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God | Noah Stepro

Noah Stepro

Noah Stepro

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MC Worship Set 4/25/14

Relentless

Salvation sounds a new beginning
As distant hearts begin believing
Redemption’s bid is unrelenting
Your love goes on
Your love goes on

You carry us
Carry us
When the world gives way
You cover us
Cover us
With Your endless grace

Your love is relentless
Your love is relentless
Your love is relentless
Your love is relentless

The time is up for chasing shadows
You gave the world a light to follow
A hope that shines beyond tomorrow
Your love goes on
Your love goes on

You carry us
Carry us
When the world gives way
You cover us
Cover us
With Your endless grace

Your love is relentless
Your love is relentless
Your love is relentless
Your love is relentless

Tearing through the veil of darkness
Breaking every chain, You set us free
Fighting for the furthest heart You gave
Your own life for all to see

Tearing through the veil of darkness
Breaking every chain, You set us free
Fighting for the furthest heart You gave
Your life

Worthy, You Are Worthy

Worthy, You are worthy
Much more worthy than I know
I cannot imagine
Just how glorious You are
And I cannot begin to tell
How deep a love You bring
O Lord my ears have heard of You
But now my eyes have seen

You’re worthy
You’re worthy
You’re worthy
You’re worthy to be praised
Forever and a day

Glory, I give glory
To the One who saved my soul
You found me and You freed me
From the shame that was my own
And I cannot begin to tell
How merciful You’ve been
O Lord, my ears had heard of You
But now my eyes have seen

We’ll sing an anthem of the highest praise
We’ll sound an anthem of Your glorious name

Jesus Paid it All

I hear the Savior say, “Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray, Find in Me thine all in all.”

Jesus paid it all, All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.

Lord, now indeed I find Thy pow’r, and Thine alone,
Can change the leper’s spots And melt the heart of stone.
And when before the throne, I stand in Him complete,
I’ll lay my trophies down, All down at Jesus’ feet.

O praise the One who paid my debt
And raised this life up from the dead
O praise the One who paid my debt
And raised this life up from the dead

#PersonalityTestMania – I’m A Sith Lord, Fish Taco From 1920s Narnia

And more importantly, why do you (and I) care so much? My social media feeds have been flooded with an assortment of Zimbio personality quizzes lately – every thing from “Which Disney Princess Are You?” to “What Is Your Real Age?” or “Which Career Should You Actually Have?“. Some of them are slightly reasonable and some of them are totally absurd. Ok, I will own it…my inner Jedi was doing force levitations to see what Star Wars character I was. Do I really need an arbitrary site to tell me what character I am? Of course I don’t…this is the free world…I can decide to be Darth Vader if I want to (that was my result on said quiz)…I am also justified to throw the results out the proverbial window and choose to be C-3PO . I can even decide that my inner Star Wars character is actually Albus Dumbledore and that the city I should live in is really Paris even though I was told it was Tokyo. I am a bacon-guacamole burger that is actually 22 and should have been an interior designer.

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This latest cyber-obsession reveals a deeper need for affirmation that lingers just below the surface for all of us. Since the dawn of time we look to others for reinforcement and affirmation – this is a neutral act. Socially speaking, this can be a good thing…much of the time we as a society affirm behaviors and actions that we collectively value. Occasionally, however, we search for this affirmation through narcissistic and self-enveloped practices. I suggest the #PersonalityTestMania is one such practice.

 

See, what we are really asking when we fill out questioners to discover which “Friends” character we are? The practice of #PersonalityTestMania is the next evolution in cyber-isolation and self-affirmation. These quizzes tell us what we want to hear…anyone with a modicum of intelligence know what answers to fill in to hear the result they long for. On you “drink of choice” pick red wine if you want Paris and craft beer if you want Portland. There is no hierarchy of answers on these tests, their purpose is to bolster your self-esteem. This trend flows naturally from the progression of self-curated social media.

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Since the days of AOL chat room profiles, through the rise of Myspace and into the era of Facebook we have learned to present highly edited portraits of our lives to our cyber friends and family. Our redactive pulse is increased through every “like”, “poke”, and “retweet” we get. Apparently, these digital affirmations are tantamount to the psychological and emotional equivalent of a hug. A research group recently did a study on the generation of affection through social media affirmation and found the levels of dopamine released through “liking” and commenting on posts was higher than said effect from smoking…thus making it more addictive and harder to quite. Crazy huh? FB is more addictive than smoking.

 

There is a catch with FB posts, however…PEOPLE have to like them. So what if you are inherently un”like”able? In other words, a cyber tool? You need to eliminate the uncontrollable HUMAN element in your quest for dopamine releasing, online, self-affirmation: Enter Zimbio. The level of cyber curating at work in these types of online engagements is unprecedented…and therefore a little scary. We take these as a means of emotional and psychological self-medicating.

