A Brief Theology of Moving

Just remember that every time you look up at the moon, I too will be looking at a moon. Not the same moon, obviously, that’s impossible.

Andy Dwyer, Parks and Recreation, from London to Pawnee, IN

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about moving, about having friends scattered across the country and around the world. If you read the blog, you’ve probably noticed. Getting ready to fly back to the East Coast today got me thinking about it. However, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 Thessalonians have too. I’ve never noticed how much the epistles testify to gospel friendships stretched by moving but held together by God.

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul says:

For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?

Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

-1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Moving is costly. I miss the friends I’ve gotten to see here. I’m sad to miss the friends who have moved themselves. I wish this baby could be born by family. When this baby is toddling around in a couple years, I wish he or she could toddle around the grandparents’ house more often. Moving costs us dearly.

Yet, as Christians, we share more than looking up at the same moon. We are trusting in the same God, following the same Lord, filled with the same Spirit. As Paul shows, we have someone to thank for the family and friends who mean more to us than words can say. We leave our loved ones in the hands of a God who loves them more than we ever could. He establishes all our hearts when we find it hard to leave. We look forward to the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Without Christ, moving wouldn’t be worth it. Sure, there’s an adventure there, but there’s a community here. There’s a degree to be earned there, but there are endeavors to partner on here. Yet, we do have Christ. The same body is here and there. The same mission is here and there. The same gospel is here and there. For that gospel, we may need to be there, for now, but because of that gospel, we await the new heaven and the new earth, where there is no crying, and God dwells with us, and we all dwell with God.

The Undeserved Dividends of Discipleship

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

-1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

In the past week, I’ve gotten to talk with three former youth group students heading to three different places around the world to testify to Jesus Christ. I’m thrilled, and I’m humbled.

I remember encouraging and praying for these students, trying to help them choose the work of faith, the labor of love, the steadfastness of hope. Now, when I see these things manifest in their lives, I have to step back and say, “Woah. Did I really mean for them to sacrifice their time, spend their money, give their lives for faith, hope, and love?”

Then I realize that it’s not ultimately about what I meant for them. I was only (and am only) testifying to something bigger than me, someone greater than me. They’re not working in faith, laboring in love, standing steadfast in hope because of me but rather because of Jesus Christ and what He has done in their lives, even since, perhaps especially since, I left. I still get to know them. I still get to watch. I get to see more fruit than I planted grow in their lives, and I get to rejoice, far beyond what I deserve, as God does far beyond what we expect.

Checking back each year not only humbles me, it also reminds me of the value of discipleship. In Discipleship Essentials, Greg Ogden compares the ministry of an “evangelist” (who converts 1 person per day, none of whom go on to disciple anyone else) and a “discipler” (who disciples 2 people per year, training them to disciple two more people each year) (Ogden, Discipleship Essentials, see table 1.1 on p.13). The “evangelist” gets to list a lot more converts in his or her support letters early on, but after about a decade, the “discipler” starts to catch up. After 13 years, the “evangelist” will have reached 4,745 people–an impressive number! Yet, in the same amount of time, the “discipler” will have created a waterfall of discipleship touching 8,192 people. By year 16, that 8,192 could become 65,536.

Now, the numbers don’t work exactly this way. Sometimes God moves more slowly than we expect, sometimes more quickly. However, I can testify to this: Discipleship pays dividends over time. My contribution was a lot like a $1.75 seed packet, but the fruit in their lives is like the eventual zucchini bush that you can barely keep up with. It feels like magic, but it’s actually a miracle. I can’t keep up with these kids, but for that I praise God.

Consider discipleship, and the role you could play in someone’s life this year. Disciple your kids, disciple someone from church, disciple that person who’s wanted more of your time, and while you’re at it, see if you can get discipled yourself. Perhaps we will get to send letters like Paul sends here in 1 Thessalonians, saying, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your word of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Prayer and Compound Interest

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.

