Category Archives: life

We Hold These Truths To Be Self Evident


In the year 1776, just a few short years after attempting to make the largest cup of tea in the history of the world in the Boston harbor, because Americans like big things or possibly other reasons, the American colonies declared independence from the United Kingdom. [The British were unimpressed, inspiring the idiom, “That’s weak tea.”] In doing so, they prepared one of the greatest documents in history, calling it the Declaration of Independence. The preamble of that declaration is one of the best and most beautiful pieces of prose ever written, saying:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Declaration of Independence

I’m not sure that anyone had ever said that treasured phrase before. See, I love that they said that. They were willing to set out at the beginning of their argument the things that they didn’t think needed proof or explanation. It’s possible, though, that they missed some truths they held to be self evident even before that, like who the “men” that were created equal included.

Things got awkward from there, as the constitution they established for their United States of America allowed for slaves without any right to liberty or the pursuit of happiness – or even life, really. Those rights certainly weren’t unalienable for them. Beyond that, in Article I, section ii, they say that for census purposes, all free people are to be counted fully, but all slaves are only worth 3/5 of a person. But all men are created equal. That’s self-evident.

Maybe it’s that they’re created equal but can be made less equal? Maybe it’s that “men” doesn’t mean slave men?

Maybe the problem is the term “self evident.”

Because all of our arguments begin with the truths we hold to be self-evident. They’re so evident to us that they remain unsaid but at their core aren’t evident at all to the people we’re arguing with.

I’m going to jump in on #TakeAKnee, here. Congratulations if you already got there before me. You’re very smart. Now bear with me, because afterwards we’re going to jump off somewhere different.

Taking a knee for the anthem

People in the United States are currently very angry with each other. You may have noticed. I’m Canadian, so I’m not angry with anybody, although I’m sorry for that. They’re angry because one professional football player decided that during the playing of the national anthem he would go down on one knee rather than stand. He chose to do this because he believed that it would bring attention to the fact that people who looked like him were generally not, in fact, considered by people who look like me to have been created equal with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. People who look like me would generally deny that, of course, but based on what was going on in the news at the time, he held that truth to be self evident. Self evident is the fact that this garnered more national attention and conversation than just about any other peaceful way he could have brought this topic up.

It sparked so much debate that the President of the United States called him a son of a bitch, along with the many, many others who have followed up this football player’s lead, taking up the practice of kneeling during the national anthem until all the supposedly equal people who don’t look like me have the unalienable rights that I people who look like me have. It sparked so much debate that people have called for his job and his life. People are very, very angry.

So they argue. For the most part, the angry people aren’t even arguing about what the players are protesting, though – they’re arguing about the form that protest takes.They do it mostly in comments and tweets. And they aren’t hearing each other. They can’t understand… they can’t fathom why people on the other side of the debate can hold such stupid, ill-informed opinions and beliefs.

Maybe it’s because there’s no room for preamble in a tweet and no one reads a comment long enough to have one, and the truths that they hold self evident stand only in the background.

Leaving behind the reasons for the protest, we focus on whether or not it’s okay for someone to kneel during the nation anthem. After all, men have fought and died for that anthem and the flag it describes, and to disrespect that anthem is to disrespect them. And it disrespects the country. And the principles the country was founded on. And we hold those principles dearly. They are sacred. The flag is sacred. The anthem is sacrosanct. This is not an acceptable form of protest. That is self evident.

Leaving behind the reasons for the protest, we focus on whether or not it’s okay for someone to kneel during the nation anthem. After all, men have fought and died for centuries for the right to self expression and peaceful protest against government-sanctioned tyranny; for the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all equal men. The greatest way to honor their sacrifice is to exercise the rights they fought and died for in an attempt to make better the country that the flag and anthem represent. Kneeling during the anthem is a profoundly patriotic form of protest. That is self evident.

And so these two mutually exclusive, self evident truths put pots on their heads and run at each other like rutting sheep until there’s nothing left but pain and a lot of loud, clanging noise. And that is a microcosm of how we treat each other all the time in every debate we engage in, and it’s why we just get angrier instead of understanding each other.

I’m not an expert in football. I’m not really an expert in America or American politics, although I have watched The West Wing through three times and have a Facebook account. What I am a theoretical expert in is communication and Christian religious expression. And that’s why it’s taken me a thousand words to come to what I really want to say.

Every embittered, vitriolic argument that we get into is because we hold truths to be self evident. And they aren’t. Virtually no truth is self evident. I mean, it’s evident to ourselves, but we can’t assume that it’s evident to everyone else’s selves. And that is incredibly difficult to get our heads around. We resist that discovery. We can’t understand how anything so MIND-BLOWINGLY OBVIOUS can’t be understood by THESE IDIOTS who are clearly OBSTINATE AND WILLFULLY IGNORANT. And neither can they. About us.

