Your Racist Language

You know, language and words have a life of their own. Some words can change meaning drastically, taking on so much weight, baggage, and connotation that they become nearly unusable unless prefaced by a huge contextual aside to clarify the meaning. The common example here is “thong.” Now, a certain age group will see that word and picture a sandal to be worn on the foot. Before then, a group would have seen a strap to tie town luggage. Now… well… the artist Sisqo had a very particular type of underwear/swimwear in mind when writing his famous “Thong Song.”

That said, there are so many other examples of words that have changed or evolved over the course of history. English is a living language, meaning that new words are added and definitions can change over time as words are used. I ran square into this my first time through “The Lord of the Rings” as the Hobbits and others would regularly refer to bundles of sticks as faggots. Now, my middle-school brain had a hard time with that one – until the context clued me into what was actually being said. I have since come to discover that this particular word which is a slur used for a particular minority group, also had connotations with smoking.

Some words have subtle meanings to certain groups – which would be referred to as coded language. You may have heard the term “dog whistle” to describe some of these terms – the metaphor being that these words are indistinguishable to anyone without the code or specific knowledge.

For instance, the term “Nazi” has a very specific meaning. We, as Americans, have probably overused the term for a joke’s sake (“grammer nazi,” for example) but that may have been an attempt to degrade the power that the Third Reich held for a short, but devastating period of history. The term “Fascist” also has a very particular meaning, also bandied about a bit too much and has probably degraded in its descriptive power over the years. Now, individuals and groups who ascribe to the social policies of Nazism and Fascism would prefer the terms “alt right,” “white racialist,” “white nationalist,” etc. America didn’t do as good a job ridding the world of these groups as originally thought or celebrated at the end of WWII. (And on the other side, America has such a checkered past with “communist” that the word hardly has a meaning in today’s society. It could almost be defined as “enemy of the U.S.” for the way its used in common speech.)

That said, there are some coded phrases that are used, even by well-meaning people that tend to mean something other than the textbook definitions. I’m a believer in clear communication. If we’re going to speak to one another, let’s try as best we can to use the same meanings so that we can both walk away with the same impression of a conversation. Let’s take “urban” for example. Urban can mean, simply, “of the city.” However, it’s often really just code for “black,” as is “inner city.” Take a moment and think about the picture those words conjure up for you. Do you see a diverse group? Or one color of skin? And the word “diverse,” what picture does that draw in your mind? Is it multicolored? Does it include lighter and darker shades? Does it include age, gender, or ideas? What about the word “immigrant?”

Take this verse, for instance, and replace the word “stranger” with “immigrant:”

“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:34 (JPS)

Or maybe replace “stranger” with “refugee.”

The problem with the world is that it tries to paint human beings as objects, often using language to accomplish tat goal. In some ways, we are fighting against our own minds to keep this from happening. Between racism, sexism, porn, abuse, politics, and misconceptions of religion, the idea that human beings are all made in God’s image gets lost. People are not problems… they’re people. It’s very easy to sit or stand in a place of privilege, and point a finger at a group, dehumanize them and see them as an object, or a problem. It’s much harder to look into the eyes of another human being and see the face of Christ there.

There is a sentiment often attributed to Joseph Stalin, though it has been stated many times in many eras, “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” This, sadly, has often been the case in history. Jesus, though, did the opposite, he approached the individual, dealt with the human aspect of any situation. He praised a Roman for his faith, interacted with women, welcomed foreigners, and accepted people as they were. (He never left them there, but did accept them as they were.) Jesus didn’t see numbers, he saw human beings.

Until we see others as people, as being made in the image of God, we will be lacking that love of God so crucial to life in the Kingdom. As long as we see numbers, problems, statistics instead of faces, stories, and suffering, we will ultimately miss the work God has set out for us.

Our language needs to reflect God’s love. We should all look at our language and ask what we mean when we discuss with others. When someone challenges us and points out our racist language, we need to be humble submit to one another in love and change our habits.

Your children listen to what you say and what those you respect say. What are they learning about how to speak with others? Are they learning love? Respect? Peace-making? Humility? Are they learning to speak of others as human beings, loved and cherished by the God who made them? Or are they being trained in the world’s mindset – to see people as numbers, statistics, problems?

