Breeding 'Like Rabbits,' Sex by Rhythm Method, and Other Natural Family Planning Myths

Pope Francis in October. giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com
Pope Francis in October. giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

In discussing birth control and population issues when visiting the Philippines recently, Pope Francis said the Catholic Church promoted “responsible parenthood” that didn’t require good Catholics to be “like rabbits.” The frank imagery prompted a flurry of playfully creative headlines that ranged from mocking to woeful. And the byproduct of such reaction stories? The continued misinformation on what Catholics currently practice and what the Catholic Church actually teaches when it comes to family planning.

The pope’s remarks referenced Catholic teaching that prohibits artificial birth control. Family size, according to the Church, should be regulated by abstinence or a form of Natural Family Planning, sometimes characterized simply as trying really hard not to have sex when you’re “not supposed to,” which often fails and results in a ton of kids. Proponents of NFP say the method(s), and its practitioners, are too often misunderstood.

NFP for pregnancy prevention involves charting a woman’s cycles by testing for various biological markers — like basal temperature or cervical mucous — in order to assess fertile days and abstain from sex during that time. According to the World Health Organization, fertility awareness methods like NFP are 95-97 percent effective when used correctly and consistently (75 percent with typical use), and individual NFP models claim higher effectiveness.

Practicing NFP can certainly be complicated, especially when taking into account marriage and family dynamics that aren’t always conducive to the attention it requires.

But while it may be more difficult than, say, popping a daily pill or using an IUD, modern technology — like tracking apps and temperature-monitoting gadgets — is simplifying the process and coinciding with a resurgence in popularity. NFP practitioners say they appreciate the choice it offers — whether the motivation is following Church teaching or simply avoiding synthetic hormones.

Jesus Is at the Border

I am not a politician, so I’m not an expert on immigration policies.

I am not an economist, so I’m not an expert on the economic benefits or burdens of immigration.

But I am a public theologian. I try to understand how we can participate with God in setting things right, healing the world, and reconciling human beings with one another, with the world, and with God.

Stand by Me: Memorial Day and the Healing of Souls

Straight 8 Photography / Shutterstock
Photo via Straight 8 Photography / Shutterstock

If you have to reassure people that you’re not abandoning them, it may be because they feel you slipping away. In John 14, Jesus is responding to the anxiety of those he loves. “I will not leave you orphaned,” he says, but it is not clear how he will keep that promise. In a few hours, his arrest, trial, crucifixion and death will all have been accomplished. It will feel as if he has, in fact, abandoned them or been torn away from them.  

Jesus loses his life, and he is not the only one to suffer loss. Those he leaves behind lose him, and without him, they lose whatever security they might have felt in the world. After his death, they take refuge by hiding. They are isolated from each other and afraid of everything on the other side of locked doors. 

We rarely think of what happened to Jesus as an experience of combat, but the story of his arrest includes soldiers, weapons, and at least momentary hand-to-hand combat as Peter draws a sword to slice off the ear of one of those sent to arrest Jesus. Twenty-four hours later, those who could not watch with Jesus in the garden or save him from the enemy will themselves be lost without him. 

Hack the Church

When introducing people to hacking, Ali Llewellyn often brings up Apollo 13. “Remember that scene where they dump everything on the table and say, ‘We have to find a solution, with only these materials?’ And there’s, you know, duct tape? That’s all it is! Hacking is building a way to go from here to there.”

She should know. After studying church planting and social mobilization, Llewellyn went on to spearhead community engagement for NASA’s Open Innovation Program and is now a Senior Program Manager for SecondMuse, equipping hackers and non-hackers alike for the upcoming National Day of Civic Hacking.

Llewellyn’s dappled journey — from biblical scholarship to tech-minded collaboration — reveals a potent lens that Christians across denominations are using to repurpose, mobilize, and reform the church. In hacking, they see a model for the future of Christianity.

The term “hacking” has undergone a recent transformation in the popular lexicon, back to its amorally general origins as a method of discovery and recombination. For every Heartbleed-like scare today, there are innumerable cheery Buzzfeed tips to hack your life; and while the digital bandits of Anonymous capture our imagination, “hackathons” — community-oriented workshops to solve urban challenges — have popped up in many major cities.

With this broadened interpretation, Christian interest in hacking finds context. Just as faith systems give parameters to our spiritual imagination, so technology directs our inquiry into the universe and, increasingly, our connectedness to each other. Early Christianity spearheaded technological innovations with global ramifications, most notably in the invention of the codex. Today’s faithful hackers, armed with code, workshops, and participatory-minded theology, hope to do the same.

Heaven Is a Home

Courtesy Odyssey Networks
Heaven is a home. Courtesy Odyssey Networks

When I was a child, my vision of heaven was riddled with roller coasters and populated by Disney characters. Let me explain.

Growing up in Puerto Rico, the American “mainland” to our north was for me a dreamland of sorts. You could catch a glimpse of it on television show depicting Main Streets lined with impressive trees. And of course, there was Disney World. As a five-year old visiting Florida for the first time, I imagined that the rest of the country was just like that particular corner of Orlando that we tourists saw.

That was heaven on earth for the five-year-old version of me. Heaven was earthly and joyful and fun and sweet. But as we all know Disney is no paradise. I don’t expect long lines, lots of sweat, and expensive but mediocre food in heaven.

When I was five, Disney was my vision of heaven. As I grew up in the church, my vision turned upward. Heaven was an eternal destination deferred until the moment after you die. Heaven was a place of reward and eternity. Heaven was an ethereal experience, something so otherworldly that the best we could do was speak in metaphors and images about it. Heaven, in short, had very little to do with the world as we knew it.

