Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty

Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty

Until the other day, I had only heard about the uproar over Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson and A&E’s decision to suspend him from the reality show he stars in. I hadn’t read the actual article in GQ magazine that started it all.

The uproar is over Phil’s apparently raunchy, gay-bashing remarks. Having watched the show several times this year, I knew that he can be a colorful character, so I braced myself for a real doozie.

Well, first of all, and to my surprise, it was the author who struck me as raunchy. From the opening paragraph, I thought, wow, this guy’s like a kid trying to impress people with big-boy words (F-bombs and other language)—long before Phil made a peep.

When I read what Phil actually said, my second thought was, that’s what everyone’s freaking out over? That Phil finds it illogical for some men to prefer men over women? He specified that it was just his opinion, and I detected no ill will, bashing, or ridicule. And his raunchiest words were “vagina” and “anus.” For Phil, I think clinical terms were his best attempt at maximum sensitivity.

Shrug.

Now A&E certainly has the right to react and run their business as they see fit. If they didn’t like what Phil said, or more likely, feared advertiser repercussions and grief, that’s their choice. Personally, I think it’s a bit cowardly, but I’m not running their business.

Phil Robertson also has the right to express his opinion, although there may have been something in his contract stating that his on- and off-camera remarks were subject to approval. Who knows? But he strikes me as having more courage than A&E execs do, and whatever happens from here, I think Phil and his dynasty might even be better off while A&E may have shot themselves in the foot.

As for the gay community, they have as much right to God’s love as anyone else. They certainly have some legitimate challenges here, what with crazy, hateful people running loose who call themselves “real” Christians yet haven’t a whiff of God’s spirit in them. Like the Pharisees, they’re the same sort of self-proclaimed, but clueless “experts” for whom Jesus had more than a few sobering words. But Phil doesn’t strike me as one of that breed and I think people are, honestly, overreacting.

Here’s my bigger point: In America’s culture war and identity crisis, both sides fear they’re being mowed down by a relentless machine that will stop at nothing to wipe the other out. And both sides have a point. So people love drama and are perpetually poised, like cobras, to turn anything into a fight—the nastier, the better.

Contemporary rendering of a poster from the Un...Perpetual alarm, anger, and mistrust are hallmarks of a deeply unhealthy society of unhealthy individuals, and ours is definitely sick no matter how Christian or non-Christian it claims to be. By contrast, authentic Christian faith is marked by, among other things, a pervasive sense of unrattled-ness. Jesus was never rattled. Neither are his strongest followers.

But human beings are funny. We keep stabbing ourselves in the eye with a sharp fork. We ask the doctor why there’s such terrible pain in the eye, and when we’re told to simply stop stabbing ourselves with the fork, we grab it even tighter and look for a different answer.

So the way I see it, everyone is given the opportunity to contribute to Jesus’ vision of self- and neighbor love. If more people on both sides learned to stop feeding the drama, it would stop feeding on us and making chumps of us all. Seriously, who wants to be a chump? 

Blessings, peace, and a happy drama-free New Year to all! 

 

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Binoculars, 25x100First, a recap. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is one continuous dissertation on 6 universal habits that sabotage love, presented in a specific order. Last week, we looked at Step 1: getting rid of habitual, willful anger and contempt. These always seek harm, which always returns harm.

By contrast, to love means to wish or seek good for someone. (This does not require affection. You don’t necessarily have to like people or their behavior to love them.)

Anger is a reflexive emotion triggered by an offended sense of internal justice. Its only purpose is to alert you to something that needs attention. Mercy is the antidote, an active force once it’s put in motion correctly.

You practice mercy by acknowledging the offense (not necessarily out loud), but temporarily suspending the sense of indignation until the anger subsides—a day, a month, whatever. Anger has done its job and can be put away. Now you can deal with the situation with a less scornful spirit. You’re thus empowered, in control rather than dragged along by every aggravation.

