Category Archives: Love

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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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.”

One Woman You Should Never Marry


I’ve seen a lot of posts coming through my feed about the “different women” that Christian men should avoid marrying for whatever reason. I want to add my own. It’s really just one, that I feel above all others, Christian men—any men—should avoid marrying.

1. “Valorous Vanessa”

This woman is funny and articulate. She is wise and loving and cares deeply for her children. She is a woman of deep faith, encouraging, and supportive. That may be sounding good. You may be thinking, “That’s describing the woman I want to marry.” She has one glaring problem, though… She’s my wife. You should not marry her. I already did. You can’t have her. I’m keeping her.

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Happy mother’s day, Ness.

 

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.

Summer Loving


I have a confession to make:  I was in my high-school production of Grease.

Whew. That feels better.

I might not feel so lame about it if I actually had a real role, but I played Johnny Casino: a bit player in the stage show who didn’t even make it into the movie.  Danny got Sandy.  Kinickie got Rizzo.  Johnny Casino sang a song at the high-school dance.  No love for Johnny.  The way I see it, in a show about teen love, any character who isn’t either in love, or helping the ones that are in love get together is an extra.  You might as well be a talking prop.

Such is life.

I got an email last week from a youth pastor that was concerned with a post that one of his Grade 9 girls had put up as her facebook status.  It was essentially a set of instructions for how a boy should treat his girl, with things like ” Tell her why you think shes so cool . . . Pick flowers from other peoples gardens and give them to her . . . Throw pebbles at her window at night. When she starts swearing at you, tell her you love her . . .  Lend her your cds . . . Write on her . . . Kiss her in the rain. When you fall in love with her, tell her.”

He was concerned with the passion that was in this; the yearning to fall in love and be loved in return.  He lamented her failure to grasp God’s love for her, and the ideology that seemed to say that she NEEDED to be in a relationship.  He was asking for help getting through to her.

Of course, she didn’t actually write this.  It’s a lesser known meme that’s been cycling around the net since about 2004.  It’s viral.  That means she saw it somewhere and grabbed it.  Something about it pulled at her.  Maybe the words settled into her mind like they were moving into a comfortably decorated room, all made up and waiting for them.  Maybe she just recognized a glimmer of truth in them that tickled her fancy.  Maybe she wanted to look wise.  Whatever the reason, she decided share it with her online family.

The fact that it’s stayed alive this long, moving from host to host, though, shows that the sentiment is more symptomatic of our culture rather than the heart’s cry of one girl.

So then.  Is he right to be concerned?

God’s love has never been a substitute for earthly physical love, but in collaboration with it.  We aren’t just meant to be in community with God, but with each other.  I am fully cognizant of the love God has for me.  I know personally his covenant love and how he pursued me to the grave because of his great desire for relationship with me.  I also need my wife.  I was made to love her and she was made for me.  God designed us so that in romantic relationship, his love would be reflected, and we would have a sense of completion; we would have someone on earth to represent his love to us.  Is it wrong for a girl to desire that?  Absolutely not.

The depth of that desire, though, and what she’s willing to trade for it is a very legitimate concern, because it stems from a warped perspective of love.  It’s often used to fill a gap larger than it’s meant to.  It fills the gap of absent or uncaring fathers, of abuse, of being left with feelings of inferiority and insignificance by the people that should love her most.  It fills the gaping wound in her soul surgically inflicted by a media that pries us open with messages of incompetence and incompleteness and leaves us with a desperate desire to fill the artificial emptiness they create.   She needs to hear early and often how wonderful she is, or she spends the rest of her life trying to get people to say it.  We all do.  This isn’t by any means just a “girl problem,” or even a teen problem.  This is us.  This is our life.  The things that should be good enough aren’t.  The things that should be sufficient aren’t.  We aren’t enough.  So we spend our lives looking for the things we’ve been told will make us better.

So many of the kids I work with have, by grade 7 or 8, reached a place where they’ve been taught that rather than having a committed and/or passionate relationship being a part of being loved, part of being a person, it’s the end all and be all.  Being told of God’s amazing love doesn’t negate all that we’ve been conditioned with.  More than that, a head knowledge of God’s love and all he’s done for us doesn’t necessarily translate into heart knowledge of it’s sufficiency.  That takes time.  It takes an act of God. We’ve got to keep telling them – we’ve got to keep telling each other;  Not saying that we’re wrong to feel the way we do, because our self-esteem is damaged enough already, but to be there as God is, to continually and gently present the truth of his love, to water the seed and pray for it to take root.

Honestly, it drives me nuts when I see a facebook status go from “in a relationship” to “single” then back to “in a relationship” in less than 24 hours.  It makes me want to take my head off and put it in the freezer when 2 hours after being asked out the kids are talking about how in love they are.  If they’d ever actually been in love, they wouldn’t throw the word around so easily.

It makes me want to cry when a week later their world ends because they broke up.

Is it a problem?  Yes.  But it’s not THE problem.  It’s a symptom of a culture that says our identities are found in others.  That we’re only as good as other people think we are.  As the things we have.  As the money we make.  As our status in our communities.  It’s not going to stop because we say that’s wrong.  It’s only when we understand the sufficiency of ourselves in who God made us to be that we can put that behind us.  Then we can be the whole half of a healthy relationship here on Earth.  Then we can see all that he intended earthly love to be.