I take photos of cafe food. Because I have a coffee blog. I guess that makes me a hipster. But most of the time I don’t want to see photos of your food on Instagram. Unless you’re somewhere really cool. Here’s POHTPOF
On Sunday I followed up my previous talk in a miniseries called “Where is Jesus now?” with a look at how Jesus is visible in the here and now in images of him.
People. Those who have been transformed by Jesus. Into his image.
I feel like it was an adequate treatment of the question in that Jesus is visible in his church – but I feel like I pulled some punches in the answer that I gave.
It’s easy to talk about being Jesus in the small stuff. It’s easy to talk about being Jesus to other people when they’re moving house – or when you realise how broken you are, and they are… It’s easy to talk about being Jesus as something that’s a little intangible and hypothetical – it’s easy to say that people should be able to see Jesus in us. As we live transformed lives.
But it’s not so easy to see Jesus, here and now, in human tragedies.
The challenge for those who call Jesus Lord, who are being conformed to his image, and who are his image bearers – or ambassadors – is to know how to be Jesus in the awful extremities of life, not just in the every day.
Sure. Figuring out that bearing the image of Jesus means having a life shaped by the sort of sacrificial love Jesus showed at the cross will hopefully help us in big situations if we’re disciplined at living that way in the minutiae of daily life. But a big question we’ve got to answer – and account for, if we’re bearing Jesus’ image – is where is Jesus in tragedies.
Where is Jesus when bombs explode at the finish line of a popular marathon and maim hundreds?
The Westboro Baptists offer one answer.
It’s not a very good answer. There is no image of Jesus in this picture, or in these words. There is no Jesus in the words and lives of the Westboro Baptists. There’s as much Jesus in their ministry as there is in those pieces of toast that sell for thousands of dollars on eBay.
BREAKING: Westboro Baptist Church to picket funerals of those dead by Boston Bombs! GOD SENT THE BOMBS IN FURY OVER FAG MARRIAGE! #PraiseGod
— Westboro Baptist (@WBCSays) April 15, 2013
This sort of thing makes you wish that Anonymous would make good on their threats to remove the cancer that is Westboro Baptist… Even if that’s not real justice. And even if there’s a little of the hate (or at least the capacity for hate) that Westboro spew out in all of us… sometimes when we’re condemning them.
But Jesus is in the voices of people who are changed by him – who are called to be his ambassadors – joining together to call Westboro out for what they are. Spokespeople of evil. People peddling the sort of message that might have earned them the label “antichrist” from the guys who wrote the New Testament… Jesus is in the actions of the people who respond in love, rather than standing idly by – or worse – celebrating – when tragedies like this strike. Tragedies that are the result of human brokenness. Tragedies that unite us – tragedies that the world unites to condemn.
I read somewhere that the explosion left people with broken bodies and severed limbs – people who moments before had been taking part in a grand moment, sitting at the finish line of a marathon – the pinnacle of human athletic achievement. There’s something beautiful and pure about sport – it’s one of those parts of life, like music, love, and childbirth, where something magical happens. Something that puts the better aspects of our humanity to the fore… except when people cheat (or play country music).
That’s why it’s easy to spot the tragedy and injustice in this situation that has, as I write, claimed the lives of a handful of people, including a child, and seriously injured many, many others.
It’s easy to speak for Jesus in a situation where everybody is essentially saying the words, and offering the compassion, that those of us who follow Jesus want to be saying. You don’t stand out as different for wanting to see those who have been, literally, torn apart by those explosions, lovingly pieced back together – to have their lives stretch out for many years into the future with only small physical scars to show for this event.
It’s easy to be Jesus – to carry his image – when everyone agrees with what he says. When the media is trumpeting the story on front pages, and at the top of news bulletins, throughout the world.
It’s easy for those in leadership to sound like Jesus when they’re condemning evil and promising to deal with it, and deliver justice for the victims. It’s easy to be admirable and kingly – to be a voice of sacrificial authority and compassion.
But what about when the media is silent – by conspiracy, or just because an issue is deemed to be a non-issue?
Where is Jesus when tragedies are occuring in darkness – rather than in the prominence of an internationally significant sporting event?
Where is Jesus in the story of Kermit Gosnell?
Abortion is a horribly complex issue with all sorts of factors influencing a decision that often comes from a place of trauma and despair and leads to more trauma and more despair. This has never been more true than in the horrible shop of horrors case of Kermit Gosnell.