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Now, I’m not saying that everyone who takes these quizzes is a sociopathic, narcissistic, megalomaniac in deep need of artificial stimulation, nor am I saying they are inherently bad…I’ll be the first person to admit I wanted to find out which era music group I belonged too (like that means anything). What I am saying is that the popularity and plurality of these assessments of meaning and purpose is totally understandable and expected when placed within the greater trend of cyber-reinforcement. Are you taking these quizzes as a means of procrastinating your next work project or avoiding homework? Or is there something slightly deeper going on? What do you rely on to affirm your identity?

Michael J. Fox, Imago Dei and the Church

The moment Michael J. Fox latched onto the back of a moving jeep and drifted his way on a skateboard to his band rehearsal my lifelong, man-crush began. He was the epitome of cool and every time I see his IMDB repertoire I sing to myself “That’s the Power of Love…”. Needless to say when NBC rolled out a new comedy centering on Fox I was thrilled. The show was a fresh take on the postmodern, family comedy because it incorporated a frank portrayal of adjusting to life with Parkinson’s. Watching the first episode I was mesmerized…in part by Fox and the sharp writing of the show, but also in part by the disorienting nature of watching a life-crippling disability honestly depicted on primetime T.V. As much as I love Fox and commend NBC for moving bravely in this direction, I was surprisingly uncomfortable the first time viewing it.

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Why was I in such discomfort? Why are we as a culture so unsettled by disability? I recall the controversy surrounding Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial several years ago. FDR was paralyzed from the waist down, but we chose to hide/ignore his handicap while in office. When it came time to erect a statue of the President there was a strong push to model him standing up instead of sitting in a wheelchair (how he actually spent his Presidency). We find this uncomfortable because disability calls into question our self-sufficiency and insolation like nothing else. Pop media (as well as “church culture”) has cultivated and reinforced the idea that we are worth what we (independently) produce and contribute to said culture. However, we are told in Genesis 1:26-27 that all humans are made in the image of God, the Imago Dei – but so often we misunderstand what that means. This is apparent in my response to Fox and his disability and I think it is endemic of our cultural and theological malaise. If Fox and any other human living with physical handicap is made in God’s image what does that tell us about our own design and purpose, our culture – both pop and church, and about the nature of the Creator? A theological paradigm that takes seriously those disabled amongst us presents a series of polemics to expand our spiritual depth and capacity:

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Hyper-Individualism v. Communal Love and Dependence (Trinity)

The Fox show seriously challenges our hyper-individualistic approach to spirituality by highlighting the dependence of the shows protagonist on his community and family. The basis for reorienting our understanding of the Imago comes through the very nature of who God is. Bishop John Zizioulas suggest the nature of the Trinity provides the key to a holistic paradigm to understanding the Image of God within all of us: ​

Throughout the entire history of Western thought the equation of person with the ​thinking, self conscious individual has led to a culture in which the thinking individual ​has become the highest concept in anthropology. This is not what emerges from the ​thought of the Cappadocian Fathers. True personhood arises not from one’s ​individualistic ​isolation from others but from love and relationship with others, from ​communion… This is true of God whose being is constituted and hypostasized through a ​free event of love caused by a free and loving person, the Father, and not by the necessity ​of divine nature.

Thus the paradigm of community is an integral piece to understanding the Image of God. The inverse could be stated that where we are driven into deeper isolation we are driven further from the Image and Presence of God. Disability becomes illustrative for understanding our design and purpose. Most physical and mental handicaps require a dependence on others…to be created “male and female” reflects the communal, Trinitarian nature of God. To live with disability is to live with others (family, doctors, care givers, support networks) in your life. The autonomy by which we typically define personhood is challenged when we are incapable of fully caring for ourselves. The communion and love of the Trinity then suggest three powerful ways to redress our thinking – they are represented by different members of the Trinity.

Self-Aggrandizement V. Humility in Worship (Father)

One of the greatest weaknesses in Western thinking is our idea of “blessing“. If we get a new car or a job we are #blessed and God’s providence reigns supreme. But when life is falling apart God is a distant watchmaker, we are surprised Deists. Historically many theologians embraced this convenient fatalism with a reductionist approach to the Imago Dei. Thomas Aquinas offered a definition of the Imago that only includes the mentally healthy –

it is clear, therefore, that intellectual creatures alone, properly speaking, are made to God’s image.