To most people, this sounds ridiculous or flat wrong, so they refuse to embrace it. But by giving up your “right” to be mad, not only do you break the grip of willful, retained anger over yourself, you automatically bless neighbors because they cease to be targets. Your new, more relaxed spirit feels greatly relieved, and the natural result is improved relationships.

But this takes intentional desire and planning ahead. It doesn’t happen by itself, nor does God do it for you. It’s how you love your neighbor as yourself.

Now then, as we move to Jesus’ second step—adultery and divorce—Step 1 must be in view. It is not a stand-alone. Remember, Jesus is a builder; his Sermon is not only sequential, it’s cumulative, like building a house. When the Sermon is chopped into bits in no particular order, it becomes nothing but a random collection of divine gripes instead of an intelligent Way to mend the soul.

Also, each new step assumes that the previous one is fairly well-established. Like learning ABCs before writing words, you don’t move on until you’re ready. God blesses and moves with you at your pace and ability. (more…)

28.06.2008 -Aircraft flying inverted.When most Christians mention saving a soul, they likely mean some part of the person in the future part of his/her life, often termed “eternal destiny.” Once that’s secured, the soul gets no further consideration. It’s “saved.”

People can then turn attention to earthly living, preferably in a Godly life-style, but nevertheless as a kind of throw-away. In fact, it’s common to hear Christians say, “Life is temporary.”

Well, no, it isn’t. It’s permanent.

From the biblical perspective, a person’s life is one single, ongoing continuum. Some of that life is lived in the physical realm on this physical planet; some of it isn’t. The biblical paradigm says that physical death doesn’t end anyone’s life. (And if I read resurrection passages correctly, the majority of one’s eternity is spent in physical form. But I digress.)

Also from the biblical perspective, personhood consists of a mind/intellect, a heart/will/spirit, a body, and a social/relational context. I think of the soul as the overall “auto-pilot” that continually manages input and produces output in the form of behavior and relationships. It does the best it can to synchronize each aspect of personhood into a functional, cohesive whole. But it can’t do it on its own. It needs God’s help.

I realize it’s a rudimentary analogy. Human beings are more complex than even the most sophisticated auto-pilots. But the soul is simply the total person, greater than the sum of its parts. And a soul never stops living once it starts. It isn’t something you have; it’s who you are. It isn’t a piece of you; it’s all of you, the essence of your being.

In bible-speak, when that’s torn and jumbled, it’s ruined. When it’s mended and whole, it’s restored. Perfect. Complete.

So when Jesus says, “Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul,” he means “with your total being.” When he says that God has the power to “destroy” both body and soul in hell, he means that no part of the person will be overlooked when God fully confronts his/her sin and ruin.

Subversive Ideas

I used to think that overcoming evil with good was about overpowering it with brute force. But suppose it happens by subverting it from within, from the inside out with love. Suppose evil is destroyed in an individual when input and output synchronize as God designed, and the whole soul harmonizes with its Creator—mind/intellect, heart/will/spirit, body, and social relations.

What might happen if this idea spread through the ages, person by person, as more and more people became less abusive, less frightened, less insistent on their ruined ways, and more desiring of complete good for themselves and others? Wouldn’t it be a lot like yeast working its way through the whole batch of dough? (Mat. 13:33)

Now suppose that God plotted all along to overcome evil this way, like an unstoppable dawn swallowing the night. How valuable, then, might you be as God’s partner in paying attention to your own soul, the essence of your being?

God is always about completeness, thoroughness. Jesus therefore proclaims a comprehensive salvation for the whole world that addresses the total person for an entire life. His idea is that everything about that life moves increasingly toward love—that is, the desire to promote and contribute to good—now, later, and always.

Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love enemies. Be good to those who hurt you or make your life a pain. Why? What’s the point of listening to Jesus? Well, at first, for your own well-being. Whatever you wish upon someone else, you wish upon yourself. The measure you use will be measured to you (Luk. 6:38).

