God & GMOs: The “Big Ag” Industry

Welcome to Part 5 of God & GMOs, a series I’m writing in consultation with my molecular biologist husband, Aaron. If you’re new around here, you might want to check out the IntroductionPart 1: The Gospel, Part 2: What is a GMO?, Part 3: “Do Your Research, and Part 4:  Pursuing Truth, so you can say “hi” in the comments. I know most readers probably haven’t heard much in favor of GMO crops online or in your church, so let me know if you have any questions or need clarification as we go!
Be sure to subscribe by email (on the right hand side of the screen —-> over there) so you don’t miss an entry!

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Many people with reservations about GMOs have told me something like this: “I’m skeptical because I don’t trust big business; I think the agricultural industry is all a political game at this point.” They’re talking about the big crop development companies and the negative stigmas surrounding profits, patents, labeling, and various licensing practices of the “Big Ag” development industry, and they’re talking about the prevalence of large, industrial farms with concerns about monoculture farming (growing large amounts of fewer crops) and various chemical treatments like herbicides and pesticides. Monsanto is the most notorious company (and the target of much anti-biotech hatred), but there are other big companies like Dow AgroScience, Syngenta, DuPont-Pioneer, and BASF. There are also numerous small companies, like the one Aaron works for, which develop crop lines using the same technology and sell to farmers on a smaller scale.

I’ll say from the start: Aaron does not work for Monsanto. We think they are a great company and personally know many people who do work there. We go to church with them, visit the zoo with them, babysit each other’s kids, and eat dinner together. They’re good people. As far as I can tell, the most we’ve ever gotten from the company itself was a reusable grocery bag Aaron picked up at some conference, which I now use every week at Aldi. (I’m trying to work up the nerve to take it into Trader Joe’s, or maybe even… Whole Foods. Pray for me.) But if you search for GMOs on any social media or online search, or even bring it up in conversation, you’re likely to hear a lot of negative things (and many flat-out lies) about this company. We hear this negativity in person a lot, too. Since Aaron’s employer is smaller and not well-known, we usually say he leads a team of scientists in biotech development without naming the company (because no one’s heard of it before), and many people have said, “But not Monsanto, right!? They’re the bad ones!” This isn’t just idle words for some anti-GMO activists, who coordinate massive protests and marches as part of the “March Against Monsanto” movement. (I assume they pick on Monsanto over other companies because their name is most easily changed to spell “Satan.”)

Though they’re all working in the same field toward the same ultimate goal of providing food for people, the “Big Ag” players are essentially direct competitors of my husband’s employer. I’m not on anyone’s payroll to say this (it’s the opposite, actually, since I’m paying for childcare), and a giant turn of cultural affection towards Monsanto, Pioneer, BASF, or anyone else wouldn’t necessarily benefit Aaron’s work in a measurable way. But I’m especially burdened that there’s a lot of vitriol coming from Christians towards companies that, frankly, do not deserve the hate. Just this week I have seen two different friends (people I know in my real life) making snarky and destructive comments online denigrating various biotech development companies and employees – before or after sharing Bible verses and other Christian material. The New Testament speaks to this, even more sharply than I recollected initially: “No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:8-10) When it comes to what we say about scientists and farmers and companies, big or small, we should be careful that our words are true and that they do not contradict our profession of faith.

Many of the negative things I’ve heard and seen about Monsanto have been proven false with a very quick fact check. Most of us are not very connected to farmers and the food production industry at all, so I’m going to talk a little bit today about how these “Big Ag” companies work and why we don’t need to feed on extra cynicism about the agricultural industry.

Contracts, patents, and “saving seeds.”
Farmers of all kinds have lots of options for working with different companies, and there are plenty of ways to grow non-GMO crops. These “Big Ag” companies are in business because hard-working farmers choose to purchase from them year after year. One such farmer in Indiana wrote about his contract with Monsanto for growing their crops here.   An Iowa farmer wrote about how he decides which seeds to purchase for his 500 acre operation. Another family farmer with 1400 acres of cattle and crops in Kansas wrote about discerning fact from fiction about Monsanto here – many of the things I was going to list in this post are already there, so I’m not going to reiterate them!

Many people like to criticize the patent and licensing regulations that go along with purchasing these seeds, saying we shouldn’t patent crops or that it’s wrong for a company to forbid saving and sharing seeds. It’s important to consider that patents and licensing rights are a way to protect and reward the intellectual property of the developers. As Christians we can read scriptures like I Timothy 5:18 that tell us “the laborer deserves his wages,” and even stronger statements from the Old Testament that say withholding money from someone who has already worked for it is equivalent to theft, like Leviticus 19:13. While the current system is far from perfect, it is not immoral to require payment for a service rendered. I’d argue that it’s actually immoral to demand the fruit of someone’s labor without compensating them.

When certain farm contracts require farmers not to reuse seeds, trade them, or collect them for replanting, we should think about the legal use of most other creative products. Back when we had CD’s, you weren’t supposed to burn copies of a CD to hand out to all your friends. You’re not supposed to print off extra copies of books for profit or download pictures from the internet without permission of the creator. We have legal guidelines about the use of all sorts of products – this isn’t unique to crops and farming. I’ve also found that most of this is a manufactured controversy in the first place, because farmers don’t really want to save seeds anyway. It’s extremely laborious and time consuming, and after all that work the yield of saved seeds is not nearly as effective as growing new seeds. These contract rules aren’t always limited to GMO crop seeds, either. Farmers can certainly seek seeds from distributors who don’t have requirements about where and how you can plant, but these big businesses are still running because so many farmers choose to operate within their rules.

Are Big Companies out to ruin Small Farmers?
I also dug in to claims I’ve heard about Monsanto suing other farmers for accidental cross-pollination with Monsanto products, and found the landmark case — farmer Percy Schmeiser in Canada claiming his entire canola field was contaminated with Monsanto’s Round-Up Ready Canola, which you may have seen in the movie “Food, Inc.” — was basically a joke. You can read the Canadian Federal Court decisions (March 2001September 2002) and the final Canadian Supreme Court decision (May 2004) for details, but it seems like this guy’s implausible story keeps changing through his legal journey and the courts didn’t rule favorably for him on any point. His story just does not hold up and there haven’t been any other examples of GMO crops contaminating entire fields like he claimed. Governments are not infallible and some may argue this is further indication of political-industrial corruption, but we ought to be just as skeptical over the unsupported claims of a lone farmer and a documentary as we are towards bigger groups of people. It’s also worth pointing out that when Monsanto does win a court case over a contract violation (which has happened all 9 times they have been to trial in the last 10 years – hardly a significant amount compared to 3+ million contracts they have had with farmers during this time), their legal action protects the interests of the farmers who do abide by the legal guidelines and the lawsuit proceeds are donated to charity, not lining their pockets.