Neither vision gets it quite right.

To the Dying Church From a Millennial

Jaromir Chalabala / Shutterstock.com
Photo via Jaromir Chalabala / Shutterstock.com

Dear church,

Let me start off this letter by expressing my deep love and appreciation for you. I have been an active participant in the community of faith for about 10 years now, and I have been profoundly blessed, cared for, loved, and inspired to be a better human being through you. I have also seen — and even participated in — some of your ugliest and most unfaithful moments in recent history. But through all of these experiences, nothing but utter appreciation and love remains for you. I believe, in the words of Bill Hybels, that the church is the hope of the world. I believe in your great power and potential to renew and reconcile our broken world through the way of Jesus. I believe that you can do it. That we can do it, together.

With that said, there has been a lot of talk recently about your impending death. For a long time, I believed the hype. I saw the numbers of millennials who were walking away from the churches and both mainline and evangelical churches closing their doors. I was convinced that maybe the church had truly seen the end.

But I was recently reminded that what we have been witnessing in the West is not, in fact, the death of the church at all.

Turning Toward Pentecost: Remembering the Women

Woman worshiping,  John Wollwerth / Shutterstock.com
Woman worshiping, John Wollwerth / Shutterstock.com

The women were there at the foot of Jesus’ cross.

The women were there when they laid him in the tomb.

The women walked through the desolate graveyard in the darkest hours of the night — the hours just before dawn, carrying sweet spices prepared to anoint Jesus’ dead body for proper burial. But they never got the chance.

They witnessed the earthquake, talked to the angel, and ran to the other followers announcing the resurrection of their beloved.

And Jesus’ mother, Mary, huddled in the upper room praying with the other women and the rest of the disciples in the days following the resurrection. Until that day, 50 days later, when tongues of fire fell on them all and Peter reminded the crowd of Joel’s ancient prophecy: “Your sons and daughters will prophesy.”

From the cross to the upper room, the women are lifted up! As the church stands in the light of Easter Sunday and now sets its face toward Pentecost, let us remember the women. And, as we do, let’s also remember the women in our pews and surrounding communities — the challenges, fears, and the very real dangers women face every day.

Holy Week: Journeying from Empire to Resurrection

Three wooden crosses, mossolainen nikolai / Shutterstock.com
Three wooden crosses, mossolainen nikolai / Shutterstock.com

We love a good parade, don’t we? All that celebration, the noise, the crowds, the jubilation … It’s exciting and contagious and a little amazing how a good parade can impact us.

No one understood this like the Romans. These are the people of bread and circuses after all, and no one in the ancient world did empire better than the Romans. The Romans were incredibly good at subduing those people they had conquered. They celebrated the festivals of, raised up leadership from, and generally ingratiated themselves smoothly into the lives of those they ruled. But rule they did.

There certainly were people in Jesus’ time who thought Jesus’ work would be to overthrow the Roman oppressors — establish a political kingdom. Scholars surmise that Judas, the disciple who would betray Jesus to the empire, was one of these. Think of Judas as someone who saw the evils of the Roman Empire and desperately wanted Hebrew rule returned to the region. What we might today call a freedom fighter.

But throughout his ministry, Jesus talked explicitly about the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven that is not of this world but is omnipresent, always at hand, constantly among us. And God’s. Period. A very different image of kingship, of dominion.

Four Ways to Talk About the Environment as an Evangelical

Human interaction in creation care, Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock.com
Human interaction in creation care, Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock.com

When facing a crisis, silence is certainly easiest. But silence isn’t best. As we face some very challenging environmental issues, evangelicals must learn to begin to discuss the environmental crisis with creativity and integrity. Whether it’s because we know we play an integral role in the healing of the world, in agreement with Wendell Berry, who says our fate is “mingled in the fate of the world.” Or, because we’ve come to see our responsibility to care for God’s creation as a central aspect of our love of Jesus Christ. Regardless of our reason — silence can’t be our policy.

In a very real sense, the easiest way for us to deal with the realities of the 21st century ecological crisis is practicing a kind of mutual pretense. That’s the easiest thing to do. Despite the humming knowledge that hard things await, we will talk about anything without actually talking about what is going on. More than many, I know that this can be the practice of evangelical Christianity in which I am rooted. We’ll talk about the return of Jesus, about theology, about church practice, anything but what’s actually going on in our world.

Answer the Call: Lifting Up Women & Girls

A Women & Calling event featured women sharing their thoughts on what it means for women to live in response to God’s call.

Christian women are a hot topic these days.

Over the past year, more and more Christian women have spoken out about what it means to be a woman in the public square. From the debate over Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood and whether the Bible prescribes specific roles for women to the fascinating discussions about spirituality and sexuality in Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith,  women of faith are wrestling with how to transcend sexism and patriarchy to cultivate their God-given gifts in the pulpit, at home, and in their daily lives.

To further this conversation, the good people at Q Ideas recently sponsored a Women & Calling event. In Christian TED talk fashion, 12 phenomenal speakers shared their thoughts on what it means for women to live in response to God’s call, to discern their vocations, to navigate the tension between family and work, to embrace their fears and ambitions, and to follow after God with abundant hope.

Unlike other Christian conferences where female representation remains the exception and not the norm, Q flipped the script by featuring the voices of 11 women and one man. Together, these 12 disciples described the fullness and joy of the kingdom of God when we are all empowered to live into our gifts. 

Pages

Subscribe