Thursday, July 20, 2006

Is God Politically Correct?

Everywhere I turn there is this view of religion that assumes God is more interested in our definition of "fair" than in being specific about what He requires of us. This politically correct view of God is what causes allot of people to come to the conclusion that all religions are basically the same, just a different road leading to the same Higher Power, Supreme Being and a dozen other names given to God that strive, not to inform or edify, but to be as inoffensive as possible. This philosophy is paved with good intentions that struggle to be as inclusive as possible so that, heaven forbid, no single person is left out.

Let me offer this.

Remember the story of Cain and Abel? Cain was a farmer, and gave some of the first fruits of his crop on the altar. Abel killed an animal and gave that as his form of worship. What happened? Cain's sacrifice was rejected by God because it was not according to the manner in which God required.

The "fair-minded" person would cry out, "Injustice! This is not fair!" Why would God reject Cain's sacrifice? Was it not given with the best of intentions? He labored for that crop, planting the seeds, watering them carefully and patiently waited for the seeds to sprout and grow into a plant that produces fruit. Why would a benevolent and loving God reject this man's sacrifice but accept the sacrifice of his brother?

The answer is simple: Abel followed the instructions. God made it known to them both how He wanted sacrifices to be made and left them to choose. Abel chose well and his sacrifice pleased God, while Cain chose poorly and brought him correction. Let's look a little further at God's response.

Gen 4:6-7
6 Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."

(From New International Version)

God didn't respond to Cain with punishment, but correction. He gave Cain an opportunity to correct himself and have his sacrifice be accepted. What a benevolent master!

How did Cain respond? He lured his brother Abel to a field where he killed him and attempted to hide the remains from God.
I ask you, is God unfair or unjust in punishing Cain by casting him out of His presence and cursing the rest of his days? I think not.

In the same way that God required Cain and Abel to worship Him in a very specific manner, He also wants us to worship in a prescribed way.

Now that we have a view of God and his requirements, let us take a look at how different religions describe what our purpose is.

  • Atheism: Only humans can help themselves and each other solve the world's problems.

  • Buddhism: Purpose is to avoid suffering and gain enlightenment and release from cycle of rebirth, or at least attain a better rebirth by gaining merit.

  • Gnosticism: Humans can return to the spiritual world through secret knowledge of the universe.

  • Hinduism: Humans are in bondage to ignorance and illusion, but are able to escape. Purpose is to gain release from rebirth, or at least a better rebirth.

  • Islam: Humans must submit (islam) to the will of God to gain Paradise after death.

    (credit to ReligionFacts for the info.)

    There are obviously hundreds more, but I believe the list above will serve us well in our comparative analysis.

    Every one of the religions listed above, as well as those not mentioned, believe and teach that their way to live for God and ultimately (for some) spend eternity with Him is THE way. Obviously they are not all the same, while they all teach ultimately that man should be morally good, they are all very different in describing why.

    Simple analysis brings me to the conclusion that if all of these teachings are fundamentally different, we must draw one of the following conclusions:

    1. They are ALL wrong.
    2. One of them is right.

    What we can not conclude is that they are ALL correct, because they disagree. God is not a God of confusion, but order, and it goes against His character to write a different prescription of worship for every culture that contradicts the way in which some other culture must worship.

    Would God on one hand tell the atheist to ignore Him and depend on man to solve the world's problems, while at the same time tell the Muslim to submit to Him in order to live a good life and get to heaven?

    It is important to remember that God created us and owes us nothing, while we owe Him our very lives. He us fully justified in asking what he wants of us, even if it offends us or violates our sensibilities. He is not obligated to us in any way but He is obligated to adhere to His own character and principles. What is exciting is that He gives us access to His thoughts, character, and principles through what He created: nature, the people around us, and the written word.

    Most significant of all, and more exciting, is that He came into our history as a man by way of a virgin birth, lived a perfect, sinless life for 33 years, was crucified in spite of His innocence on our behalf, was buried in a tomb for 3 days and rose again to conquer death; again, on behalf of those whom He has no obligation as the creatures of His own creation. I am not talking about the Bible, I am talking about history. I am not talking about religion; I am talking about having a relationship with the one who created us, ultimately fulfilling our purpose for existing.

