My Confession and Repentance

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I am prejudiced.
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Perhaps not overtly. I am not prejudiced in a way that anyone outside of my head would notice. I don’t consciously try to think poorly about those who are different than me or treat them badly.
The judgments, the assumptions, are there, though.
My own prejudice is not related to race. I am grateful to have had many friendships with people of other races. These friendships allow me to see similar people I do not know through the eyes of those friendships.
My particular prejudice is related to economic and educational status.
What is yours?
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When I see someone who speaks or writes as though they have not even made it through high school, I don’t treat them poorly, but I make assumptions. I make assumptions about their character, about the way they think, and therefore assumptions about what their future actions might be.
Some of the time I catch myself. I give myself a mental shake and try to see the person for who they really are.
I don’t always catch myself.
For this I repent.
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I will take responsibility for my own failings and take the first step towards making the Church a safer place for those who are not like me.
Repentance involves change. It is not simply apologizing and then continuing on. One must go in a different direction.
And so I repent.
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I repent for making assumptions about people based on their appearance.
I repent for judging people’s character based on the way they speak.
I repent for thinking myself better than someone who has not had as much education.
For truly? Truly, I am ashamed for valuing knowledge more than kindness. I sorrow over my valuing learning more than gentleness. I lament over my valuing schooling more than servanthood.
I confess and I repent.
Will you join me?
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May God have mercy and heal me of such things.
May Christ have mercy and heal the Church.
May the Spirit have mercy and heal our world.

Desperate for a Little Character

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site. (Also? I know I stumbled over/mispronounced a few words…but it was a really long blog post…and I just didn’t feel up to the task of re-recording it. I humbly ask for a bit of extra grace.)

 

 

