Your Media Bubble Is Unscriptural

Who knew that bubbles would be all the rage in public conversation after second grade? I hadn’t really considered bubbles much since learning that most weddings use them instead of rice or birdseed in order to be more environmentally friendly.¬†Of course, though, I’m not talking about the fun, pop-able joy orbs that can make a bad day seem more joyful.

A media bubble is the echo chamber that we create around ourselves to solidify our worldview and make sure that we have the sanity we need to face the day. Before the internet and the million-or-so channels on television, there were only a few ways to get your news and its interpretation: 3 local/national TV stations, 1-2 local newspapers, a national paper (if you bothered), and word of mouth. Most everyone seemed to be working from a similar framework. Now, though, conservatives can go to their corner, liberals can go to theirs, independents can find their place, and so can just about any other label. Today, then, no one is working from a common framework or even a similar worldview. Plurality has divided us to the point of hilarity.

Starting in college, I challenged myself to listen to viewpoints that differed from my own. Why? Because I realized I was missing crucial perspectives and ideas that might help me to better engage with the world and the people around me. Did I agree with all of those new ideas, of course not, and many new ideas I have to run through some serious critical thinking before deciding what to do with them. Here’s my hot-take on the bubble problem: our media bubbles are unscriptural and damaging.

“The time is coming, you see, when people won’t tolerate healthy teaching. Their ears will itch, and they will turn away from listening to the truth and will go after myths instead. But as for you, keep your balance in everything. Put up with suffering; […]; complete the particular task assigned to you.” 2 Timothy 3-5

This verse comes after an exhortation to hold fast to Scripture and the teaching of Jesus and to continue announcing the good news of Jesus’ Kingship at all times. I see our media bubbles, especially as Christians, to be damaging. It would be similar to a doctor deciding to operate on a patient without listening to the patient describe his symptoms. At that point, the doctor would be guessing and might perform the wrong operation on her patient. If we, as followers of Jesus, aren’t listening to those around us, how can we know what needs they actually need met? (As an aside, can I say that adding qualifier to the term “Christian” is about as dangerous as lighting a stick of dynamite and then putting it in one’s pocket?”) Christians who are liberal and those who are conservative need to branch out and listen to the other side. If we do not, we will have no idea how to partner with, show compassion toward, and love those who also claim to follow King Jesus. On top of that, we are disregarding Jesus’ prayer in John when he prayed for unity for His followers, in addition to scratching our own itching ears with the stories we want to hear.

It should go without saying that I am against blind acceptance of anything. Scripture never suggests that we blindly follow anyone. GK Chesterton points out that artistic descriptions of Hebrew prophets and Christian saints almost always show them with eyes wide open – alert and in awe of what they have seen and must say. We should live the same way, with eyes wide, alert, and ready to unleash compassion, justice, and love on the world around us.

What does your media bubble look like? Do you have any voices in your life that challenge you to think? Do you encourage your family by challenging them? To you accept challenges to your thinking when they come, or do you actively avoid them?

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Get Out of the Lifeboat and Storm the Gates!

I have odd collections of associated images when it comes to the phrase “storm the gates.” For starters, old black-and-white images of soldiers leaping off of ships onto the beaches of Normandy come to mind, their terror and determination coming through in a way only those cameras can capture. Many of those pictures were taken by one war photographer, Robert Capa, that ran onto the battlefield at Normandy armed with nothing but his trusty camera. So, he was shooting his own side, but ironically in a frantic bid to preserve those brave soldiers as they stared down machine gun nests and the rising tide of the Nazi forces waiting beyond that point.

Next, I see grizzled Aragorn and the remaining Fellowship of the Ring riding with all of their might toward the gates of Mordor, their battle cries ringing clear and sonorous off of the Black Gates. Each soldier fully expected to die a painful death, or spend an eternity as a prisoner of Sauron. And yet, they miraculously survive due to the efforts of a few small hobbits exploring a volcano deep within enemy territory.

I bring the idea of storming the gates to your attention, because I think Christians have had a wrong mindset for years when it comes to evangelism and the world in general. The way many Christians talk about dealing with the world and the unchurched is by speaking in terms of a lifeboat. “Come with me if you want to live!” We say in our best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice before handing over a tract on salvation and inviting our friend, or a complete stranger, to church. There is a fear that this whole planet could spontaneously combust at any moment, leaving those outside of the “Jesus Lifeboat” stranded swimming in a river of fire and death.

Now, regardless of your views on the afterlife, this sounds like a retreat mentality, not the mindset God desires of his people. This isn’t Dunkirk, everyone, this is Normandy. We don’t have a lifeboat, except to ferry us to the battlefield!

When Peter made his confession in Caesarea Philippi, Peter stated clearly that, “You (Jesus) are the Messiah[…] You’re the son of the living God!” (KNT) Peter made a bold claim that day, and bolder than you may think. See, “son of god” was a term used by Romans for the emperor. So in a way, Peter is proclaiming that Jesus has more claim to rule the world than Caesar, in a place named after Caesar! And before that, Peter claims that Jesus is the Messiah, not just any anointed king, but the hoped-for ultimate King sent by God, who was God, who represented His people and would free them from sin and exile! Again, Peter in other company would have drawn some sharp gasps from Romans and Jews alike. And Jesus responded with: “and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell won’t overpower it.”