Why does this matter?
Like I discussed earlier, truth always matters for Christians. While the average grocery shopper has the rare privilege, compared to history and much of the world still today, of purchasing food without much concern for how it came to be there, those of us who wonder about our food and it’s development should be careful to find full, faithful information to answer our questions. And when the Bible tells us that the devil is the father of lies, and is like a prowling lion bent on destruction, we should expect to be confronted with smooth and appealing deception. We should also be very cautious about sharing, spreading, or passively approving things that aren’t true, as this is sin and it damages others (as well as our Christian witness).

But it also matters because, believe it or not, the cultural stigmas and activist criticism that leads to more governmental regulation of these big companies actually just places further burdens on smaller companies, which creates incentive for bigger companies to merge and leaves fewer players on the field. (This part might possibly be a conflict of interest, but… it’s coming from a place of love!) The fact is that biotechnology isn’t going anywhere. In many ways, GMOs are here to stay, and I think it’s better to keep these powerful tools in the hands of many different groups for maximum benefit to farmers and consumers. It’s a fair guess that big companies like Monsanto or Syngenta will be able to weather whatever regulatory burdens come their way, but smaller companies will not always be able to do that. Someone who really hates Monsanto would probably be better off fighting for less regulatory burden on crop developers, so smaller companies could grow quicker and new start-ups could get off the ground easier for greater flourishing in collaboration and competition among biotech developers.

God & GMOs
If you’re reading this and still thinking, “Okay, but what about that pesticide, glyphosate, with the brand-name Round-Up? Doesn’t it cause cancer?” or you’re wondering what to make of the large industrial farming side of this discussion, I’ve got you covered. Stay tuned! 

 

 

God & GMOs: Pursuing Truth

Welcome to Part 4 of God & GMOs, a series I’m writing in consultation with my molecular biologist husband, Aaron. If you’re new around here, you might want to check out the IntroductionPart 1: The Gospel, Part 2: What is a GMO?, or Part 3: “Do Your Research” and say “hi” in the comments. I know most readers probably haven’t heard much in favor of GMO crops online or in your church, so let me know if you have any questions or need clarification as we go!
Be sure to subscribe by email (on the right hand side of the screen —-> over there) so you don’t miss an entry!

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We talked last time about the scientific method and a little bit about how peer-reviewed research works in the scientific community today. I think there are some important ways we need to approach cultural topics like this one as Christians, too.

One of my biggest concerns about the trend of Christian suspicion towards agriculture and biotech is how quickly people let cultural stigmas drive their opinions instead of taking their thoughts captive and pursuing truth. In the Bible we read that everyone is fallen (Romans 3:23) and no one can perfectly know everything (1 Corinthians 13:12). We also see that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1), which is (hopefully) the theme of my discussion here – I love people who disagree with me, and I want to host this discussion with charity and honor towards all. But we also read that scripture continually upholds wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, in direct contrast to admonishing foolishness, ignorance, and the “simple man.” There is no way to read Proverbs, for example, and assume that pursuing truth is “optional” for a Christian. There is no way to look at Jesus, who reveals himself as Truth (John 14:6), and take a casual attitude about falsehood.

There are definitely Christians who write online about natural living and specifically condemn GMO crops, but there is also a larger group of people (many of whom are likely in the numbers listed by that Pew Study I referenced in my Introduction) that say they think GMOs are dangerous simply because they have heard other people say it. Maybe they have seen labels in the grocery store that made them consider a non-GMO food item to be a safer or superior choice. Maybe they’ve seen confusing posts on social media, watched a misleading documentary, or read something negative in a magazine.

I think the Bible offers us a better way to filter information than just immediately believing what we see or hear, and I think this compels us to responsibly pursue truth even when the answers are hard.  I absolutely understand how confusing it is to know what’s reliable with all the information floating around, but that doesn’t give us a free pass on figuring out what’s right. It’s popular right now to discuss “nuanced” views of some topic or another, but the Bible calls it “discernment.” Let’s be careful, discerning people. If you care enough about science and the food industry to be concerned about GMOs, consider that the validity of your information (especially if you are promoting your views to others!) really does have significance to the God who made all things, sustains all things, and abhors all falsehood so much that he made “Do Not Lie” one of the Ten Commandments.

So before you spend extra money on groceries to “avoid GMOs” (or feel uneasy about “not feeding your family the best”), before you post something against GMO crops or agricultural developers (like Monsanto) on social media, before you pipe up in group settings or discuss this with your friends, consider if your lifestyle information has been filtered through some of the counsel of scripture:

Proverbs 6:16-19 “There are six things that the Lord hates: …a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” Are you watching for lies in your reading, just as much as looking for truth? Remember that lies are smooth, subtle, and appealing. Does what you’re reading lines up with the principles of the gospel, or does it subtly idealize nature, or tell you that certain food choices are holier, or  make you think that Eden (Creation) or Mount Zion (Heaven) are basically attainable right now? And does this information bring freedom, or does it bring shame to others who “just don’t see it the same way”? Does it give you a sense of superiority to “feed your family better” than someone who hasn’t read the same things as you? Would someone who shops differently feel insecure or shamed because of your attitude about food? Are you hesitant to eat food others offer because it might not be up to your standards? Are you hesitant to host meals because you can’t afford to feed company with your more expensively sourced groceries?

Proverbs 18:17 “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” As you read or hear about GMOs, science, and farming practices, are you listening to the same kinds of negative voices (like podcasts or magazine articles from lay people), or are you looking for what positive scientists and farmers have to say, too? If you’re watching documentaries, are you willing to take a few moments to check the facts and sources presented there?

Proverbs 23:12 “Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge.” Are you willing to work hard to understand answers about your questions, looking to people who are credible teachers? (Sadly, being a published author or an internet personality does not mean someone is a credible teacher these days.) Or are you listening to voices that validate your ignorance? (Like, “If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it!”)

Proverbs 25:18 “A man who bears false witness against his neighbor is like a war club, or a sword, or a sharp arrow.”  We’ve met fellow Christians in every laboratory and department Aaron’s been a part of during the past 14 years. We know believers working in all roles of many different agricultural companies. We know Christians who are proud to farm genetically modified crops. Have you considered how negative words about GMOs, scientists, industry developers, and farmers, might be bearing false witness against others, especially those in the household of God?

God & GMOs

When we have concerns about scientific advances (and as I’ll tell you later, the Hummels do have them) scripture compels us to use faithful, reliable sources for our information because we serve the God who defines Truth. Of course, eating GMOs or not isn’t a test of our faith… not. at. all. But I want to encourage everyone to consider that our attitude about sources (and the way we act on them) matters, especially for Christians, because Jesus is the source of all things. The influence of our personal opinion matters because we want to leave people with a more beautiful understanding of Jesus than of our food choices. As we stake our lives together on the Truth that God reveals in his word and his Son, we can celebrate by pursuing truth and wisdom in the rest of our lives, too.

God & GMOs: “Do Your Research”

Welcome to Part 3 of God & GMOs, a series I’m writing in consultation with my molecular biologist husband, Aaron. If you’re new around here, you might want to check out the IntroductionPart 1: The Gospel, or Part 2: What is a GMO? and say “hi” in the comments. I know most readers probably haven’t heard much in favor of GMO crops online or in your church, so let me know if you have any questions or need clarification as we go!
Be sure to subscribe by email (on the right hand side of the screen —-> over there) so you don’t miss an entry!
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When you start asking questions about something like GMOs, the most common refrain you’ll hear is “Do your research.” The availability of information today is astounding. The collective wisdom of the known world is available in the palm of our hand. 

