Silencing the Chisel: Christians on Memorial Day

arlington-flags-in-8If you concentrate, you can tune out the buzzing of boats, the crackling of grilling fires, and the roaring of patriotic fervor on this Memorial Day weekend. The din is replaced by one faint yet earth-shattering sound. It is the tap-tap-tap chiseling of new names hammered into walls of granite and stone. Each name once belonged to an image bearer of God who lived, breathed, and put on the uniform of the United States military before Death swallowed them up.

Though I have never lost a loved one due to war, I imagine the cognitive dissonance of our recreation in the name of mourning is liable to tear asunder those who have. The confusion is worsened by the church in America, who seems to insist on choosing either bombastic displays of patriotism that replace the entire worship service or a complete and disconcerting silence on the entire matter. So what is a Christian in America, born of this democracy yet accepted into the Kingdom, to do on Memorial Day?

Mourn. Pray. Fight.

Mourn, because Death is real, an ever-gaping maw whose hunger only grows as it consumes more of us. Mourn, because those who mourn will be comforted. Mourn, because even Jesus cried at the death of His friend. Mourn, but not as those without hope, because we serve a God who hears us as we

Pray for those who stand over the broken clay that once hugged them, whether the final flag-draped journey happened this morning or before we were born. Pray for their strength as they try to go on. And pray for our strength, the Christians of the world, as we

Fight, but not with the weapons of this world, for our struggle is not against flesh and blood. Fight for peace, because it is a struggle. Fight for peace, that we may be called children of God. Fight for Christ’s peace for all, because your skin color, national origin, or politics do not determine whether you miss a father, mother, brother, sister, or friend whose God-given life is cut short by bomb or bullet.

We fight for the Pax Christi, not the Pax Americana. Peace is not the mere absence of conflict, and no economic or military force can create it. While it may be tempting to apply Jesus’ blessing of the peacemakers to the Pax Americana, it logically would also have to apply to the Pax Romana. And I have a hard time believing Jesus, a man killed unjustly by the Roman state in the name of “peace” during the Pax Romana, was describing the ending of war through violence, be it at the hands of Romans or Americans.

We don’t wait until the End to fight for peace. Though it is much easier to wait for Him to take care of our mess, the blessing is not, “Blessed are those who make peace after the end of all things.” We fight ourselves so that we may never grow comfortable with violence as, “just the way things are.”

We fight for joy, hope, love, and the presence of Christ Himself. We fight for the complete reconciliation of Americans and Iraqis, Israelis and Palestinians, whites and blacks, and even Republicans and Democrats.

We fight with swords beaten into plowshares, spears beaten into pruning hooks, and assault rifles beaten into spades. We fight to find a new use for the chisel, for its incessant hammering of new names will be silenced.

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Silencing the Chisel: Christians on Memorial Day

Hypocrisy and HGTV: why the “Flip It Forward” mess is good for Christians

ImageLike a dwindling storm finding a new gust of humidity, we’ve found the latest fuel for the conservative Christian portion of the internet rage tornado. And in a completely unsurprising development, it comes to us from US pop culture’s living monument to the amphetamine buzz, reality television. Recently HGTV announced that they were pulling the plug on a planned show featuring the house-flipping Benham brothers in light of their stance against what brother David called, “homosexuality and its agenda.” Much like during the brief suspension of Duck Dynasty‘s Phil Robertson, a variety of voices attempting to represent conservative Christianity ranging from Pat Robertson to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal have called this incident an attack on religious liberty. Countless denizens of social media have taken up the cry, bemoaning what this means for American Christianity.

But conservative Christians, particularly those interested in GOP-influenced business and political models, should actually be thrilled by these developments. I don’t mean passively okay with it; I mean Pharrell dance video kind of happy. Why?

Because it’s the exact kind of religious liberty they’ve been asking for. The beautiful and terrible part of an impartial and secular set of guidelines is that it applies to everyone in the exact same way, even if you don’t like the other side. The United States is not the homeland of Christianity. Christianity, with its counterculture and rewiring of human greed, never was and never will be the default position of this culture or any other. Religious liberty is not the freedom to be Christian; it is simply the freedom to be. And that freedom is in the best interests of Christ, who desires that we turn to Him rather than being legislated into faking it.

If you think Hobby Lobby should have religious freedom to block contraception, then A&E and HGTV have to equally have the religious freedom to remove employees that go against the image or ideology they want. Though I struggle with the concept of corporate First Amendment rights, I am confident that to have one side you have to have the other. Anything less is unadulterated hypocrisy.

And I’m even more confident in how these rights apply to individuals and associations. If you want the freedom to criticize these business decisions, groups like Right Wing Watch have to have the freedom to call for dismissals. If you want the freedom to believe in a man from a desperately impoverished hometown who also happened to be God and came back from the dead, then those who don’t must have the freedom to say we are certifiably insane for doing so. In fact, the Savior we follow promised that they would.  Anything less than this freedom exposes us as power-hungry hypocrites, desiring only to control a culture rather than let Christ transform it.

Hypocrisy and HGTV: why the “Flip It Forward” mess is good for Christians

Female-centered modesty hurts men, too

ImageMuch like winter in Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire, summer is coming. And with the rising temperatures, we will soon see the annual rise in modesty-related sermons and social media messages. On one side we will see Christians preaching the importance of covering up modestly in order to not tempt males. On the other we will see a growing voice from those both inside and outside the church who feel this style of teaching objectifies women, blaming them when they become victims of deviant sexual attitudes or behaviors.

And like waiting for that one puff of cool breeze that never comes, I always hope for a more nuanced discussion, but to no avail. The latter criticism misses out on what it means to be a Christian. Joining the church universal means thinking about Christ, His message as displayed by you, and those around you before you think of yourself.

