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How not to Speak of God in an Election Year: My Response to Wayne Grudem

In Uncategorized on July 31, 2016 at 7:21 pm

Three days ago (July 28, 2016) renowned Christian theologian Wayne Grudem publicly stated that voting for Donald Trump was “morally” a “good choice.” I do not know Dr. Grudem personally, but I found the lengthy article which he authored to be, not only in poor taste, but overtly manipulative. Although there have been several thoughtful responses by Christian thinkers (namely Jonathan Merritt), I believe I must also add my voice to the fray. I will go through his article point by point offering my own critique, commending him when possible, but demonstrating the fallacies of much of his logic. I ask for an open mind as you read this, as this is the only way we can hope to listen and learn from each other.

First of all, Grudem assumes we are all looking for a perfect candidate when we go to cast our votes. I doubt any of us are truly this naive. He calls Trump a “good flawed candidate.” Yet when he lists the flaws, he names these minor grievances:

“He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash. He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas (such as bombing the families of terrorists) that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him. He has been slow to disown and rebuke the wrongful words and actions of some angry fringe supporters. He has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages.”

Honestly, I laughed out loud when I read some of these “flaws” which Grudem would have us overlook. You are voting for the leader of the free world, and we are to consider the lack of nuance, blurting out ill-informed ideas, and Trump’s inability and unwillingness to silence anti-Semitic and KKK rhetoric which claims to support him. If it were not so tragically serious, it would indeed be comical that Grudem would ask you to just forgive Trump these ticky-tack flaws.

Grudem goes on to say that many of the charges leveled against Trump are ill-founded, i.e. that Trump is a misogynist, racist, or poor businessman. I suppose we are not to take Trump seriously when he has demeaned women publicly and refused to honor a Muslim-American serviceman who gave his all in the line of duty. But if we should not take Trump seriously regarding these “misconceptions,” then why believe anything that comes out of his mouth? Grudem has purchased a narrative about Trump that has no need of facts or context because he decided, before he ever sat down to write this article, that he was voting for Trump and would find any means necessary to assuage his conscience to reconcile all of Trump’s flaws.

Furthermore, if we are to eschew choosing the perfect candidate, why not accept Hillary Clinton’s flaws? She has never been accused of racism nor does she demonstrate the same thin-skinned pettiness displayed early and often by Mr. Trump. The reason we are not to accept her weakness as a candidate is because, from the start, Dr. Grudem has already assumed Christians vote Republican and anything “liberal” must be perceived as evil. In a sense, we can accept the good, but flawed Trump, but the same logic does not apply to Mrs. Clinton.

My second contention with Dr. Grudem is (and I am trying to put this mildly) his very poor use of Scripture to make his point.

His first cited text comes from 1 Peter, wherein the apostle implores Christians to live as “exiles.” According to Grudem’s logic, the next logical move is to compare American Christians to the exiles of Judah in 586 BCE. He jumps straight to Jeremiah 29, in which Jeremiah tells the exiles living in Babylon to “seek the welfare of the city.” The application of these two texts then leads Grudem to suggest that we should, therefore, “vote in a way that best helps our nation.”

To even compare the situation of the present-day American Christian to the audience of Peter’s persecuted Jewish churches or to connect American Christians to the Jewish exiles, who were forcibly removed from their homes and forced to serve a state against their will, is nothing short of a misappropriation of Scripture not befitting a scholar of Dr. Grudem’s caliber. The present Christian has far many more freedoms and opportunities than those afforded to the marginalized and persecuted Jews of either the 6th century BCE or those in the 1st century CE. This is a clear case of eisegesis (reading into the text) and Dr. Grudem should know better.

Should we actually choose to consult the entire book of 1 Peter, here are some of the actual commands Peter gives to the church:

Live so well among the Gentiles (non-Jewish people) that they can’t help but acknowledge your good deeds (1 Peter 2:11).

Be subject to every human institution (even a president) and do good under them (2:13-15).

Don’t use your freedom as a pretext to do evil (2:16).

Do not fear what they (other people) fear (3:14).

Keep your conscience clear (3:16).

The apostle goes on to say that Christians may end up suffering for doing good things from time to time. But Grudem doesn’t mention these passages because they do not serve his cause. Peter’s clear message to his audience maintains that believers in Jesus are to live as exiles because the goings-on of the political sphere, while important, in no way hinder the mission of Jesus. The mission goes on and should Christians have to suffer then they will count it a privilege to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Grudem’s entire conceptualization of an “exile” is in poor taste and is a misreading of Scripture.

