Wednesday, October 22, 2008

We Can't Win (That Way)

As the political season comes to both fruition and conclusion, many well-meaning Christians around the country are going to be disappointed if their preferred candidate doesn't win. For the Right, it will be a disappointment if Obama wins, because it means the further destruction of family values, increased abortions, and... (and... and...). For the Left, it will be a disappointment if McCain wins, because he only cares about the rich, is hawkish on Iran, and... (and... and...). All of this distresses me, and has for a long time now, because I plan on being disappointed in the election regardless of which candidate wins. 

Please don't misunderstand me; I know that as a Christian, I should be (and vigorously am) interested in the forces at work in this world. I can't be ignorant to large social structures, including government. After all, Paul tells us that government is established as an authority in this world by God, and we should submit to that authority. Also, as minister and poet John Donne wrote, "no man is an island, entire of itself". (He precedes this by saying, among other things, that we are all "one volume" of "one author", that's great imagery :-) ). So, because we should submit to a governing authority which encourages participation and are all interconnected with the lives of our neighbors, we should vote. 

And so I will. But what distresses me about the "right" fighting the "left" is that they're both going to lose. They should be disappointed. I'm not the first person to talk about why this is, and I probably won't be the last, but I hope you take a few minutes to think about it.

I'm going to be disappointed because I don't want one or more particular agenda items to be happily checked off as they're brought to both Houses, voted on, and signed by the President. What I want, more than anything, is the Kingdom of God to be right here, right now. I want all of it - both "left" issues like environmental protection and "right" issues like the elimination of abortion. But, I know that as a Christian, my power within this space is very limited. Why? Well, though C.S. Lewis wrote about the topic about sixty years ago, his words are just as true today as they were back then.

"Meditation on the Third Commandment" shows how, as Christians, our different views of faith lead us to different conclusions on both ends and means: those that are concerned primarily with the promotion of Christian values will always be drawn toward the authoritative power of fascism, those that are more mindful of The Fall and the corruption of power will see democracy as the only hope, and those concerned by the lack of social activism and the righting of worldly wrongs will see communism as the answer. (I confess that at different times in my life I have held each of those views.)

Because we view the world through different lenses, any involvement of Christians in politics will result in either a) a Christian party in which only a minority of Christian views are represented, or b) Christians working within different parties, and compromising on both ends and means in those parties. However, Lewis writes that there is another way: to abstain from working within political parties, and to instead be a nonconformist voice of change to our representatives in government. Christians shouldn't shy away from interest in politics, but should continually work to pester their "M.P.'s" (Members of Parliament). This, according to Lewis, combines the best of both the dove and the serpent. 

C.S. Lewis isn't alone in his thoughts. Two key players from the Moral Majority (formed in 1980; the forerunner to the Christian Coalition) wrote a book several years ago about their experiences working to change society through politics, and what they learned from the process. It's a great book, and I recommend it to, well, everyone... but I'll just mention a few things here.

In a chapter entitled, "Let the Church be the Church", Ed Dobson writes that there are three basic human institutions established by God - the family, government, and the church. Each of these has different responsibilities - the care and nurturing of children, providing an ordered society, and the spiritual transformation of individuals, respectively. Understandably, one of Dobson's concerns is:

...that [Christians] are in danger of substituting our spiritual authority (the power to change lives and culture) for political authority (a lesser power that cannot change a single life). Have we not spent millions of dollars and immeasurable time to bring about political change? Even if we had been completely successful in bringing about that change, we would still not have changed a single life. Only the power of the church can transform within. Political authority, seductive as it is, is the lesser authority. [emphasis added]

He goes on:

Should we then ignore these issues? Absolutely not! These battles must be fought - but they must be fought by individual Christians, not the church or a group self-identified as Christian... I still believe in the basic political views of the Religious Right... I am pro-life and pro-family. I am troubled by... I am concerned about... The list could go on. However, I do not believe that politics is capable of solving any of these problems. The transformation of our culture will come through the power of the gospel - one person at a time. I fear that in the Religious Right we have opted for a shortcut to cultural change - namely, legislation. But laws do not change people's lives. The church possesses the power to transform America and the world, but it is in danger of trading it for Republican or Democratic influence. In the process, we are distracting people from the ultimate solution: Jesus Christ. [emphasis added]

