Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Hide of a Rhinoceros

I've been thinking about hurt feelings lately. Mainly because it was my feelings that were hurt. So here's what I've been wondering about.

There's this statement about ministers that they need to have the hide of a rhinoceros and the heart of a child. I don't know how true that is. It sounds pithy. And there's a good point behind it: you need to have a big heart and a thick skin. Which, when you think about it, the two are sort of in tension. Because when you open yourself up to care about other people -- whether in ministry, or just in general -- you become more sensitive to their likes & dislikes. And in being more sensitive to others, you tend to also become more sensitive about your own likes & dislikes. And especially when certain someones jump all over your dislikes -- it's difficult not to be offended.

So is the same true about developing a thick skin? In making you less susceptible to pain, does it also make you less loving in terms of sensing other people's pain? Questions I'm wondering about...

Because it is a virtue to me to not become irritable. I admire people who can step above the drama of feeling slighted. And I have a difficult time being with people who never pass up an opportunity to get upset. From Day 6 of The Love Dare:

To be irritable means "to be near the point of a knife." Not far from being poked. People who are irritable are locked, loaded, and ready to overreact.

If you're like me, you can instantly think of a handful of people who fit the profile. And they're probably difficult to get along with, or to make happy. And you don't wanna be like those people.

Until you realize that the things that offend them are probably the same kinds of things that get you up in arms. Am I right?

But that whole "hide of a rhinoceros" idea -- that doesn't mean that you're impervious. It does not mean that you have impregnable armor on. It just means your skin is thicker. So perhaps getting irritated isn't the same as being irritable. Right?

But how do you know the difference?

The one thing that comes to mind is what made Jesus irritated after he'd had his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He entered into the Temple, and was disgusted with the way commerce was happening there. And so he whipped into action. I don't believe I'm prepared to say that Jesus was irritable. I'm not sure anyone could say that. But he did get irritated.

And why? Was it becomes someone had stepped on his toes? Or become the final straw on the camel's back? No. It was because what broke the heart of God broke Jesus' heart. What was happening there violated God's values. It was wrong, and it deserved that response.

There's a sign at the athletic facility for the University of Alabama football players that Saban has the players look at & touch/tap before they enter the practice field. It says, "Out of myself and into the team." That is, that the team's ambitions, goals, and values are more important than any one person's ambitions, goals, and values. Or, to put it another way, "He must become greater; I must become less." (John 3:30) The things that violate God's values deserve a tough response. And the more that it is those kinds of things that upset us, rather than our own selfish pet peeves, I'd say that the more we can measure our spiritual growth.

I'm trying to learn that getting irritated does not necessarily mean I or anyone else is irritable. And I'm trying to discern the difference between the two. But sometimes I wonder if that requires more sober-minded thinking than I am even capable of.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pet Peeves

This will be short & sweet, but here's a thought -- how selfish are pet peeves? You know: those social behaviors that there aren't written down rules for that make you flip out. I'm trying to cut down on mine.

Why? Because it's hard enough for people to keep up with Scripture and the laws of the land. We also expect people to hold to some arbitrary code of morality of our own making that others must observe in our presence at all times? Who do we think we are? Isn't that the height of arrogance?

I suppose these sentiments are an open invitation for comments from friends that they may know will crawl under my skin to their own amusement. But whatever. I could stand to work on patience. We all could. I dare you to dump some of your pet peeves, and see if you don't become a more welcoming, loving person in the process.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lamenting the 21st Century 5-star Diva

For those of you who enjoy my sporadic rantings and ravings, I feel guilty for depriving you. It may sound like a pathetic excuse, but sometimes I begin to feel like there is too much girth of opinion and writing on the web. And, when you can probably find half a dozen like it if you look hard enough, what does my opinion really mean? With so much noise, what is one more yell into the echo-chamber?

Anyway, I waited long enough & I don't think there's an opinion out there like this one. It's another sports blog. I know I get sports heavy when I write. I apologize. But anyway, for those of you who like to read my words, here are a few more...

Lamenting the 21st Century 5-Star Diva

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Social Fruitflies

I had to chuckle at the sight of today's UrbanDictionary.com Word of the Day:

Social Fruitfly
Like a social butterfly, without any charm or beauty. An unwanted pest.

It brought to mind an old Randy Harris lesson. One of his points is that every church has a social fruitfly. He even cracked wise and said, "Now some of you think I'm lying, thinking, 'That's not true!... Some church is missing their's because we've got TWO!'" His point was that it takes a whole church to love on people like this. Not just one person can handle the job. Maybe Sister Always-Wears-Purple can give her a phone call & chat -- JUST for 15 minutes, because you can only take a Social Fruitfly in doses. And perhaps Brother Always-Talks-Football can make sure that the Social Fruitfly feels welcome the next time a group is getting together to catch a movie. Partly because Brother Always-Talks-Football would really do well to branch out in terms of thinking about what's important.

Everyone takes their turn. Nobody feels over-burdened. Everybody dispenses a little bit of the grace that they themselves have already received.

Jesus loved the least of these. The Social Fruitflies -- they appear to have been real comfortable around Him. He became known for the love that he showed them. And then Jesus made the pivot to say, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

I think that includes the Social Fruitflies.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Annointing a Saint

Don't call it a comeback. Call it a Revival.

Wrote a few words about the passing of a good athlete & great person over at a blog I do with a buddy that we call "Saints, Sinners, and Sports." You should check it out.

"Of Sinners & Saints"

Thursday, June 03, 2010

'Nobody's Perfect'

No, I will not be exegeting the hit song by Billy Ray Cyrus' daughter.