So the gates of hell. Gates, if you know, are part of the defensive structures of a city or fortress designed to let in allies and keep out enemies. Let me say again, gates are defensive structures, not offensive ones. I’m saying it twice because the idea struck me harder than a sack of old hammers. On the cross, Jesus already destroyed the power of sin and death, he rescued his people from oppression and exile. So the great commission is not so much a cruise ship’s warning alarm to fill the life boats – it’s the trumpet call sounded “CHARGE!” We’re not pulling people into life boats and giving up territory for destruction, our marching orders are to bravely move forward taking enemy territory in the name of Jesus Christ. And we take territory through acts of compassion, mercy, justice, charity, kindness, honesty, truth, and perseverance.

Consider what God called the Israelites to do after freeing them from slavery: to march ahead and capture land. So if God has freed us from slavery to sin, our next move is to do the same.

We can’t afford to retreat. As the church retreats from compassion and charity, what casualties are left behind? Who picks up the slack that the church leaves behind?

Be strong and courageous. Do not lose hope, do not be discouraged. The Lord your God is with you, wherever you may go. Joshua 1:9

What can you do to begin playing offense with your compassion and love? What gates do you need to storm in Jesus’ name with justice and generosity? What steps can your family take to begin impacting the community around you?

Photo Credit: “Face in the Surf” by Robert Capa

Marriage and Sex: Why Monogamy?

Call me crazy, because I am for trying to tackle this issue. Why, oh why would I decide to toss my dog into this fight? Well… I’m married, I have a kid on the way, and I currently work with children. I’ve been percolating on this topic for a while and I’ve some thoughts I’d like to jot down.

So here’s a question: have you ever driven someone else’s car? Do you remember how that felt? Every time I drive a different vehicle, I have to spend time adjusting mirrors, driver’s seat, steering wheel, A/C levels, and radio settings before even looking for the gear shift. Then, I have to fight with the steering’s looseness or tightness, how soft the brakes are, and how quickly the car accelerates… or not. I spend the entire drive trying to figure out the car… and heaven forbid it rain or I have to find the headlight switch.

I could very easily make a common sense argument for monogamy based on my car experience. I like my car. It’s comfy. I have the seat right where I want it. I can find every button without looking. I rarely have to adjust anything, and can turn on the ignition and go. I have an idea when something’s wrong and I need to have some maintenance work done. Because I drive the same car every day, the car and I can act like one body. Not to say my wife is in any way like a car. I have a hard time imagining trying to learn to live alongside a different human partner in the same house after six years of marriage. I know where Kristie sits, how towels should be folded, how she likes her steak. I know her habits and I have learned to appreciate everything she is. Personally, I can’t imagine spending another 6 years learning someone completely different. Part of the joy of monogamy is getting to know just how unique and multifaceted my wife is and enjoying the process as we both change and grow together over time.

So, to start into a theological discussion on relationships and monogamy, let’s go back to the beginning. I mean, of course that’s where we start, but I also mean Genesis. So looking at Chapter 2, we get a picture that one of God’s creations was lonely. He had a demanding, but fulfilling job – caring for an amazing piece of property and cultivating the land and animals – but something was missing. The man looked around at all of the animals and realized there wasn’t really anyone up to speed to be his partner, if you will. Sure, animals are great friends and we make stories and movies about that human-animal friendship all the time; however, it doesn’t satisfy the need humans have for community for relationships with other humans.

(Theological side note: we are created in God’s image. As Christians, we have a belief that God is a community in Himself – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – but also a unified God. So to be alone is to deny and to miss out on an essential necessity in the way God created us.)

So what does God do? Well, he creates a woman. He creates a human who is alike enough to be a companion, but different enough to add something new to the man’s understanding.

(Second side note: We usually see an artist’s last work(s) as the culmination of their efforts, a magnum opus, if you will. As such, woman is the crowning jewel in the creation of this universe.)

And yet, in all of this, there is something almost unnatural about selecting one partner “until death do us part.” Many of those who study the mating habits of animals and humans will often reference the fact that humans are one of the few species that continually mates with one partner for an entire lifespan… in theory, at least. Many of the sex-positive tribe (those that believe sex should be discussed and enjoyed in its many facets, without judgment from others) will often use these very natural observances of the world around us as a kind of permission for almost any kind of consensual act of sexual enjoyment between adults. The idea that society is the arbiter of sexual morals is at the same time both distrusted and used as a facilitator. (Read there: “No one can judge me,” but also “everyone else is doing it.”)

For those that claim to follow the Bible which contains Jewish and Christian texts, the concept of something being “natural” isn’t always a point in its favor. Even as we look around and death and violence seem to permeate every aspect of our lives, that natural violence and death are things God has been working to remove. The Mosaic Law creates a social order that cares for the weak and oppressed, and is written in such a way as to prevent and proactively fight against violence. Jesus and his followers often teach the nonviolent route, even to the point of submitting to that natural violence in order to defeat it. I think the same concept applies to sex.