    We are the ones that have fallen away through endless intellectual pontification, by limiting God to what we can understand or conceive, the clay telling the Potter how we must be formed and to what end He must use us. This is the worst form of pride, especially in the face of what He has done in spite of our hearts that have been darkened.

    God exists and created us to glorify and worship him. I don't mean worship as in standing in a church holding your hands up singing at the top of your lungs (this is the picture that always pops into my head when that word is spoken), although this is certainly a valid form of worship, but worshipping God with our thoughts, actions, words, conversations, generosity, and the like. He, as the creator, has the right to require that our worship be done in a very specific manner.

    Do you desire to worship God in the specific way that He requires? If so, you must search and decide what is the "sacrifice of Cain" and what is the acceptable form of worship, because He is NOT politically correct, nor is He interested in our definition of fairness or worship.
  • Wednesday, July 12, 2006

    Rare Please

    First off, I need to give due to James Manning for inspiring me to write this with his post about gas versus charcoal grilling. (Charcoal IS better, by the way)

    I have long been a fan of meat cooked as rare as humanly possible. In the words of a close friend, "Just knock the horns off and walk it through a warm kitchen!" Yummy. No, this is not just a macho male thing, where we eat something we really find disgusting to prove how manly we are. A steak, especially a Ribeye, but of pretty much any cut, tastes better rare than it does well-done. It's like comparing fine cuisine with eating the sole of a shoe.

    I believe strongly that the only people that really enjoy a well-done steak are those that are "grossed out" by the sight of a little blood on their plate, which is no reason to sacrifice flavor and moisture in your favorite cut of beef.

    The whole fear of diseases excuse doesn't hold water either, as any chef will tell you, as long as the internal temperature of the meat reaches a certian number of degrees, there is no harmful bacteria. How else could EVERY steak house offer rare meat as an option?

    There are certian establishments that will not serve meat cooked rare. I have been to more than one place that, when asked to prepare a steak or burger rare, the server responded with, "I'm sorry sir, we can only do meduim."


    My wife can give personal testimony of conversion from well done to rare. She was of the lot that was offended by red juicy goodness on her plate until one day, before we were married, she came to the house so that I could prepare a couple of ribeyes. When I asked her preference for doneness, she answered, "Well done please." I asked why of course as I am always concerned when people choose not to really enjoy their food, but would rather chew on a baseball glove, to which she responded, "It just grosses me out!" I talked her into trying it rare, and she has never eaten a well done steak since! So don't tell me people can't convert!

    Let me take a moment to rate some local steak houses according to their preparation technique (the flavor of the meat also has alot to do with how the raw meat is cured and every place has a different method), in order of preference:

    1. Black Angus: by far the best, they have been in San Diego as long as I can remember and are still doing it right. I always get grilled onion and mushrooms on the side of a big ol' ribeye steak.

    2. The Turf: this local eatery actually just hands you your cut of choice and lets you cook it yourself! Great for getting your steak the way you want and meeting new people with a love for dead flesh. It is cheaper than having someone else prepare it too.

    3. Chili's: I know, it's not even a steak house, but for a non-steak house, they have the best ribeye around, and will prepare it pretty rare if you ask with a healthy side of grilled mushrooms, onions, and veggies.

    4. Outback Steakhouse: purposely at the end of my list AND below Chili's because, in my opinion, they are the most overrated steakhouse around. This is what I call a trendy establishment, and for those meat lovers who haven't found out for themselves, don't bother.

    1. How do you order your steak? And more importantly, why?
    2. If you are a "well done", have you, or could you be persuaded to, try a rare cut of meat?
    3. What is your favorite cut of meat, and what do you get on the side?
    4. Take a moment to let us know about some good steak restaraunts in your neck of the woods.

    Monday, July 10, 2006

    My Son's Birth Story

    I was completely ignorant of the whole concept of birth stories until I met my wife. She became very interested in birth once we learned our daughter (now 17 months old, time flies!) was on the way and immersed herself in everything birth related. We decided then to take classes on the Bradley method of childbirth due to its philosophy of natural childbirth (and by that I mean birth with as little medical intervention as possible) for the sake of the child. It was during one of these classes that I was introduced to the concept of the Birth Story. We were encouraged to write our ideal Birth Story for our unborn daughter and to ask our parents about ours. I had never even considered asking my mother to describe the events surrounding my birth before, but when I asked and heard the story, it gave me more of a sense of being than I had ever had before. It was like my story now had a beginning that was more definite than "when I was younger". I encourage anyone who has been born ;) or has children to be prepared to share these stories; I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how people respond.