They say that sports is a microcosm of life. That being the case, Armando Galarraga taught the world how life is supposed to be lived: with a smile on your face, and with no malice in your heart.

In case you're not a baseball fan, I should help you catch up. On Wednesday night, the young Galarraga was on the verge of throwing a perfect game. It's so rare that it's only happened 20 times in Major League Baseball history. What's a perfect game? That's where a pitcher retires all 27 batters he faces without allowing any walks, hits, hit batsmen, or errors. That last one is critical, because it means your team-mates have to be perfect, too. And as we learned tonight, so do the umpires.

Let's pick it up in the 9th inning. Galarraga had faced 24 batters, and none of them had reached first base. The first batter of the 9th inning steps in, launches a rocket, and Armando got a little help from his friends with an incredible catch by Austin Jackson. It was so stunning that Armando himself unleashed a grin at how good his fortune was that Jackson hauled in that fly ball. 2 outs away.

After a groundball out to shortstop, only one out separated Galarraga from a perfect game. What happened next, as FDR once said, will go down in infamy.

You just have to watch for yourself.

The first base umpire blew the call. He admitted it himself. [ESPN]

"It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the [stuff] out of it," Jim Joyce said, looking and sounding distraught as he paced in the umpires' locker room. "I just cost that kid a perfect game."

"I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay."

Never has wrong been so unanimously wrong.

And as far as we know, nothing can be done about it. Major League Baseball's instant replay rules didn't allow that play to be reviewed. So it stood. Perhaps the Commissioner could make a special ruling, but that would be unprecedented.

A perfect game -- baseball immortality -- robbed by the proverbial blind ump. It's the stuff of a Classic Greek tragedy.

But that's not the end of the story.

Sports and social media went into a firestorm as the game ended. Twitter was all aflutter. Every single baseball analyst was getting their words in. Even former sportscasters that now host shows on cable news networks. The consensus? "This was wrong!" You can probably identify with it: an overwhelming injustice was done. I think it's fair to say that our nation hasn't seen anyone upstage a big moment like this ever since Kanye West did the deed to Taylor Swift. It's that big.

And if you still don't quite get it, maybe this will help. There are scant few things in life that you can point at & not criticize. Especially in your own life. How many things have you ever completed in your life that you can look back upon & call it perfect?? Unless you're one of those people who grew up never missing a day of class in school, and never had so much as even an A-, and never so much as saw a pimple when you looked in the mirror, you've never been perfect. We've all had blemishes; we've all had ink blots on our record at one point or another.

Which is what makes the luster of a perfect game all the more special & sacred. For ONE day -- for one brief moment in time -- a pitcher can point to that and say, "That was perfect."

Until that moment is robbed from you by someone else's imperfection.

And then, in the locker-room after the game, with more maturity than anyone else in the world demonstrated on Twitter, on the diamond, in the press box, or anywhere else, Armando Galarraga shrugged off the bad call by saying, "Nobody's perfect." I'm not sure how you muster the will to say those words. But he did. Twice. [MLB]

Galarraga said he gave Joyce a hug when Joyce apologized to him after the game.

"He really feels bad," Galarraga said. "He probably feels more bad than me. Nobody is perfect. I give a lot of credit to that guy. That (an apology) doesn't happen. He apologized. He feels really bad. Nobody is perfect. What am I gonna do? His body language said more than a lot of words. His eyes were watery, he didn't have too say much. His body language said a lot."

And here's where the game being a microcosm of life pivots from mere entertainment to teach us something about our existence. Armando's right. Nobody is perfect. Life is not fair. It is one of the more difficult discoveries of life when you begin to realize this fact yourself. And I'm not just talking about the cruel twists of fate where the ball doesn't bounce your way. It's especially heart-breaking when people let you down. And they're going to. 'Cause nobody's perfect.

And how we deal with that fact determines in large part how we deal with life going forward. It is perhaps the definitive hallmark of maturity for one to be able to be able to react in a positive way to other people when they deliver to you a negative experience. Extending mercy when outrage feels better, or even right. To give your wife a hug when she locks her keys in the car for the third time this year. Or to give your husband a kiss when he gets lost despite the presence of a Rand McNally map, an iPhone, and a Garmin. Or cracking a wry smile on the field, and effectively shrugging your shoulders in the locker room, when an umpire blows your perfect game.

Armando Galarraga's reaction begs me the question, and I pass it along to you as well: am I that sort of person? Or am I way more impatient?

I want to be like Armando. I want to be the kind of person that gives people permission to be human. I want to be able to not break bruised reeds or not snuff out smoldering wicks (Is. 42:3). But there are far too many moments where I'm not.

I wish I had a visual reminder. I think that would help. If I had an image that stood before me day after day that would remind me for all time that nobody's perfect. Because no matter how much I look in the mirror, Satan always seems up to the challenge to twist my thinking.

I think I have just such an image in mind. A poster. A wide-lense photograph from down the first baseline, back in the stands behind home plate. It would be of the moment right after Galarraga touched first base with his right foot. He's starting to lift his arms in triumph & he's looking up at the umpire. And Jim Joyce is emphatically extending his arms to make his infamous, heart-breaking call. And in true Successories style, this poster would have a caption.

I think you know what it would say.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

When Pop-Culture Meets Epistemology

WARNING: spoilers lie ahead. If you aren't caught up on all the latest episodes of LOST, save this to read later

A great little piece of pop-culture is set to expire in just over a week. The ABC television series "LOST" comes to a close on May 23rd when it airs it's 2-and-a-half-hour finale.

