Agree to Disagree or Agree to Assassinate?

Today, as he continues to drop in the polls, he suggested that Americans wielding firearms take potential President Clinton's life. It wasn't even a funny joke.

The Problem of Donald Trump's Faith

The Donald is at it again. 

Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In a swarm of unlikely GOP candidates, Donald Trump caps it off by convincing almost a quarter of likely GOP voters that he's the one to go up against Hillary. There's already talk that if Rick Perry gets his way, Donald will personally fund his own third-party candidacy. This would likely rob Republican votes of a worthwhile GOP candidate and almost guarantee a win for the Democrats in two Novembers time. In a world where Fox News has warned its viewership of the plague of political correctness, it's not surprising that a straight-talking, wildly-rich, anti-political Mr. Fix It is attracting a bunch of regular folks who are fed up with the current Administration

At this point, Trump is almost impenetrable. He denigrated a beloved maverick. He read aloud a private cellphone number of a likable bachelor. He, perhaps most dramatically, racially profiled millions of America's workforce. And somehow each time, no matter how much the press has pushed him, he's managed to weasel his way out only to grow in the polls. It is fascinating.

His bit about John McCain at The Family Leadership Summit was untrue, unwarranted, and wildly stupid and though it received, by far, the most media attention, it wasn't the the most remarkable part of that interview for me. I found myself entranced by his comments about faith. Most significantly, forgiveness.

Bluntly, Trump was asked, "Have you ever asked God for forgiveness?"

Trump answered it as Trump always does, as only he can. "That's a tough question. I don't think in terms of...I'm a religious person, shockingly...I'm Protestant, I'm Presbyterian, I go to church and I love God and I love my church." He continued with a story about "the great" Norman Vincent Peale, a man he reveres and whose sermons made a lasting impression on him. Never, of course, answering the question, "Have you ever asked God for forgiveness?"

I love this next part. The moderator didn't let it go. "But. Have you ever asked God for forgiveness?" The audience laughed. Trump responded, stumped. "I'm not sure I have. I just go and try and do a better job from there. I don't think so."

He likely could not have been more honest. While later he rightly referred to taking the "wine and crackers" at communion as a way of asking for forgiveness, there was a certain attitude of humility and repentance that the moderator was looking for to which Trump, truthfully, could not admit. Maybe it's because Trump can't admit to wrongdoing; that certainly seems likely. Maybe it's because Trump thinks he's the greatest man to walk this earth; that seems possible.

I can't help but point to his own admission: his pastor, to which he immediately made reference and shared exuberantly about his influence, may have shaped--or at least allowed--this mindset of Trump. 

To those familiar with recent American history and theological thought, the name Norman Vincent Peale isn't foreign. A controversial pastor after the release of his book, "The Power of Positive Thinking", Peale's teachings were shunned by both the mental health and theological communities being regarded by some as heretical.

Indeed Peale's writings are problematic for Christians who seek not to find faith in themselves but to find faith in Jesus Christ. Even Amazon's description of Peale's best-selling book says it bluntly:

"With the practical techniques outlined in this book, you can energize your life—and give yourself the initiative needed to carry out your ambitions and hopes. You’ll learn how to:

· Believe in yourself and in everything you do
· Build new power and determination
· Develop the power to reach your goals
· Break the worry habit and achieve a relaxed life
· Improve your personal and professional relationships
· Assume control over your circumstances
· Be kind to yourself" 

Seems an odd set of goals from a Christian pastor, eh? It's a self-help book, sure, but its Christian message, if there even is one, leaves much to be desired.

Wikipedia's entry on Peale quotes John Krumm(the book linked above), Reinhold Niebuhr, and G. Bromley Oxnam on Peale's anti-Christian espousing in his book. Wikipedia's choice of quotes from Liston Pope was my favorite though, "There is nothing humble or pious in the view this cult takes of God. God becomes sort of a master psychiatrist who will help you get out of your difficulties. The formulas and the constanat reiteration of such themes as "You and God can do anything" are very nearly blasphemous." ("The Case against Easy Religion," William Peters. Redbook Magazine, September 1955, pp. 22–23, 92-94). I mean, come on Dr. Pope, tell us how you really feel.

Either Trump needed to name-drop to evade a question about his own brokenness or Norman Vincent Peale made a lasting impact on The Donald through his preaching. The evidence, Trump's refusal to admit to his need for forgiveness, points to the latter. If a preacher preaches that one can overcome the most difficult obstacles and accomplish anything simply by thinking positively about it, how can one be convinced of their own need for redemption and forgiveness?

It doesn't take a political genius to realize that Trump's humility is lacking. I'm convinced, as a Christian minister, that humility and a self-awareness of one's own brokenness is essential to their discipleship. If one claims to be a Christian, as Donald does, one must be convinced of their own need for grace. Without it, there's no point in Jesus.

The problem? GOP voters have already proven in large part that politicians speak louder in their hearts than their pastors do and conservative pastors continually shape the work of their sermons and their reading of Scripture within the political atmosphere. I fear that an influential presidential candidate might renew a sense in America's Christians that one's own humility is not necessary for the gospel.

That is a lie. That is a problem. 

-B


Dave Ramsey Blocked Me On Twitter

A little background info: A few months back Allison and I took Dave Ramsey's "Financial Peace University" course at First United Methodist Church in Lakeland, FL.  We were greatly entertained by his video presentations, we had a wonderful group leader and group members, and we came away from the experience with a new, fresh set of eyes to the world.  Since the class we have treated money in a very different way, being unbelievably careful in our budgeting.  I strongly recommend the course for anyone with money woes as it appears to me to be the best thing going for getting out of debt, saving for retirement, and becoming financially peaceful instead of financially and persistently worried.

But having said that, a story.

I spent the last three years of my life studying Scripture, homiletics, liturgics, exegesis, evangelism, and more at what major portions of the Christian world might call a "liberal" seminary: Duke Divinity School.  Duke's seminary is far from overtly liberal, but that's a story for another day.

There is, however, a persistent and common theme among many of Duke seminarians' worldviews.  Many who attend Duke's Divinity School (not all, just many) see significant problems with the economic status of this country. Without entering into my best impression of Michael Moore, I'll suffice it to say that Capitalism, as it is practiced in the United States, seems contrary to much of Jesus's teachings about caring for the poor. Capitalism seems antithetical to our command to care for the poor. Capitalism, as they and I see it, exemplifies and glorifies the successful ones making generalizations about the less successful, generally resulting in a lower quality of life for the less successful. Capitalism is economic survival of the fittest and fundamentally less compassionate than other systems.

Due to poor judgment (I guess) and a genuine interest in the financial woes of this country, I make a regular habit out of listening to Dave Ramsey's podcast.  For the most part, The Dave Ramsey Show consists of callers who call in and either 1) need advice on a business or how to get them or a friend out of debt or 2) a family or individual celebrating their new debt-free life with a "debt-free scream".  (I'll admit to getting teary-eyed on more than one occasion at the debt-free scream after hearing the story.)

Every once in awhile though, The Dave Ramsey Show features a belligerent and angry Dave Ramsey who counters any new measure President Obama has made. Or, if he's feeling greedy, any movement of the Left.  Dave takes it upon himself to show his listeners how "stupid" (yes, he uses the word frequently) Obama's "socialistic" ideas are. To Dave, socialism has no virtues.  Spreading the wealth has no business with he hard-earned money.

Dave started into a rant one day about how people asking for higher wages in minimum wage jobs don't deserve a higher pay--their economic value isn't high enough.  He drew a distinction between a person's inherent and economic value.  While the human has value, the market dictates someone's economic value (and therefore their paid wage).  It's free market, capitalistic jargon at its best.

I struggled here.

Someone's economic value is completely separate from their value as a human? The two are not related or interact at all? Is the proper response to the poor a lesson on their economic value? Is that how Jesus responded?

So I posted this tweet when I got out of the shower (I listen to his show in the shower):

I literally didn't even get dried off completely before Dave responded.

I was caught off guard here as I didn't expect Dave to respond. I wondered if Dave and I were referring to the same "Word."  I was imagining he meant the Word Became Flesh. Intrigued, I pressed on.

I was lost now.  There was no way he and I were reading the same Bible.  The Bible I read points to a God who came in the form of a man, in the form of broken humanity, to redeem humanity in new life through death and resurrection, to teach God's children how they were to be, and to present a Kingdom that was unlike any other. Jesus's ministry on earth dealt largely with compassion toward the poor and healing of their often sick and diseased bodies. Never once did Jesus say, "You know, you're poor.  And you're poor because your economic value isn't high enough." This just wasn't clicking for me.

I responded:

Note:  I threw in the bit about giving because I thought we could find common ground.  Dave's class encourages students to build extravagant wealth and then GIVE like no one else. Dave's class encourages his students to cut down their lifestyle to an affordable level, he says, "Live like no one else so that later you can live and GIVE like no one else."  I was attempting to throw him a good and helpful bone.

He responded:

For what it's worth, I believe the Parable of the Talents to be about discipleship in growth of the kingdom, not a study in economics (though he's not the first person I've seen point to it as an economic lesson and I doubt he will be the last).  

And that was that.  Dave, I'm assuming, added me to his increasingly popular "blocked" list. I can no longer follow him and I assume that any @reply to Dave's account will go unseen when coming from my account.  One short seemingly harmless conversation in which a student of Dave's decided that he didn't quite agree with Dave and Dave decided that he never wanted to hear from that student again.  A relationship ended over a disagreement and nothing more.

I learned two things:

  1. If you disagree with Dave, you're no longer a friend of Dave.
  2. Dave doesn't even believe what he says he believes.

Regarding #2, to close.  Every single time a caller calls in to Dave's radio show and asks how Dave is doing, his go-to response is the same: "Better than I deserve".  If Dave is really doing better than he deserves, how can he be so territorial with his own money? He's unwilling to live in a society where the poor can be helped by society at large.

