Peace in the Family?

I’ve been thinking a lot about child-parent relationships lately – mainly because I’m already trying to develop one with my own little girl. (A few months left before a face-to-face visit, but I’m already making sure to spend time with her nearly every night, talking to her, playing her music, and giving her some rubs. My wife’s not sure how to feel about the whole thing, but she’s being a good sport while I talk to her tummy.)

Not only has my own child’s impending birth got me thinking, but a passage in Romans got me thinking as well. See, Paul and I used to never get along. Growing up, my understanding of Paul was limited – I saw him as an angry grump who decided to switch to a Greek mindset once the Jewish community had ousted him enough times. I saw his trips to the synagogues in each town as more of a “let’s get this over with” deal. And because of that, the way I read his work was through a primarily Greek mindset – using philosophies built on Plato and Aristotle via the Middle Ages and Enlightenment. Recently, though, I have had a rather profound “duh” moment when I had an author (NT Wright) point out that Paul remained strikingly Jewish throughout his life and writings. Suddenly, I realized I need more insight into that line of thinking, and so I undertook a journey through the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and began listening to Rabbis to get a better grasp of how Jews view the Torah. And, fellow Christians, we’ve been missing so much!

Anyway, back to Paul, in chapter 5, he speaks about how we now have peace with God – a relationship… a parent-child relationship. In the previous chapter, he talked about how faith is the basis of Covenant membership now and how Abraham had been given covenant membership before his circumcision and the giving of the law. So now, the whole world is eligible for covenant membership based on faith – in trusting God who sent Jesus and raised him from the dead. And on that basis of being called “in the right” we have peace with God, a reconciled relationship.

The idea of reconciliation of family is a theme that runs deep in Jewish thought, and especially the Torah and Prophets. In Genesis, we see four sets of brothers, who become increasingly reconciled, but never reach the point of complete peace: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers. Joseph and his brothers come the closest, but his brothers still remain on edge in case Joseph decides to revoke his kindness and pay them back. The Prophets continually use the metaphor of family reconciliation to talk about the time when God will forgive the idolatry of His people and heal the relationship between them. Both of these threads tie up nicely in the person of Jesus who made that peace possible through his own faithfulness in Israel’s place.

Sigmund Freud’s lesser known theories include one that the source of all conflict is sibling rivalry – that each child is vying for resources, particularly parental love and affection. Children may perceive parental love as a limited resource, rather than the unceasing fountain that it often is.

As I’ve wondered, I reach this point: how will I make sure my children understand that love will never run out? How do I give them each the affection they need to keep them convinced of their status of peace in the family?

How does your love model God’s to your kids? How do your priorities show your kids that love?

Your Boycott Is Futile (And How to Fix It)

So, you’re considering boycotting the newest film in the Disney collection? You’ve found some items in the movie that you disagree with and would prefer not to see the movie. You’re now on a mission to get all of your friends and family to do the same! Onward Christian soldiers, to the battle lines to stand there and do… well… uhm… nothing?

The problem with most boycotts of the Christian variety is that they are fundamentally campaigns of inaction. It’s much like saying, “All right men, steel yourselves for the coming battle in the ‘Culture War.’ Our next move is to continue to sit here with crossed arms and scowls.” Really? Is this the best we can come up with?

History lesson: American Christianity has already tried a Disney boycott. Do you remember the nineties? Do you remember when a major denomination suddenly declared Disney the enemy and all families should give no more money or time to Disney and its related media? I do. I remember almost missing Hercules because it was released during the “Boycott.” (To be fair, it’s not a great movie… but I have a soft spot in my heart for its art style and dialogue writing.) Did that boycott accomplish anything? Did it last? Did it slowly die as the leadership of that denomination realized that people were still watching these movies and spending money on trips to Disney World/Land anyway? (In order the answers are no, no, yes.)