But I am much more troubled by the former criticism, often brought by evangelical Christians (I’m one of those), ministers (also one of those), and parents (not yet, but who knows). Why? Because it destroys humans, made in God’s image. Leaving the prevention of lust, harassment, and rape to women is insane, unfair, and I’m glad it’s being called out. There isn’t a “modest” shirt sleeve in the world that’s strong enough to hold up that burden or dense enough to block darkness in the hearts of men. But this approach doesn’t just hurt females.

When I hear a mixed gender group of believers being lectured on the importance of female modesty alone, I hear young boys, before they’re old enough to know themselves, being told they can’t be redeemed.

I hear my brothers being told the only thing that can save them is female effort and a few extra inches of cloth.

I hear any future sons being told Christ’s effort and the cross can’t redeem them from anything, including the worst darkness in their hearts.

I hear future husbands being told not to bother fighting or trying to grow, because they’re just animals.

I hear “boys will be boys” being taken from a punchline to an excuse and even to a preferred structure of society.

And I hear Christ’s calls to turn and go the other way being answered with a curt, “Don’t bother the boys with all that, a coverup tshirt will solve it!”

To all females, I am so sorry. I am sorry we males have built a world that necessitates an “I made it home safe” app.

To all males, Christ offers us freedom to be better than animals. To my brothers in Christ in particular, Christ demands we be better than animals. “Boys will be boys” falls apart in the nail-scarred hands of a Jesus who was both male and perfect. Let’s rise up and be what God made us to be and what our sisters deserve us to be.

To those Christians, leaders by vocation or relationship, who use the all-welcoming yet all-challenging Christ to teach a single-gendered sexual ethic, and for those who turn aside when boys stare or harass but pass out the coverup tshirts for girls at the youth pool party: You are objectifying female image bearers of God. You are dehumanizing male image bearers of God. You are ironically all but guaranteeing the continued existence of a culture that leaves women always a moment away from objectification and fear, the very thing you say you want to prevent. You are telling Christ your Taliban-inspired sexual ethic is stronger than the cross of Christ. Stop it. Christ is on the move, and you’re trying to get in His way.

Female-centered modesty hurts men, too

“**** a ******”: Why racism [still] matters to the church.

ImageInsects buzzed lazily along, seemingly burdened by the same humidity that attracted them. The long shadows of late afternoon inked their graceful forms across water polished to a mirror, only to have their intricate beauty rippled to shreds by the plop of a lure. Occasional nearby swirls beneath the surface buoyed anticipation and hope, emotions as gentle as a cork bobbing among the skeletal sunken trees. There are few things more blissful to a child of the Deep South. I’m not sure, but I really hope God lets us fish in that crystal sea mentioned in so many descriptions of heaven. If there is bliss to be found on that far shore, maybe it involves standing on it with a rod in my hand.

Yesterday, on the bank of a backwater inlet on Lake Waco, I had found a place on this shore where the line between here and there got a little thin and blurry. But as I stood there, feet in the chilly waters of this world and soul striding into the primordial but yet-to-come joy of the next, I encountered something I know in my heart will be completely absent in the reign of Jesus of Nazareth.

An African-American man, rod and bucket in hand, staked out a spot a few yards from me. Likely in his fifties, his slow movements showed not the pains of age but the deliberateness of someone who’d finally realized life wasn’t a race. He asked me how the bite was that day (it wasn’t, to be honest). We talked a bit about the glories and failures of that spot, a few others I had tried, and other locations I’d yet to discover but were old friends to him.

The conversation had gently faded into the subtle sounds of twilight, and about a half hour of silence ensued. Like ripples slowly growing into treacherous waves, the voices of two teens, a boy and a girl, drifted across the water. From hundreds of yards away, their voices were just loud enough to differentiate, but not quite near enough to understand. It was apparent, however, that the male was becoming increasingly angry.

“YOU CAN GO F*** A N***** AT WACO HIGH FOR ALL I CARE! I’m not going to prom with you anyway, so why does it matter?”

As the echo of the water and trees cried back the epithet in horror, I saw the man stiffen, then relax. The image of God beside me, in his eyes and drooping shrug, showed resignation built by decades I can’t imagine. Out there in the idyllic woods, an entire group of human beings had just been used as a prop in a moment of callousness that may have had nothing to do with race. As if this wasn’t enough to rend my heart, this is Waco, Texas; there’s a strong chance this teen at least casually attends a local church.

Racism [still] matters to the church because it matters to God. Because it spits in His face. Because it is bigger and more insidious than lynching trees, Jim Crow, and lunch counters. And because it still exists. Jesus told us that whatever we do for the least, we do for Him, and whatever we don’t do for the least, we don’t do for Him. This tells me that personal righteousness extends beyond our selves to the hopes, needs, and even skin tones of others. Not murdering or cussing doesn’t cut it. If it grieves our hearts when people speak poorly of Christ, it should grieve our hearts when someone speaks ill of a human, made in God’s image, because of their skin. If it isn’t enough to simply not be one of the soldiers who hung Christ on a cross, it isn’t enough to simply not hang our brothers and sisters from God’s trees. If we want to preach love and service to Christ, we must in our pulpits, Bible studies, and dinner tables preach love and service to those He loves.* And that means speaking up when someone who explicitly or implicitly claims to be under Christ fails to treat any of us as they should treat Christ. Whatever we would do for Christ, if He stood before us treated as we treat our brothers and sisters who aren’t like us, go and do likewise through Him for them.

 

*For a great discussion on combating subtle racism, as well as the connection between Christ’s redemptive work and the end of racism, check out John Piper’s Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian, available from booksellers or as a free PDF from his ministry.

“**** a ******”: Why racism [still] matters to the church.