What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Anger Management

So it's in light of the anger referenced in yesterday's post that drove four brave kids to do what they did that I'm trying to figure out how to talk about Jesus' warnings about anger when I speak this Thursday at our large group meeting. Here's the passage from Matthew 5:

21"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Okay, so obviously anger is a dangerous thing and Jesus' warning here is stern and serious. But it's also true that Jesus gets really ticked off. And clearly there's an anger that motivated the Greensboro Four to do what they did that brought about justice. So what I want to do is warn against anger while carving out space for righteous anger.

The problem, of course, is that all of us think that our particular anger is a righteous anger. In fact, in few places of our lives are we so ridiculously self-deluded as our own estimation of how right we are--including and especially how right we are to be angry about something.

Where I've landed this week as I've been working with it and thinking about it is this: Jesus here is warning people about anger--that they will be judged for their anger. What this means is exactly that. Our anger will be closely scrutinized (i.e. judged) because it can be a tremendously damaging weapon. It might be judged to be righteous, or (more likely) it will be judged to be self-righteous. So Jesus is issuing a warning that is a real warning: be careful when you're angry, because anger will be judged very specifically and it puts us in a place where we might seriously be lost forever.

There are few weapons in our emotional arsenal that have more power for ill and has so rarely been used for the good. God Himself is a Being-In-Relationship (see my posts a couple weeks ago on the Trinity). Jesus comes to reconcile and restore right relationships. Anger most often destroys relationships and so is mostly used to work against the work of the Spirit and life in the Kingdom. And so we must be very careful in how we express anger--whether it be righteous anger or not.

Monday, October 30, 2006

History Comes Alive

Last week I was in meetings in Greensboro, NC with over 60 other IV staff workers. We were talking about the history of Greensboro in regard to race relations and God's heart for reconciliation and for the poor.

It was a full week with lots to process. But a highlight of our time together was to have Dr. Franklin McCain come and speak to us. Dr. McCain was one of the Greensboro Four who started a sit-in at the local Woolworth lunch counter that was reserved for whites only. I believe he's the second from the left in the above picture.

His speech to us was full of grace and humility and courage and faith. It was captivating to have someone talk about an event that for me is ancient history in the first person. What Dr. McCain did along with the three other guys who participated in the sit-in was spark a nationwide movement that transformed our country.

He offered us a couple of wise words of advice that I thought would be good to pass along. First, when you feel the need to do something deep in your conscience, don't ever wait for the masses to go along with you. Second, never ask permission to start a revolution. Third, the facts don't matter if the dream is big enough.

These four guys first sat down at a segregated lunch counter on February 1, 1960. They weren't served until July 23. Notice that the person who wasn't allowed to serve them was black--I wonder where that guy is now, what he was thinking during this whole time.

Was Dr. McCain afraid about what would happen that first day they all went in to sit at the counter? "No," he says defiantly, "I was too angry to be afraid. Everyone around us was tired of being trampled on, but no one was doing anything about it."

Here's hoping that more Christian activists spark worldwide revolutions in our generation.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Back in the Saddle

Here's Davis and I preparing for our maiden voyage in the bike trailer that Kelly put together this past weekend. After a couple test runs, I was ready for the big trip to a local park. As I was making the trek and feeling every single muscle group in my lower extremeties, I had a fleeting thought about exercise. See, the way I see it, being in shape is a lot like owning an SUV in my part of North Carolina--sure, it comes in handy a couple times a year, but otherwise it's just a big waste of time and money.

The exercise gods (or should I call them demons?) heard my smart little remark and made me pay: on the way home the gears on my long-neglected bike locked up and I had to walk me, my bike, my kid and the trailer home for about half a mile. Just as I was getting home, one of my tires completely popped and blew out.

I really don't hate exercise, I just have a hard time getting motivated to run for the sake of running. I'll chase after a ball or a frisbee or something, but I'm not internally motivated enough to just run. I figure if I could rig up a harness on my back with a fishing pole over my head and a twinkie dangling out about five feet in front of me, I could set land speed records.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

About Those Voices In Your Head...