So what’s different this time? Is there a real call to action? Is something going to be done with the money that would have been spent on tickets to Beauty and the Beast? I haven’t heard of anything like this. For the average family, a theater trip is around $40. What could $40 do to change the life of someone around you in your community?

In today’s culture Christians are often known by what they’re against rather than what they’re for. But I seem to recall Jesus saying something about we should be known by our love… It’s a shame that such a positive thing as “looking out for the good of others” has been replaced with “what makes us uncomfortable or what we disagree with.”

Now, I haven’t seen the movie yet, so, again, I cannot give a fair review. But here’s the rub: if something in the movie does reflect one of the more sweeping societal changes in our American society, what makes you think your child won’t see it elsewhere? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to have the discussion at home after a shared experience rather than let someone else teach your child about the ethics your family has chosen to uphold?

I’m not advocating for seeing Beauty and the Beast, though I will most likely be going to see it. (My wife and I played Belle and the Beast the same year in separate troupes. It’s one of those shared stories that we enjoy.) Disney has spent enough on advertising that one mediocre blogger (me) won’t make much of a difference. And I’m not advocating for a boycott, either. But, if I were to advocate for a boycott, I would recommend putting some money where your mouth is. I would recommend donating the money that would have gone toward tickets to a local food bank, community kitchen, or homeless shelter. I would recommend spending an hour or two volunteering to spend the run time of the movie doing something to make a difference in your community.

As parents, we all have decisions to make regarding media. Your decisions are yours to make. My only caution is to think all the way through your decisions to see what the long-term, or maybe unexpected, outcomes may be. Do our children see us as people of action, of love, and of charity? Do our children see a culture of anger, complacency, and clenched fists?

How will your family handle social action: volunteering, boycotts, marches, protests, just to name a few? How do your discussions and reactions to these things affect your children? How are you modeling Christ’s love in response to these things?

Sex Martyr

Everyone has a period of history that bothers them. At one point, mine was early 20th century American history, the period before and just after WWI. Thanks to Dan Carlin and the Hardcore History podcast, I now have a better appreciation for that period of history. (His Blueprint for Armageddon 5 part series on World War One is a masterwork of historical storytelling and commentary.) Once that hill was climbed, American history in general seemed dull and bothersome. Once again, a podcast saved the day: the My History Can Beat Up Your Politics podcast with Bruce Carlson helped me gain a better understanding and interest in the particulars of American history.

But there is one period that still irritates me because its effects linger on in today’s cultural milieu. (“Milieu” is such a fun word… I never get to use it in Children’s Ministry, so you all get to enjoy fun words with me.) This irritating period is the 4th and 5th Century in regards to Christianity and its relationship with marital relations.

Note: the following is a broad oversimplification of much more complex cultural and societal questions considered from a modern perspective with the hindsight of give-or-take 1500 years. (And also coming from someone who tries to recognize the limits of his own perspective when it comes to complex issues.)

Consider that, for the most part, the Jewish culture had a fairly positive view of sex as part of a healthy life and the creation of subsequent generations to carry on the name of God and His praises. There was a sense of obligation, joy, and worship in the making and sustaining of a family, which models God’s own choosing and sustaining of the Jewish family. (I find it amazing and a testament of God’s faithfulness that the Jewish people continue to thrive despite the hardship they have faced.) Genesis is very frank about sexuality and what constitutes a right, faithful sexual relationship. (See previous post.) Sex in the Torah seems to connect the ideas of procreation and faithfulness with marital relations, and sex outside of that system leads to long-and-short-term conflict. (See Abraham, Sarah, Hagar; Lot and his daughters; Jacob and his wives; Abraham and Issac lying about their marriages to foreigners; just to name a few.) On a complementary note is the Song of Solomon which, on its face, seems to be a celebration of the pleasures of sex as enjoyed by two impassioned lovers. (Or at least the enjoyment of the anticipation, since upon closer inspection the lovers never get closer than being on either side of a door.) So, we see multiple aspects of sex illustrated throughout the Hebrew Bible: procreation, faithfulness, and pleasure.