But the collective foolishness of the world is there, too. Anyone can write anything on the internet, and scientists (in academia and in the bigger industrial corporations) drastically underestimated the power of social media for steering the conversation about GMO crops. It’s frustrating to know how much information is swirling through the internet, especially in blogs, podcasts, and documentaries. If you’re browsing Netflix documentaries or typing your questions about GMOs into a search bar you’ll find lots of information that could very well be wrong. This freedom and availability of information is wonderful, but it comes with serious responsibilities. Fair or not, another equally important question that absolutely must accompany our previous concerns is: How can I find reliable explanations about GMOs? What’s a good source for my information?

My biggest problem with “do your research” cultural pressure is that there’s a specific end in mind, always opposed to scientific consensus: Do your research, and you’ll see that Big Ag/Pharma/Medicine is corrupt and I have found the superior way. It carries the implication that anyone who follows the conventional path is “uninformed.” In reality, anyone can write a blog, even about topics they don’t know much about. (I hesitated to write this series for years because I’m describing myself there, too.) Anyone can make a documentary. Anyone can craft a clever meme or infographic. Many of these “alternative sources” about science are just as biased and arrogant as they accuse professional scientists of being.

Aaron’s biggest problem with that phrase is that it’s a misuse of the word “research.” As someone whose life work is in scientific research and development, he’ll tell you that reading things on the internet is not scientific research. A frantic Google search is not equivalent to a series of laboratory tests or the body of work necessary to earn an advanced degree. This is an important distinction.

The Scientific Method & Scientific Research Today.
Do you remember science fairs from school? I do, because (believe it or not!) I actually won a competition during my junior year of high school. I did a lame project that took me an hour and I tell you the truth, I just copied-and-pasted the report requirements from an email into a Word Document to fill in my results. Many of the other entries came as the result of an entire semester’s worth of hard work, in some cases from students who have since become medical doctors. My project was not “high school science fair winning” caliber, but I won because I followed the scientific method. I scrupulously documented my observations, hypothesis, experiment, and results so the judges could figure out what was happening and could replicate the experiment to see if my findings were consistent. My classmates worked harder than me, but they were sloppy with their research and couldn’t answer some of the judges’ questions. I’ll confess that winning didn’t feel great. My physics teacher and another judge chided us all: me, for not coming up with a harder project, and everyone else for not documenting their research appropriately.

This gives us a helpful way to work through “anti-GMO studies” and “pro-GMO studies.” When Aaron publishes research, which is the professional grown-up version of a science fair project, he spends years working 60+ hours a week of compiling data, organizing it, and collaborating with his partners before sending the report to a “journal,” or an academic publishing team. A while later, he’ll receive a bunch of comments from a team of editors and blind reviewers acting as “science fair judges” with questions, criticisms, or recommendations to tackle before the research can make it to publication. (EDIT: Michelle, a professional scientist, explains further in the comments “My clarification would be this: those “editors and blind reviewers” are other scientists in the field, meaning colleagues and competitors. The reviewers are especially knowledgeable and invested in the quality of work being performed and published, because this work shapes the body of knowledge in their field. The very currency of their profession is critical thinking and their mantra is “show me the data.” In short, these are not a group of easily convinced or impressed peers. One’s research must be well supported by evidence in order to earn publication.”) The group seeking publication must meticulously record their methods, materials, and procedures. If another group repeats their project and gets different results it could have disastrous consequences for their academic and professional credibility.

When I look at anti-GMO sources, they usually paint the scientific community as a bully clique group trying to keep the truth hidden for their own profit, and say that the “powerful” scientists are suppressing studies showing GMOs to be harmful (or something like that). In reality scientists are only as prone to corruption and greed as any of us, and the community polices itself using a firm commitment to the scientific method, and the necessity of collaboration and peer review. So far the anti-GMO studies have not demonstrated anything that passes the muster of other scientists.

A good example of this is work from Gilles-Eric Seralini, a scientist from France who published a paper claiming GMO corn and the popular herbicide glyphosate (brand name “Round Up”) were associated with terrible tumors in his laboratory rats.  This study was later retracted after criticism from the scientific community as a whole concerning poor methods (he used a breed of rats that were inappropriate for this study because of their natural propensity to develop huge tumors), his changing hypothesis, and his obscure control groups (there were not enough rats in the control group and their feeding plan was not sufficient to compare them to rats eating GMO corn). As the spouse of a scientist, I’ll tell it to you straight: these folks don’t mess around. If they can poke a hole in an argument or find something wrong with a method or conclusion, they will, and they aren’t really worried about hurting anyone’s feelings in the process. The ways the scientific community responded to Seralini’s poor research with legitimate, reasonable criticisms gives me quite a bit of confidence in the process of scientific publication and peer review. Still, I see this guy’s work touted on social media and in “natural living” blogs as evidence against GMO crops on a regular basis.

Reading “Real” Science Research. 
The catch for most people here is that you have to pay to look at most of the studies published in reputable journals. If you want to look at the research scientists are doing in this field, you can search online but the reliability of free (or “open access”) studies varies widely. They aren’t all bad, but the limitations can be different. (Don’t hate too hard on scientists for this, though, because it is standard across all disciplines. My friend who is an English professor was just lamenting about paid access to research published in her field, too.)  If you don’t want to shell out money to read technical scientific publications, you would be wise to check out some science journalists and other groups who are reading these studies and talking about them.

Some excellent sources would be The Genetic Literacy Project and the Talking Biotech Podcast. We’re ecstatic about the upcoming documentary called Food Evolution. The Skeptical Raptor blog also has a wealth of DOCUMENTED information about discerning scientific sources, and is worth clicking around in as well.

God & GMOs

Thanks for reading! If you want to chat, I’d love to know how YOU evaluate sources for your information. Do you read blogs? Watch documentaries? Do you fact check much? Is that important to you?  

If you missed anything, check out the IntroductionPart 1: The Gospel, and Part 2: What is a GMO? to get up to speed. I’ll be back soon with some practical application of scripture and the Christian community’s responsibility to practice discernment and uphold truth in all aspects of life! 

 

God & GMOs: What is a GMO?

(Welcome to Part 2 of my new series God & GMOs, which I’m writing in consultation with my molecular biologist husband, Aaron. If you’re new around here, you might want to check out the Introduction or Part 1: The Gospel and maybe say “hi” in the comments. I know most readers probably haven’t heard much in favor of GMO crops online or in your church, so let me know if you have any questions or need clarification as we go!) Untitled Design (3)

After reviewing the foundation of the gospel and arming ourselves with some important Biblical truths, it’s time to start asking questions about science. What is a GMO? How is it made? Are GMOs safe for eating? Why do we need GMOs when we have other ways to breed crops? These are great questions, and I’m glad people ask them. 

