Civility Never Was That Great of a Thing. Time to Let it Go.

With all of the the talk about “civility” recently, I have been trying to figure out exactly when American became a civilized nation. Was it after we invaded this continent in the first place, pushing aside the original inhabitants (often in violent manners)? Was it after we started a war to gain independence? Or maybe it was after we stopped justifying slavery as a civilized norm? Was it after World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the whatever-you-call our current wars? Or maybe it was after we finally gave all people the right to vote and participate in society equally? What exactly does “civility” mean in a country with a history of violence and mistreatment (both here and abroad) like ours?

Of course, maybe all of the calls for civility would not sound so hollow if so many had not just now started saying anything at all. I mean – black churches were burned… no calls for civility. Immigrant children were separated from their parents… and no calls for civility. The LGBTQA community faces constant attacks, death threats, and harassment daily… and no calls for civility.  But a handful of rich white people lose a dinner while some others call for more to be harassed…. and stop the presses! We need civility NOW!

And the weird way people cherry-pick religion to support their new-found desire for civility? Especially when they didn’t say a word when white supremacists marched; or when our leaders said horrible things about people with disabilities, about women, about Muslims, about all kinds of people? Take, for instance, how Bob Vander Plaats focused on how Jesus told people that have disagreements to go and meet with those they have the disagreement with. Of course, the scripture there does not say “first” like Plaats misquotes it as, and secondly, he conveniently leaves out how Jesus again and again spoke out harshly against those he disagreed with publicly – many that He had never met. Plaats makes it seems like the only Biblical way to respond to disagreements is to privately meet with those that you disagree with, or else keep it to yourself. The Bible is not that black and white on this issue by a long shot, and it is unfortunate that Plaats would misrepresent scripture like this.

To a certain degree, I do agree with Plaats that we should get to know people before demonizing them – but I wouldn’t make that an absolute rule to live by. In many cases, it wouldn’t be safe to meet those one disagrees with (I wouldn’t recommend a woman go meet with someone from GamerGate, for instance). But we also have to realize that there is a lot more to be done after we get to know people. Plaats’ scenario is not the solution, it is a place for some to start. Plaats described where he got to know a leader in the LGBTQA community, and they stopped demonizing each other. But the problem is, both sides often can’t have both of their stances in society. We can’t can both “marriage quality for all” AND “traditional definition of marriage” as the law at the same time. It is good that they learned how to get a long. But someday, one of them will be deemed “wrong” by society. One, day, one of them will have to stick with their side and be on the wrong side of society, or change sides.

Sitting down for coffee with those we disagree with will help us get along better with certain people, but will not solve the problems in society if that is all it does. “Civility” is a call by the privileged to stay at the coffee table when they suddenly see society getting up from coffee talk and taking away their privileged spots.

But I still have a problem with people thinking that our society was all that “civilized” in the first place, or that we really need to hang on to it (if it was). Maybe it is because I live in the South and we see through civility so easily down here. People will say “bless your heart!” as way to tell you how ignorant they think you are. So many people live out civility in cities where racism is still rampant. So many people claim to be “civilized” while still being racist themselves. Civility is just too low of a target.

Mike Caulfield made an excellent point that we need decency rather than civility:

Civility is often a push-back to conflict, as a call to ignore disagreements and just get along (even though that is not really what it should be – but that is another issue for another time). Decency is how we treat people even when we disagree – or even how we call out people that aren’t decent to others (sometimes decency requires you to stand against those who aren’t decent). There is nothing wrong with disagreeing. But if your response to finally receiving some push back for the way you treat others is to scream “we need civility!!!!” when you have never done so when others are mistreated, that is not decent. Civility – for too long of a time – has kept different standards for different people. You can’t have one response to one type of harassment (telling men to grab women by their….) and another response to another lesser type of harassment (getting booted out of a restaurant) and still be “decent.” But you can have different responses and still be “civilized.” Civility never was that great of a thing.

So How Exactly Does Transgenderism Fit in With the Bible?