This echoes Augustine as well as many if the church fathers but of course (as Luther pointed out) this means Satan is more in the image of God than infants and those with sever mental impediments. Jesus challenged this inconsistent, perverse theology when addressing the man born blind from birth in John 9. Having a disability is not a sign of God’s disapproval, nor is physical health a sign of God’s divine blessing and direction. Fox challenges this fatalism by the fact that he is “good” at his job and “good” at his family. This perspective points to the absurdity of death and illness as it correlates to our spiritual prowess or theological alignment and it calls to a proper positioning between us and God the Father. Disability comes from dissonance with the Father, not as a direct or specific punishment or result of a failing.

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Presence v. Productivity (Son)

The word “image” in the Imago Dei means “idol” – (צֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים, tzelem elohim). This implies that first and foremost we are the shadowy representation of God on earth…if someone wants to encounter God they can do so through God’s image – men and women. As such, we share in a responsibility to rule and shepherd with God through our inherent gifts. But what does it mean when our ability to “rule”, or subdue, or multiply, or create is diminished or removed? Fox’s story on the show is in part about him returning to try his task as a top billed news anchor. He quickly realizes that while he can still perform his job, it will not be the same as it was prior to disability. One of the major hurdles Fox faces is the challenge of identity. Without being able to rely on his own abilities and skills the security of self-created identity, of writing his own story, disappears. That journey is so representative of our plight as humans. Don’t we equate “identity” with “duty”? We need to shift our perception of envisioning the image of God in light of disability by realizing we are more than our tasks, professions, spiritual gifts or ability to produce! The Imago Dei comes from all seven days of creation, not just the productive ones. We are called to abide and be present without producing. Jesus emphasizes this over and over again in the Gospel of John. Perhaps the cringe of living with the handicap begins by confronting our incessant need to link our value to our productivity.

Mental disability asks us to be present without always being conversant. Whether it is autism or trauma and attachment disorder, those with disabilities are not always able to communicate or socially relate to God and the Church in conventional ways. Does this mean they are not full members of the Body of Christ or fully able to encounter God? In prayer we are often presented with the challenge of conversation without response, listening without answers. In a church body, if we can’t contribute and function in the typical ways of leadership and volunteerism are we weaker members? Scripture answers a resounding NO! A theology of personhood in light of disability and the incarnation moves us away from the “vending machine” model of prayer…”I say these prayers; you give me this” (which is a form and practice of idolatry) and towards a model of spirituality that is more relational and incarnational. Jesus displayed the glory of God in a moment of absolute disability – God on the Cross is God with us…a model for our being.

Abstract Religion v Embodied Relationship (Spirit)

The very notion of an “image” implies embodiment – the personal nature of dealing with the embodiment is highlighted in the way we are invited to relate to God. Moses is told God’s name, Yahweh, when he is called to relate to him. I think one of the greatest let downs of the journey of Israel is that they replace the personal name of God with the impersonal “LORD”. Too often we keep God and others at arms distance, moving from the personal to the impersonal. In Western Christianity there is a propensity to abstract Jesus and wax esoterically and intellectually instead of worship personally. I’ve stopped asking people if they are “Christians” – I find the term ethereal and unhelpful. Instead I talk in language of “following Jesus” – it is a subtle shift, but one that changes the rules of the game. One cannot theoretically follow Jesus, you can only actually follow or not follow Jesus. To quote Scott McKnight:

Those who aren’t following Jesus aren’t his followers. It’s that simple. Followers follow, and those who don’t follow aren’t followers. To follow Jesus means to follow Jesus into a society where justice rules, where love shapes everything. To follow Jesus means to take up his dream and work for it. ― One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow.

When we encounter the disabled we are forced to move from an abstraction to a personal encounter. On the Fox show, all pomp and formality is challenged when Fox reenters the workplace. It is hard to take policies and procedures too seriously when people with physical and mental disabilities come into the picture. Fox challenges the Hollywood image of perfection and photoshop – demanding we look at him as a person, not as a personality.

Similarly we often engage matters of disability as abstract problems to “fix” – hence FDR and the Wheelchair. A half-century after his death we are still trying to “fix” the cripple. This can happen theologically as well…I’ve sadly heard Christians remark after a miscarriage or a small baby dies that we will meet them in heaven…AS A FULLY GROWN HUMAN! This get’s extend to those with mental disabilities…”they won’t have Asperger’s in heaven”. The problem is we have an underdeveloped understanding of the Imago Dei and the telos of the Kingdom. How do you magically replace someone’s personality in the afterlife? The telos we are moving towards sees all wrongs righted, but does it erase the wounds of our earthly reality? That would diminish the power of redemption – the scars in Jesus hands would suggest that is not the future reality.