There are lots of different people talking about GMOs, but there are also lots of ideas about what makes something a GMO (or not). Different countries and different international research groups use slightly different definitions, and this is one of the many reasons this conversation is so hard.

The shorthand “GMO” means “Genetically Modified Organism.” It sounds weird, but the most important thing you need to know is that a GMO is a fruit, vegetable, or grain. It’s planted in the ground and grown like any other crop. The “genetic modification” for a GMO crop happens before planting, when a seed or crop line is developed in a laboratory using biotechnology for a cisgenic or transgenic DNA transfer to improve the genetic code. It makes perfect sense, right? …maybe not. Basically, scientists have figured out how to precisely combine one or two portions of DNA into a plant genome in order to produce a plant that has a specific desired trait. (Here’s a video explanation of the process to make GMO papaya, if you want a visual aid!) Sometimes this happens with genes from two plants that could be conventionally bred (which is called a “cisgenic modification”), and sometimes it happens between genes that wouldn’t combine in nature (or “transgenic modification”). Sometimes scientists can “silence” or “delete” a gene within a single plant, and though this uses some of the same biotechnology tools, those aren’t always considered GMO.

Why make GMO crops?
Scientists like genetic engineering because it’s more precise than traditional crop breeding, since it takes just the exact DNA that it needs for the resulting plant without having to account for other DNA crosses that would happen in typical breeding. Even though it’s still a lot of work, these tools can produce the desired plant traits in about half the time of older methods, so it’s quicker, too.

What is the purpose of GMO crops?

GMO crops are developed for many different reasons, including drought tolerance (so a farmer can still provide food even if it doesn’t rain much), resistance to pesticide or herbicide so a farmer can more effectively manage the field, expressing genes that will make the plant naturally undesirable to pests to avoid using chemical applications, increased yield, or improved nutrition. In the field, they tend to produce more food per acre and do so with less chemical applications than their non-GMO siblings. (In recent years it still looks like GMO crop fields’ overall toxicity screens remained similar or lower than non-GMO fields.) 

Are GMO crops safe?
Despite the claims of naysayers, GMO crops have been rigorously tested for safety in animal and human consumption for as long as I’ve been alive, and the full counsel of multiple studies is that GMO crops are as safe or safer than non-GMO crops for human consumption.

What is the difference between GMO crops and non-GMO crops?
While it’s developed differently from a “conventional” plant, the final GMO product is usually indistinguishable from it’s non-GMO sibling. The FDA considers them “substantially equivalent,” but the precision and purpose of genetic modification means that if there’s a difference in nutrition or quality, the GMO has the upper hand.

What GMO crops are available for sale in the US?
The GMO products available in the US today are limited to corn, soybeans, cotton, alfalfa (for animal feed, not those sprouts for the top of your salad), sugar beets, canola, papaya, potato, and squash. Pretty soon we’ll be able to buy GMO apples that won’t brown quite so quickly after you cut them open. (Source: FDA Consumer Info about Food from Genetically Engineered Plants) 

Can GMO technology benefit threatened plants and croplines? 
Because it is so precise and so much faster than traditional breeding, GMO technology can preserve plant lines that would otherwise be destroyed, even to the point of extinction, by natural factors (stemming from that curse on the ground in Genesis 3), like disease, drought, and destructive predators. If you watched the earlier video, you’ll note that papaya was genetically modified to resist ringspot virus, which essentially saved papaya from extinction in Hawaii. There are significant concerns today about various problems facing the American Chestnut tree, bananas, cassava, and citrus (Florida citrus production is at a 50-year low due to citrus greening), among others, and scientists are frantically trying to get ahead in enough time to preserve these foods for the benefit of farmers and consumers alike.

Can GMO technology work on anything besides crops?
The technology that makes GMO crops is also used to develop medicine with virtually no controversy (insulin, extremely promising cancer treatments to replace and supplement traditional chemotherapy, etc.). Research is also happening using genetic modification in human embryos with shockingly less controversy, in my observation, among Christians than the general uproar over GMO crops.

Aren’t GMOs “unnatural”? Why not use traditional breeding methods? 
GMOs are not the only big (and “unnatural”) improvement in crop development
. Farmers and scientists (and sometimes even just nature, in ways we don’t always understand) have been improving the crops that we eat since the beginning of time. (Doesn’t this sound like that “Cultural Mandate” to tend the earth and establish ways of life?) Some of the other crop development techniques used today include cross-breeding, mutagenesis, polyploidy, and protoplast fusion. Do you know what those are, off the top of your head? Probably not. (I wouldn’t, either.) There isn’t a lot of uproar about those things, even though they are also fairly “unnatural.” To an untrained scientist like me, their definitions seem just as unnerving: Induced chromosomal manipulation? That’s polyploidy breeding. Blasting a group of parent plants with radiation and then breeding whichever plants mutate into the desirable traits for the next generation, which ends up on our plates? That’s mutagenesis. These crops are subject to the same rigorous safety testing, which demonstrates we can eat these foods with just as much confidence. No one’s stirring up anti-mutagenesis sentiment in modern consumers, as far as I can tell, even though that one (which is allowed within the framework of the USDA Organic program) seems the freakiest to me. Still, “cisgenic or transgenic DNA transfer” sounds a little bit less concerning if you set it up next to those things. (Source: The Genetic Literacy Project “How does Genetic Engineering differ from Conventional Breeding?)

Should we identify GMO foods?
We’ll discuss the facets of GMO labeling requirements in a post later. But it’s important to note that we don’t define any other produce by their breeding or development process. If you eat delicious grapefruit every February and March like I do, you’re very likely eating a “mutagenesized organism.” Have you ever seen a grapefruit with a “mutagenesis” (or “non-mutagenesis”) label? When you compare this to the other ways we develop crops, it seems that calling genetically modified food “GMO” is very much a cultural construct and not a scientific one. 

I’ve purposefully left many points for later discussion and I’m sure more will come up as the series continues, but I’ll end here for now. We’ll be talking about the scientific method, what constitutes a “scientific study” for publication, and discerning reliable sources next. If you’re interested in doing some more reading before the next entry, we suggest the following items to tide you over. Thanks for reading, friends!

“Unhealthy Fixation” by William Saleten for Slate. 
“Pushing Boundaries in Agriculture” TedX talk by Rob Saik (20-minute video) 
GMO FAQ from the Genetic Literacy Project
(We have been impressed with the reliability of this site and they have LOTS of pictures and infographics if that is more your style!)
GMO series by Greg Peterson at the Peterson Farm Brothers (You’ll want to click on the little “next” button at the top to see the rest of the entries.)