Character - Light
Character - Truth
Donald Trump is a crooked, underhanded con artist and…a spoiled, overgrown brat. – Matt Walsh on The Blaze
Trump mocks the disabled, calls women dogs, and advocates for the assassination of women and children. Hillary Clinton is a proven liar. They both have, in short, a lack of character. And people flock to them.
Why? Does it even matter? Is a person’s character at all important in this modern age or is it a relic of outdated morals? Character is more than merely important; it is vital to our society. It is important to people as individuals and it is important to society in its entirety.
When we can cheat and lie “just a little bit” and still think highly of ourselves, when we show our children that it is necessary to sometimes do insignificantly wrong things to get by, when it is more wrong to judge evil than to do evil, then we are in trouble. For our society to function well, we need people of character in leadership positions, from teachers and managers to mayors and governors.
What has happened in our world? Why do ordinary people care so little about acting in moral ways? Much of this dearth of character, this scarcity of virtue, comes from the rejection of the idea that truth is unchanging, that truth can be the same regardless of place or time. If truth is, at best, all relative and only a matter of perspective and, at worst, a social construct and simply whatever we make it to be, then why should anyone work to develop a character that may or may not be valid to anyone else? If there is no truth that we can deliberate over and discover together as a society (whatever that truth may be and wherever it may come from), we are left with, as Christian Cleric Richard John Neuhaus says, “power and propaganda and grievance and anger and caucuses and anti-caucuses and special interest groups and victims and vengeance.”
This concept of truth comes from our distinctly American philosophy of pragmatism (founded by William James, 1842-1910, who said that the true was only the expedient. Truth, in other words, is what works.). When society contains multiple competing ways of viewing the world, and when all of those ways are equally valid, then the only way to determine which viewpoint is most true is to determine which is most useful. If truth is simply what is most useful, then truth will change over time.
There is an assumption in much of society, in many of our universities especially, that we cannot keep society and relationships moving forward if we speak of one truth for all people because truth brings only conflict. Truth has become the loud uncle we are vaguely ashamed of, assuming that anything so divisive has no appropriate role in public life. When the biggest wrong that can be done in a society is to cause an argument, we are left with a society that vacantly agrees with every new opinion. When the biggest good a government can do is to smooth everything to the same level of truth, we are left with a government that changes policy for each group that shouts louder. When truth is sensible rather than stubborn, as trustworthy as a weatherman, we are left with a prediction for Snowpocalypse that leaves Walmart shelves empty but a reality of 60 degrees and sunny. Society is left to flounder on a foundation of shifting sand.
How did this happen? How did truth get hijacked and associated with the negative? How did truth become linked with religious totalitarianism and Osama bin Laden? How did it become shameful to declare a belief in truth, even simply the idea of truth, regardless of what that truth is? Part of the answer, I’m afraid, comes from us, the Church. We have a history of wielding the truth divisively, of tearing down and even destroying rather than creating and building up. We have used truth as an excuse for starting crusades and we have used truth as an excuse to look at our neighbor with contempt. Truth has become a weapon used to elevate ourselves by bludgeoning down all those we deem as “other”.
This becomes all the more baffling when we remember that Jesus, God in the flesh, claimed to be Truth. If we are condemning our neighbor with what we claim to be truth, perhaps it is not truly Truth we are wielding. Using truth as a magic wand to turn our neighbor into a stepping stone is a natural consequence when we who claim to follow Truth succumb to our world’s version of expedient truth. This is what Trump has done and this is why so many evangelicals support him. Trump is the embodiment of pragmatic truth, and when the Church has forgotten the words and life of Him who claimed to be truth, the Church is easily swayed toward truth that is useful, truth that serves a purpose, truth that turns character into a liability. As much as we might wish it, truth is not in our service, rather we who claim to be Christian are servants of the Truth in the person of Jesus.
If Jesus is, as He claimed to be, the Truth, we are given a truth that is unchanging, yet personal. We are given a truth that produces genuine, enduring character. When we follow Jesus as the Truth, living and speaking as He did, we find that God’s Spirit produces in us a character of love rather than a character of expediency. And when we are possessed of a character of love, we find that we are asked to proclaim this pure, loving truth to our world. More difficult, even, than proclaiming it, we are asked to live it out. Neuhaus tells us that it is now the Church’s task to learn how to assert truth in public “persuasively and winsomely and in a manner that does not violate but strengthens the bonds of civility”. He reminds us that it is our duty to do more than merely tolerate those with whom we disagree but to eagerly engage them, even pursue them, in love.
How? How do we declare and live truth without being divisive and unpleasant, causing strife, conflict, and wars? By remembering grace. Amazing grace. We can live out stubborn truth beautifully by remembering that we ourselves are unable to live up to our own standards and yet we are loved. When we despise or feel superior to anyone, when our goal is, as Trump claims, to “make America great again” by marginalizing the poor and disadvantaged, we derive more power from our own exalted sense of self-righteousness than from God’s grace. Living by this brand of truth that exalts ourselves is what poisons the truth with divisiveness. This is what Trump does: cause divisiveness by playing one group against another, by exalting us by means of demeaning them. Living out Jesus as truth can also be divisive, but a much different sort of divisive.  Living out Jesus as truth produces a steady character of loving and caring for others. It is exalting others by humbling ourselves. This can be threatening, and therefore divisive, to those who have already exalted themselves, but it a way of living truth that is desperately needed in our world.

It is ageless, this genuine sort of character. It is what the early Christians did when they loved the poor, empowered women, and brought together the races and classes. It is how the early Church overran the Roman Empire when it wasn’t even attempting to gain political power. This is the sort of truth we need. The kind of truth that provides a firm and unchanging foundation for our society. One that will not allow people to helplessly flail but gives them the strength to build a society that lasts, one that cares for all of its members. Tim Keller says that this is the sort of truth that is “a God Who became weak, Who loved and died for the people Who opposed Him, forgiving them.”
Matt Walsh calls Trump a crook and a brat, essentially labeling him as someone who deceives others and who is himself deceived. It seems unbelievable, but this seems to be what many in our country are searching for. Someone like Trump or Clinton who does whatever is advantageous today, someone who manipulates and even creates truth to suit themselves and their supporters. If, instead, you are searching for someone who will lead by serving, someone who will follow Truth rather than create it, well, I’m afraid you probably won’t find that in the upper echelons of our country.
What, then, shall we do? Despair and give up on our country? Better yet by far than any vote you may cast, rather, become that sort of leader yourself in the world of your own influence. After all, presidents have never yet been able to save our country or her people. A country full of people who live lives full of Truth and Love, however? That sort of citizenry has been known to change the world.