-Colossians 4:12

 

I’m not great at prayer. It’s not that I don’t know what to say (though I know that can be a challenge for some). It’s that I’m too focused on the visible and too focused on myself.

It astounds me that Paul can tell the Colossians that Ephaphras is “always struggling on your behalf in his prayers.” It makes sense: I’ve wanted for those I love, including those far away, to “stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God,” and I do believe in God, and I do believe in prayer, and so it does make sense to me to always struggle in prayer. It just astounds me because I can’t imagine doing it. Prayer is always there, but something else seems more enticing or more practical or more exciting so much of the time.

I don’t think I’m the only one. I do know some astounding people of prayer. Certain faithful, elderly, church ladies come to mind. A dear brother from Ethiopia definitely makes the list. Yet, I would guess there are a lot of people like me who fail like me. I wouldn’t be surprised if young, American, male Christians are some of the worst pray-ers in the world.

Perhaps that’s because young people, Americans, and men are especially ignorant of the truths we learn in prayer that drive us back to prayer: We are frail; God is mighty. We are selfish; God is generous. We are fickle; God is faithful. For some reason, we’re often uninterested in meeting with God, but the God of all things is always ready to meet with us.

Perhaps prayer is like compound interest. You’ve probably seen the calculations for retirement savings: Put in what seems like a small amount each month, and not only will that deposit gain interest, the interest will gain interest, and the interest’s interest will gain interest, and while it feels like you’re depositing a little bit, a little bit, a little bit, the pot grows beyond what you’d expect. The right time to begin is always “now,” because starting sooner pays off all along the way.

I’m not great at prayer, but Epaphras reminds me that the right time to begin is always “now.” A little prayer today will teach me to pray tomorrow. Little by little, a life of prayer grows a heart for prayer, and we become more than you’d expect. Is there a prayer habit you’ve been meaning to adopt, a person you’ve forgotten to pray for, a practice you had and then lost? It’s not too late to start or start again. We could yet become the type of servants of Christ Jesus who struggle on one another’s behalf in prayer, that we might stand mature and fully assured in the will of God.

The Political Climate and the Beatitudes

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

-Matthew 5:1-12

What are the beatitudes for? Are they meant to encourage or rebuke? Do they tell us who will be blessed or what it really means to be blessed? There’s obvious depth here that cannot be mastered by a quick pass, a life-changing summons that takes a lifetime to heed.

Yet, with a good understanding of Jesus and his time, we can make a good guess of what it would have been like to hear these words on that mountain. N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God tries to establish that kind of “good understanding,” and his section on the Sermon on the Mount, including the “beatitudes,” above, has helped me better understand Jesus’ message in his context. Wright says:

…the promise that would formerly apply to those who were faithful to Torah now applies to those who are faithful to Jesus. Whatever they have meant to subsequent hearers or readers, I suggest that the beatitudes can be read, in some such way, as an appeal to Jesus’ hearers to discover their true vocation as the eschatological people of yhwh, and to do so by following the praxis he was marking out for them, rather than the way of other would-be leaders of the time.

-N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p.288

That last part suggests to me that the same Jesus who still lives might be challenging us too to follow a different set of practices, “rather than the way of other would-be leaders of the time.” In an election year in the social media age, the air rings with scoffing, sneering, fear, arrogance, and enmity. Jesus called His disciples to a different way, and so I believe He calls His disciples today to a different way as well.

Are we ready to be poor in spirit, ready to mourn? Will we kindle meekness in our spirits? Do we hunger and thirst for righteousness? Will we show mercy, guard purity, and seek to make peace? Would we accept persecution for righteousness’ sake, and consider reviling of no account? These questions are worth reflecting on, unhurriedly and often.

This is the way of our Lord, who went to the cross. His offer is: “Follow me.” That way lies comfort, satisfaction, mercy,  connection God Himself. Yet, the way also passes through whatever our Lord chooses; it goes wherever He goes. So can we. Through mockery, yes, perhaps, but into the true kingdom of heaven, for sure.