Part of the show's great appeal has been how difficult it is to figure out what exactly is going on. If you don't watch the show, that might seem strange. And it is. The show turns you upside down so many times that you can scarcely decide which way is actually up. It is the epitome of the phrase coined by Winston Churchill, "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." Just when you think you have figured out what is going on, the show peels back another layer of the onion to reveal a perspective you haven't even been aware of before.

Take the notion of figuring out what the island is. There are at least a half-dozen theories. The island is Atlantis. The island is the Garden of Eden. Perhaps the island is a just a place for the cursed -- a place where people are tortured and ultimately sentenced to die. And then there are island mythologies that have been presented to the viewers this season. Jacob, a very influential character, shows another character a bottle of wine, and suggests that the island is the cork that keeps the contents of the bottle from spilling out & ruining the rest of the world. And now, more recently, we were introduced to Jacob's mother. She shows her sons a sinkhole that a small stream empties into & that has an unearthly golden glow emanating out of it. Jacob's mother then explains that this is the light of the world, and that if it goes out on the island it goes out everywhere else in the world.

If you don't watch the show, and you've stayed with me this far, God bless you. Because you're probably thinking what I'm thinking, "This is just some murky bologna." That's exactly what it is. But it all serves to cause you to question how you know what it is you think you know -- the question of epistemology. A point that Entertainment Weekly's requisite LOST writer "Doc" Jensen touched on this week:

To behold ("the golden light" from the sinkhole) is to take a metaphysical Rorschach text. I might see God and a call to worship. Someone else might see science and a call to investigate. Someone else might see a practical joke and start looking around for Ashton Kutcher. I suspect Lost would say that no single interpretation is correct; that those who insist on a single interpretation couldn’t be more incorrect; that the history of human catastrophe on The Island is comprised of eras of dogmatic, abusive interpretation run amok.

Terrifying thought, isn't it?

And then you take a glimpse at the real world, and real human history. Where there were things like the Aryan supremacy movement in 1930's Germany (partly a result of faith in Darwin's "survival of the fittest" thinking), and The Crusades (whose effects echo down through the centuries all the way to today's "War on Terror"). "Dogmatic, abusivve interpretation run amok" can explain a lot of sad parts of our history.

It's almost enough to make you want to swear off taking a stand on anything, which is an error of another kind. Pluralism reigns. Which "Doc" Jensen goes on to address, thinking about what is the message of LOST:

It could be that LOST is philosophically relativistic and religiously pluralistic — but given everything else we've seen on the show, I think what's more likely is that Lost just doesn't trust human beings enough to know "the right answer." We are too flawed, too damaged, too biased, too selfish, too incapable, too limited, too mortal, just plain too much of this world to be able to really and fully know what this world is really all about. To paraphrase Mother: All our answers will only lead to more questions. It's an infinite progression into infinite regression — "turtles all the way down" cubed, to use a phrase that I'm too stupid and tired and lazy to explain, but feel free to look it up. I don't think LOST is saying to stop pursuing truth. Not at all. I think it's more concerned with how we conduct our search and how we can labor with our neighbor in their search.

It all brings to mind the old parable about seeking truth. Say you blind-folded 4 men, and had them feel out an elephant. What would they say they found? One man might discover the tail, and declare that it is a rope. Another man might discover the trunk, and call what he found a huge snake. Another man might feel out the tusks, and say he discovered a spiny beast with spears protruding out of it. And another might just feel up the side of the elephant, and say that it is like a great wall. The point being that we’re all essentially half-blind creatures (at best) with very limited perspectives. Paul might say, “we see as through a mirror dimly.”

Which is very difficult for an Evangelical like me. Because while I believe that the text I’m handling is inerrant, I can’t really believe in my ability to meet it all out infallibly. I'm only human.

So, that being the case, I'm going to need grace for the errors I will inevitably make.

And that being the case, I probably oughta have grace with others on theological errors they may happen to make. Because if we want forgiveness, we have to forgive.

Ultimately, the point is humility. Because while we've all cobbled together a set of beliefs about what our world is & where its going, we'd be hard-pressed to claim full knowledge & insight into the goings-on around us. To have enough humility to maintain an open mind. To not be closed off to other possibilities when the next layer of the onion is peeled back before us.

Such a conclusion seems to clash with the idea of "boldness," something that the book of Acts speaks a lot about. Until next time...

Friday, May 07, 2010

My Friend, So Long -- Part 2

I imagine what it must have been like.

The Church at Corinth meets together at their regular time on Sunday morning. There's a buzz before worship starts on this day, though. News is being passed around that can only be described as startling. It's being bandied about that one of the young adult guys actually is sleeping with his step-mother! Can you believe this? It is UNbelievable...

"That's right! Unbelievably AWESOME! High fives all around. What a score for him, right?!"

This is how the Church at Corinth reacts apparently. Surprised? This is a town where, when you show up on someone's doorstep, instead of a doorbell you're greeted with shapes of human reproductive organs. You see, in 1st century Corinth, sexual irregularity was a virtue. The kinkier the better. It's like your most awkward bachelor or bachelorette party, only it's every day life in Corinth.

And you thought OUR culture was in the dump.

In our last installment, we engaged some of the questions that Jennifer Knapp's out-of-the-closet announcement raised. In this installment, I just want to focus on one:

What does it mean for kingdom people to dwell with Jennifer Knapp?

Raised by Scot McKnight, this to me is the most challenging and most pressing question. Questions about nature & nurture are interesting (not to mention eternally inconclusive) but ultimately secondary to the fundamental issue of how we deal with people. Because for kingdom people, our greatest commandments -- our primary standing orders -- address how we deal with others.