Stop Slicing Off Ears

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It is early October.
An election is fast approaching, along with all of its requisite vitriol.
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As emotions become more volatile, as words become our weapon of choice, I offer a word of warning. A plea, to myself as well as to you.
I’ve already spoken of how important it is for us, the Church, to be unified.
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Not for us to agree on everything, but to love each other. To love each other no matter what.
This is so important that it was one of the last things Jesus asked of God before He was crucified.
Why is this particularly important right now, in this month, in this country?
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As this election looms closer and larger before our wide open eyes, we are afraid.
And fear causes us to do crazy things, both to each other and to those around us who are outside of the Church.
You and I, we who claim to follow Christ, we are falling out of power.
The America of the past – the America of white, Protestant government, is becoming just that. A thing of the past.
Abortion.
Gay marriage.
Transgenders in the military.
Whatever you personally believe about these and other similar issues, most would admit that they are not generally promoted as God-sanctioned by the Evangelical church as a whole.
Just a look at these issues in our country today strips away the illusion that we are in control.
Many are fighting back against this. “Make America great again!” “Take back America!”
We as a Church are good at fighting.
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Throughout our history, we have fought wars, both collectively and personally, against anyone who tries to take away our power.
Our earthly power, that is.
You can look as far back as the first twelve leaders of our church, as far back as Peter, to see our blind tendency to misinterpret what Jesus actually seems to teach.
When Jesus speaks of His kingdom, we assume that He means a kingdom here on earth.
A kingdom that forces everyone to live under God’s rule.
The sort of kingdom we seem to want America to be.
This is what Peter believed. Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God and how close it was, and Peter decided to help it along by using his sword to start slicing off ears.
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Jesus, however, picked up that ear, placed it back onto it’s owner’s head, and walked quietly off to meet His death.
We are losing power in this country, and perhaps this is a good thing.
The kingdom of God has never increased by force; rather, the kingdom seems to expand most quickly when those who are in power are against it.
Jesus speaks over and over again about His kingdom coming through the humble, the weak, the foolish. He is adamant that the kingdom of God is not about force or any kind of earthly power.
Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew that all of the kings and rulers exercise their authority in one way but you, you who call yourself My disciples, are to do things another way.
He tells them that you are to bring forth My kingdom by becoming a servant, by giving up your life for all.
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Everything we do to live out God’s kingdom here on earth must be done under the shadow of the cross.
Perhaps we should stop fighting to regain political power and start figuring out how to further God’s kingdom in this new America. Perhaps we should remember that God’s kingdom grows best one soul at a time through lives lived in quiet love and service.
Perhaps we should stop slicing off ears and instead begin the work of healing by dying to ourselves as we live as Jesus did. We can start by loving each other.

Art credit: Photograph of cathedral by Kirk SewellImage of the Croisés from 1922; St. Peter Cuts the Slave’s Ear by Duccio di Buoninsegna

What Is the Gospel?

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Our culture is passionate about the importance of the individual.
We believe deeply that each person (especially our own person) should have all they need to be happy.
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We are also quite certain that anything which claims to be good news must primarily be about benefiting us as individuals.
Even the Good News.
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Many of us in the church were taught that the word gospel means good news.
It does.
The word gospel is translated from the Greek word evangelion/evangelizo which means good news or one who brings good news.
But what is the Good News?
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Many of us in the church were taught that the Good News is that Jesus died to rescue us.
It’s not.
Don’t get me wrong. Jesus dying to rescue us is good news, indeed.
But it’s not the Good News. It’s not the best news.
The Good News of the Gospels is not that Jesus saved the world; it is not that He died so that we can be with Him forever, although these certainly are pieces of very good news.
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The Good News of Scripture, rather, is that the Jesus who died and rose from the dead is Lord of all.
He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and because of this He has power over all of creation, even death itself, power over Satan.
Within that is a personal good news, of course, but a personal good news is not the primary Good News.
The primary Good News is not just good news for the individual person. It is not even good news for all of mankind. The primary Good News is good news for all of creation.
This is so much bigger than us and is so much more excellent than our attempts to confine the Gospel by our tiny definitions of what is good for me.
The news that Jesus is Lord of all is news that can be celebrated by the singing of mountains and the clapping of trees.