Whether you are reading the Hebrew texts or the Christian ones, God is a God of order, who has a very clear idea of what a society should look like – that society should care for all, especially the weak. Society should give its worship to one God, and care for creation as duly appointed caretakers. Society should honor the family and give special respect to elders and children who often have no one to speak for them. These are not the natural order, but these are aspects of a supernatural order. God’s order goes beyond what nature insists and can even contradict nature’s imperatives.

Consider the first mention of marriage in Genesis 2 where the “man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh.” The order of words here is important: in this paradigm the man leaves his family to join the woman’s, not the other way around. It’s an interesting thought, and a subversion of what we typically think of relationships between the genders.

Polygamy, though recorded in the Bible, is not endorsed by the authors. Tolerated… maybe, but the stories and laws concerning polygamy more often illustrate the dangers, disruption, and unfairness inherent in a sexual relationship encompassing more than two people. The Patriarchs and their wives suffered because of this. David, Solomon, Esau and many others made the same mistake and found themselves in the natural trouble that arises from following a natural desire to its extreme. Also, polygamy, in ancient times, was often a way for one person to display their wealth and power – which often meant men having power over women who were considered property. Today, those that do practice poly-amorous relationships (romantic relationships involving more than two persons) still wrestle daily with the issues around openness, trust, and communication.

Monogamy is an idea baked into monotheism. Monotheism is, in a way, a covenant between a people and their god – one people, one god. Viewed this way, the relationship between God and his people is a view of marriage – a one-on-one covenant that relies on trust, faithfulness, and selflessness. God’s biggest complaints through the prophets often involve Israel’s unfaithfulness – going after other gods – and forgetting to care for the poor and oppressed. In other words, when the people began to drift back into the “natural” ways of thinking and acting, God sent his messengers to remind them that they had and have a higher, supernatural calling.

And so, we today, when faced with the natural urge to pursue multiple partners (not all are) we must remember that we are called to a supernatural standard that is in place to help create a different kind of society.

How will you discuss these issues with your family? How have you wrestled with the idea of monogamy? What messages do you and your family see in the media concerning relationships?

Choosing Patriotism

I spent some time at our town’s National Cemetery the other day. I have a family member or two buried there, and I realized something. In a direct line on my father’s side, I am the first man in several generations to not have given military service. Standing there in the midst of men and women who had sacrificed so much in order to preserve their idea of freedom from tyranny and oppression across the world weighed heavily on me. The area itself is a tribute to these men and women, and quite possibly one of the most peaceful and aesthetically lovely areas of our town. It struck me that in a place that solemnizes death, there is a celebration of life through the plush grasses and lush trees that surround these memorials. The tension held there is at once solemn and profoundly hopeful.

I have wrestled over the past several years with what it means to be patriotic in today’s America. It seems a confused mishmash of militarism, wearing the colors, and putting America first in all things.

I do appreciate the service of the men and women in our armed service, but I also think that the goal of a military is to one day not need one. Those that fought in the last World War, I’m sure, fought with the hope that wars would end and striving cease and the world would begin to work together. That hope was disappointed as countries began building their stockpiles of every more despairingly destructive weapons that left less and less hope for recovery after the simple metaphorical press of a button.

I wonder about our current trend of isolationism and how it may be a reaction against the past 70 years of interventionism. Maybe we’re burnt out trying to solve all of the world’s problems by ourselves. Perhaps we would like to see other countries step up and begin the hard work of securing peace and freedom for the oppressed parts of the world. We’re starting to see this in Europe and Asia, as America turns inward. We’re seeing Germany and China begin to grow as leaders on the world stage. Something within me, though, feels saddened as I watch this happen.

All things must come to an end, and maybe our leadership has run its course. I do still wonder, though, what do we stand for today? What do you think about when you think of America?

Do you think of wild celebrations that took place around the signing of the Declaration (both before and after?) Do you think of nearly every immigrant’s story (starting with those early colonists) which includes a flight from oppression into new opportunity? Do you think of France’s gift to America which had on it a welcome to the world’s sick, tired, poor, and unwelcome anywhere else? Do you think of the words of the Constitution which are designed to prevent oppression and tyranny? Do you think of a nation still clinging desperately to the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness while dealing with the often disappointing present?

What would Walt Whitman write today if he were to re-write “I Hear America Singing?” Who would he include? What songs and sounds would he hear?

The words of the Declaration of Independence circulate around this time of year, but the last phrase, I almost never hear: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” Sure, the American leaders declared their independence of British rule, but declared their dependence on God, and on one another.

Look around this weekend. Really notice the people who walk past you, who serve you, whom you serve, and who drive alongside you. See them as American, as someone on whom you depend, and who depends on you. This great democratic experiment only succeeds if we work together and recognize our fellow Americans as human, as God’s children, and as people who are in this together with us.

How do you celebrate this yearly holiday of Independence Day? What does patriotism mean to you? How does your America benefit everyone living in this nation? How do you instill the ancient American values of charity, hospitality, determination, and hope to your children?