With the recent events surrounding Bruce Jenner’s transition into Caitlyn Jenner, the Christian blogsphere has gone into over drive responding to these events. Not that Caitlyn asked anyone in the Church, or even made any remarks about the Church. Jenner has been referred to as a hero, and she is not a shining example of evangelicalism, so that is obviously another attack in the culture war.

Do I really need to point out the sarcasm in that last statement?

Much of the response to Jenner is along the line of “God doesn’t create mistakes” and “God created people male and female and not its not your choice to change that.” All of this, of course is a absolutist take on issue, creating false either/or standards that are not there in the original scriptures.

Take this scripture for instance:

For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.

Now a eunuch, of course, is not a person that is trans-gendered, but eunuchs were not seen as male or female in Biblical times, often being made that way by choice or by others. The important thing to notice is that there is no commentary from Jesus here on them being mistakes or being ungodly for making these changes.

Additionally, when you look at the creation scriptures, you find another interesting bit:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

God created us as male and female, but he did not command us to be male and female, or to stay that way through our lives. Interesting.

(Now coming along later to say that a man dressing as a woman is wrong is not the same as transgenderism. But if you do want to lean on that scripture, we can also talk about how men and women both wear jeans and t-shirts and all kinds of clothes and how those scriptures would also apply there. Whoops.)

The question to ask is, how does a Being that is both male and female look at a gender transformation? If you know anything about the Science of gender identities, you know that the terms “male” and “female” are not black and white constructs. People exist all across that spectrum. Are they all mistakes? Many people are considered to be 60% female and 40% male – and they have the genetics to prove it. Is that a 40% mistake by God? Where is the line drawn at between “mistake” and “perfect”?

Oh wait – did you know there are no 100% males or 100% females? So if a transgendered individual is a “mistake”, then you have to give a number where the mistake ends and the acceptable range begins. And sorry if you fall under that number but didn’t know it.

Is the problem with what God created, or with what society did to that creation?

One of the issues that I want to explore in this blog is the effect that decades of modernist construction followed by decades of postmodern deconstruction have had on our understanding of ideas. We had the ideas of black and white right and wrongs entrenched in society for decades under modernism, and then all possible sides of those ideas were deconstructed into all kinds of classifications for decades under postmodernism. Neither idea really left society, so we have residuals of both. The residue of modernist thought that most of Western society has had for decades now is forcing all of these deconstructed ideas into right and wrong boxes.

The result is we are losing the ability to embrace paradox. We try to figure out maps and scientific explanations on how Jesus was fully God and man – where one begins and the other ends.

But sometimes there isn’t a map. Its both at the same time with no way to really logically explain how.

So when God created humans as male and female, there is nothing to say that it has to stay that way. We are male and female, but also not exactly 100% of either one at the same time.

Throw into this mix the whole “hard to figure out” realm of human feelings and emotions. You might say “well, Jenner was obviously mostly male, so how can you say trangenderism is normal?” Maybe physically he was mostly male, but what about his emotions, feelings, personality? You know those Facebook tests that tell you what percentage of male and female you are? That’s just based on the fact that none of us are 100% male or female on the inside either. If someone is 80% male physically but only 10% male emotionally (as many actually are) – what does that make them? A mistake? Or just a human being trying to figure out their place in the world?

metamodern-faith-avatarWhat if people like Jenner are not telling us that God made a mistake, but that we made a mistake as society in how we view gender, sexuality, power, etc? What if they are right? What if God didn’t create absolutist either/ors, but fluid concepts that require us to get out of our comfort zones to interact with? What if life wasn’t so simple, but designed to make us look past absolutism to embrace paradox and things that are different than us? What if a God that is male and female has no problem with his creation changing between the two any more than when we change hair color, waist size, eye color, skin decoration, breast size, muscular strength, or any of a dozen or so other physical characteristics we were born with that we use Science to change, fix, heal, change, etc.?

When Your Gospel is Technically Warlike Propaganda for Klingon Christians

I’ll be honest… I’m not sure what to think about the concept of #anothergospel. I have great respect for those that do believe in it and are promoting it and I get where they come from. I often look at the words of some people and smack my forehead and wonder “are they reading the same words of Jesus that I am?”