The way that regret and guilt and shame and self-condemnation and other such things work in our lives is they operate just below the surface. Even when we are directly feeling them, they're often these voices we hear in our heads reminding us of certain bad decisions, telling us certain things, etc.

So as we wrap up on regret, here's some practical thoughts on what to do with the voices in your head.

First, you've got to bring those sub-terranean voices out of the darkness and into the light. That means take the time to identify and actually write out every lie and every regret that haunts you. Write down exactly what it is that you hear and that you're tempted to believe.

Next, commit those things to the Lord. Offer those voices and lies up to the Lord and ask Him to show you what is actually true. Some of the voices we hear are rooted in something that is true but has been twisted or amplified or exaggerated. Ask the Lord for the Holy Spirit to be active in taking these things and exposing them. Also ask for a fresh awareness and acuteness to when those voices begin to speak or have power over your actions. Being aware of when and where your most often tempted to believe a lie is powerful information to break bad thought cycles.

As you look over your list and consider it, begin to write out a response to each thing that you hear. Some of them will be obvious, other things are so deeply enmeshed in our lives and souls that we can barely discern the falsehood and lies that are woven into them. The process of writing down the truth in response to each of these things will most likely be exactly that--a process. Don't rush it, make it a matter of prayer.

Consider asking this as you're praying: how do these voices reveal what my idols are? Idols are anything that you tend to worship apart from God: approval, performance, achievement, accomplishment, etc. The voices in our heads often come from the same beast that we (often unknowingly) worship.

As you craft what is true in response to the lies that you've been living in, try to boil it down to what is most crucial and sum it up briefly. The truth sets us free and so we must find ways to remember it and to apply it concretely.

My pastor back in Richmond would remind us almost weekly that the most important person to preach the gospel to each day was ourselves. We need to know how the gospel speaks into the lies that we're tempted to believe and ask for wisdom to apply it as "in the moment" as possible. This, too, is a process. It's like learning a new dance. Often the bad habits of thought and the lies have become so deeply grooved in our souls that the inertia is pretty tough to break. And if it were up to us alone, we might as well quit. But the Holy Spirit is in us, Christ is praying perfectly for us at all times, and the Father has called us his children. We have all the power of the universe at work for us and for our salvation--which is happening daily, to the praise of His marvelous grace.

One last thought: God has so ordained it that genuine transformation seldom takes place in isolation. Find a friend to share your list with, a community that can come alongside you and pray alongside you. If you don't have people in your life who you can trust or are willing to trust with matters of the soul, you might have bigger problems than just the voices in your head.

My regrets: meetings all of this week, not sure how much blogging I'll be able to do.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Regret v. Repentance

Macon commented on my post from the other day, asking for further discussion of repentance versus regret. Then he re-posted and further clarified his own thoughts and questions yesterday, but by that point the train was already rolling in my head. So I'll just post a few random (but deeply profound) thoughts that I've been having and I'll let Macon put the "u" back in dialogue with his own witty insights.

Here they are, in no particular order:

*First, thank God for regret. In a fallen world full of people born far from God where sin is at work in every single interaction and relationship (from dating relationships to the relationship your heart has with your lungs that will eventually cause both to stop working), if it weren't for the common mercy of regret operating in most everyone's lives the world would indeed be a far more hellish place. The criminals that disturb us the most are the ones who come to sentencing with little or no remorse or regret.

*So regret, then, is natural. It even can serve a good purpose in the culture at large to keep us from falling too far afield in our tendency towards amorality. In some ways, it makes us own the problem--whatever that problem might be.

*But on the other hand, regret is a cancer. It's miserable, poisonous, laborious, de-humanizing, immobilizing, debilitating, overwhelming, and cause for much misery, anxiety, and pain in life. Regret tends to freeze us in one place for the rest of our lives--that one moment or that series of decisions.

*Repentance, however, takes the concept of ownership of the problem and moves it several steps beyond to actually being free of the problem. Repentance recognizes ownership of the problem. I'm not just a victim of circumstance but I've actually done or not done something that I should have (this is assuming that there's actually genuine reason for regret, not just a false regret that I should have over-achieved more or slept with more people or whatever--the differences between genuine regret and false regret are like the differences between genuine guilt and false guilt--and that might be worth another post altogether).

