Monday, August 14, 2017

Stuff I Should Write and then Delete

(I wrote this last week as a sort of spiritual cousin to another thought I once had. So it is not directly about events over the week-end, but it certainly relates. And, I do realize that if I am right about what I am saying here, people are not going to understand what this is trying to say. Bring on the misguided accusations?!?)

I like to tell myself that there was a time in America, before all this tribalism, when reason and truth—often biblical truth—were the standard for public discourse. You used to be able to call out those on your own “side” of an issue. You could question, debate, and disagree without being accused of abandoning a position. In fact, positions worth taking held up to such analysis, and if they didn’t, they were exposed and corrected.

Today, conservatism is becoming unrecognizable. A hallmark of conservative thinking used to be character, integrity. You could not claim to hold certain values dear while flaunting those same ideals in action. That sort of intellectual inconsistency was not tolerated. Whereas the substance of a person used to be of paramount importance, today tribal buzz words are all that matter. And, if you question a public figure for not being consistent, or even qualifying to represent a position, you are seen as attacking the tribe. You are accused of abandoning the very ideals that you are trying to defend. Not because such an argument makes sense; but because you have broken the rules of tribalism. Don’t think, just follow!

An extreme example of this was seen on Independence Day this year. When a news organization posted the Declaration of Independence online following an annual tradition of theirs, many “conservatives” took offense that their values were being attacked. The Declaration of Independence was being accused of being anti-American!

The saddest part of all this is that it is impacting the church. Biblical Christianity is being laid aside in favor of a dogma that holds group-think most dear. To quote one of my favorite thinkers:

“This…is a belief: a firm, even prosaic belief that our nation (or tribe), in sober fact, has long been and still is markedly superior to all others. I once ventured to say to an old clergyman who was voicing this sort of patriotism, ‘But, sir, aren’t we told that every nation thinks its own men the bravest and its own women the fairest in the world?’ He replied with total gravity—he could not have been graver if he had been saying the creed at the altar—‘Yes, but in England it’s true.’ To be sure, this conviction had not made my friend (God rest his soul) a villain; only an extremely lovable ass. It can, however, produce asses that kick and bite. On the lunatic fringe, it may shade off into that popular racialism which Christianity and science equally forbid.”

When we no longer hold to the demanding, must-be-wrestled-with, ethics of the Kingdom that ask us to sacrifice our own comfort and safety for God’s ideals and commands, we are no longer following biblical Christianity. We are following instead just another tribal religion that holds our comforts and needs as gods that supersede the gods of other tribes. What we see today is an embrace of a pragmatic, self-serving, dogma that often goes against the example of Christ; an embrace of antichrist.

And do not be fooled. The antichrist zeitgeist never starts out with mustache-twirling evil. It does good. It serves creature-comforts. It works. It makes people feel safe. In fact, as long as you embrace it and never speak out against it, it won’t hurt you. Holding fast to the commands and ideals of Christ, on the other hand, does hurt. It is not easy. It involves sacrifice and placing others first. The zeitgeist hates those who follow Christ. Because our role is to question the powers that be, not to kowtow to them for favor.

The Bible warns that most will not resist. Most will be taken in, even, if possible, the elect.

Friday, August 11, 2017

"The Edge of Seventeen" (2016)

Every once in a while, I write about films on this blog that I tag with the label “Not a Recommendation.” That warning is issued because, while a lot of stories contain elements of truth and are worth talking about to better engage the culture, they are not all the sorts of stories that everyone should go out and consume. People need to make their own judgement call when it comes to violent and sexual content. “The Edge of Seventeen” is a perfect example of just such a movie. Along with some good insight, it has teenage characters engaging in a lot of sexual talk (and some sexual activity) and generally talking like potty-mouthed Hollywood versions of teens.

Hailee Steinfeld plays Nadine, a high school outsider. Her one best friend and fellow misfit starts dating Nadine’s older brother, who is a part of the popular crowd. Nadine takes offense at that and isolates herself further. To make matters worse, even though a nice boy is taking interest in her, Nadine only has eyes for a bad boy who doesn’t know she exists. Over the course of the movie, Nadine makes terrible choice followed by terrible choice. She can’t get out of her own way.

Her relationship with her mother is a major source of conflict. The viewer sees right away that they are too much alike. They both struggle to deal with difficulty in life. Her mom’s advice, that is almost good, is to realize that everyone on the world is as miserable as they are… just better at hiding it.