When the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 1:20 that, “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse,” what he’s saying is that the truth of God is self-evident. His qualities. His desires. His very existence. And we, who are Christians, tend to agree. Whether from our observations of the natural world, our studies of scripture, our indoctrination, or our experiences with the supernatural world, we enter into every conversation and debate with that underlying principle: God Is. And not only Is he, but his word and will known. And not only are his word and will know, but they are paramount.

Atheists enter the discussion knowing that the natural, observable world is all there is. There is no Invisible Sky-Man having a floating tea-party with a flying spaghetti monster. Religion is simply an attempt by the elite to control the masses or a crutch for the intellectually and emotionally needy. That is self evident.

And  that’s fine when the argument is about God’s existence, because those core issues are in play. We’re debating those things that we each hold to be self evident, and even if we can’t understand why the other side doesn’t, we understand that the bearing they have on the discussion.

The problem comes during the myriad of other cultural land-mines we discuss.

Abortion.

Same sex marriage.

Trans-gender issues.

In every discussion one side enters in holding certain truths to be self evident. God is. His will is apparent. His will is paramount. [In the case of abortion, that a fetus or zygote or whatever is a fully human person, created equal and endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.]

The other side side enters in holding the self evident truths that personal equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are unalienable rights, personal decision is sacrosanct, and no one can take them away on the millennia old, made up word of some invisible sky-man.

Even within the Christian community, we carry beliefs about the nature of God that inform every position we hold, every nuanced interpretation of scripture, every way we live out our faith in the world. And we hold them to be self evident. Calvinists hold the truth to be self evident that God’s sovereignty extends to willing all that happens. Arminians hold the truth to be self evident that God’s love necessitates free will for his creation.

We all agree that God is Love, but somewhere underneath it is a self evident truth about what that means that others don’t find to be evident at all.

We all agree that love is good, but somewhere underneath it is a self evident truth about what that means that others don’t find to be evident at all.

We assume that our interpretation of scripture is correct.

We assume that other people should care about what we understand scripture teaches.

We assume that if we are just forceful enough, other people will accede to our self evident truths and thereby arrive at the same position we hold that flows from them.

But we keep arguing the position that flows from them and will never arrive at agreement unless we can agree on the foundational principles that under-gird them.

We need to take a deep breath and accept that the truths we hold dear are not self evident. They require knowledge and experience to arrive at. And maybe, just maybe, we haven’t had the knowledge and experience to arrive at the truths that someone else holds to be self evident.

Does this mean we quit talking? Of course not. But it means we have to have a measure of grace for each other. We have to understand that people who disagree with us are not intrinsically stupid or mean-spirited or whatever. They are using a different foundation to build on. Unless we understand their foundation, their building won’t make sense. And we ridicule things that don’t make sense. And that doesn’t make anything better.

So we talk. We share our stories. We share our beliefs. We listen as other people do the same. We stop making statements as if they are self evident. And we do all this with the basic assumption that their argument makes as much sense as ours does. We find out how they got there and discuss that. In order to be understood, we must first seek to understand. That’s useful communication. That’s loving communication. That’s Godly communication. Otherwise all anyone hears is a clanging gong or a noisy cymbal. That’s why the soundtrack of our world is a vast multitude of pots banging against each other and wounded people falling to the ground.

I hold that truth to be self evident.

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He Gives and Takes Away


I had another tough question come in from a friend and spent some time turning it over this morning. I figure if he’s asking, the answer might be useful to someone else too, so to you, dear reader, I offer my response as well:

Hi ——–,

Your question was, “Can you explain ‘He gives and takes away?’ Since God doesn’t punish, what might he take away?”

That’s a heavy question. It hits a lot of people on a very personal level. It’s also not one that I can give a short, pithy answer to. Although I’m not sure I’ve ever given a short, pithy answer to a theological question. They’re usually wrong.

So, rather than give an answer, I’ll share a bit of thought process.

First, there’s an assumption in the question that God doesn’t punish. There are definitely times in the Bible that God does actively punish, although it’s usually on a national level rather than an individual level. There are some times that God does actively give or bless people in scripture. Let’s hold that in an open hand for a minute.

Second, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away,” is from Job 1:21. The context of Job is a drama that teaches Jewish people how to respond to struggle and pain. As Job says this, he’s just had three servants come and tell him that he’s lost everything he owns and his family is dead. Job’s response is to acknowledge that he didn’t come into the world with anything, he won’t leave with anything, and God is sovereign over all. He’s saying, “It wasn’t really mine anyway.” This is true. When he says that God took it away, though, he’s wrong. According to the narrative he’s not aware of (irony), Satan took it away with God’s permission as a test – some sort of celestial bet, although God gives permission. So within the immediate context, the statement, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away,” was wrong, and basing theology off of it is dangerous – as dangerous as basing theology off his friends’ statements that what was happening was his fault and God was punishing him (which was still a very common belief in Jesus’ time).

Third, people want to reduce theology to the simplest possible, most easily digestible form. They want black and white; always and never. What we see in the whole of scripture, though, is “sometimes.” For those who want consistency and certainty, it’s easiest to say “consistently, certainly sometimes.” God is God, and he’s allowed that. What we see is that sometimes God does give. Sometimes God does take away. Most of the time, he lets stuff happen and leaves his justice for later.