So, kingdom people, how should we dwell with Jennifer?

Let's pick up where we just left off. Our primary command is to love. To love with everything we have, and to love as much as we love ourselves. So how we respond, it should occur to us, needs to come from a primary motive to love.

But love is a very complicated thing. Love doesn't always result in saccharin, feel-good niceties.

Take the Apostle Paul. In his relationship with the Church at Corinth, scholars tell us that Paul wrote at least 4 letters. FOUR letters. "But I only have 2 in my Bible." That's right. But Paul references the other letters he wrote -- which we do not have any copies of -- in the 2 letters we do have. We know that Paul wrote one of the letters before he wrote 1st Corinthians. And we know that Paul wrote the other letter in between writing the two letters we have in our Bibles: the ones that we call 1st & 2nd Corinthians. Paul talks about THAT letter right here:

So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? I wrote as I did so that when I came I should not be distressed by those who ought to make me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.

Notice that this letter, which Paul later references again & is often called "the sorrowful letter," was written out of "distress," "anguish of heart," "with many tears," and out of "the depth of (his) love." Paul apparently had to spank the Corinthians verbally. But he did so out of a motive of love.

Paul didn't do this so that he could feel better about himself. He didn't unleash his rage just to vent all of his pastoral frustration on these difficult people. That wouldn't have been love; that would have been selfish. Instead, Paul wrote what he did out of love, because he loved that church too much to not say something.

I want it to be well-attested here that what comes next comes from a place of love. And, in that sense, a complicated love. Because I've never actually met Jennifer Knapp personally. I don't know her, and she doesn't know me. Which makes it difficult to even address this issue. In her Larry King interview, Jennifer verbally spanked Pastor Bob Botsford for having the gall to speak to her as a spiritual mentor when he doesn't even have a real relationship with her to speak of.

And yet, here we are in the 21st century. With rock-and-roll superstars that you feel like you know, and digital connections that shrink the world.

I don't know Jennifer. And yet I can't escape the notion that I know a lot about her. The fact that Jennifer wrote her lyrics with a remarkable depth and quality says a lot about her as a person. And those lyrics themselves say a lot about her, too. The fact that when I listen to her music I sense that she's mining out from the depths of my own heart speaks to the connection that she's fashioned -- not only with me, but with all her fans. The nature of fanhood in the 21st century produces an "unknown knowing" level of relationship that, while certainly odd, cannot be denied.

I feel a deep gratitude to Jennifer for her music. A gratitude for the entertainment quality. A gratitude for her giving words & lending her voice to deep spiritual insights. A gratitude for the companionship of her music in vulnerable moments. Her music has been a gift, and she's made her fans feel loved by it.

That connection, while not a personal one-on-one association, moves me to speak.

Not only that, but here I am expressing these ideas on a blog. Perhaps you found them via a link on Facebook. Maybe even a couple of you will go post a link to this on Twitter. The world is small. Whenever we move on geographically through our various stages of life, we're no longer forced to leave our friends behind. We still connect with them. It's wild. Churches are no longer simply small pockets & reservoirs of spirituality located in church buildings a few days a week. Churches are interacting with each other every day through status updates and instant messages. And churches aren't limited geographically. They're interconnected by whatever your standards of friendship are on Facebook.

So I say what I say about Jennifer not just as a member of the Lynn Haven Church of Christ -- wagging my finger at her & whatever church she attends across some spanse of space. I say this as one believer to another in this large, increasingly boundary-less group of believers.

So I hope I don't get verbally spanked by Jennifer like Bob Botsford did. I just love her. Yes, perhaps just fan love. But it is from a place of love, and motivated out of love.

Back to Corinth. Again.

This blog entry opened briefly with the tale of the immoral brother from 1st Corinthians 5. A man was sleeping with his father's wife. And looking closely at the original language, this was probably an on-going affair -- not just a one-time event.

And the congregation accepted this. Celebrated this. They thought that this was a good thing.

It didn't matter what they thought, though. Because the Kingdom of God isn't a democracy where you can sway sentiment & public opinion to establish your own idea of what's right & wrong. We live under the reign of God. Only His vote matters. What He says goes.

Then Paul wrote the following:

I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."

Two harsh points need to be made here.

#1, Is it the Church's place to judge Jennifer? Actually, yes. "Say whaaaaaat??" We have the responsibility as believers to look after our own. And while we have to be cautious about that, and remove the planks from our own eyes before we go speck-hunting in others' eyes, Paul twice here mentions passing judgment on those who are in the faith. How could we ignore that?! We can't ignore that. It's right there in the text, plain as day, in black & white.

While Jennifer Knapp remains in a same-sex romantic relationship, she remains in sin. She can turn away from that lifestyle choice at any time. But so long as she is steadfast in this choice, she is steadfast in sin.

I want to clarify: it's not the urge or the temptation that makes it sin, it is the choice. Here in 1st Cor. 5, Paul mentions a variety of sins that we may be more drawn or less drawn to. That said, I can't imagine any of them being as tempting as what Jennifer faces. But some people, it seems, are born to struggle with something.

I think about Frank Abagnale, Jr., the character at the center of the film "Catch Me If You Can." That man was born to be a swindler. And swindle he did. Until one day he repented. He didn't change his nature; he changed his mind. And he went to work for the FBI to fight financial fraud. I can't imagine how difficult it must be for him to know methods & cons where he could defraud people in seconds, and yet chooses not to. He has a gift. It almost seems like he was born with it. And yet, he has turned away.

Jennifer, too, can turn away. And it might be a thousand times more challenging to live with than Abagnale's predisposition. But she must turn. It's important that she hears that from her brothers & sisters who love her.