Repentance moves beyond ownership of the problem to some place altogether unexpected: a radical dis-owner-ship of the problem. It is honestly and genuinely no longer my problem to "fix." This happens through confession (always to the Lord, often beneficial when offered to a person as well although us evangelicals don't like to hear that too much), and then the actual u-turn, the change of mind, the change of direction in behavior through the power of the Holy Spirit. The thing done or un-done does not define us, it does not have ultimate power over us, it does not kill our joy or run or ruin our lives. It is brought into the light, dealt with at the cross, and then we trust that all things are being made new as we walk in the light as He is in the light.

Regret is the over-ownership of past mistakes in a way that immobilizes us. Repentance is movement, it is motion towards genuine forgiveness and change. A friend of mine talked about applying to grad school after several years stuck in a average jobs unsure what to do next. He made the parallel that many sharks must constantly be in motion in order for their gills to take water and turn it into oxygen. When regret freezes us, we suffocate. Repentance keeps us moving, giving us oxygen for our lives.

*Of course, there are false movements that do not deal with the actual problem. Stoicism and hedonism are simply two sides of the same coping mechanism coin. Stoicism attempts to will or pretend the problems away through denial; hedonism attempts to drink the problem away. Neither actually takes care of the problem. Both are simply props. In repentance we are free to grieve over sin but not linger in it. We are also free to laugh and be merry, but not in a way that hides from the gravity of what has happened.

We own and then we dis-own the problem--that's repentance in light of an active and living God who really is making all things new. Apart from a life lived in that reality, living a life loaded with regrets and/or loaded with shallow coping strategies really are the only options. This is why Christianity and the story of the God coming to take away and actually deal with sin makes sense as the only real solution to the human predicament. All other "solutions" (be they religions, psycho-analysis, political, economic, educational or recreational) still leave us stuck.

*Alas, many people in the church use their faith as a prop similar to stoicism or hedonism rather than a place of genuine transformation and healing. This is like using the bottle of Pepto-Bismol to prop open the bathroom door so you can get there quicker rather than drinking the contents and dealing with the upset stomach.

Repentance, owning the problem, confessing it, moving in a new direction in the power of the Spirit, is strong medicine for a world cluttered with brokenness and our own part in contributing to the mess of all of it. Oh that Christians would live in the power and freedom of repentance in a world full of regrets.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Gospel and Regrets

Over the past several days I've had several conversations with extremely
gifted and wonderful students who are all dealing with some iteration of the
same issue: regrets. Regrets over sin patterns. Regrets over things
they've not done while in college (this is especially true for the seniors).
Regrets over who they are (or aren't) as people--not smart enough/pretty
enough/spiritual enough, etc. etc. And so I've had the great gift of having to think through how the gospel applies to the regrets of our past.

I love this job.

Here's the conclusion that I've come to in working with these great students: if Jesus is Lord over all our lives, then our future is not ours to control, our present is only ours to offer to him...and our past is under his Lordship as well. All of our times are in his hands--future, present, AND past. And so if the past is His, all of it, then it is not ours at all--not even ours to regret.

The Lordship of Jesus frees us from the tyranny of other lords, including the tyranny of regret, and especially the tyranny of our own selves in our own inability to do anything about anything that has happened in the past. We can learn from it. We can repent of things we've done. But the invitation to live with Jesus as Lord is a genuine invitation to live a regret-free life. We are to trust him as recklessly with our past as we are to trust him with our present and our future.

In Revelation Jesus says to John, "Behold, I am making all things new." "..am making" is the present progressive tense. This is not something that might be done in some wishful thinking future. Jesus' redemption of our past is already active and at work. All the days of our lives in the past have either been ordained by him or are being redeemed by him. Our lives are not our own, and this is extremely, extremely good news. We are being held by One who stands outside of time to redeem all of time--including everything that you and I have ever done: good, bad, or indifferent.

That, my friends, is good news.