Grudem then asks,

“Can I in good conscience act in a way that helps a liberal like Hillary Clinton win the presidency?”

This quote is entirely disingenuous because the adjective “liberal” is meant to project a negative attitude on Mrs. Clinton from the start. This is just one of the many instances where Grudem proves himself to be anything but fair in his writing. He is intentionally manipulating his Christian audience by adding pejorative language when he mentions Hillary Clinton.

But let’s pretend we did ask that question genuinely.

Can I in good conscience vote for a person who values the lives of black people, women, Muslims, immigrants, and law enforcement officers equally?

Can I in good conscience vote for a person who thinks everyone should receive a college education and is willing to work to find a way to remove the mountains of debt which hinder so many to attain it?

Can I in good conscience vote for a person who thinks the law shouldn’t favor one faith or gender or race?

The answer to these questions is, for me, yes. I could vote for that kind of person.

Let me be clear. I do not endorse Hillary Clinton as America’s savior, nor do I think she stands on any moral high ground. Her email scandal was a perverse failure of justice, because I believe she acted carelessly. As to the rest of her character, Dr. Grudem’s argumentation should lead us to the conclusion (according to his opening paragraphs) that it really doesn’t matter how corrupt she is, because we are allowed to pick a flawed candidate. I use Grudem’s own words to show how he has contradicted himself.

For the rest of his article, Dr. Grudem elaborates on both possible future scenarios: a Trump presidency vs. a Clinton presidency.

He covers:

The Supreme Court nominations

Abortion – Overturning Roe v. Wade

Religious Liberty – prayer in public offices and schools

Christian Business – the right to refuse service

Christian Schools

Churches – losing the right to meet in school buildings

Criminalizing Dissent – making it a crime to disagree with science

I will allow Grudem one valid point within these arguments, and they may be found in his first topic. I agree with Grudem that the nominations of Supreme Court justices are important. They will make precedent-setting decisions that will impact this country. But why should we trust Donald Trump’s judgment over Hillary’s? Why should I trust Donald Trump’s judgment regarding a judge’s character when he has made disparaging remarks about a judge of Mexican descent? Although I agree that SCOTUS judges are important, I’m not ready to trust Trump to deliver the ones we need. And with a Republican controlled Senate, it’s not likely that Hillary will get a flag-burning, Constitution-trampling hippie to sit on the nation’s highest court.

Grudem believes that getting an All-Star conservative SCOTUS would overturn Roe v. Wade. Ironically it would seem, Grudem doesn’t know that Roe v. Wade was passed with conservative justices voting to approve abortion legalization! So why would Trump’s team of judges suddenly overturn a case conservative judges ended up passing in the 1970’s?

If abortion is the only reason you want to vote for Trump, you are placing your eggs in the wrong basket. If abortion is your number one concern, you should devote your life to adoption, abortion counseling, and other venues which are still legal and actually serve to put a dent in the issues which concern you. Legislation is not likely to be the process which ends abortion.

Throughout the rest of the article, Grudem tries to convince us the same thing that the RNC tried to convince us: unless we elect Trump, the world will burn. We’ll be back to partial-birth abortions just because…we will! Anyone with a public business will have to continue the degrading service of providing goods for people they think are sinful (but just a certain kind of public sin). Churches that meet in school buildings might get kicked out (even though all the churches I know who meet in schools are so valuable to the school that no legislation would convince them to give the church the boot). Christian colleges and schools might have to let people inside that do not think the same way they do. And, perhaps the greatest of all concerns, we might be federally prosecuted if we disagree with science (i.e. global warming, which we all know to be a big hoax).

If you were to go through Grudem’s article, you would notice that it is littered with the subjunctive mood. That is to say, much of the article is a big, “what if?” Grudem does not know what will happen in the event either candidate is elected and, I imagine, in four years many of his predictions will look quite silly. He is not a political expert; he is a theologian, and he would do better to stick to that discipline.

The truth is we cannot play the “what if” game. Because the future will always look a certain way depending on where you currently stand. If you think this country is a shadow of what it once was, you will see a Trump win as an American win, and a Hillary win as the end of the world. The same goes for the converse. If you liked Obama, you’ll love Hillary. Very few people are actually going to change their minds in this respect.