The gospel writers put it this way when they quoted Jesus, "You can't serve two masters...You cannot serve both God and Money."  Dave is attempting to do both.  But in the process, he's devoting to one and disposing of the other.  Just as Jesus predicted.

-B

 

UPDATE: Due to overwhelming and unforeseen interest in this post, I've been fortunate to receive some copy editing from a good friend, Mat Hotho.  If you're rereading this article and things seem smoother, thank him. Thanks to all who have been interested;  I greatly appreciate your support and critiques.

The Death and Life of Kennedy and Christ

As the time has been leading up to the 50th Anniversary of the death of one of our youngest Presidents, I've been thinking a lot about how I "remember" JFK.  I can't, after all, actually remember JFK; I wasn't alive during his time on this earth.  But I took enough history courses and read enough books and watched enough documentaries to "remember" his legacy. It's sort of like a child "remembering" their baptism when they were baptized as an infant; they can't and don't actually remember it, but they can still remember it.

As I began reflecting on what I know about JFK, I realized that a majority of what I know about his Presidency didn't have anything to do with his leadership.  Frankly, when it comes to US history, I'm far more fascinated by the Civil War and World War II than I am the Missile Crisis, and I'm often frustrated about the anti-communism (little c emphasized) sentiment in America that resulted from that time period. Kennedy, as a President, is something I know little about.

I do know some information about his death, though.

Perhaps it's because his death was so dramatic.  Perhaps it's because we have video testament of the moment he was shot (we don't have that for any other assassinated President), perhaps it's because he's the most recent Presidential assassination in America's history, perhaps it's simply because he's a Kennedy.  I don't know why, but I know more (and frankly, care more) about Kennedy's death than his presidency.

Don't be fooled, America does too.  We are this week remembering the 50th anniversary of his death.  We didn't celebrate the 50th anniversary of his election. Years and years of speculation and fact-proofing have gone into theorizing about whether or not Oswald acted alone or if the entire thing was a government ruse. The drama of it all causes us to remember Kennedy's death more than his life (with the one notable exception of our fascination with his mistresses).

It occurs to me that this might be the case with Jesus as well. One look at the vast array of contemporary worship songs will make that point clear: Jesus's death on the cross and that unbelievable image of self sacrifice for the benefit of humankind is one of the prime pieces of material for Christian story-telling (especially in music).

But is that right and proper in and of itself?  Surely God's work in Jesus of Nazareth to save all mankind through the atonement for sins is an incredibly important part of the story, but is it right to focus so heavily on that while neglecting the other pieces of his life?  Is it right to, within the music we sing, focus so heavily on Jesus's death? What might his life show humanity about who God is and what God has called us to do and, perhaps more importantly, who God has called us to be?

It is dangerous to focus so heavily on the death of Jesus if the cost is that the life of discipleship is lost and forgotten in the midst of the drama. In the midst of a dramatic death, it can become far too easy to overlook the blameless life of Jesus the Christ and his ministry, for instance, to the poor and marginalized.

So too would it be improper to focus solely on the life of Jesus, ignoring the grace that was laid upon humanity through Christ's death on the cross. As many theologians have argued many times before, the wholeness of God is seen in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and that wholeness is compromised if one focuses so heavily on one portion of that person and ignores the other.  The fullness of God cannot be interpreted without the fullness of Jesus being recognized.

In America, we focus so heavily on JFK's death because it changed the nation and carried its own fair share of drama with it.  But part of that drama was who he was.  His death, his assassination, cannot be understood apart from his life.

Jesus's death changed the world too. But it ought to be acknowledged that his death cannot be understood in fullness without the telling of his life either.  This is why, perhaps, our four canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) focus on the entirety of Jesus's being in their retelling of the story that changed the world.

It's important that Christians don't get too caught up in the drama of Christ's death that they miss Christ's ministry in life.  It's important too that Christians don't get caught up in the ministry of Christ's life that they miss the grace which is Christ's sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world.

One without the other is incomplete.

-B

God's Not Dead

Sometime soon a new movie will release. It's named after a song that originally held a different title and features a band that only licensed the song; they didn't write it.

The movie "God's Not Dead" is named after The Newsboys (but really, you can't have The Newsboys without Peter Furler, can you?) cover of a Daniel Bashta song which was actually made famous at Passion one year (I was in the room for its debut) by David Crowder. Crowder debuted it (if Daniel Bashta's twitter feed is to be believed, he was unaware of the song being used) as "Like a Lion." To the best of my knowledge, Bashta's recording of it wasn't even publicly released yet. He later came out with his own recording, but it was Crowder's use of the song that made it popular in worship circles. Our praise band did a tour of sorts in the summer of 2010 and we closed every night with the piece.

I say all that because The Newsboys changed the title of the song when they debuted it. Instead of "Like a Lion," they called the song "God's Not Dead" which, to be fair, is the prominent line in the piece.

But then they debuted a music video for the song which prominently featured newspapers with the headline "God is a Myth" changing to
"God's Not Dead" by the end of the video.  The song, once proclaiming a message of resurrection and revival within one's life of faith and using the helpful metaphor of Christ's resurrection from the dead to do so, has been repurposed by The Newsboys marketing team to stand for an argument for God's existence against those countering such existence. I like Michael Tait (and I was so glad they invited Kevin Max to provide vocals for the bridge...hearing Michael and Kevin's voices together is such a treat for a true dc Talk fan) a lot and his music has served as an inspiration to me for years, but this song has now been repurposed and this changes the implications.

Repurposing is ok, I suppose. After all, there are many within the world who do claim that the existence of God is folly and that faith in something that doesn't exist is a waste. There are voices among us that claim that Christianity is all made up. So, the necessity of fighting against those voices is easy to see for an Evangelical; the voices threaten my very reality.

But there's a trend here and I think the use of language is dangerous. Within the very-well-produced-for-a-Christian-movie's trailer, appearances are made by actors like Dean Cain and TV personalities like Willie from Duck Dynasty. The trailer portrays a student whose philosophy professor makes him write a paper presupposing the deadness of God. As a Christian, the student is forced to defend his faith within the classroom by putting God on trial because he, as a Christian, must prove God's existence. He, as a Christian, is being persecuted by the professor.

Persecution is the point here, isn't it? If you read through the film's Facebook page, you'll get that feeling. "Share to prove them wrong" or "Share if you're not ashamed" light up the main feed. Of course, like sheep, the film's many fans share and share and share and share. Because the liberal world is trying to tell us that God doesn't exist. Because we are being persecuted.

The problem with this is that this language is difficult to repurpose without consequence. Philosophers and theologians HAVE put God on trial before. Some posited that God died in Auschwitz. Blacks in America doubted the reality of a good God because the white plantation owners understood the slaves as being provided BY God. Many many bad things have happened in God's name since Christ's resurrection including persecution after persecution.

And so, if persecution is the point, what does it mean to portray that in a film with a bunch of white middle class Americans trying to fight the liberal academy by proving God's existence? Who do we think we are to even come close to knowing what TRUE Christian persecution is? We can't. We can't. We can't.

So the song "Like a Lion", intended (clued in by its naming by Crowder and Bashta) to serve as a recognition for an inner revival for the soul gets repurposed by the Evangelicals to prove God's existence and in the meantime shows the Evangelicals cards completely.

The song begins, "Let hope arise and make the darkness hide." This hope, as we understand it in Christ Jesus, is a hope that defeats death and sin. The darkness to be hidden is the sinfulness of our own actions.

But in this film, in the Newsboys interpretation of the song, and in the Evangelical mindset, the darkness is the Liberal Left.

The cards are completely exposed.

-B

Change, Community, Communion, and Curation

It often seems unnecessarily radical to change one's ways of doing things.  When systematic ways are changed, either by brute force or previous failure, many many react negatively.  This is happening in Congress as the GOP-controlled House fights against the already-lawful-and-upheld-by-the-Supreme-Court-as-constitutional Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). It's something different, very different, being treated with hostility because of its difference and perceived (and somewhat realistic) hardships.  

Difference and change are difficult for so many to comprehend.

There are viable reasons for this. Many arguments made against Obamacare are valid and backed up by numbers and inevitable cost to typical Americans. In many ways Obama will take more money from each American in order to make health insurance for all Americans a reality.  It is very different from how America has traditionally treated her citizens since her beginning.  Valid concerns are heard, but change keeps on trucking.

The thing about change, historically, is that it is easily delayed but essentially unavoidable.  It only can be re-steered to go in the "proper" direction. Change is inevitable; direction of that change is somewhat controllable.

[Quick change of scene.] 

As a United Methodist, I have a common joke I make about our church: we are always 20 years behind.  It's only a joke but it strikes a strong chord on the reality guitar.  Take contemporary worship music for example.  Simply put, the United Methodist Church, for better or for worse, ignored the contemporary worship scene for years upon years.  "Contemporary" worship music pushed through the evangelical and hippie-ish movements in the late 60s and early 70s and began to refine itself in the mid-late 80s and early 90s.  Evangelical churches (read: non-United Methodist churches) were often the first to jump on board.  There might be many reasons for this, of which the fact that many of those churches do not submit to any larger governing body ought to be at the top, but evangelical churches by and large beat Methodists to this punch. United Methodists have moaned and groaned about how badly the music is written and how non-theological the lyricism is ever since, but the general public has seen some churches grow and some die.  United Methodist churches have been on the dying side of things far too often.

We are late to the game and they seem to be "winning." How to combat this then? Well, of course: We have to raise our numbers so that our church doesn't die! We must start a contemporary worship service! How then do we do that?  Well let's look at some resources.  Where are these resources?  Oh great, there are tons of resources available!  There is tons of music available! Who is providing this music? Oh! The Evangelicals. Great!  Let's hire a worship leader!  Great! Most of the good worship leaders are at the evangelical churches, so we'll get the pretty-good ones.  They should be able to lead the United Methodist Church into the next generation of worship! Great! This is going to be so great! 

And, what do we end up with?  We end up with a church whose tradition of well-written, theological singing is nearly lost because in the switch to the new medium/genre, we picked up someone else's tradition and theology simply because it was already there for us. We blindly took the cookie left for us without considering the consequences. Change came and we got on board and took the road-too-often-traveled without considering where it was taking us.