What I really enjoy about these quotes is how Dobson approaches the subject with a good dose of humility: he (and others) thought they could change the world if only they could elect the "right" people, or pass the "right" legislation. (By the way, Christians on the other side of the fence are no better: "If only we'd have Democrats in power", "If only we'd tax the oil companies more", "If only...") But Dobson, after a decade of trying to make it happen, realized that they had been seduced by the appeal of power and the illusion of influence. What I find most interesting, though, is... we already know that! We know that the real power to change lives doesn't come from top-down enforcement but from bottom-up encouragement; we know that positional leadership is the basest form of leadership! We know that to truly change lives, you must first invest in people's lives and help them to live better than they had been - we know that already. We just often fall to the seduction of the legislative tempter.

Aside from the fact that we maybe we "shouldn't" use political power to achieve personal spiritual ends, there's also the simple truth that legislating hasn't worked. Dobson and Thomas say time and again throughout Blinded By Might that though they spend millions and millions of dollars, what did they have to show for it in the end? Roe vs. Wade is still in effect, pornography is even more rampant now than it was then, etc. If we look back further, we see even more evidence that legislating Christian morals and ethics hasn't really led to change. Have you ever heard of the 18th Amendment? I wouldn't be surprised if you hadn't. It states that the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within... the United States... is hereby prohibited." Now, can you believe that? It was effectively repealed by the 21st Amendment, of course, but keep in mind: there was enough popular opinion in the country at the time for this to to be ratified as an Amendment to our Constitution, and it still failed! Alcohol consumption allegedly increased, as did violent crime. Temperance had more support than a lot of current causes, and it still failed to really change any lives.

On the other hand, where has real change occurred? Well, look to the abolition movement, or women's suffrage movement, or the civil rights movement. All of those sought to change people's hearts and minds first, before they enacted legislation. The Voting Rights Act of 1964 wouldn't have done anything unless people's minds were already changing. Don't doubt the power of nonconformity.

So, as I go to vote in a few weeks and fulfill my civic and spiritual responsibility, I'm not foolish enough to think that one candidate or the other will do "God's will" more than the other - it would be heresy to suggest that what concerns God can be boiled down to a set of political talking points. I want the Kingdom of God, and no amount of politics can accomplish that. Only the church can.

Since it just seems right, I'll leave you with a quote from a man who believed in working towards God's goals: skirting all around the political framework, but not getting entangled in it.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; 'and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.' 

Me too - I can't wait.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Riled Up

So, a few weeks ago I got really riled up. I was at church and was handed, very casually, a letter that we had gotten recently. 

I've uploaded it to Flickr so you can read it for yourself, but removed the identifying information from the organization it was sent by. I've received a few things from them before, but haven't thought much about it - we're just on some mailing list of theirs, I guess. 

But this... ugh. Feel free to go read it first and then come back and let's dissect it together. I'll wait.

::twiddles thumbs::

.....I know, right?!

It pretty much exemplifies everything that's wrong with some Christians today.

Dear listening friends,
I am writing today to bring up some very important thoughts that I hope you will take seriously.

Hmm... okay. So far, so good. I mean, already it seems somewhat strange to me that someone's sending out a mass letter just to bring up some thoughts. But, you know, whatever.

I am writing in regards to the concern of reference to magic used in Christian material. References to magic are found sadly in many programs, books, movies, etc in secular culture and we should know enough to stay away from them. 

Uh-oh, is this going to be about Harry Potter? 'Cause, you know, the "let's all hate on Harry Potter" fad kind of came and went several years ago, so if you're just jumping on the bandwagon now...

Take for instance the kid’s Disney tv show “The Wizards of Waverly Place”, or the Harry Potter books and movies, or the classic movie the Wizard of Oz, using white magic witches, a black magic witch and a wizard.

Ugh, there it is! Harry Potter again? Must we debate this every time a new movie comes out and - wait, huh?! The Wizard of Oz? Oh no,... this is going to be worse than I thought. By the way, the author has seen The Wizard of Oz, right? They know that there is, in fact, no "wizard"? That it's just a guy with a machine behind a curtain? [~7:15] Apparently not.