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Jesus brought in healing and wholeness to the lives of those who approached him, but healing only happens in and through personal encounter (i.e. Jesus and the quadriplegic, Peter and John outside the temple). To locate the Imago solely in the spirit without including the body both denies our physical reality any true importance and promotes an abstraction that says “the Image is so distorted in the severely disabled that we need not take them seriously now” (but one day it will be restored). I suggest it is fully present in even those with the most severe of disabilities. The Holy Spirit beckons the church to engage one another personally and relationally and embrace, rather than deny the personhood in our disabled brothers and sisters. Living with a disability is a formative thing…while the physical may be healed, the marks or memories of it will be with that person…because they embody it. One thing I love about the Fox show is that there isn’t a strong focus on “fixing” him, nor do they reduce his role to that of someone living with Parkinson’s. I don’t think our heavenly father treats us that way, nor does he want us to treat his body (the one that was broken and crippled) with pandering abstraction. What does it say that pop culture seems to be more progressive and inclusive than many churches in America today? Conversely is it not telling that the show is now being cancelled. It is not for lack of talent, writing, production or advertising…could it be for lack of comfort? Is it hard for us to tune in on Thursday nights and face our own mortality and weakness?

 

I drew from some brilliant thinkers, scholars and practitioners such as John Goldingay, Stanley Hauerwas and Henri Nouwen

Much of our isolation is self-chosen . . . This self-reliance has many attractions. It gives us a sense of power, it allows us to move quickly, it offers us the satisfaction of being our own boss, and it praises many rewards and prizes. However, the underside of this self-reliance is loneliness, isolation and a constant fear of not making it in life.

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now

The Zeitgeist of the Oscars

I think the cultural monuments of celebration in our time, Culture Making Celebrations (Oscars, etc.), Sports Championships (Super Bowl, Olympics and such), Political Victories, and Holiday Festus all speak clearly and loudly to what we value as a society. This has historically been true as we have seen these celebrations and the values the exemplify change over time. Pre-modern Worship Ceremonies typically highlighted fertility and agricultural production; The Roman Circuses and Gladiator Battles promoted the cultural of warrior strength and patriarchy; The Saint’s Days of Old Europe highlighted piety and community (and often ironically debauchery). So what message is heralded from Hollywood last night?

 

I think there a many…some good, some bad. But perhaps the loudest voice was the ghost of Ponce de Leon harkening us back to the fountain of eternal youth. Nothing is celebrated quite like perpetual agelessness. To be honest this was my first thought after seeing Gravity. I could not believe how good Sandra Bullock looked at 49 – good for her, she looks healthy and agile. But my reaction should be telling because it was what was echoed throughout the celebri-verse for weeks surrounding the film. Botox, surgery, crash diets, and Photoshop are nothing new to the visually heavy industries but the extremes we have gone to promote false vision of beauty are becoming disturbing.

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Absolutely nothing displayed this fetish more than the presentation of Best Actor category by Kim Novak. The 81-year-old actress most famous for her role in Vertigo nervously clung to the arm of her co-presenter as she approached the stage. It was clear this once popular sex symbol had undergone some zealous plastic surgery in an attempt to blend into the sex-sheen of Tinsel Town. Needless to say 81-year-old+sexpot+rhinoplasty+narcisistic audience=epic fail. Most of Hollywood turned on Novak like a sickly runt in the coupe…plucking the few remaining feathers of dignity she had until they were healthy and better by comparison. Film critique Farrah Nehme sums up the situation so well:

So let’s say — just as a hypothetical for-instance — you are an 81-year-old star whose last movie was in 1991 and who hasn’t been to the Oscars in many a long year. Not that you were ever nominated for one in the first place; you were, after all, a sex symbol for most of your career. As the evening approaches, the anxiety sets in. Harsh lights, you think. High-definition cameras. And a public that remembers you chiefly as the ice goddess whose beauty once drove James Stewart to the brink of madness.

And even back then, when you were 25 years old, you worried constantly that no matter how you looked, it wasn’t good enough.

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It seems the zeitgeist, the ghost of our age reverberating out of Los Angeles and embraced by large sections of our world is: “Your Body Isn’t Good Enough”. Most of us are not quite as self-obsessed as Hollywood because we can’t afford to be – plastic surgery, personal trainers and expensive skin care are out of our reach…but we all have a choice in our death! Take the issue of creamation…That is right, cremation speaks to how we view our bodies. Cremation in America has risen from 3.5% in 1960 to 45% today…and we are projected to grow 10% in the next ten years. I see this as reflecting two trends:

  1. We are moving from a physical religious/ethical history – Christianity/Judaism to an esoteric, dualism of body/spirit. We have this in the Western Tradition in the Greeks, particularly Plato, but it is in the Eastern religions where the body is seen as something weak, imperfect and unspiritual. As we embrace a theology that is “spiritual-but-not-religious” we devalue the importance of our physical bodies.
  2. This devaluing is reflected in our obsession with beauty and youth. That might sound contradictory, but the mantra chanted is be as young and beautiful as you can (even though you will never live up to your own beauty – i.e. actresses and models saying they wished they looked as good as they do in ads and movies) until you die…then burn the body.