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This is true Good News for all.

Art credits: page from a 1769 German Luther Bible; Rembrandt’s The Three Crosses; final photo of mountains and trees by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs copyright by Elizabeth Giger

Surrounding Ourselves with Quality

I have inadvertently begun a small series on faith and the arts. I think that this will be the last essay in the series. Of course, I didn’t think that there was going to be any series at all. So, we’ll see. If you missed the first two, I would love for you to read about how ethics helps us live like a great jazz pianist and about some of the things that music teaches us about God. Today I’m moving away from music and toward the visual arts. Specifically, architecture.

 

 

If you would like to hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.
Are facts and logic the only things that point toward truth, or can beauty and good artistry move you toward the same truth?
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Nativity
Does what you surround yourself with eventually affect your character, moving you closer to or farther from godliness?
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Brent Hull, author of Building a Timeless House in an Instant Age, believes so. Hull is a master house builder, trained in the art of historic design and museum quality preservation. He believes that the home you build communicates something about who you are.
The reason we study the pyramids in Egypt is that they tell us about Egyptians, leading us to an understanding of what they believed, what they valued, how they lived…The process of homebuilding has been so commoditized that we don’t recognize the fact that our choices reflect our values…The decisions we make for our homes weave a tale of our character, value, history, and heart. What happens when we examine our homes and lives with the same lens of discovery we place on the Egyptian pyramids? What do our homes say about us?
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Regardless of the kind of task that is currently in your focus, is your aim to create beauty or is it on the bottom line? Are you more concerned with creating something timeless or with getting the most for your dollar? Are you dishonest about what impression you present to the world while being content on the inside with cheap imitations?
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These are weighty questions, questions that contain ideas that relate to more than just house building.
I don’t plan to build a house any time soon, but even as I furnish and change the inside of my home, what am I teaching my children? Am I teaching them that craftsmanship and quality furnishings that take time to create or to save up for are worthwhile or am I teaching them that it is better to buy cheap things that will soon break just so that I can gather more stuff?
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As I create our home, whether I’m building something or just purchasing a sofa, how can I communicate the values of honesty, integrity, strength, and wisdom to my children?
This is something I’ve pondered before in a broader sense, wondering what has happened in the Christian art world to the quality of our art. If God is creator and if beauty points back to Him, then Christians should be leading the world in the quality of our music, our literature, our visual arts, and yes, our homes as well.
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Why would you build an ugly home?
Hull writes that many authors from the Renaissance through the early 1900s wrote about character in buildings. The character of buildings and the character of community were thought to be closely tied together. Build honest homes and you will get honest citizens.
Don’t I want my children to chase quality rather than chasing price?
Emphatically yes.
And if the home is the place where we spend the most time, the place we want our children to return to, the place that is meant to be a safe haven from the world, then home is the place where we should put beauty and quality above all else.
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To build a timeless house today, we need to desire beauty over cost. We need to wonder if building cheap houses doesn’t cause us to become a cheap culture. Now is the time to examine ourselves, our motives, and our hearts. When we do, the rewards are immense; high quality and meaningful design in our homes are but two of the many benefits. They endure even after we are gone. They enrich our lives for generations. ~ Brent Hull, Building A Timeless House in an Instant Age
May we, in all that we do, seek to enrich lives for generations.

