The Ten Commandments of Marriage

I. Heterosexual atheists may marry.

II. Heterosexual idol worshipers may marry.

III. Heterosexuals who use the Lord’s name in vain may marry.

IV. Heterosexuals who ignore the Sabbath and do not keep it holy may marry.

V. Heterosexuals who disrespect their parents may marry.

VI. Heterosexual murderers may marry.

VII. Heterosexual adulterers may marry.

VIII. Heterosexual thieves may marry.

IX. Heterosexuals who bear false witness may marry.

X. Heterosexuals who covet their neighbor’s spouse and possessions may marry.

Let’s see, have we left anybody out?

My Christmas Letter

At this time last year, I was three months into what turned out to be ten months of unemployment and recovering from a cardiac stent insertion. As I like to say, it was not a lifestyle that I would recommend very highly. So things are definitely merrier this Christmas. Seeing the turmoil and tough decisions that so many people are still facing makes me realize that I dodged more than a few bullets over the past year.

In July, I moved 100 miles north to Columbus and began work at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) supervising the work of Ohio’s railroad inspectors statewide. I’ve always been an infrastructure geek and railroads have been a particular interest for the past few years. Warren Buffett is buying one of the country’s biggest railroads (BNSF) and he seems to be a pretty smart guy so there must be a future in rail, right? Mostly, I’m glad to have a paycheck, health insurance and meaningful work to do.

Charlie & Claire were both in marching band this fall (drum & tuba, respectively) and are now playing in the school jazz bands and orchestra through the winter. Charlie is in the winter drum line again, continues with his piano studies and is learning to drive (yikes!) Claire is starting to take trombone lessons – I think she plans to boss the boys in the bass brass section when she gets to high school next year. They are smart, happy kids and I love that they both love music.

We’ve all seen tremendous change during the first decade of the 21st Century. I suspect that the pace of change is only going to increase in the coming years. I’m sure we’ll face challenges and opportunities we can barely imagine today.  It’s clear to me that my most important job in the coming decade is to help Charlie & Claire successfully make the leap from bright, happy, talented teens to confident, independent and responsible adults.

Being in a position to do this is the greatest gift I’ve ever received.

Love to you all and happy new year!

Chainsaw Bible Verses

Last Sunday’s Old Testement lesson was Isaiah 6:1-8.  It is the first half of Chapter 6 which is subtitled in my Bible as Isaiah’s Commission. This beautiful reading, in elequent metaphorical language, describes how the great prophet Isaiah, imperfect as he was, was called to deliver God’s message to Israel.  I was quite moved by the whole reading as I read it aloud to the congregation, especially at the end in Verse 8 as Isaiah accepts and responds to the Lord’s call by saying simply, “Here am I. Send me!”

As much as I enjoy reading the lessons at church, I admit that I am wary of the Bible. To me it is a powerful tool that if used carelessly or improperly can be quite dangerous. I regard the Bible as sort of a spiritual chainsaw. This description probably applies to holy books of every faith. The wisdom and insight in these ancient texts can help clear the tangled undergrowth of our lives, assist with the clean up of damage and debris of storms and crises, and can help prepare the fuel that warms our lives and sustains us. There is no other tool like a chainsaw.

Certain verses however, interpreted improperly or taken out of context or even used maliciously can cause irreparable harm.  Verses 6 and 7 from this reading provide an example of what I’ll call “Chainsaw Verses” and should be used with extreme caution:

Then one of the seraphs (6-winged servants of the Lord in Isaiah’s dream) flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

I shuddered as I cinematically imagined a dark-robed Inquisitor in some 16th Century church touching a live hot coal to the lips of some free-thinking peasant or a folk healer for using dogmatically unacceptable methods to ease someone’s pain. The victim’s subsequent inability to speak with a horribly burned and disfigured mouth is then declared as proof of the presumed guilt.  In my mind’s movie, the rest of the villagers recoil in fear and learn that they must never challenge the Inquisitor or they too may suffer the same fate.