Traditionally in Western culture to burn the body was a curse…because the body is seen as an important component of life, not just a disposable vessel that is actually in the way of finding your “true self”. Now, I’m not actually opposed to cremation, I have friends and relatives who have been cremated and depending on how poor my surviving relatives are, I might be too. It is interesting however, to see the rise of this trend follow the rise of plastic surgery, image altering and visual media.

Eventually, might we twist, alter and distort our bodies until there is nothing let that resembles or original form?

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Would Jesus Go to the Super Bowl?

Would Jesus Go to the Super Bowl?

Yes. And No.

Today I reposted a blog on sex-trafficking and the Super Bowl…the traction and debate it generated really surprised me, so in the spirit of avoiding an endlessly repeating cycle of Facebook comments (most of which no one reads before posting their own thoughts) I will offer a more detailed, nuanced look at this Sunday’s super game.

“Jesus would totally go to the Super Bowl!”

  1. That is where people are gathering, Jesus seemed to be with the people…even beer chugging Broncos fans.
  2. Sports promote physical health, team work and sociability – the Lord likes all those things right?
  3. Watching a sporting event can be a great way to unwindand rest…certainly God was into that.
  4. There is absolutely nothing intrinsically wrongwith the sport of football.
  5. All the Seahawks love him.

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“Jesus would brandish a Pig of Nineskins and clear the stadium!”

  1. The Super Bowl is a place where celebrity worshipmay be at its highest point of the year. Between the ridiculously overpaid, championed athletes and the Halftime Show it is perhaps the most widely watched 3 hours of idolization out of every year.
  2. Merchandising, commercials, and endorsements/product placements promote happiness through stuff (i.e. capitalist materialism)…I’m pretty sure Jesus hated that and said some harsh things about envy and the worship of wealth.
  3. Sexual exploitation – that’s right I went there. Even if there wasn’t a single girl trafficked into the area for the purposes of pleasuring the traveling fans and franchises (which there are…I have a friend who was trafficked for such purposes) the sexual manipulation/exploitation that takes place during the ads and the Halftime Show is reason enough to avoid it.

So would Jesus go see the Seahawks and the Broncos show down this weekend? It depends on where his Father was leading. If it was the moment to be with some people that are going to open up and be vulnerable to him…I could totally see Jesus hanging at the game. However, it seems the Super Bowl is far more against the values of God’s Kingdom than aligned with it. Does the game explicitly mean idols and exploitation? No for most people it is a family tradition or the culmination of a season competition. But if we think about the deeper meaning of what it has mutated into over the last 30 years are we called to reexamine this national event?

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I tried to picture Jesus going to the Gladiator games or circuses in Rome…they were hedonistic expressions of violence, sexual debauchery and emperor worship. Is the Super Bowl that far away from Roman chariot races? If anything it may be more exaggerated and wide spread? I think one of the reasons my earlier post on FB rubbed quite a few people the wrong way is that sports can be major idols in our world. There is no direct vice in watching the game (the halftime show is a different story). I think this is where the confusion comes in…we can watch the game while still following and staying in the will of Christ, but should we? The answer is Yes. And No. If we are gathering to be together, reach out to our neighbors and enjoy community it can still be a great event (despite the underbelly of the beast…Jesus didn’t condemn nor support the Roman army) or it can be a time to revel in fantasy, lust and envy…what are you going to make it?

 

I genuinely think God loves football…not sure about the NFL though. What do you think? I’d be curious to hear from some football fans on this.

If God Wouldn’t Have Made Apples, We’d All Be Perfect

Trolling along Facebook this morning I came across this long and unclever “meme” on literalism, sin and the Bible. (yes I made up the word ‘unclever’…I think it is rather… ingenious). I recalled a very rousing discussion I had over Thanksgiving this last year on the literal nature of Genesis. Before I go further, I am not going to layout any position or beliefs on the matter, if you are really interested in that send me a message and I’ll let you buy me a coffee. I will however offer a few suggestions on the meaninglessness of the debate.

