Russell and Duenes

Archive for April 2009

To be such a father

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It almost brings me to tears… When I consider the kind of father I’ll be to my two sons, I am bowed down inside over the inconsistency and failingness of my own virtues. I desperately desire to be faithful to them, yet I see my own weakness as a man. Which is why something stirs strongly within me when I read of faithful fathers from the past. Today, I was reminded again of one such father, that of John G. Paton.

John Paton served as a missionary to cannibals in the South Sea Islands in the 1800’s. Previous such missionaries had been killed or driven out by the natives, and yet Paton went anyway. It is doubtful he would have gone without the encouragement and prayers of his godly father. Paton writes of how these prayers urged him onward, but what almost brings me to tears is Paton’s account of the day when his father walked him toward the train station to see him off, knowing the chances were good that they would never see each other again. He writes,

My dear father walked with me the first six miles of the way. His counsels and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey are fresh in my heart as if it had been but yesterday; and tears are on my cheeks as freely now as then, whenever memory steals me away to the scene. For the last half mile or so we walked on together in almost unbroken silence – my father, as was often his custom, carrying hat in hand, while his long flowing yellow hair (then yellow, but in later years white as snow) streamed like a girl’s down his shoulders. His lips kept moving in silent prayers for me; and his tears fell fast when our eyes met each other in looks for which all speech was vain! We halted on reaching the appointed parting place; he grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence, and then solemnly and affectionately said: “God bless you, my son! Your father’s God prosper you, and keep you from all evil!”

Unable to say more, his lips kept moving in silent prayer; in tears we embraced, and parted. I ran off as fast as I could; and, when about to turn a corner in the road where he would lose sight of me, I looked back and saw him still standing with head uncovered where I had left him – gazing after me. Waving my hat in adieu, I rounded the corner and out of sight in an instant. But my heart was too full and sore to carry me further, so I darted into the side of the road and wept for a time. Then, rising up cautiously, I climbed the dike to see if he yet stood where I had left him; and just at that moment I caught a glimpse of him climbing the dyke and looking out for me! He did not see me, and after he gazed eagerly in my direction for a while, he got down, set his face toward home, and began to return – his head still uncovered, and his heart, I felt sure, still rising in prayers for me. I watched through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonor such a father and mother as he had given me. (taken from John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebredes, An Autobiography Edited by His Brother (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965, orig. 1889, 1891), p.25-26).

How I want to be a father of such faithfulness, and how I want to have sons of such faithfulness. I pray, by the help of God, to live and act with such love for Christ Jesus that my sons, by my example, would long to worship and serve Him, and that I would be worthy of their honor as Paton’s father was worthy of his.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

April 30, 2009 at 6:53 pm

Posted in Duenes, History, Reflections

My sister’s keeper

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“Most babies are accidents. Not me. I was engineered, born to save my sister’s life.” So begins the trailer to  My Sister’s Keeper, a very intriguing-looking film coming out in June, based on the novel by Jodi Piccoult and starring Cameron Diaz, Alec Baldwin, and Abigail Breslin.  You may have heard about it already, but I want to get the buzz going.

It’s about a family that conceives a second, genetically screened daughter in order to “use” her body to help their older daughter fight leukemia. As time goes on, the second daughter is not sure she wants to be “used” in such a way and takes steps to gain legal rights over her body. The movie explores some of the fallout from all of these decisions. My interest is definitely piqued. Check out the trailer.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

