Thursday, February 9, 2012

Our Work, Our Purpose, and Efficacy

What's your purpose in life?

Today, Kodak announced that it would no longer sell digital cameras, effectively bringing to a close the storied legacy of America's iconic camera company.  As it turns out, Kodak's executives have decided to focus on photo printing and personal printers, instead of the digital photo technology they created back in the 1970's.

What a waste of a whole lot of MBA's up there in Rochester, don't you think?  Do you mean to tell us that with all of your Ivy League education - Kodak was famous for hiring the cream of the business school crop - you couldn't figure out how to market something your own firm invented?  True, the single-function digital camera is already becoming obsolete as cameras-within-cell-phones are becoming more sophisticated every day.  But you still can't get a piece of that action?  You're going to peg Kodak's survival on... printers?

Talk about a dying market - most photos never get printed these days.  Your own data tells us that.

If their purpose in life has been to have a successful corporate career, these suits at Kodak appear to be in a world of hurt.

Then there's the huge flap that won't go away regarding not only the Obama administration's refusal to allow conscientious objections when it comes to religious organizations paying for contraception for their workers, but the Komen blunder with funding mammograms at Planned Parenthood.

Feminists can't spit their words out fast enough in their contempt for anybody who thinks sex shouldn't be free and unrestricted for all women.  In her op-ed today for the New York Times, Yale professor Linda Greenhouse claims that the Catholic Church has no right to claim any moral high ground in this debate because so many Catholics already use contraception.  Good grief - with logic like that, we should get rid of our democracy, since so many Americans never vote.

Free sex has been such a driving force in our culture that it's apparently become impossible for people to conceptualize the possibility that maybe the pious morality some faith-based organizations still enshrine has more merit than they want to admit.  But even besides that, Greenhouse joins several other pontificators in the liberal "jabbering class" in completely missing the basic issue at stake in the fuss over birth control.

It just so happens that the Obama administration picked contraception as the example it wanted to make as it begins its overhaul of religious freedom in the United States.  It could have been one of any number of things that Christian organizations have typically exercised Biblical texts to oppose.  For example, you don't see Washington forcing gay marriage mandates on any faith-based group.  And there has always been conscientious objectors in the military.

But maybe down the line, those will be on the chopping block, too.

For Greenhouse to insinuate that the government is being more moral than the Catholic Church betrays a fairly miserable mindset on her part.  Hers may be a world of legal posturing and Supreme Court rulings, but if she'd pick her head up out of her law journals and evaluated the basics of our First Amendment, I'd hope she's smart enough to understand what's really at stake.  About the only thing I'd agree with Greenhouse and her left-wing cohort on has to do with male performance enhancing drugs.  For insurance companies to cover men's sex pills but not contraception is indeed a double-standard, and a pretty dangerous one, considering the ordinary purpose for procreation.  Frankly, I don't see why either Viagra or morning-after pills should be covered by insurance. 

Still, fighting for the ability to have inconsequential sex - as if there's such a thing anyway - like Greenhouse is doing doesn't sound like a terribly noble purpose in life, either.

Talk about Effficacy

Which brings me to the homegoing yesterday of one of the most remarkable women you never knew.  At the age of 88, Caroline Gross died last night in Pennsylvania, although Pennsylvania wasn't where she lived.

She lived in Nigeria, where she helped run two orphanages serving over 400 children in Otutulu Village and Lokoja.  Short, wiry, and bursting with energy, this widowed great-grandmother lived her entire life - every last ounce of it - for Christ.

Born in Ecuador to missionary parents, "Mama," as she's called by the hundreds of children to whom she'd ministered around the globe, served herself as a missionary with her husband, Paul, doing Bible translation, church planting, and establishing schools in the Igala area of Nigeria, where her husband, himself the son if missionaries, had been raised.

When Paul died in 1982, Mama stayed in Nigeria to care for a severely brain-injured girl, whom she eventually adopted.  Her selfless care for this girl, along with her history in Nigeria advocating for the spiritual, physical, and educational needs of Nigerians in her adopted country, soon became well-known, and her house filled with handicapped children.  Mama used her already-meager missionary income to pay their expenses.  Eventually, one of her helpers emigrated to the United States, earned a doctorate in special education, and set up a trust to raise funds for the orphanages Mama opened with the help of other missionaries.  Today, Mama's orphanages are highly-regarded ministries recognized by international aid agencies and the Nigerian government itself.

Talk about an efficacious life!  Merriam-Webster defines "efficacy" as "the power to produce an effect," and while God provided the power, "Mama" certainly produced a positive effect on hundreds of Nigerians!

Now, I'm not going to say that Caroline Gross was a better Christian than you or me.  I'm not going to say that living in poverty to help handicapped children and orphans in Africa is a better way to exercise one's faith than being an executive at Kodak, a staffmember at Komen - or even Planned Parenthood, or a misguided journalist.

It would be too easy to fall into the obvious trap of considering Mama to have even had more faith than you or I do.  We can certainly assume that she probably did, but God only knows our hearts.  It's possible - although highly unlikely - that Mama was motivated by things other than a holy love for "the least of these."  After all, consider the increasingly tarnishing reputation of Mother Teresa.

But I remember meeting her when I was a teenager, and we were both attending the wedding of one of her daughters.  She was with her disabled adopted daughter, and I saw this diminutive, scraggly, rough-around-the edges woman who even back then looked far older than she was, grappling with a young girl who could do practically nothing for herself, and I thought to myself:  why would you pick that kind of life?

We're Called - Just Maybe Not to Africa

Well, maybe she didn't pick it, as much as she was led into it by the Holy Spirit.  Just like you and I maybe haven't picked our current circumstances as much as we've been led to - or have been allowed to have gotten ourselves into - our current circumstances by God.  From what I understand, after her husband died in Nigeria, she could have come back to the United States to retire, but she chose the more physically-challenging path.  Probably because not only was that the life she knew better than America's far more luxurious culture, but she knew the need.

We fool ourselves if we say we don't know the needs in our own circles of influence, don't we?  The reason God has placed us wherever we are is because there are needs He wants us to address.

Maybe those needs are found by attempting to fix an iconic American corporation like Kodak through the God-given skills of business acumen, although I'd hope that if you were trusting God for your smarts, you'd pick a better way to fix Kodak than dumping digital imagery.

Maybe those needs are in public policy arenas like women's health issues and journalism, although I'd like to think I have more common sense - and better ethics - than people like Linda Greenhouse.

If God wanted us all overseas working with handicapped orphans in Africa, through His sovereignty, that's where we'd all be.  But we're not.

So why are you where you are?  What is your purpose in life?

Your purpose - like mine - is to glorify God.  Whether that's in Nigeria, or Rochester, New York, or even here with my laptop in Arlington, Texas.  And if we're not glorifying God in an efficacious manner, then we're not really glorifying Him, are we?

But here's one way we can:  by making a gift in Caroline Gross's memory to the orphanages she so selflessly served.

Here's the link to do so.
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