But here's some bad news, at least for my most loyal readers: I'll be in and
out of the blogosphere for the next couple days. Hopefully I'll get to
touch base at least once before the weekend.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Racism and History, Gmail and Sunspots

A couple weeks ago our IV chapter co-sponsored an event where we brought in the president of the North Carolina NAACP to speak. His challenge was that it was easy to look at the presenting problems regarding race in our country (who's in jail, who makes the money, etc.) and make what would appear to be logical conclusions. But those conclusions would be incorrect because we can't understand today's problems in a vacuum. In order to deal with today's problems, he argued, we have to know our history.

A week and a half ago I took the plunge: the Juno account I've had for about eight years is now forwarding to my super-cool new Gmail account. My students were ecstatic. However, upon first switching everything was running super-slow. I couldn't send any e-mails for a while. Then I could send stuff but couldn't send attachments. Then my whole internet started slowing down. Curse that Gmail and a pox upon the students who sold me on it! I'm going back to Juno!

Then I heard something on the radio: sunspots were disturbing transmissions of all sorts. This could cause disruption for people who were listening on-line as well as those who plucked the signals out of the air. Could it be that Gmail wasn't single-handedly destroying my DSL internet connection after all?

Indeed, two days later I was up and running and as fully functional as I ever get. Without context, Gmail seemed to be the culprit. Given the fullness of the facts, I found that there was more to the story.

It is easy for those of us who are in the majority to dismiss calls to know our history as living in the past. But we must take that call seriously if we're ever to move forward. If we don't understand the context of the problem, we cannot actually begin to address the problem.

For Christians, there are two histories we need to grapple with: our own country's and the story of the church. The church was among the first ever inter-racial communities in history. Most of us are Christians because Jews went cross-culture to bring the gospel to us.

Yet the church has abdicated it's leadership responsbilities in this arena and thus everyone suffers: the church is segregated and our culture's well-intended attempts at bringing racial healing fall short. It's impossible for the culture to succeed where only the church can. Only the church can offer the Holy Spirit to go along with dialogue and education. Only the gospel can genuinely and deeply transform hearts and attitudes.

So let's get to know our history and move forward with boldness and humility to bring the fullness of the gospel to bear on this issue. Otherwise, we'll all just end up dropping Gmail because of sunspots.

Friday, October 13, 2006

De-bunking Modernity, Too

A couple weeks ago a student sat me down who had served as a counselor for a Christian camp that was committed to teaching high school and college students about a Christian worldview. The manual that she brought with her was a tome, covering everything from literature to archealogy. And of course, it had several sections addressing the rise of post-modernity and the host of issues that the post-modern worldview presents for the Christian.

As I considered the impressive comprehensiveness of this week-long course, I came to something that gave me pause: where was the critique of Modernity?

Many of these Christian worldview courses are put together by baby-boomer Christians who have very strong views about establishing right and wrong--and these folks are deeply disturbed by the post-modern swing of relativism and pluralism and tolerance over and above Truth.

And so many Christian Worldview events that I've been exposed to or have heard of end up being a pep rally for the good ol' days of modernity. But was modernity, with it's arrogant elevation of the human mind and human ability to redeem itself through it's own reason, really that much better in terms of championing a Christian worldview? Let's see...

-Two of the most devastating wars ever in the history of the planet.

-Ecologically disastrous over-development.

-The most comprehensive gutting of the Bible ever, based on what people guided by reason could accept as having actually happened and what couldn't have happened. The perfect example of the arrogance of modernity: the Jesus Seminar folks went through the Bible and color-coded it based on their "rational" view of what Jesus did say or do, what he probably didn't say or do, and what he definitely didn't say or do--like miracles. It would seem to be pretty difficult to have a Christian worldview apart from miracles--like, say, the resurrection.

-The result of this Bible-gutting: the near-extinction of the Christian church in Europe.

So yes, please, let's do a serious evaluation of post-modernity and wade into our culture fully aware of the presuppositions of it and how they conflict with Christianity. But let us not live under the illusion that modernity was the golden age of Christianty. In fact, the Kingdom of God is a third culture altogether--it is neither of modernity nor of post-modernity and yet has aspects of both.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Post Scripts

I know it's hard to believe, given the length of the previous posts, that there are things that I left out or forgot to say. But here goes a few "P.S.'s," mostly to Friday’s post about the internal logic of Christianity not necessarily being legislation material.