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

-Matthew 7:28-29

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A Discouraging Week; An Encouraging Verse

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

-Philippians 3:12

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This week discouraged me. In the wake of the shooting in Orlando, a lot of strong opinions were thrown around, mostly about who and/or what is “the problem.” In one way or another, I’ve read: “IS is the problem; police are the problem; Islam is the problem; Christianity is the problem; religion is the problem; homophobes are the problem; the LGBT community is the problem; assault rifles are the problem; gun-control activists are the problem; gun-rights activists are the problem; President Obama is the problem; Donald Trump is the problem; Hilary Clinton is the problem; Eric Metaxas is the problem; prayer is the problem; the media is the problem.” Also, anyone who says any of these things is the problem is the problem.

My problem is: I end up partially convinced by most of these arguments, and at this point, I’m ultimately convinced that we have a lot of problems. That makes me feel discouraged. That makes me not want to try. If this week was devastating for you, I don’t mean to tell you what to do, least of all “cheer up.” However, if “discouraging” is a better description of your week, because of where you are or what your life is like, perhaps Philippians 3:12 can encourage your spirit as it encouraged mine.

After describing how exciting, rewarding, and satisfying the Christian life can be, Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” These three short clauses speak three truths I need today:

  1. We’re far from perfect (and that’s no surprise to God)
  2. But that doesn’t mean we can’t keep reaching for godliness
  3. Nor does it change the fact that God has reached out for us and made us His own

Much of what we read pushes us to either hubris or despair. Some voices say, “You can chin up, because you’re not the problem, ____ is the problem.” That’s mistaken and encourages us to trample over others. Some voices say, “There’s no hope, because you have too many problems.” That’s mistaken and discourages us from doing anything at all.

Christ says, “I’ve gone down and defeated the root of problem, and I’m ready, willing, and able to restore you and others through you.” That lifts my spirit but also gives me good reason to focus on not trampling over others; it inspires me to do more but reminds me that I can only do it in Christ.

Not that I have already obtained all this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

-Philippians 2:12-16

Do Rich People Still Need God?

 

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Do rich people still need God? It’s an odd question, I know. Actually, I’m a bit embarrassed it floated through my mind as I walked across Queen Anne hill the other day. Seeking out the Kerry Park vista, above, I strolled through quiet streets of beautiful houses, every once in a while passing a happy-looking family or a content-seeming homeowner trimming a perfectly flawed bush. “It’d be nice to enjoy this view while sitting at the breakfast table,” I thought to myself. I pulled out the real estate app and took a peek at the prices. Yikes. “Maybe Annie will make money,” my mind suggested. “Life seems good here.”

Then the question asserted itself: “Do rich people still need God?”

Here’s what’s embarrassing about the question: You probably noticed the smartphone make an entrance in the short walk, above. You may have noticed the beautiful view I did get to enjoy, the peaceful afternoon I did get to spend. I drove there, in a car. Also, I first discovered that park when I was going to college nearby. Admittedly, I’m rich people. It doesn’t seem like it while walking by million-dollar houses, but in the grand scheme of things, I’ve been given a lot.

Here’s what else is embarrassing about the question: Of course rich people need God, Alex! Aren’t you supposed to be training to be a pastor or something? Well, yes. It’s just…what exactly do they need God for?

Then this Scripture (that I memorized with my mom in kindergarten) arose in my mind:

Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

-Psalm 100:3

“It is he who made us, and we are his.” The very question shows me that I’ve been thinking about God bit wrong recently. We don’t first and foremost need God for something; God is simply our God. God is our Maker. God is our Lord. God is our King. God is our Shepherd. We need God, we need to know God, because He is more central to who we are than we are.

Knowing God does a lot for us; don’t get me wrong. However, we should seek Him and know Him simply because…who wouldn’t want to know their God? Who wouldn’t want to know the One who decided, “I’d like to make you; I’d like this world better with you in it”? Who wouldn’t want to know the one who knows what we’re here for and what happens next? Who wouldn’t want to know the one whose “steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations”?