Harsh point #2... The church really needs to re-orient its attitude toward the homosexual community. Paul clearly instructs that this posture toward the immoral brother is NOT the same posture to take with the world. Go read it again: "not at all meaning the people of this world..." and "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?"

Christians need to grasp the concept that the world is going to be the world. The "homosexual community" -- the one that primarily exists outside of faith -- they're going to be who they are. And they may intimidate you & make you feel really weird. DEAL with it. They are who they are, and they're going to be who they're going to be. Let go of the hate. Let go of the spite. And stop talking like they're what's wrong with the world. SIN is what's wrong with the world.

The church needs to shut its mouth about condemning homosexuals as a group. That's not our job. We need to stop hating, and start learning how it is we're going to be salt and light to these people & maybe win over a few of them. That's what Jesus would do. That's what Paul would do. That's what we need to do. Period.

One of my other favorite voices in the community of Contemporary Christian Music is dcTalk. They haven't been together as a group for almost a decade. But they're still rocking concert venues as solo artists and fill-in lead singers (Michael Tait now performing as lead singer for Newsboys... weird, huh?).

It seems they knew that they were coming to an end as a band & were about to launch their solo careers. In their final full album, they released a song called, "My Friend (So Long)." It was sort of a warning to from each of them to themselves. From the beginning they'd used the music of dcTalk to honor God & further the Kingdom. And, going their separate ways, they didn't want to see any of them use their fame to launch solo careers that were only out to make money & bring honor to only themselves. So they wrote this song as an intervention to make a pact to keep honoring God with their music.

When I listen to this song, I can't help but think of people I've known who've left the faith. People I've cared about who've gone astray. It's a sad song. And now, I think about Jennifer.

Embedding is disabled, but here's the link to the song on YouTube. And here are the lyrics:

I heard your record on the telephone
It was my cousin, Joan
She picked it up in the top 40 rack and then...

I read your interview in Rolling Stone
You threw the boys a bone
And so I genuinely felt obliged to call...

I know You never meant to hurt us, man
We're just "a baby band"
You found a quicker way
To scale the wall of fame...

The situation's awfully dim
Should we up and go with him?
No way [no way, 1, 2, 3, 4]

We know exactly where you are, and you're gone [my friend]
Don't know exactly where you're coming from
You've gone away my friend
We know exactly where you are, and you're gone [my friend]
Don't know exactly where you're coming from
Have you gone astray [gone]

I saw your video on VH1
Looks like they spent a ton
How does it feel to be the flavor for a spell...

And I remember when you used to say
"Jesus is the way"
I never thought I'd see your light begin to fade...

The situation's awfully dim
Should we up and go with him?
No way [no way, 1, 2, 3, 4]

(repeat chorus)

Don't think we don't miss you
[We think about you every day]
We still love you anyway
[Love don't go away]
There's still this burning question
[I got to know] Why?

[What will people think when they
Hear that I'm a Jesus freak?]

Ah, ah, ah [hey]
[While this is something of fantasy]
[The moral of the story is]
[To stick with your friends]
Ah, ah, ah, ah [hey]
Ah, ah, ah, [hey]
Ah, ah, ah [hey, hey, 1, 2, 3, 4]

(repeat chorus)

Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, and you're gone [my friend]
Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, so long
You've gone away, my friend
Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, and you're gone [my friend]
Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, so long
We'll see you someday
Wish you well
Na, na, na, na, na, my friend

So how should kingdom people dwell with Jennifer Knapp? I guess I can only answer how this kingdom person is going to dwell with Jennifer Knapp.

* I'm not going to buy any of her new music. I won't be going to any of her upcoming concerts. As much as I'd love to listen to her new tunes, I can't abide her choices. I won't support those choices with my money.

* I'll continue to keep up with her goings-on. I'll be watching from afar as she talks about her life, her faith, her lifestyle choice to love another woman. I'll be hoping that last one changes. I'll be praying for her regularly.

* And I'll keep listening to her old music that I still have on my iPod. I'm not going to delete any record of her & purge her from my memory. That seems inappropriate. I still love her old expressions of faith put to song. To me now, they're like pictures in an old photo album that remind me better times with her. Those aren't going away. I'll still be listening to those, probably praying as I hear each song.

So this is where we part. Jennifer has made her choice. I've outlined how I can't abide that choice.

One more thing: I don't feel like I, or the church, is leaving Jennifer. Point of fact, she left us. Maybe she didn't want to; maybe one day she'll come back. I'll be hoping and praying for that day.

My friend, so long.

Friday, April 30, 2010

My Friend, So Long -- Part 1

News broke three weeks ago, in an interview, that celebrated Christian music artist Jennifer Knapp had come out. She announced that she'd been in a long-term same-sex relationship. The most conflicting element of this admission was that she still considers herself a follower of Jesus and a person of faith.

There have been all sorts of reactions. Mean-spirited comments have been broadcast where some believers have denounced her for using Christian music as a platform to make a name for herself. People outside the Christian faith have risen to her cause, no doubt seeing her as a political football to trounce the Evangelical movement. Both types of people not seeing a person I'd say; rather, seeing an icon that they could impersonally use to raise up their particular brand of vitriol.

Mostly the reaction has been sadness. From the people I've spoken with, to the blogs I've perused, to the buzz I've seen on Twitter, the general feedback has been grief. Not bitterness. Not ill will. Not even resentment or spitefulness. Just sadness. Some disappointment that such a high-profile believer would let people down. But mostly just grief at her decision.

I was proud of the Church at large in seeing that. I find it appropriate.

