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.
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.
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.
Same sex marriage.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes my life seems like a constant string of reevaluating opinions and attitudes and stupid things I say. Sometimes they’re things that I’ve been taught and never really thought too hard about. Sometimes they’re things that seem obvious on the surface, but there’s a lot going on underneath that I ignore. Sometimes it’s not that I’m wrong, it’s just that I’m just arrogant and graceless and went too far in what I said.
I’m not sure where this falls on the spectrum, but for the past few days, I’ve been thinking more and more about the Pew Research study (supposedly showing the decline of American Christianity) and the spins that various media outlets are giving it. The popular consensus seems to be the one that Ed Stetzer puts forward: that committed, or “convictional” Christians aren’t going anywhere, while “nominal Christians” (Christians in name only), or Default Christians as I put it in a recent post, aren’t checking the box any more. That’s basically what I said, and I likely wouldn’t have bothered saying it if I’d already known the number of much “larger” names saying the same thing.
In a nutshell, I said that it was a good thing. I said that nominal Christians shouldn’t be called Christians anyway. Then I went another step further to say that there are still a lot of nominal or default Christians in our pews that should basically go home and stop pretending. I said that if they did, then our churches would be more free to follow Jesus. I compared them to the fat of the church. Sometimes I’m an ass.
It’s not that I’m entirely wrong in what I said (I don’t think). Having pews full of marginal and uncommitted people who aren’t willing to commit to following Christ—becoming “real” Christians—does “weigh our churches down” and leave a less effective witness. I’ve been convinced, though, that my attitude towards it is unChristlike.
A big part of that was a reevaluation of Jesus’ “outreach” program, particularly as referenced in Matthew 9:11 —
When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
and, lest there be any confusion about exactly what kind of people these Pharisees meant, Matthew 11:19 —
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
Those passages are nothing new to most Christians. I’ve heard them a million times. I’ve quoted them and taught from them. I think about them as I think about the people that to all of the obvious things that we assume people outside of the Church do… those filthy “non-Christians”… the sweaty unchurched. I think about Jesus going into bars and building relationships and teaching them grace. I think of it as an example or a metaphor for us going out into “the world” to “reach people” for Jesus.
The thing is, that’s not what happened.
By simple arrangement of geography and priorities, Jesus rarely, if ever, hung out with the “unchurched.” If we want to look for examples of outreach to the Gentiles, we need to look at Paul and the post-ascension apostles. Jesus, in his own words, came to seek and save the lost sheep of Israel. The tax-collectors, the drunkards, the whores and the sinners, they were Jews. They were people that knew God, born and raised in the synagogues, but lived contradictory lifestyles. They were backsliders. They were the nominals. They were the default Jews.
I don’t know what went on behind closed doors. I don’t know what Jesus looked like at their feasts and parties, and I’m not going to presume to. I do know that Jesus wasn’t rejoicing over them leaving. He certainly wasn’t coming down on them with God’s own thunder for their “sinfulness”. He loved them. He spent time with them. He was Jesus to them.
So much of the time my grace runs out at the door of the church. When I look at nominals as a pastor, especially long-term nominals, I get frustrated. I have a get-in-or-get-out mentality. I want to pour my effort into the people that seem to be “getting it,” and not waste it on the people that don’t. I want them to drop their crap and commit so that I can lead them. I’ll give all sorts of room for non-Christians to be messy. It’s expected. Sinners gonna sin. When it comes to people that have claimed the Savior, though, I have different expectations, and I don’t know what to do when my expectations aren’t met, so most of the time I ignore them. If I don’t ignore them, I want to preach at them so they’ll stop frustrating and embarrassing me.
Because it’s about me. My frustration. My embarrassment on God’s behalf.
Apparently Jesus has a lot more grace for nominals than most of us do. Maybe instead of wanting to clear them out so that the faithful can move forward to reaching the unchurched, we should be “coming to seek and save the lost sheep of Christianity.” Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what that would look like. I do know that it probably looks like something that could get a “good Christian” a bad name or a pastor a reputation for lackadaisical faith.
I know that there are plenty of times that scripture calls out the “lukewarm,” and Jesus calls for extreme commitment, but there’s something else going on too. It’s something I need to learn and explore. I know I’m going to tend to waffle around between extremes, but a pursuit of Christlikeness means continually adjusting my aim. Right now, I feel like God is reminding me of something important.
Jesus, friend of nominals, loves them. I can’t throw them under the bus.
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.
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—
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.
It’s been a long time coming, but The Art of Being Broken will be available for purchase June 15, 2015.
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.
I haven’t posted in a long time. I’m between jobs, but actively working on The Art of Being Broken (finally). I thought I’d post a chunk of the chapter I’m currently working on :).