Art credit: all photos of cathedrals by Kirk Sewell of R.K. Sewell Photography; Adoration of the Shepherds painting by Charles LeBrun

The Goodness of Creation

There is a sneaking suspicion that lurks in the back of most of our minds.
A suspicion that colors the way we look at ourselves as well as the world around us.
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It is the suspicion that sin has completely undone the goodness of Creation.
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It is the suspicion that sin has broken our world and our bodies so thoroughly that there is nothing left to it but the ugly.
And if we view Creation through these dark lenses, we will treat it with contempt and shame. Even more, we will increasingly view the world, including our own bodies, as though they have nothing at all to do with God.
We will fall in line with our culture’s idea that we can live perfectly well in this world without ever thinking about how to consider with our lives the glorious reality of God’s Creation.
Glory of Creation
Without beginning our salvation story with Creation itself, without including in the gospel the amazingness of God-in-flesh, we are left with a hollow salvation, one that does the bare minimum to get us through the gates rather than one that accomplishes abundance upon abundance of redemption.
When God the Son died and resurrected, He redeemed not just our souls, but our physical bodies and the entire material world around us as well.
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The stuff of creation is what God the Son redeems through his becoming flesh, bearing our sin, enduring death, and rising to life. When we have a truncated doctrine of creation, we have a truncated understanding of salvation. ~ Jonathan Wilson, theologian and author of God’s Good World
Romans 8 speaks of creation in the same terms it uses to speak of men. It speaks of creation as waiting to be redeemed, as yearning to be set free from bondage, as groaning as it waits in the exact same way that we groan as we wait for our own redemption.
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We groan indeed. We groan as we labor through the pain of childbirth, we groan as we struggle to live life well and fail over and over to obey, we groan as we age and approach death.
We are a part of Creation and we groan and wait and hope right along with all of this material world for the return of Christ and for the redemption and perfection of all that we know.
And we would be a bit more successful in living our lives more beautifully if we would continue to consider the ways in which Creation should guide us toward or away from different patterns of life.
Guidance of Creation
The glories of Creation and the ways in which God continues to interact with Creation have the possibility of helping us to understand how a “well-ordered life in the body presents opportunities for glorifying God and enjoying Him forever by participating more fully in the glorious giftedness of Creation”. (Ken Meyers of Mars Hill Audio Journal)
There is not room in a blog to explore such huge ideas in any depth at all. I only hope to spur on thought and seeking and exploring. Share with me what God shows you?

Art credit: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin West

Embodied Souls

What does it mean to be human?
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It is a question asked by many.  Perhaps asked by all in the way that they live and learn if not with words from the mouth.
It is a question that was recently asked by the Chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities, William “Bro” Adams. He is exploring how the study of the humanities can answer questions about life, how we should live, and the values by which we should live.
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Adams desires for us as a nation to explore how the study of philosophy and humanities can help us to understand what it means to be human.
There is nothing new in this. Throughout the ages philosophers and psychologists alike have tried to figure out what it means to be human, what a human really is. They have laid out theory after theory, description after description about humanity.
We as Christians and theologians then take those theories and descriptions and use them to figure out Christ’s humanity. Hear that again: we use our own selves to figure out the piece of Jesus that is human.
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Does that seem backward to anyone else?
Karl Barth, one of the great theologians of the twentieth century, wondered how we could possibly know what it means to be human if all we know about being human comes from a messed up, broken state of humanity due to our unnatural state of sin. Christ’s humanity therefore shows us what it means to be human rather than the other way around.
Jesus was an embodied soul, an ensouled body, to use a phrase from Karl Barth. For Jesus, being human was always being a soul and a body. Even after the resurrection He made it a point to eat and drink to show us that even after our own resurrection we will still be embodied souls.
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We have always been body and soul, and of a finite nature. Before The Fall, we were finite in body and soul but were allowed to continue living by way of the Tree of Life. When Adam and Eve sinned, we were still finite, still formed from the dust of the earth, but now we were subject to death and decay because we were cut off from the Tree of Life.
Then the LORD God said, “…Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever –” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden…
Our bodies are part of what constitutes our identity, as important as our thoughts, our feelings, our will.
Is this important? Does it really matter whether we view our bodies as important or as inconvenient?
This is where this post could grow to become book-long, but I will try to only brush up against potential ramifications rather than expanding on each one.
If our bodies are just as important as our souls, then we should spend time caring for our bodies in our daily lives. We should take the time to think about how we care for our babies’ bodies even while in the womb and whether things such as prenatal testing is more helpful or harmful in this regard. We should take the time to consider the end of life and how much should be done to keep our bodies alive.
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The idea that our bodies matter a great deal affects the ethics of medicine, of medical research and technology. If we begin to think of our bodies as unimportant or, worse, as impediments to a good life, then our decision making about the health of those bodies begins to become skewed.
It is as important to the decisions we make every day as it is to the decisions that we will make at the end of our lives or at the beginning of our children’s lives.
Perhaps thinking deeply about what it means to be human, about the nature of our own selves, about the importance of our souls and our bodies, is something that is too important to be left to philosophers and psychologists alone.
Perhaps it is something that is meant to be pondered by all of us.
Pondered and prayed over.