It goes on.

But then there’s the Christian Veggie Tales spoof of that film “The Wizard of Ha’s” as well as the spoof of “Lord of the Rings” (which I have heard very recently that “Lord of the Rings” also contains aspects of the occult). 

..."heard very recently"? Wait, hold on - you mean you've never, perhaps, actually read The Lord of the Rings? You've never watched the hugely successful films? You mean to tell me that you've never heard in the 70-odd years since The Hobbit was published that one of the main characters is a wizard and that the plot revolves around a magic ring?! This astounds me. Sadly, we're just in the first paragraph. Briefly scanning the page, this goes on for about another three-quarters of a page, what could the author possibly talk about for that long?

We gave away those Veggie dvds on *****, without thinking much about it, but I now can clearly see, that should not have been done. Even if it is turned into a Christian theme, the source of it is still bad, which in all—doesn’t make it right. 

I am writing today as well to point out the Chronicles of Narnia series, which many Christians, including myself, have been deceived by.

Oh, dear Lord. Please, no.

I had promoted this series before, and the station had played the Focus on the Family drama for the stories, and now I regret that the station did so. 

Some words of advice for the future: if you ever find yourself calling Focus on the Family too liberal, you've gone round the bend.

I was fooled, as I had heard that CS Lewis was a Christian, and that the stories were an allegory to Jesus. 


[ case you're wondering, my jaw has dropped and I am speechless]

You've heard he was a Christian? Heard? To be honest, that's the phrase that riled me up the most. You've "heard" he was a Christian? He's one of the most prolific Christian writers of the 20th century and one of the greatest Christian apologists of all time and you've only "heard" he was a Christian?! The casual-ness of the comment just floors me. Have you not read Mere Christianity? His spiritual autobiography, Surprised By Joy? Have you read The Problem of Pain, The Weight of Glory, his various essays in God in the Dock? ANYTHING of his? Of course not - why bother with accuracy before you send out a mass letter to hundreds of churches? I've heard this "Pope" guy's a Christian too, but, ::shrug:: you know, I'm not sure. I don't think I'll bother to look into it, though.

(Additionally, the author doesn't refute whether or not the stories actually are an allegory to Christ [hint: they are]. No, they just lead you to believe that they're not.)

But now that my eyes are wide open about how disturbing this series is, I feel a great responsibility to warn you about it, encourage you all to stay away from it, and I want to try to undo any promotion. I would encourage you to go through your house and trash anything that you may have that contains references to magic. Don’t give it to someone else, just destroy it and throw it away. You will be so glad you did. 

"But now that my eyes are wide open about how disturbing this series is..." Now there's an interesting phrase. This appears to be a recent revelation to the author and I hope that they share later on how they came to such a scholarly conclusion. Surely they've read up on the subject: done some investigation, taken the -  oh, I don't know - probably dozens (hundreds?) of college courses around the country about C.S. Lewis?

I also found the language to be a little vague. The Bible contains many references to "magic": does the author mean for us to throw that away as well, or is that okay to have? 

The book and movie series contains white and black magic, a witch, magical creatures, enchantments, etc. I have just recently discovered that the story also contains positive references to Greek gods.

Translation: For all of you who have been living under a rock and have not read the books, seen the recent movies, or have previously thought the word "Narnia" was a real place or person: they're works of fantasy, and contain fictional things! OMG!

(This is also the second time the author has mentioned white magic as something negative. I must be missing something - is there something wrong with flying in bubbles, healing, making rainbows, etc.?)

I also wonder if they've ever actually read the books. They only "recently discovered" the positive references to Greek gods? Jees, I would've thought just reading "Bacchus" would've tipped you off before, but, ::shrug::. Nevermind, also, that of course the other "gods" all answer to Aslan [Jesus] anyway- that doesn't matter, apparently.

In essence the story is a mixture of paganism/the occult and some allegories of Christianity. 

So do our celebrations of: Christmas, Easter, All Saints Day, birthdays, etc.

Also, I seem to remember Paul saying something about this topic. Something about, maybe, "to the Jews, I became like the Jews... to those not having the law I became like one not having the law... ...I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings."? Something along those lines?