This leads me to my ultimate point and major contention with Grudem’s article. The essay reeks of utilitarianism. The whole idea supported by Grudem is that we must do the most good for the most people. But there are many people in this country for whom the system is not working. There are still systematic injustices against the black community. LGBTQ Americans still do not have the same rights as other Americans simply because of their sexual orientation. There are many working-class people who go to college or vocational school who will never have the same opportunities as the top 10% of America’s wealthiest families. Grudem, according to his final paragraph, suggests that these people just have to sacrifice for the “greater good.” That doesn’t work for me.

When I read my Bible and I hear Jesus talking about the Kingdom of God, I hear talk of a Kingdom that exists outside of the cogs and gears of any political infrastructure. According to the Gospels and Acts, Jesus’ Kingdom was not one that delivers promises or hopes based on what people want—the Kingdom of God gives people what they need.

As a Christian, I think we need to liberate ourselves from this election. I don’t mean we shouldn’t vote—we should. But we have to avoid the fallacy proposed by Grudem, which is that God has a moral candidate for whom you should be voting. Personally, I do not think that God’s biggest concern lies in who takes the Oval Office in January. God cares more about Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, and everyone in-between alleviating poverty, stamping out injustice, creating peace, ending violence, and seeing each other as equals through the lens of love.

I get to experience and work toward that reality whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton are elected in the fall.

So get out and vote. Maybe you think Trump will fix all the problems of our society, and if he’s elected, I hope you are right. But don’t quote the Bible at me and tell me that he is God’s “most moral” choice. That’s just not true. And neither is Hillary Clinton. Because this is America, and you get to vote based on who you think deserves the job. You should do that prayerfully and thoughtfully. You should take your kingdom values to the booth. But don’t pretend you’re picking God’s man or woman; because you are not. You just electing the next president. The Kingdom and Mission of Jesus will go on whichever outcome takes place.

An Open Letter to My Centerville Starbucks Crew:

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2015 at 6:02 pm

Dear Sbux crew,

Many people have no idea what being a “partner” means, but a year and half ago, I began to learn what it means.

Maybe people think this job is just “a stepping stone,” or a “pit stop” before we make our “real career.” Maybe they think we’re just a bunch of angst-filled hipsters with decent health insurance.

But being on the other side of the counter, we know better. For some of us, this is a second or third job. Many of us (including me) are trying to get an education while simultaneously trying to remember our regulars’ names and drinks. We too, like those who order Triple Skinny Vanilla Lattes with no foam, have families, budgets, sanities to maintain. While the perception may be that we just make coffee and listen to Coldplay, we know the true story about ourselves: we are a tight family that works hard and plays hard. 

I often imagine that for some of customers, we might be the most significant relationship they have. And while there may be some cappuccinos with a difficult person on the other end, we smile and stick up for one another. We laugh, get frustrated, see each other cry, support each other’s families, and often transcend the job aspect of being a partner and become friends.

That has been my experience with you all.

This was not a pit stop or a stepping stone for me. It was never just a job or a convenient source of insurance. And you were never just co-workers. You became and are some of my closest friends, the only family I have in Ohio. We’ve golfed, eaten, and drank ourselves into some really amazing relationships and I’m so glad I got to wear the apron with you.

It’s not like it’s good-bye. I know we’ll still see each other often. But it will be different not donning the green apron and throwing on a headset to get crazy with you. I will miss it. And I want to say thanks for making it a blast, even when life on the other side of the counter was hard.

So why did I make this an open letter? First of all, to let everyone else on social media know how amazing you guys are. I really do wish that every customer could know what kind of creative, funny, hardworking, and awesome people are getting them their Frappuccinos. I would hope that everyone would treat their barista with respect, giving them a simple smile and the occasional tip. I would hope that the rest of the world could know how much more fun the job is when the customers let themselves become more than a transaction, but a part of the store’s family. It’s really just what being a good human is all about, and I want that for you all.

Second, I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate you, each of you. I’m sorry if there was ever a day that I showed up to work with anything but complete appreciation for you. You have seen me through hard days and made them better. We’ve talked about everything from sports, family, religion, politics, and the end of the world, and I’m so glad that I had you guys to discuss those things with. You have done more for me than I could have ever hoped to do for anyone else, and I just want to say, “Thanks.” I love you guys. I have mixed feelings about becoming a “regular,” but I know you’ll always be there to make any day better.

