The Deception of Wealth

An excerpt from my other blog:

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Jesus says, of the seed sown among thorns (13:22) that “anxiety about this present age (my overtranslation of μέριμνα τοῦ αἰῶνος) and the deception of wealth (ἡ ἀπάτη τοῦ πλούτου) strangle the word and it becomes fruitless.”

This first phrase, literally “the anxiety of the aion,” is similar to another phrase found in Paul. In 1 Cor. 7:34, he says that “the married woman is concerned about (μερμνᾷ) the things of the word (τὰ τοῦ κόσμου)…” The word αἰών means “the age” and refers to the Jewish view of human history as being divided into two ages, “the present age” and “the age to come.” The present age is organized in terms of principles and structures that are temporary, so that “the schema of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31). Focusing on this present age and its organizational structures is a distraction that will cause you to be unfruitful for the kingdom.

The preeminent form (but not the only form) that this “schema” takes is expressed in the second phrase: “the deception of wealth.” This is usually rendered as “the deceitfulness of riches,” but I think my version is more accurate. It means that wealth in this age is a mirage. It is not real wealth at all. It is a mere decoy to keep your eyes off the real prize.

(None of this should be taken to mean that it is wrong to have money and use it to further the kingdom of Christ. That is exactly what Jesus and Paul recommend. The danger is in thinking of this temporary and illusory schema — wealth — as permanent or determinative.)

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Seed of the Serpent vs. Seed of the Woman

Satan has two main strategies ever since the garden of Eden. He hates the seed of the Woman, and he desires to do one of two things: if He can turn them aside from the Word of God, he does that. Thus, the original temptation revolved around “Has God really said?” And Satan would go on to suggest things like the seduction of Midianite women leading to idolatry; the worship of Baal, etc. But when that fails, Satan’s other strategy is to remove the seed of the woman from the world. Satan hates childbirth. Paul says to Timothy that “she — i.e. woman — will be saved through childbirth if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.” (1 Timothy 2:15 NKJV) this theme is most clearly laid bare in the book of Revelation, where “the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne.” (Revelation 12:4, 5 NKJV) The devil has always hated babies because He has always been afraid of that prophecy, that a woman would have a child who would someday destroy him.

Students of mythology will recognize this theme from Greek literature, which is written from the perspective of a culture in bondage to demons: according to Hesiod, the origin of all the evils in the world is woman: man was doing just fine without women, thank you, and then Prometheus stole fire from Olympus. Lest men become too happy, Zeus retaliated by making a woman. In one version, she has a jar — not a box, a pithos is a huge round grain storage jar — and out of it fly all the evils in the world. In the other version, the woman doesn’t have a jar, but women are hollow and have the uncanny habit of giving birth, so the evils come out of her instead. And this fear and loathing of birth and babies is found throughout pagan literature. The earth gives birth to monsters: hundred-handed giants, cyclopes, titans. You never know what’s going to come out of there if you’re living in an age before ultrasound!

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(Photo by ErinT on Flickr.)

Most of the Greek and Roman heroes are survivors of infanticide: Oedipus, Heracles, Perseus, Romulus & Remus, and Zeus himself — all were victims if an attempt on their life in infancy. In the Bible, we find the same thing: when Israel was in Egypt, Pharaoh wanted to kill every male child because he was afraid that the Hebrews — the seed of the woman — would rise up against him and overthrow him. When the magi come from the East following the star to come worship Jesus, Herod orders a massacre of every male baby in the region of Bethlehem. In ancient Sparta, Plutarch tells us that babies that looked weak or sickly — babies that wouldn’t be useful to the Spartan government — were taken to the apothetae, or place of rejection, and left to die. Every tyrant fears babies, because every baby comes from God.

We hope that between the two of us, we will be able to do a little bit to counter Satan’s two main strategies: Sora will help the babies be born safely, and I will help teach the Word. Our children will get to see their parents actively engaged in following Jesus in new and exciting ways; they will have their eyes opened to the world beyond North America, and they will gain a better understanding of how to be a neighbor to the poor and proclaim the glory of Christ to all nations. We want to keep before our eyes the struggle in the heavenly places — the victory of the Seed of the woman against the seed of the Serpent — and to see our daily work, both here and in the Philippines, as part of that larger war.

What if there was no hospital?

(Cross-posted to Puah’s Corner.)

There comes a moment when I have to look in her eyes, this strong and determined woman who has been pushing with all her strength, hour after hour, cheerfully moving into every new position we suggest, squatting, standing, kneeling, lying with her head down and bottom in the air to try to lift the baby’s head out of the pelvis so it can come back down in a better position, flat on her back tolerating the pressure of my fingers trying to help her baby rotate as she bears down with all her might, that moment when I look at her and she knows what I am going to say before I open my mouth to tell her that there is nothing more that we can try.

This story has played out with different variations. This is her first baby, or it is her first vaginal birth after a prior cesarean. The baby’s head is posterior, and possibly asynclitic as well. The baby may have a nuchal hand, or a tight cord wrap, that is making rotation difficult. Her pubic arch is narrower and higher than normal, or maybe it is low and flat.