Where is Jesus in that million dollar backyard abortion clinic that ended the lives of mothers, and untold numbers of unborn babies – and worse – babies who were born. Live. During the abortion process. Only to be, literally, torn apart for the convenience of the mother and doctor. Using stationery. He’s on trial for killing seven babies and one mother – but it’s hard to tell the difference between a baby killed outside the womb at 30 weeks and a baby killed inside the womb at 30 weeks. It’s hard to tell the difference between these seven babies and the thousands of babies Gosnell has killed in completely legal (though horribly conducted) processes in his clinic. Which is why some ethicists argue that infanticide isn’t just ok, but the natural conclusion of legalising abortion. And is probably why pro-abortion reporters have a hard time demonstrating why Kermit Gosnell is a criminal anomaly rather than a participant in the status quo.
It turns out it’s much harder to be presidential when you’re talking about the potential legal murder of babies (Obama’s track record on this issue is pretty disturbing, I’m not expecting him to comment on a case that’s before the courts)… It’s much harder for the media to speak like Jesus in a story like this – as they try to balance their competing agendas. It’s harder to carry the image of Jesus into a situation like this – when people would much rather sweep the whole thing under a rug and forget it happened. It’s much harder to sound like Jesus when the mob is baying for a certain type of blood to match a certain style of lifestyle.
One of the tragedies of the abortion debate is that it’s the product of a culture that rejects the idea that some actions have consequences that we don’t want. If the debate was limited to early term abortions in the case of rape, or genuine threats to the life of the mother, there’d be a lot less heat. Even those situations aren’t black and white. But the goalposts have moved so far from those extremes to questions of convenience that we’re now in a situation where the long term mental health of the mother is said to justify the termination of a human life after the person has exited the mother’s body. It’s not about control over one’s body at that point.
Where is Jesus in infanticide? He’s in the voices of Christians who lovingly point out that we can do better – and who model a better way forward. A way that involves sacrificial love – not a voice of condemnation. A way that involves hope, not despair. A way that involves being Jesus not just to the unwanted babies – but to the mothers. To the legislators. To the doctors. We can do better. We need to do better.
It’s easy to speak for Jesus when what he’d say is obvious and requires no creativity. It’s easy to carry the image of Jesus into a situation where everybody agrees on a way forward.
It’s harder to speak for Jesus, and carry his image, when the way forward requires creativity and thinking outside the box in a completely counter-cultural way.
You can read Mike Bird’s excellent and persuasive piece on why we need to be thinking about infanticide now, not in three years, and I’d humbly submit this piece I wrote last year when those enlightened ethicists calmly essentially suggested that Kermit Gosnell’s actions be normalised as a useful companion piece.
Jesus is in those who speak out for the vulnerable. Who speak against the consensus that is driven by an ideology of “me” – an ideology that dehumanises other lives for my convenience. An ideology that knows nothing of sacrificial love – but only sacrifice of others. Of other lives. With scissors.
I’m sorry. But how did we get to this? We got here by rejecting the progress borne out of almost 2,000 years of people valuing life because Jesus valued life. Valuing life because human life is life made in the image of God with the potential to be life remade in the image of Jesus. You only get to humanism through Jesus.Humanism is that great modern “secular” doctrine which has somehow been white-anted by selfishness where “I” am valuable but fellow humans – including the unborn – are to be discarded when they become inconvenient and its within my power (or rights) to do so. Humanism is a product of Christianity. Cut out Christianity and the foundations for valuing life disappear. And we’re going to wear the cost of that.
We might see a bombing that takes the life of a handful of people – including a child – as tragic, and rightly so. It’s right for that story – that describes how human brokenness can affect something pure and exciting – to be front page news. But somehow the story of a man whose brokenness affected that other pure and exciting human event – childbirth – in bloody, heinous and unimaginably terrible ways – is only worth a mention five weeks into his trial as a result of a sustained outcry.
Somehow we need to be Jesus in situations like this.
Somehow we need to be Jesus to our legislators, and to parents – as Christians were in the pagan Roman empire where child exposure (infanticide) was a daily reality.
Here’s what Tertullian said about infanticide which was part of a Christian led revolution of the practice where Christians would take exposed children and raise them in loving environments – in a way that ultimately led to children being valued.
“But in regard to child murder, as it does not matter whether it is committed for a sacred object, or merely at one’s own self-impulse—although there is a great difference, as we have said, between parricide and homicide—I shall turn to the people generally. How many, think you, of those crowding around and gaping for Christian blood,—how many even of your rulers, notable for their justice to you and for their severe measures against us, may I charge in their own consciences with the sin of putting their offspring to death? As to any difference in the kind of murder, it is certainly the more cruel way to kill by drowning, or by exposure to cold and hunger and dogs. A maturer age has always preferred death by the sword. In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fœtus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth…”
Somehow we need to find creative ways to be Jesus to the mothers faced with the horrible prospect of terminating a life because they see no other way forward.
Somehow we need to be Jesus to those who would profit from the industry this produces.
Somehow we need to be Jesus to those who are legislating on our behalf so that people see that it’s ok to make decisions out of love for other people that come at personal cost. Like Jesus did. Somehow.