Again, it’s not the end. Just the beginning of something else. So I’ll be seeing you all out at Archer’s, Soft Rock Karaoke, or at my place for dinner and drinks, because I couldn’t imagine living in Centerville without having you all in my life.

See you tomorrow when I come in to get my Venti Chai.

– Caleb

How to Watch (and Respond to) “Exodus: Gods and Kings

In Uncategorized on December 17, 2014 at 5:42 pm

The movie Exouds: Gods and Kings will soon attract all kinds of interest. For Jews and Christians, the story of God rescuing Israelite slaves from bondage is central to their theology. For Jews, it is the foundation story of their people. In the Christian tradition, the gospels do not fail to point out that much of Jesus story, both before and shortly after his birth, follow, quite markedly, an Exodus-motif. Jesus himself gave Pesach (Passover) a makeover in the Last Supper. The narrative even played a prominent role in the dismantling of American slavery. The point is: the story of Exodus has influenced individuals and communities in powerful ways throughout history. With great importance, comes heavy emotional investment.

No doubt, many will line up to watch Ridley Scott’s rendition of the Exodus story. Among these multitudes, some Christians will come to the fore with scathing criticism. Chief among these outcries, the complaint will arise that something was not “like it was in the book.” With all due respect to sacred status of Scripture, any film adaptation of a book will apply artistic interpretation. The HobbitGame of ThronesHarry Potter, and a host of other books adapted for the screen, failed to maintain absolute integrity of the original texts. If they had, they would have likely been rather boring. By definition, a film adaptation will change elements and present a unique interpretation of the narrative. This should be understood when watching any film based on pre-existing literature.

Along with the disdain for maintaining the absolute integrity of the Exodus story, others will protest that certain scenes are offensive or belittling of divine elements. Based on a little research, not having seen the film yet, God will be portrayed in one aspect as an impetuous, jealous child. The miracle of the dividing of the sea will be explained as a rare tsunami. For people of faith, the portrayal of their God and the miraculous deliverance of Israel are tantamount in the story. I guarantee your Facebook news feeds will soon be rife with protests saying, “Don’t see the movie! It doesn’t stick to the book! Ridley Scott doesn’t believe in miracles!” It is because of these anticipated postings that I am writing this piece. So I want to give some guidelines for watching the movie and talking about it after seeing it (whether in person or via social media).

  1. Read the Exodus story. Many Christians are home-blind to elements within the story. We’ve all heard the children’s version of the story, but we don’t really get into the adult content. Don’t assume you fully understand or remember every aspect of the narrative. Study it. Ask questions. Discuss it in a communal setting. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t reduce the story to: Egypt is bad, God called Moses, God sent plagues, God killed Egyptians and rescued Israel through the Red Sea. There are all kinds of whacky and disturbing scenes within the text which don’t usually get featured in cool sermon series. For instance, did you know that God tried to kill Moses before he even went to Egypt (Exodus 4:24-26)? Have you ever thought it strange that the Israelites are told to remain indoors while the Angel of Death kills the firstborn at night (Exodus 12:22), and yet the account has Moses and Aaron going to Pharaoh Familiarity often breeds unfamiliarity. Go read the actual text before you criticize someone’s retelling of it.
  2. Watch and Discuss in Community. Don’t isolate yourself. Go see the movie with friends and family. Watch the movie with people who don’t share your beliefs. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t uphold the theological content of the Bible. How would you feel about a God who kills babies (whether they are Egyptian or not is beside the point), destroys economies, and gets really, really angry sometimes? You may read the story a certain way because you have a certain set of beliefs and approaches going in; not everyone possesses that worldview. Create space for dialogue with those people in a non-judgmental, open atmosphere. It will be far more productive than social media polemics which alienate and shut down (productive) conversation.
  3. Guard Social Media. Do not post inflammatory statements — especially if you have not and will not seen the film! The number one thing people don’t like about Christianity are the Christians. If you have a criticism about the movie, articulate based on the text, research, and reflection. Do not just rant about how Hollywood hates God and doesn’t believe in miracles. A better way of addressing something you think was not representative of the biblical account is by asking open, non-threatening questions to open a dialogue. Better yet, turn off your computer and get a cup of coffee. Conversations of the religious and intellectual nature are always best had in person over a fine beverage and/or meal. Finally, hold your friends accountable in regard to disrespectful posts. Gently make them aware of what image they are casting for Christians in general when they update their status with ungracious words. Jesus has bad enough PR and doesn’t need people who claim to follow him making it worse over a movie.