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I’ve had these thoughts for a long time but rarely find and occasion to put them together. This simple little picture sums up so well the problem of black and white, simplistic theology and the claims that a lot of us in the Evangelical world adhere to and the equally problematic reasoning of atheists/agnostics who use the same reasoning to discredit Christianity. Run through this list and see if you resonate with any of these.
  • Without a literal Adam and Eve we are not all sinners (Original Sin)
  • Without Original Sin we don’t all need redemption
  • Without the need for Sin Atonement Jesus is redundant at best, pointless at worst
  • Ergo, everything in Genesis 1-8 is literal or Christianity is untrustworthy
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Both camps, scriptural literalists and atheist physicalists would agree with this theology…BUT IT IS WRONG!!!
  • Do you really need the Garden of Eden to know there is sin in the world? In us?
  • Do you need be inherently wicked from birth or can we just admit that everyone misses the mark at some point, not because of Original Sin but because of the ecosystem we are part of.
  • Is Jesus only good to us as some sort of cash payment for our own brokenness?
I think if the Bible started at Genesis 8 we would still have a clear understanding of God’s plan, acts of redemption, human brokenness and sin. The first 7 chapters of the Bible are wonderful, but they are not the essential building blocks of Christian belief. I’m not saying they aren’t real, or valuable or anything. But all of the early heroes of faith understood the nature of God’s Covenantal Love, Human Brokenness and the need for Redemption without a written copy of the creation account. If you removed this from your system of thinking how much would your theology change?
Leave some thoughts, comments, challenges…I would love to hear from you on this

Obamacare Falls on the Cactus Curtain

Today’s “shut down” only codifies the cynicism my generation has towards government and bureaucracy. I really don’t care about Obama-care or the Republican/Democrat divide. I am interested in a government that has the interest of the people at it’s center. The fact that all Congressmen/women are getting paid during the “shut down” highlights the absurdity of the matter. Is this really about the interest of the citizens? Or is it about political ambitions on both sides? Obama has made this the cornerstone of his administration…is it really about helping people? With the 50-100% increase in some medical plans I can’t possibly think this is about the best interests of the people.

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The Atlantic posted this tidbit today: “At the National Institutes of Health, nearly three-quarters of the staff was furloughed. One result: director Francis Collins said about 200 patients who otherwise would be admitted to the NIH Clinical Center into clinical trials each week will be turned away. This includes about 30 children, most of them cancer patients, he said.”

I have to hand it to Jon Stewart, he assesses the situation well with this…it is not about Conservative/Liberal, it is about what is Constitutional and lawful!

Another example of how politicians are out for themselves and not the public. The L.A. Times recently ran an article on the “Cactus Curtain” of the Antelope Valley…separating Lancaster and Palmdale. This divide is all about the vote-ability and political potency of each town/mayor…not what is in the best interest of the people. 100 million+ has been wasted on the squabbling…leaving the rich richer, and the poor suffering at the hands of a widening income gap.

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Who cares about the “Stand off”? Who even cares about he National Parks for that matter? Don’t we care more that the majority of our politicians care more about elect-ability than virtue and truth? IDK, days like this make me apathetic to government and reestablish my belief that God and the Kingdom of Heaven are the only hope for humanity.

Count It All As Shit – Christians and Cursing

Is it ok for someone following Jesus to swear?

Words change.

What is offensive changes. Language, and the meaning we socially construct with it, morphs and shifts as society transforms (this is one of the things that postmodernism is all about). Curse or swear words are socially constructed as well. I had a friend from Sweden stay with me for several weeks and he was cussing like a sailor. Every time he met someone he would say “hello how the f*$@ are you?” I had to apologize to everyone he met…he thought this was really funny. Not being a native Anglophile he had no concept of what he was conveying…he had no social framework for his language.

Curse words are nothing more than icons we ascribe meaning to. I am sure the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon would not use the phrase “nigger entertainments” today as he did in an 1891 Sword and Trowel publication. There is a reason today’s Bible translators use “urinate” or “to relieve oneself” instead of the King James employment of “piss” (1 Sam 25:22, 25:34; 1 Kings 14:10, 16:11, 21:21; 2 Kings 9:8). In the last two decades, even the word “sucks” has mellowed and is no longer the hotbed of Christian offense.

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1. Pre-modern societies believed the most offensive words were excommunicatory in nature.

I was able to repay my Swedish friend a few years later when I was in Stockholm. The gravest of words utterable in his country is the Swedish word for Satan (though ironically no one believes in Satan…it is one of the most atheistic countries on earth). So being the good friend that I was I relished every opportunity to call things Satan…he found a new appreciation for the position he put me in. Offensive words were religious terms that threatened punishment and damnation. It is the same in France (another very atheistic country). My French speaking friends tell me the most offensive words in their language are still along the lines of religious cursing and calling someone a “devil”. In English, the words “damn” and “hell” used to have a harsh edge but have softened over time. The names of God and Christ and Joseph/Mary are often called up to create offense. In fact, the word “cuss” is related to “curse” which has religious overtones, as does the word “swear”.