20 years behind, then, may mean that we need to curate a bit more than we'd expect.  What's the trade-off of simply using someone else's work?  What's the trade-off for our congregations and disciple-building? Have we fully examined this change, its constant insistence upon itself, and where our destination lies?

The same has happened in online communities.  Online communities, if you can believe it, are old now.  They began, essentially, with the advent of email and have continued to be refined and refined over time. What one sees in Facebook, and all Facebook is meant to be, is simply and refinement (albeit a very well done refinement with its share of quality innovations) of the original idea of communicating and communing online. Online communities may seem like a new thing to people (and maybe especially to United Methodists) but they're simply not.  Hey, United Methodists, you're late again.

And so we pick up where we left off. Many non-UMC churches are offering well-done online churches in which a church attendee can log on, converse with a online pastor, watch the worship service, and even pray online with the guidance of the pastor.  The difference is, of course, one doesn't feel the pastor's hand on your back as you pray; she's generally miles away from you.  This sort of idea isn't new, it's simply new to United Methodists.  A popular church in Florida is doing just that (a high school friend of mine is heading it up...you can check it out at www.engagemenow.net).  

The new conversation (happening right now in Nashville, TN) is whether or not United Methodists ought to offer the sacrament of Holy Communion over the internet.  Practically speaking, it's exactly as it sounds.  The viewer (and I use that term intentionally) provides their own bread and grape juice (or wine), while the pastor blesses the elements through your computer or TV screen.  It's along the same lines as that pastor praying over you but without being able to physically feel their presence...except it's with the sacrament of communion.

Perhaps this is an controversial concept to speak about because many of the other churches don't hold communion (Eucharist) in the same regard as United Methodists (or, if we're speaking honestly, maybe many of them actually hold it in HIGHER regard simply due to their insistence on the frequency of participation in Eucharist) . In other words, maybe Methodists are trying to graft United Methodism onto a medium and evangelism technique that someone else, someone different than us, already created. The difference is that the penalty for moving in that direction on that road of change is a loss of traditional practice that has been important to Methodism. In my mind, it's not much different than us trying to sing that one song and trying to change the lyrics because the song is so...like...Calvinist. We couldn't write a comparable one!  We just have to graft Wesleyan theology onto whatever trends come because we were late to the game and not innovative enough to pull ourselves out of the hole.

Goodbye, Wesleyan sense of community.  Goodbye, Wesleyan understanding of Jesus's presence in the Eucharist and the necessity of physicality for incarnation to be experienced.  Goodbye, sung Wesleyan theology with an emphasis on the unending and unchanging love and grace of God. 

I'll maintain until I die that change is inevitable and good in this world.  But, change comes with responsibility.  Change comes with the need for curation.  Change also comes with the need for innovation and outside-of-the-box mentalities. And, while all those seem so poorly connected, it is indeed necessary that they all work together cohesively so that the good parts of what we have are not lost. The danger of Calvinistic theology creeping into Wesleyan churches--even if only through the music--is, and has been, upon us.  The danger of cultural definitions of "community" and "experience" is creeping in on us and our livelihood is at stake.

Online communities are coming.  The challenge and calling is there for churches to attend to.  People want religion and they want to be online.  Ignoring it seems silly and simply jumping on the bandwagon blindly seems sillier. Change is necessary and inevitable.  Curation and innovation are necessary and often forgotten.

Let us not be so persuaded by a new movement that we forget who we are.  Maybe, just maybe, we can feed a need within our society in a new and better way.

-B

 

We Run Things, Things Don't Run We

I'd say that in general I care very little about Miley Cyrus's life.  I suppose I'd like to see her be a positive role model on my future children but because that isn't a current reality of mine, I generally don't care much about her. Her new song, "We Can't Stop" has a catchy hook though so I turned up Spotify when it came on.  So that you don't get bogged down in the disgrace that is the song, I'll sum it up for you: Miley owns the world and she doesn't care if you care. 

I'll say it: Hannah Montana is creating a whole new persona and its first name is "badass." But what do I care?  She has friends, they like to party, they're poorly influencing America's youth, and they have poor grammar.   As a concerned citizen with children I'd care, but I reiterate: Miley's life really doesn't concern me much.

But then I heard these lines:  

To my homegirls here with the big butt
Shaking it like we at a strip club
Remember only God can judge ya
Forget the haters, cause somebody loves ya

Oh! Miley's a theologian now. Now her life concerns me.

I've been bothered recently with liberal America's approach to ethics and morality.  Actually, that's not quite accurate, I've been bothered with liberal Christian America's approach to ethics and morality.  Given that Miley is a baptized Southern Baptist and is outspoken about her support for gay marriage, I'll assume that she's part of that club.

In liberal Christianity, the jump to "Only God can judge ya" is, in my opinion, made far too hastily.  The line is often used to justify our earthly actions that society may deem as "wrong."  Because the Bible, as many people read it, is inconsistent about exact sins, those arguing for progress in America often fall to this simplistic thinking and when those people are Christians the situation gets messier.  It's reactionary too.  Conservatives tell a gay couple that their actions are sinful in the eyes of God but it feels natural and right to the gay couple so they result to "Only God can judge us."  It's a decent starting point maybe but the line is unhelpful in continuing a theological conversation about a very important topic.

When I read Scripture and hear it proclaimed in worship, I don't understand God to be one who calls for a world in which people do whatever they want however they want whenever they want and just wait for judgement day to find out if they were on the right path or not.  There's no participation in salvation in that scenario and there is certainly no growth into holiness.  This runs along neo-Reformed thinking and scares a disciple like me who longs for the world to move in a holier way and requires action (due to God's grace) on the part of the Christian. There is perhaps "progress" there, but it doesn't seem to be holy progress.

If one wants to argue for things like gay marriage in the church, the conversation (at least in the Wesleyan tradition) must be framed theologically and, along with that, within the realm of holiness and salvation.  In the VERY least, the argument about the sinfulness of homosexuality ought to be centered around how we are created and not that we can "just do whatever we want." The Scriptures must be wrestled with for liberal Christians.  The teachings of the Church throughout time must be wrestled with.  But everything, no matter the direction of the conversation, must be contained within a framework appropriate for the conversation.  Otherwise, we Christians that seek inclusion and equality are faced with a temptation to leave the Christian framework completely.  That's a no-no.

So Miley is encouraging this "No one owns me and I can do whatever I want" attitude.  Fine.  It's not ideal for the youngsters of America (frankly, it's downright terrible) and her culture writing insists on a degradation of our youth.  Fine.  I could approach that another time (and we should).  But, it seems to me that Miley is perpetuating a mindset that is unhelpful for Wesleyan Christians.  If we insist and believe that we can (by the grace of God) participate in our own salvation, we must reject the simplistic and unhelpful line, "Only God can judge me." Judgement and accountability by the community (the church) are integral parts of discipleship. 

Miley, put on some clothes.  Your dad watched that video. 

-B

 

The Dangers of Singing About a Dangerous God

I heard this song on Spotify's radio this morning.  That link is a Spotify link.  In the event you don't have a Spotify account, I'll drop the YouTube video here as well.  It can be found to the right.

The song is "God of The Angel Armies" by Jonathan David Helser.  The chord charts to the piece can be found here. 

When Chris Tomlin's "Whom Shall I Fear?" appeared on the most recent Passion album, I asked a question similar to this one on Facebook, "Is anyone uncomfortable with the blatant military language being used in this song?"  I got a mixture of reactions from my Facebook friends.

The themes of both Tomlin's song and Helser's song above are much the same: there are enemies against us, God is stronger, we have nothing to fear.  It's a typical and empowering refrain. Tomlin even uses it in the unquestionably popular "Our God" where he uses the Apostle's word in writing "And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us? And if our God is with us, then what could stand against?"  The question I posed on Facebook, though, was something different.  Is the militaristic language in the song helpful to the modern world who has seen the damage of things like the Holocaust and the Atomic Bomb?  Perhaps, asked differently, this question might capture the sentiment better: If violent language is readily and repeatedly used to relate God to humanity so that we might better understand God, are we faithfully developing and promoting the fullness that God shows to the world through Christ?

The initial reaction many have to such a question is to provide evidence of violent imagery within the pages of Scripture. "God is violent, " they say.  "How can we understand God's power and might without being faithful to the violence found within God's Word?"  This is, in my reading, a fair assessment; throughout the powerful words of Scripture, we are faced with a God who uses brute force, if need be, to get God's way. After all, God has been known to wipe out entire cities...even the entire world...if he has become convinced that the world is in need of a change and return to his ways.

I preach a lot of peace on Facebook.  I'm constantly arguing that weapons, especially guns, are fundamentally bad for us and that Christians are called to live a different life in which Jesus's message of nonviolence brings peace to the world. In the midst of these conversations, I have to be careful to not do what Marcion did, accept one version of God over, and even at times against, another.  I'll admit that I struggle with letting Jesus's words to Peter in the garden supersede the words of God to Joshua outside of Jericho.

But I return to my question, is the fullness of God and Jesus's message overshadowed by a repetition of God's almighty nature? Is it helpful for Christians to sing songs about the "God of Angel Armies" post atom bomb? Or, more accurately, is it helpful for Christians to sing songs about the "God of Angel Armies" in a world where violence is seen as the sole solution to persecution of liberties?  This is where I think I'm beginning to draw the line.

Violence, in this world, is the way in which we understand how to get our way.  If an intruder enters our house, we are allowed to shoot them if we feel as if our life is at risk.  That's called self-defense.  At an extreme level, though, it is using violence to combat violence.  Violence is also how we seek out our enemies.  If a country wants to grow, say in the 1930s, it uses military violence to expand its land property and "save its economy." If dissenters are opposed to the work the government is doing to "better" their lives, the dissenter is shot (violence) in the street. Violence is the way in which we have learned to communicate in today's world.  To get what we want when we want, we often resort to violent means.  At a basic level, this is the foundation of terrorism.