April 29, 2009 at 6:21 pm

Posted in Duenes, Movies

so, how many children do you want to have? Part 4

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In my previous three posts on this topic, I’ve tried to show that large families are a blessing and a fulfillment of God’s mandate to “be fruitful and multiply.” I’ve tried to demonstrate that common arguments against large families are wanting, and I’ve tried to argue that we are often unwilling to have large families due to our idolatry with respect to material comfort and ease. Two or fewer children are still highly acceptable in our culture, but start having more than three or four, and the response is different. Comments along the lines of “Ever heard of birth control?” might begin cropping up; which brings me to my central topic for this post: artificial contraception. I will not be trying to make a detailed case against contraception. I’m merely trying to show that its use in limiting family size has come with some serious negative consequences, and thus, I believe that those who argue FOR limiting family size through artificial contraception may have more explaining to do than those who forsake contraception in favor of large families. I say this fully aware of the “special cases” where contraception may be necessary (e.g., where a woman has tubal pregnancies and conceiving threatens her life, to name one such case). But these are rare exceptions, and we have swallowed the use of contraception whole. Birth control is assumed to be great. As Catholic scholar Janet Smith says in her brilliant piece – Contraception: Why not? (to which I am greatly indebted for much of the information in this post, and which I highly commend to you) – “We live in a culture that thinks that contraception is one of the greatest inventions in the history of mankind. If you were to ask people if they wanted to give up their car or their computer or their contraceptive, it would be a hard choice to make. It’s really considered to be something that has really put us, greatly, into the modern age and one of the greatest advances of modern medicine and modern times.” I want to argue not that contraception is primarily responsible for our aversion to large families, but that it has confirmed us in our aversion to them, and has brought some disastrous results in its train.

Pope Paul VI, in his earth-shattering and largely rejected 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, asserts correctly,

Marriage is not, then, the effect of chance or the product of evolution of unconscious natural forces; it is the wise institution of the Creator to realize in mankind His design of love. By means of the reciprocal personal gift of self, proper and exclusive to them, husband and wife tend towards the communion of their beings in view of mutual personal perfection, to collaborate with God in the generation and education of new lives. [Emphasis mine]

In other words, sexual intercourse within marriage (its only proper place) has a unitive purpose (the “gift of self” and “communion of their beings”) and a procreative purpose (“the generation and education of new lives”). And these two purposes are inextricably bound into one. Attempts to have the unitive purpose without the procreative ultimately fall short of what God has designed. Yet contraception implicitly pulls these purposes apart. It tells us that we can have the benefits of emotional and physical pleasure in sexual intercourse, without the possibility of bearing children. The Pope clearly perceived what this sundering of God’s purposes in marriage would bring.

First, he saw that we would come to change our view of the nature of marriage itself. Rather than marriage being seen primarily as an institution where the coming together of two people in love would issue in the bearing and raising of children, it has come to be seen as something where two people come together, really, for just about any reason at all. They may come together for mutual emotional support, for pleasure, for financial gain, for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with siring children. This has had immense ramifications, not least of which is the rise of the “gay marriage” movement. When on a broad scale children become an intentionally small or non factor in marriage, the results are not pretty, but they should be obvious. Janet Smith points up Stanford social scientist, Robert Michael’s observation that “the statistical data show that those who use contraceptives have fewer children and have them later in marriage. [Michael’s] statistical data show that those who have the first baby in the first two years of marriage and another baby in the next couple years of marriage, have a much longer lasting marriage than those who don’t.” Smith goes on to give several explanations of this data, but the norm is that having children in the house lends itself to stronger marriages. Of course there are exceptions, but that’s the point, they are exceptions that prove the rule.

The Pope also said that widespread use of contraceptives “could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.” It should be obvious to anyone that we’ve seen an explosion of this low morality and increased adultery in the last 50 years. Cohabiting and fornication have become commonplace because if babies can be prevented through contraception, and by extension, abortion, this lessens the need for committed sexual relationships within marriage.

Additionally, the Pope argued that “a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.” Despite our feminist pretentions, a thoughtful observer of our age would see that we have serious contempt for women and their bodies. It is women’s bodies that we consider the problem. As Caitlin Flanagan cynically put it in a New York Times op-ed, “Biology is destiny, and the brutally unfair outcome that adolescent sexuality can produce will never change.“ My, how brutally unfair it is that a woman’s body can produce a baby! Yet it does seem like men get a pass. How come we’re not shutting down male bodies? Where’s the male birth control pill? It’s women who are treated like sex machines now that we don’t have to worry about them getting pregnant. We want them to be as freewheeling sexually as men, which leads to the next point.

The Pope said that we would begin to treat the woman as “a mere instrument,“ something for our sexual and scientific use. Are we not doing this with pornography? Are we not doing this with our reproductive technologies? We shoot up a woman’s body with powerful drugs in order to stimulate her ovaries to produce 12 eggs at a time. We use women’s wombs like they are mere incubators for our social and scientific experiments.