With the entrance of Christianity things got more complicated (than they already were.) Around the 4th and 5th centuries, though developing earlier, the church began to separate sharply from its Jewish roots, tending to lean more often on Greek philosophy and modes of thinking to interpret the Bible, Gospel accounts, and letters written to churches. (Despite, however, the overwhelming Jewish nature of both the authors and their intent to further the Jewish story by pointing to its ultimate end with the incarnation and return of the Messiah to put all things right.) This entering of Greek thought also lead to the entertaining of Gnostic ideas, such as the utter separation of spirit and physical matter. Simply put, the spiritual was good, and the physical was bad. (This despite the Creation account in Genesis having God call his creation good, and the subsequent outpouring of God’spirit on that physical matter and even more important sending of Jesus as fully God and man, a unity of spirit and matter on a scale we still can’t quite grasp entirely.) Suddenly, amidst persecutions and the rise of Gnosticism, the church found itself sorting out complex theology concerning Jesus, the Spirit, and how these concepts applied to the life of the church and its sacraments.

Following the gradual dying out of the official fire of persecution, the church found itself in an odd place. This place was a church that had survived persecution, but now had a bevvy of new recruits that were clamoring to enter because of the change in status of the church, not only of the recognition of, but alongside official imperial support of, the church. No longer did the church have martyrdom, dying for the faith or persevering through intense persecution, as the pinnacle of holiness for its members to strive towards so it sought a new form of martyrdom. Based on the idea that physical pleasure is, at best, a temptation and enslavement to it something to be avoided, or, at worst, simply evil, asceticism became the new standard. Asceticism is any intentional lifestyle designed around self-discipline which can include abstinence from luxury, self-deprivation, isolation, or other practices intended to bring about a spiritual holiness via purification of the body. Some of the early ascetics were the Desert Fathers (and Mothers) who left the cities in search of isolation where they would spend their days in fasting, prayer, and meditation on the scriptures, battling the spiritual evils. Following this, a more organized effort was launched in order to create intentional communities of fellow ascetics who all sought to aid one another in their spiritual disciplines by holding one another accountable.

Some of those writing around this time found that voluntary celibacy aided one in maintaining spiritual purity. Young men and women were encouraged in these writings to abstain from any sexual activity, and in marriage, sex was only to be used as a method of procreation… and even then enjoyment was out of the question. One thing to consider is that many of those authors whose writings we have from this period espousing this view were themselves voluntarily celibate, and were writing from that viewpoint. While I can get behind the idea of celibacy as a choice for some, who for their own reasons don’t desire a sexual relationship or are dedicated enough to make that decision, I find more problems with celibacy being required in order to have a sense of “holiness.”

This idea seemed to persist in different forms through the centuries where it still seems to have a place in mainstream Christian thought, if not in practice. In some ways we have swung perhaps a bit too far the other direction, which shows up in the pestering of singles to get married instead of enjoying that period of their life as one of adventure and discovery. However, I still hear stories of women terrified of marriage because of the sex involved, the stories they have heard. I still hear talk of sex being “dirty” and “not a topic to discuss in church.” If the church won’t talk about sex, how can we expect people to have a healthy attitude toward it?

Today, secular society seems to be in the thrall of three gods: Mammon, Mars, and Venus. Money, Violence, and Lust rule the roost. CS Lewis, in a lecture series that turned into The Four Loves says that Eros, erotic love, is a fickle, angry god, but can also be taken too lightly and made into a vulgar joke. Sex, in and of itself, is good because God made it. A healthy attitude toward sex includes an understanding of its goodness, of its symbolism as an act of ultimate faithfulness, of its place as a sign of joyful love, and of its place as the method of human procreation. Things that are necessary for survival can be enjoyable. A cool glass of water is both needed, and pleasurable after working in the sun. A delicious meal is pleasurable even though it is necessary. The act of reconciliation, while challenging and painful, can also lead to the joy of a renewed relationship. And, sex, while necessary for the continuation of our species, is, when done right, enjoyable.