So the statement he gives and takes away is accurate. Sort of. Sometimes. 

The greater truth is in the heart attitude behind it, though. We remember that God is sovereign. Everything that we have, whether given actively or inherently is from him. I tremendously enjoy the air he gave me to breathe this morning. Someday I’m going to stop breathing it. I go. Everything I have goes. God remains. God is greater than me. God is greater than my stuff. The mini-lesson found in the following verse, what the audience is supposed to get, is that even though Job thinks God is actively responsible (he’s not) is: “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”

It’s a statement of peace. It means that whatever our circumstances are, God remains, and we find our worth and being in him. Growing resentful or angry at him for our circumstances is sinful. Worshiping him in the midst of pain is glorifying.

What we should be saying as we echo that statement is that it doesn’t matter who’s fault it is. God is God and God is Good. He doesn’t stop being God in hard times. It’s what Paul echoes in Phillipians 4:11-13 – “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

So maybe it’s God’s fault and maybe it isn’t. Maybe stuff just happened and he didn’t stop it. We still worship, though, because worship isn’t about us and what we have. It’s not transactional. It’s conversational. It’s relational. It’s about who he is and who we are in him.

I hope that answers your question. If not, bug me more. I’m cool with that.

Peace,

Aaron

I haven’t been feeling particularly moved to “blog” lately, but if anyone has any honest questions – not “heh-heh what about this” questions with the intent of trying to trip me up, but honest questions seeking answers, head over to the contact page. I’ll be happy to make posts from them and leave your name out of it.

Repent


I haven’t written for a while. Excuse me while I ramble for a bit.

Each morning (well, most mornings… sometimes afternoons… sometimes I skip it because I’m busy or lazy or in a mood or whatever), I dig into JD Walt’s Seedbed Daily Text. I highly recommend it as a Biblically rich devotional written by a servant of God with a broad intellectual skillset and the heart of a poet.

We’re in the Gospel of Matthew right now, as John the Baptist cries out, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is near!” As I process some of my thoughts on his thoughts on God’s thoughts, I’m going to piggyback on some of what he said this morning. I’m just saying that this is mostly me, but he deserves credit (or blame, if you disagree) for the direction and it’s only fair that he get it. If you want to catch up, this particular devo is permalinked here.

Way back in the day (colloquially speaking – it was actually an evening), my youth pastor taught one of many lessons on repentance. This one stuck with me for a number of reasons. First, because it was a time in my life that I was in a weird tension that a lot of Christian teens go through… I had “given my life to Christ,” but had developed excellent compartmentalization skills. I’d given the part of my life that went to church and youth group to Christ, but the part of my life that smoked pot and was committed enough to take the time to download porn on a 28.8k modem and other bad stuff remained firmly separate. The tug of war that ebbs and flows and never seems to quite stop completely was at a high point, and I knew that I needed to “repent.”

I mean, I’d pented at least a few times before, and it obviously hadn’t stuck, so I apparently had to do it again.

repentance

Repent is a powerful word. It’s explosive, just in terms of its sound. It gains momentum coming off the lips, pulsing out in a way that leaves an impact. It hangs in the air waiting for a response. Even if you’ve heard it a million times, it sits there, slapping at your conscience, demanding acknowledgement, even it it’s just to turn it away again.

It’s also foreign to our modern language. It’s become the exclusive domain of religiousity, and so, while demanding, its also somewhat amorphous and confusing.

The second reason that his lesson sticks in my memory is that he gave a pithy, one sentence definition of repentance that was easy to grasp. He said that, “Repentance is a 180 degree turn from where you’ve been going,” and had kids demonstrate in an object lesson by walking in a straight line across the room and when he yelled, “Repent!” they’d have to turn around and go back in the other direction. It was a good lesson. It was simple and to the point and something a teenager could understand. And so I repented.

Again.

And again.

And no matter how many times I did that about-face and turned 180 degrees from where I was going, my course would slowly wander and I’d find myself heading back exactly the way I had been.

Because he was wrong.

And I was wrong when I taught the same thing.

The problem with viewing repentance as a 180 degree turn from the way you were going is that it still focuses on you and the way you were going. It’s like trying to drive by looking in the rearview mirror. It’s appealing to a self-absorbed, self-addicted people because it maintains our self direction – even if we’re directing ourselves by not going somewhere. It’s our direction – anchored by our former direction – dependent on our vision and our conscience and our experience. Our new direction is entirely dependent on our old direction. That doesn’t work well.

The whole idea of trying to navigate by going away from something is just profoundly stupid. And that’s kind of what John is saying.

The good news is that the true point of navigation is near. It’s not ephemeral. It’s not abstract. It’s among us now.