May we speak truth, love, and peace to our children.


Is Violence Really Not the Answer?

As a child, I was often told the phrase, “Violence is not the answer,” to one conflict or another I might be having with my brother, or a friend, or a classmate. It seemed so wise at the time, that we, as children, were being entrusted with learning how to use diplomacy, develop trust, and become peacemakers. I can tell that the teaching had a great and lasting effect on me, especially when the phrase, “Well, if you’re gonna bomb them, go ahead and annihilate several cities so that we don’t drag this stupid war on for years,” vomits out of my mouth.

Violence has been in the news a ton recently. We have more mass shootings today than ever before, with very little constructive deliberation on how to curb it. (Notice I said “constructive.” No end of debate.) We’re hearing more threats of nuclear action now than we have since the slow decline of the Cold War back in the late 80s. Depictions of violence continue to find more and better ways to show the realism of what happens to a human body when it encounters knives, guns, bombs, fire, drowning, etc. And from what I can see… we all (American Christians, in general) seem ok with all of this…

I’ve been wrestling with violence and Christianity’s relationship with it a lot lately. To tip my hand, I have been working through the immense “Crucifixion of the Warrior God” by Greg Boyd, which seeks to lay out a hermeneutic (interpretive method) for dealing with the violent passages of Scripture. It’s challenged me to go back and really give a good, long, hard look at those passages that do depict violence and ask the questions, “How does this reflect God? What does this say about God’s story?”

I’ve also been thinking historically about Christianity’s relationship to violence. In its earliest days, violence was not something particularly loved by the church… mainly because it was the victim of a good deal of it. The early church had no say in the government’s use of violence, and so peaceful solutions seemed to be the choice of the day. However, once Christians got the reins of power and had some say, the view seemed to shift. (As usual, this is a broad oversimplification of a process of transition that took place over centuries and had multiple stages in its evolution.)

Today’s church looks like it has some choices to make in regards to violence. The question lingers, though: what happens when the church loses its influence on the American government? (Or any government for that matter.) How will the church view violence then?

I’m going to be honest and say I’m not sure where I fall anymore on the use of violence. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with going through a period of examination and thinking through each aspect of the argument. Is there a time when violence is justified? If so, what are the criteria? Who gets to make the call? How do we wrestle with the depictions of violence in Scripture?

For families, it is worth thinking about how you talk about violence with your children. Talk through the shows and media that take in: “What other options could the characters have chosen to solve this problem?” Ask questions to get kids thinking critically and creatively on how to solve problems. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll be the generation that finds a way to solve these problems we’re still working through today.

Gun Violence

Often times this blog is more of a place to allow me to air some thoughts that I feel are worth at least thinking about. I understand that not everyone will agree with all the thoughts, and, truly, that’s fine with me. As long as we can have a civil discussion (which I have had with several of you), I welcome disagreements and counter-thoughts that help me better understand the world around me. The news has been quite full lately of some pretty serious issues, and I’d like to write out some thoughts briefly. Also, I do not put the authority of ministry behind these thoughts, only the weight of a human, who like Israel, is constantly wrestling with God and what it means to be human, made in God’s image, and rescued by Jesus.

We are all, with regularity, terribly saddened by the deaths of so many at the hands of firearms – in schools, in homes, homicides, suicides. Before you start contacting me, hear me out. It may not be a regulation issue, even though we can do a much better job of that. It may not be a mental health issue, although we certainly need to do a better job at handling that. It is a sin issue… and that’s where the issue gets muddy. Is there sin in the hearts of those who would cause violence to innocents? Yes. Is there sin the hearts of some who look the other way when there are ways to stem the violence? Also, yes. Sin is the problem, and lies both in those that commit violence and in the idolatry of some who uphold their own rights and money instead of looking for ways to protect the vulnerable. I do believe in self-defense. I do believe there is merit to the second amendment and the heart with which the Framers wrote it.

