Archive for May, 2008

Sex and Caricatures: Do not mix. Try contentment instead.

I saw a screening of a documentary entitled, “For The Bible Tells Me So,” at Northwestern last week. It’s a film that profiled five Christian families with one member of the family who is gay or lesbian, including the family of Senator Dick Gephardt and openly gay episcopal bishop Gene Robinson.

You can see the trailer here.

It was a very well done film. Daniel Karslake, the director, does an excellent job of getting into the lives of these families and making them real. He does keep the complexity about how the families responded. He creates great tension in the film, and for that I applaud him.

Documentaries are all the rage now, but several things bothered me about this film that led more toward a docu-drama than documentary. First, it portrays a very one-sided view of the interpretation of scripture. It basically leads the audience to believe that the Bible’s texts on homosexuality are all simply culturally based, quoting mostly liberal scholars who believe the Bible’s authority is simply cultural as well. Not surprisingly, Karslake quotes only one scholar who came from the Christian communities that he caricatured. For good insight into this, read Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis by William Webb.

Second, it parodies the nature-nurture debate in a cartoon. I understand the intent, but to mock those are serious about the issues in cartoon form is just bad form. There are tons of materials on this, but the book that has helped me enter into this part of the conversation insightfully is Straight and Narrow? Clarity and Compassion in the Gay Debate.

Finally, it bothers me most in that I don’t fit in the categories of the film. The film requires you to choose between homosexuality or homophobia as sin. You aren’t given option to believe both are sinful – it doesn’t open the conversation regarding this complexity, it closes it by forcing the audience into either camp.

The film then moves to show the political activist route as the way to see how change will happen in this arena. Everyone leaves the film thinking how they need to change the church to abandon it’s ignorant readings of scripture.

So, really, the film is informed propaganda that caricatures evangelical Christians, and all but one of the negative examples used in the film were white men.

Ding ding ding – that’s me. Yet again, I’m caricatured to be the legitimate and deserving object of anger of another group.

Why am I not surprised?

Most American Evangelical Christians don’t think about this much, but there is an underlying assumption here that needs to be uncovered to reveal much of the tension in the gay debate. In the church, and in the greater society, we’ve idolized the family, and made it a requirement for contentment. We’ve made it so that unless you have a spouse and kids, you are substandard and second class. If you don’t think so, ask a single friend in the church, or a married couple that doesn’t have children.

There’s nothing wrong with the family. We need healthy, Godly families. I came from one. I absolutely love my family. I love being an uncle to my nephews and brother and cousin and son and grandson. Someday, I hope to be a husband and father. But I might not.

There is nothing wrong with the family until it is prescribed as the ideal for all. And that’s what we have done in the American church.

Think about it. We celebrate Mothers’ Day in church (and we make sure they are honored), we celebrate Fathers’ Day (when the dads are actually there).

Do we celebrate singles? Or are we just assuming that someday they will get their turn to be celebrated when they leave celibacy when they achieve motherhood and fatherhood status? If we do, we are caricaturing singleness, and even more so, sexuality.

We don’t do well with teaching something where we are told we can’t have something. Clearly, the way we are taught in scriptures is the way of contentment. Yet while we may say it from the pulpit, we’ve not lived in a way that tells people to be content with what they have. We’ve taught them to want it all, and worse, that they are entitled to it all, they deserve it all.

When we think we are entitled to have it all, someone should caricature us. We deserve it.

Contentment teaches me that in my single state, sexuality is something that needs to be restrained for the sake of pouring my love into others who are able to love others as well. Singleness is sacramental, just like marriage is sacramental. In singleness, when we try to love our neighbor as ourselves we have to work to be present with our neighbors to love them; but loving them can be slightly easier because we can go home away from them. In marriage, after the honeymoon, your “neighbor” wakes up with bad breath and farts under the covers, making love much more difficult than it was on the honeymoon.

Both states are sacramental – embodied ways for love to be a reality in our lives. Can you be a single lover? I think so…I wish the church did.

Which leads me back to my original point about the film (yes, I have wandered, haven’t I?) The film demeans sexuality not in it’s expression, but in it’s simplistic view of sexuality. Talking about sexuality in terms of copulation partners will continually frustrate us because we assume that seeking sexual pleasure is a prerequisite for contentment.

When we demand our own way from God, even by justifying it by our biological nature, we ultimately tell God that we aren’t content with what he says. Contentment as the way ultimately invites us to trust God; that he will give us the desire of our hearts. We sacrifice entitlement for trust and faith and hope.