Consider terrorism for a minute. What is it that we are opposed to about terrorism in America?  It's not the dissenting voices; we believe in freedom!  We are opposed to terrorism because of what separates terrorism from freedom of speech: violence. However, we respond to the terrorist's violence by sending hoards of troops overseas to seek them out, murder them, and bomb them. Violence is not truly bringing peace, it's teaching violence (we're just too blind to see that the American definition of "peace" is too narrow). 

We Americans get to see this.  We get to see the response to violence with violence.  We see it on the nightly news and hear the means of justification from Obama's mouth.   We do it all in the name of liberty.  We do it all in the name of freedom. 

And then, just days after we see this on the news, we go to church and sing a song about how great God is; God is so great that he is above everything and can defeat everything. We even use the word "army".  And suddenly, without much warning, our American definitions of freedom, liberty, justifiable violence, terrorism, and God mix with our Christian understandings and they all collide into one message that the worldly violence we see on TV is the only way God can get what God wants. We've placed all these things into one lump understanding.

How much, though, is the confusion of terminology affecting the way we understand God, God's grace, and how God gets what God wants? 

Ironically, I'd like to suggest this: the song, because of the worldly context its sung in, is doing the opposite of what it's trying to do. While trying to proclaim that God is almighty, ruling over everything and able to conquer all, it cannot successfully and adequately do just that because of its limiting language which is equating God's power to solely violent means.

 

People Change. I Fear My Own Change.

I've been meaning to write this for awhile.

I believe in human change. I believe that humans, no matter their upbringing, are able to change who they are. As a Christian, who has seen the change that God can make in an individual's life, I believe in change. As a Christian I believe that God's grace can show a child of God (all of us) who we truly are, so that we might set eyes on God alone, the one with the power to transform. Our hearts are aimed inwardly, God can change such a heart.

Humans can change not only for the better, however. They can also change for the worse. We've seen that all throughout history. People who have been known to destroy the world with their power and violence were often unrecognized as violent people previously. We see this in some of the mass shootings too. How many of the mass shooting criminals were caught beforehand? After, we often hear family and friends say, "He was quiet, but I could have never foreseen something like this," or "He was a good kid, made jokes, etc. How could he even be capable of such a thing?" This is true in immediate history as well as we all watched Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's parents claim that America had framed their children for this tragedy. A parent can rarely imagine their child doing that much harm.

At the heart of this issue is something we know deep down inside our souls: people change. Some people grow up in loving households with loving parents. Then something happens. Something makes them angry. Something depresses them. They become passionate about something. They play a violent video game. They begin to dream.

And one day they walk into a high school and kill 12 of their classmates. Or they mail a box of evidence to NBC news. Or they walk into an elementary school and open fire. Were there warning signs? Sure. There always are. Did the signs go unnoticed? Sure. They often do. Because of the lack of friends, a parent's unbelief that their child would be capable of something like that, or the busyness of others' lives, blind eyes are often turned and terrible tragedy strikes.

There is much discussion as of late as to how to prevent such tragedies for fear that if we don't do something it'll happen again. As it has over and over and over again. Many supporters of personal gun rights argue that the problem isn't the weaponry itself. They have a compelling argument; after all, guns require human intervention to actually inflict harm on another being. If legislation involving guns, however, is not feasible because of Second Amendment guarantees, those wanting to stop such violence turn to other means.

Many pro-gun people are advocating that mental screenings ought to come into effect at the point of gun sale. This seems helpful to me. If we can stop someone who is mentally unstable from purchasing a dangerous weapon, perhaps it will not only save others' lives but it will save theirs as well. What about, though, a person owning a gun for years before they use it to mow down a classroom of elementary schoolers? What about a mother who stores the guns in the violent child's bedroom? What about a grandfather passing a gun down to his grandchild just for his grandchild to develop depression later in life and decide to take life into his own hands?

There are many, many questions. None with perfectly viable solutions.

At the heart of those questions above though is the principle discussed previously: people change. If a weapon exists that allows them to cause damage and they're able to get the weapon before they go crazy, or through other means who won't ask them about their craziness, what is the solution? The NRA suggests that more gun owners would mean a safer environment. But if more people, who have the potential to change from good to bad, own dangerous weapons, doesn't that mean that the potential for more bad people to have dangerous weapons is there? Couldn't a good person with a gun, under the right circumstances, turn into a bad person with a gun? Isn't the issue, then, in some sense the gun itself? Isn't there a point in which we realize that the weapon simply isn't good for us?

We cannot control the change in people. America is a society where the winner wins and the loser gets screwed. America is a society where community is only valued in nationalistic sense and where someone who does us harm or simply doesn't fit in is written off in an instant. America simply isn't set up to care about the change in people (see how criminals are treated when they're released from prison as an example). If America, then, can't prevent a change from good to bad in its citizen, what then can it do?

People ask me why I'm "anti-gun" all the time. The answer is simple, really. I'm scared of this change. I'm scared of the change in me. I recognize my own brokenness. I am what I consider to be a "good person" who "could never do something like that." I have no history of violence. I passed my psychological exam for ordination. I'm a normal guy who cares for people, loves his family, and wants less people to die in the world.

And yet I fear, under the right circumstances with the right tools, the damage I could do...due to my own brokenness.

Further, I think anyone who denies that their brokenness couldn't, given the right situation, get the better of them is fooling themselves. And they're not familiar enough with Peter, who is the rock upon which the Christian church was founded yet who denied Jesus three times, raised a sword and cut off the ear of Malchus, and who Jesus referred to as Satan and an obstacle.

People change. It's time that we realized that. And cared. We can't prevent every human being from being violent in the midst of their change. We can't prevent them from changing. What we CAN do is affect the damage done during such violence, hopefully resulting in less people dying.

That's all I want. In the midst of change, I want less people to die.

-B

On Guns

"Guns are bad for us" my repeated refrain often reads. It's simple and to the point: guns do little good for our society.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about guns and their impact on our society lately.  Two obvious events have brought the conversation to my mind.  On July 20, 2012, a man walked in (dressed in armor) to a packed movie theater and opened fire on the room during the opening of a movie. I have yet to watch that movie because of the incident.  He killed 12 people and injured 58 others in one of the largest mass shootings in the US's history. All of that occurred in what witnesses say was about three minutes; from the moment he shot until he was arrested was less than ten minutes. Later that year, one week after the 71st anniversary of the 'day that will live in infamy', a deranged 20-year-old entered an elementary school in Newtown, CT with no intentions of walking out alive, or letting anyone else survive.  Mercilessly he continued his shooting rampage that had begun against his mother, killing 28 people in total (including himself and his mother) in about 11 minutes.

These were two horrifying tragedies.  I grew up in the age of Columbine and 9/11. I was in college for Virginia Tech.  I, and the rest of my generation, have experienced more mass school shootings than any generation should.  We are beginning to see a time in our nation's history when, through the internet and other means, young people have more access to more things.  These things include immediate information, pornography, instant access to all their friends, and…most of all, guns. James Holmes, of the 2012 Aurora shooting, bought his weapons, legally, from shops around the Denver, CO area. He bought an unbelievable amount of ammunition on the Internet, where massive quantities of product are available in two days with free shipping.  Guns, as we have understood them, are a different threat to our society than they've been in the past. So, if they were bad to begin with, they've become worse.

Let's think about the nature of guns, shall we?  What is it that makes guns different than say, a knife?  Most agree that the first effective projectile weapon used predates any recorded history.  That weapon was the bow and arrow, best known in the United States for being used by Native Americans to hunt for their food.  Perhaps, when processing projectile weapons, we ought to begin there.  Why would the bow and arrow have been invented?  Generally, tools are developed by humans (because we are an innovative people) so that our lives could be made better.  Think about the first people to use spears.  The spear is technically a projectile weapon which humans used to capture their prey.  What if a human could invent a device that could essentially throw a spear, but from a further distance and more accurately?  Wouldn't that be better for killing prey?  Wouldn't that be better?  Enter the bow and arrow.

The bow and arrow did something innovative, something new.  It, for what some consider the first time, allowed a stationary human being to inflict harm on something else (human, animal, or whatever) without moving.  A spear, for any accuracy at all, required a human to be close to its target.  A bow and arrow allowed the human to shoot from a distance with increased accuracy.  Humans were suddenly able, with their innovation, to kill with more accuracy and deadliness than ever before. The earliest guns are typically dated to around 1,000 years ago, appearing first in China (where else?).  These guns accomplished what many were seeking to do: improve upon these projectile weapons.  The Chinese were able to use their extensive knowledge and experience with explosive powders to create a projectile weapon that could inflict harm on its target from a ways away.  The shift here is significant: humans beings were now able to inflict harm on something that they were not touching.

This shift is fundamental to my argument and one I think we cannot take lightly.  If, prior to projectile weaponry, humans wanted to inflict harm on other beings, humans needed to be touching them.  Once spearing became popular and bow and arrows progressed from that idea, the ability for defense against such an act by the other being was eliminated.  The power shift happened.  Because of innovation, one being had declared power over the other being by simply employing a 'tool' that could cause harm to the other. This shift is significant.  How much could a person well trained in the martial arts defend themselves against a weapon that sent its destructive force through the air?  If one is not in contact with a human body, how could someone defend themselves?  Innovation, here, meant a paradigmatic shift in how we understood defense and violence.  The winner of a wrestling match used to be the smartest and strongest one there.  One could be smart, but it was likely that in order to defend oneself, they would also need to be able to physically combat the other.  Fighting back, in other words, required brute strength as well as smarts.