Finally, the Pope said that our contraceptives would lead us to cede to the government the power to intervene in our reproductive lives. I quote him at length:

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.

One can see this coming to fruition with the flap over President Obama’s “stimulus” plan. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got herself into a bit of hot water while trying to defend the stimulus, particularly the money set aside for “family planning,” that is, for contraceptives. She argued that having less children around would mean less money spent on them. This is true, but it shows the prescience of the Pope’s point. How far can we go with this thinking before having large families is not just frowned upon by society, but outlawed by governmental authorities? And what kind of socio-ethnic groups will have the most pressure put on them to keep the numbers down? If the government’s going to take care of you, then the government can dictate how many children they want to take care of.

No doubt many will disagree with my assessment here, just as they have largely disagreed with the Pope’s assessment. I’m not here to defend any Pope per se, except when he happens to be right. And in upholding the church’s traditional teaching, both Catholic and Protestant, on the unitive and procreative purposes of marital intercourse, he was profoundly right. Obviously not all people will use contraceptives to hold down the number of their children, and in this I rejoice. As I said in a previous post, there are ways married couples can align themselves with God’s gracious design of a woman’s monthly cycle in avoiding pregnancy. The Pope says as much, and he‘s not referring to “the rhythm method“ in doing so. He writes,

If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained.

The Pope is referring to a highly reliable (indeed more reliable than many contraceptives) method popularly referred to as “Natural Family Planning.” If we are serious about holding down our family size, then we should become more familiar with it, rather than its parody.

What I’m trying to say here is that the traditional intention that our marital relations would lead to the birthing and raising of children needs a fresh look. Throwing the wisdom of the ages to the wind is a fool’s errand, and we have reaped the whirlwind. May God change our hearts so that we may again see the incredible gift that children are, and that we may show forth God’s glory and honor by having them and raising them to love and serve Him, in our homes, our churches, our neighborhoods, our schools, and among the nations.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

April 29, 2009 at 12:29 am

Posted in Duenes

Banking on life

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bollogoThis Saturday, May 2, I’ll be live-blogging all day at the Banking on Life conference in San Francisco, which is being hosted by the Center for Bioethics and Culture (See their webpage listed on our blogroll for more details.). At this conference, “Cutting edge leaders from around the world, in the field of umbilical cord blood stem cell research and regenerative medicine, will join us to promote, inform and educate attendees on up to the minute successes and advances in cord blood research. These key voices will convene to share information that will shape the future direction of progress in cord blood banking and advances in patient treatments.” I’m really looking forward to learning more about this crucial area of regenerative medicine, and I hope you will too.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

April 28, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Posted in Bioethics, Duenes

So, how many children do you want to have? Part 3

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The point of this series is not to argue that all Christian (or non-Christian) couples must have a large number of children, or even any children. Rather, I want to show that having large families is a blessing, is very possible, and is certainly in keeping with God’s mandate to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” We need to be constantly reminded that the family is “blessed” whose house is full of children (cf. Psalm 127). I made the case for this blessing in my first post. I think the voices from our current culture at-large would suggest that having more than, say, four children is thought to be odd at best and reckless at worst. It does not help that our abortion culture sees female fertility and hence, children, as a problem to be “planned” or “terminated.” In my previous post I tried to refute some common arguments against having large families. In this post, I’d like to briefly address a powerful notion that seems to hang in the air when it comes to contemplating large families, namely, that they are too expensive. This is a variation on the argument that having too many kids means they will be neglected. However, in this case I’m considering not emotional neglect, but rather, material neglect.

