This weekend I read about a new IHOP: the International House of Prayer. Staff members must spend at least 25 hours per week in the prayer room engaging in an activity that at best promotes an emotional high. (Erick Eckholm, “Where Worship Never Pauses,” New York Times, July 9, 2011) Why would anyone donate money to this activity, funding emotional exuberance for others while doing nothing for anyone else? Real prayer often has more to do with loving others than anything else.
Charlotte Bacon has an essay in the New York Times, Lessons From a Year in Bali (July 6, 2011), that describes what she learned from spending a year living in Bali while opening a new school there. One important lesson was, in the words of an old adage, “to grab the gusto.” Rather than settle for the mundane and pedestrian, occasionally reaching beyond one’s comfort zone for new and varied experiences infuses life with fresh perspective and zest. Another important lesson was that living in a foreign culture threw fresh light on much that she had taken for granted; what had seemed to be major problems she now perceived as being far less important.
Thoughts are powerful. Directed meditation, according to a recent research study, can reduce pain to the same degree as morphine (“Thinking Away Pain,” Wall Street Journal, July 9, 2011). When serving with the Marines, I repeatedly heard junior Marine leaders encourage, cajole, and inspire their Marines with the idea that the Marines could think away the discomforts caused by heat, cold, and excessive physical exertion. Obviously, this method has some limitations. But the mind is more powerful that most people recognize. Focusing thoughts on the positive and the possible (echoes of Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller) can enable most of us to lead happier, more productive lives with less dependence on drugs.
Unbeknownst to me, some evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants advocate natural family planning (NFP), the only birth control method acceptable in the Roman Catholic Church (Mark Oppenheimer, An Evolving View of Natural Family Planning,” New York Times, July 8, 2011). Briefly, NFP entails having sex only for procreation or, according to the stage of the woman’s menstrual cycle, she is not fertile. NFP is notoriously unreliable (few women have an invariant cycle and desire often trumps restraint). No sound reason exists for practicing NFP. God made humans sexual beings and declared that good. Sexual activity is an important form of communication and bonding for couples. The primary purposes of marriage are mutual love and care, not propagating the species. The biblical injunction, allegedly from God, to be fruitful and multiply is the only commandment in the Bible that humans have enthusiastically fulfilled.
Finally, David Dow has an excellent Op-Ed column in the New York Times, “Death Penalty, Still Racist and Arbitrary” (July 8, 2011). Dow cites persuasive data to show that blacks who kill whites are far more likely to receive the death penalty than whites who murder whites or blacks, or blacks who murder blacks. The occasion for his essay was Texas executing Lee Taylor on June 16, 2011, a white man who, while serving a life sentence for murdering two whites, joined the Aryan Brotherhood (a white supremacist group) and killed a black inmate. It was for this crime that Texas executed Taylor, making him the first person in Texas’ history executed for murdering a black person.