Somehow we need to help people rediscover the truth that people are made in God’s image, and of value – so that they might take the step to being remade in the image of Jesus, who after surviving an attempted infanticide when he was born, sacrificed himself for others.
It’s all well and good to pay lip service to living like Jesus – and at the end of the day I feel like I did a pretty good job of doing that on Sunday. Paying lip service to the idea that we should take up our cross and follow Jesus so other people see him in us. It’s easy enough to do it when everybody is up an arms. But what about when the rubber hits the road – what about in the face of tragedies and injustices that people aren’t really interested in knowing about?
Robyn says “I don’t find many things on the Internet funny, but these made me laugh”…
I wrote a bit about Macklemore’s gangbusters pro gay marriage anthem Same Love a while back. It’s an incredible piece of persuasive writing set to music.
And it’s resonating with a generation of people. Check out this open letter to the church written by someone who buys into Macklemore’s thesis on Christianity and homosexuality…
Here’s the parting words from the open letter…
My whole life, I’ve been told again and again that Christianity is not conducive with homosexuality. It just doesn’t work out. I was forced to choose between the love I had for my gay friends and so-called biblical authority. I chose gay people, and I’m willing to wager I’m not the only one. I said, “If the Bible really says this about gay people, I’m not too keen on trusting what it says about God.” And I left my church. It has only been lately that I have seen evidence that the Bible could be saying something completely different about love and equality.
So, my advice to you, the Church: if you’re looking for some intelligent biblical liberal opinions on the subject, have a little coffee chat with your local Methodist or Episcopal pastor. Christians can be all about gay people, it’s possible. People do it every day with a clear biblical conscience. Find out if you think there’s truth in that view before you sweep us under the rug. You CAN have a conservative view on gay marriage, or gay ordination. You can. But I want you to have some serious conversations with God, your friends that disagree with you, and maybe even some gay people, Christians or not, before you decide that this one view is worth marginalizing my generation. Weigh those politics against what you’re giving up: us. We want to stay in your churches, we want to hear about your Jesus, but it’s hard to hear about love from a God who doesn’t love our gay friends (and we all have gay friends). Help us find love in the church before we look for it outside.
This letter makes me incredibly sad – especially the comments, which make me a bit angry (all contributors equally), and make me despair a little for how the church has articulated its message about the place of sexuality, and how poorly we love people who fall outside our norms.
Here’s one comment…
“You say that you hope you would be willing to at least take a vow of chasitity if God calls you to be homosexual but let me just make this point: Why did God make Adam a partner? Because he should not be alone, it was not good that Adam was alone. God made us so that we survive better when we are not alone. Now, I’m not saying that there are not people out there that are called to be chaste, but what I am saying is that being called to be chaste is NOT the same thing as being called to be homosexual. It’s not fair for you to tell all homosexuals that they must be chaste because of the way GOD MADE THEM! Afterall, God said that everything he made was good (including sexuality) so how come you get to say that your sexuality is better than mine?”
You know how people always bring in that caveat before they say something that singles out a particular group, “I’m not against x, I have friends who are x” (eg I’m not racist, I have friends who are Asian, but here’s what I think…) – that always seems a little bit trite and tacked on.
But I do have some friends – or acquaintances – who are gay. I have no problem with that – I’d love them to know Jesus, but short of knowing Jesus there’s not a whole lot I have to say to them about their sexuality. Paul says in 1 Corinthians that the sexual behaviour of people outside the church isn’t really meant to get us all fired up. But I’m not really interested in this debate for their sake, because while I have some friends in this boat, there are people I love dearly, brothers and sisters in the family of Jesus, people I would do much for, who are attracted to people of the same sex. These brothers have voluntarily sacrificed their “happiness” (if happiness is defined as pursuing every natural inclination to its full extent, or beyond that point) because they believe, and they’re smart people, that this is part of being a follower of Jesus.
This “enlightened” open letter, and Macklemore’s “enlightened” view of love and the church has no place for the humanity or value of a decision these brothers of mine have made. And that makes me angrier and sadder than anything else in this debate.
I can understand the passion that drives people to fight for equality. But lets make it equality for all. Equal opportunity to determine your own sexuality, and your own view on an appropriate expression of your sexuality, rather than this ridiculous “Born this way” group think that leaves people as slaves to something beyond their control.
Both Macklemore and the enlightened commenter quoted above by into the born this way trope, with a dash of “whatever makes me feel good is not just good but right” approach to decision making. Here’s Mackelmore:
The right wing conservatives think it’s a decision
And you can be cured with some treatment and religion
Man made rewiring of a predisposition
Playing god, aw nah here we go
America the brave still fears what we don’t know
And god loves all his children, is somehow forgotten
But we paraphrase a book written thirty-five-hundred years ago
I don’t know
Such rewiring is problematic if it’s not voluntary. It’s like trying to teach kids to be right handed. But nobody has problems with a left handed kid teaching themselves to bat right handed to advance their sporting career.