1. A great example of this historically is Prohibition--the Constitutional amendment that went bad. Prohibition made sense in a certain subset of the Christian worldview but did not make sense when it was wrenched out of that context and the attempt was made to apply it to everyone across the board.

I think that a Constitutional amendment regarding marriage would have the same ring to it. My guess is that as Christians we'll speak out against gay marriage 50 years from now in the same way that we speak out against pornography and other expressions of sexual brokenness--not with legislation but with other forms of persuasion.

2. Contrary to what this may lead people to believe, I think that the saying "you can't legislate morality" is absolutely wrong. Every piece of legislation is founded in some sort of morality--whether that be abortion "rights" or laws against pedophiles.

3. So the question then becomes, whose morality? And in a representative government (which I think is the best of all the options) with a plurality of world views, the key is to find common ground across many world views in order to form a moral code that is amenable across world views. This means that Christians won't get their way in every situation. That's fine, this place is not our home anyway and it is God's mercy if we feel our alien-ness on a regular basis.

4. This is not to say that Christians don't have a place in government and shaping policies. It just means that we have to do so recognizing our context and limitations. Ten years ago there was a push from Christians for prayer in public schools. Please, good people, let's stop and think. These folks always assume Christians to be in power to implement things like this. If their kids had a Muslim teacher or principle, my guess is that they'd be less fired up about prayer in public schools. So Christians do need to be involved in government, but we've got to understand the broader context and play thoughtfully.

5. In legislation as well as other areas, lots of Christians have two positions: go hard or go home. What I’m pleading for here is a third option: thoughtful engagement. There are lots of ways to influence our culture and the changing the Constitution isn’t the only way nor is it in this case (in my not-so-humble-opinion) the best.

6. I actually do like NPR (the discussion that started this whole string of posts), even if it does stand for Nationally Partisan Radio.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

My Post for Today...

...is responding to Royale's comments/objections under the last post. Take a look. I'll wrap up with some thoughts tomorrow and I promise we'll move on!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Responding to Royale

Last week I got some great comments and questions springing from the post about homosexual marriage. I answered one question on Friday, I wanted to answer Royale's question here today because I think it's a crucial issue.

You can see all of Royale's comments under Friday's post, but I'll copy and paste the crux of it here: Here's the deal - the Bible has a lot of plain, straightforward and obvious commands. Many of them appear irrational to our modern perspective. It's not just the OT, but the words of Jesus as well. (turn the other cheek, give the proceeds to the poor, etc...)It's about literalism. Why take the command against homosexuality literal if you do not take the literal the OTHER commands?

First off, the OT, then we'll talk some about Jesus: When people started becoming Christians who weren't Jewish, it caused tons of controversy. Much of the NT and especially Acts is devoted to sorting through the issue of how "Jewish" do new Christians have to be? They quickly came to consensus that the moral law (i.e. the Ten commandments) was clearly still applicable but that ceremonial law (food restrictions and circumcision being the capstones) was not to be applied to the new converts. This line between moral law and ceremonial law may seem arbitrary to us 2,000 years later, but it clearly wasn't to the Jewish folks making the decisions. They knew the difference and were able to communicate it to the new Gentile churches with remarkable unanimity.

Regarding the NT commands, I don't think it's an accident that the examples that Royale chooses are generally mercy-type commands (turn the other cheek, give proceeds to the poor) and so I think this warrants an important aside. While I agree that the Christian church has failed dramatically at living out the commands to care for the sick, the poor, and the marginalized, I also gladly and proudly say that over the past 2,000 years there is absolutely no other organization and certainly no other religion that has done more to help people outside of it's own affinity group than the Christian church. No one has built more hospitals, given more to the sick, cared for more orphans, built more schools or rushed to the aid of a disaster with more regularity than Christians: not the Muslims, not the Jews, not the Hindus, not the Red Cross, not the Shriners, not the U.N. No one. The "high-profile" disasters of the past two years (Katrina and the Tsunami) only serve to highlight was has historically been true.