Can I do anything to change things? Not really. I can meditate and prepare myself on how to survive situations. I can continue to train myself to use the firearms I do own. I can make sure my daughter understands firearm safety and gains a healthy respect for guns, the same as with knives, heavy machinery, and anything else that can end a life. I can prepare my children’s ministry for the possibility of an attack. I can pray for those who suffer loss. I can donate to support those who have lost loved ones. I can do all of these things, same as you.

If nothing else, use this as a moment to think about how you approach this issue. You may come out at a different position than I do, and that’s OK. What’s important is that you think, evaluate, pray, and have a rational and Scriptural foundation to your transformed, renewed mind that should be that of Jesus.

So I Guess the Church Needs to Talk About Sexual Assault?

There are so many times in my life when I ask the question, “Do we really have to say this out loud?” I ask this when I have to remind a child that poking their injury will indeed continue to cause pain and they should probably stop. And now we apparently have to say, to grown men of all people, that sexual assault, rape, and pedophilia are not ok and have never been ok. I would say I have no words, but you all know that’d be a lie.

The news has really been dealing with the concept of sexual harassment and assault lately. The sad fact is that generations of women have grown up receiving warnings of the “big bad wolves” of the world, being told “it’s just the way things are” and “boys will be boys.” It’s a shame, really. As a man, my parents raised me to treat women with respect, as human beings, not as something to be handled with kid gloves. Sure, I was taught to hold open a door and do what I can to make them comfortable, but that also applied to how I was to treat men as well. I was taught the Philippians 2 method – consider others better than myself.

I have heard that many of these allegations are politically motivated. I would disagree and say that this is the first time that women have felt safe enough and believed enough to actually come forward with these things. Going through sexual assault brings with it a lot of shame and self-doubt, which makes talking about the experience difficult. And, previous to now, most women were told to sit down and be quiet and not  mess up some guy’s career or life. This year, however, from sheer number of allegations alone, several high-profile men’s actions were brought to light: Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and more. Women finally have a society/culture they feel safer sharing their stories.

I would love to say that now that the process of outing these men has begun we can finally put all of this to rest and proclaim throughout the land that women will never have to deal with harassment and assault ever again; however, that would be naïve. It would also be naïve to think that there aren’t still men who will do whatever they want as long as they feel their power or cunning can shield them from repercussions. Women cannot be the only ones fighting this battle, defending themselves, decrying their persecutors with no one listening or taking them seriously until the overwhelming weight of multitudinous testimonies finally forces doubt aside by sheer volume.

The church should really stand up and treat sexual misconduct like this with the seriousness it deserves. We should follow Jesus’ example, who believed women, relied on women for material support during his ministry, and took their side in disputes. (See John 8, the story of the women caught in adultery. I have always found it telling that she was caught, but the man was nowhere to be found, which showed the religious people’s priorities.) Jesus’ message was one that each person was to be seen as having value, as being worth our time, as being a creation and child of God. Even the lopsided equality we have now is due to the inherent value placed on each human being in Judeo-Christian theology: from Exodus’s and Deuteronomy’s commands to look after the weak, powerless and foreigner as well as the many protections for women, to Jesus’ treatment of women and the role of women in the early church.

We, as the church, should not tolerate this kind of treatment of women – the crown jewel of creation. (Artist’s final creations are considered the master work, and women were created last, the finest part of creation.) We should take women at their word when they claim harassment. (I am well aware of the “crying wolf” that is often cited here to counter allegations. Those cases should be handled on an individual basis, and not used as a way to discredit half the population. And ask yourself, how many people would be willing to wreck their reputation, job prospects, and bring shame on their family on the slim chance that someone believes them and acts against a perpetrator?) We, as the church, should take the lead in educating men on consent, common decency, and that sexual misconduct of this nature is a zero-tolerance situation. We should remind women that they have a right to say “no” to any unwanted contact, that they have a right to speak up and be believed, and that their personhood is not threatened by having suffered. Women should expect to be sheltered and protected by the church after dealing with abuse, assault, or harassment. We should neither give men the benefit of the doubt just because they’re men, nor doubt women because they’re women. As a society, we’ve known about this stuff for far too long without doing a single thing about it. As a church, we should feel great shame about the lack of attention we have given to women who have suffered and persevered under abuse, assault, and harassment. We should repent, and begin the hard work of honestly evaluating the way we as a church and society handle these cases, and more importantly how we treat fellow human beings who have dealt with the pain and shame that comes from these situations.