    In that spirit, here is the story of how my son was born:

    At the time we learned our second child was on the way, our daughter was a mere 6 months old and we had barely, if at all, gotten used to this new person so the news was initially a shock. Needless to say, we hadn't planned on having a second child so soon, although we definitely wanted at least one or two more at some point. What is comical too, and please excuse me if this is too much info, is that we were using contraception at the time our son was conceived, but one passionate evening we went without because Daddy didn't want to wait, or go to the store! At any rate, when people ask the question (quite often by the way), "Did you guys plan that pregnancy?" our answer is always, "No, God did!"

    So upon finally hearing the "Big News", we began to go to the usual appointments and such and our minds began to envision what the birth would be like. It should be noted that the birth of our daughter, although we planned on having her naturally, ended up being a cesarean section after 56 hours of labor. Although that is a heck of a long time, we felt, and still feel the doctor was hasty in deciding on surgery as Mother and baby were both fine (albeit VERY tired!). As this was most likely done to avoid being sued in the case that something did go wrong, my wife and I struggled for some time with the disappointment that the birth of our daughter was essentially taken out of our control and instead of being performed without medical intervention, had every medical intervention known to man.

    We also had the fun task of letting people know the good news; needless to say the grandparents were especially thrilled; they are addicted to grandbabies! Some people, upon hearing the news and noticing how young our daughter still was, would cast a glance at me as if to say, "You barbarian! Give the woman a break!" Of course, being male, I beamed with pride at how easily I could make babies happen and gave myself the nickname, "Sharp Shooter". Also keep in mind, my wife and I were married April 24, 2004 and here we were in mid 2006 expecting baby #2. My wife has spent the better part of our marriage carrying a baby and not being able to see her feet!

    We decided on hypno-birthing this time around and wanted a home birth to hopefully avoid the pitfalls of hospital birth where doctors essentially treat pregnant woman as if they have some dreaded disease and haven't been birthing babies for centuries.

    Let me take a second to clarify something before I continue; when I say "We decided" what I mean is, my wife decided and I supported her in that decision, I would never mandate that my wife have any certain method of birth as it is something that she ultimately has to bear, no matter how good of a cheering squad she has.

    Once it was clear my wife would birth at home a few things became automatic:
    1. We needed a Midwife and a Doula as part of our "Birth Team".

    2. We needed lots of support from our relatives to the people at our church so we put the word out. So the interview process began. After talking with several people of both professions (and hiring and firing one or two) and lots of meditation and prayer, we had found the perfect team to assist us in having our child at home. What a load off!

    3. We needed to come up with some money, because most insurance won't even cover home birth, and if they do, it is a pay first get reimbursed later kind of situation.

    We proceeded by faith, knowing that God would provide all that we needed spiritually, emotionally, and materially for this home birth as it was our firm conviction (most of the time) that this was indeed His will and not ours.

    All in all, the pregnancy went pretty well, and then again I wasn't the pregnant one now was I? The things I noticed were that wifey's nausea didn't last as long as it did with our first, and we generally weren't surprised by certain developments related to pregnancy because, after all, we had been here before!

    At 10 weeks, we opted to have an ultrasound to not only determine the gender of the baby, but also to make sure everything was as it should be concerning the health of the fetus. An interesting thing, when we found out it was a boy, I had a feeling of joy that was not greater than the joy I had with my daughter, but different somehow. It's hard to describe, but some part of me was just satisfied now that I knew a boy was coming. Maybe it has something to do with that innate part of the male that wants to procreate and carry on his seed or something like that.

    At some point during the pregnancy, my wife and I both became confident that this child would be born earlier than the expected due date. Don't ask why, it was just a "gut" thing, and our daughter was a week early, so the odds favored our theory. As the days passed, and the due date passed, our impatience reached a point to where any hint of a labor pain, no matter how subtle, made us almost jump. We were at the edge of our seats! It didn’t help that normally after a woman has given birth before, her body start "getting ready" a lot earlier so we endured weeks of "false alarms".