Innovation though, as it always does, won out.  Suddenly, with a projectile weapon, one could combat another who was significantly physically stronger than them.  This is a fundamental shift in how our world thought about winning.  In order to win, then, required no physical strength…it simply required you to own a projectile weapon.  Think about the change that has happened because of the mass production of weaponry as well: one doesn't even need the brains to out smart another with a projectile weapon, they simply need the weapon.  Even if I am both strong and smart, I will still lose to a gun. Every time. This principle is crucial to one's understanding of how to deal properly with talk of weaponry.  If a human's dependency on winning is no longer intimately connected to their physical well being or their traits, then the enemy of the human is no longer the human.  The enemy of the human, the one that can destroy a human's essence, is then the human who created the weapon which the human holds.  The enemy, in a sense then, becomes the weapon itself.  The enemy becomes innovation.  The weapon has put into place an entirely new power dynamic.

And so we have a situation like the one on 12/21/2012 (the day some thought the world was going to end) where someone could stand before a grieving America and make a statement like, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."  Guns, projectile weapons that become extensions of the violent bodies we maintain, are unstoppable.  We can only defend ourselves by using the weapon itself.  LaPierre suggests that the only way to solve our murder crisis in America is to arm our schools.  So the solution to the enemy that he proposes is to carry more enemies, not to rethink the enemy itself.  Aren't we allowed to look back at innovation and ponder whether it was good for us in the first place?  Should these fundamental shifts be taking place?

Guns are different than anything our society has ever dealt with before.  They extend our brokenness on others, without the immediate danger of being broken ourselves.  This shift takes lives every day.  It has taken more lives since December 14, 2012 than those outside terrorists took on 9/11/2001 (talk about a reactionary shift!).  This shift, in the form of a weapon, not only shifted power but as the iterations of innovation rolled in it has increased the likelihood of one shot being killed.  Now not only can shooter warn an opponent, a shooter can kill an opponent without the opponent having the God-given ability to defend oneself.  An opponent, then, is left to resort to the manmade innovation, the enemy, in order to even have a chance at survival--and that's only if they get the shot off first.

It seems to me that playing in this territory is dangerous.  I believe some, in fact most, innovation to be good.  But innovation that exists only to kill?  That innovation is dangerous at best, and catastrophic at worst.  

This isn't a conversation, or shouldn't be at least, about 'rights' (even though this 'right' to bear arms is not what was considered a certain 'inalienable' right endowed by their creator).  This conversation must be about what is good for us. This is why I maintain that if statistics exist that point us to see that guns are regularly stopping mass shootings, or preventing more deaths than they're causing, then I am open to change my views.

Until then, I maintain that guns are bad for us.  They fundamentally change the way that humans exist.  This fact, above all, should constantly be brought into question.

-B

To Whom Much Is Given, Much is Required

I'm not positive where that phrase came from. Someone with more energy than me should do the research.

To be honest, I've never really given the phrase much consideration. The world, from my view, has always cared only for itself and its own success. That is to say that those who make most of the difference in the world likely care only about their own popularity, their own success, and how well they can do. Maybe instead of "world," I should say, "America." However, my statement above is also to say that we are inherently a self-centered people. So, maybe it is the whole world.

In my constant pursuit of turning the world against itself via Facebook posts I have stirred some controversy over the past week. During the Super Bowl, I posted a criticism of Beyonce's halftime performance and made some pretty bold (and probably unfounded) claims about her reversing the work that had been done for equality in both black and women's rights by forming her artistry in a sexual manner. Of course I posted it at the exact right time, at the exact right place (during the world's most popular time to engage social media--the Super Bowl--and on my Facebook page, which inevitably is the home of unrighteous and righteous dialogue about the wrongs of the world). The post blew up almost immediately and I was told by several people whose opinions I greatly respect that my thoughts were unfounded because of my white maleness. "She is empowering those like her, reclaiming sexuality, I am proud" they essentially said.

Today news broke that a fraternity on the campus in which I live hosted a party on February 1st whose theme and advertising were overtly racist. While more people were in support of my criticism of such a fraternity's action than they were of my critique of Beyonce, the post still engaged a conversation. I knew that friending all those people would pay off. While in class today, I saw a classmate reading about the party on none other than Yahoo News. "Great," I thought, "Duke University once again makes the national news scene because some smart but oh-so-stupid undergrads made some awful decisions."

"What's the impact of the national stage?" I wondered. And then it hit me. This is not too unlike my critique of Beyonce's performance.

My argument over Beyonce's halftime performance was based around her potential as a performer. If she really has the "power," as many have suggested, then she has the "power" to make a significant impact on the way our culture views things. It seems to me that one of the messed up understandings in our current society relates to sex. We live in a world where more high schoolers are pregnant than ever before. Pornography is one of the larger industries in our society. Sex Slavery is a real thing in America. Our daughters, sisters, and friends are literally getting sold to the highest bidding John. Pastors, teachers, policemen, and politicians are arrested more often than we'd like attempting to have sex with underaged minors (males and females) after soliciting it online. Like, really...they actually show up at the house. Our society is in a sexual crisis. The way to fix this, to me, doesn't seem to be being scantily clad (no matter how well you can wear it) on a national stage, dancing in a semi-erotic fashion. Beyonce is an incredible performer, few doubt that. She has a large audience (some might argue, the largest) these days. She, having built much of her career on her strong sense of sexuality (she's gorgeous and sexy and shows it), has the potential to make a change in this culture. My argument is that she didn't.

The same might be true of Duke undergrads (and administration). Duke is an elite university which fluctuates between an 11% to 13% acceptance rate. Students who score a 1400 on their SATs (on a 1600 scale) are the dumbest kids here. Duke students are often the future leaders of our economy, our churches, our political system, etc. Duke University has a huge national stage. And guess what, friends? Greek life, and college partying in general, is in a bit of a crisis in our culture. Duke, whether it be the students or administrators, has the potential to make a huge impact on the surrounding culture. Duke University could have put an end to the "Asian Prime" party. Duke University could have come down hard on these groups and partying years ago. My argument is that they didn't. And, based on the past, they likely won't.

When someone or someones have prestige and popularity, they have the potential to influence a self centered world. When they don't, it becomes harder and harder to have hope for the future of our society. Christians, since Christendom became a thing, have had that worldwide stage. We have miserably failed to affect that change in the culture because of our own self centeredness and brokenness. Societal change often relies on those who have been given much.

I honestly don't expect much of that change from those enslaved to album sales or popularity, or 18-22 year olds who have had much of their life handed to them. Christians can do better. Because we have been given much.

-B

Macklemore's "Same Love"

I'm a sinner. At least, that's something I believe.

Every week, heck sometimes even multiple times a day, I pray a prayer in church that recognizes that sinful nature and confesses it before God and our neighbors. Then, as one whole body, those gathered partake in the meal that Jesus instructed us to partake in. It's a bit of grace, reconciliation, confession, mercy, atonement, and love all rolled into one mysterious experience that Christians have been sharing together since Jesus Christ himself.

We live in a society where sinfulness is celebrated. In much of the secular world, it is becoming increasingly acceptable to act in a certain way.

The only thing that holds one from acting in a completely "wrong" way is the fear of the consequences of their actions. The world acts within a framework of consequence. In example, if I'm willing to be held to the consequences of my actions...that's something I am totally ok with...then I can act however I'd like. The individual becomes the standard for what is "right." How else is it to be judged? Respect the individual because they are being themselves.

Now, look at this individualism in a different light. From this comes respect for the individual comes a respect for the unique. This, perhaps, is something a bit more modern. If someone challenges the status quo in today's society, they are looked up to for their courage and uniqueness. There was once a time in our society that if you didn't conform to the status quo (either in your very being or your thoughts and actions), you could be tried and killed.

So, to recap: sinfulness is celebrated in our society now because the only standard against which actions are judged is the willingness of the "sinner" to accept the consequences of their actions. That's the secular world. The reason that this is the judging standard is because individualism is the dominant force and uniqueness is celebrated. This is the secular world. This is the world of Macklemore's "Same Love."

Many Christians argue that this is bad. They argue that the standard against which we ought to be judged is God. The closest tangible evidence that we have of God's standard is the Bible. Hence, they argue, the ways of the world ought to be judged by what is outlined in Scripture. Since the beginnings of Christianity flowed out of Judaism and Judaism was ruled by a "Law," they argue that the words of Paul and many other biblical writers ought to hold the world to account. Paul was against homosexuality, they argue. Therefore, homosexuality in the world is wrong. It's unnatural. It's unbiblical. It's just wrong. This is a different language than the one Macklemore is speaking.

Macklemore, in his song "Same Love," argues against the "paraphrasing of a book written 3500 years ago." He argues against a church preaching hate. He argues against the idea that it's a changeable thing. He argues that the "right winged conservatives" are "playing God." The hook of the song says, "I can't change...even if I tried, even if I wanted to...my love, my love, my love, she keeps me warm." The individual wins, here. "Just be yourself," Macklemore raps.

The church doesn't speak that language and it never really has. The church has been in the business of telling an individual that how they act is wrong. That it's keeping them from God. That it's sinful. That they need to change in order to follow Jesus and live into holiness. The church speaks a language of sin. And, now, perhaps more than ever before the world is speaking a language of uniqueness. A language of the individual. A language where the understanding of something being "wrong" is reliant completely upon the individual and their level of comfort with the consequences of their uniqueness. Two different languages.

Because so many Christians today live in the "individual" world and yet still belong to the church, the conversation, the argument, goes in circles. It tears us apart, eats us up, spits us out, and leaves us for dead. The conversation even hurts souls.

How, then, to mend ourselves? Ah, yes. Remember what I said? I'm a sinner. A perpetual sinner. One who (at least) weekly comes before God to confess my own sins before I partake of the grace that Jesus conveys. Sometimes I know my own sins. I'm aware of what I've done wrong. Many times (in fact, probably more times than not) I'm unaware of all of my sins. And yet, not even knowing all that I've done wrong, I come before God routinely to confess and pray for forgiveness. I pray that I may be joyfully obedient. The best part? It's not just me. It's the whole church coming before God for such a task. The whole church coming to confess our sins and pray for forgiveness.