Yes, repentance is a firm re-orientation, but it’s not reorienting away from something, it’s changing direction to move towards something. As long as we’re moving towards it, it doesn’t matter what we’re moving away from. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done. It doesn’t matter what we’re inclined to drift towards. It doesn’t matter what we… what we… what we… what I.

It matters what God.

Repentance isn’t about us. It’s about him. It’s about Emmanuel. It’s about God With Us. JD says it better than I can:

To be clear, behaviors will change but that change will come from a far deeper place than mere compliance with the rules. It will come from the deep wells of our transformed dispositions, affections, desires and from the Holy Spirit inspired dreams of the beautiful, good and powerfully loving lives we were created to live. To repent means to realign our entire lives to become the remarkable kind of people Jesus would be if he were you and me. Repentance does not start with a stinging self examination of our shame-filled selves. No, it begins by beholding the face of God in Jesus Christ, inhaling the Holy Spirit breathed Word of our own beloved-ness and exhaling the breathtaking beauty of the now-appearing-all-things-are-possible Kingdom of Heaven.

That’s probably enough for today. I’m not done thinking about it. It feels important.

Because there’s something in me that needs to be pent. It needs to be contained and constrained and confined because it has its way with me in a way I don’t like and I don’t like myself when it does. I’ve pent it. I’ve repented it. I’ve repented it again. The only way it’s going to stay pent-up is if God does it. To stop moving away and move towards. To stop being defined by it and get a new definition.

So that’s my prayer for me this morning. It’s my prayer for you. That we be defined not by our failing, but by our calling – by the one who succeeded on our behalf. That we be defined not by what we don’t want to be, but by what we were made to be, and the one who made us. That we be moving towards the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 3:13-14)

Mercy


“Mercy triumphs over judgement,” says James. This is not to say that mercy eliminates judgement, or that which is to be judged is no longer worthy of judgement, but that after judgement comes mercy.

Judge. Judge rightly, and with justice. Know the difference between right and wrong — righteousness and disregard. Dig a deep hole, and pour that judgement into it. Dig it deep enough to fill it to the brim! Once you’ve poured it all out, look at that pool of judgement and admire the rightness of it. Feel confident in it.

Then cover it with mercy.

Spread the mercy on thick. If you don’t have any of your own to put on there, pray for it. It should come from the same place your judgement does, or else your judgement isn’t righteous; it’s self-righteous. Keep adding mercy until the judgement stops seeping through. Keep tending it until something new starts to grow from its fertile soil.

In the end, the judgement is still there, but all anyone should see is mercy.

Put in another way, “Love covers over a multitude of sins.”

Reviewing Being Reviewed


Publishing The Art of Being Broken (coming June 15th, 2015) has been a very different experience than publishing Worshipping Through John. It’s not even out yet and I’m seeing a huge difference. One of the biggest is in my level of attachment to it. WTJ is a devotional book. It’s relatively short, very linear, and wrapped around the simple and specific application of scripture. TAOBB took so much more out of me. It’s my experiences, my (hopefully inspired) thoughts, my prose. It’s felt intimidating to start putting out advance copies to reviewers that don’t have any stock in making me feel good about myself and wait for their unbiased reviews.

IMG_1933

Each time that one comes in, posted to Goodreads or Amazon or a blog, I’m unhealthily fixated on the resulting opinion. It can be hard to separate criticism of the book from criticism of myself. It’s not that they’ve been bad. In fact, the worst review to come in is 3 stars out of 5. I still took that hard, but I’m also very aware that I’m finding myself looking at the 5 star reviews for personal affirmation, and that’s not healthy either. I think that a piece of it is that I feel like these reviews are saying whether the past year that I’ve put into this book has been worth it or a waste of time. Even though I say (and believe) that the early readers and editors that have benefited from it make it worth it on their own, and the way I’ve grown through the whole process has been worth it on it’s own, there’s still a piece of me that is looking for outside validation.

So there’s that.

Really, though, this has been a long-winded and roundabout way of saying that reviews are starting to come in. Hopefully as the book launches in mid-June, there will be a solid body of positive reviews and people will buy it and read it and grow closer to God and embrace their brokenness and give me money because of them. So far, it seems that if the reviewers are right, that could well happen.

One thing that’s been made clear already is that some people aren’t going to “get it,” and I need to be okay with that. One review called it “rambling” and questioned my application of scripture. Another, more positive, one said that they had a bit of trouble understanding it because it lacks thesis statements and conclusions to each chapter with application points. Both of those things might be true, depending on your perspective. The Art of Being Broken is intentionally written conversationally and anecdotally, partly because I’m a person that doesn’t really like being told what to do, but if you walk me to it, I can appreciate truth and I think other people are often like that, too. It’s not that it doesn’t have purpose or flow, but that it’s slightly non-linear and doesn’t have point by point application. Every person that reads it is going to pull something a little bit different, and hopefully non-heretical, out of it. They already have. I love to hear about that.

