Thursday, February 28, 2013

Meant to Thrive

For the first time in our lives, my wife and I have finally managed to keep two plants alive for two years.  We bought one for our daughter and one for our son.  We allowed them to pick the plants, along with the help of  our local plant expert who identified both as low maintenance and hard to kill (one is in fact a cactus).  We've tried--neglecting them on multiple occasions, but in each case, with little work, both were restored.

What I've found in my limited experience as a botanist, is that there is no middle ground for plants.  They are always thriving or dying.  When in good soil, appropriately watered (not too much, nor too little), correct amount of space and sunlight--plants do well.  In fact--it is almost like they care for themselves, creating their own food stretching for the sunlight.  When the plant is not thriving--you don't need a plant doctor to tell you something is wrong.  Quite obviously the plant is dying.  It droops, turns from vibrant green to brown it no longer reaches for the sun--and if it is a fruiting plant, it produces no fruit.

This week's Gospel lesson (Luke 13:6...) is Jesus' parable about the vineyard owner looking over a fig tree for the third year in a row to see that it continues to bear no fruit.  Like I said, I'm no botanist.  For this reason, I do not know an orange tree is an orange tree unless there are oranges on it.  You can tell me that I have a cherry tree, but if it has no cherries, I'm not sure I will believe you.  You might say, well its not the season for cherries--or well, your climate doesn't support the production of the fruit--but it is a cherry tree--even so I struggle to see it--for me cherries are what make cherry trees cherry trees.  Apparently Jesus agreed. If the fig tree bears no figs, it is of no use--cut it down.  Luckily for the fig tree, the gardener is not quick to despair--but Lord, give me one more year--let me tend to it--give it new soil--pay close attention to it--then if it bears no fruit, we will cut it down.

I believe the tree in this story are our ministries.  The ministries of the church, the ministries we all take on personally.  And during the Lenten season, it is time that we consider our ministries--look at the trees we've planted, watered, and cared for--are they bearing fruit?  Are they thriving?  No?--then its time to cut them down--or rather perhaps redouble our efforts truly commit to nurturing them this year in preparation for next year's evaluation.  It is not enough that we work the garden--God expects fruit.  God expects thriving.  Anything less is death.  The fig tree can claim to be a fig tree, but without figs... I'm not buying it, and neither is God.

"And the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control," (Galatians 5: 22-23).  Where these are not cultivated there is no Spirit; such ministries either require new focus and attention, or they need to disappear.  Where is God calling you to garden this year?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

When Freedom is Oppressive

I've read reports this week that Iceland is seeking to ban internet pornography.  The arguments in a western democracy are well rehearsed and predictable.  On the one side, freedom is our core shared principle, and there is no freedom more sacred than speech... and this material has been protected as speech.  On the other hand is the broad accessibility of internet material, and our fear that certain material will harmful--particularly to the young.

That is the interesting thing about this particular law.  It cites violence as its primary locus of concern.  Halla Gunnarsdottir, a political adviser to Iceland's interior ministry told the Christian Science Monitor, "When a 12-year old types 'porn' into Google, he or she is not going to find photos of naked women out on a country field, but very hardcore and brutal violence."

Historically there are limits to free speech, when the speech causes harm to others.  You cannot yell "Fire" in a crowded theater, etc.  In New Jersey, recent laws against bullying restrict certain kinds of harmful speech that are apparently not protected by our constitutional freedoms.

The harmfulness of pornography cannot be underestimated.  Iceland is focusing on "violent" varieties of  pornography--but I would question whether there are any other types.  When we misunderstand the nature of our bodies great harm is done not only to children who may come across inappropriate images, but to the subjects who become convinced that nudity is their most marketable gift and viewers whose perceptions of healthy sexuality are significantly warped.  

The fact that Iceland's proposed legislation will likely be thwarted is an important reminder that western values are not necessarily representative of the ways of God's coming reign.  Pornography will likely continue to be protected free speech in Iceland and the rest of the "western world"--but let us not be confused--freedom can be oppressive, and as long as perversion of human sexuality is protected by free speech, there will be victims.  For more about the victims and what you can do to help, see Beauty for Ashes Ministries.