It seems to me that the conversation over homosexuality is not one of just individualism. It's not one of just sin. It seems to me that the conversation in the Christian church over homosexuality is both. It's a conversation over a dinner table of bread and wine, where all at the table confess their sinful nature and are gravely aware of the significance of the meal. They're aware of themselves. They're aware of their brokenness. They're aware of the grace offered to them and the call on their lives to be better.

"I can't change" the song says. "Even if I try. Even if I wanted to."

Well, then, thank God for grace. A trust in that grace might result in a holier community: a community that can understand sin in light of the individual and the individual in light of the sin.

Macklemore is speaking the language of the individual standard. The church is speaking the language of the biblical standard. If we are going to keep this issue from tearing our churches apart, we're going to have to learn the language the other is speaking and figure out a way to understand each other. I bet if we tried it, God's grace would step in and help us out. Then, and likely only then, could rappers stop rapping about how awful the church is and the church could stop condemning people with a speck of dust in their eye.

Grace has got to be the key.

-B

If you're lost, you ought to watch this video. It's touching: http://youtu.be/hlVBg7_08n0

The Church and The Gym, Part 2

NOTE: I have no idea what the proper spelling of judgement (judgment) is. I don't really care enough to look it up either.

I reread my post from yesterday. I don't think I was completely clear and I think clarification might show us something that is a little more helpful.

Yesterday when I wrote about the gym I seemed to describe the gym as a completely non-judgmental place. That simply isn't true, no matter how good it sounds. Take yesterday at CrossFit for example. We were doing some back squats and I took on way too much weight. After you've done a few back squats, you're supposed to move up a bit in your weight but my legs were exhausted. I fell out of the next squat. Of course, the whole gym saw me. I couldn't help but think about what they were thinking.

And as much as I'd like to think that they didn't think to themselves, "that guy has no idea what he is doing," my guess is that several of them did. There's no doubt that people observe each other at the gym and judge what they're doing (for better or worse) against what they themselves are doing.

This CAN be good. "Oh, hey, that guy is really keeping his chest up and look how straight his back is!" might allow you to learn from the guy in front of you. But...it can also be bad. "Man, that guy just fell out of his back squat twice," is helpful for neither party. It, perhaps, even encourages a "I'm better than him" mentality that has historically led to a bullied existence in extreme circumstances.

If one were to read my post from yesterday and assume that CrossFit is this magical place where no one judges anyone ever, one would have taken away the wrong image. I like to think that people love watching others succeed and don't consider it when they don't, but that's simply not true. If the rest of the world's people are even half as bad at being a human as I am, then they judge. I know they do because I do.

We see this in the church as well.

Perhaps you're thinking that the vision that I presented yesterday is more of an eschatological one...like this non-judgment state of nirvana is the end goal. But I'm not quite so sure that's it either.

Judgement exists in several forms in both the church and the gym. Maybe understanding that more fully is the key.

See, in the church we do judge people. In fact, I'd argue that we are called to judge people. If that sounds shocking, it's likely that you and I are working with two different definitions of judgement. When I speak of judgement, I don't speak of someone making a judgement and then using that to make one feel like an outsider. I speak of a sense of accountability. My hope is that my judgement is more of an encouragement! The judgement I speak of attempts to spur one on toward Christian perfection, not keep one out of the walls of the church.

So perhaps what I truly mean is that neither the gym nor the church are free of judgement. The care that must be taken within these two bodies is in the type of judgement used. If I fall out of a back squat, I want someone to hold me accountable to the amount of weight I put on the bar and the poor form I executed the squat with. Will that be painful to hear? Perhaps. But if it is done in a mild and encouraging manner (as it often is at CrossFit), I can learn. And...do better than I did last time.

So is the struggle of the church. The church, in fear that it might be forced to apologize for who it is has--in the past 200 years--created this judgement that pushed others away. The intimidation, as I said yesterday, is too much. "All these people speaking another language and judging me."

What if, though, our judgement were initially perceived as an encouragement rather than a judgement? What would it take to pull that off? What might that pastoral tone sound like?

These are all the questions we MUST ask ourselves as Christians. Judgement is something we are called to. But it's not the judgement of this world. It's not the judgement that pushes people away. It's a judgement that has its own set of standards and practices and is unapologetic about that. It's also a judgement that spurs one on toward perfection in an encouraging way. It's one that reassures the judged that a community is standing behind them.

It's not that no one judges in the gym. Neither is it that everyone judges in the church. But...both entities ought to strive for a more encouraging accountability that builds up its members so that they might do better than they did before. I'm happy to say that quite a bit of the good judgement happens at CrossFit. I'm honestly unaware how much of it is currently happening in our churches.

It's a paradigmatic shift and it's one that is needed now in our churches. Pronto.

-B

Just Because We Can Doesn't Mean That We Always Should

Mayor Bloomberg wants to outlaw large containers for soda and sugary drinks.

The Libertarians come crying out, "The government shouldn't be able to tell us what we can and can't have! This is America!" When I tell people that I think this is a good idea, they cry to me about how crazy I am. "You're going to let the government tell me what I can and can't do? Because of your lack of self control?"

Yes. Because drinking large quantities of soda is bad for you and I learned the bad habit because it was available to me, anywhere and everywhere, and I took advantage of it. And I've fought my body ever since.

Just because we can (either in our minds or legally) drink 40 oz. sodas, doesn't mean that it's a good idea. Nothing good comes from that.

James Holmes was arraigned today on multiple counts of murder.

He shot 70 people with a high powered assault rifle that costs a little over $1,000 and can be bought, legally, in a store and picked up with a short background check within the hour. He bought 6,000 rounds of ammo on Amazon. It was legal for him to own the gun and to buyt that ammo. He could do that.

We, as Americans, can own weapons that allow us to defend against ourselves. We can do this, legally. But, does that mean that we should?

Today, the NCAA handed down unprecedented sanctions upon the Penn State football program.

Sandusky was accused, JoePa was fired and then died, Sandusky was convicted, anyone else powerful at Penn State University who had any connection was also fired, the Freeh report came out and made the situation appear even worse than we all feared, they removed the JoePa statue, and the program's reputation that had once been legendary was ruined, not simply tarnished. Joe made a huge mistake that cost him everything. Jerry made several huge mistakes that cost him everything. Spanier made a huge mistake that cost him everything. And together, with a few others, they cost the university's football program everything.

Today it got worse. The NCAA had the power, because of their system, setup, power, influence, and total control over anything college sports related to do what they did. They had the complete ability to flex their muscles. They had the ability to make an example out of a once untouchable football program. And they did.

But just because you can, should you?

(I'll forego the argument for the sake of this post that the NCAA completely stepped out of the way of due process, allowing the almighty Emmert to personally intervene, unlike anything he has done with programs that violated specific NCAA regulations...**grunt grunt** UNC **grunt grunt**. I'll also forego the argument that this is a criminal act and therefore is left for the legal system, not the silly constantly over reaching NCAA)

Did the NCAA need to come down this harsh, effectively killing this program for an entire generation? Was this necessary?

Many say, "Yes! Child molestation and the covering of it up is atrocius and unacceptable!" Those people are right. Child rape and molestation is unacceptable. Those who cover it up for the sake of a program are in some ways just as guilty as those who committed the atrocities, too. This is unacceptable.

But, should the NCAA destroy the future of the program, making it effectively impossible to recruit for, simply because it can? No. Should it make an example out of a group that has already through the court system and the media been made an example out of? Again, I don't think so.

When we drink 40 oz sodas, we must ask ourselves, what good does it do?

When we buy assault rifles, we must ask ourselves, what good does it do?

When we enforce unbelieveable penalites on people who had nothing to do with an atrocity, we must ask ourselves, what good does it do?

What's hoped to be accomplished? Show the world child rape is wrong? We're already there, guys. We get that. Show the world how powerful you are? The good in that is questionable. Make a change so that this doesn't happen again? Maybe, but in order to make that believable you're going to need to articulate your process for how in a very convincing way.

If the NCAA hadn't done anything, they'd been looked at as weaklings. But they needed to flex their muscles...to show the world that they're actually paying attention and that they are the almighty voice to which programs must listen or else all the benefits from having an athletic program might be lost.

What's the good in that? Little. What do I think they should have done? They should have invested in figuring out ways from preventing this from happening again (the $60M fine is the one sanction I can understand). They should have done investigations into all programs. They should have helped Penn State football recover from such a devastation. They should have sent the message in another, healthier, better way. In a way that brings good, rather than stabbing in the dark hoping that good would be found somewhere.

They could flex their muscles. But should they? Not unless they can clearly articulate the good that will come from this.

I shouldn't drink 40 oz. sodas, even though I can. I shouldn't buy an assault rifle, even though I can. I shouldn't flex my muscles even though I can either.

Because, in all things, I must ask myself, "Can I clearly articulate the good that will come from this? Can I point directly to the good that the world will see from this?"

Otherwise, it's useless punishment and an example. And that's not good enough.

-B

True Freedom and Its Costs

Early yesterday morning, shortly after midnight, the freedom that a young man (younger than I am) named James Holmes had to own an assault rifle, legally, cost 12 people (maybe more) their lives. It cost 12 families their loved ones and it cost the world 12 individuals who could have made it a better place.

James Holmes was free to own the weapons that he used to shoot those 71 people yesterday. He legally purchased those guns, all that ammunition, and likely anything that he used to booby trap his apartment which he knew he would never return to.

James was free, like you and I. He had a right, a freedom, to own those guns.

Interestingly enough, that freedom that James enjoyed was paid for by the lives of soldiers who fought courageously both here in the States and abroad so that no one would take away that freedom. People lost loved ones in war, terrorist attacks, and random acts of violence, all because we were fighting to maintain our freedom. Simply put: we must defend ourselves in order to keep our freedom.

This concept isn't new. We know this. In order for us to have freedom, we must defend our freedom. But it does get more complicated.

Last night I asked a still-unanswered question via the wonderful world of social media and it went something like this: Is there any reason that non-military or non-police citizens should be allowed to own a semi-automatic rifle? I didn't phrase the question well, and I was unsure of what verbs to use, but I think the message was semi-clear: what good, honorable reason would there be for someone to own a weapon like James used in Aurora? Should it be legal to own a weapon that can do that much damage?

