Calling Jesus Names

Have you ever heard a racial slur come out of a child’s mouth? I haven’t heard one recently, but when you do, trust me, the event will stick in your mind. You’ll ask, “Where did they learn that? Do their parents talk that way? Do they know what that means?”

I’m not really sure where to start with this post. I had a really great weekend. I celebrated my Scottish heritage up at Maryville College for the Smoky Mountain Highland Games. I watched burly men toss rocks. I watched burly men toss huge telephone poles. I had a plate of haggis and mashed potatoes washed down with an Irn-Bru, which is still the weirdest drink I have ever thrown down my goozle. (If I had to describe the flavor it would be orange rind and bubblegum.) I listened to some old Irish and Scots folk songs and was blasted by a combined Pipe and Drum Corps playing Amazing Grace. I was happy, and full, and very, very warm. The warmth was from the dear sounds of ancestry… or maybe the 88 degree heat, not sure. I enjoyed celebrating a culture, but I know that not everyone can with as much open pride.

God created us in His image, which gets called the Imago Dei (Latin) in the pop Christian lingo right now. I have to hand Gen X and Millennials one big high five for bringing back early church fathers and mothers and incorporating more Latin and Greek into teaching and popular theology. As God’s images, we are designed to reflect God’s glory, authority, and love into the world around us and reflect Creation’s praise back to God. (I’ve tread this path before on this blog.) God encourages culture. In fact, read through the Hebrew Bible and New Testament and you’ll rarely find God or His prophets and apostles calling out the culture (food, clothing, artwork, language, etc.) Instead, you’ll see God calling His people and others to a right attitude of justice, mercy, care for the poor, proper worship of God, to repent and seek forgiveness while offering it to others.

So it pains me greatly when I hear God’s people who are supposed to praise God with their mouth and not slander their neighbor talk about “those people.” “Those people” often come tied to some pretty nasty assumptions, and are usually poor or have little power to affect the kind of change they need. “Those people” are listed in Matthew 25 as appearances of Jesus. See, “those people” need a cup of water, need a decent meal, need clothing and security, need a safe place to sleep, need a visitor in their prison cell or their hospital bed. When we as God’s people begin to dehumanize and speak about “those people” with anger derision, refusing to help or speak out, or allow the powerful to continually take advantage of them, we may just be speaking the words, “But, Lord, when did we see you thirsty, or hungry, or naked, or in prison?” And our own reckless words will condemn us.

I beg you to come with me on a nuanced journey. Let’s work this out. If you get uncomfortable, you can stop at any time… but you’ll have to face this at some point.

You are made in God’s image.

Your most hated co-worker is made in God’s image.

Your in-law that drives you nuts is made in God’s image.

Prisoners are made in God’s image.

Death-row inmates are made in God’s image.

Your pastor is made in God’s image.

The pastor you disagree with is made in God’s image.

The President is made in God’s image.

Immigrants are made in God’s image.

Migrants are made in God’s image.

The Ayatollah is made in God’s image.

Kim Jong Un is made in God’s image.

Police officers are made in God’s image.

Black Lives Matter members are made in God’s image.

Every person you fear might shake up your comfortable life and status quo is made in God’s image.

Are you uncomfortable? Do you see what God’s image does? It places us in an uncomfortable place where we share the exact same foundation with every single other human being who has ever lived and who ever will live. We are all made in God’s image.

The Benedictine monks had a practice of bowing to guests to their monasteries. They bowed in reverence to the presence of Christ in their guest. They recognized that welcoming someone and showing hospitality was welcoming the presence of Jesus into their midst.

We seem rather quick to draw lines that Jesus didn’t draw. Jesus, who defined his primary ministry as to His people, the Jews, still served the Roman Official, the Syro-Phoenician woman, the Samaritan woman, and chastised his disciples when they threatened Samaria in their anger.

If we can look at another human being and see anything less than a human being, loved by the God who longs to show them mercy and love, maybe our eyes haven’t been made complete in Jesus’ image, yet. If we can hate and denigrate and name call and demean and ignore, maybe our hearts still need work until we’re made complete in Jesus. If we can look at the image of God and speak hate over it, aren’t we really speaking hate to the One who made them in the first place? Aren’t we throwing our voices in with the crowd shouting and mocking Him as He hung on the cross?

Who do you need to rethink? What groups have you denigrated? What kind of language do your kids hear when it comes to minorities, immigrants, or those that look or think differently than you? Do your children know anyone different than them?