If you aren’t sure you can do these things, maybe you should reconsider why you would even want to see the movie in the first place. Are you looking for an argument? Do you really think that a movie is going to make or break the Christian faith? In the big picture, what will your comments regarding the movie have on human history, or even more accessible, in the lives of those in your neighborhoods, workplaces, and community? Like momma always said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Wise words.

Grief, Prophets and Breaking Bad

In Uncategorized on August 29, 2013 at 2:23 pm

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According to Merriam-Webster, the word grieve means “to cause to suffer.” It comes from the Latin word gravare which means “to burden.” Think about it like gravity (another Latin root for the word). It pulls us down; keeps us grounded.

 
When we think of grieving, we often associate it with weeping, mourning or despair. Grief causes a disturbance in our life. But the emotion of grief covers far more than simply tears shed over a loss. Based on the word’s origin, grief grounds us. It keeps us rooted on earth. It reminds us of the heaviness of life. It pricks our paradigms that tell us that death is an illusion and that the ways in which we live bear no consequences. Grief and grieving create in us a sense of reality and awareness of our finite nature.
 
I believe we have forgotten how to grieve; or at least why grieving is important.
 
There was another time when people had forgotten how to grieve. The Hebrew prophets, from the 5th century to the 8th century BC, tried to remind Israel how to grieve.
 
Israel had become fat off of the exploits of war and an economic system that thrived on cheap labor and a subdued people. The nation spent excessive capitol on keeping their war machines well oiled and they cared little for the poor or the foreigner. The leadership lived a comfortable life at the expense of the working class. In short, Israel had become the Egypt from whence God had delivered them. They were self-dependent, cocky and sure that their dynasty would last forever, because, after all, God was on their side. Which made what happened next quite a shock.
 
In 722 BC, the Northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrian armies.
Around 586 BC, the southern kingdom of Judah succumbed to Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians.
 
The unsinkable ship had sunk. God’s chosen people marched away from their land with hooks in their noses to Babylon.
 
In the time leading up to this pivotal moment, the Hebrew prophets tried to warn the people of this coming disaster. Their fast living and carelessness was not how they were intended to function as a nation and doing so would have consequences. The prophets tried to get the people to grieve. The people needed to weep over their abusive living towards the immigrate. They needed to repent of their self-indulgent lifestyle. They needed to stop their political and military exceptionalism. They needed to shed tears, hold a wake, and dig a grave for their irresponsible living. The prophets pointed to the grim future, to the storm clouds gathering on the horizon, and wept for the people. They grieved for a people with no concept of justice or truth or responsibility. They tried to bring them back to earth.
 
I come from a tradition that believes that the “gift of prophecy” died out with the canonization of the New Testament (how that argument is made still baffles me). I respectfully disagree. I’ll go even further to say, that I believe the greatest prophets among us aren’t holding up in church buildings, but behind the cameras and scripts of several very good television series.
 
In particular, I believe that the writers at AMC are teaching a culture how to grieve. For the next 5 Sundays, countless viewers will tune in to find out what will happen to Walter White on AMC’s Breaking Bad. For those of you who haven’t seen the show (and you really should see it), Walt is a high school chemistry teacher who turns to selling meth in order to pay for cancer treatments he cannot afford. Over the course of the show’s narrative arc, Walt goes from peon methamphetamine cook to almighty drug-lord of Albuquerque, NM. The show lives up to its name as it shows the slow moral decay of Walt’s humanity. He is intoxicated by his own power, addicted to a drug more potent than meth – pride.
 
What we are all waiting to see is what will happen to Walt in the last 5 episodes. Will he be arrested? Killed? Get away? At what cost?
 
One thing the show has taught us is that we have no idea what will happen next. 
 
Whether Walt ends up pushing daisies or living a life on the lam, the show will have taught us one thing: We all want to live in a world where corruption and greed and injustice and killing are dealt with. We want judgment. We want justice. We want a world were good is rewarded and evil punished.
 
Will we have it? In Breaking Bad? In our own lives?
 
AMC’s Breaking Bad is teaching us how to grieve. They are teaching us to mourn for a world where drug dealers have mattress sized stacks of cash while honest workers struggle to pay rent. They are teaching us that we have to hold a funeral for ideologies that make people no more than objects of our own desires. They are teaching us that the current track we are headed is not a bright future, but a bleak, desert wasteland of pain and misery.
 