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God & GMOs: The Gospel

(Welcome to Part 1 of my new series God & GMOs, which I’m writing in consultation with my molecular biologist husband, Aaron. If you’re new around here, you might want to check out the Introduction and maybe say “hi” in the comments. I know most readers probably haven’t read much in favor of GMO crops online or in your church, so let me know if you have any questions or need clarification as we go!) Untitled Design (2)

To kick off this series about God & GMO’s, I want to start with looking at the Bible. Christian teachers often speak of the Bible’s big story (or “Metanarrative”), which proposes that all biblical passages are connected to the full gospel story: God’s Creation of the earth and mankind, The Fall of Man into sin, Christ’s Redemption on the cross, and the final Restoration of God’s order for eternity. Don’t we need to get on to science? to economics? to agriculture? to ethics? Yes. But I’m mostly burdened to communicate specifically to my Christian brothers and sisters here. Before we start looking at some of that stuff, I’d like to review these points because we can’t really move forward in charged conversations without a common understanding of our spiritual foundation. (If this part doesn’t concern or interest you, I’ll have some helpful links and explanations about GMOs, research standards, and the scientific method coming up soon!)

CREATION
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”(Genesis 2:15)
Mankind was created for life in a beautiful, lush garden, that was full of enough food for everyone. No one would get sick, and no one would die. In that perfect paradise, we were created to tend the plants and animals with freedom to eat from all but one tree. Mankind’s original purpose was stewarding the earth and everything in it, bearing fruit by having children and by establishing ways of life for the coming generations. (Sometimes this is called the “Cultural Mandate.”) We love beautiful plants, enjoying the outdoors, hiking, lakes, fresh food, tending gardens and animals, and “agrarian visions” of idyllic farms because that’s what we were originally made for. Everything in us was made for Eden, and I think most of us don’t realize how desperate we are to get back there.

God created the earth, plants, and animals, and called them all “good.” He created men and women uniquely in his own image, (Gen 1:26-27) and called his image bearers living in that world “very good.” This is an important way God emphasizes the dignity of all people.
(Genesis 1:1-2:24)

FALL
“…cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19) 

The original people in the Garden, Adam and Eve, ate from the one tree God forbade. The fall into sin means mankind and nature are both broken, which are connected in devastating ways. God explicitly says the ground itself is cursed, and that drawing out enough food to survive will be the lifelong toil of man. We listen to the Songs for Saplings catechism CD’s with our kids and find ourselves humming the song that goes along with this point – pain and toil, pain and toil, thorns and thistles, thorns and thistles – with amazement that this is still happening every single day. Aaron experiences this when he spends himself for the projects he manages for developing crops all day, and again when he comes home to see that the germination rate of our summer garden is abysmal. Farmers here and around the world live this out even more so as they work harder than most of us can imagine. This is a huge part of my life, too, in some ways. I’m in charge of the meals and eating at our house. Even though we garden and I have every grocery store I could want (and a farmers market) within a mile or so, and always enough money to get whatever we want (not just need),  I’m constantly planning meals, shopping, preparing them, serving them, or cleaning up after them while I set up for the next one.

This fall into sin also means that relationships are broken. The primary break and conflict is between man and God, which is not fixed until Jesus’ crucifixion, but this fractures our thinking and our relationships with other people as well. In many ways we are all looking out for ourselves, even at the expense of others. Because of our fallen nature, we look for fulfillment in many different ways,  all outside of our standing with God.
 (Genesis 3)
[I discussed this at greater length for Christ and Pop Culture last summer as well.]

REDEMPTION
“…through [Jesus] to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven.” (Colossians 1:20-23)
The only full redemption of the curse of sin in the fall is through Jesus, who restores our right relationship with God by dying in our place. While there are healthy and unhealthy choices we can make about eating, there are no particular kinds of foods or agricultural developments that are always sinful, and, as 1 Corinthians 8:8 says plainly, “food will not commend us to God.” The food that really matters for our spiritual state is Jesus’ body, offered in the Lord’s Supper. (Matthew 15:10-20, 1 Corinthians 8, John 6, Matthew 26:26-29)  

After Jesus resurrected and ascended into heaven, we have the promise of his return, but we are still living under the effects of sin and death on our bodies and on the earth. We are not to live our lives in fear of death, but instead look with hope for God’s promised restoration of all things.  (Hebrews 2:14-15

We also have the Holy Spirit for this age between Christ’s ascension and return. It is the Holy Spirit who develops us in unique, personal ways with spiritual gifts to build up the church and the kingdom of God in love until Jesus returns. (1 Corinthians 12-13, John 14:25-30, Ephesians 1:13-14

RESTORATION
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:20-23)
The Bible tells us the earth (and the generations of people in it) will be sustained in it’s fallen state and then restored fully with Jesus’ future return. While Christians often talk about “going up to heaven to be with Jesus when we die,” the real promise of Restoration is much bigger than that. Isaiah, 2 Peter, and Revelation talk about a “new heaven and a new earth,” and Romans 8 and I Corinthians 15 also talk about the resurrection being for creation as well as people. In the restored kingdom, or heaven, our resurrected life will be filled with food and feasting, without hunger, sickness, or death. When this happens, there will be sowing and reaping, but it will not require the toil that we’ve had since Genesis 3.
(Romans 8, I Corinthians 15, I Thessalonians 5:1-11, Isaiah 25:6-9

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Now, Christians can (and obviously do) disagree about dietary choices and genetic engineering, but as we go on, I hope you’ll see the gospel story provides ample room for the way biotechnology is advancing modern agriculture. I also hope you can learn about GMO foods and scientific progress with the firm foundation of the gospel offering hope instead of trying to figure it out from a place of fear or confusion. I’ll touch on these (and many other) parts of scripture later, too. 

God & GMOs: An Introduction

Guess what? We’re going to turn a little corner and talk about GMO crops here for the next little bit.

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It’s not a secret that I am not much of a scientist. I’m more artsy and relational and feely; my gifts include teaching and communicating. In many ways it’s a powerful blend of gifts that I write and my husband Aaron is a scientist. For anyone who doesn’t know us, he’s a Christian plant biotechnologist (with a PhD in molecular biology) who firmly believes he develops crops using complicated biotechnology (sometimes “GMO” and sometimes not) for the glory of God. We’re both proud that he’s part of the production side of modern agriculture, including using biotech for GMO crops, and we gratefully eat “genetically modified” food all the time. He’s shared about this for The Gospel Coalition and I’ve written a longer think-piece-ish article for Christ and Pop Culture. We’ve also chatted with some of our friends about this on a Vernacular podcast episode and just finished recording an interview with our friend Abigail Murrish for her current podcast series Our Midwestern Life. But talking about science often feels like speaking another language. We have realized we spend a lot of time in our nerdy head-spaces about this, and that is not always helpful for most other people. As far as I can tell, there aren’t many scientists engaging this topic with Christian culture, and the misinformation fed by social media and “mommy bloggers” is deafeningly loud. We have both sensed an urgent need to open this discussion in more accessible ways that we’ve done before. 