Yes, rich people need God and need God just as desperately as anyone else, because only in the LORD do we find a real God. You can’t but that, not even close. In fact, money often does nothing but distract us from this most important fact: Not only were we made by God, we were made for God, and in knowing Him life becomes whole.

What The Baby Book Taught Me About Listening

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Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

-Ephesians 4:25

It’s easy to quickly read over these sections on “speaking the truth,” because most of us consider ourselves mostly honest. Very few of us think of ourselves as lying very often. However, I wonder whether avoiding lying is really “speaking the truth.” How often do we talk about the things that are deeply true of us? How often do we encourage others to talk about whats deeply true of them, in a way that’s helpful?

This verse leads right into one you may remember hearing: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Anger is an interesting (and oftentimes difficult) reality to “speak the truth” about. Anger–like embarrassment or fear or grief or countless others–is an emotion we often hide, hide, hide, then impulsively overflow, without ever really taking the time to simply speak the truth about it, in a godly and therapeutic way.

“Speaking the truth” reminds me of something I read in our baby book this week, an admonition to help others speak the truth by being willing to stop and hear the truth:

Like first responders everywhere, when everyone else [is] either screaming, sitting on the sidelines, or running away… [parents who raise emotionally mature children] are fearless in the face of raging floods of emotion from their child. They don’t try to shoot down emotions, ignore them, or let them have free reign over the welfare of their family. Instead, these parents get involved in their kids’ strong feelings.

-John Medina, Brain Rules for Baby, p.208

There’s such a thing as oversharing, and there’s such a thing as being nosy. However, if you’re anything like me, you might not experience these two problems as much as their two opposites: Avoiding speaking the truth and avoiding hearing the truth. This could change if more of us in The Church were willing to be “emotional first responders” for one another. Rather than running from emotional emergencies, waiting for “the professionals” to arrive, we could change our initial reaction to running to our loved ones in emotional need, ready to hear the truth in a helpful way.

You may ask, “Am I really qualified for this? And what’s a helpful way?” You are qualified for this, and a helpful way starts with the following verse, mentioned above: “Be angry and do not sin.” When we listen to those we care about, we don’t have to solve their lives or even their problems. We can simply help them clarify what they feel and how not to respond to these feelings (perhaps how to deal with them). You’d be surprised how often this takes no particular insight or advice (in fact, you don’t have to say very much, just ask a few questions); it only takes willingness to spend time listening, endure the uncomfortableness of talking about unpleasant feelings, and trust in the Spirit of God, who is at work.

Something in us always wants to run from others’ strong emotions, but sometimes God would have us love this person by being an emotional first responder, by rushing to (not from) the crisis. This verse is not a warrant to pry; it is is a commission to be available, without fear of our loved ones’ fear or anger at our loved ones’ anger.

Earlier in Ephesians 4, we’re told that all Christians are meant for “the work of ministry.” This is one of the ways we minister to (that is, serve) one another. We don’t have to wait for the professionals to arrive; we can listen. We can “let each one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”

Why Your Church Needs You

And [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.

-Ephesians 4:11-12

It’s tempting to approach church like a spiritual co-op. By that I mean, it’s tempting to say, “let’s all pool our resources and build one building, set aside one day, and hire one person for ‘God stuff.'” Farmers make sure our nutritional needs are met, police make sure our safety needs are met–“you make sure our spiritual needs are met.” Pastor and seminary types call this approach “clericalism”: Set aside a few clerics, and they’ll take care of the spiritual stuff.

The problem is, the clerical paradigm doesn’t enable The Church to be what it’s meant to be. Consider the verse above. Christ gave all these leaders “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” “The saints” are simply…well, if you’re one of God’s people, then the saints are you.