Of course, as many of my posts do, it sparked controversy. Americans are only as free as they can defend themselves to be! People attack us? We must fight back! We are only as free as we can assure ourselves that we are. Otherwise, those attacking us impending on our freedom have every opportunity to take away our freedom, which makes it so that we aren't truly free.

I should be clear: I think this is a giant load of crap.

If we define freedom in this way then we are saying that freedom only comes from the way in which we defend ourselves.

Friends, this isn't freedom. This is fear.

I'd invite you to take a step back and look at what this freedom has brought us: countless wars ending with much of the world hating our arrogance, machines in airports that send radiation into our bodies, racism, patent wars, and undying greed.

I have family members that carry a pistol wherever they go. The idea is that if anyone were to attack our family, they'd have a way to defend themselves. Again, I ask, is this freedom? Can we truly enjoy such a "freedom" if we are always concerned with who might be following us, ready to attack us? What is it that this freedom truly gives us?

Perhaps the question really is: what is the point of such a freedom? What is this freedom all about anyway? Is freedom the right to bear arms? Is freedom the right to say whatever we want, even if it is harmful? Is freedom the right to put up a fence so that the neighbor can't see me mowing the lawn? Is freedom the chance to eat BBQ, drink beer, and party with fireworks?

This, to me, doesn't sound like real freedom. It doesnt sound like a culture ready and willing to make this world a better place. It doesn't sound like a culture who cares about one another. No, this freedom sounds like a culture in which online bullying meets crazy heights and encourages suicide. This freedom sounds like a culture that encourages the defense of religion rather than the religion itself. This freedom sounds like a culture that has at least one mass shooting a year. This freedom sounds like a culture that is so obsessed with the work of the individual that it encourages such an individual to refuse to recognize the assistance they've received that led to their success.

In short: this freedom sounds like it delivers a worse product and costs more. It costs us the lives of soldiers overseas. It costs us the lives of moviegoers in a theater. It costs us a dying reputation. And what do we get? A degraded culture who cares nothing about what we should care about.

I sense a very different freedom in Christ. Christ assures us, because of his death and resurrection that the chains that once bound us through sin are broken forever. This freedom, true freedom, allows us to live into the people we have been made to be. This freedom, true freedom, allows us to recognize the gifts and graces of one another. This freedom, true freedom, inspires us to live as one with the peace that only Christ can give us. This freedom, true freedom, gives us life and life abundantly. The other freedom results in death; this freedom, true freedom, results in resurrection.

And the best part: the price for this freedom has been paid. The sacrifice has been given, by the very one who gives us life! It costs us nothing but the willingness to follow in the steps of the one who said "Come, follow me."

Many may say, "Wrong! This freedom costs us everyday. It costs us because the life of discipleship is one of martyrdom. It costs us because of the persecution of the world." AHA! The world wants us to buy into its version of freedom. But we must not. It wants us to pay the cost (and many many before us have). But we must not. Even if we are persecuted on this earth, we know that true freedom of being forgiven for our brokenness is still had. That price has been paid.

This freedom is not concerned with our rights as individuals, it is concerned with our holiness. It is concerned with who God wants us to be. It has nothing to do with our individualistic rights, it has to do with our calling.

In America, for some silly reason, we have been defining freedom in terms of the right to defend ourselves and right to do what we want. That freedom has a poor outcome and costs a lot. And that doesn't end well. It ends with dead bodies on the floor. It ends up with bloodied theater seats.

If only we would desire true freedom.

-B

 

We remember the lives of those who were shot in Aurora yesterday morning. May God's hand of comfort be on their souls and their family members. May God's comforting and guiding hand help this nation to recover from such a tragedy, and guide the world toward true freedom, for which the price has already been paid. We are a broken people. Let us remember that we are also a forgiven people.

 

We Ought To Have Compassion For Jerry Sandusky

I watched the news yesterday, like most of America: 45 out of 48 counts...guilty.

He was held for sexual misconduct with minors, child rape, and several other counts that make us turn our heads and cry. As the trial began, I wanted to give him the most hope I could, but after some time it became more and more evident: Jerry was guilty. The defense attorney said it was an 'uphill battle.' I've never heard such an understatement.

I wrote on twitter (and therefore Facebook) yesterday that I have a problem when I hear people say "he got what he deserved." I excepted, though, child molestation. Something seems so graphic, perverse, and utterly wrong about it. When it comes to child molestation, I tend to think that those criminals should get all that they deserve.

What does Jerry deserve? As at 68 year old man, he's going to get the rest of his life in prison. He was taken into custody following yesterday's proceedings. He will never spend another night in bed with his wife. He will never see the life of a free man again. The world is over for Jerry Sandusky. He won't even have much of an opportunity to right his wrongs.

I could tell that this news was well received because as the final decision by the jury became public, the crowd outside the courthouse steps screamed and cheered. They were ecstatic that this serial molester/rapist was finally going to 'get what he deserved.' They cheered the prosecuting attorney as she spoke to the crowd and booed the defense attorney when he even hinted at the idea of an appeal.

Jerry is going to, according to the world, 'get what he deserves.'

Unfortunately today I spent the greater part of the afternoon watching YouTube clips of Westboro Baptist Church. As many of you know, WBC uses their voice to scream fire and damnation to all 'fags' and 'fag-enablers.' Mostly, if you don't go to their church, you fall into one of those two camps for them. Within every clip they said, 'fags are gonna get what they deserve...because they don't listen to the Lord their God.' For WBC, being gay deserves damnation in hell forever. If you are gay, you will get what you deserve when you spend eternity in hell, according to Westboro Baptist Church.

Of course, the thing Westboro Baptist is missing is compassion. They have none. They will explain to you (I've asked them) that what they're doing is 'love.' They love gay people more than anyone else, according to them, because they want gays to turn from their 'evil' ways. Their love, though, is for some sort of works-righteousness where one could earn eternity in heaven simply by not being gay. That's how they define 'love'...like, hey, if I didn't love you, I wouldn't tell you about how bad it is to be gay. Therefore, I love you. That's not really love.

This seems a worldly, and not Christlike, response. You do something that is 'despicable' (in the case of homosexuality, we are remarkably disagreed...with child rape, we are not) in our eyes. Therefore, you shall be punished. According to WBC, for the gay it is hell. According the world, for Jerry it's prison for life...and a shamed life.

How shall the Church separate itself from the world?

The world says to Jerry, a sick sick man, "You are going to get what you deserve." The Church, though, needs to say to him, "What you did is wrong, but we love you. And yes, that means more than telling you that you get what you deserve...it means seeing the part of you that God is within. it means having compassion for the part of you that is broken, like we all are."

Jerry will spend the rest of his life in prison. And, according to this world, he should.

But the Church will have to take the step beyond that. A step to see Jerry as a person, a human. Perhaps a very sick man, but a man just the same. That compassion for those who have wronged us, those who do despicable things, those that are misfits in society is the type of compassion I see Jesus preaching and practicing within the Scriptures. We are to follow what Jesus did. That's who we are. That's our calling.

We ought to have compassion for Jerry Sandusky. That's how we, the Church, stand apart from the world.

-B

Little Eddie Munster Was Quite The Bully

By now you've heard the story about the guy who accused Romney of bullying him in high school. Some people even used that clever little picture of Eddie Munster which they *swore* was Mitt as a child. I still don't believe that it was. Anyway, Mitt was accused of some pretty bad stuff...for a high schooler. Yes, friends, Mitt was not the rich, holy Mormon man that he now is. Well, he was rich. In any case, color us all shocked.

You see, this is well placed for the accuser. It's got the gay political momentum at a time when Obama came out supporting gay marriage and Romney spoke at Liberty University (a school that teaches that Mormonism is a cult) and got a standing ovation for ’defending’ the ’sanctity’ of heterosexual marriage. Washington Post, we salute you for your impeccable timing.

Like any good politician though, Mitt came out and ’apologized’ last week. He said,

I don’t remember that incident and I’ll tell you I certainly don’t believe that I--I can’t speak for other people of course--thought the fellow was homosexual," Romney said. "That was the furthest thing from my mind back in the 1960s, so that was not the case. But as to pranks that were played back then, I don’t remember them all, but again, high school days, if I did stupid things, why I’m afraid I got to say sorry for it.

Romney didn't really apologize. Like any good politician, his ’apology’ was little more than a political move to remove the media's attention toward him.

Here's the thing. I think he made the wrong move. The issues that will occur this political season are: the economy, gay marriage, jobs, gay marriage, the economy, gay marriage, and maybe a little medical marijuana. And oh yeah, there might be some attention given to bullying.

But bullying, as we understand it, characterizes us. No one is surprised that rich 17-year-old Eddie Munster, err...Romney was a privileged child. No one is surprised that Eddie, err...Mitt led a group at beating him up. Mitt as a bully is, well, a bully.

Surely Mitt has to realize that bullying is a problem. Surely Mitt has to realize that his involvement in this incident paints a picture, a very certain kind of picture. Surely Mitt understands this.

So, why not just admit it? Why not say "You know, I did a lot of stupid things and this was one of them. I remember this incident and for it I am deeply, deeply sorry. Bullying (no matter the reason) is a troublesome thing and is tearing our youth apart. If one cannot trust their classmates, who can they trust? I was part of the problem. Now I want to be a part of the solution. Bullying is wrong and it was wrong for me to do what I did. I am deeply sorry for contributing to the immense problem bullying is having on this world. I want the world to know that as President of the United States, I'll do anything I can to fix it."

Does this mean that Mitt doesn't understand the issue? Does this mean that Mitt doesn't understand the critical nature of the issue? Does this mean that Mitt heard ’gay’ before he heard ’bully’?

In fact this story DOES say something of Mitt's character. Or, at the very least, his attention. I want to like Mitt, but I think he's going to have to do something to step down to our level if he's to be a good President.