    Finally, on May 29th 2006, around 10:30pm, my wife wakes me up and says, "This is it!” Now mind you, we have had this happen a couple times before and it wasn't "it" but something in her behavior told me this was something different. Most people who have had children before will tell you that when real labor starts, it's like being in love, you just know.

    I immediately called Dawn, our doula and let her know things had started so she should be ready to get over to our house on short notice. I then started getting the house ready: turning off all the lights and lighting candles to create a calm environment, soft music, getting rid of any clutter so mama wouldn't be distracted by disorganization. I also started filling a child inflatable pool with warm water in the dining room as wifey wanted to try using this for pain management. Remember, we are not at a hospital so to manage pain, we helped her get into various positions, including sitting on an exercise ball, the kiddy pool, and anything that works basically.

    Shortly after I started running my little errands, mama (who earlier had just told me to let Dawn know what was going on, no rush says, "Call Dawn and tell her I need her." So I called Dawn and she was on her way. By now it had been probably less than an hour and mama was really feeling the pain and seemed surprised at how much she was having.

    Dawn arrives and starts doing her little routine preparatory things in a very methodical way, you could tell she had done this many times, probably with little sleep herself. We found out later she had basically just returned from a birth right around the time I called to alert her and had managed about 30 minutes sleep.

    Close to 2 hours in and mama is moaning at the surges (contractions to most, we assigned non-negative terms to all normally used labor words to maintain a positive, stress free environment). At this time she asked if she could get in the pool, and Dawn suggested she wait as it seemed a bit early. Dawn and I were taking turns using a combination of aroma therapy lotion scented with lavender and light touch massage on my wife's legs to help her deal with the surges.

    Less than an hour later, mama wants the pool again and this time Dawn concedes. I made sure the water was nice and warm as 107 degrees is ideal. I had hooked up a garden hose to the kitchen sink with an adapter so we could control water temperature. So we did the pool thing for a while, which seemed to help. After we had done this for a bit, Dawn told me to call the midwife and put her on red alert too. Our doula had been to so many births that she estimated mama's progress based solely on her body language and give a pretty good estimation of her cervical opening without an exam, amazing!

    When the midwife and her assistant arrived we were still in the pool, and now mama was completely focused, no more chit chat and asking questions, she was serious now. I estimate this was around 6 o'clock am, so she has been at it for almost 8 hours. The midwives have a lot more preparation to do as they have a lot more medical equipment at their disposal. They also had to check that we had all of the necessary medical supplies. They have kits for home birth complete with all necessary latex gloves, gauze, etc.

    From between 7am and 10am it seemed like we just moved mama around the house to try different things, which I am sure drove the midwives crazy as they kept having to move their stuff around. We had set up pain management "stations" all over the house: an exercise ball here, birth stool there, the pool of course, so mama just kept going where it sounded good.

    It was around this time that wifey wanted to know how far along things were and asked the midwife to do what would be her first cervical exam, which would tell us how open she was. I think she was at 8cm by this point which meant not long to go, hopefully.

    Not too long after this, we were in the bed trying side positions, and mama was getting a lot of back pain and the midwives and doula decided it may have been due to the position of the baby. For those familiar with labor, back pain is usually associated with the baby being in a posterior birth position, where the baby is facing mama's front instead of back. Babies are born this way a lot, but it causes more pain for the birthing mother. That wasn't the case with our son, for him it was that his feet were sticking straight out under my wife's sternum, and his head was right next to her tailbone. When she had surges, you could actually see his head moving down, wow! This was giving mama more pain than normal so we tried moving the baby. We started by having mama alternate lying on each side for a time to encourage the baby to slide into the right position, which didn't seem to do much.

    It was at this time that mama decided the whole home birth thing was too much and that we should load her up in the car and go to the hospital. We talked to her and reminded her of her birth plan and her dream of having the baby at home, but she was adamant! Finally, the midwife dismissed everyone to the living room and left me and mama alone in the bedroom to chat. I again reminded her of what she wanted so badly and that if she caved now she might regret it. She said, "I don't care! I wanna go!" (This was expressed in the brattiest tone she could muster; she might as well have crossed her arms and stuck out her bottom lip). I also knew that she was at the point called transition, where the baby begins to make its way into the pelvis. The body responds to this development by increasing the amount of hormones in the bloodstream, a natural pain management tool which also causes mother to become confused and disoriented. This completely undermines their confidence as well, which explains perfectly my wife's assertion that she absolutely can not go on. I continued to persuade, but she wasn't budging. Finally, she commanded me, "Go and tell Michelle (midwife) that we are going!" My reply was, "I am not telling her anything, YOU ARE!" So I went to Michelle and told her my wife wanted to speak to her. I late found out this was the LAST thing my wife wanted, as she felt she would be less effective in manipulating her.