At Sunday School, I was told not to use words like “Geez Whiz”, and “Jeepers” because they were toned down versions of swear words. There were lots of these words – “Gosh”, “golly”, “dang it”, “heck” . . .”s’truth” which means ‘God’s truth’ and is still popular in Australia. In my mother’s household children would have to say “Amster-naughtyword” instead of Amsterdam BUT . .. she was allowed to repeat the refrain “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, catch a nigger by the toe . . ” That was not offensive in her day (to white people at least).

2. In the Modern culture (from the Industrial Revolution-Internet, and in some cases we still live there), words that caused the most offense affronted our personal and private sensibilities.

These offensive words were normally associated with private body parts, bodily functions of a toilet nature (I remember when I wasn’t allowed to say “fart” or “puked”), and sexual relations. The shift began in the 1800’s as the Industrial Revolution drove a deeper wedge between the male and female spheres. Victorian morality of the period frowned upon discussion of any aspect of sexuality. A “cult of purity” arose…people fetishized the “pure” to ridiculous extents, going so far as to replace the words for chicken “breasts” and “thighs” with “white” and “dark” meat. Now the words “ass” or “crap” or “piss” – all functional words that previously served a purpose – are offensive.

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3. Today’s Post-modern world is most offended by exclusionary language, as the voices of the margin dwellers and powerless have been given consideration and brought to the center.

Marginalizing people due to their race, gender, disability or status is about the most offensive thing you can say. The School Success and Opportunity Act (transgender school bill) that recently passed here in California highlights the centrality of this shift. Being “pure” is no longer the concern of school discipline, but it is being fair and equal. Bullying and language of exclusion are the threats of today and the language associated with them is often seen as expletives. When I was a teenager it was common and acceptable in youth circles to hear words like “gay” or “retarded” used to describe something as odd…but not today. Such words have been removed from the cannon of what is acceptable. Hip-hop producer Russell Simmons recommended eliminating “extreme curse words” from the recording industry.

Which words?

“nigger”

“bitch”

“ho”

Note the absence of sexual- or bodily-function-type cuss words. These days, no one loses their job for saying “shit” but if you say “Bitch” or “Nigger” in the US or “Ching” in Australia or “Paki” in UK then your entire career might be on the line.

In the USA a lawsuit was brought against a Southwest Airlines Flight attendant in 2003 for using this rhyme, even without saying the n___ word. What she said was “Eenie, meenie, minie, mo, pick a seat, we gotta go”.  Its the same refrain I used to repeat when choosing between toys.

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So “how then shall we live?”

I am not trying to make an argument for offensive language, but I would like to look at meaningful language. The triteness of our dilemma over language may illustrate the state of our hearts. What are we really concerned with when it comes to cussing? Allow me to illustrate with a line I’ve used in a sermon before from Tony Campolo: “While you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.” Campolo illustrates the problem of putting “morality” before sincerity. What compels us? Are we turned off by the appearance or language of someone before we can engage their hearts?

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It isn’t how we say it, it is why we say it!

St. Paul says something along the same lines in Philippians 3:8. For those interested here it is in the Koine Greek: ἀλλὰ μενοῦνγε καὶ ἡγοῦμαι πάντα ζημίαν εἶναι διὰ τὸ ὑπερέχον τῆς γνώσεως Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ τοῦ κυρίου μου, δι᾿ ὃν τὰ πάντα ἐζημιώθην, καὶ ἡγοῦμαι σκύβαλα, ἵνα Χριστὸν κερδήσω”…

The word you want to keep your eye on is “σκύβαλα“—pronounced “skubala.” Here’s a literal translation of the verse: “But indeed I also consider everything to be loss on account of the surpassing knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, on account of whom I forfeited all things; and I consider them shit so that I may gain Christ…”

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Everything else is Shit!

Yes, you heard me right. Skubala means shit. Not only does it literally mean shit—i.e. human excrement—but it also has the same connotation. It is a vulgar word. Paul would not have said it in mixed company unless he expected a reaction. It’s difficult to find Christian sources that discuss skubala, but it’s use in ancient writings outside of the Bible makes clear that it was considered very impolite and yet he used it anyway. Why? To make a very clear point and to speak in a way that his audience would undoubtedly understand. They got the message. Sometimes, we need extreme language to help us contrast the extreme distance between a life with God vs a life without God. The leading modern Greek lexicon BDAG glosses skubala as “refuse,” “garbage,” “human excrement,” “crud,” and “crap”—very strong words for this Christian scholarly book. So the original text of the sacred Scripture contains a fowl word. English translations don’t like this word. They take the edge off it:

  • King James: …and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ…
  • New American Standard: …and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ…
  • New English Translation: …I regard them as dung!– that I may gain Christ…
  • Revised Standard: …and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ…

The same can be said of Isaiah 64:6All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” That word for “filthy rags” would be better translated from the Hebrew “menstrual rags” or more modernly “used tampons” – paints a different picture. The sterilized version of filthy rags makes me think of a dish cloth, not used sanitary napkins.