The clerical paradigm is like an owner of a professional baseball team saying, “Hire a good coach and he can take care of the ‘baseball stuff.'” Well, no. The coach is important, but the players play the game. Everyone does “baseball stuff,” but the players do the most exciting and pivotal “baseball stuff.” Coaches are a gift to the team because they can help everyone play better (maybe the best analogy is the old player/coach, because the pastors are definitely responsible to be Christians, too), but the team will only succeed when everyone realizes that even the best coaching is just coaching–the playing is the point.

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Your church needs you because what happens through you is the point. God gave the church leaders to equip you for the work of ministry. Consider the way Elaine Graham puts it in Transforming Practice:

Despite its earlier dominance by clerical and therapeutic paradigms, pastoral theology has the potential to retrieve alternative strands from its tradition which enable it to give a critical account of the life of the Christian community as a whole. Such a perspective offers a renewed emphasis on the purposeful activities of the faith-community as the performative expressions of Christian truth-claims in a plural society.

-Elaine Graham, Transforming Practice, p.3

Pastors are great gifts to The Church from The Church’s great Head, Jesus Christ. However, you are too. Only you can be the Christ-filled version of you where you are. Only you can be the Christ-like version of you for the people for whom you’re responsible. Only you can be the Christ-following version of you before the decisions you make each day.

Yes, pastors are here to help equip you to do it, but the purpose of church is not to hire a couple people to represent the co-op and put on a good event. The purpose of church is the “building up of the body of Christ,” in fact, “in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (v.15). Your church needs you because Jesus Christ has chosen to make you part of The Church, and He is not only building you up to be like He is but also to do what He is doing. The work of ministry, the exciting and pivotal stuff, happens through you.

A Vital Truth for “Church Shopping”

 

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After two interstate moves in the last three years, I’ve grown tired of “church shopping.” It’s an unpleasant process. It’s spiritually tiring to visit new congregations each week, it’s a slow process (because you have to wait a week between each visit), and you can’t “just go to church” to spiritually recharge from all this, because, well, you don’t have a church–that’s why you’re “church shopping” in the first place.

Also–and this is probably the worst part of it–the whole idea of “church shopping” just feels gross. I would rather walk into a time of communal worship with a penitent heart than a critical eye, and I would rather walk away talking about how the sermon changed me, not how I evaluate the sermon. More over, the conversations are weird. We’re new to the congregation, but, no, we’re not new Christ. I would like to be greeted, but I don’t really want or need to be “sold.” I would like to make relationships at our church, but maybe not right this minute, because I don’t want it to be too awkward if we don’t come back. I don’t like this process.

After the last two rounds, I’ve concluded that anyone visiting various congregations would do well to pause and consider this theological truth: There is one Church. As Paul puts it:

I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

-Ephesians 4:1-6

There is one Church. If we want to be precise about our words, we are not “looking for a church.” The Church is the people whom Christ has looked for and found and called and transformed. This sounds nit-picky, but it makes a difference: We already have a Church (the body is the global Church, the Spirit is God’s Spirit, the Lord is Jesus the Christ, the faith is in Christ, the baptism is into Christ, the God and Father is YHWH, the Triune God over all). We are looking for a congregation, a gathering of local members of The Church that grows, witnesses, and worships together.

This helps us in three ways:

  1. While we can’t “just go to church” on a given Sunday, The Church can still encourage us. In our last move, I spent extra time texting, calling, and Skyping with fellow members of The Church, and these old friends helped keep my spirit close to Christ while we looked for a local congregation.
  2. We’re freed to search for a godly good enough. We’re not looking for a perfect congregation (or even the best congregation); we’re just looking for a local gathering of people whom Christ has called. He did not look for perfect people (or the best people). He looked for people like us, and we’re just looking for people like us, a genuine branch of The Church, with a real desire and effort, despite our fallenness, to be faithful to Jesus Christ and fruitful in this time and place.
  3. Once we settle in and become members, we can be free from unrealistic expectations. We didn’t look for the perfect or best congregation, so we’re not expecting this congregation to be that. If these are people with whom we can grow in Christ, witness to Christ, and worship Christ, then we will simply grow, witness, and worship with them.