    My wife continued to be stubborn, so Michelle suggested they do another exam and find out how things were progressing. She discovered that the bag of water had not yet broken and suggested that breaking it manually might get things going and ease the pressure of the back pain. Mama agreed that this was a good idea, to which we all breathed a sigh of relief! None of us wanted to go to a hospital at this stage. So the waters were broken manually, which did ease the pain and gave mama back some of her resolve.

    There was still the problem with the baby being too close to her tailbone, so we tried one last thing. I leaned against a wall holding mama under her arms with the two midwives on each of her sides supporting her body weight as she had to completely relax. Meanwhile the doula was holding under mama's pregnant tummy and lifting straight up. We did this 4 times and by then everyone was exhausted. We also tried similar things with her sitting and various other ways. According to the midwife, it helped.

    Let me just tell you, by this time, I was so tired I had almost passed out and had basically only had water to drink since 10:30pm and it was probably 11am. I know, I know, this was nothing compared to what my wife was experiencing, but the point is, having a birth at home is hard work for EVERYONE involved!

    My wife's mother was with us fortunately and was watching our one year old (she was a God send!)And she made some food for everyone. After eating, the midwife suggested I take a short nap, as they had done so and could see I was pretty wiped out. I took their advice and lay down.

    I think I slept for about 30 minutes, so by my estimation it would be about 11:30am or so. I got up and went into the kitchen where my wife was, you guessed it, back in the water! She was working pretty hard and grandma and our daughter was in the kitchen as well. I got behind mama and let her rest her weight against me as the side of the inflatable pool wasn't real supportive. We did this for a couple minutes tops, and someone suggested it was pushing time. Not long to go now!

    It took about 20 minutes of good pushes, and the doula said, "She's crowning!" and they told me to reach under and feel my sons head. It was under water, so it was wet and really fuzzy. My wife was really getting the urge to push and the team suggested she only push through every other surge and breathe through the rest, to allow her perineum to stretch. She ignored this and was pushing away every time and this is when she really got loud! Up until now it was mostly low, guttural moans and whimpering, but now she was screaming at the top of her lungs. My daughter was a little traumatized by this so grandma took her into the next room.

    By now I am right in front of mama, who is lying in the pool at a 45 degree angle, and holding the little fuzzy round thing and all of a sudden my mama pushes and our son literally shoots out of her into my hands! I can't describe to you how amazing this was! One moment, he is in her body, and the next I am holding his body and seeing his hands, feet, fingers, toes, his umbilical cord, wow!

    I felt his wet little warm body, which was all blue and really long! He seemed like a tangle of arms and legs! I was thinking he was a big fella while I handed him to my wife, who kept saying, "Oh my God, I can't believe this!" She was definitely in shock at what she had just done, and it took a minute to process that she was holding the baby that was inside her. At some point, the cord had gotten around his neck and my wife, in shock, kept lifting him straight up, to which the midwife kept saying, "Don't lift him up, keep him down!" She finally listened after the second time and we got the cord untangled.

    The baby had good heartbeat right away, but seemed to have trouble respirating for a couple minutes which was scary. He stayed that blue color for what seemed to me like too long, and the midwife kept ordering us to rub him and talk to him. I was very scared at this point as I sensed everything was not as it should be. My wife had torn a bit as well and the pool water was red with her blood, adding to my panic. The midwife kept giving the baby oxygen and he finally let out a good cry! What a relief! There was a split second there where I went to that place in my mind where I may have to deal with my son dying at birth. That was definitely the worst feeling, but it passed quickly and he was fine after all.

    In the end, we were both glad we decided to have home birth, it was awesome and we can tell our son when he gets older what his birth was like and how much we went through just so he could be healthy.

    He was born at 12:10pm, May 30, 2006 at 9 pounds 14 ounces and 22 1/2 inches long. Baby and mama are doing great and big sister loves having a little brother.

    Our family is feeling complete now; I guess we will wait a bit before making any more babies.