I was fooled thinking the analogies to Jesus made it a great witnessing tool, as this series is promoted largely in Christian circles. But now that I clearly see about the wrong things also in this series, I must say, “No, it is not”. Please do not open up the door to the occult into people’s lives with this story.

Yeah... I mean, why try to meet people where they are? Why bother trying to share a story with them about a God who loves them?

I want you to please check out this website and read the article “Narnia: Divine or Demonic”  and

Ahhhh, here we go! From whence have these revelations come from? A website called "Heaven Is Open". Sounds interesting. Let's visit the first link.

Personally I read these Chronicles twice in my life. 


Twice?! That's it?! Honestly, I can't even tell you how many times I've read them. Gosh... a bunch. This guy has only ever read the series twice? Man. (These web pages mentioned here are pretty long, but they're an interesting read. Basically, the author says that since Scripture clearly says not to associate with any form of magic/wizardry/etc., we shouldn't either. It's a fairly straightforward and often-touted argument.) Let's get back to this letter, though.

I am learning to use discernment, and I am learning that just because something has the title of “Christian” on it, doesn’t necessarily mean everything about it is pleasing to the Lord. A wolf, even in sheep’s clothing and a happy face, is still a wolf.

Amen. Here's something we can agree on. 

"Just because something has the title of “Christian” on it, doesn’t necessarily mean everything about it is pleasing to the Lord." Like, maybe, your own organization? I think one might look for the log in their own eye before they'd send out such nonsense to every place with a steeple in a 100-mile radius.

Again, please go through your house and trash anything you may have that contains references to things like magic that are abominations to the Lord. And warn others, too, about these afore-mentioned books, programs, movies, dvds, etc.

Think about these verses:

Leviticus 19: 31 “Regard them not that seek after familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards to be defiled by them; I am the Lord your God.”

Leviticus 20:6 “And the soul that turns after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people. Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God.”

Revelation 22: 14 &15 “Blessed are those who keep his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter into the gates of the city. For without [those not allowed in God’s city] are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loves and makes a lie.”

May we all allow God to purify us and keep our hands and hearts totally clean.

In the holy name of Yahweh,

This letter really set me off for a few reasons, but none of them were that the author thought that The Chronicles of Narnia were wicked and I didn't. After reading through the pages on the "Heaven Is Open" website, I can tell that that author (a pastor of a church in Belgium) feels truly convicted about this series, as well as any other work of fantasy. He seems to feel strongly that, as Christians, we're called to live our lives separate from the worldly influences that surround us, and in so doing, be a light unto the world. Let me be clear - I deeply respect that, and have no problem with "agreeing to disagree" in that regard.

The biggest problem that I had with this letter is that, just a moment ago, I said that "the author thought that The Chronicles of Narnia were wicked." This, though, doesn't seem to be the case. What really seems to have happened here is that the author a) thought The Chronicles of Narnia were helpful in their walk with Christ for themselves and others, then b) came across ONE website, and c) was brainwashed convincingly enough to write a letter and mail it to tens of thousands of people they didn't know and, instead of opening a dialogue about the topic, shut the door and claimed that anyone on the other side was apparently not as "pure" a Christian as they were. What upset me about the letter was that the author, in my opinion, made a complete fool of themselves by assuming their audience were complete fools.

Aside from the obvious questions (Are they really afraid that children will start blue fires and try to resurrect somebody? Do we really have to warn kids that minotaurs do not exist?), what the author seems to ignore is the fundamental truth that things that don't specifically mention Christ can still point to Him. They evidently know the opposite is true ("just because something has the title of “Christian” on it, doesn’t necessarily mean everything about it is pleasing to the Lord ") but don't seem to understand that the great thing about our relationships to Christ is that we relate to Him differently. The allegories in The Chronicles of Narnia have led me closer to God, not further away. They have given me a much richer understanding of Him, and I'm better off for it. 