We go to the hospital – the clean, modern, well-staffed, well-equipped hospital – where we are met by kind, friendly nurses. Where a OB who likes and trusts me treats her with compassion and respect, explaining what is going on and what he needs to do and why. Where her husband, her doula, her mother or sister or friend or photographer, can stay with her for the delivery. Where I can stay with her (even into the OR if that is where we end up, though because the OB who backs up my clients is skilled in what is becoming a lost art, I have actually seen more forceps rotations than cesareans.)

I imagine what it would have been like to be the midwife in this story in a time or a place where there was no option for hospital transport for instrumental or surgical delivery. Only one of the mothers who has been in this situation has ever asked me that question – “What would you do if there was no hospital for us to go to?” She didn’t ask in the moment, but weeks later, when we were talking about her birth. “What would happen to me and to my baby if there was no hospital to go to?

A Matter of Life and Death

In North America, we mostly take it for granted that we and our babies will make it through birth. We assume we’ll have healthy pregnancies, healthy babies, a skilled care provider at our birth, and timely access to emergency medical care should we or our babies need it (regardless of our ability to pay.)

I don’t personally know any women who have died in childbirth, and only a few who have lost their babies late in pregnancy or during or soon after birth. The only women I know who have given birth without a skilled attendant present either chose to have a planned unassisted birth, or experienced a precipitous labor and delivery (and received skilled attention soon after birth.)

Are you familiar with the facts about global maternal mortality?

In 2008 an estimated 358,000 women died while pregnant or giving birth. 99% of maternal deaths occur in the developing world. The vast majority of these deaths are preventable.

Among the 133 million babies who are born alive each year, 2.8 million die in the first week of life and slightly less than 1 million in the following three weeks. Neonatal tetanus kills 100 000 babies a year.

It’s hard to wrap our minds around these kind of numbers. It’s easy not to think about faraway problems and faceless statistics. But each of those women who died a preventable death had a name and a family. Each of those statistics represents someone’s daughter, or sister, or friend.

“Women are not dying because of diseases we cannot treat. They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving.” Mahmoud Fathalla, past president of the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics.

Welcome to “Receive with meekness”

We are Matt and Sora Colvin, and we are preparing to step out in faith to seek to use the gifts God has entrusted us with in His service. We believe we are called to use what we have received with meekness to bless others, to be “doers of the word.” As we strive to follow Christ’s call on our lives, our family will be moving from Mason, OH to Davao, Philippines in June 2012. We’d like to invite you to share our journey.

Matt is a teacher, by constitution, intellectual habits, and training. He gets excited about learning new things about the Bible and is happiest when explaining Biblical stories in a way that makes them more vivid and teaches people to notice things that they otherwise might not. After earning a PhD in Classical Greek Literature and learning Biblical Hebrew over the last five years, he has many tools for reading and explaining the text of the Bible. Matt has taught high school history, literature, Latin, and Greek at Mars Hill Academy. Matt has also taught men’s Bible study at Trinity REC for the past seven years and frequent adult Sunday school classes as well. He is currently a deacon postulant and anticipates ordination in spring 2012.

In 2009, Sora, then a midwifery student, went to the Philippines for the first time to do a clinical internship at a charity birth center. She returned again the following year and has spent a total of six weeks volunteering at the clinic (her experiences there were chronicled at her midwifery/travel blog, Puah’s Corner.) Sora’s motive for going in 2009 was primarily to gain experience to further her progress as a student midwife. She also thought (in a rather abstract way) that she might want to do some short-term medical missions trips in the (distant) future and that it might be useful to have had this sort of experience as a student. She was not expecting that the trip would be the occasion for any particular spiritual growth and certainly not that it would spark a deep-rooted and sustained discontent with the suburban North American lifestyle or an urgency to actively pursue serving Christ as a midwife in the developing world.  She was blown away by what God is doing through the missionary midwives she worked with. She had also come face to face for the first time with reality of life in the developing world and the desperate need for midwives among the world’s poor. Though on her return to life in Ohio, she was immediately busy with family, friends, and church, completing her midwifery certification, and building a practice here, she had come home with a deep and abiding desire to use the skills and talents God has given her in service to Christ in the developing world.

We believe best starting point for pursuing this dream is first to return to the Philippines for further training. Though Sora is already certified as a midwife and has successfully managed a busy practice in Ohio for some time now, there are many aspects of medical care in developing countries that are very different than in North America. The director and staff at the clinic have over 17 years of experience in the intersection of midwifery and cross-cultural missions and a commitment and vision to ensure their students become both the clinically competent maternity care providers that are so desperately needed, and also culturally sensitive missionary midwives. Working with them will prepare her to better serve in any other location God where might lead our family.

Sora has been accepted into a program that will enable her to earn a Bachelor of Midwifery degree from the National College of Midwifery, a US-accredited school based in New Mexico while volunteering at the birth center. Her current certification will give her advanced standing in the bachelor’s program, requiring only a research thesis and clinical hours to complete the degree. During the year that Sora will be writing her thesis, she will also gaining valuable experience working as a midwife in the developing world. Matt would like to teach Bible and biblical languages and hopes that our family’s situation abroad and Sora’s work as a midwife along with networking with other missionaries will provide opportunities to do that. At the same time, he sees his primary and immediate calling during the time that Sora is in school to be the teaching of his own children and the training of them in the faith. This immediate calling of fatherhood will be enough at the beginning while our family makes friends, builds relationships, and waits patiently for God to put in our way whatever good works He has prepared for us to do.