And, sure, we can have guidelines like the Billy Graham rule and other fences around these situations, and can follow proper protocol, but it boils down to a heart issue – especially in men. Jesus said that if we think just following rules will prevent sin, go ahead and cut off every limb and cut out every sensory organ, making yourself physically incapable of breaking any rules… and become the most black-hearted, sin riddled torso that ever lived. The heart/attitude is the root of action. Change the hearts, change the minds, and change the culture.

How do you talk to your kids about consent, sex, and how to treat others? Have you discussed with your kids what to do in situations where sexual harassment or assault happen? Have you thought about how to respond if someone confides abuse, assault, or harassment to you? Have you thought about how to respond if your child confides abuse, assault, or harassment to you?

Remember, how you talk about those who have survived abuse, assault, and harassment (alleged or otherwise) will decide whether or not your child feels safe talking to you about their own experiences. Will your child feel safe to talk in your home?

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?

The Nashville Statement, Injured By Lateness

Being raised in a small business family meant I heard the pithy idioms of business such as, “What are the three most important things for any business? Location, location, location.” The point being that where a business is located can make or break it – considering things like entrances, ease of vehicle traffic, easily visible, etc. To this day I will pass by businesses and even some churches and think – “does anyone even know this is here?” Or “I’d love to stop there, but I’d never be able to get back out onto the road!”

On top of those business concerns, timing is everything. When to launch an advertising campaign – or for real estate people, when to purchase property and when to sell. Buy too early, and you’re stuck paying property taxes for years before any profits are made, and buy too late and your profit margin is cut precipitously.

I say all of this to make a broader point about timing and making broad statements like the now “infamous” (in secular, and some Christian circles) “Nashville Statement.” If you haven’t read the Statement, and would like to before I spoil the ending, click here.

Personally, theologically, I agree with the statement. See this post. And also this one. I think the language could probably use some tweaking to be less… I don’t know… legal-sounding? This document is trying to come off like some new Declaration of Independence, and might have seen more widespread acceptance even five years ago.

Here’s why the timing was off on this one. Many LGBT+ individuals and those who support them are feeling pressure from the current government. They feel attacked by recent Presidential statements and orders, such as the military transgender ban, and suddenly the Evangelical branch of the church decides to release this statement that they have seen as attacking them and their way of life. I realize that it takes time to write what some may feel needs to be an ironclad statement covering every single base, but the timing feels almost as if the church is backing up the government’s efforts to push against this group. And if these groups that feel attacked already distrust the church, they will certainly not love it more now.

I realize that there are some who will come back at me with verses that talk about the world hating Jesus and the Church. I understand that there are some verses that talk about people hearing what they want to and disregarding truth and orthodoxy. I am aware of the verses that talk about contention between the Church and the world. I understand the concept of “tough love.”

I am also aware of the the commissioning from Jesus to be “fishers of men.” And a good fisherman knows you don’t fish without bait. Right now it seems like we’re trying to catch fish with dynamite – which most certainly kills the fish in the process.

I am not saying to toss out orthodoxy. I am not saying to disregard Scripture for the sake of comfort. I am not advocating that the Statement itself is wrong – just the timing. Do we, as the Church, want to be seen as colluding with the government? (I don’t think the Church is, particularly, but it may seem that way for those outside the Church.) Christians need to be very careful feeling safe under any government. Christians need to be especially careful of feeling in control of any government, which is the moment Christians tend to become targets of manipulation.

To sum up – I don’t disagree with the affirmations in the Statement, but I disagree with the timing and feel it has been put out during a time when Evangelical Christians feel safer to say things boldly, instead of during a historical moment when it would have been more costly, say, during the previous presidency. In other words, this Statement was a little late, and may have come across as tone-deaf and lacking tact.

How do you live out your affirmations in a way that is bold, grace-filled, and backed by Scripture? When have you had a situation that waited too long before being addressed and became more difficult to discuss? How did it turn out? What conversations about faith or life have you been putting off with your kids?

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?