But if I draw a line between others and myself and say “you believe another gospel”… then do I lose any right to tell them that they are wrong? Is it then akin to me telling a Muslim that they are living their gospel wrong? Its a different one, so I can’t say much since I am an outsider. I’m not sure, because I am wrestling with one aspect.

I want to be at a place where I can say “no, that is not what we should be doing or saying if we call ourselves a Christian.” A lot of that has to do with my social constructivist ontology, where I believe that many truths are determined by social discourse. This kind of discourse involved people proposing ideas and then all interested parties get to express agreement and disagreement and various sides are debated and revised until consensus is reached. For example, it is absolutely true that the Bible teaches us that God is Love and to take a stand for Truth no matter the cost. However, how that works out in daily life is the realm of social constructivism.

So, when someone says that you have to do or believe ____ in order to follow a God of love, I bristle up a little bit if that blank contains anything that is not a basic scriptural quote. To add standards to the words of God that were never spoken by God can completely demean other people by reducing them to “others” who have to live up to those other standards or else.

One group that I have extreme concerns about are the Southern Baptists. Any time the issue of gay marraige is brought up, they resort to warlike imagery. Just look at the words used in this article: retreat, condemn, revolt, stories from the Old Testament about kings determining whether to go to war or not, you name it. These kinds of stances have led many to adopt the term Klingon Christian for these types of views that focus on war and protecting honor at all costs. There is a difference between standing for truth and drawing up dividing lines.

“Standing for Truth” recognizes that translating centuries-old words in ancient languages requires a huge dose of humility and willingness to accept other translations as valid.

“Drawing dividing lines” accuses people of taking a “surgeon’s scalpel to the Word of God” (when that very process had to happen just to get an English translation period).

“Standing for Truth” means truly understanding everyone’s viewpoint before even attempting to criticize.

“Drawing dividing lines” promotes misunderstandings of any opposing side by conflating issues (for example, those that support gay marriage also deny the virgin birth – often not true)

“Standing for Truth” means being careful to not take scripture out of context.

“Drawing dividing lines” will only quote the part of scripture that is convenient for the point and forgetting the rest. For example, accusing liberal Christians of saying “Has God really said?” about certain issues, but forgetting that this quote in Genesis was followed by a completely twisted false statement by the serpent and not an honest question by someone that really wanted to know what the Truth.

But I do agree with Russel Moore on one point: “quite frankly, we have no one to blame but ourselves since, for too long, too many of us have tolerated among us those who have substituted a cheap and easy false gospel for the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Unfortunately, I don’t think Moore gets that he is the one that has substituted a cheap and easy Gospel for the real one, that he is the one that is denying that there is judgement coming for those that incorrectly translated God’s words and shames those who want an honest dialogue about it, that he is driving as many people away from the Church as he accuses liberalism of doing (if you read studies that are based on unbiased observers and not the inflated numbers reported by most churches). I just wouldn’t use the term “false” in front of Gospel in this case because it too often becomes a straw man argument when the issue being labeled “false gospel” is technically part of the gospel at all.

metamodern-faith-avatarSo is that another gospel? I don’t know if it is “gospel” at all as much as it is propaganda. So I guess at another level I am struggling with the concern that it gives these ideas too much gravity by referring to them as a gospel at all. “Another gospel” might imply that it is a “different but equal” gospel. But if “another” to you means “substitute”, then I can see that. For me, I want to call it what it is: “warlike propaganda for Klingon Christians.”

Life is Beautiful

Worship is a tricky thing. I think what turns most people off to modern worship is that it is so formulaic, so cliche, so manufactured.

To me, the best worship happens when you find it in the most unexpected places. Like this video by the bass player for Motley Crue – one of the most notorious “party bands” on the face of the planet.

In a lot of ways, this video is just Nikki Sixx coming to grips with inner demons, nearly dying, and the hard life that he lived. There is just a deep spiritual element to the song and video that is hard to describe… and maybe not intended. But the lyrics are worship at its finest:

You can’t quit until you try
You can’t live until you die
You can’t learn to tell the truth
Until you learn to lie

You can’t breathe until you choke
You gotta laugh when you’re the joke
There’s nothing like a funeral to make you feel alive

Just open your eyes
Just open your eyes
And see that life is beautiful.
Will you swear on your life,
That no one will cry at my funeral?