Advertisements

A Nation of Scaredy Cats

We, as Americans, have become scaredy cats. All of us. Home of the brave, my foot. You and I both know we can’t turn on the TV or radio or open our homepage without some new Chicken Little remarking about how another piece of the sky has fallen. Sure, it’s been a long time coming, but what frustrates me most is who seems to be the most terrified about life right now: Christians.

Really? The people who serve the King of the Universe, the God who made the earth and everything in it, the Savior who faced down Rome’s wrath and rose on the third day victoriously condemning, deposing, and defeating the wickedness and violence that he bore on the cross, are the ones sitting in abject terror at every newscast and Facebook story?

Sorry… I get a little worked up on this one. Fear is the perfect opposite of what a Christian should base their life. We’re told that perfect love drives out fear. Why? Because fear leads to contempt and hatred – which often leads to violence and destruction. Fear caused Peter to deny his very best friend and mentor. Fear causes us to deny our savior, too. Love leads to understanding and compassion – which leads to service and generosity. Love led Jesus to welcome Peter back with a fish fry on the beach.

Matthew 25 makes a strong case for getting outside of ourselves and serving others – the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the poor, the prisoners, the outsider, the children. Do we recognize Jesus in the least of these? Or are we afraid because we see where one bad day could land us?  Do we reach out our open hands in generosity, or clench our fists, avert our eyes, and pretend everything is fine?

Jesus didn’t fear having his reputation questioned for the good of others. He touched lepers. Spoke openly with women and welcomed them as disciples. He ate and drank with tax collectors and other miscreants – to the point that some groups called Jesus a drunkard and demon-possessed. Sure, Jesus was wise and chose his battles with intention and purpose, but he didn’t fear the repercussions.

If we are following the lead of Jesus, comfort should never be an expectation. Expecting an easy ride should be seen as the exception to the rule, rather than the rule itself. Jesus’ path drove right through the cross – and so does ours, for that matter.

There are so many things that drive us to fear, but if we fully understand the love of God and His command to love others we will be able to proceed with a Spirit of power, and not fear, that God has placed within us. Don’t fear those you serve. Don’t cower before the wars and rumors of wars. Don’t allow fear to become your god – the thing that drives all of your thoughts and actions.

How do you model courage- or fear – in your life? Which of your political, theological, or social views are built on a foundation of fear? How can you rethink them? What can you do today to help your child live courageously in Jesus?

Resistant, Stubborn, Pouty Evangelists

Reading through the Minor Prophets section will certainly give you some perspective on life. Some might see it as a lot of doom and gloom, but, remember, when God warns about coming punishment, there is always the implied, “You can always turn and this could be avoided.” Many times, though, people were set in their ways and refused to turn, to repent, and be saved the hassle of the coming trouble.

We get this idea when we read Obadiah, who comes right before Jonah. Obadiah, besides being the shortest book in the Old Testament, also comes across as fairly harsh. There seems to be very little room to maneuver for the people on the receiving end of judgment. It would seem their hearts had become so enmeshed in their way of life that the possibility of repenting had all but disappeared. Which is where Jonah comes in to challenge that idea.

See, Jonah was called to preach judgment to the Ninevites. Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria, a historically notorious country for violence, cruelty, and harsh treatment of its own people and conquered peoples. Assyria had also been the nation to conquer and capture the northern kingdom of Israel – so Judah would be right to fear Assyria, especially later when Assyria showed up on their doorstep. Anyway, Jonah received his call and promptly “noped” right out to the coast to catch a boat to Tarshish. The Bible is almost comical in its threefold repetition of Jonah’s destination, as if to say, “No really, Jonah is dead-set on removing himself from this whole going to Nineveh thing, and don’t try to stop him.” There are times when people can choose to not go with God’s calling… this was not one of those times. God was not taking “no” for an answer.

So a storm comes up, some plot devices happen, and Jonah is tossed overboard and sits inside a sea creature for three days praying. While it is a lovely prayer, it is odd that the idea of an apology or acknowledgment of wrongdoing never come up. It’s as if Jonah recognizes God’s power, but is continuing to hold his heart just out of reach of being softened or changed. God gives Jonah a second chance, and Jonah is vomited out onto shore. Vomited, ya’ll… Ugh.

Jonah walks the length of the city, and the entire city, nay the nation, begins fasting and mourning their behavior and repents. And, well, God relents. See, Jonah’s message wasn’t “turn or burn.” Jonah’s message was, “This place is gonna be toast in a month or so. Good luck!” The Ninevites turned on the off chance that God would relent – and God did.

