Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Of Serpents, Doves, and Chikin

An Inkling
Brother Dan wasn’t trying to be controversial.  (I’m talking about Dan Cathy, President of Chick-fil-A.)  But controversial he was, which you undoubtedly saw last week, unless maybe you were vacationing somewhere beyond Mars.  Controversial as in being called a hateful homophobe, and being told by the mayors of Boston and Chicago that Chick-fil-A is no longer welcome in their cities. 
And I thought the presidential campaign was getting ugly!  Dan is neither hateful nor a homophobe.  But his experience is one we can learn from.  (And since there’s a lot to learn, get ready for a long one….)
Jesus told his disciples that he wanted them to be “wise as serpents, but innocent as doves.”  If we think of the latter as being simply telling the scripture’s truth, then the former points us toward giving attention to how we tell it.  How can we get the best possible hearing for that truth?  That’s the serpent end of the deal – being judicious and strategic in how we speak about controversial matters.
First, let’s not assume that anything we say about the sexual ethics and marriage controversies is simply “in house.”  Dan Cathy was being interviewed by a Baptist publication, and he spoke as to those who shared his beliefs.  That can work when we’re conversing with fellow Christians in person.  But we must assume that anything which goes beyond this moment and this room – be it printed, cyber, or whatever – will reach a broader audience.  And those “wise as serpents” will speak accordingly. 
Second, know that the advocates for revising sexual ethics and marriage practices have their own “serpents,” who have successfully cast most such conversations in the mode of “do you agree with me or are you a bigot?”  That’s a “heads I win, tails you lose” scam.  Rather, choose your forum and form with a view to communicating fully both the truth of the scripture, and the grace that makes the truth life-giving.  That pretty much rules out sound byte exchanges.  Instead, look for settings where you can have a real conversation, or at least the means of communicating a full message.
Third, let that message begin with our own need for God’s grace – something like, “considering the logs in our own eyes, we’re not crusading to remove specks from others’ eyes.  But we do believe that life works best when lived in the ways the Creator designed.”
Fourth, don’t stop with God’s Creator stake in this.  Be sure you get to his Redeemer role – something like, “we’re grateful that the One who designed us also redeems us in every area of life.  And we need his redemption in our sexuality and marriages as much or more than anyone.” 
Fifth, don’t get pulled into the escalation of contempt.  As soon as the mayors of Boston and Chicago cast their scorn on Dan Cathy, the web lit up with Christians casting scorn on them.  Jesus is not served thereby.  Sure, let’s confront those whose voices for “tolerance” are (ironically) intolerant.  But let’s not follow them in tone.  We are set apart by the kindness and vulnerability with which we speak the truth, not by the correctness of our arguments.
Sixth, let’s find forums for controversial conversations other than dueling boycotts.  The Kingdom is not advanced by eating more “chikin” or less Ben and Jerry’s.  There is a time and place to speak to corporations about their values.  But high volume exchanges about where we’re taking our business does little to win hearts to what matters most, and only plays into the opposing “serpent’s” desire to cast Christians as shrill and simplistic. 
Lastly, let’s learn together as we go, and be supportive of each other.  We’re going to need it.  For however well we join “serpent” with “dove,” in a hateful world we are all guaranteed to get a taste of Dan Cathy’s controversy.  And let’s make sure we also get a taste of his wonderful “chikin”!
Bless Dan!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Real Justice (and Mercy)