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There is something reassuring to me about an author of Scripture employing a vulgarity and about Paul caring much more about the passion and depth of our commitment to Christ than the shit of this world. It highlights Paul’s humanity and the intensity that should be conveyed with spiritual truth. Isn’t the truth of what is being communicated more important than the language used?

The problem is not if you are cursing or not, but are you uplifting or not? Cursing fulfills two functions: 1. A filler for poorly constructed sentences, leaving you sounding unintelligent. 2. A means to elicit a reaction. Some times that is humor or shock, some times it is to offend. But then there is a double standard to what is offensive…if you are a part of the minority group it is ok to appropriate your slurs and wear them as a badge of honor. Does the slur make a difference? I could sing about slapping bitches and hoes or I can sing about assaulting women and girls…it is still equally offensive to me…I simply feel the full impact in the first statement. It conveys what I am really trying to get at.

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So I could call all the things of this life “dung” or I can call them shit. They both say the same thing, but the second gets more to the point. I think this get’s to what Martin Luther meant when he told people to “sin boldly”: “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.” This gets to the heart of the cursing dilemma. Not that Luther wants us to be full of sin, but that we would realize we aren’t saved by our morality, our clean language.

If we are concerned more about the words we craft than the subject of them (form over substance) we miss the point. Dallas Willard calls this type of religion “sin management”. That kind of hypocritical concern with the appearance of things is what most of my friends hate about “religious people”; funny enough, Jesus had a few things to say about those people. Cursing emphasizes what you are trying to say…cursing isn’t usually the problem, what we are saying is usually the problem. So the same author who urged us to “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs” can call something shit. There are plenty of “moral” Christians whose vocabulary is clean, but whose language is empty.

Is your language one of “sin management” and morality or of unbridled conviction?

 

 

Many of the words and thoughts from this post flow out of an email conversation from my very brilliant co-pastor Greg Larson, a blog on curse words and a blog on Greek syntax.

9/11–What Does It Mean to Remember?

I was lecturing yesterday in one of my American history classes and we came to the Spanish/American War. This brought us to the call to “Remember the Maine”. Now most of us don’t remember the Maine much less know what that slogan is referencing…this brings up the question that seems so apropos on this anniversary of tragedy…”What does it mean to remember?”

What are you remembering or recalling when you ponder the events of 9/11? What rituals do you go through on the  anniversary of a death? What do they mean?

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I’m sharing an excellent video for those of you brave enough to dig into some abstract, historical themes – it is about 45 minutes so beware. Jay Winters (Guest lecturing in John Merriman’s class) elaborates on the changes in the way we remember things…the rituals, creeds, myths, sites and artifacts since World War I. The inconceivable, universal devastation that comes out of WWI (and is seen in moments such as the Holocaust, the Cultural Revolution, 9/11 etc.) was so unprecedented that we must frame it in some psychological matrix. If we do not deal with the terror of the Somme, Auschwitz or the Twin Towers we are subject to hysteria and crippling fear. These spiritual, cultural, political, personal rituals give us the stability to function in a world that is completely unstable.

Remembering WWI

Ernest Becker wrote in is Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Denial of Death, that we participate in “transference” when we ascribe special meaning to people, things or events as a way to control them. When we participate in forms of remembrance are we fetishizing aspects of life? Do we remember 9/11 to tell ourselves “never forget” or “never again”? The great memorials of WWI were erected to say “never again” – Woodrow Wilson called it the “War to End All Wars”. We know that didn’t work so well…our memorials are incapable of protecting us from the uncertainty of the future and the inevitability of death? Becker calls this “transference heroics” or “safe heroism” – meaning we fill our world with fetish objects (memorials, flags, etc.) to buffer the overwhelming, awesome reality of the universe. But the call to “never forget” calls us to something much deeper and somber.

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Remembering can be so much more than a mechanism for dealing with neurosis. I happened to read Deuteronomy 8 this morning…the whole chapter is focused on “remembering”! Look at verse two: “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” Characters of Scripture are told over and over again to erect memorials or altars that they might remember something significant that has happened in that place. Clearly remembering or memorials are not bad, but are we using them as objects of transference to coop with unbelievable dread or do they call us to remember timeless truths that point us forward?

How are you remembering 9/11 today?