Pastor Floyd Johnson posted a review on his book review blog today that I wanted to share, both because he put an exceptional amount of thought into the review and because it makes the book sound exceptionally good. He says things like:

Even as I read, I found myself recommending the book as I borrowed illustrations included therein.

and

The book should be required collateral reading for the college or seminary course in pastoral counseling.

and

the book offers valuable insight into the broken souls we all bring to the cross.

So I wanted to give a link to it and say a public “thank you” for the work he put into the review. I appreciated what he shared of himself, and it gave me some good things to consider as I move toward the launch.

A free 3-chapter sample of The Art of Being Broken is available at Noisetrade.com

Your Voice Matters


Years ago, Jamie The Very Worst Missionary gave me (and the rest of Christendom) some fantastic advice: “Ask yourself, is what I’m about to say gonna make me sound like a total douche.” It’s an excellent post, and I recommend you read it, but for me the advice resonated outside that context. Personally, I love the way she communicates. At the same time, there are people reading, who when they saw the word “douche,” stopped. I’ve gotten in trouble for my word choice on a number of occasions. Often it’s online, because I tend to relax my filter a bit on social media, but it’s happened from the pulpit, too—usually from word choices that I hadn’t given a second thought to but other people found offensive. When it happens, I’m torn between judging people for being too uptight, and recognizing that there are consequences to the way I choose to say things. There are consequences to the actual things I choose to say, too, but that’s something entirely different.

We’re living at a time when it’s incredibly easy to get our words out to the world and incredibly difficult to take them back. It’s important that what we have to say doesn’t get lost in how we’re saying it. Some of you are with me right now. Some of you just think you are. I’ve lost listeners because I’ve used words like “douche,” and “pissed off.” I’ve been told that such coarse language reflects my heart, because “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

overflow

I don’t disagree with that at all. I just disagree with where it’s aimed. I don’t think that the words you use flow out of your heart as much as your environment. I’ve had to learn to change my words as my environment has changed, but that’s a different thing. You can say hateful things with pretty words, and grace filled things with ugly ones.

You can say hateful things with pretty words, and grace filled things with ugly ones.

Under the guise of free speech, Christians have filled social media (and media-media) with words that have belittled homosexuals. Some of it has been intentional, some has been thoughtless. Out of the overflow of their hearts, they spoke. Under the guise of free speech, Christians have said brutal, hateful things about Islam and people that follow it. In both cases, there have been consequences.

“We have freedom of speech,” they say. “We are free to say whatever we want.” And they’re right. They can, legally. The government isn’t going to step in to stop them. Unfortunately, they’ve confused freedom of speech with freedom from consequences. Our voice matters. It’s the reason that free speech laws have an exemption for what are called fighting words. The law recognizes that there are things that we express that are designed to get a reaction or to wound people. They’re words that hurt, and when people are hurt, they hurt back.

I would never defend the actions of militant extremists that react to words (or pictures) with guns, but the Christian who goes out of their way to defame and profane what another holds sacred is speaking from the overflow of a Christless heart. It’s hard to stand up for the truth when the Truth isn’t in you. I see a huge difference between the people who can say homosexuality is contrary to God’s purpose for humanity with a brokenness that loves and hurts for the people who deal with a homosexual orientation, and the people who bludgeon them with harsh words and threats of hellfire for their “immoral ways.” I see a huge difference between people who will say that they disagree with some of the teaching of the Quran while presenting a gentle Gospel, and the people who hear that Islam prohibits the depiction of the prophet Muhammad and so they stage an exhibit to prove they can. Then they say, “See how violent Islam is?” while ignoring the violence their exercise of free speech has done.

Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.

If it’s your belief, and you feel it’s important to do so, you can say that you believe that Islam is wrong. You can say that you believe that homosexuality is wrong. You can, if you want, say that you believe that swearing is wrong. When you do, though, remember the people that you’re saying it to. Remember the people that you’re saying it about. Ask yourself why you’re saying it. Are you saying it because you want to effect change, or are you saying it just because you want to be heard? Is what you’re about to say going to make you sound like a total douche? Let your words flow from a heart that knows grace. Let your words flow from a heart that knows love. Let your words flow from a heart that is full of God.

Your voice matters.

5 Painful Things About Being a Christian Moderate (in the Gay Marriage Debate)


In the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to watch a debate that was happening in schools and bars and social media move into governments and courts. Right now, the Supreme Court of the United States is hearing arguments about whether or not individual states should have a right to legislate whether they will allow same-sex couples to get married, or whether it should be a federally protected right. You may have heard about it. Some people have opinions. Many of them are loud.

bad-boss-megaphone-yelling

The popular perception is that Christians want to keep the world firmly ensconced in an idealized version of the 1950s by keeping all the marriage for themselves, while people with functioning brains want to be nice to people. The other (somewhat less popular) popular perception is that Christians want to save the world from a toboggan ride to hell, while sweaty heathens want to steal marriage so that they can have sex with everything and not pay taxes. The unpopular perception is that even within the Christian community, there’s a pretty sharp split between those in support and those against, and they might be even angrier with each other than the rest of the internet is.