An endless amount of questions are raised with such a revelation. Larry King asked some of them when Jennifer appeared on his show. BTW, you can watch that interview in full RIGHT HERE (it is in a series of 4 videos on YouTube. You can catch the link to the next part of the interview at the end of each video.).

A sampling of the most salient questions:

- Is this her choice?
- Was she born this way?
- Does Jennifer still call herself a Christian artist?
- What does it mean to be homosexual? Are you already in sin if you're just attracted to someone of the same sex?
- Can you be both Christian and gay?
- Written in Greek, is the New Testament all that clear that homosexuality is a sin?
- Why highlight this issue over other issues? Scripture says so little about it, compared to other issues. Why make so much about it?
- What does it mean for kingdom people to dwell with Jennifer Knapp? (raised by Scot McKnight)

To me, the latter questions are the most interesting, and the ones I want to spend the most time with here. I can't answer the questions about Jennifer's sexual nature. I don't believe Scripture speaks clearly enough about it. What is there might tilt in favor of one perspective, but it doesn't give us definitive answers on this issue. So I'm not going to pretend to have them.

But what is in Scripture always provides a way forward. So I hope I can point in that direction for the questions that are most important.

First, why make so much of this issue? Jennifer said it this way in the Larry King interview:

"If I am a sinner and homosexuality is a sin -- let's go on that premise for a moment -- then what separates that sin from maybe, I'm angry, or mad, or I cheat....what separates that as so grievous to you that we have to sit here and have this conversation?"

There are so many different sins in the Bible. There are so many other verses in the Bible talking about so many other issues. Why do Evangelical Christians put a magnifying glass on this one?

The questions are accusatory in nature, and they are two-fold. First, that we're making a mountain out of a mole-hill. And second, that we're being selective about who/what we show contempt for.

If I may, allow me to start with 1st Corinthians 6:9-10...

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

This is just one list, among other lists and other passages, that highlight lifestyle choices that are incompatible with life in the kingdom of God.

On this list are sins that get a lot of social attention (e.g. sexual immmorality, homosexuality, greed, etc.) and some that don't get as much (e.g. idolaters, slanderers, etc.). And all of them should get attention. Paul spoke about how he strove to deliver "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). And so should we. We should not shrink back from declaring how we fall prey to idolatry even in the 21st century, or how we slander public officials when we forward along E-mails rife with lies & mis-truths. Every single one of those issues should be given attention by people of faith.

But that doesn't mean that each of them should get the same amount of attention. Because we unfortunately don't live in a vacuum. We live in a culture. And that culture intersects with our faith in ways that are sometimes uncomfortable. And because of those intersections, some topics require more attention than others. Even if Scripture doesn't treat such issues as often as it treats topics like love or faith or money, the context of this world warrants their consideration. I happen to think homosexuality is one of those topics.

And of the sins on that list, there aren't a lot of them that a person of faith would succumb to and still maintain that they were sinless in the sight of God. Maybe greed. Greed is one of those sneaky sins that you can justify with words like, "Well I'm just good with money." So maybe people pass off greed; and we need to speak louder about that. I'll grant that. But I'd say that not even the greedy brush it off as matter-of-factly as Jennifer did in her various interviews.

Why is this sin of Jennifer's capturing our attention? Because it's not often that one of our own turns against what is written. It is not ordinary for a lifestyle choice that is clearly outlined as being unacceptable when under the reign of God to be shoved upon the Church to be accepted. It isn't run-of-the-mill for someone to be open about sin and yet staunchly maintain that she is in fact still in communion with God. I'd call this issue unique enough to be deserving of the attention it has raised.

But what about those words there in 1st Corinthians 6? Is it really homosexuality, or some other 1st century practices, that Paul was condemning when he originally wrote in Greek?

Jennifer raised this question in her Larry King interview. It's a question that has garnered more scrutiny in the last half-century as homosexuality has sought social acceptance.

The first word is malakoi, or malakos in it's singular form. The second word is arsenokoitai, or arsenokoitns in it's singular form. Paul chose two expressive & explicit words when he chose them, as they are descriptive of the dominant and passive roles in a same-sex engagement. Exactly what sort of same-sex engagement is what is at issue. "Both terms have received intense lexicographical scrutiny," says Anthony Thiselton. Some argue that Paul might have referred to male prostitution in general, or sacred male prostitution in religious service at Corinth. Or perhaps Paul was referring to the the practice of pedophilia when young boys were forced into temple service in Corinth.

On one side, we have the argument of the late Michael Vasey, who cautions that (in the society of imperial Rome) 1st century Jews & Christians saw a "form of homosexuality [which] was strongly associated with idolatry, slavery and social dominance. It was often the assertion of the strong over the bodies of the weak." On the other side, we have the argument of Richard Oster, who insists, "The historical record is quite clear that homoerotic activity was not confined only to pederasty in the classical world."

That's just a glimpse, but deeper and deeper the debate burrows into scholarship. And I suspect most of my readers will side with the their teacher from Harding Grad School. I do, too. In the words of Richard Hays, "The New Testament will not permit us to condone homosexual behavior."

(BTW, I fully endorse that book by Hays. If you're looking for a full, comprehensive, and compassionate treatment of the subject, I can't imagine anything out there beats his chapter on homosexuality in that book. The whole chapter is framed around his homosexual friend Gary. For that matter, the whole book is excellent for figuring out how to engage all sorts of social hot-button topics & be faithful to Scripture. Just buy the book.)

