All the Little Things

So, I’ve been following the Mark Driscoll plagiarism controversy since it first came out, and if you haven’t heard about what’s going on, it’s well worth a good look. However, as I was reading up on this controversy, I came across several articles about Driscoll’s views on women, focusing specifically on his highly questionable teaching that Esther was, among other things, a selfish slut who seduced King Xerxes into making her the most powerful woman in Persia. This interpretation has a number of obvious flaws, probably the most egregious of which is the idea that Esther had the option to deny Xerxes anything. However, after reading some of Driscoll’s personal testimony about his own history with women (excerpts from his book Real Marriage), I can understand how his views were formed. Driscoll relates that every girl he dated cheated on him, including his wife (though he didn’t discover this until after they were married).

Right or wrong, the way we are treated forms our opinions of people. If you’ve only ever known blacks who were angry gang members, then chances are that you don’t much like black people. Similarly, if you’ve only ever know women who cheat, then chances are you assume that women cheat. We’re often told to avoid forming such prejudices. The problem is that avoiding such prejudices isn’t really possible. What is possible is handling such prejudices. See, if you’ve only ever known hypocritical, selfish Christians, then you’re going to see all Christians as hypocritical and selfish, and interpret their actions in this way. Recognizing this kind of basic assumption is difficult because the assumption itself is such a small thing, but its a small thing that fundamentally shapes the way you see the world. Changing this kind of fundamental assumption is incredibly difficult and often we need help to do so. I’m not convinced that we can actually change them without meeting positive examples of whatever group we are prejudiced against, and even then we must be open to allowing our minds and hearts to change.

So, why am I talking about this? Because sometimes I see women as nothing more than deceptive harpies who live to destroy good people. I know that this image isn’t true, and there are examples of women who are fundamentally not the above, which helps me in my struggle. However, I’ve also been influenced by a lot of women who were exactly that, add to this the fact that almost every woman I’ve dated has left me feeling lied to, betrayed, and broken and you begin to understand where this particular struggle comes from. While I have some experiences that tell me that women can be good, honest, beautiful people, I have a lot more experiences that tell me they are not.

Does this make me a misogynist? No, it doesn’t. It does mean that I sometimes struggle with misogyny though, and that I probably need more examples of good, caring women in my life to help me in that struggle. The problem is, I can seem to find any under 35…

That’s probably a post for another time.

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Suffering, Hardship, and Certainty

Sometimes the bible sucks. Not the whole thing, mind you, just parts of it. There are parts of it that really, thoroughly suck… at least, from a selfish American perspective. 1 Peter 2 is one of these passages that calls us to things that we just don’t want to do. Peter starts off the chapter well enough by reminding his reader’s that they’re not actually alone (remember that the book was written to Christians spread throughout Asia-Minor and currently undergoing persecution). However, then he gets into issues of obedience, specifically obedience in the face of suffering.

As Christians we are going to suffer. Paul makes that perfectly clear in 2 Timothy 3 when he tells Timothy that those who follow Christ will suffer. Of course, for many this has led to the question: since I’m not suffering right now, does this mean that I’m not really following Christ? Of course not, but… maybe. The fact that Christians will suffer does not mean that all Christians will suffer at all times in all places. Christians are not promised constant suffering, nor are we promised universally equal suffering. We are simply promised suffering. If you consider yourself a Christian and you have never suffered for your faith, then the above may be a valid question. However, the fact that you haven’t suffered yet doesn’t mean that you won’t suffer in the future. To assume a constant or universally past quality in this would be a mistake.  That being said, Christians will suffer persecution. This persecution may come at the hands of people who disagree with us, people in authority over us, or people who hate us and are powerful enough to make the authorities look the other way (certainly this is far from a complete list), but it will come.

Not every Christians suffering will be equal. One Christian my be bullied in school, another may lose a promising career, another may be beaten, and another may have he hands and feet amputated. However, any suffering for the sake of the cross is a reflection in our lives of the suffering of Christ, and thus a thing of honor in which we should rejoice. This is a part of Peter’s message in 1 Peter 2. Of course, he also reminds us that there is a difference between suffering in general and suffering for the cross. If you are imprisoned for murder, you are not suffering for the sake of the cross, you are suffering because you killed someone. If you were lazy in school and thus have lackluster opportunities, then you are not suffering for the sake of the cross, you are suffering for you laziness. However, when we do suffer for the cross, it is a wonderful thing… this doesn’t mean it’s a pleasant thing.