In light of this I must confess that I'm a bit perplexed by the charge that Christians seem to take these commands of Jesus metaphorically. We are called to love those who hate us and to turn the other cheek when someone strikes us. Really. And for the past 2,000 years, we've done that, mostly falteringly and struggling so, but we've at least struggled to move in that general direction. And in 32 years of being in churches, I've never heard those passages dismissed as just metaphorical. If these commands sound irrational to our modern ears, they also sounded irrational to First-Century Palestinian ears. No one wants to do this. That's part of what makes Christianity different and why people converted by the thousands even as they were being fed to lions and burned alive as human torches to light Roman Emperor's parties.

There is something to understanding the whole of Scripture and reading it thoughtfully and not just taking each isolated incident at total face value, which maybe could be taken for a cop-out or convenient making of metaphors, but I don't think so. For example: Jesus tells the Rich Young Ruler to sell everything he owns and follow him, but he doesn't say that to everyone. And so we have to understand the context of each event and take the whole of Scripture on any given subject to get the full picture. But generally there are clear and remarkable patterns that emerge with a thoughtful reading of the Scriptures from the posture of faith.

If you want woodenly rigid, literal interpretation of the Bible, fundamentalism is the way to go. If you want everything metaphored to death, try the liberal main-line church (holy crap those people have to work really hard to try to keep calling themselves Christians while explaining away just about every truly distinguishing mark of Christianity). If you want a thoughtful engagement of the Scriptures that tries to take the context and situation of each text into account as well as a general posture of submitting to the Scriptures while trying to grasp the larger arc of what's being said on the subject throughout the whole of Scripture, I offer you evangelicalism. Perhaps that leaves us open to the charge of picking and choosing our way through the Scriptures and certainly that is one possible outcome of this way of reading the Scripture. But obviously I think that's the best way to go because it combines thoughtfulness with faithfulness with holy submission.

A different, related issue: Last Friday a student was concerned that his parents were leaving their church denomination that was moving towards ordaining homosexuals. Isn't all sin the same? Why leave a church over this issue? But there's a crucial difference. It's one thing to say that lying is a sin and yet we see Christians lie--that's hypocrisy and it must be dealt with. It's a completely different matter to say that lying isn't a sin at all any more, and so anyone who lies is really just fine like they are.

Similarly, it's a different thing to charge Christians with not living up to the code of conduct commanded by Scripture (that's hypocrisy) than it is to say that we make things to be metaphorical simply to suit us (that's cutting-and-pasting the Bible recreationally). If the charge is hypocrisy--i.e. we don't turn the other cheek when Jesus commands us to or that we pick and choose our Biblical sexual ethics, then we certainly stand guilty as charged (even granted the generally extraordinary track record noted above).

But it is not up to us to nullify the arc of the commands of Scripture (either about sexuality or about giving to the poor) and decide that they are no longer commands because we find them annoying, awkward, they don't fit our politics, or are not politically correct. This is why I'm so deeply troubled by the Christian-Republican marriage, even though I tend to vote that way. We are not to be in any one's back pocket. We are to engage the full measure of the Biblical commands about the poor, about sex, about marriage, about worship, about prayer, etc. and live those out as faithfully as we can. Some passages aren't clear, other passages were more directly applicable to the immediate context, but taken as a whole the clearer Scriptures help us to interpret the less clear Scriptures and most issues can be addressed with reasonable clarity in a context of holy humility.

And so the sexual ethic over the whole of Scripture is very clear. The creation story is to be taken realistically--it is poetry with a point. What is being communicated there about Who created and the purpose behind creation, including male-female relations, be fruitful and multiply, and leave and cleave is very much the point of why that's been written down for us. Marriage is a sacred thing, even if the people who enter into it don't think so or aren't aware of it.

Why are we gendered beings? Why did God create us with gender in the first place? It is difference that blesses, just as the nature of the Trinity is that it is 3 differentiated Persons who are One God. The Father is the Father, the Son is the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit; each is delighted to be Who they are, each delights in the othes, none of them tries to be the other or do exactly what the other one does. Each aspect of marriage is to mirror that relationship, including the sexual aspect of marriage--"the two shall become one." Throw in the functional pro-creational aspects of marriage inherent in the command to "fill the land and subdue it" and you've got a pretty clear mandate for a male-female marriage relationship.