Will we continue on our path of destruction? Will we continue to get high on our own brand of pride and egotism? Nationalism? Religion?
Will we repent? Will we listen? Will we hope?
 
Because ultimately, grief does not leave us in despair. It grounds us. It teaches us to hope for a better world. It is a creative force, not a destructive one.
So as we wait for the fate of Walter White to come in, shall we shed a few tears together for the world that is and hope and work for a better one?

My Sin Problem

In Uncategorized on May 6, 2013 at 7:08 pm

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I hate the word “sin.”

I’ve had this problem for a while.  It is not because I am a theological pansy which hardliners like Mark Driscoll might think.

I have no problem with the concept.  It’s the misuse of the word that I find unpalatable.

First, I want to unpack the Biblical meaning of the word.  There are at least three words that I know of in Hebrew that convey the term we often deem “sin.”

  1. chata’ah – The word most commonly translated as “sin,” literally means something like “missing the mark.”  My understanding is that it most commonly used in archery to express the idea that the shot missed the target.
  2. pesha – This word carries with it a certain high hand-ness. The word that gets translated is usually “transgression” which for modern Western readers is a fairly vague concept.  The idea is that the offender willfully carries out an action that flies in the face of what God has intended for humanity.
  3. avon – Normally, this word is translated as “iniquity.”  It is connected with the idea of a perversion or twisting of God’s intention.  It takes something good and healthy and warps it for selfish ends.

While Bible translators do well to make distinction among these words, the Church en masse generally does not.  The word “sin” is thrown around without much thought or care for actual meaning.  When we say “sin” we generally mean moral failure of some kind.

“So-and-so sinned because they messed up morally.”

“What’s-his-face is living in sin because he ______.”

“She’s a sinner because she doesn’t know God.”

We talk about “sin” as if it is all pesha.  All high-handed, arrogant rebellion against God.  I just cannot be so sure of that.

If we look at sin biblically speaking, we have to acknowledge that we are all in the same boat.  We are human, and to say we are as such is to admit that we “fall short” of wholeness in relationships, interactions, justice and ethics.  We are flawed.  We are inept.  We are broken somehow.  Maybe we didn’t do it to ourselves.  Maybe we were abused.  Maybe we were ignored.  Maybe we just came out of the womb differently (see John Steinbeck).  But we are most certainly “not right.”

Oh, we have our moments.  They are the moments when people rush in to bomb blasts to save wounded people; the moments when communities rally around families struggling with finances and sickness; the moments when a brave few stand in the face of danger and harm to declare injustice concerning races, genders and religions.  These are the moments when we rise above our often twisted self-interest.

But the moments when we betray, hate and persecute our fellow man also show us that something is fundamentally wrong with us.  No generation or empire has ever been able to stamp this out of us.  The purpose of virtually every religion is to deal mostly with the darkness that lives in us.  I do not believe that you could convince me that humans exist without flaw.

So why do Christians often make it seem as though “sinner” is a word reserved for those outside Christianity?  We talk about those “living in sin.”  According to definition, aren’t we all?  Has there ever been a community of Christians that did not “miss the mark” of what they were called to do?

I guess I just want to plea with Christians to stop using the word “sin” or “sinner” as if it is some unique condition.*

We are, all of us, flawed in our own ways.  Let’s quit pretending God thinks some people “miss the mark” worse than others.  Why do we call some people out on certain kinds of “flawed-ness” but we refuse to address issues like arrogance, misuse of wealth and disregard for those in need?

In my opinion, “sin” is a bankrupt word.  It is bankrupt because it has come to mean certain types of immoral behavior and does not include the vast spectrum of brokenness we all encounter.  People want to talk about “sin” but they don’t want to do anything to help people in their brokenness.  Hmmm.  Seems like Jesus had some hard things to say about people like that.

So let’s quit kidding ourselves.  We are all flawed.  We all miss the mark of God’s intent for our lives because no one lives the ideal, perfect life.  Christians can sometime be the meanest, soulless people on the planet.  Atheists can sometimes be closer to the Kingdom of God in the way they care for the planet and others.  But in reality, we are all somewhere in between total depravity and righteousness.  Let’s stop berating people for being HUMAN.