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing this series for a very, very long time, but it’s a big topic and I find myself both overwhelmed by the material (which is out of my depth in the technical realm), and resenting the potential for social blowback. A new friend just asked me if I struggled with an unhealthy desire to please others and I had to chuckle a little bit. A Pew Study in 2015 reported that more than half of Christians think genetically modified foods (“GMOs”) are unsafe, and even more think scientists are unclear about the health effects of GM foods. Numbers for the general public’s opinions are similar, but if anything, I was surprised the disapproval rates weren’t higher. This means anytime I tell a new friend what my husband does for a living, I’m more likely to be talking to someone who thinks he’s harming the environment and our food supply than not. Personal responses to this news have ranged between supportive (which is rare, but appreciated), neutral, skeptical, and even hostile. Pleasing people? It usually feels like that ship has sailed. Still, as I prepare these posts, I wonder how this could impact relationships. I checked in with some staff at my church to find out if this might bring up any particular challenges within our congregation. When I close my eyes I can visualize the faces of people I dearly love, people I fear alienating because I know they disagree. Will Thanksgiving be weird if our GMO-skeptic family members don’t like what I say here? Is it possible to just remove some of my email followers for a while and add them back later? Should I block a few people on facebook so they don’t get an immediate notification about this? Would someone who really needs to hear what I shared about my miscarriages be turned off by my discussion about GMOs and food production?  

An important part of critical thinking is not just asking questions about a given topic, but knowing what kinds of questions to ask. It’s fair for me to wonder about those things, but I also have to consider a host of ideas from the other side. There are risks involved in not speaking plainly about this. The more that I read and discuss my numerous resulting questions with the Hummel family Scientist in Residence, I grow increasingly convinced that skepticism and hostility towards biotech in farming (even when it comes from well-meaning sources) feeds shame, anxiety, and conflict in communities around me. I’m even more concerned that this keeps lifesaving technology out of the hands (and hungry bellies) of people around the world who desperately need it to survive. If I serve the God who so loved the world that he offered up his only son, can I also love the world enough to risk opening challenging conversations with my community? Can I model gracious discussion so that Christians are equipped to make decisions about feeding themselves and their families with faith instead of fear? As science advances at a breakneck pace while we lack articulate voices explaining a Christian ethical framework for it all, will I look back at this time and wish I had spoken up sooner? I can’t help but face that the negative repercussions of anti-GMO sentiments, especially in churches around me, are not going to reverse until people like me are willing to turn the conversation around.

In sharing these upcoming posts, please know that I am pledging to offer the best information I can find, explaining it in ways that are clear and gracious. If you’re reading along, please feel free to let me know if you have any questions or if you have any topic or specific angle you’d like to see addressed. (You can reach me in the comment box on this site or through the email address I have listed in the “contact” field on the site menu.)

Thanks, friends. Whether you consider yourself pro-, neutral-, skeptical- or anti- GMO, I hope you’ll stick around!  

Is the Bible Good for Women? (book review & personal recommendation)

When I was pregnant with my daughter, sometime in that second half when we already knew she was a girl, we heard a culmination of flippant, derogatory comments about women from a church community. The teaching wasn’t just “unpopular” or politically incorrect while remaining faithful to God’s word – it was wrong. It painful and embarrassing to hear: that girls should be raised to have “wife and mother” as their sole vocational aim; that a woman who earns money is a shame to her husband; that a wife should only read books pre-approved by her pastor or husband; that it is not appropriate to leave an abusive marriage. (Every single one of these things takes marriage for granted, subversively shaming single women as well.) Beyond the turmoil it caused us to hear those things, my pregnancy made this rhetoric stand up in a new sense. I sighed to Aaron that I was afraid about how hard church might be for our baby when she grew up. As time went on (in other churches, obviously, and not that one), this was a concern I didn’t quickly shake.

We’re Christians and we’re raising our kids in a definitively Christian home. They may or may not become Christians themselves, but there is none of this “feel your own way to your spirit leader when you’re old enough to want something religious” business happening here. Part of this means that some of our values aren’t going to reflect culture, and there will be things we hope to instill in our kids that will seem weird or offensive to others. As a Christian, I read the Bible that esteems women in cultures that demean them, inherently values them as God’s image-bearers instead of as child-bearers, and establishes churches and families to most fully celebrate the God-given dignity of each person. But brokenness is pervasive, and navigating theologically conservative churches as a, um, “woman with thoughts” has been harder than it should be. Though we’re in a wonderful church now, no one can deny how much harm poor theology can inflict on women and families. Some teachers I have known and loved otherwise become pharisaical and legalistic on this topic, placing restrictive guidelines for women that mimic affluent white families in 1950’s America more than any family the Bible talked about. 

In this I felt a heavy burden: conflict between what I saw in the Bible and how that could be twisted into derogative rhetoric wasn’t just a personal issue now. It was a maternal one, too. It’s one thing to set some of my own cognitive dissonance aside, but it’s another to assume my child could be quick to do the same.  Could I expect her to trust me when I teach her God’s word is good but then quickly excuse some of the inappropriate teaching we’ve heard? How would I talk her through some of these hateful or dismissive comments in a way that wouldn’t shake her understanding of a Savior who repeatedly demonstrated his personal love for and engagement with women, even to the shock of religious leaders around him? What was I going to tell her about the straightforward stuff that I still find hard to swallow sometimes?

And beyond this, how on earth would I deal with the really nasty stuff in there? You know, that the Hall-of-Faith father-of-nations Abraham and the man-after-God’s-own-heart King David start looking like sexual predators when you read their stories as an adult? Or the horrendous story of the concubine ripped in twelve pieces from the book of Judges? (And maybe the fact that concubines are even a thing? Hello, King Solomon. I mean, the Old Testament stories are really not lining up with ANY talks I heard at youth group about Christian sexual ethics.)

These are all good questions, and they are things any pastor or scholar should expect a thoughtful Christian to confront. I want to take my bible study seriously, and I generally find the teachings on the liberal end of the theological spectrum seem to be more serious about various agendas than about the scripture or about God Himself, which I cannot share. (This is not to say that my friends who align there are flippant about their faith.) But even though we give lip service to “being good Bereans” and wrestling with scripture ourselves, my more conservative evangelical circles tend to consider these questions more antagonistic than anything else. This is not how it should be. (And as we settle in to a new church, I’m glad to see it is not always this way!) In this turmoil, I found myself extremely grateful for the wise work from Wendy Alsup, “Is the Bible Good for Women? Seeking Clarity and Confidence Through a Jesus-Centered Understanding of Scripture.”

is the bible good for max

see? even Max likes it.

 

 This book isn’t specifically about parenting, but if I’m honest, I can’t even say it was primarily about women, either. It’s about Jesus and how God’s plan for salvation is evident on every page of Scripture. Alsup shows how turning just to those “feminine” passages in the Bible (the ones that show up if you search “women” in a concordance) perpetuates a disjointed and hurtful view of the human race. Reducing problems so often to “gender role differences” damages men and women alike, though it usually hits women more immediately. Upholding the Bible as the greatest commentary on itself, she tackles the hard questions about faith and femininity using the lens of Christ to understand God’s goodness to women.