I say it’s worth it.

Perhaps then we will learn Paul’s secret of being content in any and every situation (Phil 4:12).

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Those who are kind to the poor lend to the Lord

It’s intriguing to me to hear the consistent words in the media about how government aid is not able to get into Myanmar. It’s true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

World Vision has 600 workers on the ground in Myanmar providing relief through indigenous efforts.

At Northwestern, our own Asian American InterVarsity is collecting donations on campus to give to World Vision’s efforts on the ground in Myanmar. Consider giving to the relief efforts through folks who are the hands and feet of Jesus, literally repairing broken walls and restoring broken dwellings of the poor and destitute.

Cairo and Mokattam in the News

Many of you have indicated interest in my last summer in Cairo, Egypt.  Mokattam were recently profiled on NPR in their series on climate change, and a few of my friends were interviewed.

The sounds bring back wonderful memories…I want to go back…

Whaler Wednesday: Back in the Swing of Things

Some of you know this, but I’ve joined a softball team.It’s been fun for me to get back into the swing of things (pun intended), as over a decade of baseball memories floods back to me when I see the world through a chain-link fence and sunflower seeds in my mouth…

I started my love affair with baseball when I was just a kid going to Dawson Field in Janesville, Wisconsin, watching my Dad play for the church softball team. My cousins and I would jockey between being the batboy, playing on the playground, and eating fun dip.

(Which really, I mean, come on, how can you call eating flavored sugar with a sugar stick “dip?” But it was so good…why would my mother ever give me that much sugar…)

I remember one team we played against in the church softball league was a team that was sponsored by a local tavern. They were Presbyterians, I think. We didn’t have a drop of alcohol in my family fridge, so naturally I thought the stuff was awful. And it was from the devil. Bar sponsored Presbyterian church softball team was the team that I thought was the best to beat.

God has many characterstics, but one that I appreciate best is his sense of irony. Here I am, suiting up for this team, and I put on my Tommy Nevin’s Pub “Whalers” jersey as a Presbyterian. How ironic. I am what I once judged.

(Yes, I did ask for forgiveness, if you are wondering…)

Anyway, back to the sports section. I’m playing third base and still have got my glove and my range, but there’s something freaky about moving back to 60 foot basepaths. Standard baseball measures 90 foot basepaths, so moving back that close makes playing the hot corner a little freaky. Especially when you come up against the team we encountered this week.

They were last year’s league champs, and they played like it. They did all the little things that I remember doing back in high school baseball that just showed what a good team plays like. Of course, when a 6-6 300 pound giant stands back in the box and takes a wind up to hit the ball, let’s just say I wished I had remembered my cup when he got up to the plate…gulp.

We lost 8-1, and I didn’t do anything to help, going 0-3 at the plate. I did get a chance to show my stuff at third, and didn’t commit an error and had a couple putouts. I gotta get my bat back…

When Satire Cuts Deep…

My friend Eddy posted an interesting list the other day…you can see it here.

It has elicited a range of responses from several folks – laughter, anger, tears, depression, rage, angst…lots of stuff comes up when the topic of women in leadership in the church comes up.

It’s curious how satire brings so many emotions and thoughts to the surface. Think of what you will of these responses, but the feelings everyone has are all real. Real feelings come from real experiences, real experiences come from real life.

Make no mistake, trying to interpret who is right and wrong in this conversation is not the way to go about thinking here. That usually goes the way of defensiveness, and many folks in this conversation seem to follow the much-maligned coaching strategy that the best defense is a good offense.  Colin Hansen’s insight’s from CT are precious regarding this: “But what will it gain the kingdom if one side wins the debate but we all forfeit the culture?”

Some people think that comment is morally or doctrinally relativistic, that I’m trying to bring everyone to the table to be heard. Some will quote some scriptures. Others retort with their scriptures. But we hurt others and are hurt when we neglect the way of love when working out the issues that I believe God knowingly left ambiguous in order to trust the body of Christ to pursue the way of love together in reflecting his image as male and female.

I’m a young white male (well, I still have something left to my twenties) in who serves in an evangelical collegiate campus ministry. Within the campus ministry I serve, the typical student or staff is neither white nor male. As I’ve heard their stories, and engaged in conversation, I’ve been saddened because the incidents aren’t isolated but are part of the fabric of the American church today.