I read an interesting article a while ago about the daughter of a surgeon in the early 1900s. She was a high school student and a budding entrepreneur. When I was in high school, I tried to have several businesses with my friends. They failed spectacularly, because we were in high school and didn’t understand about having things like business plans and marketing and things people would actually want to buy. This girl didn’t really either, but it didn’t stop her from trying.
The reason that it’s relevant that she was the daughter of a surgeon is that the thing she was trying to sell was a special chemical that her father used to keep his hands from sweating during surgery. The chemical had to be suspended in a red acid, so it could irritate sensitive skin, and could stain or even eat through clothes, but it would stop sweat for three days. I suppose if someone is cutting into someone else with a knife, then not having sweaty hands would be a fair trade off.
This girl, for whatever reason, decided to try sticking some on her arm pits and found that it worked just as well there. She found that she could reduce the irritation by shaving her arm-pits, and it stopped her from smelling in a way that she didn’t want to smell, because she was a little princess and odor was so peasanty or something. All the other girls had to do things like bathe and wear perfume, and now she was better. She figured she could make money making other girls want to be like her. The problem was that no one cared.
Other deodorants and antiperspirants had been around for a little while, but they were greasy and uncomfortable, and no one thought they needed them. Everyone smelled like that. That was the way bodies worked. They thought that blocking perspiration was probably wildly unhealthy too, and no one wanted to take the risk of stopping a natural bodily function. For men, it was even a particular badge of honour, announcing that they were manly men who did manly man work and had sweat-trophies to prove it. A few women bought her product, but not enough to make it worthwhile to sell. Poor girl. It looked like her teenage money making dreams were crushed.
Along came an advertising agency with a bible-salesman turned copywriter assigned to the case. He was brilliant. He started with the idea that people probably didn’t want to stink but were afraid to stop sweating for health reasons. His solution was to brand the product as something created by a doctor to stop the embarrassing medical problem of “excessive perspiration,” which was true in the way that a drunk driver might honestly announce that he’s only had two beers, without mentioning that it was after downing a bottle of whiskey. If a doctor said that sweating too much was a problem, and he’d gone to all the trouble of inventing a cure, then maybe it really was something that women needed!
With the new problem well developed, it was being sold internationally within a year. Of course, because there’s no such thing as enough money, he did a survey to find out why everyone wasn’t using it. It turned out that everyone knew about it, but only about a third of the women surveyed used it. The reason the rest didn’t? Sure, it wasn’t unhealthy any more, but they still didn’t think they needed it. They didn’t perspire excessively. It wasn’t just a matter of telling people there was a remedy for their underarm odor, he had the monumental task of convincing two-thirds of the people on the planet that what their bodies did naturally was a serious embarrassment.
He did it. He ran one of the greatest ad campaigns in the history of the world. It was so good that Satan called him up for lessons. He put out an ad telling women that they probably stunk and no one would tell them and that was the reason they couldn’t get or keep a man and even if they did have a man, their man probably didn’t like it and might leave them for a woman that didn’t stink. Playing on the insecurities of women and shaming them about their bodies was such an effective strategy that sales doubled and tripled and within a few years they were making millions. Women were shaving their armpits and rubbing them with acid and were grateful for it.
A hundred years and a bunch of marketing later, we are all thoroughly convinced that the hair in women’s armpits is disgusting, and that body odor is foul and offensive and needs to be hidden beneath layers of chemicals so that we can be around other people without making them sick.
It was a solution to a problem that didn’t exist, and now it’s so ingrained in our popular imagination that it’s difficult to even begin to conceive of our world without it. The thing that scares me is that it’s not all that uncommon. I remember loving the song Misery by Soul Asylum when I was a teenager. It was the 90’s and it was very cool to be jaded. I was, as you might recall, very interested in being cool, so I listened to alt-rock by people in ripped jeans and lumberjack shirts and rocked out to their jaded lyrics.
In Misery, David Pirner sang the lines, “we could build a factory and make misery/we’ll create a cure; we made the disease,” and a generation of kids went, “yeah,” and grew up to be conspiracy theorists who believe that Big Pharma invents viruses so that they can make money selling the cures (I’m not convinced they’re wrong). At a slightly less sinister level, people in the know look at marketing as not so much about finding people with a need for a product and getting it to them as amplifying or creating a feeling of need for a product that didn’t exist before the product needed to be sold.
We buy security. We buy comfort. We buy convenience. We buy the trappings of lives we aspire to because we’re told we should. We do this because it’s become human nature.