So Romans 1 talks about homosexuality in a way that comports with much of the rest of the sexual ethic in Scripture--the clear assumption of a sexual relationship exercised in a male-female marriage based on the creational purpose of gender in the first place and the pro-creational aspect of sexual relations. If it were an aberration, then maybe we could talk about the need to find a reason for Paul to rant on about it and could reasonably dismiss it. But it's not, and so we must submit to it or stop calling ourselves Christians--there's lots of other options out there.

The trouble with this discussion is that I don't really expect to change anyone's mind with this post. Change is a process for most anyone. My mind won't change with a few very thoughtful objections, I don't expect any of my readers to change their mind's because of a few scattered thoughts on my blog. I just hope that maybe this exchange can be helpful in shedding a little bit of light on some small part of this pretty significant cultural debate.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Responding to Thoughtful Comments

I got a couple good comments from yesterday's post questioning key points in the whole gay marriage debate: 1. lots of things are commanded in the Bible that we don't do (i.e. don't eat pork) and 2. if someone's not following the ways of the Bible then should they be forced to do what the Bible prescribes?

First off, thanks for the comments, these are crucial questions. That's why instead of simply responding in the comments I thought I'd do a post on it.

I think there's a couple ways to come at this and I'll admit up-front that some of this is half-baked in the sense that I've had this stuff rolling around in my head in the past but haven't cogently articulated all of it in one setting. Let's see how it all comes out...

To start with, let's talk about worldview. The Christian story has an internal logic to it that does not make any sense at all apart from accepting certain primary suppositions. So yesterday's post about God being love itself only makes sense if you accept that there is a God at all and that He has revealed Himself in some way. "Jesus is Lord" is a fundamental assertion of the Christian story. So is the idea that Jesus came not only to be nice and show us how to be nice but to die and rise again so that we might have access to the Father. So also is the idea that Jesus came to inaugurate a Kingdom, and that he would do so primarily through his people, the church.

Most everyone has some sort of worldview, most everyone has some story that they believe to best explain how the world works. Most of those worldviews have practical applications that make sense given those suppositions but might be disputed by people who hold different worldviews.

Because I believe that Christianity is the proper and real story of how things are, then I think that the closer anyone gets to that story the better off they will be. So a moral pagan will live a qualitatively better life than a porn star alcoholic crack addict serial arsonist, even though both might reject the Christian story. And both, according to that story, are still in need of the exact same serious redemption, rescue and healing.

I believe that some of the internal logic of Christianity can be applied to the broader world or culture while other things cannot. So while I deeply believe that everyone would be better off reading the Bible and praying each day, I don't think legislating that make any sense. However, murder has a broader consensus of worldview support, so it makes sense in a pluralist society to legislate against murder--which is why I would push for the end of legalized abortion. It not only has internal logic grounds (which is enough for me to believe it privately) but it also has life-and-death outcomes to protect the weak from the strong (a generally accepted purpose for having laws in the first place) and it also shares plenty of common ground with other worldviews (most all of which have some echo of God's goodness in them, however distant or faint).

Given those things, I'm against homosexual behavior period and certainly and obviously against homosexual marriage because of the internal logic of the Christian story. I believe certain things about God, Jesus, and what Jesus has done through the church he inagurated and so I trust that what the Bible clearly teaches about homosexuality is true. Do I think that there should be a Constitutional amendment to keep marriage as man and woman? No. Do I think it's inevitable that in our country we'll have gay marriage as commonplace? Yes. Do I think we'd be better off as a people if that were not the case? Yes. Can I make that happen any more than I can make everyone read the Scriptures and pray each day? No. If I weren't a Christian would I support gay marriage? I think I probably would be hesitant but have no clear reasons why.

Regarding the issues of Old Testament laws and why we follow some things and not others, that's probably another post for next week, since this has gone on quite long enough!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

And then There's the Liberal Guy

History: About 50 years ago or so an organization developed called The World Council of Churches. The WCC eventually decided to the whole Christian church part was a bit cumbersome and decided to basically become a glorified Salvation Army. Nothing wrong with the Salvation Army. It's just not really the church.