Any master carpenter will stress to an apprentice that they must learn to understand, respect and properly use the tools their trade. Many of Jesus’ lessons were exactly in this form.  We all must learn and be wary of holy “Chainsaw Verses.”  They are being used even today by those who wield them like weapons to rationalize and impose their own narrow interpretations of the unknowable mysteries of faith. We must deny the Inquisitors of every religion, in Wichita and throughout the world, the tools of their destruction.

Abide In My Love

I am preparing for Sunday’s bible study session; the lesson for this week contains the phrase, “abide in my love.”

“Abide” is one of those words we think we know. One of those comfortable, pretty, old-fashioned, church words that we’re sure we understand when we hear it. We never question it. We let it slide in our own self-confidence. We’ve heard it before. We’re sure we understand it because we understand the context in which it’s used. No need to look it up.

Well, I looked it up. Here’s what Webster’s has to say:

Abide v.  1. To wait patiently for.  2. To persevere under.  3. To accept or submit to.  4. To put up with.

I’ll save the theology for Sunday. Right now I wonder if I have what it takes to use the word “abide” in describing the earthly relationships in which I might venture to use the “love.”  Before I say “I love you” again, I will ask myself whether I am really willing to say, “I will abide in your love.” By saying these six words, perhaps the essence of what it takes for a lasting relationship, I would be saying:

  • I will wait patiently for your love.
  • I will persevere under your love.
  • I will accept or submit to your love.
  • I will put up with your love.

Then I wonder, will I ever find someone willing to abide in my love?

Religion and Self-Control

I read an interesting blog post today by NY Times Science writer, John Tierney, on the topic of religion and self-control. I submitted a comment to the piece and have copied the essence of Tierney’s blog and my comment here. While I stand by what I say below, I have to admit to the irony of this blog. I should have been working on the more pressing items on my “To Do” list. So much for self-control.

You can find a link to Tierney’s blog, TierneyLab, under  “Blogs I Like” on the right.

Religion and Self-Control

Is self-discipline one reason that religious people tend to live longer? Do religious belief and piety promote self-control? You can find one answer in my Findings column. It discusses research from two psychologists at the University of Miami, Michael McCullough and Brian Willoughby, who have surveyed eight decades of scientific literature (pdf) to see if people who are more religious tend to have stronger self-control.

1. Are there any specific religious or spiritual activities that you have found to help build your self-control, or your child’s self-control?
2. Religious activities can also be exhausting, and presumably they could they could wear down someone’s self-control. Has this ever happened to you or your child?
3. If you’re not religious, what do you think of Dr. McCullough’s advice that it might be possible to build self-control by tying your New Year’s resolutions to sacred (but non-religious) values like self-reliance or concern for all of humanity?

My response:

I believe that this phenomenon of ‘religious’ people demonstrating more self-control is probably true but not due to the ‘religion’ that one learns at church, temple or mosque but due to the ‘ethics’ and ‘values’ discussions and education that occurs there. As the author, Karen Armstrong, documented in her book, ‘The Great Transformation,’ most cultures and faiths have independently developed some interpretation of what’s known to Christians as the Golden Rule as a positive way to live our lives on earth, irregardless of what some god may have in store for us later.

The notion that we should treat others as we wish to be treated requires an examination not only of others’ behaviors and actions but of our own. Once we begin to be aware of (and are then self-critical of) our own behaviors, we are more likely to avoid doing things that others might find reason to criticise – we exhibit self control. In doing this, we enable others to treat us favorably.

My own experience is that most people tire quickly of sermons and lessons (and water cooler talk) that focus too heavily on spirituality and theology. Zealotry, like a good martini, has a time and place but a little bit goes a long way. We would rather be taught how to make our faith relevant to our day-to-day lives. Personally, the sermons that don’t put me to sleep or to checking my blackberry are usually those that offer practical advice on how to live happily and productively among others. I suspect that anyone who regularly subjects themselves to a dose of practical ethical reminders is more prone to self-examination and to therefore improve their self-control in many aspects of their lives. And this, I believe, will lead to improved quality in one’s life.

As the Theory of Relativity is foundational to modern science, the Golden Rule is to life. We don’t fully understand the scope of either which is why inquiry and faith (in science and humanity) are so important. We do know through our own experiences however, that things get more difficult when we act as though these fundamental principles don’t exist.

Thank you for posing these important questions.

— John Fonner