So why tell this story? Well, there are groups here in America that you probably see as Ninevites: Republicans, Democrats, Northerners, Southerners, Liberals, Conservatives, etc. Are they in need of God’s love and message? Or do you really just want to watch them wallow in whatever destruction you see coming?

At the end of the story, Jonah was mad at God. He was angry because God had relented from allowing destruction to fall on the Ninevites. Jonah was angry at God’s character, revealed at Sinai and in Jesus: “For I know that You are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, renouncing punishment.

How would you react if you found out your “enemies,” or those you see as doomed to destruction had received God’s forgiveness? What would you do if you found out your scope of God’s grace was too narrow? Would you pout like Jonah? Would you refuse to celebrate like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son?

I wonder sometimes if the American church, in particular, really wants to go out and reach the lost. I don’t wonder if it doesn’t secretly revel in its “special” status while watching the world continue on its path. I don’t wonder if that’s a similar attitude the Israelites held before the exile…

How does the way you speak about others model to your children the values of evangelism, grace, mercy, and forgiveness? How does your lifestyle set you apart from the world without removing you from the world? What may you need to repent of in order to extend grace to others?

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?

Finding Jesus in Wonder Woman

You may be thinking, “What does a Greek-based, pantheon-touting, superhero film have to do with Jesus?” And that would be a fair thought. But there is something to the idea of taking every thought captive and submitting it to Christ. And, really, if we want to help our kids, they need to learn to see God’s Big Story wherever they can. Sure, there are going to be some cultural moments that are born entirely from the muck and mire with little or nothing to redeem them, but these are rarer than we think. Take Wonder Woman, DCs latest film endeavor, for instance.

The following paragraphs contain spoilers galore, so continue at your own peril.

The story involves the child of a god who is sent into the world of “man” in order to provide a positive answer to the problem of evil and suffering at the hands of an enemy. The world doesn’t deserve this hero, but this hero must find a way to defeat the enemy, even at great cost to that hero. Sound familiar? It should.

Diana learns over the course of the film that she is a child of Zeus, who embued her with the ability to defeat the enemy of the Olympian gods and humanity – Ares, the god of war. Ares’ motivation is to prove just how evil humanity is, not by outright forcing people to make war or initiate cruelty, but by whispering ideas, inspirations, encouragements toward greater acts of violence. Before Diana leaves Themiscyra, her mother states outright, “Mankind doesn’t deserve you.” And, to all intents and purposes, her mother is right.

Diana encounters the effects of war on both soldiers and civilians and becomes indignant. She puts herself at risk multiple times in order to break the siege of a still-inhabited village. WWI still stands as one of the more gruesome and terrible wars of history, due to the clash of old and new warfare that no party involved knew how to handle, and those dark realities shock Diana. Diana discovers that her “team” is a group of outsiders, liars, murderers, smugglers, and thieves who use their skills to help her reach her destination.

Near the climax of the film, when Ares’ identity has been revealed, Diana finds herself reeling upon discovering that Ares’ hasn’t forced humanity into fighting, but has just encouraged their inner darkness. Diana up to this point has believed firmly in the inherent goodness of humanity, but her faith is shaken. One conversation with Steve has him saying, “We need you, Diana. No, we don’t deserve you, but we can save millions of people if you stay.” Diana ends up losing the man she loves as he sacrifices himself to destroy a weapon that could annihilate London. Diana defeats Ares in a rather flashy showdown that ends with some intense lightning bolts being thrown about – but seeing as Diana is Zeus’s daughter, lightning isn’t much of a problem.

This movie lends itself well to finding God’s Big Story. Jesus is God’s son, sent to a world that didn’t deserve him, on a mission to defeat an enemy that works through deception, lies, and whispers. Jesus, like Diana, is concerned with the plight of humanity, the poor, the oppressed, the outsiders, even his enemies. True humanity, as God created it, is inherently good – but that humanity has been corrupted by violence and selfishness, but Jesus’ work frees humanity from the slavery to and oppression of sin and death. And like the climactic scene in Wonder Woman, the moment the hero seems completely overpowered is the moment the victory is won which bring Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection to mind.

In so many ways I have praised this movie for its triumphs. I also understand it isn’t a perfect movie either, and have chided it for a few issues here or there. But the overarching plot does resonate with Jesus’ story. And, really, we should be looking for God’s Big Story in whatever we see. We spend so much time and energy looking for the negative, the evil, and the critical – why not spend that time and energy looking for whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable?

How can you help train your kids to find Jesus’ story in the media you view? What questions can you ask to help your child think critically about what they are watching, reading, or playing?