Not just in money, not just in justice. He's going to have to realize...in all fullness...what it is like to be a normal American.

Obama preaches to the normal Americans. Mitt doesn't. That's deeply problematic for the Republican party this election period.

-B

Thoughts on Bullying

The fearful always preyed upon your confidence.
Did they see the consequence? They pushed you around.
The arrogant build kingdoms made of the different ones,
Breaking them til they've become just another crown.
-Lifehouse

You may have caught the recent news about the death of Tori Swoape, yet another teenager who committed suicide because of school and online bullying. It's sad, sad news.

Bullying is a difficult problem in today's world. We hear the arguments left and right that because of the advent of social media, we are empowering each other to say things one might not have said face to face. Aspects of a changing cultural scene play into another one, making the issue of self esteem and bullying a more complex one that ever before.

My heart is saddened by these stories of bullying. My heart aches for the children who literally think there is no other way out of their difficult situations. I struggle a lot with the concept of bullying, mostly though because I'm convinced its been around for ages. Bullying, as I see it, is not a new thing.

Bullying, as I see it, is no more than a power play. Bullying is not about being cool or lame, smart or dumb, black or white, gay or straight, fat or skinny, or any other way that we distinguish ourselves from some other person. Bullying is simply a play of power in an effort to attain more. It is an attempt to use whatever assets I have to make you feel worse about yours.

It is an effort to draw upon the emotions of others using the skills, talents, and resources at your disposal in order for yourself to be made higher. Bullying is simply power at work.

Isn't our entire society shaped around bullying? Isn't the goal of American society to win over someone else? Isn't the goal to be the most powerful? Isn't that the reason that we continue to have one of the strongest militaries in the world? Hasn't the history of the world involved strong senses of nationalism and power?

The opportunity to surrender before entire annihilation in war is an example of this. The reason one might wave their flag of surrender is because they've been intimidated enough to the point that they can now acknowledge that they cannot win. They cannot go on. The other military has then used their resources to convince you and your military that it is weaker, insufficient, and likely to lose. Resources used to intimidate so that surrender happens and the fight for power is over.

It's no different on the schoolyard. A girl can call another girl a 'slut' because she knows it is a degrading word that others will associate with her enemy. If the term catches on, the girl will no longer be the cool girl anymore, she'll be the 'slut.' When the population turns against you, your own acknowledgment of who you are changes. Your confidence is lost. The power is removed from you.

The same is true of the current rush of gay children committing suicide because of bullying. They're just a normal kid until those who are against them use some sort resource (language, popularity, Scripture) against them so that they draw upon an emotional reaction.

Once someone has lost confidence in who they are, they've forfeited all power. And that power is left for the taking.

I see the attention that the media, social media, and school systems are giving to bullying as more than just an acknowledgment that bullying is wrong and must be stopped. In a very real and tangible way it is an acknowledgment that something is wrong with how we live together. Something always has been wrong with the way we have been.

Nevertheless, bullying is our history. If we believe in a cause, we march for it. We stop traffic. We boycott. We sing hymns to stop meetings. We use our resources to beat down those with power to get our side heard. We can and do (both rightly and not rightly) paint it with the brush of 'justice' but we bully...back and forth, left and right. When we use our resources to force even something as worthy inclusiveness and fairness, we are simply using the same tactics on others that were used against us.

I'd wager that some disagree, but I don't read Jesus as having used resources to draw emptional responses in order to win power. He took the authority that God gave him as his guiding light. With that, he was unwilling to submit to a power play. I'd encourage you to study his trial before his execution to see what I mean. It was (and is) I am very sure, a different way of looking at the world.

As we continue as a society, the trick is to remove the power. The trick is to remove ourselves from a world where power is at stake. We must remove ourselves, perhaps humbling ourselves to death...even death on a cross...because we are unwilling to give into the need for power in this world. If we could approach our disputes as people from an attitude of humility, surely some sort of attitude worthy of God would prevail.

If anything, the attention being given to bullying is bigger than it perhaps realizes it is: it's an acknowledgment that something has to change on a large scale or we are to suffer the devastation of centuries past. Worse, it's likely going against God's will.

We cannot continue fighting violence with violence. We cannot continue to fight bullying with bullying. We've got to change society's understanding of power. Hopefully, that will end the battle. Hopefully, that in turn, will end the suicides.

-B

 

North Carolina's Amendment One: What's God Got to Do With It?

I spent the last two weeks with WAAAAYYY too many United Methodists. Throughout the weeks, those who supported the church removing its statement, "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" wore colored stoles to show their support. The church attempted to reconcile the hurt it has caused to its gay and lesbian members but was unsuccessful at passing legislation that would help mend the wounds. The church then, in a vote of 61% - 39% voted to keep the language currently in its Book of Discipline. When the vote to remove the 'incompatible' language failed, many who support gay and lesbian full acceptance in the church marched onto the floor and refused to leave until the bishops negotiated with them.

Then I came back to North Carolina.

Amendment One has been all over the news here and throughout the country and those voting to defeat the amendment have been adamant about placing signage in their yards. Honestly, with all the promotion I've seen against the amendment, I didn't think it had a chance at passing.

News flash: Bryant underestimates the conservatism in North Carolina.

The best part of any breaking news story in 2012 is the mass amount of Facebook and Twitter trolling that occurs. When Bin Laden was killed, my news feed was split. When Obama cancelled NASA efforts, one would have thought they were calling for his resignation. The same was true today when I watched Amendment One pass with flying colors. Whoa.

My favorite argument: "This is God's plan. This is how God wants it to be."

GOD'S PLAN?!? WHAT DOES God HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THIS? Last time I checked, America was based on personal liberties, the right to not be under some sort of monarchical rule, and the right to not be told what religion to practice.

Friends, as I see it, America gave up on God A LONG TIME AGO. In America we care about free enterprise. We care about wealthy citizens. We care about the American Dream. We care little about the poor. And we, historically, have cared even less about the marginalized. Remember, we are a country that has based people's worth on the color of their skin. We have even based THEIR PRICE on the color of the skin and the calluses on their hands.

America doesn't care about what God wants. America only cares about what America wants.

Which leads me to a strange place with Amendment One. The majority ruled that they wanted marriage to be defined as between a man and a woman today in North Carolina. Fine. That's the way it goes. We live in a democracy where everyone has a right to their own opinion.

BUT PLEASE, OH PLEASE, DON'T BRING God INTO THIS! We gave up on the Almighty a long, long time ago. America was written under the paradigm of personal liberties and rights. And, somehow, we have been about taking away those rights and liberties ever since. It's a strange place to be in. Something tells me, too, that if those voting for Amendment One had taken God out of the picture completely, this vote would have been incredibly different.

See, the Church has a right to decide how it feels on the subject of Sin. It has a right to attempt to define it based on its own Biblical principles and historical teaching. It can do whatever it pleases and it's allowed to use God because she made it in the first place.

But, for America, no.

God's will has little to do with whether a gay man has a right to his partner's body and life insurance after his untimely death. God's will has little to do with whether a lesbian is allowed to know where in the military her partner is stationed. God's will has little to do with gay and lesbian rights in America.

Us Christians are living somewhat of a dual citizenship and our witness is being hurt by the way we throw one into the other so often.

-B

 

I use the term 'America' in substitution for the 'United States' simply because it seems to me to be a bit more pejorative. You're welcome.

Why Christian Music Is Essential

I literally remember the moment.

It was on a school field trip and all of my peers had their Walkmen and assortment of CDs with them. One of the greatest pastimes of such trips was, as kids do, compare and contrast the assortment of CDs each friend had brought with them. I remember my friends having CDs of The Smashing Pumpkins, Blink 182, Smashmouth, Green Day, Nelly, and many other secular albums that were often stamped with that 'my mom doesn't know I have this' EXPLICIT stamp.

My collection of CDs, though, was quite different. It was made up of dcTalk, Michael W. Smith, Newsboys, Steven Curtis Chapman, and many others. I loved that music. It was the music on the radio I listened to and I listened to it constantly. That fact alone was not enough though to keep me from being embarrassed when I was around the kids with the 'cooler' music. I was so embarrassed that I even moved dcTalk's albums to the front of my CD binder (remember those things?) because their album artwork would at least look cooler than Michael W. Smith's. The horror as a youngster of being caught listening to music that wasn't 'cool' was more than I could bear.

I liked my music. I just wasn't proud of it.

One peer even said to me (I remember this word for word), "I like the music to Christian music, but the words suck." To which I responded, "Oh yeah, I only listen to the music anyway. I don't listen to the words."

Wait, what?

What kind of an idiot was I? You don't listen to the words!?!? What a MORON!!! Of course you listen to the words, Bryant! That's the whole point!!!

But, you know, saying that would have meant that I submitted to the lyrics that he said, "sucked." I would not be caught doing such a thing as that.

(In seminary we talk all the time about pop Christian lyrics 'sucking.' But, we speak of them in terms of theological shallowness, not in terms of whether they are cool or not.)

I really was stupid. Either that, or I didn't realize the truth behind our faith. The truth is that everything we do forms who we are. The way we worship in church forms us into who we are. The things we watch on television form us into who we are. The things we read form us into who we are. The same is true of the music we listen to. These outside influences affect the way that we interact with God, each other, and surrounding communities.

This is why Christian music is essential. We need something that defines the Church and the disciples of Christ lest we risk allowing our children (and, let's be honest, us) to be influenced by other non-Christian, non-Holy influences. I no longer worry about whether listening to music that speaks the Gospel is cool or not, because I know that what I listen to is forming me into who I am. And, forgive me, but I'd rather that influence be something inspired by Christ rather than the sinful ways of the world.

Therefore, I give praise for the witness that Christian music, in whatever form, style, or genre, provides.

The next step, as we often lament in seminary, is to actually say something. "Falling in love with Jesus" was ok when we first realized the issue of American music. Now, it's time that we take this formative aspect of music one step further and use it to form disciples who can actually articulate something theological. Our next step is to recover the depth that many of our founders clung to.

Wouldn't that be something!

-B