Nadine’s biggest problem is that she thinks the whole world revolves around her. When things don’t go her way, she sees it not simply as a case of life being unfair, but rather as a personal attack. God is out to get her. That is the biggest missing piece in this story. As soon as Nadine manages to gain empathy for others and see that the world doesn’t revolve around her, she will be much better off. But what she could really use is a voice in her life that shows her a sense of purpose, a picture of God that would care about her. The one voice of reason in her life, a teacher played wonderfully by Woody Harrelson, does not provide that.

If teens could see this movie for what it is, it might help them to get out of their own head and grow up a bit faster. Unfortunately, the edgy content makes it one that, at best, I might see with my kids once they are adults as a “that’s the point I was trying to make back when you were that age!”


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Fascinating, Confounding, Mind-Boggling

My position has changed a lot in the past 200 days. I started out, the day after Trump’s election, with hopeful (albeit skeptical) support. If you root for your homeland, you hope that its leaders do a good job. Even if everything they say and do indicates they are in way over their head.

The current presidency started out less the dry, boring, but competent government you mostly ignore and was more like the reality TV programing that is Trump’s true realm. In that sense, it was almost entertaining to watch, but more as a comedy of schadenfreude, a satire of itself.

But it has become less and less chuckle-inducing.

We had hoped that President Trump would differ from Candidate Trump. Candidate Trump was demonstrably a boisterous, bull-in-the-china-shop, incompetent, inexperienced, racist, misogynist, sexual-predator, thin-skinned, narcissist. Surely such an over-the-top character was just that… an act.

However, as the presidency has lurched and stumbled forward, we have only seen confirmation of the immaturity we saw in the candidate. I used to jokingly compare Trump to a cartoon version of a teen-aged girl. However, one of the more inciteful pieces written on Trump since he has been president was conservative columnist David Brooks’ column in May “When the World is Led by a Child.” He really is like an out of control child. And the scary truth is, we have gone from reality TV programing to an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Specifically, “It’s a Good Life.”

It is time to break free of the tribalism in America that forces otherwise rational people to support Trump, not because he is right, but rather because he isn’t from the other side of the aisle. Conservative people do not need to join liberal ideologies to oppose Trump. He is a third rail of irrational, unpredictable behavior. He is not seeking America first, but rather Trump alone.

There is room in the opposition for more than one philosophy. Going forward, every faction of American politics should be about minimizing, checking and balancing, the damage that Trump is inflicting.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Revelation Outline

I. Introduction (1:1-8)
II. The Vision of Christ: “the things which you have seen” (1:9-20)
III. Letters to the Churches: “the things which are” (2:1-3:22)
IV. Further Visions: “the things after these things.”
  A. The Seven Seals
    i. The Heavenly Throneroom (4:1-5:14)
    ii. The First Six Seals (6:1-17)
    iii. Interludes:
      The sealing of the 144,000 (7:1-8)
      The multitude of the saved in the Throneroom (7:9-17)
  B. The Seventh Seal: Seven Trumpets
    i. The Seventh Seal (8:1,2)
    ii. The First Six Trumpets (8:3-9:21)
    iii. Interludes:
      The Angel and the Little Scroll (10:1-11)
      The Two Witnesses (11:1-13)
  C. The Seventh Trumpet: Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath
    i. The Seventh Trumpet (11:14-18)
    ii.Interludes: Visions of the Cosmic Conlict
      The Woman and the Dragon (11:19-12:17)
      The Beasts from the Sea and the Land (13:1-18)
      Visions of Salvation and Judgment (14:1-20)
    iii. The Bowls of God’s Wrath (15:1-16:21)
  D. Three Further Visions
    i. The Judgment of Babylon (17:1-19:10)
    ii. The Defeat of God’s Enemies (19:11-21:8)
    iii. The New Jerusalem (21:9-22:9)
V. Epilogue (22:10-21)

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

3 John

In 3 John we see another pervasive problem in the church. Whereas 2 John warned us to reject false teachers, 3 John exhorts us not to isolate ourselves. It is an appropriate companion piece, because that is the most common overcorrection churches fall into in trying avoid false teachers.

There are too many churches that, in an effort to stay true to the way they understand Scripture, won’t associate with other churches. The slightest of doctrinal disagreement has them branding others as heretics and non-believers. For John, there was a core doctrine that mattered. As long as churches embrace the apostolic doctrines on Jesus and the Gospel, they should be seen as partners in God’s mission. Sometimes, though, more than mere doctrinal issues are in play.

John speaks against a bad leader named Diotrephes. He appears to be like so many bad leaders, hungry for power and influence, and he refuses to support outside leaders or any other men who might, unintentionally even, win the admiration of his flock. Just as we individual believers are not meant to live in isolation, but in community with other followers of Christ, so too are local churches not to isolate themselves.
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