To be fair, I can sense these thought patterns in myself. The word “pleasure” contains for me an almost lustful sensuousness about it that makes me wary of typing or saying it. Is that true, though: pleasure as something deemed concerning or controversial? I should probably stop and sum up my thought before I end up on another several thousand word philosophical tear about the rightness or wrongness of pleasure.

TL;DR Version:

The church has a history of downplaying sex in particular, and pleasure in general, tending to view it not as something good to be enjoyed in proper context of covenant faithfulness, but as a tool for procreation to be used in the proper context of covenant faithfulness. I have come to the understanding that this belief has its roots in secular Greek thought rather than Jewish thought, (or even Pauline, though even making that any distinction with Paul and Jewish thought is a false dichotomy) though I am open to rebuttal.

How do your discussions of sex sound? Do they reflect a healthy, God-reflecting view of sex? What has your experience of church discussion surrounding sex been? What are your personal views of sex and its place in in the life of a Christ follower?

Christian Romance

If you’re picturing some sappy novels following a “they meet, they fall in love, conflict arises, they surmount the conflict, happily ever after” plot, I apologize for that. Truly, if we could find a better way to express our natural inclination toward the romance, we may be in a better place today.

You have probably heard this in a million sermons and cheesy quotes, but “romance” used to be a story term used for adventure tales. I like this. It makes the idea of wooing a lady, or a fella, sound much more exciting than flowers, chocolates, some long conversations, moonlit walks, and a sappy proposal which ends not in wedded bliss, but a profound contentment. (Not that there’s nothing wrong with that.)

So, here’s my romance story:

I was stalked by my wife. Not in a “hunted in the jungle wearing camo and war paint” way, but in an “ooo, that one’s cute, I’m going to watch him,” kind of way. My first memory of seeing my wife is her confused, and slightly panicked face at having botched a red hair dye attempt and ending up with bubblegum pink hair. She and a friend were driving rapidly off campus to find a way to solve the problem. It wasn’t until later that I found out that there had been some looking through incoming freshmen pictures in her dorm for any newcomers that struck their fancy. Apparently my goofy, awkward face won my wife over and she began to look for me on campus.

Our first meeting involved her getting shoved right into my face by my friend, December, who might’ve been cupid but for the wings. (She was small, personable, and a bit on the goth side, so maybe cupid in a Victorian dress? I don’t know.) Anyway, we awkwardly greeted one another, my wife insisting that I played it cool the entire time. (Good for me!) And between December and the contrivance of our shared voice instructor, we began to spend a good amount of time together. She tried to scare me off. I’m not a fan of violent media, and without knowing she managed to be watching things along the lines of “Silence of the Lambs” whenever I came to visit. Somewhere in there was a four-hour long Dairy Queen visit where we lost track of time, obviously.

Later, her father and brother conspired to test my mettle by inviting me to join in a small patriotic concert. So I learned the choral music on my own and, with very little rehearsal, I showed up on the day of the first performance to the greeting of, “By the way, you’ll be swing dancing with Kristie.” (Remember, no rehearsal, no preparation, just, “Go!”) So we danced, I sang… Oh, it wasn’t a particularly small concert either in a 5,000 seat auditorium with a 200 person choir. (Ok, neither were quite that large, but to me, I might as well have been singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and ballroom dancing at the Superbowl.) Her father and I discussed my dating her over corn shucking before church that Sunday morning, and I was able to hold her hand for the first time on the way to church that morning.

Time passed and we became engaged, a long story for another day. We were married and have been living a dream since. And, in a way, I mean that. It has been a dream, a short, fleeting dream punctuated by moments of great joy, and deep sadness. We’ve had trouble, some arguments, but we’ve also laughed until breathless and sat in silence listening to our breaths.

