Dear Abby Father Jonathan

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Last week, I asked you for suggestions about improving this column in 2007.

There was a strong consensus to continue to dedicate the bulk of this blog to ethical and religious commentary on breaking news, social trends and ethical dilemmas.

The biggest surprise for me was the recurrent and insistent request that I offer practical advice on dealing with your everyday problems, such as relationships, spiritual development, child rearing and workplace ethics.

“Dear Abby Father Jonathan” — hmm …

Quite honestly, I have mixed feelings about this. First of all, I believe that most problems of this sort do not have a quick fix. A few words or paragraphs of mine, posted on a website, are unlikely to make a substantial and positive difference in your lives. In some cases, they may even muddy the waters. Secondly, this venue has its limitations. It’s not a place to preach or debate theology. It is a news and information site.

So what should we do?

I’ve got a counteroffer for you. We’ll do a test run. If you would like advice about a personal dilemma, feel free to send me a note in the coming days. I’ll pick out those I think are content appropriate, of broad interest, and to which I might be able to add something of worth based on my particular academic and spiritual training.

If you find the pilot program helpful, maybe I'll dedicate a column to this once every week or two.

Here’s a sampler …

Dear Father Jonathan,

My husband and I both grew up in broken homes. We married relatively late … partly because we weren’t so thrilled about repeating our parents’ history. We would like to have children, but we can’t seem to get the guts up to do it. I guess it’s mostly my husband who is scared. While he has never said it, I think he is afraid of what it would do to the kids, if our marriage eventually ends in divorce. The funny thing is, is that he is the most faithful and loyal guy you could ever meet – I think I’m pretty good too. What do I do? I’ve only got a few years left on the biological clock, so we have to make up our minds soon! Maybe you think it’s funny that I’m asking you this, so only answer if you want.— Sara

Dear Sara, what a nice note! Congratulations on finding such a good guy. I run into more and more people like you, who are afraid to have children, for the children’s sake. Sometimes their concerns are similar to yours, but even more common, is the fear of bringing a child into “this messed up world.” The ironic thing about both cases, is that the people who worry about these things seem to be the best candidates to become super parents. Why? Because they are already concerned about the well being of their child! Kids don’t need perfect parents, or even a perfect world; they need love. It sounds to me like you and your husband can give lots of that.

Father Jonathan, I really enjoy reading your articles. Please keep them coming ... I have an issue that's going on in our church, and thought that you may know of some material or articles that could help me sort it all out. Our pastor is a hard working lady, but she has struck out at members of the church in meetings, for the slightest of reasons. I witnessed this first hand, and it's really divided our church. I know your Webpage wasn't set up to give advice on such issues, but I thought you might know of some material that I could get that would help. Thanks in advance and God Bless! — Bill

Dear Bill, I decided to change your name here to keep your privacy. I can only imagine how many sparks would fly if your pastor read your name here! On a serious note, you say she is “hard-working.” Your attitude is admirable. You have been able to keep her weaknesses in perspective. I pick up from your note that she is a genuine person who really wants to serve her flock, but sometimes doesn’t know the best way to do it. I have two suggestions. First, make a concerted effort to help your fellow church members gain this same perspective. Talk openly to them about her qualities, about all the good she has done, about how much she sacrifices for the community -- whatever other positive things you can think of. This is not equivalent to evading the problem, or condoning her behavior. It is charity, and it builds peace and unity. Secondly, keep in mind disproportionate anger like that of your pastor is usually a sign that the person is dealing with other issues. Too often, we try to fix the problem by pointing out how wrong the other is, to respond in this or that way. That only makes the matter worse! I’m sure your pastor knows her reactions are irrational. Maybe she just needs a good and wise friend to lend her an ear.

God bless, Father Jonathan

P.S. I’ve settled on six categories for the “What I’ve Been Reading” section below. I think maintaining them will give greater continuity and direction to this feature. Enjoy!

What I'm Reading:

Values and Politics

Democrats Seek the Middle on Social Issues
Unprecedented Activism Has Little Impact in Darfur
McCain Hopes to Mend Ties with Christian Leader
Chavez's Holy War

Social Trends

The Many Stripes of Anti-Americanism
The European Demographic Crisis
Faith-Based Youth Groups Major Influence for Teens
In Erotically Superheated Society, Chastity is Being Reclaimed

Ethical Dilemmas

Reject Torture – and Redeem America’s Soul
It’s Not Torture and It Is Necessary
Sextuplets Spark Debate on Faith, Medical Treatment


Patience is a Virtue When Seeking the Big Religion Story
Islam’s Sunni-Shiite Split: A Look at the Historical Divide
After the Martin Luther King, Jr Era, a New Generation of Preachers
Collared: A New Generation of Priests

Not all news is bad news

Muslim Swimwear, the 'Burkini,' Hits the Beaches of Australia
Evangelical, Scientific Leaders Launch Effort to Protect Life on Earth
‘Sponsor a Gargoyle’: The Drive to Save Shakespeare’s Church

News which never made the News

Press Ignores Religious Freedom Day, 2007, But Why?
The Gospel of '24'
Carter, Clinton Help Form New Baptist Organization
The Impact of One Single Young Person

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