I really enjoy The Chronicles of Narnia, and certain passages continue to make me twitterpated whenever I read them; just the thought of them can bring tears to my eyes. Where I think the author went wrong, though, is here: "I was fooled thinking the analogies to Jesus made it a great witnessing tool, as this series is promoted largely in Christian circles." No, no, no... you have misunderstood them. The Chronicles are promoted largely in Christian circles not because they're a great witnessing tool to non-Christians, but because they are an amazing tool to help explain Christian-ese to Christians themselves. The instances in the Chronicles where we see glimpses of Christ are meant to be just that - glimpses. They are meant to hint toward a Savior bigger than we could imagine: to a God who loves us and longs for our affection. The Chronicles are allegories so that Christians learn - so that they can see how, no matter what ancient myths and legends have said, everything that has ever been and ever will be is under Christ, so that they can see how Faith makes sense and is reasonable, so that complex doctrinal stances can seem elementary and self-evident.

The focus of The Chronicles of Narnia is not in promoting magic, or witchcraft, or Greek gods, or any of the other absurdities that this letter is claiming. The focus of Narnia is to take the reader into a world where they experience deep emotions about characters, like Aslan, that might transfer back into their own world. As Aslan himself says:

This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there. 
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 16


Wednesday, April 9, 2008


become so numb
i can't feel you there..."

This morning on my way to work, I finished up the sermon I had been listening to and then switched to shuffling some music, and the song "Numb" by Linkin Park came on. 

Have you ever heard it? It's pretty solid, as are some other Linkin Park songs that I've heard. Mostly, what I enjoy about Linkin Park is that all of their songs (even if I don't like them) are full of emotion; I always feel like I'm hearing the very depths of the songwriter's soul.

And such it is with "Numb". When you hear the song, you feel the anger that the author is feeling- it's almost palpable. He's angry with himself because he feels like he's being pigeon-holed into something he's not sure of, and he feels like he's stuck in a rut. He's also angry with someone else whom he feels he doesn't live up to, and is expecting too much of him. He's obviously disappointed in himself and feels like he's disappointed this other person as well.

The chorus - the point of the song, if you could call it that - is that he's had enough. He's becoming numb to the other person, and he's creating a new life that's apart from this person. Apparently, he wants to be more of what he believes himself to be, and less what he thinks this other person wants him to be. The other person is seemingly smothering, seemingly wanting to control this person's life, and he's had enough of being what he thinks is a disappointment to this other person.


I've heard that the writer was talking about a past girlfriend, but ever since I first heard this song, I've heard it as an argument between someone and God. It's between a Christian who's realized that following God is costly, and either doesn't really understand what God really wants from them, or doesn't want to give up that freedom, or both. The singer is (to put it lightly) pissed off at God, because he feels like God wants something that he can't give. 

In our culture, you often hear people saying that you should "be true to yourselves". I think the singer in "Numb" is asserting that, and trying to say that he's finally going to stop following God and start "being true to himself." However, I think he's in error, and has forgotten the very nature of God. Deciding to do "what you want" or falling into self-pity and saying, "Well, I don't think I can please you, God, so I'm going to do my thing for a while" isn't the way out. God isn't like some middle school gym teacher, shouting hoarsely for one more pull-up. God doesn't want to control your life like that. He just.... well, He's just the Creator of all things, and He created you for one thing - to bring praise and glory to His name. He knows what you could be, and that's why He desires things from you.

If we don't wholly direct ourselves to His purposes, we're going to feel mixed up inside. We're going to feel lost and not know what actions or friends we should follow. And we're going to want to do what we think is best for us. Usually this turns out to be what's worst for us. I've been there; I've often wondered and shouted aloud to God, "WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!" But, I have come to realize that it's not God who's pushing me into this box, it's that I'm resisting who He has truly intended me to be. The appeal of certain friendships and actions is, well, appealing. But to think that you should indulge in them because you think you've disappointed God and think you can't ever measure up to His standards.... that's foolish.

God doesn't want us to be robots, and He doesn't want us to give up all our wants and desires. We don't have to create a new life for ourselves that contains all the things that we think God dislikes - we have to acknowledge the simple truth that our true lives, our true selves - contain all of what God wants for us, and nothing that He doesn't. 

Years and years ago, I received a fortune cookie whose fortune said, "God has given us one face, and we make ourselves another." I think you can read it a few different ways, but the way I read it then (and still interpret it now) is that God has created a certain way we are to be. But, we spend most of our lives avoiding it and trying to create another facade. Please don't. Don't go numb. Reach out to Him, and embrace who He has created you to be.