“Is the Bible Good for Women?” is not just written to theologians and church leaders, it’s for skeptics, too. The answers aren’t always easy. She says, for instance, that the highest levels of church leadership are still reserved for men and my progressive friends probably wouldn’t change their minds here. I sensed in a few spots that my renewed parenting-induced panic meant I was the skeptic she wrote for, but I suspect this book would not make them immediately want to punch someone. I have loved enough people on both “sides” of Christian gender discussions to recognize this is a significant accomplishment. From the initial charge to read the Bible as commentary on itself through to the fascinating concluding analysis of the apostle Peter’s character development as a study in leadership and maturity, Wendy Alsup demonstrates a firm faithfulness to God’s good word and humility in these difficult topics. This is a gracious entry into a deeply divided discussion, and I hope to see further conversations on this topic continue in the Christ-oriented and compassionate direction she leads with this book. 

There’s a fascinating relationship between math and formal logic, and the author’s formal training in mathematics education is evident in the systematic flow of argument and the careful presentation of facts. But it’s still personal, and the discussion often touches deep nerves. From Dinah’s rape (Genesis 34) and the Levite’s dismembered concubine (Judges 19), she shows God’s faithfulness to avenge those who abuse women. From the Law’s description of capital punishment for adultery (Deuteronomy 22), she points to the perfect fulfillment Jesus made to protect women where the Law was insufficient (particularly in John 8). From confusing and seemingly oppressive passages in the New Testament epistles, she demonstrates God’s extravagant goodness, too. Where women are forbidden to teach (1 Timothy 2), we see God equipping all women with gifts for the good of all people. Where Paul discusses head covering (1 Corinthians 11), we see God’s disgust for slavery and sexual oppression. Where wives are commanded to be subject to their husbands (Ephesians 5), we see more of the God who laid down his life and all earthly power for the sake of his bride, the Church. All this exalts the God who created all humans bearing his image, called us “good” then, and has given us his Word and Himself only for our good ever since then.


This book was a blessing to me and I expect it would be encouraging to most other readers! If I haven’t exactly convinced you to read this yet, you can also read an excerpt published in Christianity Today, listen to the  Mortification of Spin podcast with Wendy here , or consider this shorter review from the Gospel Coalition. And then you can buy it for yourself!

mercy every morning || (part 2)

[the wormwood & the gall(stones) || part 1] 

I’ve never understood why some people hate making New Year’s resolutions. Even if they come to a fail, you can always try. And at least an effort toward your goal is totally worth it, right? Not trying seems like the worst kind of failure to me. Relinquishing my usual practice of claiming a huge and completely unrealistic batch of resolutions in 2016 felt like a huge sacrifice. With limited support and two small children, especially that baby who didn’t read those books about how much babies should sleep, choosing a survive-every-day plan was the right thing to do. The circumstances forced me to live in the tension of believing that raising a child is one of the most productive endeavors and that it can also feel like you’re wasting your life. Yes, the children need more of me than I thought possible and that matters, but how could I have basically no other direction for my hopes and dreams in life? Did I not want to get anything done or become My Very Best Self Ever? Honestly, it was almost embarrassing. 

If you don’t like New Years Resolutions, you’re probably shaking your head at all of this. But really, whether you have an overly optimistic series of goals or don’t resolve for anything (and I guess whether February finds you powering through or in despair over broken resolutions), the problem with New Year’s Resolutions is not that some of us think too much of January as a “fresh start.” It’s really that all of us don’t think highly enough of the mercy God makes new for every day.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night.
And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day. – Genesis 1:3-5

Creation poetry might be my favorite part of scripture. I love the consistent whisper of hope: there was evening and then there was morning! The first day. There was evening and then there was morning! The second day. It happened again! And again! God’s specific and general self-display all confirms this: Light comes out over dark. Then day comes out over night, plants come out over dirt, order comes out over the void, all pointing to the truest poem of the resurrection, when life comes out over death. This is breathtaking, but it almost seems ironic for me: these days, mornings can be very hard. For a long, long time we lived in the tension of desires to consistently train the kids to stay in bed until a reasonable hour and not let that morning’s protester (because you KNOW they trade off like that) scream long enough to wake the other one. So when we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” with our kids most nights, that line “early in the morning/ our song shall rise to Thee” is a little haunting. Every time, I wonder: exactly how early are we talking here? And is this just once, or many different times? Just as those little people start sleeping more consistently at night, they develop the ability to crawl out of their cribs and the morning training takes a whole new set of strategies.

Mornings can be hard for other reasons, too. It’s a gift that in sleep, you are removed from whatever hardship you’re facing. This is true of daily tasks and difficulty alike. In sleep we are all leveled the same. But then eyes open, you remember where you are, and the task of the day comes over you.
My body is dirty and my belly is empty.
My child is poking my eye and the baby is crying.
My job is waiting, where I must face my own inadequacy or pour myself out for someone else’s benefit. Also, my boss is a jerk.
My relationship is broken – either I am in the wrong or I must forgive someone, or both.
Maybe my dream is crushed, or someone I love is gone, or whatever.
In waking we must eat, shower, tend, work, reconcile, grieve. Even the very best mornings, especially with my small children who can’t do any of this themselves, require a lot of faithful making: make the coffee, make the bed, make an effort to write, make the eggs. This year’s resolutions, even when I rejoiced to make them, have a way of condemning me with my failure to produce, and I think about that in the morning these days, too. It is in these early re-rememberings that God shows he is also in the business of faithful making, with new mercies that come every morning afresh.

 

Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:23-25


Mercy is interesting, especially when you’re thinking about hardship and restarts, because I don’t know if we always talk about it rightly. I’ve heard the word used many different ways lately: “Traveling mercies.” The mercy of a quick death.  The severe mercy of loss. The mercy of a parent passing over a child’s punishment. Sometimes mercy is supposed to mean divine protection, or healing, or sovereign guidance. I always think about the older translation of Psalm 23: “Surely thy lovingkindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” and the dictionary tells me it’s a compassionate forbearance usually shown towards an offender. Let’s be really frank here: Compassion sounds great, but it means “Suffering-with” when we would rather pretend like hard things aren’t there. And then mercy meaning that compassionate forbearance there is “towards an offender”? I don’t like the implications of that last little part very well, either. But this is God’s solution to affliction. It’s not that we can ignore it or that he will necessarily remove it. We have to call hardship what it is to know the fullness of God’s love for us, because maybe this is how we know it doesn’t interrupt His care for us. Fresh mercy for every day means that in any state of sin or sorrow, whatever hits me when my eyes open each morning, God meets me there – no holding back, no matter what. It means I have to show up to whatever difficulty comes to me or I’m going to miss what God is doing for me in it. And it means that in any state of disarray, from my bed to my brokenness, God is faithfully making these messy and hard things new. 

Sharing Elsewhere: Risen Motherhood

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I’m really excited to be sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned through my miscarriages on the Risen Motherhood podcast this week! Hosts Emily Jensen and Laura Wifler discuss the way the gospel transforms a mom’s everyday life on this quick weekly show. Since neither of them have suffered miscarriage themselves, they asked if I would be willing to share a little bit from my journey as part of a back-to-back interview episode about miscarriage and the gospel. Most of what I shared won’t be completely new to friends or readers here, but I think you’ll enjoy hearing the complementary stories of God’s grace during the episode. This is a fabulous resource for women seeking hope and healing after losing a baby, and I’m grateful for the chance to be part of this beautiful ministry!

