December 16, 2006

The Christmas Prayer

Here is my contribution to my church's Advent Devotional for 2006:

Scripture: John 1:1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. . . . There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I grew up with church being a very large part of my life. Sunday services, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, youth fellowship, and church family campouts were all part of the world in which I lived. Unfortunately, it was not until many years later that I understood that spiritual world to have been just as processed and sugar-coated as the breakfast cereals of the time. The offense of the cross and all the "divisive" doctrines of classical Christianity were largely absent from my education. The parables and moral lessons of Jesus were to be preferred, and we literally sang Kum-Ba-Ya around the campfire.

In spite of my spiritually deficient diet, I was still compelled by this Jesus, and if I would fail to pray on any other night of the year I would always break from my Christmas Eve anticipation to give thanks for Jesus. But what was I thankful for? I did not really know myself. All I really knew was that Jesus was somehow God's man. He was a great moral teacher and He had in some way "saved" the world. Being a citizen of the "world" I assumed I was covered, like everyone else, and for that I was grateful. The cross was simply a show of how much God loved me. God was "love" and not much more than that.

The more I grew and the more I discovered the distractions of the world the more attractive this picture of Jesus seemed to me. It certainly gave me no cause for restraint and caution in doing my own thing. After all, didn't God accept me just the way I was? Wasn't God all love and mercy? Didn't Jesus have my back covered? But still I prayed on Christmas Eve — my conscience convicted that I must fit Jesus into my world; my self-will determined to make it a custom fit.

It wasn't until many years later as an adult that I finally broke down and read the whole Bible for myself. While it didn't all make sense at once, it at least became clear that I had heard only part of the story. I saw that Jesus was indeed a moral teacher, but He had far higher standards than I imagined; and He cared even about my words and thoughts! I saw Him speak of God's love, but I noticed that He spoke just as much of repentance and judgment. I saw that He was certainly a man, but I saw Him command nature, forgive sin, and proclaim truth like a God. I saw the building blocks of doctrines that I had never been taught, or that only the stuffy "fundamentalists" believed — things like the bodily resurrection of the dead, the second-coming of Jesus, hell, and the Trinity.

I had been praying to a stranger.

It took some further years (which included exposure to the intellectual side of historic Christianity) for all the pieces to come together and to begin my journey in light of these truths, but I can now say that I know to whom I pray and I well know why I should be thankful for the coming of Jesus. Jesus Christ: The long awaited and prophesied Messiah; the second Adam, come to live the perfectly obedient life on our behalf; the bearer of sin for all those who would believe; judge of those who stand in their own righteousness; Lord and redeemer of those who trust and serve Him; Second Person of the Trinity; the incarnate eternal God, born into this world on Christmas Eve.

Activity:

Read the following and consider how they support the deity of Christ:

Matthew 26:63,64; 13:41
Luke 5:20-25
John 8:23,24; 8:56-59; 14:23; 20:26-28

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, forgive us for making You into what we most want You to be. Forgive us for failing to take advantage of the revelation of Yourself that You have gifted to the world. Thank You for not leaving us to our own idle imagination about You. Thank You for coming to this world and doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Please give us the desire to know You better, and the power to follow You more faithfully. And it is in Your name that we dare to pray, Amen.

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December 10, 2006

Born in the Wrong Body

I have a family friend (college age now) who is a female but has always been rather androgynous, if not downright boyish, in her dress and behavior. There has never been any talk or hint (that I've perceived) of homosexual tendencies, but things have taken a dramatic turn in the last year.

Her idle thoughts of identification with the opposite sex have turned to ideas that she ought to be the other sex. And this has been exacerbated by the fact that she's had her first infatuation: with another woman. Since she insists that she's not gay she's now thinking that a sex change is the solution to her problem.

This is an unusual situation — "unnatural" from my frame of reference — and I believe she knows this. I say that because her rationale for seeking a sex change is not something so neutral as, "It's just what I feel like doing." If having a sex change is a morally neutral action, like changing a hairstyle or buying a car, then there's no need of a defense. If you've got the means and desire, just do it, and anyone who's got a grievance against it is just expressing a personal distaste.

This, however, is not the way she's handling the decision. Instead, she states a rationale — one loaded with metaphysical overtones; one that implies the working out of an ultimate justice and design. She claims that she was "born in the wrong body."