I know some things that you don’t
I’ve done things that you won’t
There’s nothing like a trail of blood to find your way back home

I was waiting for my hearse
What came next was so much worse
It took a funeral to make me feel alive

Just open your eyes
Just open your eyes
And see that life is beautiful.
Will you swear on your life,
That no one will cry at my funeral?

Just open your eyes
Just open your eyes
And see that life is beautiful.
Will you swear on your life,
That no one will cry at my funeral?

Just open your eyes
Just open your eyes
And see that life is beautiful.
Will you swear on your life,
That no one will cry at my funeral?

Just open your eyes
Just open your eyes
And see that life is beautiful.
Will you swear on your life,
That no one will cry at my funeral?

When You’ve Lost It All, That’s When You Finally Realize That Life is Beautiful


Was Jesus Really That Serious About The Whole “Plank in the Eye” Thing?

Seems like every week there is a new controversy breaking out on the Interwebs between different camps of angry Christians. I generally don’t fall into the mindset that thinks all anger should be buried and ignored. At times, I think our anger about an issue tells us that we have witnessed a huge injustice. But there are times when I wonder if we are still missing the lessons of Jesus about how to deal with and express our anger.

Just a thought… if you get mad or upset at some Christian that falls into judgement or stereotyping, and you decide to write a blog post blasting that person…. you might want to think long and hard about how you are judging and stereotyping those that you are upset with. Don’t talk a high and mighty line about loving all and accepting all and giving people the benefit of the doubt and then turn around and put stereotypical words in someone else’s mouth and blast them for the hypothetical thoughts they might have had. I see this so much around the Christian blogosphere, especially among the “emerging church” crowd. Too many blog posts and articles have overall points that I agree with, but choose to inject their otherwise good point with stereotypes and judgment on those they are upset with. And they are usually upset with someone else that got into judgement and stereotyping. Odd, I know. And I know I have been guilty of that. I just wish we were all a bit more sensitive to the plank in our own eyes.

The most recent controversy seems to be over an blog post called “FYI (if you’re a teenage girl)“. You probably either love it or hate it. I find it extremely problematic. There have been many responses like “An ‘FYI’ to My Daughters“. I agree with the general idea of this response… but I cringe at the judgmental, stereotypical language used there. So how do you know that these parents will never find a perfect enough girl for their son? Sure, I have known a few parents like that… but most of them never said a word about the swimsuit bikini models plastered on their son’s bedroom walls. So there are at least a few people that don’t fit in that stereotype.

You see, the “horrendously hypocritical” and “disgustingly sexist” people out there are people, too. Jesus loves them, too. I have known more than a few people that would probably easily fit into those stereotypes. The surprising thing is that, once you get to know them, they are not as one-dimensional as our judgement and stereotypes makes them out to be. They might have been talking out of frustration and used words they regret later. They may think even worse things that they didn’t express. You never know either way.

But I think this is the main point Jesus was trying to get across when He told us to look at the plank in our own eye first. If I am upset at someone acting “horrendously hypocritical,” my first goal with my response would be to remove all hypocrisy from it. If I am upset at judgment and double standards, I need to first make sure I don’t respond with judgement and double standards. This is not to say I shouldn’t respond, but that I should only respond to what was said and not assume someone thinks something else just because of a particular statement they made.

Look, as human beings, we aren’t mind readers. But we are all poor communicators at one time or another – some of us more than others. The combination of the two really should scare the hell out of us and drive us to be more graceful in our responses. Or to at least respond to the issue and not drag the person into it and assume they are the poster child for their side of the debate.

metamodern-faith-avatarYes, I know I am horrible at this myself, so I will also try to commit myself all the more to dealing with my plank first. And looking more at the issue rather than the people that speak out about the issue. I am hopeful that those that read this will join me. Saying that we love and respect all has to extend to even those that we are most frustrated with or it means nothing at all.

What Good Is Our Love If We Always Communicate It Wrong?