Before you jump to a conclusion, let me say this.  Just because we are human and disjointed is not a free pass to do wrong.  We should all be aspiring for shalom – the way it was intended to be.  Shalom is that everyone is equal.  Shalom is that no one goes without.  Shalom is that everyone knows love.  Shalom is that no one gets treated like an object.  Shalom is man, beast and earth living in harmony.  And when people blatantly go against shalom, we should correct them.  We should announce, demonstrate and teach what it looks like when shalom is lived out.  But we do not say it in a vacuum.  We say it in relationship.  We demonstrate it by entering into the injustice that we find.  We say it from no moral high ground because we have none.

When governments warp God’s intent for them to serve the people, we peaceably protest.  When people treat others as objects of manipulation, we stand up for the abused.  When people or institutions mismanage the wealth we have been given, we point out the discrepancy.

So I want to stop using the word “sin” as a carte blanche term.

Let’s just call things what they are.

When someone blatantly abuses or wounds others, we say, “They intentionally busted up the way it was supposed to be for humanity.”  When someone warps good things for bad purposes we say, “They totally manipulated the way it was intended to be.”  And when someone drops the ball, forgets their calling or reverts to old habits and are remorseful, confused or just ignorant, let’s just say, “Wow.  They’re human.”

I once heard Alan Hirsch say,

“Let the critique of old be the fruit of the new, and be careful with your words.”

If you have a problem with humanity’s “sinfulness” then you should either practice the better way of living and let the results speak for themselves, or consider being a different kind of creature.

 

*This post does not deal with any kind of “atonement theory” or theological doctrine of righteousness.  The aim of this post is to question how we label people based on our own preconceived notions of sinfulness and fail to look at a holistic view of sin.

Writing my obituary.

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2013 at 4:00 am

I’ve read in books that every person has at least one moment in their life that radically changes the trajectory of how they exist in this world.

I believe that my moment came this last Tuesday when I was asked to do something no one has ever asked me to do in my life.

Given a piece of paper with a date on it, I was asked to write my own obituary.

The date on the paper:  January 31, 2013.  Not two days ago.

A strange thing, no doubt; some might say morbid or ghoulish.  For me, however, I find that it has shaped the rest of my days.

Numerous singers, poets and philosophers have posed the questions of purpose, meaning, origin and mortality before me, so I don’t pretend to be the first to do so.  What I find so fascinating is that most of us never think of our impending deaths.

There are very few things in our lives that are guaranteed.  On that short list is penciled in the fact that we all are going to experience death.  Whether that of a close friend, loved one and, eventually, our own demise.

Yet most of us do not acknowledge this fact.  Those who do are deemed pessimistic or dark; they are to be avoided.  Death is the sour note in the symphony of life that we all pretend not to hear until the chord strikes in our own chorus line.

In the midst of the morbidity, I have found life in the words of the wise sages who understood that death is pressing hard upon us all and we had better live accordingly.  So many of us pass our days frittering away time on things that bear no significance or contribution to the human race.  If you had two days left before you breathed your last, what would you do differently?  What would you cut out of your life that wasted your time, money and energy?  Who would you want to be with?  What would you say that need to be said or unsaid?  What would you want to be remembered as and who would you want to be remembered by?

My guess is, if you stopped what you were doing and took 15 minutes to write your own obituary you would immediately get on the phone and call the person that meant the most to you just to tell them you loved them and wanted them to know it.  You would let go of the bitterness that holds peace in bondage between you and some other soul.  You would cease to throw away time and energy on things that mean nothing; that take up space.  Not to disrespect Tim McGraw, but you wouldn’t go skydiving or ride a bull.  You would do everything in your power to heal, empower and leave your mark on this world that we all pass our time in together.

So had I died January 31, 2013 I don’t think I would have laid my head down in perfect peace; that I had loved with every fiber of my being.  I couldn’t have said that I was always honest in my writing and speech.  There would have been much left undone that I dearly wanted to give to my brothers and sisters.

I survived my death on the date etched on the slip of paper.  I survive my death each morning I wake.  And I will not waste the gift of the present by expending myself in matters, that when my cold body is at last lowered into the earth shall cease to have meaning.

So I will leave a piece of myself here.  The pixels that form on this screen will not always be neat, clean or complete.  He who believes he has completed his thoughts is already dead.  I am alive.  And I will fill this space with my questions, doubts and musings.  The secret things that creep in the river of all our minds – the streams that sometimes fill the banks and other times trickle – will be my contribution to all who want to dialogue with life.  I don’t pretend to think that it will be read by many.  So long as those who love me and whom I love dearly read, reflect and respond.

I shall count myself a man who truly lived from this day forward, always editing the obituary on file by the way I live and love every human soul.