The substance of an argument against malakoi and arsenokoitai is frankly weak. In her Larry King interview, even Jennifer's mention of the alleged ambiguity in terms is weak. She can't bring herself to say that the Bible accepts the behavior; the strongest thing she can say is, "I don't know." That's a pretty flimsy fulcrum on which to rest one's faith.

What disturbs me is that, by all appearances, it wasn't Jennifer's study that led her to doubt the weight of scholarship-accredited Scripture. She leaves the overwhelming impression that it was her own feelings and personal passions that swayed her thinking. Certainly experience enriches our perspective on Scripture and life. But personal experience doesn't re-write the text.

To be continued...

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why Everything (Stinks)

One of the more awkward subjects (for me, at least) to bring up in Church is the Old Testament subject of idolatry. It's just weird. You melt all your collective jewelry together in the shape of an animal, and then you bow & pray to it? It makes the people of the days of yore sound like morons.

And so the first two of the Ten Commandments are designed to offset this apparently considerable temptation:

#1 - You shall have no other gods before me
#2 - Do not fashion any graven image & bow down or worship it

...which, the phrasing of the first commandment sort of begs the question: ARE there any actual other gods, or deities, that are out there to be worshiped? Well, 1st Cor. 8:4-7 would seem to answer a strong "No" when Paul says, "We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one."

But even he confesses a few sentences later, "But not everyone knows this." Aha! And a few chapters later, in 1st Cor. 10:19-20, Paul teaches that sacrifices to idols are received by demons. Which seems to indicate that they are essentially puppet-masters. And we of course know, from Paul in Eph. 6:10-12, that our struggle is against the forces of that world.

So it would seem that the answer to my question is "Yes" and "No." No in that there is no God but Jehovah. But yes in that there are other powers that prey on the ignorance of humans apart from Christ. And in their ignorance about the truth of the one God -- whether they realize it or not -- people surrender to the realm of demonic-pupeteered idols. And as they pay homage to these spirits, they allow them to exercise power over their lives. And, in doing so, such realities gain for those who acknowledge them actual, objective existence.

Have I lost you yet? I hope not.

All of that serves as a preface for this:

We have a whole industry of magazines & networks that glorify beautiful, young, dumb people in trendy places. Paris Hilton. MTV reality stars. Vampire movie stars. Disney's latest pre-pubescent cash cows. The whole lot of them. They're all part of the deification of youth.

And we don't stop there. We idolize athletes. What is more youthful than young phenoms achieving great athletic feats? We idolize the brands they market that make us feel young with them. It's a whole system integrated into our society.

The part that gets me is how people mutilate their bodies. All to appeal to the expectations of the great god of youth.

So maybe those people in the Old Testament weren't morons at all. Maybe we're even more blockheaded. And maybe the reason everything sucks -- as Craig Ferguson put it -- is because we've been duped into worshipping the wrong god.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My Favorite Prodigal Son Story

The shame of a really great story or sermon illustration is that you only really get to use them once. This is maybe the best story I've ever run across. I can't take credit for it. I heard it presented by a preacher named Ronnie White from Midland, TX. It made an impression on me, as well as others when I've shared it in the past.


G.W. Ravensbury was an itinerant preacher back many years ago. That's how he made his living: preaching off of trains. He'd ride a train to one town, preach, get back on the train, and head to another town.

Ravensbury tells the story of a train ride he took that was more strange than many of the others. Ravensbury was sitting at the back of his train car, and he noticed that there was this young gentleman who was sitting a few rows ahead of him. He had this cardboard suitcase stuffed real tight up underneath his seat. And he appeared very anxious. This man would get up, pace the car for a bit, and then sit back down. He did this every 10 minutes or so.

Finally Ravensbury decided that he would go have a chat with the young man. So he got up, asked if he could have a seat next to him, and introduced himself.

"Son, my name's Ravensbury, and I'm a preacher. You seem like you've got a lot on your mind. Would you like to talk?"

Ravensbury said it was like opening up a spigot. The young man's life story just came pouring out.

"Me and my pa didn't get along well at all when I was coming up. We'd fuss & fight. Shoot, we'd get into it over nuthin'.

"One day we were getting after each other real hard -- I can't even remember what about -- when I said something like, 'Well why don't I just LEAVE!' And my Daddy said, 'Son, there's the door, don't let it hit you on the backside on the way out.' I didn't really want to go, but I was so angry that I went to my room & packed everything I could fit into my cardboard suitcase. As I went to leave, my Daddy yelled back at me & said, 'SON... if YOU WALK OUT THAT DOOR... don't you EVER come back.' I was so mad I just left.

"Things didn't go too well for me after that. I kept wandering from one po'dunk town to another working one piddlin' job after another, and I wasn't doing too good. One night I was out drinking with some buddies, and we got this idea to try to rob this liquor store. When we got caught, I got sentenced to prison.

"But before I got out, I decided to write home to Mom and Dad. I told them I was in prison, and about to get out. I said I was sorry for how I left and for what I did. That I'd understand if they never wanted to see me again, but I'd be passing through town. You see, my house is just off the tracks here about 10 miles ahead. I told them that if they wanted to see me to tie something white out in the tree. That if there wasn't anything white, I'd just go on through to the next town & they'd never have to hear from me again.

"Mr. Ravensbury, if there's nothing white hanging out in that tree, I don't know what I'm gonna do. I'm at the end of my rope. I just don't know what I'm gonna do."

Ravensbury said that as they grew closer, the young man became even more nervous. Finally, the young man nudged Ravensbury and said, "My house is right up around this bend. Do you think you could see if there's anything white tied there for me? I just can't look."