At the same time, I know whenever I walk into a conversation along these lines, I know I’m being silently judged by what camp I’m in, how insensitive or sensitive I am to the plight of Christian women in leadership, how much of a man I am, what scriptures I quote, my stories, etc.

In other words, I’m walking on eggshells. And I’m typically an equal opportunity offender, so I’ll probably be making a lot of scrambled eggs from the following thoughts…

When one removes gender as the exclusive requirement for biblical leadership, what becomes the basis for leadership in the church? Honestly, I think many of us men have really struggled with this in evangelical circles, because men in the church are used to entitlement and assume because we just “show up” women will follow us. We assume that since we’ve arrived, we should be followed.

And that is wrong. And it is arrogant. And it is presumptuous.

When leadership is based on the presence of certain genitals, it castrates the high calling of leadership in which we are called not to have certain parts, but become part of Christ. Literally, we are to be more and more fully “in Christ” according to Paul’s most repeated phrase, which is far more more demanding than anything I’ve ever tried in my life. Running a marathon, working a 100-hour week or a 24-hour day, sacking a quarterback, splitting a few cords of wood, backpacking for days in the wilderness, or hitting a 1-2 curveball in the right-center gap for a triple – all of these “manly” activities I’ve performed are quite easy compared to becoming more like Jesus.

Men, do you ever wonder why God incarnated himself in our gender? We do have an advantage here over our sisters – I think God graciously gave us clarity on this one. We do know that what it means to be a “godly man” is personified in the God-man, Jesus. So stop thinking that Jesus is like some spiritual first century Hulk Hogan or buying into John Eldridge’s lacking Wild at Heart theology that becoming a man is about getting in touch with your recklessness. I love God’s creation as much as anyone, but my masculinity is not defined by my capacity to be “wild.”

When we do this, we make God in our own image…and that is really, really bad. It’s called idolatry. God calls it sin. And when we impress this distortion of God on someone else, it gets worse. It’s called oppression. And we’ve historically oppressed women in the church, and we need to repent. That’s what it means to be manly – to own up to sin and resolve to become more a man of God, like Jesus, the God-man.

At the same time, we are in a time where there are fewer and fewer men in the church. As a man committed to the church, I’m deeply concerned. I see fewer and fewer mature Christian men. And I’m not just sad; I’m embarrassed. I get more embarrassed when I read comments men make regarding reclaiming masculinity in the church through shallow thought and superficial practice.

But honestly, I’m just as embarrassed by women’s response to the lack of men in the church. In my circle of friends, women can go the way of nagging and complaining to the point of exhaustion with veiled accusations under the subject heading, “where are the men?”

As a single man in the church, I’ve encountered various experiences of being considered a project (someone who can be made into a woman’s ideal man), a predator (someone looking for his next date), or a patriarch (someone who can be a good male role model for the kids in church), and rarely just a person trying to connect with God and others. Welcome is often a word that is far from most men’s experience in the church these days.

I was speaking with a Christian woman in church who wanted to talk with me about her husband. I took a cue from a pastor I heard and told her that I would prefer to talk with her husband first without her description of him. In other words, I will talk with her, or her husband, but I would not talk with her about her husband.

Talking with her about her husband would not give me the opportunity to meet him first on his ground and extend him the grace he needs; taking her cues, I’d be the enlisted as “Mr. Christian Fix-it guy” to all of her problems with her project husband.

Unfortunately, she declined the opportunity. I still wonder why…

Welcome is not the experience most men feel in today’s church; anxiety regarding our failures and shortcomings is, apathy regarding the applicability of the church in our lives is a close second. Men struggle with grace because most of us live lives are predicated on achievement. Walking into a place where we are told where we lack is not welcoming, however true it may be.

And sadly, I’m just as embarrassed by women’s mudslinging, catty, caricatured, “you-go-girl” responses regarding the issue of leadership. I’m sorry for the double standard that women face, and it is wrong. That’s why I’m trying to fight it so that women have a place at the table for their voice to be heard. But for those of us who are trying, it’s hard enough to advocate when women in leadership who provide foolish fodder and ridiculous rhetoric for men as confirmation of their existing prejudices. The way of love is lost, and we’re reduced to a cheap substitute.

In the words of Cuba Gooding, Jr. in Jerry MacGuire, “help me help you.” Don’t stoop to their level. You are no better than they when you do.

I know I’ve probably offended equally here, but that is the point. We all are in need of grace. Both genders have our junk that we bring to the table in this conversation, and the way of love means we need to own up to our issues.

Can we find the way of love together?


May 2008
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