For some odd reason, my blog post on “Calling BS on Rick Warren’s Quote” is getting more comments and traffic than any other post so far. I haven’t even published half the comments because they are all just links to the original quote in context. Thank you to everyone – I now know the context of the original quote. But that was not the whole point of that quote in the first place. I was dealing with how people are misusing the quote, not with Rick Warren himself.

A lot of the comments just had to be deleted as people tried to prove to me that they really don’t hate anyone by… using hateful language directed at me. Interesting, huh?

Most of all, I think a lot of people are so tied up in proving how much they love gays that they missed the point I was making. First of all, maybe you should wonder why you feel the need to prove you are a great gay-loving person to some random stranger on the Internets that runs a very unnoticed blog? Guilty conscious maybe? Me thinketh some of you doth protest too much. But ultimately, you missed my point if you think that whole post was about whether or not people who say they love really do or not. I didn’t contrast the whole situation as either/or. I called BS on saying that your attitude is being “just disagreeing.” It’s not just that – it is usually more. It may be love at some level, but the hurtful, hateful feelings are there, too.

If not, then where is the hurtful, hateful language coming from? So you say you love gays but use disrespectful stereotyping language for them (like the term “lifestyle”)? Can you see where that just doesn’t add up to many people?

Until we get this as the church, we will continue to be written off as irrelevant by people who don’t see the logic there. Disrespect may not equal hate, but to most people it doesn’t equal love, either. What good is our love if we always communicate it wrong? Or is it really love in the first place if it causes more hurt than we intend?

“But sometimes we have to speak the truth in love” people say.

metamodern-faith-avatarThis is usually translated to “I can say whatever mean things I want as long as I think it is truth and I end the rant with ‘but I love you man’ or something pithy like that.” Usually people use that statement as a way to cancel out the “in love” part with the “speak the truth” part.  “In love” is used as a modifier in the statement, meaning that you take the truth you want to speak and choose words that modify it to come across as loving. Its not a “get out of jail free” card, designed so that you can say whatever on earth you want and then tack on “in love” at the end. Of course, that is what many in the church do in my experience… and they whine about it when they get busted for it on Facebook or some random stranger’s blog.

Mission Impossible: Unconditional Love

This week I have been pondering how our words have an effect on others. I received a particularly long and nasty message in my email inbox from someone this last weekend that was… well, not happy with me. The weird thing was, most of their statements on my beliefs and actions were false, but what they had to say about my attitudes were… let’s just say I am changing and growing in those areas. Not fast enough for most, I am sure, but I don’t disagree that I need work. But that is not the big thing that got me pondering. The night after this email came in, I found myself diving for the floor as a gun fight / car chase broke out behind my house.

Now, don’t freak out – I live in a safe neighborhood. There is a major road behind my house that sees a lot of random traffic, so this was probably just something random that will never happen again. But two speeding vehicles were shooting at each other, the last four bullets being shot off 30 feet behind my back door. Other than hurting my arm while hitting the deck so fast, every one was okay.

But what really struck me is that if something had happened to me, this email would have been this person’s last words to me on Earth. If I were that person, I couldn’t live with myself if that were the case – no matter how much I hate someone, no one deserves to hear mean, angry, condemning words about themselves.

“Your mission, if you choose to accept it…” The odd thing about the Mission: Impossible movies is that you always know that ultimately the mission will be possible. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be making the movie. But I guess “extremely difficult mission” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

In the Church, it seems like our “mission: impossible” really is impossible: to love everyone unconditionally. Jesus even told us that it is not that big of a deal if we only love the easy-to-love people or the ones that are just like us. We are to go so far as to love our enemies.

In all honesty, I don’t know if I have any real enemies. I’m not the easiest guy to get a long with, but I don’t think anyone would go so far as to label themselves as my enemy. But on the other hand, it is kind of a cultural no-no to be the “enemy,” so maybe it is just a difference of semantics. But the point is, if I am supposed to go so far as to love someone that would identify themselves as an enemy, everyone else that doesn’t go that far would most definitely fall into the “love one another” list.

