortable day, death will find you. You will look into the eyes of a doctor who will tell you that you are going to die. Even when you run from it, death will find you.

Even though this reality if frightening, it is not one God has left us alone with. The Bible has a great deal to say about death.

Death is Bad

This may seem obvious, but I have heard Christians argue that death is good. This concept is foreign to scripture.

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Gen 2:16-17

Death is a curse, a consequence of rebelling against God. When we weep over the death of a child or the loss of a parent, we are right to do so. We were created not to die, but we do. This is tragic.

Additionally, throughout scripture, death is considered a punishment for sin and foolishness. The greatest crimes in all societies are punished with death. We deeply connect guilt with death because God made us that way.

Humans Live Beyond Death

The author of Hebrews says it this way.

Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, Hebrews 9:27

Even when we die, our souls live on to be judged by the God who said we would die.

God Died to Take our Judgment

It is not just that we die because of our sins, God chose to die because of our sins too. When he said, “You will certainly die” it applied to him as well.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. Romans 5:6-9

Far from being a cruel God who judges with no mercy, our God has chosen to suffer for us and to suffer with us.

So What?

As Christians, we need to not put our heads in the sand, pretending that our death is not coming. Quite the opposite, we need to be acutely aware of our deaths.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 1 Thes 4:13-14

We are called be live as those who have hope. When we secretly deny death we are clinging to this life as if it were the only life we had. The myth we believe is that we can keep this life for even a little while. Sooner or later, maybe even tonight, we may die.

But think of the freedom of not fearing death. Imagine for a moment how free to go out into a dark world and do good. If there really is an eternal and wonderful future with Jesus before us, how free we are today to give ourselves to a dying and dark world.

Christian, think often of your death. Don’t run from it. It will probably be painful and frightening, but imagine suffering through it to walk out the other side and look into the eyes of Jesus. The pain you feel in death is the last pain you will ever feel. Let’s not live as those who have no hope. Let’s embrace the hope we have and harness it to take risks in the world we live in today.

Might as well, we’re going to die anyway.

-Chip