[ If you’re not already a faithful Risen Motherhood listener, you can always listen in on their website (www.RisenMotherhood.com). I also suggest connecting with them on Facebook and subscribing with your favorite podcast streaming site (maybe iTunes?) or app so you don’t miss an episode! ]

Strengthen Me According To Your Word

STRENGTHEN ME ACCORDING TO YOUR WORD: Scriptures to Read After Miscarriage. 

“My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.” – Psalm 119:28

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I’ve been very humbled to walk in grief next to many friends after they have miscarried a baby, and I think the most common question they bring up has been, “Did you have any particular scriptures I should read? What does the Bible say to me about this?” (And others want to know how to help someone else, what they can say after their friend loses a baby, too.) While I’ve already written about the journey I took discovering [how the topic of miscarriage fits into the “big picture” of scripture] after my losses, the Bible does provide some additional encouragement here as well. Scripture is words of life for those in the midst of death. We don’t have to fumble for random and theologically troubling explanations outside of this!

On Grief & Broken Hearts

Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he saves those who are crushed in spirit.” 
Psalm 31: 9 “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted with grief.” 

It is okay to be honest in prayer about the difficulty of grief; God never asks us to get our emotions under control or pretend like everything is fine before coming to him.

Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

It’s a gift that this doesn’t say:“Blessed are those who have bad things happen to them, for they shall be stronger than everyone else.” Everyone has difficulty in life, but not everyone actually mourns or allows themselves to grieve. God’s comfort comes to us while we’re working through difficulty, not by avoiding it or pretending something wasn’t a big deal.

On Hurtful Words & Difficult Relationships 

Psalm 31: 20 “You store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.” 

The Lord offers refuge and healing in himself when other people’s words cut deeply.  When facing difficult conversation and remembering painful comments from others, rest in the shelter that God offers in himself. We can always keep running to him instead of reopening the wounds made by others’ thoughtless words.

Isaiah 53:3-4 “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hid their faces, he was despised… Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” 

[One of the most common responses to news of a miscarriage is “At least you weren’t further along, like my friend’s stillbirth,” or “At least you hadn’t been trying long,” or “At least you know you can get pregnant.” The message this sends: ‘Grief is a competition and lots of other people have it worse than you. You don’t deserve to grieve.’ That is a lie.] There is a time to empathize with others and get some perspective, of course. I wouldn’t approach someone whose children were killed by terrorists and say “You know, I had miscarriages so I know just what this is like.” No way! But when you are stricken with a personal tragedy, that grief is real and it matters.  Being dismissed by people who should have known better doesn’t make this less true: For a Christian, the only real “competition” for grief is Jesus. While bearing the weight of all sin and sorrow, he also felt the pain of messed up relationships. He was abandoned and misunderstood. He was hurt by people he trusted. His suffering was the worst because he took all our grief and sorrow to the cross, and in the resurrection he is victorious over all of it, too. Sin and suffering (which sometimes correlate, and sometimes do not) are not ultimate for us because of this.

On Weariness & Strength 

Psalm 31:7 “I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul.”
Psalm 119:50 “My comfort in my affliction is this: your promise preserves my life.” 

For a Christian, the remedy for sorrow and weariness is found in the Lord. Not in a future earthly good (for example, having another baby after a miscarriage) or “moving past” the difficulty in question. When other people aren’t walking alongside you in ways you need, and those relationships feel very disappointing? You can rejoice in the steadfast love of God, who has known the distress of your soul. When you are afflicted and sorrowful? You can trust that God’s promise of salvation preserves your life.

On Sin & Shame 

Psalm 103:10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.”

A miscarriage is not punishment for sin, and a living baby is not a reward for righteousness. No one “deserves” a miscarriage for any reason, just like no one “deserves” a child. 

The Baby’s Life & Purpose 

Psalm 139:13-14 “You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” 

When you really consider all that’s involved with conception and fetal development, it’s a wonder the human race has sustained this long. A 1st-trimester baby, even one with profound genetic deformities, is a pure miracle. Whether we have a “reason” for a miscarriage like that (which is supposed to be about 50% of losses) or not, we can praise God for his marvelous creation in the baby’s life. I’m still surprised by how many people told me, “There was probably something wrong with the baby,” as if that was supposed to lessen my grief or explain God’s purpose. My specific medical history indicates this was probably not the case anyway, but no matter what: God’s image was placed in the baby just as much as it was with any of us. Even the shortest of lives is a praiseworthy and mysterious marvel. 

Psalm 138:8 “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.”
Psalm 139:16 “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

I’ll admit, I’ve thought these verses were kind of unfair – why would God create a baby with a life only in the womb, even life measured by days more than weeks? What is the point of that? Why even create the baby in the first place?  Yet we can be comforted that God is not limited by time or human frailty; we are all like helpless children before God. That God can use my 30-year-old life and reasonably well-trained mind to fulfill his purpose is not less astounding than that he could do the same in the MUCH shorter life of a baby who died in the womb.

On God’s Love

Psalm 103:13-14 “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”  

God’s love and desire for his children is even more powerful than the difficulty of a miscarriage or other loss. He isn’t surprised by weakness or failure, and he doesn’t expect us to summon supernatural strength apart from himself.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

NOT: “For God so loved the miscarrying woman that he gave her a new baby of her own, that whoever believes in him will no longer miscarry, but have a pro-creative life.” We know God loves us because he gave us his son; we do not measure or prove God’s love for us by anything else.

Romans 8:38-39 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

That “…nor anything else in all creation” includes your baby. Their life or death does not separate us from God’s love.

On Hope & The Resurrection 

1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 27 “Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all died, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. …The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

The true message of hope and encouragement in grief is in the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and return. (And if this feels weird, it is. Y’all, Christianity definitely requires a little weirdness. There’s no Jesus Lite version to opt out of this stuff.)  Grief is one of the many places where the rubber of Christianity hits the road of real life. In many ways this is where you actually need the weirdness of Christianity most!

The poet John Donne, who grieved many profound losses (father, siblings, children, wife) reflected on these verses and wrote the sonnet “Death, Be Not Proud,” with an ending that says this better than anyone else: “One short sleep past, we wake eternally/ and death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die!” The pain and loss of a miscarriage find their final remedy in the Resurrection, which destroys destruction and kills death.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ” But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 

This scripture is a particular treasure after a miscarriage because it doesn’t tell us not to grieve, it says we grieve differently than other people.
It doesn’t tell us that hope replaces grief, it shows that hope transforms our grief.
It doesn’t tell us we’ll be happy when we can “get over” the difficulty we face, it points to Jesus overcoming the difficulty in our place.
And it doesn’t tell us we will stop grieving at some arbitrary point in life, or even when we see our loved ones in heaven. It offers a better promise: that we will always be with the Lord.