Romance is an adventure. The adventure isn’t getting the girl or guy, it’s what you do after “I do.” The romance continues because the story doesn’t end. Each person is writing their portion of a shared story, which is in turn having a large part written by God.

It’s Valentine’s Day. Go make a story. Try something new. Succeed. Fail. Laugh. Cry. No matter what it is, cherish the moments made together. Don’t get to the end of life and say the words, “I wish we had…”

May God bless your Romance, whatever it looks like. May your story go on, and may it have more ups than downs.

Sex: What’s the point?

It’s been a while since we discussed sex on this blog, mostly due to the fact that I have had several good, hard thinks and conversations about the subject and am nearly ready to put some ideas down in writing. I want to start vaguely and then move to specifics.

Conversations about sexuality are much like building a house. It really does no good to argue about the color of the paint or the particular furnishings of the house unless the foundations are discussed and decided upon. Most of the debates I hear about sexuality are more concerned with the furnishings of the house than the foundations of the house itself. Sure, the couch might look nice and be well made, but if it won’t fit through any of the doors, it’s of very little use.

Foundationally speaking, Jews and Christians often look to the same place: Genesis. Genesis begins with the building of a grand house, Creation, and the making of humans to inhabit that house as God’s representatives. These representatives were designed to reflect God’s character, love, and authority into the world, and reflect creation’s praise back to God. This is the idea of the royal priesthood, the role humans were made to fill.

Following this idea through Genesis shows what happens when humans are unfaithful to that calling and cease reflecting God’s character and begin reflecting nature back to itself. At that point, violence, exploitation, the beginnings of empire, power grabbing, greed, and lust all take shape as the story of Genesis continues into the story of Babel.

Abraham is then chosen to be the recipient of the Covenant. God cuts a covenant with Abraham and his family, which sees a dramatic illustration in the strange vision of Genesis 15, where God, as King, takes responsibility for the covenant with Abraham. This covenant is renewed in Exodus at Mt. Sinai where the people are given their royal, priestly vocation and then are told what would happen in case of infidelity on their part followed by God’s promise to redeem them.

After this covenant is cut with Abraham, with circumcision being the sign, the rest of Genesis is interwoven with the theme of sexuality. There are temptations, refusal of duty, lying, almost adultery, fornication, polygamy, and more. It makes more sense in light of Jewish interpretation (provided by Rabbi Sacks in his Covenant and Conversation materials, specifically the podcast “What is the Theme of the Stories of Genesis?” published 12/19/16) which points to the theme of sexual fidelity being parallel to fidelity to God. Marital faithfulness reflects faithfulness to God.

This makes sense as throughout the prophetic writings, the prophets use the image of Israel as the bride of God, which is then echoed in the letters of Paul which often reference the church as the bride of Christ. The idea of marriage being a covenant of faithfulness enacting our faithfulness to God is an ancient one, indeed. Israel’s sin is often couched as one of infidelity, of adultery, by chasing after other gods or putting other objects in the place of God. (See the entire book of Hosea which is a long illustration of this idea.) Reflecting the will of money, sex, power, or the individual led to exploitation, oppression, and violence among God’s people, which God, through the prophets, condemned. The issue at the center, though, was God’s longing to have Israel return to faithful covenant living. (And before anyone is quick to throw blame on the Israelites, we are all guilty of handing over ourselves to objects and drives that are not God. We, too, are called to repent and return to faithfulness.)

Sex is something that does matter to God. It matters as the method of human procreation. It matters as the way marital partners share in the joy of faithful covenant-keeping. It is a crucial part of the grand vocation to reflect God’s character, authority, and order to creation in that our committed faithfulness should reflect God’s own committed faithfulness.