The first sin was a solution to a problem that didn’t exist before the snake sold it. The first mask, the first shell, the first hiding of who we are and what we’ve done, was a solution to a problem that they made up. God had made them. God had loved them into being in his own image. They had walked with God just as naked as they were after eating the fruit, but now they needed to cover up the bodies that God had given them. Now they had shame. Who they were was embarrassing. God couldn’t see them like this. But God knew them. They weren’t really hiding anything. “Who told you that you were naked?” was God’s question. “What made you think that who you are needed to be hidden from me?” He was hurt, but he didn’t love them any less.
That wasn’t how he had left them, but he didn’t walk out of the garden saying “You screwed up. Now I see who you REALLY are. I’m done with you.” He started picking things up again.
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!
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.
Continuing my Amplified Hymns (amplified as in expanded and made bigger, not as in plugged in and made louder), I’m digging in to an 18th century exploration of the awe that we hold for the process of God’s work for our redemption. If you missed the first one, it’s here.
1. Is it possible that I can have a part in blood payment my Saviour made?
Did he really chase after me, the one who caused his suffering, to the point of death?
What incredible love! How does it make sense that my God would give his life for me?
2. The greatest mystery of all is how someone immortal can die.
Can anyone fathom how God’s plan works?
Even the oldest of angels try and fail to understand how deep God’s divine love goes.
We’ve just got to accept that it’s pure mercy, everyone, adore him for it!
The angels will just have to watch how it unfolds.
3. Jesus walked away from power in heaven, freely and uncoerced.
His grace knows no limits.
He gave everything, retaining only his great divine love,
And let his blood flow out for a race of people that could never help themselves.
This ultimate mercy is both mind-blowingly huge, and available to all of us…
It must be, because, my God, it was offered to me.
4. It seemed like my soul was stuck in a prison,
It couldn’t get free of the darkness of all the things that break my relationship with You.
Then, a ray of light came from Your own eye and it was like I woke up,
the dungeon I was in lit blazingly bright!
All that held me down fell away, and my heart rejoiced,
I got up, came out, and followed You.
5. Even now, I have a small voice inside of me,
That whispers that my sins are truly taken away;
Even now, that blood price is still effective,
That took away the anger of a God who hates sin.
I feel the life that Jesus’ wounds give to me;
I feel him alive inside me.
6. Now I don’t have to fear being punished for my sin;
Everything that Jesus is has become my nature;
I live in Him, and he is my living guide,
Clothing me in his divine righteousness.
So, I approach the throne of God without hesitation,
And claim an eternal reward, through my Christ.
This one might be harder… I’m not sure. Can you name that tune?
As a pastor, I sometimes have trouble in “the ministry” because I don’t look like a pastor. There’s something in my demeanour that doesn’t scream “pastoral”. Despite being 32, people often place me at 24 and treat me younger. I blame my complete inability to grow decent facial hair. Also, my hair is kind of green right now, but that doesn’t count because it was dyed for a youth retreat last weekend. I lack a certain gravitas and probably always will. Such is my lot in life. I get some cred as a youth pastor though, and have been told that I’d fit in well leading one of those young churches… maybe a university church. I might be able to play it off in a specialized role at a mega-church. Young people would like me.
As a youth pastor, I’ve been concerned with young people. I work with them, I love them, and to some extent, I love their culture. I spend time focusing on how to relate to them, how to relate God to them, and how to get them to relate to God. As someone who’s still pretty young myself, I also have my own young person preferences and desires for worship. Sometimes that means I look at the way things are being done on Sunday morning and say “that’s not cool,” with the assumption that we need to make things cool, so that young people will come. Maybe that’s the music. Maybe it’s the volume. Maybe it’s the appearance of the stage (sorry, “platform,” I was recently crapped on by a church member for calling it a “stage.” [Also, I just said “crapped on,” which isn’t very pastoral]). Maybe it’s how the message is communicated. It’s been drilled into me, and into most of the evangelical church world, that “young people are the future of the church,” and if we don’t get them, the church is going to die. So now, many churches are doing their best to make our sanctuaries look like this:
I like that. It’s cool. It inspires me. I want to be on that stage. I want to be in that crowd. I can also pretty much guarantee that there is more green hair in that crowd than grey. This is what church looks like to this generation, and you’d better get on board, because this generation has to be reached for the Lord. We look at most of the “big” churches that show up in church media circles, and we see this as a functional model, because they’re growing. Younger people are flooding through the front doors and experiencing God in new and fresh ways.
Unfortunately, it seems that older people are quietly finding the back door.