Art credits: Nativity by Antonio da Correggio; Supper at Emmaus by Michelangelo da Caravaggio

We Eat One Another Alive

Why do we eat one another alive?
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It happens all the time.  Just look at what happens any time a Christian leader is found out or, worse, confesses.  Just look at what happens whenever a Christian public figure says something that is outside of our comfort zone.  Just look at what happens so many times when someone in our own churches does or says something we don’t agree with.
We talk, we rant, we fill up the air with our words.  And our words are not of grace.
It is too easy to speak harshly within the anonymous confines of the internet.  We forget at times that those on the receiving end of our arrows are as beloved as we are.
Why do we do it?
Fear, perhaps.
We fear that others will think poorly of us or of our faith if we do not speak out quickly and harshly against whatever was wrong.  We fear that we will be viewed as the same if we speak words of love instead of words of condemnation.
We fear, perhaps, that we are the same deep down inside, and we do not want anyone to know the truth.
Yet the irony of it all is that the very One we are trying to defend is the same One who shared meals, shared life with those who made the most public of mistakes.
Loving those with public mistakes
The irony is that the Bible is crammed full of one another verses…and not one of them mentions devouring one another.
Show kindness and mercy to one another.
Love one another.
Outdo one another in showing honor.
Welcome one another.
Bear with one another.
Be kind to one another.
Forgive one another.
These are just the beginning.
Jesus said that people would know that we follow Him by our love.  Too often love is not what we show to the world.  I confess that perhaps I would not think very highly of Jesus if all that I knew of Him was what I read on the blogs and Facebook pages of His followers.
May God help us.
May the God of love and grace teach us how to get rid of our motto of We eat one another alive.
May He instead change our hearts to adopt the motto of We never leave a fallen comrade behind.

Art Credits: Lion photo by Juliane Riedl; Christ and Samaritan Woman painting by Henryk Siemiradzki

Junky Art

We love a God of beauty.
Beauty
Beauty
We worship a God of art, of music, of literature.
Michelangelo's Pieta
Michelangelo’s Pieta
We serve a God of perfection.
Perfection
Perfection
We adore a God Who gives us only His best.
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God’s best
Why, oh why, then do we consistently offer Him art that is, to put it bluntly, junk?
Why do we think that music that is dull and overly simple is what is best for inspiring our hearts to worship?  Why do we think that literature that is bland and is bad storytelling will turn our minds toward thoughts of God?  Why do we think that art that is commercialized and overly sentimental will cause our imaginations to soar to the heavens?
Perhaps this is harsh.  I will fully admit that there are artists (in the full sense of the word) out there who inspire awe in the hearts of all those who come across it.  But this is not the norm.  Not anymore, that is.
It used to be that Christians artists were at the top of their craft.  They were respected and admired throughout the world.  Think Bach.  Think Correggio.  Think Milton and Tolstoy.
Correggio
Correggio
It is not this way anymore.  The secular world no longer looks up to Christian art to lead the way.  Instead it sneers at Christian art and views it as subpar, something to be shunned rather than something to inspire.
To paraphrase James: my brothers, this should not be!  The lack of excellence in our art indicates to the world that we serve a God who is less than excellent.
Much so-called religious art is in fact bad art, and therefore bad religion. ~ Madeleine L’Engle
Oh, we could do so much better.  We could open ourselves up to the power of the Holy Spirit rather than to the power of the market.
Fellow artists, let God inspire you.  Open yourself to that which you cannot control.  Ignore the sale; ignore what you think people want.  Listen instead to the Spirit.  Listen to what God is showing you through your work: “my proper place is as a servant struggling to be faithful to the work, the work which slowly and gently tries to teach me some of what it knows.” (L’Engle)
Let your art sing.  Let it soar.
Those who are not artists, be discerning.  If it is good art, if it inspires you and sets your imagination soaring toward God, then support it.  If it is bad art, don’t support and sustain it simply because it involved the name or image of Christ.
I know that my words do not reach many, but I dream of a day when those who claim to follow a God of beauty and excellence are once again those who  produce that art which leads the entire world in soaring to the heights, are once again those who produce the art which therefore points the way to God.