A quick note on circumcision: John Goldingay notes that circumcision is pointedly a male issue. Why? Because in ancient times, as well as now, society has often given men free rein with their sexuality, while women often have been expected to be much more reserved. In part, God is literally cutting the male ego, especially in regards to sex, down to size. (This is not the only interpretation of circumcision, which is primarily the “cutting in” of the covenant illustrated by God marking this people as separate with a particular purpose.)

The foundation for sex is faithfulness. Sex without faithfulness is an exercise in handing our God-given authority to nature. We are called not to succumb to nature, but to rise above it, to join in God’s task of giving more meaning to the act of sex than mere pleasure, or mere procreation, but something deeper, more humble, and far more important.

Sources for this post are: Genesis parts One and Two by John Goldingay, and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ various Covenant and Conversation resources, written and in podcast form. (As far as Bible translations used in studying these books, see the JPS version, the NAB, and John Goldingay’s literal translation included in his commentaries.

Photo Credit: Free stock photo of man, couple, love, woman via Pexels

What’s all this love/hate stuff?

So Jesus said I couldn’t hate my brother, but I have to hate mother, father, brother, and sister in order to follow him? And even God talks about loving Jacob and hating Esau – seems like a double-standard to me. And for goodness’ sake, Jacob loved Rachel and hated Leah – what kind of messed-up families are we being shown here!?

Let’s step back a moment and talk about the words translated love and hate. We’ll start earliest with Jacob and Rachel. In that story, Jacob works for seven years in order to marry Rachel because of the most romantic “love at first sight” story ever written – he moved a gigantic rock to prove his love. And he watered an entire flock, much like his mother had done, but isn’t that rock thing impressive! So, wedding night comes, Jacob’s probably had a little wine, and the happy couple slips off for some alone time. Next morning, Jacob wakes up, and the Bible’s own words say it best, “And, look, it was Leah!” Talk about a rough morning after. Long story short, Jacob ends up marrying both sisters with the Bible saying, “Jacob loved Leah, and also loved Rachel… more than Leah.” Cue miserable groan from audience.

Genesis goes on to describe Leah as being “hated.” The word used here is literally “loved less,” but not being the chosen one can leave a body feeling hated. Leah lived her whole life craving attention from the man she loved, but who loved her with a much cooler passion than he did her sister. So, here, being loved more means being favored, while being hated doesn’t rule out love, it’s a just the lover has made a choice to divide his love unequally.

Later, the prophet will write, speaking for God, “Jacob I have loved, Esau I have hated.” There was quite a bit of animosity between Edom (Esau’s descendants) and Israel (Jacob’s descendants.) God, curiously, though, lists in the Law for Israelites not to despise or mistreat an Edomite, because of the distant relationship of their ancestors. In this case, Jacob was chosen as the bearer of the Covenant, not Esau, but that didn’t mean Esau wasn’t loved. God chose Jacob and his descendants to be the instrument through which God showed Himself to the world. Edom could easily benefit from that, as long as Israel lived out the laws of compassion and justice set out by God.

Which brings us to Jesus. When he says, “don’t hate a brother” he actually means, don’t wish him ill harm or trouble. Love is a choice that includes looking out for someone else’s best interest, at all times. But what about hating my parents? Well, Jesus is using the word translated “hate” in the sense of the first two cases. He still assumes we will continue loving our family and looking out for their best interest, but Jesus wants us to be willing to put God first, to love Him more. In this case, picking God first doesn’t mean loving our family any less, in fact, it means we love them more, and fiercely as we learn what it means to love others like God loves us.

When God picks someone, he doesn’t pick them to separate them out, he picks them to go into the world and be His image, His messenger. The Israelites were given land smack dab in the middle of a bunch of empires that could have used God’s wisdom and direction. The prophets were sent into the cities to call the people and their rulers to task for their injustice. Christians were told not to pull out, but to “go and make disciples.” Being chosen means being sent. Being loved means loving more. God’s love isn’t exclusionary, it’s big enough for everyone.

How do your priorities show who or what you love? What does your schedule say about what’s important in your life?