Ravensbury said he pressed his forehead up against the window hoping to see something -- ANYthing -- that was white tied up in a tree. And he said as they turned that corner, it was the most majestic sight he'd ever seen. Apparently that family had emptied their house of every towel, every wash cloth, every bed spread, every pillow case, even every piece of underwear -- EVERYTHING in that house was out there flapping in that tree. It was just a tree of white out there in that yard.

Ravensbury called to the boy, "Young man... LOOK!"

As soon as the young man caught a glimpse of the tree, he grabbed his suitcase, rushed out the door, & leaped off the train car as quick as he could. Ravensbury said that the last image he saw was of that young man dragging his cardboard suitcase up the hill, and an older couple bursting out of the house to come greet him.

And Ravensbury said that THAT is a picture of what God's grace is like. That the cross was God's way of emptying Heaven's linen closet of everything white so that it would be known for all-time that God wants us home. No matter what we've done, or where we've been -- for us please just to come home.


"If you'd like to respond to the invitation..." ;)

Good stuff, huh?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

mmmmm... That's Good Stuff

I've got a buddy who, when he has a rich experience (e.g. quality time with one of his sons, a perfect surprise for his wife, wonderful worship with the saints, etc.), he calls it "delicious." I love teasing him about that. But mainly I love him because of that -- how he savors rich moments in life.

When I read the following, I thought it was delicious. Not because it describes something grand. But because it is as grand a description of human despair as I've read in a while. From Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years...

I clasped my hand over my heart and knelt between the bed and the television and rolled onto the floor and cried out to God a lamenting demand that he would come and save me from the sorrow that, for the immensity of it, I could only attribute to him in the first place. I didn't want to learn whatever it was he wanted to teach me. I cried out to him an angry petition for rescue. I doubted him and needed him at the same time. God seemed to me, in that moment, a cruel father burning a scar into my skin with his cigarette. And yet I knew he was the only one with the power to make the pain go away.

mmmmmmmm. Ever been there? I know a few of you have. I won't give it away, but Miller gives a keen insight on suffering I don't believe I've ever heard or considered. I assure you: it's much more than a cruel father burning a scar into your skin with a cigarette. It was so incisive that it made James 1:2 make actual sense for the first time in my life.

But it's not just about human suffering. If I were to sum it up, what Miller is trying to accomplish with the book is to make you bored of being bored. And I liked it. I think a lot of you blog readers would like it, too. Check it out.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Power 12: The Final Edition... Ever

"What?? No more Power 12's?" That's right. This is the final one. The last one you'll ever see. Never again will you see a poll on this blog that ranks the 12 best teams. The Power 12 is OVER.

Because starting next season, this will become THE POWER 13. As I said in the original edition of the power 12, the number 12 came from the number of Alabama National Championships. That number is now 13. So next year that's what the number will be.

1.) Alabama
2.) Florida
3.) Texas
4.) Boise State
5.) Texas Christian
6.) Cincinnati
7.) Ohio State
8.) Iowa
9.) Oregon
10.) Georgia Tech
11.) Virginia Tech
12.) Penn State

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

First Person Fanhood

It is a big game for "us" tomorrow.

Only I'm not part of the team.

It's a strange phenomenon in our culture that we can as fans identify so closely with the teams we favor that we speak of them and us together in the first person. It's not, "Alabama had a great season," but "We had a great season."

What is it? Is a measure of one's devotion and love to the great efforts of his favorite group of athletes? Or is it more a measure of a lack of self-esteem that people are moved to latch on to and identify with a group greater than themselves?

I don't suppose it to be either something to self-adulate over or to loathe, although I've heard both. I suspect it has more to do with the shared experiences of emotions over the course of the roller coaster ride of a season. When you're high, you're high together with the team. When you're low, you're low together with the team. So that whatever the final destination is, you sense that you've felt every emotion right along with the team to the extent that you feel a part of the team.

Looking back at the Tennessee game, Terrence Cody embodied on the field (just in this clip) every emotion we were feeling while watching on television at home: from the "we CANNOT let this happen" sense of urgency, to the unbridled outburst of happiness, to the feeling of "OMG, that was too close."

As a Red Sox fan, it was the depth of the doldrums of 2003 that made 2004 so rich and satisfying. The '03 team, one of my favorite Boston teams, brawled with the Yankees like boxers. Those two teams stood toe to toe just exchanging blows. To the point where it went to a 7th game. And when Boston blew a lead in Game 7, and then ended up losing in extra innings, as a fan you took the heartache personally. And you felt the devastating emotions of losing for days. (To the point that, for me, THIS COLUMN still stands as maybe the greatest Simmons column he's ever published)

So, because of that, you take the joy of winning personally too. And obnoxiously so. I've begun to wonder if it's possible to celebrate anything without being perceived as obnoxious. Because celebration is just that: a wild joy that can only be perceived by non-participants as obnoxious. Hopefully you don't become that guy who acts like he's better than everyone just because his team does well. But it's a darn fine line!

So this phenomenon of shared experiences and emotions is such a powerful thing that people begin to refer to their team(s) in the first person.

My only hope for myself is that I keep a healthy perspective for the sake of the players and their accomplishments. Unlike the people in this story from Mark Ingram's hometown of Flint, MI who seemed to take more pride in Mark's Heisman award for themselves than for Mark. I was happier for Mark than I was even for Alabama that night he won the Heisman. He's had a lot of hurdles in his personal life. And also with Alabama having had no Heisman's, the pressure on him had to be immense. So I was glad for him that he wasn't burdened even further, but in fact rewarded.

As for tomorrow, I just hope we get to celebrate. I don't wanna go digging through those Simmons E-mails again.