The "wrong body," imagine that! It would seem that someone or something has made a mistake. Now, she's a bright person, but I'm not sure she means for such a statement to be closely scrutinized (though the world would certainly be less shallow and vulgar if people said only what they meant); it is just a thing that people commonly say in this situation. But if she does not really mean this, then why not state the real rationale? Let's give this reason the benefit of the doubt and take it as a serious idea. What can it mean, then?

The first thing to notice is that she has said "I" was born in the wrong body. This would seem to imply a form of body-soul dualism. If an "I" can be in a wrong body, or if "I"s are inserted into bodies at all, then this implies that there is a self that is independent from such things as bodies with genders. This makes sense in a theistic worldview, which believes in such things as souls. It also makes sense in an Eastern mystical view, which holds to the transmigration of the soul from one life and body to the next. But there are two problems with this idea where she's concerned.

First, if her soul has been intentionally inserted into a body, then is it possible to claim that a mistake has been made? Just exactly who has made the mistake?

If you are a theist, then you hold to a god's involvement in the grand scheme of soul making and destiny shaping. If you are born a particular sex and you believe that God has anything at all to do with that fact, then it would seem that no matter what your particular feelings are about your state that you are spitting in your maker's face to seek a change. Now there may certainly be congenital diseases and deformities that we seek to remedy due to the nature of living in a corruptible, material (even fallen) world — this is not heaven after all — but changing a perfectly functional body into something foreign is a categorically different proposition.

If you are more Eastern in your spiritual outlook, then you hold to some form of reincarnation. This certainly makes bodies and souls a much more dynamic association, but there is still a purpose and order to it. For Hindus and New Agers, your particular circumstances are a working out of the law of Karma. Whatever blessings or trials you are faced with are simply your just desserts for the deeds of former incarnations. So, for instance, if you find yourself feeling like a man trapped in a woman's body, it might be because you were a male chauvinist in a former life. While this may give a rationale for one's situation, it does not give a reason for escaping it. Anything not addressed in this life will simply be postponed for a future date. On this model, changing one's sex seems equivalent to ending one's own life; it's like saying, "I can't take this, I want out." Buddhism's view of the soul is a bit more complex, but its view of the physical world and self as "illusion" make worrying about your body enough to want to change it a sort of denial of the whole system.

Second, this person fancies herself something of an atheist. To remain consistent with this portrait of the world she must reject the idea that there is any self apart from her physical body. She simply is what she is; there is no "wrong" or "mistake" about it, because there is no one to have made a mistake and no design or purpose to have gone awry. If nature is all that is involved here then how can you really be something that you are not? By whatever cause, the fact is that she is female and it is only her feelings about that fact which are at issue.

But your feelings about a thing mean nothing about the thing itself. They do not make reality and, in fact, are notoriously abused in the pursuit of fantasies. To say that you ought to have been a thing because you feel partial to the thing is to make reasonable many absurd ideas, like, "I feel as though I should have been a cat," or, "I am really an amputee trapped in a body with 4 limbs." By purely materialistic standards, it makes as little sense to say that you are really a cat, or an amputee, or a walnut, as it does to say that you are a different gender. It is as far away to Oz as it is to Neverland.

If what you are and what you think you are happen to be out of harmony, then there is indeed something wrong with the person. But which is more reasonable to seek to manipulate: the thing or the feelings about the thing; reality or the recognition of the reality? Why is it that feelings trump all other considerations? Neither God, nature, nor reason can stand before them. True, you may have mixed feelings for your home or car and seek to change those things, but those are the kinds of transient, external things that are made to suit personal tastes. It is only modern science that even begins to allow us to entertain the extreme idea of gender shopping.

One last point to ponder: Thinking that you really ought to be the opposite sex implies that you think that you feel like that sex. But how would one be confident in knowing what the other sex felt like? If you are not the other sex, then there is a very good chance that there is a subjective difference which you could never experience or even imagine unless you were by nature one of the gang. There may be some stereotypical behavioral elements with which you identify, or some affinity for different biological equipment, but there is a perceptual element that may never be achieved no matter how much gender dress-up and social engineering is affected. If you pave your driveway with yellow bricks and paint your house emerald green are you really in Oz, or are you just indulging a fantasy?

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Westminster Presbyterian Church Columbia, TN