To Interpret with Love

I have written recently about the difficulty of agreeing on Biblical interpretation.  It is easy to draw lines in the sand and difficult to discern between what is cultural and what is truth that transcends place and time.  It is easy to vilify those with whom we disagree and difficult to extend the grace of believing that they, too, are doing their best to follow Christ.
The ease of which I find myself speaking in terms of “us” and “them” while speaking of how we interpret the Bible forces me to search more deeply into how I see the Bible.
God's Words
Do I view the Bible as a way to live my own life or do I look into its pages to search out ways of making me right and them wrong?  Of even more eternal import, do I place the Bible as an idol above God?  Do I view the Bible or Jesus as the Word of God?
The Word
Words
It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God.  The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him.  When it becomes really necessary (i.e. for our spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity) to know whether a particular passage is rightly translated or is myth (but of course myth specially chosen by God from among countless myths to carry a spiritual truth) or history, we shall no doubt be guided to the right answer.  But we must not use the Bible (our fathers too often did) as a sort of Encyclopedia out of which texts (isolated from their context and not read with attention to the whole nature and purport of the books in which they occur) can be taken for use as weapons.  ~ C.S. Lewis in a letter to a lady
When it does become necessary to know how to interpret a certain passage (only, as Lewis said, for my own spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity), to know whether it was only written to one particular culture or whether it should be obeyed in all times and places, I am learning that love should be my standard.   It seems obvious when you think about what Jesus mandated as the most important of all the commands, but it is a standard for interpretation that I had never thought about before.  Love is to be the standard for deciding which passages are cultural and which are universal.
Paul says in Romans that whatever commandment there may be, it can be summed up in the rule “love your neighbor as yourself”.  He is, of course, writing of the Greek word agape when speaking of love.  Agape is a selfless, sacrificial, unconditional sort of love.  It is the kind of love that seeks out the best for others before it seeks for the good of itself.  I think what Paul means, what Jesus means by “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” is that if we are truly living out God’s kind of love for others, we will always be led to do the right thing.
Picking Corn
Breaking the Sabbath
Even Jesus seems to apply the same principle to the Jewish Scriptures when He heals on the Sabbath or picks and eats grain on the Sabbath.  Rather than defending Himself by saying that He is not technically breaking the Sabbath, in each case He argues that sometimes violating the letter of the law is necessary in order to act in love and fulfill the spirit of the law instead.
I have a lot more praying and studying to do about this, but this idea feels incredibly freeing.  Rather than having to be a Bible scholar and know the ancient languages by heart, I can apply this standard of agape love and let God’s Spirit lead me to the best answer of whether a passage is cultural or for always.  Paul speaks of slaves obeying their masters, but agape love demands their freedom.  Paul’s rules about hair length and head coverings were good in his time and place, but they have no current relation to loving God or our neighbors.
Scripture
We have been set free from the Law.  We no longer live under the supervision of the Law but under grace.  “What then?  Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?”  Paul speaks to this many times, saying that we are not to use our freedom to indulge our own selfish impulses but that we are to use our freedom to serve each other in love.  Love, agape love, is to be our standard, our way of deciding what is right and what is wrong, both in our deeds and in God’s Word.
After all, as we see in the story of the judgement in Matthew 25, Christ knows us by our actions as we serve the outcasts, the hungry, the sick, the poor, and the imprisoned.
But Jesus provides no list of beliefs at all.  People are judged not on what they believe but on how they have loved. ~ Kathleen Norris in Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith

How We Love