I should clarify: We did find great congregations. I truly enjoy the people we’re with and what we do together. However, I’ve learned that we set ourselves up for wrong attitudes and wrong expectations and wrong decisions without this vital truth: There is one Church (with one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all).

In fact, we really shouldn’t think of it as shopping for a church. It’s better to envision God adopting sons and daughters. No matter what, visiting congregations is an exhausting process. However, we will approach it in a more fitting way if we remember that we’re not looking to buy a spiritual product, we’re seeking others who have been bought by Christ, with whom we can earnestly, imperfectly follow Him.

What Are Families For?

Grandchildren are the crown of the aged,
and the glory of children is their fathers.

-Proverbs 17:6

Spending this month with family in Seattle, I’ve found this verse rings true after thousands of years. When we’re young, we boast in those we came from (“my dad can beat up your dad!”); when we’re old, we boast in those who come from us. Children are wired to glory in their parents; grandparents are wired to glory in their grandchildren. Even so, they’re not mutually exclusive. This weekend, I opened the family history book with my grandma, who boasted of her dad, who died 26 years ago, talking about his personality and his cars and the time he had the house put on a truck and moved to a new lot (on a new basement!) two blocks away.

Generations are interwoven, and they’re meant to be. God has ordained it this way. However, modern society has given us the chance to disentangle us from one another, and we often take it. Atul Gawande, a doctor and author, recounts how he’s seen this in the families of those he cares for in their old age:

The lines of power between the generations have been renegotiated, and not in the way it is sometimes believed. The aged did not lose status and control so much as share it. Modernization did not demote the elderly. It demoted the family. It gave people—the young and the old—a way of life with more liberty and control, including the liberty to be less beholden to other generations. The veneration of elders may be gone, but not because it has been replaced by veneration of youth. It’s been replaced by veneration of the independent self.

-Atul Gawande, Being Mortal, kindle loc. 326

Just as we tend to outsource our childcare, so we often outsource our eldercare. Conversely, we try to retire in such a way that no one will need to take care of us. Childcare, eldercare, retirement plans–these aren’t wicked inventions. Our family will make us of all of them this year, with one set of grandparents in assisted living and a baby joining our home. Yet, the amount we depend on them suggests the degree to which we value–perhaps idolize–independence from one another.

Gawande critiques the new “veneration of the independent self” based on his own values, which are heavily influenced by his family’s Hindu heritage. I think we can make a case from what God has revealed in the Bible. Grandchildren are indeed the crown of the aged; children do glory in their fathers. Our families have the potential to be the realm of our greatest joy in this life, which should cause us to stop and ask, “Why do we so often want family to be a realm of all joy and no obligation? As we become less beholden, do we become less connected? As we take responsibility for ourselves and ourselves alone, do we prevent those we’ve been given from taking on what’s been given to them: Responsibility for us. Do our lives feel adrift because we’ve tried to avoid all responsibility for them?”

In fact, we can make a better case from what God has revealed in the Bible, because only Jesus Christ really helps us start anew and love those who have been unlovely to us. Families can be unlovely and can seem unlovable. From disagreement to strife to neglect to abuse, family can be painful. Yet, Jesus Christ has done two things that help us accept the responsibility to love, to be interwoven with one another: First, He has invited us into a new family, His followers, so that if we lacked examples or nurturers, we can find them in the Church. If we have not been given offspring to raise, we find countless children to raise in the body of Christ. Second, He loved us better than we can love him and before we could love back, which frees us to love others better than they can love us and before they can love us back. We can even take responsibility for those who will never reciprocate, because Jesus Christ has taken responsibility for us.

In this we may yet see the joy for which God meant the family. In this, we can certainly glorify our Heavenly Father, who is the greatest glory of all His children.

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