So there was a WCC guy on along with the Christian Coalition guy and of course, since this was NPR, he got very little heat and lots of backing from the callers.

What was particularly vexing, although of course not surprising, was his argument surrounding gay marriage. He had a reasonable point that Scripture has a variety of odd marital arrangements/customs in it--fair enough. But his bottom line? "God just really wants us to love people."

The early church had a variety of Greek words to choose from for the word "love." They chose "agape" which to that point was a seldom-used word. This suited their purposes perfectly, as God's love was beyond any human experience of love and the fact that this word was rarely used gave them permission to freight it with their own meanings.

It's unfortunate that in the English language we've only got one word for love. And the WCC guy was glad to tag God with being "loving" which of course meant we just leave people alone to do what they want to do.

It's interesting that when parents do that, they call it neglect. When God does it, they call that love.

God DOES want us to love people. His love also includes limits, just as any good parent offers limits. There's lots of times my son does not understand my 'no.' There are some 'no's' from Scripture that I do not understand. But I submit to them, because God is God and I'm not. He is love, and I am not. I am not free to take my own definition of love and thrust that onto God. God is love, and so whatever he gives me, whatever blessings he sends my way, whatever he says no to, all that is necessarily what love truly means. If my own definitions do not fit God's actions, it must be my own definitions that are skewed.

And so I'm opposed to gay marriage, even though I think it's truly a raw deal for people who have those inclinations (and I do think that some folks are genetically pre-disposed to homosexuality, just as some folks are genetically pre-disposed to alcoholism). It's not that I hate gay people or am closed off to their struggles, it's just that it's pretty clear from the Scriptures that the God who loves people says that this is not His way.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

NPR, Religion and Politics

Last week I was listening to NPR as I am often wont to do. This particular hour they were broadcasting a call-in show discussing religion and politics in America. The guests were one gentlemen from the Christian Coalition and two gentlemen from more liberal churches.

I should never listen to stuff like that. It always end up mad at everyone. I'll start today with the Christian Coalition guy.

Of course, since it was NPR, the Christian Coalition guy was getting skewered by callers. I give him a B+ for his handling of the inevitable gay marriage questions, he wasn't too obnoxious and made a decent argument.

But his response to questions about the environment showed why 30-somethings and 20-somethings are less and less inclined to identify with the Christian Coalition folks, even if they share the Christian part. His response was all empty rhetoric: "We're in favor of the environment but not at the expense of people, which is how some environmentalists talk."

This is completely bogus. What he did with the issue is create a false dichotomy, as if the only options were to be in favor of people or in favor of the environment. While it may be true that some environmentalists go to this extreme, it is clearly not the case that all wise environmental decisions come at the expense of taking care of people.

If anyone reading this blog has connections with these folks, please pass along my little word of advice: if you don't want to become extinct in the next 10 years, please stop selling out to the big businesses that pay most of your salaries and take a look at what Scripture has to say about our relationship with nature. Or if that's not compelling enough, how about acting in your own self-interest? In just about every poll of 20- and 30-somethings, environmental concerns are in the top 5 issues that voters care about.

My friend and former colleague Nate Clarke once gave a phenomenal talk where he contrasted the Biblical command of having dominion and taking care of the garden with the current state of affairs of dominance and consumption. Dominion and care looks very different from dominance and consumption, and until the Christian Coalition and the "religious right" in general wakes up to the necessity of Godly stewardship of the environment, tons of folks like me will continue to be wary of their leadership and their motives.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Trinity P.S.

If the joy of the Godhead is essentially the delight the Persons of the Trinity have in one another, then two things follow.

First, our joy is also tied into a relationship with those same Persons.

Secondly, our joy is also tied into fellowship with one another. In the Scriptures, the word joy is most often talked about in the context of community. Right relationships all around (with God and with one another) will be the source of our joy for all eternity.

Our work here on earth, then, is to be reconcilers, people who are passionate about restoring right relationships in any and every way they have become broken.

Could it be that our world, even the Christians within it, are so joyless because the relationships we have are so fractured, shallow and scattered? I think for me, at least, that is largely descriptive of my struggles to live a joy-full life.