May 20, 2014

Building a Better Baby

by Mary-Elsie Wolfe

Since January 7, 2012, I have kept a newspaper article because its title caught my eye: Building a Better Baby. Even if the article had been about nurturing your baby, feeding your baby and creating an environment for your baby that preps him or her to the best advantages for health and growth, I would have read it with some trepidation—my children are now 8 and 10 and the mistakes that I made in their first five years are done. But, the article’s focus was the gains in science to create designer babies. It doesn’t talk only about eliminating those embryos having genes prone to different diseases, but also about manipulating the genes for height preference, eye colour, athletic ability or intelligence. Some of the yeah-sayers insist that parents make important decisions for their children all the time so this is just one more way parents can influence their lives. One prominent Oxford scholar wrote, “People who procreate are morally obliged to improve the species.” A geneticist appeased one couple by explaining that embryo screening allows for the best of the two people—that it can do what a 1000 natural conceptions could never do. However, according to the article, in 2007, researchers at Cornell University actually created the world’s first genetically modified human embryo. This development means we have the ability to alter babies even beyond the best of two people. But what are the ethics of actually designing one’s own baby? One woman talked about yearning for a daughter after having two sons; she seriously considered screening. But, she changed her mind at the last minute because “it felt too much like I was playing God.”

There is a wonderful grace in being known by God and being made by God’s hand. While the awesomeness of such a feat—that God himself has created every person from all time across the globe—is beyond us, I believe it is true. Psalm 139:13 in the NLT reads, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb.” One of our greatest human needs is to be known. Only God has the intimate knowledge of our innermost being. Despite our tampering, only God, the great designer and creator, can build babies.

The truth is we cannot possibly have the capacity to understand who, at the embryonic stage, might be the next Stephen Hawking or Jake Barnett (if you haven’t yet heard this name Google him). I applaud the Catholic Organizations for Life and Family which called for a ban on PGD (screening) saying that it “inherently disrespects the dignity and worth of human life, since it is performed in order to select the most genetically perfect embryos while discarding those that are deemed undesirable.” Who can know the mind of God? Thousands of years ago, Samuel being led by God arrived at the house of Jesse to scope out possible kings. Samuel, when he saw one of the young men, was immediately impressed by his stature and presence. God responded to Samuel, "Don't judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn't see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

May 6, 2014

Ten Words that will Make or Break a Church (a belated Advent reflection)

by Matthew McEwan

When I worked in retail I was taught that customers are driven by a basic question informing their decision making. The question is contained in five simple little words. Just five words, and yet they make up a truly powerful question such that when the question is answered a retail associate can make an easy sale. Those five words are: what’s in it for me? If a customer understands a perceived benefit of owning some do-dad is greater than having some money in a wallet or bank account, the sale is a given. A consumer culture is based on this question and the message of advertising is that unless the latest and most recent version of something is purchased, we will remain incomplete and unfulfilled. A consumer culture is raised to ask: what’s in it for me?

When this simple little question is applied to a church, the results can be disastrous. A 90’s Christian rock band called “All Star United” did a song called “La La Land” with the haunting lines:

All the saints and martyrs alike, well they would have called a national strike
Demanded less pain, more personal gain, if only they’d known their rights
Well I take it very personally, I’ve got to know what’s in it for me
Ain’t it grand, when you’re living in La La Land

The question “What’s in it for me?” changes disciples into consumers, and when a consumer finds their perceived needs are not being met, it becomes easy to move from one church to another, like changing brands or retail stores. People evaluate a church based on what it can offer them rather than seeing the opportunities where they can serve in that church. “What’s in it for me?” can destroy a church.

A more redemptive statement to replace the destructive question “What’s in it for me?” is another five word phrase. These other five words are guaranteed to bless a church, and they can be found in the pages of Scripture. In Luke 1:38, Mary said to the angel Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant.” When people say to God, “I am the Lord’s servant” there is no room to ask, “What’s in it for me?” Jesus picked up a towel to wash the feet of his disciples, and he expects his followers to do the same. A church filled with people saying, “I am the Lord’s servant” is a church where you will see the “one-another’s” of the New Testament being practiced. A church filled with people saying, “I am the Lord’s servant” will be a church where people gather to serve rather than be served. A church filled with people saying, “I am the Lord’s servant” will be a church that is blessed.

Whenever I encounter this phrase in the Gospel of Luke, I’m reminded of the painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) of “The Annunciation” (1898). In this painting, the angel Gabriel appears as brilliant light. In this painting we see no angelic wings, no halo, no cherub with a baby face but instead we are presented with an angel in the form of pure, brilliant light. The glory of the angel is ineffable and almost overwhelming , much like a glance at the sun. In contrast with the angel we find Mary and her surroundings painted in earth tones. Mary has no halo and the rug is dishevelled. Obviously the annunciation has come unannounced; were I expecting an angelic visitor, I might have straightened up the room! Mary’s body posture is reflective of her heart. She is in quiet submission and answering “Yes” to God’s plan. Like Mary, may we all answer with “I am the Lord’s servant.”