A huge problem with our society is that we think it is okay to say harsh things to someone if we think it is true: “insensitive,” “arrogant,” “know-it-all,” “cruel,” “ridiculous,” “demeaning,” “rude,” “mean,” “ignorant,” ‘irritating,” “disappointing” (and those are just the words that I have found used today on Facebook alone… I can’t quote what I have read in blog comments today just because I want to keep this blog G-rated as much as possible).

I used to have a commitment that I have slipped up on a lot recently. Even if it was true that someone was arrogant or mean or a total jerk to me, I wasn’t going to call them that. No one deserves to be called those kinds of things, no matter how much we hate them.

Because, let’s be honest – you can only speak those words out of hate.

“Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.
Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.
Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.
Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.”

We have all heard this saying (the Bible says the same basic thing: “for as he thinks within himself, so he is“). I would write an additional version of this statement:

“Be careful of your thoughts of others, for your thoughts become the words you say to them.
Be careful of the words you say to others, for your words become their actions.
Be careful of your words to others, for your words can become their destiny.”

Our words have an effect on others. We can speak love or hate, life or death.

So that is why I try to apologize when someone says they were offended by what I said. Even if I think they are wrong to get offended, even if what I said might technically be true. A while back I called someone a few serious names, and several people (including this person’s spouse) agreed with it. But I don’t want to speak hate and death into someone’s life. It is only through encouragement that we can get people to improve. So I apologized.

But I have found that this is a hard stance to take. I have asked people not say certain things to me and was accused of being “too sensitive” or “reading too much into it.”  I have pointed out words that people have said that I find hurtful, and then they just ignored it and never even wanted to discuss it.

Because of this, I have noticed over the past two years that I have been giving up on my commitment to not treat people as if they are bad, but to see the hand of God in everyone’s life no matter who they are. I have slipped up and said honest words that did not match up with the words that God would have used (His “truth in love” is usually so much more encouraging than what we choose to say when we speak “the truth in love”). I gave up on unconditional love and labeled it as a true mission impossible.

“Tough love feels a lot like mean” – Brittany Pierce

Many years ago, I sat through some incredible teachings on communication. The main lesson was that you do not speak your feelings about someone as if they are personality traits for that person. For example, instead of saying “you are mean and rude,” you would say how you feel: “I feel like you are being rude to me.” The idea is to change from saying “you are ___” to saying “I feel ___.” In other words, you take responsibility for how you feel (because God is the only one qualified to accurately describe someone’s personality), instead of pointing accusatory fingers at others.

People are very complex. Saying “you are an annoying person” is too easy to shoot down logically. We all have people that like us and people who don’t, people who find us fun to be around and those that find us annoying. Saying “you are” is an absolutist statement, and they only have to show one case where it is not true and they defeat your entire point. But if you speak of how you feel in an argument, they can’t debate that. They can ignore or dismiss it (which many do), but the big issue is that they can focus on how their actions made you feel rather than descend into defending their character. If there are a lot of people defending their character and actions to you – that is a good sign that you might need to change how you communicate. People don’t want to be around those that make them feel like they have to constantly defend their character.

“But!” you say – “you don’t know how condescending, how annoying, how difficult that guy is!” I can imagine, and it is probably true. They probably know that it is true, also. Do you really want to add to the chorus of condemnation that is ringing in their head all day long? Or do you want to be one of the few that spoke life and peace into that person’s life?

Also, think about this: do you really think that person is like that all the time? I mean, we at best spend an hour or two with any one person per week or even per month. People are complex beings. If we were to be honest, we would never, ever say “you are ____” because we are in no way qualified to say that about anyone. An honest statement would be “you are a complex person that I have no right to say any thing about because I am not around you 24/7.”

metamodern-faith-avatarWhoever we hate, whoever we don’t get a long with, whoever we don’t want to talk to, whoever we don’t want to mess with … Jesus loves them, gets a long with them, wants to talk to them, doesn’t mind the mess. The mission does seem impossible, but we are called to try. Your mission, if you choose to accept Jesus, is to love unconditionally. If you are caught not being loving, Jesus will disavow any connection to those actions. Your message to world with self destruct if you can not choose otherwise.