Monthly Archives: February 2009

>Developmental Theology (or: Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes)

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My final molecular genetics course is Mol Gen 608: Genes and Development. It’s a fascinating topic and, to me anyway, a little more palatable than the nitty-gritty cell biology I took last quarter. But I guess 607 (and to some extent 606) is to 608 what organic chemistry is to biology, in that I do need to understand how basic mechanisms like signaling and cytoskeletal changes occur, in order to understand how larger changes happen. (But, oh, the pain, the pain, the pain!) I’ve learned a lot more about fruit flies and nematodes than I probably ever need to know (and thoroughly overused the word vulva, teehee!), and as always I see metaphors for my spiritual life.

Planarians are flatworms, but these primitive little critters have the amazing ability to regenerate their bodies from a 1/279th fragment. The catch is that this fragment must contain a type of cell called a neoblast. Basically, the neoblast is the precursor of all other cell types and forms a structure called the regeneration blastema. Cells in the blastema differentiate, establish patterns for the new body parts, and coordinate remodeling of existing cells in a process called morphallaxis. Eventually, the regenerated body parts reach fully functional homeostasis.

Jesus is the neoblast. When life has cut me to pieces, He can regenerate me. I was reading Romans 12 today and verse 2 instructs us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” My Bible commentary said that regeneration (salvation, in theo-speak) is instant, but transformation (sanctification) is a process akin to remodeling…or morphallaxis. That, I think, is the hard part: ripping down old habits, thoughts, feelings that have been hijacked by sin and changing them for better use. I’ve never renovated a house, but I’m sure there are times when it is so frustrating it might seem easier to just buy a new place. But that’s not an option when it comes to life (as many times this week as I wish it were so!) I have to work with the broken bits that I have, but with Jesus as my neoblast, it’ll happen.

The neoblast is capable of generating many, if not all, types of cells; that is called pluripotency (or totipotency, in the case of embryonic stem cells which can generate an entirely new embryo). I am not totipotent…only Jesus is. I was reflecting on Joe’s sermon about “One Body, Many Parts” (Ephesians 4) when I realized that I am often trying to be too many parts, to be the blastema, as it were. But the magic of the blastema is that it can generate all sorts of differentiated cells. If it never differentiated, all you’d have is a mass of tissue, maybe with some teeth or hair poking out in weird places. Differentiation is crucial, and maybe the reason I feel so off-kilter is because I’m trying to be too many things and just winding up a big ball of stress. I think, deep down, that this is so I don’t have to rely on anyone else. I was always taught to be independent, to take care of myself, and it has definitely been difficult learning how to trust others to do things for me. And I am still unwilling to reach the point of needing someone else. After all, aren’t I supposed to rely on God to supply my needs? But on the other hand, sometimes He works through people. Then there is the pride that comes with self reliance and sustainability. Where is the balance? I don’t know yet, but I better figure it out because I’m sick of being a mutant mass of whatever.

It’s so wild that Joe preached on this topic this week, because during our prayer meeting on Sunday I felt compelled to pray that our members can find out what it is that they uniquely have to offer this particular body. I’ve been thinking about it more as we start the transition to next year’s leaders, and while part of me is a little scared to be “replaced,” a larger part of me is afraid there will be no one to step up. But maybe that’s okay, after all, no one says that XA has to follow my particular vision, and maybe it’s time for me to bring that somewhere else. I still pray that everyone can know what part they are supposed to be, though. Knees, for prayer. Shoulders, to offer comfort and strength. Arms, to carry through mercy. Hands, to help, heal, and hold in solidarity. Feet, to move the Gospel and march for God’s justice. Toes, to wiggle in worship. Ears, to hear God’s spirit and listen to people’s hearts. Eyes, to see God’s children and past people’s masks. Noses, to detect the stench of sin before it spreads. Mouths, to proclaim, preach, and praise. Minds, to think and to teach. Hearts, to drive our actions. And of course, Jesus is the head. (The analogy gets even crazier, since embryonic patterning happens in an anterior-posterior direction, but I think I’m already treading the Lunatic Fringe with this one, so I’ll back off. …I have been studying for so long I think I may be clinically insane.)

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>Attack of the Clones (Subtitle: Martha, Martha, Martha!)

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“Jennifer needs a clone…or several…to go to all the mission fields she wants to be at!”

This was my status message last night after I received the Taiwan STM application from my pastor. The trip is from July 9 – July 31, so if I stay at OSU for the M.Ed program I will certainly not be able to go this year (not even considering whether I have to go to the KSTF summer meeting). So I’m grinding my teeth over this already as I read this statement at the end:

I understand that once I apply for the STM, and my application is accepted, I am automatically a team member and will be responsible to attend all team meetings unless excused. This, however, does not mean that I will be going to the mission field. I may be called to support the team and to serve back home in prayer and helping with the formation of the team, as in 1 Sam 30:24 “And who will listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down to the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage; they shall share alike.” Even though you may not go on the trip, you are still a part of this team. [emphasis added]

When I first read this, I thought it was really strange, but agreed with it in principle. This morning, I read the following passage from Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver:

“Even if I have a burden for a certain need or project, my interest or concern is not a surefire sign that I need to be in charge. God may only be calling me to pray that the right person will rise up to accomplish it. What’s more, I may be stealing someone else’s blessing when I assume I must do it all.” (Weaver 67) [emphasis added]

Ai-yah, kick me in the face!! I want to go to Taiwan more and more every time my econ professor talks about the mangoes and pineapples in Costa Rica. But…I think I see the puzzle pieces coming together…

Piece #1. Ever since Erik incorporated Operation World into one of our prayer meetings, which Paul York not-coincidentally brought up again during the Spirit Life retreat two weeks ago, God’s been teaching me a lot about the power of prayer for world missions, if only because there is no possible way for me to go to each country listed every day. (Today’s country: Aruba, which doesn’t sound like a bad idea right now!)

Piece #2. Yesterday afternoon (before all this really gelled in my brain) I sat down and wrote out what I see right now as my “fields” (initially done as an exercise to clarify the mission I would wish to share with a potential mate):

-the intellectual life of Christians, particularly young people
-international students
-Burkina Faso (or Africa in general), mothers and children
-China and Taiwan, children
prayer and support for global missions
-finding the beauty of the LORD every day
-reading and writing voraciously

Conclusion. As I consider my options for graduate school, I think of the words of Robert Frost: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both” (“The Road Not Taken”). As far as I can see (which is not very far), my grad school decision leads, for the immediate future, anyway, to two different fields. Are they both important? Yes. Do they both tug on my heart so hard it hurts sometimes? Yes. Do I have to do it all myself? No.

The past week saw me wandering back to old Martha-esque thoughts and habits, and I could feel myself throwing pots and pans around and struggling to take off my apron and STOP THE DAMN KITCHENAID…until I came crashing out of the kitchen to land at Jesus’ feet, and here is what He told me:

Nothing is harder to bear than a burden we’re not called to carry. While God does ask us to bear one another’s burdens, he has not asked us to step in and do what people are not willing to do themselves. And while there are many needs, God has not asked us to meet every one. (Weaver 59) [emphasis added]

So that at least confirms a decision I made two weekends ago to put someone very important to me into the hands of God and limit my involvement to prayer. Prayer, I am realizing, should be a first resort. It is not the least we can do, but the most. So turning back to the Taiwan STM, I don’t know what my role in that will be yet, but here, for now, is my prayer:

Father, just as you did last year, raise up the perfect team for your work in Taiwan. You know the people whose needs we will meet and I pray that you send the right team members. God, it would be my honor to go and serve but also my privilege to stay and pray. “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” (Proverbs 16:3