My name is Aaron, and I’m a Christian moderate. That’s not an easy thing to be, especially when debates get heated. There’s a lot of hurt flying around on all sides, particularly from people who seem to think there’s only two of them. Once again, as a Christian moderate, I’m catching my fair share because—

1. Some people believe there’s no such thing

In Revelation 3:16, God  says that, “because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth,”  and a lot of people seem to think that means that if your theology doesn’t go to the logical extreme, you don’t care about God. They see moderate Christians as being wishy-washy or apathetic. They think that if you aren’t at one end of the spectrum or another, you just haven’t bothered to think through your faith. Most of the time, though, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Most Christian moderates and moderate denominations place a very high priority on scripture and applying it passionately to life. The difference is that they see that application in the middle of the two extremes. I am a passionately hot and cold middle-ground believer, because that’s where I see the Bible leading. I have very strong opinions on it, and right now it leads to arguments because—

2. Liberals think that that you hate gay people

I can’t do the exegetical (critical interpretation of religious text) and hermeneutical (art and science that shapes biblical interpretation) back-flips that let them say that God is giving a thumbs-up to same-gender sexual relationships. I’ve dug in and tried, because I want to and it would be much easier for me to hold that position in so many ways, but I can’t. That conviction means that when I’m asked, I have to say that I believe that homosexual practice is sinful. I can’t endorse it because I don’t believe that the creator of sexuality endorses it. As a pastor, I can’t conduct a wedding of a same-sex couple. I also don’t believe that people should be forced to participate in the event under threat of losing their business, either, through everything from flowers to food to photography. If they believe that their participation amounts to support and/or endorsement of something they believe is wrong, they should have the right not to. This position has led to a lot of people on the internet being very angry with me. Despite that—

3. Conservatives think that you throw out the Bible

I believe that same-sex couples should receive equal treatment under secular law, and when I say that, conservative Christians seem to think I’m possessed by the devil. They see it as a betrayal as scripture and a governmental endorsement of sin. The problem is that they can’t separate the moral/religious implications from the legal/secular ones. They also can’t seem to see the way the argument demeans and belittles real people with real feelings who don’t share their beliefs. I’ll talk to Christians about God’s intent for human sexuality, but applying that to people who don’t believe in God is ridiculous. I can’t make a religious argument in a legal debate, and I don’t believe that the state has any compelling interest in discriminating against homosexuals. I’m honestly not sure that Christians have any place entering into the conversation and saying so. When I make that argument—

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4. You realize that half the problem is that everyone is speaking different languages with the same words

Everyone looks at me like I have two heads. I feel like whenever I’m talking to someone about it, I’m arguing someone else’s position. I think that it would be a lot easier to come together on this if we could just replace the word marriage with the word sandwich. It’s probably descriptive enough, and is far enough outside the norm that people would actually have to think about what each other was saying rather than slapping their own interpretation on it. Using the word marriage means carrying very different assumptions into the conversation. When a Christian says marriage, they usually mean Holy Matrimony. Christianity is unique (to the best of my knowledge) among the major religions, as it views marriage as a sacramental union, through which God binds a man and a woman together in reflection of his relationship with humanity and not a civil process. When someone outside the church says marriage, they usually mean a legally formalized permanent romantic relationship between two people. Given that, it makes perfect sense that conservative Christians would be utterly confused when someone says that homosexuals can have a marriage and secularists would be baffled by anyone who says they can’t. Sometimes I feel like if everyone could understand that, we could all stop ALL CAPSing at each other, but—

5. You know that’s not the half that matters

It’s really less about faith than it is about fear. I get that. I’m afraid too. Not the way some conservatives seem to be—that everything will turn into a slippery slope that’s slippery because of all the sweaty, hedonistic sex people are having on it, and not in the way that liberals seem to be—that people will be ground beneath the pointy boot of conservative discrimination, but that people are going to come after me and the church I love. I’m afraid that I will be legally penalized for believing what I believe. More than that, though, it’s about pain. Pain and deprecation. On one side, you have people who passionately love God and love the Bible and people are telling them that they’re stupid and ignorant and bigoted—the God they love doesn’t exist and the Bible they love is a fabrication. Of course they’re going to come out with guns blazing. On the other side, you have people who believe their sexual identity is intrinsic to who they are and people are telling them that who they are is evil and they should be relegated to second-class citizenry. Very few people make the arguments in those extreme words, but those are the words that are heard. Most of the arguments on both sides have gone well beyond reason and into stupid, illogical, personal attack, and I’m not sure there’s any coming back from that.

Anyone who’s actually made it this far without jumping straight to the comment section might be wondering what my moderate position is. Here you go: To be honest, I think that the church has absolutely no business legally solemnizing any union, heterosexual or otherwise. Let us handle unions spiritually according to our own beliefs and let the government handle legal unions secularly. If someone wants both, they should do both. My moderate opinion is that same sex couples should absolutely be afforded the same rights under the law as opposite gender couples. Under God is a different story. Nothing the church says is going to change the one, and nothing the court says is going to change the other.