There are times when I love watching YouTube videos of Hillsong live recordings, or Elevation Worship, or a giant event that Chris Tomlin is leading. But once I get past how awesome it looks to have so many hands raised to the sky, and so many people moved to tears by God’s grace and glory, it starts to bother me that the camera tends to linger on the same few middle aged people. Maybe it keeps returning to the one grandparent in the crowd. It pans over a thousand 20-somethings and rests on the exception to give the impression that this is for everyone – or at least everyone who can “get with what God is doing now.”
I’ve heard people (to be honest, I’ve been people) who have almost rejoiced at older people leaving the church, because it gave more freedom to do something new. We’ve embraced the immortal words of Barney Stinson: “New is ALWAYS better.” We feel the need to leave behind the old so that we can reach out to the new. It’s more important for us to reach the new than minister to the old because… because. Because new is always better. Maybe because the old are “already saved” and getting people “saved” is the end all and be all of our purpose, so once they’re “saved” we can forget about them and go save someone else. Why aren’t we worried about “saving” anyone over 50? And is anyone other than me concerned that in 20 years, we’ll be the ones shown the back door?
Yeah, I’m a young looking 32, but I’m ageing. The things that I like and the things that I liked when growing up aren’t the things that capture the imagination of the newest breed. My pop-culture references are taking work to stay relevant. Quoting Friends is met with blank stares. Some of the kids I work with have never even heard of Friends! So observe, and tremble. We have our vision of what church should look like, and in the future we cool ones are going to be fighting just as hard for our archaic modes of worship as those we mock today. Culture is changing so fast that we can’t even conceive of what that’s going to look like.
In the mean-time, we’re losing the idea that church is for everyone. We’re losing the idea that the family of God and the Body of Christ includes people that don’t like what we like. Maybe we’ve already lost it… hey, I’ve been on the other side of the equation (and reacted against it) at a church that refused to make any accommodation at all for the preferences of a new generation. It’s like churches are being forced to make a decision about which generation they are going to minister to (or to be so bland and middle-of-the-road that people will just head off to one of their preference-specific congregations anyway), and so one church loses the vigour, passion, and energy of the young, and another misses out on the wisdom and experience of the old.
I’ve become more and more convinced that the root of this evil is the idea that Sunday morning is for saving people, and that the attraction of the church should be the attraction of worshipping God. We’ve come to expect Sunday morning to be the primary point of contact between people and God. We want a place that people will be drawn to with excitement. We want a place where people will want to be because what is offered there is what they want to see. We want it to say “see, God is for you.”
And God is for you. But God’s also for him. And her. And the crying infant in the back. And the toddler rolling out into the aisle to chase their Hot Wheels car. And the embarrassed mother reigning them in, who should’t be embarrassed because God loves the fact that her kid is growing up in church surrounded by people that he is for. Like the 40-something woman in the other row that’s having trouble worshipping because she secretly envies the embarrassed mother because she can have children. Or the guy in his 50s that is completely tone-deaf and can’t keep rhythm to save his life. And his mother and father who taught him to love God with his whole mind and not his voice. And the elder with the walker that can’t decide whether to turn up his hearing aid to hear the music or turn it off so he can’t.
Sunday morning is about coming together as the family of God and the body of Christ, and joining together to worship and grow. And that’s hard. It’s so much harder than breaking off into little (or large) homogeneous groups worshipping in our own superior ways. And we panic, because coming together as the whole messy old and young body probably isn’t overly attractive to the world.
Man, I’ve gone on for a while here… I’m going to wrap it up soon, I promise. I don’t want to end it on this complaint, though, I want to talk about the solution. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wanting to hear it. By now you’ve forgotten that I’ve got weird hair, and my baby-face doesn’t matter on the other side of a wall of text. TL;DR has no meaning for you. Well done.
So here’s my solution: Forget about saving people. Churches should not be in the business of saving people. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be saved at church. I’m not saying that the Gospel shouldn’t be preached. I’m saying that that’s not the primary purpose of Sunday morning. The primary purpose of Sunday morning should be to equip us to be like Jesus. You know why people flocked to Jesus? Because he was like Jesus. You know who else can be like Jesus? Us. The Bible says so. Do you think a church with a congregation full of people like Jesus would do anything but grow? Who cares what the stage looks like. Who cares what the music is or what volume it’s played at. People would come.
People would come because we would be living lives of love that reached out to the people around us rather than insulating ourselves from them. People would come because we’re living holy lives – a holiness not focused merely on preserving ourselves from corruption but instead focused on setting ourselves apart for God – living as the people God made us to be, for the purpose he made us to have. People would come because they’d want what we have. People would come because they want to be like Jesus too.
We wouldn’t have to worry about front doors or back doors on our churches, because doors wouldn’t hold us.
I know… easier said than done. I know I’m not nearly as good at doing it as I am writing it.
What do you think?