I am always amazed by the (generally very young) Christians I see running around singing and praying and talking about how they want to be broken. I am often tempted to add to their prayer’s something like ‘God, please make so and so’s girlfriend dump him and kill his grandmother…’. Anyone who honestly, truly wants to be broken is insane. I have been broken, multiple times. Consider the meaning of the word here: to be broken, at it’s most basic, means that a thing no longer works correctly. When I am broken, I stop working. Being broken… hurts… to an unendurable degree. No one in their right mind finds this desirable. Of course, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t necessary. There is a huge difference between wanting to be broken, and being willing to be broken. If I truly trust God, then I must be willing to allow him to break me, because I know that being broken is the path to being better, and I want to be better.

Now that I’ve finished my rabbit trails, 1 Peter 2 calls us to submit to those who would persecute us. This is antithetical to the American mindset. An American, even most American Christians, is convinced that his/her rights and freedoms are paramount. However, 1 Peter 2 calls him to cast aside his rights, even in the face of unjust actions on the part of those in authority over him. American’s value independence and freedom to the point of making selfishness a virtue. However, the scriptures claim that we should think of ourselves as less than others, give of ourselves by putting others first, and allow ourselves to be treated unjustly and thus rejoice in sharing the sufferings of Christ. This is a hard shift to make.

A few years ago, I was fired from my job for unjust reasons (I think I’ve shared the story before). The company that fired me only gave me half of my last paycheck. They had deleted the rest of my hours. It took about a month… maybe a month and a half… to get everything worked out, and at first the company didn’t appear to be willing to handle the situation at all. For a few weeks I didn’t think I would ever be seeing that money, money that I sorely needed. I had a number of friends tell me that I should sue the company, and I wanted to. I had my schedule, and I had kept track of the hours that I worked (the company was notorious for losing hours). Moreover, I had a desire for vindication. However, I prayed about the issue repeatedly, and repeatedly God told me that I was not only not to sue them, I wasn’t even to mention the possibility. No suggestions or threats to create leverage or put an emphasis on getting things worked out. Even after mentioning this to my friends who suggested that I sue the company, they continued to push me to sue… I should mention that all of these friends were Christians. They cared about me, and they wanted me to take the ‘wise and reasonable’ course of action. However, in doing so they encouraged me to flout God’s specific will. They put human reasoning and my rights above the glorification of God, and I honestly lost a lot of respect for several people because of that experience.

God is trustworthy. Whether we are in times of plenty, times of hardship, or times of persecution, he is faithful to care for us, and he has not forgotten us. He has been, is, and always will be faithful to work everything to his glory and our good. This is something that we are all to prone to forget, and we shouldn’t be.

My Day Started With a Funeral

One of my college professors died this weekend, and honestly I don’t think it actually sunk in until I was sitting at his funeral. This is a man who I never really knew particularly well, but was still extremely influential in my life. Amazing how that works isn’t it? I hadn’t seen him in probably six or seven years, but I still practice things that he taught me on a daily basis. So, I was sitting there at the back of the church in blue jeans and a dress shirt because I wasn’t particularly close to the family, and it hadn’t occurred to me that people would be wearing suits and ties until I’d walked into the building and seen them wearing suits and ties. Honestly, I doubt the dead man would have remember my name even if I’d seen him a few days before he died. So, I sat there in my completely inappropriate clothing wondering who might be sitting at the back of my funeral wearing inappropriate clothing? Who have I influenced without ever realizing it, and who’s life have I changed, even though I don’t remember who they are?

We all influence people on a daily basis. In 1 Peter 2:11-12 the apostle exhorts his audience to live righteously so that those who would malign them will see the truth of their virtue in their daily lives. Paul does the same thing in Titus. It might be one of my students, or someone at church, or a person whom I met at a local coffee shop. It might be someone to whom I’ve taught martial arts, or a neighbor, or someone I ran into at the mall. Regardless, there are people to whom my life matters that I will never know about, and I have to wonder how I’ve influenced them. Have I spurred them towards righteousness? Driven them away from the faith? Made them give up on a dream? Or pulled them back into reality? I wonder what kind of role model I’ve been, because I can see how this man influenced me.

Of course, if I spend all of my time trying to be a strong role model to whom others should look in awe, then I invite pride, hypocrisy, and deceit into my life. The man who died wasn’t a perfect man. He wasn’t even close to it, and he didn’t hide his flaws, but he was also humble, forthright, and consistently inspired me towards Christ. He was a navy man, and I remember something he told me about serving in Korea. He told me that it was always easy to tell who the Christians were on the ship. When the shop docked at post most of the crew went into town to get drunk and visit prostitutes. The Christians were the ones who came back and felt horrible about it. He pointed out to me that the mark of a Christian is not that he is morally perfect, but that he is convicted of his sin, and that he seeks repentance.