You’re free to disagree.

A Book!


It’s been a long time coming, but The Art of Being Broken will be available for purchase June 15, 2015.

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Four years ago when I started writing it, this was a different book. I was a different person. In a way, I’m grateful for the 3 year hiatus my writing took while I was at Cornerstone Wesleyan. During that time, I published a book of devotionals for worship teams, which led praise teams together through the Gospel of John, prompting them to take a deeper look at their ministry together. That process gave me confidence in my writing, and helped me learn a lot about putting a book together for publishing. The experience was invaluable as I prepared The Art of Being Broken for print.

More than that, though, I grew as a person and a pastor. When I started writing this book four years ago, it had a very different focus. Really, it boiled down almost entirely to “Don’t be fake. If you’re messed up, be authentically messed up so that people can know the real you.” There is definitely still an element of that, but it evolved so much. Part of that was becoming convinced that God wants more for us than authentic brokenness. He wants to take our brokenness and turn it into holiness. He wants to take our wounds and mess and broken pieces and turn it into art that shows his grace and love to the world in a real, authentic way.

I’m not great at self-promotion. Most of the time, I have trouble seeing what I do as really good or valuable. This book though, I believe is excellent. That feels really weird to say, but I think that if you sit down to read it, you’ll find that it speaks to your heart. Maybe you’ll find God speaking to your heart through it.

What if everything isn’t fine?
What if there is life outside of our shells?
What if there is beauty under our masks?
What if there is healing beyond brokenness?
What if we could see the image of God in ourselves?
What if God’s art is made from our broken pieces?

In The Art of Being Broken, Aaron Mark Reimer opens up an authentic, sometimes awkward, occasionally hilarious, one-way conversation about our brokenness, the things we use to cover it, and the healing that can come through exposing it.

A three chapter excerpt of The Art of Being Broken is now available free at Noisetrade.com

The Aftermath of the Flood


Last night a few guys from Cornerstone headed over to the theatre to check out the new blockbuster movie Noah and sat down over some (really excellent) food to talk about it afterwards. It was an interesting discussion. Now that I’ve had a bit of time to process, I’d like to take a minute to share a few thoughts on the movie and provide you with a couple of links if you’d like to dig in deeper.

Thar be spoilers ahead!

The movie was both better and worse than I’d expected. It’s got big visuals and some interesting takes on the Ark and how the animals were arranged. They did a phenomenal job at showing the scale of it, and the idea that it fit two of every kind was easy to digest. On the other side, they knocked the animals out with some sort of magical smoke that let them sleep through the entire thing. The special effects were consistently good, the score was fantastic, and there were several points that I was really drawn in. Methuselah was hilarious.The movie as a whole, though, is dark. Really dark. Don’t let your kids anywhere near this movie dark. Most of the evil is implied rather than shown, but there is a scene with a dog being torn limb from limb while still alive that I found deeply disturbing. You certainly don’t get to walk out of this movie singing songs about kangaroosies on the arky. It drives home the reality of humanity -men, women and children -being wiped off the face of the earth in a brutal and terrifying manner. That’s in the Bible, though. Most of the movie isn’t.

Some of the movie was strange and fantastical. The presence of “zohar” as some sort of spiritual mineral. The “watchers,” who are portrayed as angels that came to help mankind but were punished by being trapped in rock-bodies played a much larger role in the movie than I was expecting. Some of the pre-flood animals are just weird.

There are a lot of people out there that are very upset that Noah seems to diverge from or fill in what is given in the Genesis 6-9 account. They feel like the trailer gave a bit of a bait and switch. Where the trailer heavily implies Noah relying on God for help and protection, what he really has is an army of Rock Ents. They feel like there is radical and unjustified departures from the text for the sake of Hollywood film making. The issue is that the Bible’s Genesis account of the Flood isn’t the source material behind the movie.

This movie, for the most part, bypasses Genesis and goes to sources that the Early Church branded Gnostic heresies, or special mystical knowledge from Secret Religions like Kabalah (who’s primary text is called the Zohar, by the way). It reaches into the book of 1st Enoch for information about The Watchers, and even then takes them from being fallen angels who brought war to mankind and are awaiting due punishment to misunderstood benevolent martyrs who long to go back to heaven.

In short, the film makers did everything they could to take a story that Christians would be drawn to and make it about how human will triumphs over everything, and God, if he’s there at all, is silent. God is a monster. The snake is a hero that brings the blessing of wisdom and special knowledge to humanity. It’s a hot mess. The thing is, if you’re not looking for it, it’s easy to miss or dismiss. It’s relatively subtle compared to how BIG the action is.

After having watched it, I can say that I wholeheartedly do not recommend it. If you want to see it as a movie for its own merits, go ahead, but don’t go with any expectation that it’s about the Noah or the God of the Bible.

Further reading:

http://drbrianmattson.com/journal/2014/3/31/sympathy-for-the-devil
http://http://godawa.com/movieblog/subversion-serpent-aronofskys-noah/

 

Are You Aware?