An Inkling
Usually sports talk shows are inane.  I watch them at the gym when I’m running on the elliptical machine, and am happy to have my brain in neutral.  But yesterday, as the sports-talkers were digesting the Penn State penalties, they moved from the usual minors masquerading as majors (was the right play called?  is LeBron really that great?) into genuine majors (how to respond to evil, and the nature of justice).
The evil was that a Penn State football coach raped a bunch of boys, and that some Penn State officials, including the all-time winningest head coach, Joe Paterno, covered it up, which led to more such rapes.  And justice was supposed to be served by the NCAA penalties – much harsher than any before ($60 million fine, four years of restricted scholarships and no bowl games, and a striking of all wins since 1998, thereby bumping Coach Paterno down the most-win list).  Penn State officials accepted the penalties and removed Paterno’s statue from their stadium.
The talk back and forth about the justice of the penalties sounded like this:
  • It’s too little.  How can this ever make it up to the boys who were raped?
  • It’s too much.  This will cripple Penn State football for a decade.
  • It’s misdirected, punishing the wrong people, the current and future players.
  • It’s clumsy, tarring over all the good that Joe Paterno and his crew did for many years.
  • It’s unfair.  Why just Penn State?  What about the murder at Baylor, etc?

They all have a point, and their points made me all the more grateful for God’s justice.  His justice is never too little or too much.  It is applied precisely to those deserving.  It does not lose the good in removing the evil.  And it is perfectly even-handed. 
Hats off to the NCAA for pursuing justice, and not just rolling up the windows and driving on by.  More justice will be pursued in the Pennsylvania civil and criminal courts – a good thing.  But let’s not imagine that these human judgments will ever do more than approximate real justice.  Even our “justice” needs God’s justice.
And mercy!  If even our efforts to make things right fall short, how much more do we need mercy for the ways we too have used and abused others, and hidden our eyes from the same?  It’s good news that the Divine Judge is fully just.  And it’s even better news that the same Judge has determined to bear the full cost of justice himself on our behalf.  Thus the cross of Jesus, where evil was defeated, and where justice and mercy met.  It’s the best of all good news.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Belly (and Heart) Full

An Inkling
Why do you eat as you do?  When?  What?  How?  With whom?  We all have our reasons.  
I’ve not thought much about my reasons, at least not beyond the dietary revisions made necessary by a slowing middle-aged metabolism.  And that was driven by health (and vanity!) concerns, not reflections arising from my faith.
But recently I saw an article in the Biola University (a Christian university in L.A.) magazine about eating Christianly, and it got me to thinking.  Why would I not want scriptural values to shape such a significant area of life?  When I think of all the time and energy I spend on getting food in hand and then mouth, why would I want to be shaped only by commercial interests and casual customs, and not by scriptural values?  And yet that’s how it has been for me.
Till now.  This article got me to thinking about how redeemed eating habits might look.  Here I’ve quoted some of its high points:
Slow down. Try to find time to truly enjoy food. Prepare it yourself. Savor it.
Give thanks. For the food you have, for the hands that prepared it, for the land and animals it comes from; above all, for God the provider and sustainer of life.
Show hospitality. Invite others to dine with you. Follow Jesus’ example. Share food with strangers. Throw long dinner parties.
Eat in community. Enjoy food with others. Let it be a unifying source of social pleasure.
Be sensitive to those around you. Many people struggle with food-related issues (dieting, food addiction, eating disorders); keep this in mind as you eat.
Eat justly. Recognize that your eating affects others. Try to support ethical and just food practices through discerning consumer choices.
Fight global hunger. Remember that nearly 1 billion people in the world do not have enough to eat… do what you can to feed the hungry in your communities and across the world.
Develop taste. Expose yourself to new things and expand your palate. Learn to appreciate quality food, unique flavors, textures, combinations.
Eat humbly. Rather than eating food to show off your culinary sophistication, eat with humility and thanksgiving, awestruck by the beauty and goodness you are privileged to enjoy.
Obviously there’s more to be said about such things.  But now I’m thinking.  And I hope that the meals over which I pray will become in themselves something more akin to the words of the prayer.
Amen – Dig In!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Cruise

An Inkling

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth ten thousand.  Even so, the video attached doesn’t show much of one angle – the smile of the cameraman.  That would be me. 
I was smiling constantly as I saw my son-in-law, Brandon, on the job as a Navy Chaplain.  What a hugely valuable ministry!  And I was smiling because this 57 year-old little boy had great delight in being out sailing on a real destroyer on one of their training runs.  God gives good and unexpected gifts. 
See for yourself.