I have often heard the argument that repentance is a turning away from sin. That a part of repentance is to not do the same thing again, and this is true to a degree. Christ did tell the adulterous to go and sin no more (assuming that this story is a part of the original text), and he does hold us to a higher calling. However, he also offers us grace. There is a difference between repeated sin and willful sin. I may stumble in the same fashion many times, but this doesn’t mean that I have chosen to live in that sin. However, this is a difference of the heart that only God can judge. I can’t look at someone else’s struggle with a particular sin and judge whether he truly repents and stumbles again, or whether he’s simply stopped caring about that particular sin. I can point out to him that it is something he needs to avoid. I do everything in my power to help him to avoid it, and I may gain some insight into his motives. However, I can’t truly know his heart.

So, I think, using this professor as a model once again, that the best way to be a role model is to pursue Christ with everything that I have. To put him first and do everything in my power to live my life for him. I try to do this, and I hope that I succeed. I hope that I am a good influence on the people around me, and that I stand out as a Christian truly pursuing the father, and as a man of virtue. Maybe when I die I’ll find out if I did.

P.S. I’ve had more posts than followers for a while now :). It makes me feel like I’m winning.

Hate

I’m very familiar with hate. In fact, I was a very hateful person before I converted to Christianity. Hate was pretty much the only thing I knew how to feel. The only thing I understood, and this  isn’t an exaggeration, was how to hate. I hated everyone and everything. The only thing I wanted was to see people hurt. So, I understand hate. It makes sense to me, and I understand what it can do to people.

I’ve had some comments on one of my posts from a few days ago (honestly though, the fact that this blog has generated any interest whatsoever amazes me) that are fairly hostile. Not just hostile to the ideas in the post, but hostile to me personally. The hostility doesn’t surprise me, as I said, I’m familiar with hate, but the responses rather do. However, this highlights one of the major problems in today’s civil discourse. So often it seems impossible for people to disagree respectfully.

I teach an ethics class in which we discuss the issue of Hate Speech, and in that class I get a lot of students whose response is simply ‘why can’t people just be nice to each other’. Honestly, I often laugh at these students (quietly and to myself) because of their naivety. However, they ask a good question. Why can’t we be nice to each other? Why do we seem incapable of disagreeing respectfully?

Some of this is simply that we are completely insecure as a nation and as individuals. We are utterly and completely afraid of everything, and we can’t seem to get over that. Many of us seem to think that personal insults are a valid part of reasoned argument, and that disagreement is an act of hate. This then breeds a hateful response intended not simply to refute, but to injure. Another part of it is that many of us are so arrogant that we can’t respect any opinion that varies from our own. Many people, on either side of every major argument, utter some form of the phrase, ‘If you disagree with me then you are clearly a terrible person!’ I know wonderful people who are pro-choice, and wonderful people who are pro-life. I know wonderful people who are pro-gay marriage, and wonderful people who are pro-traditional marriage, and wonderful people who don’t think the issue matters in the slightest. I know wonderful pacifists and wonderful militants. I know wonderful democrats, wonderful republicans, and wonderful independents. There are good people on both sides of all of the major arguments, and we often fail to see that completely. The thing is, there are also bad people on both sides of all of the major arguments.

Ad hominem attacks have become so much a part of our everyday discourse that they seem natural. The problem is that these attacks do nothing to actually advance our ideas, and they do everything to shut down conversation. There is not one group that is innocent of this today: Christians do it, Muslims do it, Atheists do it, Republicans, Democrats, Skeptics, Enviromentalists, you name the group and there are plenty of people that hate their opponents, and plenty of people who confuse those who disagree with those who hate. A part of this is because hate sees hate, even when it isn’t there.

There is plenty of hate in the world without adding our own. Heck, even anti-hate groups spread hate (have you read some of the the SPLC puts out?). Instead of seeing hate in those who disagree, and then responding with hate of our own, we should respond to hate with love. We should love those who hate us, hard as that is.

The thing is, it is hard to love the people who hurt us, hard to love the people who hate us, and often hard to tell the difference between the two. Regardless, our job is to love both, and to show that love at all times. So, that’s what I’m going to try to do. I’m really not entirely sure how yet, but it’s what I want to do.

You see, the thing is that I’m not really sure I can respond in love, and actually respond. Not to say that it would be impossible to lovingly and carefully refute the claims without attacking the individuals, I’m just not sure that I can do it right now, and even if I could, I’m not sure that the individuals would see it that way.

So, I sit here wondering if it would be more loving to simply do nothing, or to attempt an amiable refutation. Sometimes I wonder if any refutation can be seen as amiable in modern society, certainly this doesn’t seem to be the case. Obviously I haven’t let these comments through, and I don’t plan to. Honestly, right now I’m not sure if I’m going to let any comments through. Of course you’re always welcome to submit comments, but I’m not really sure I’m going to actually post anyone’s comments.

I’ve said several times that I’m treating this blog as a personal journal, and I don’t know that I really want comments cluttering up my journal. All in all, I have some thinking to do before I decide how to handle them.