Every so often there is a thing or a thought or something hilarious that makes me wonder if I might be a terrible person.  I mean, the things I find funny are probably proof enough that I’m less than entirely sanctified.  In case you haven’t noticed the sea of pink we’re floating in right now (or you’re reading this in the archives… HI FUTURE PERSON!!), October is breast cancer awareness month.  Here’s where the terrible person part comes in: Is there really anyone left that isn’t aware of breast cancer?  I know that I’m too cynical sometimes, but it seems like by now there’s not anyone left that would be like, “Breast cancer?  What’s that?  Is that a kind of candy?  It sounds delicious!”

We know breast cancer is terrible.  For the vast majority of people, we either know someone that has had breast cancer or know someone that has been affected by it.  I think the awareness ship has sailed.   Call it Support Month, or Fundraising Month, or More Important Than Other Kinds of Cancer Month, but let’s not fuzz this – we do not need an Awareness Month for breast cancer.   To be perfectly honest I’ve got a little bit of bitterness when I see the pink ribbon everywhere.  The reason is that October is “awareness month” for a host of other things that no one talks about – things that awareness really does need to be raised for. The pink ribbon has wound through my life, but nearer to my heart is the pink and blue.  When I’m talking about the questionable nature of pink awareness ribbons, I mean that if you see a pink ribbon, you know what it’s for.  That means it’s done its job.  Time to move on.  Are you aware of the pink and blue?  You don’t see them around much.  A number of issues fall under their purview, but for October they symbolise pregnancy and infant loss.  Are you aware of that?  Do you actually know the number of people in your life who have had their hearts hammered by a miscarriage?  Do you know the extent of the damage it does to relationships?  Do you know how it can cause a woman to mistrust or hate her own body?  Are you aware that it’s a BIG FREAKING DEAL?

Today, October 15th, as I’m writing this, is the specific day held out for remembering those children whose lives were far too short, many of them never seeing the light of day or having the opportunity to breathe air before passing on.  I’m aware that in the eyes of many people, they weren’t really people, or not even considered “life” to lose their lives.  Most often, I just have to ragequit conversations with them, because nothing I say is going to make them understand that a miscarriage is more than just a loss of hope, or a shift in plans, but losing a child who was part of our life for way, way too short a time.  Six times we’ve had early miscarriages, my wife and I.  One of those times I got to hold my… I don’t even know how to date it… 7 weeks from conception daughter in my hands and look into her eyes and touch her tiny, tiny fingers.  When I see people posting or saying or picketing to say that she didn’t matter, it makes me want to throw things at them.  Or throw them at things.  But this was never intended to be a pro-life-centric post, so I’m going to take a deep breath and move on.

I don’t want to belittle the pain of those who have lost children to SIDS or post-birth complications, but I’m not going to be talking about them.  There are two reasons for this: the first is that I’ve never experienced that, and as much as it pisses me off when people spout off about things they don’t understand, I don’t want to be hypocritical.  The second is that it seems from the outside that people in general have a better understanding of the grief of that loss.  It’s real to them.  They don’t really understand the fullness of the impact of it, but neither do I, and there’s a lot of posts today from people that do and I’ll leave it to them to explain it.  It’s loud.

Miscarriage is quiet.

There is often shame associated with it.  Self doubt and recrimination follow along.  It strikes at the core of a person’s self-esteem.  The inability to form and/or carry a child to term strikes at the core of gender identity and personhood.  That’s one of the many reasons that people don’t talk about it.  We don’t talk about the things that shame us.  We shove them into dark corners to fester, then pull them out late at night and pick at them, alone.  In the midst of this, we feel like maybe we shouldn’t feel that way.  We don’t talk to people about it for fear that they’ll judge our feelings as much as the circumstances.  Like it shouldn’t be as big a deal as it is.

With miscarriage, we’re afraid they won’t understand.  They’ll offer pointless platitudes like “you’re still young,” or “at least you weren’t that far along,” as if that’s a great big wondrous silver lining and we’ll go “yeah, I never considered that.  I shouldn’t be sad about what I went through because it could have been worse.  At least I don’t have breast cancer.”

The fact is that people don’t understand.  It’s hard to explain unless you’ve been there.  It’s hard to see that the silence of the many, many women – couples – that have miscarried, isn’t because it’s too small to mention, but because it’s far too big.  We don’t talk about it.  We suffer alone, and our suffering is made worse by the feeling that we are alone in it.  I look across my facebook feed today, though, and I’m not alone.  I see that the things my wife has shared from her experience are giving voice to many women that feel the same but don’t have the words to express.  I’m so proud of her.  I’m proud of her strength, while I watch her still carrying the pain, sometimes walking along the edge of breaking from the loss of JJ, Anastasios, Sayuri, Aliento, Tacey, and Nima.  It’s a big deal.  We don’t just grieve the loss of a future, we grieve the loss of people – children that were part of both of us.

Be aware of that.