This post was inspired and directed by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s recent book Not In God’s Name as well as his essays in Covenant and Conversation: Genesis: the Book of Beginnings. Check them out if this post interested or helped you.

Photo Credit: Love Hate Logo.png via Wikimedia Commons

Can we please keep shooting our neighbors?

In my fair city of Chattanooga, we have had a rash of shootings and deaths recently due to violence attributed to gangs. The situation is horrible when members of the same community come to such conflict that murder is the outcome. The constant state of one person believing they are completely in the right and and understand the other side without sitting down for discussion leads to blind misunderstanding and angry outbursts.

Oh, wait… that sounds like American Christians, too, doesn’t it? Huh…

I’ll start with this observation gleaned off of the most recent Cracked podcast: cynicism does not equate with wisdom.

I continue to see on my feed shared posts written by cynical, spiteful individuals whose contempt for others is evident in the way their prose stabs and accuses with all of the dexterity of a stampeding bull. In my opinion, if one is going to mock and deride another human being, at least have the decency to use wit and style to their full effect, in the vein of Voltaire or Jonathan Swift. Those two and their like, at least, had a respect for humanity that went beyond the individual that led them to heap style and humor in with their contempt.

Contempt is something Jesus speaks strongly against in his Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew. (We’ll be referencing Matthew 5.21-24 and 7.1-5 for the rest of this unless otherwise stated.)

Consider the idea that Jesus equates hatred and contempt with murder. The very attitude of contempt stems from anger, the idea that I or someone close to me has had their rights infringed upon, and the desire to act on that anger. Jesus shows the progression from anger, to abusive language and malice, to contempt and exclusion. Understand, the moment we begin to exclude and consider an individual or group “other” we begin to slide down a gradually descending slope that first allows us to mock, then to attack, and then, if allowed to continue, to consign to destruction. As Christians, we’re all very careful to avoid actually killing anyone, but how quickly are we to say the phrase, “You’re going to hell.” And, really, depending on your belief, what you’re saying is the equivalent of sentencing them to death. And how arrogant of us to contemptibly throw that very phrase at another brother or sister in Christ. Don’t we know that, as Christians, we are both members of Christ’s body? Can the ear say to the eye, “I hope you rot and fall out,” and things still function properly? (I Corinthians 12)

Moving along, later Jesus has his famous “speck and plank” section. I had always thought that the plank in my eye causing me to lose sight of the speck in my brother’s eye was my own failings and sin. In a way, that is what’s going on, but Dallas Willard points out another possibility in The Divine Conspiracy: that the plank is my contempt. How effective will I be in a surgical procedure that requires care and concern on behalf of the surgeon to the patient if I am angry with the patient, or worse, if I do not value that patient at all? Jesus rightly shows that if I am blinded by contempt, then all I will do is cause more damage than good.

I will also point out that in some cases, spreading around juicy tidbits of what other Christians are “doing wrong” could easily be classified as gossip. You know, gossip, that insidious little sin we tend to ignore when its convenient. It happens in church foyers and it happens on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram when we share those titillating stories about how intriguingly terrible other Christians secretly are.

Remember, children watch your behavior. They learn from you, their parents and role models. Children can pick up, and I think the internet is proving this, the capacity for contempt of other human beings who are made in the image of God. Children pick up that if mommy and daddy think this person or people group are worthless, then I can treat them however I want. And we wonder why racism, sexism, violence, and poverty continue on from generation to generation…

What do your actions and posts teach your children about valuing and respecting other Christians, and other humans? How do you speak about those groups or people you disagree with? How do your children speak about people they disagree with? (This last question might answer the first two…)

Consider that discernment and correction are the realm of fellow Christians. We are called to correct in love, with care and gentleness, knowing that we can fall into the same pitfalls as the person we’re trying to dig out. So before we talk about someone or share or write a particularly spiteful post, we should consider if it is helpful correcting, or if it is simply contempt and gossip masquerading as help.