So, if for no other reason, you wish for their good, unless you’re a masochist who likes double the aggravation. Once that isn’t such a foreign concept to you, you can do it for other reasons. It’s right. It’s blessed. It overcomes evil. You get a beaming wink from God.

Beginning next week, I’ll re-post a six-part series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. There, he outlines step by step how to subvert evil and make room for love, goodness, and blessed well-being for the soul, individually and collectively. It’s actually pretty simple, but was such a radical concept that the religious experts of Jesus’ day declared him to be straight from the devil. He was crucified for blasphemy and subversion. They got it exactly backwards and upside-down.

Many Christians today unknowingly treat him similarly. They don’t actually believe that unconditional love is possible or a priority, much less right and good. It doesn’t seem right to give up their “righteous” anger, precious payback, or wounded spirits. I don’t say this critically; I speak from experience.

But that’s okay. Experience is knowledge, and knowledge is the beginning of repentance. Everyone starts from where they are, not where they will be.

Folk art Valentine and envelope dated 1875 add...

 Despite what we hear, we’re actually not self-centered people. We’re very others-focused. If only the “sinful government,” unreasonable bosses, snippy neighbors, cheating lovers, mouthy teenagers, and incompetent drivers would just get their acts together, life would be grand, wouldn’t it?

While trying to defend ourselves against their incompetence, rather than launch the power of grace we engage in constant conflict because we insist on correcting others. Then we wonder where all the peace and victory is that biblical Christians voiced. We conclude, perhaps, that it must not be in this life, but in the afterlife.

Vanity

I used to believe that my Christian duty is to verbalize all the sinful short-comings of people around me. We tend to obsess over how the other guy falls short or otherwise gets in our faces. Boy, was I embarrassed when I learned what a vice that can be! Pride is the pre-disposition to insist on having our way. Humbleness is the ability to not insist on having our way. Vanity is the most camouflaged sin because on the surface, it appears to focus on the self, when in reality, it aims at others.

One way we’re lured into the trap is with the mistaken idea that it’s always good to be dependent on one another. “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” is one of many ways the world puts our well-being largely in the hands of others.

Today’s Christian spin on this is that God designed us to be dependent on one another and gave us different gifts specifically to ensure that we remain dependent. Thus, service to others is commonly preached as a mandatory commitment we owe rather than something to volunteer out of a victorious love for life. (more…)

English: grapes or vine

Image via Wikipedia

The original disciples weren’t a race of super-beings and didn’t have anything that you and I don’t have. They simply learned from the Master who holds the plan, shares His wisdom, and makes Himself accessible to the world.

Pastors have their hands full overseeing church programs to tend their flocks as best they can. They work hard for many long hours a day, usually sacrificing their own families and needs in the course of their duties. Many fine ministers and churches are simply overwhelmed.

So what can we do about it? First, we can recognize that churches shouldn’t be forced to take up the slack that individual members should take. Overwhelmed churches struggle because we tend to treat them, rather than Jesus, as the primary providers of spiritual leadership, so we bankrupt them of resources. Then everybody ends up in the quicksand.

Second, even in churches with different services geared toward different age groups, it’s often just a different presentation of the same wrong message. The style of service isn’t what needs to change; it’s the content and message. The best answer is to restore to our churches the missing gospel of the kingdom, love for God, self, and neighbor, and personal discipleship to Jesus. That’s what calling him “Lord” is all about.

We need more than stories or facts about Jesus. We need more than confessions of him as King of kings and Lord of all. We need more than “belief” in his death and resurrection. What we need is why these matter, and, more specifically, how it leads to changed lives. In and of themselves, they don’t transform, but they’re the beginning.

With few exceptions, there’s currently no system in place to guide maturing Christians beyond spiritual infancy into Jesus’ gate. Surely, there’s a place for them in God’s church family! The Way is the gospel message and the Sermon on the Mount. The Christian community needs help to implement it, and pastors need to know that it’s okay to care for their own souls—heart, mind, body, and behavior. Then we’d be truly following Jesus, and the term “lordship” would actually be relevant.