 

Anyone who has children knows that they’re expensive, and their cost rises as the years go by. I have a 20-month old son who eats a lot for his age, but it’s nothing compared to what he’ll eat in ten years. I just think back on my own upbringing, where I was denied little that I wanted, and it boggles the mind: Boy Scouts, Little League, piano, saxophone, and cello lessons, backpacking trips, vacations domestic and foreign, baseball cards, gas money, cars, video game systems, an organ, tickets to pro sports events, eating out, birthday parties, insurance, doctor’s bills, baseball gloves, hospital bills, college tuition and board, soccer camp, and the list goes on; not to mention the day-to-day expenses perpetually, year in and year out. I don’t know the grand total my parents have spent and continue to spend on me, but it’s astronomic. I’m profoundly grateful, and I’ve enjoyed a standard of living that exceeds that of most people in human history, including kings and potentates. Which brings me to one of my central points: I judge a proper standard of living based on the one I’ve enjoyed, and I feel convinced that my children should enjoy a standard, if not the same, then something close. Now, there’s nothing wrong with them enjoying such a thing, but the trouble comes up when we think that giving them less, perhaps even far less, is “neglecting” them materially. I want to argue that it’s not.

 

I’m not trying to give a “proper” or “correct” standard of living here because I don’t think one exists. Many poor people have lived incredibly rich and joyful lives, and many rich people have been utterly miserable.  Do I think it’s good for a family in someplace like Africa, where they’re on the verge of starvation, to be having 10 kids? Certainly not! That would be incredibly unwise to say the least, and there are many issues involved in understanding the problems of absolute poverty. But that’s not the demographic I’m addressing here. I’m obviously writing to westerners who are used to middle and upper-middle class standards of living. And I think we take it as a virtual right that our children should have such a standard of living, and that their happiness and well-being depends upon it.  This is so firmly entrenched that it is simply a given. I get a taste of the grip this belief has on people whenever I bring up the topic of birth control in my classes. You want to draw my teenage students’ ire, simply suggest that using birth control might not be the best idea in the world. Some form of the “well what if you can’t afford all those kids?” argument comes up rather quickly, and again, my point is not to say that everyone CAN, in fact, afford to have 10 kids, nor that every Christian couple ought to have huge numbers of offspring. It is to point out that often we can afford to have more kids, but what we really mean is, “I choose not to because I want to have other amenities in my life, for myself and for my children.”  And what could be wrong with that? There may be nothing wrong with it, so long as we’re being honest about it. But idols, particularly the idols of material prosperity, are powerful, subtle, and deceitful, which is why Jesus said that “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desire for other things enter in and choke out the Word and it becomes unfruitful.” I don’t want to make idols out of children, but I think we must beware of worshipping idols of wealth and riches in our foreswearing of children.  I think this latter idol is of far greater concern to most people reading this.

 

Am I avoiding idolatry? I hope so. God is our Judge. Though as I said, if I’m guilty of idolatry, it’s likely not that of making my children idols, but rather, my standard of living. I can say that my family is living on a lot less than I thought possible, and living rather well, I think. I guarantee we are living on a lot less than I lived on as a child. I’m not boasting, just showing that it is possible. I’m not going to lay out my whole financial standing here online, but I will tell you that my wonderful and talented wife prepares incredible cuisine for us, and does so for about $250 a month. That’s our total food budget, and I’m not eating rice and beans. Much of the rest of our budget would reflect similar frugality. Certainly both my parents and my wife’s parents are very generous with us. I don’t  know what their contribution to our lives turns out to be in dollar amounts, but we would be doing with a lot less without their input, particularly in terms of travel, car repairs, and toys/ clothing for my son. We do not live in the best part of town, and I’d love to have a house someday. Yet I do not take it as a right, and I do not think my children will be deprived if they don’t have it.

 

Jesus said, “Be on guard against all forms of greed, for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” What I’m trying to come against here is the massive, and I mean massive, inclination we in the west have toward idols of wealth and prosperity. I think such idolatry needs to be considered, pondered, mulled over, discussed with others, and prayed about. Then we will be in a better position to do whatever repenting needs to be done. No doubt I need to do some. And that’s the point. I want to be willing to work hard for my family, willing to forsake a good many pleasures I might otherwise have enjoyed, and willing to help my children live with less for the sake of something greater, namely the life and mission that God offers us in Christ Jesus. I also want to be open to God’s blessing of marital fruitfulness so that I can glorify Him by having and raising up image-bearers who will love Him and love their neighbors, for the blessing of all the nations.

 

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

April 27, 2009 at 3:25 am

Posted in Duenes