Maybe people want to give up something “good” or a type of “happiness” to chase something better and more fulfilling. Maybe my brothers in Christ want to pursue something bigger than sexual satisfaction.
That’s what the liberal theologians the letter writer calls for us to read are missing (that and any sense that our nature (Genesis 1) may have been frustrated by sin (Genesis 3) in the narrative arc of the Bible) – following the Jesus who typified sacrificial love for others, and sacrifice of self for others, will necessarily involve some sacrifice of self.
It’s horrible that the letter writer thought she had to choose between loving gay people – who are really just people, adding a label is part of the problem – and being part of the church. The church is called to love people, and we’re called as people who are aware that we are broken. That we are a horrible mess. We can’t come to Jesus for help without realising we need it. There’s nobody too messy for the church. Part of the problem, indicated in the comments, is a complete refusal to acknowledge that there could be any mess in me. Or in the people I like. All the mess is in those other people. Or that any aspect of our identity can be free of selfishness or the messiness of our humanity.
It’s horrible that the commenter thought that there are two choices in life: sex, or solitude. Fulfilment or being alone. What a shame that our understanding of human relationships has come to this. Maybe it’s easy for a straight, married, guy to say this. But I want to do everything I can to support people as they make voluntary choices – and I want to be especially helpful if they’re making voluntary choices because they want to follow and honour Jesus. I think all Christians should want this, and perhaps the real tragedy identified in the letter and the comments is that the church does a really bad job at making single people, whether by choice or not, feel anything other than alone. We need to get better at community. It isn’t good for man or woman to be alone – but the answer doesn’t have to be sexual intimacy.
I wish people in this debate would stop dehumanising my brothers and sisters who have voluntarily chosen not to conform to their ideals or to how they’re “made”… Surely we can approach this debate with a bit of maturity, and recognise that tolerance and equality is based in individual freedom, not in meeting whatever parameters are set by people on either extreme.
The problem with Macklemore, and this open letter, is that both are devoid of the love they claim to be looking for – love for people who live messy lives. They are pushing a new conformism that is as hateful as the one they’re trying to overthrow. Their pictures of church are also devoid of Jesus. Which means they’ve got a crap view of love. A broken, selfish, and dysfunctional definition of what love is.
Here’s a bit of the Bible (written by John) on love, based on Jesus, that all of us could learn from.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
But the key to this sort of genuine love for others – brotherly and sisterly love, is in the love God showed us first.
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
People who don’t get God won’t get what it is that compels my brothers and sisters to give up temporary pleasures, companionship, and fulfilment now – but it’s this real love. All we offer one another without that is the “same love” – inadequate love, selfish love, love based on what meets my needs. That’s why Macklemore’s song resonates with people – it seems so wrong to rob people of the ability to satisfy their desires, or have their significance recognised. But it’s a hollow form of love. A shell when compared to the love God showed in Jesus.
Ultimately Macklemore might be right people should be free to enjoy the same love - there’s no logical reason to stop people who don’t believe in God pursuing equality (with constraints like power dynamics and consent taken into account), but the love he’s singing about isn’t real love.
You know that discomfort you experience when you hear your recorded voice played back. I get that tenfold watching the first few seconds of this. It’s a recording of a sermon I preached last Sunday.
Part 2 is coming this week. I post this more as an explanation for my complete lack of substantial content this week – moving house and preaching two Sundays in a row, while not writing my project means producing cogent extra-curricular writing is not at the top of my list.
I still can’t quite snap out of “piece to camera”/reporter/emotionless drone mode. I’m a product of my own long term deliberate suppression of pathos. On the plus side, I felt much more comfortable with the no notes (or rather the powerpoint) thing this time around.
I’m not in the habit of reading books on church and ministry and stuff. I mean, I’m not an addict. I read maybe 6 a year. So take this recommendation with a grain of salt – this is the best book on ministry I’ve ever read. Other than the Bible.
The link is to a review I wrote of Creatures of the Word, a new book by a bunch of American guys, for the Bible Society.
Right. I’m preaching on Sunday – the second part in a two part series called “Where is Jesus now?”… The first talk will be online some time this week. In the mean time – my answer to this question this week is that he is in the church – his body. That we bear his image. And that people should be able to find him by looking at us (and that being Christ like is particularly tied up in being cross like). I’m getting there from 2 Corinthians 5.
So here’s a question I have. And I’d like your input. So put your thinking caps on.
Here’s the passage.
14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creationhas come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
I’m particularly interested in the first two verses.
These appear, at face value (and as promoted by universalists) to say that Jesus’ death covers every one.
14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
It seems people universally accept that the one who died “for all” is Jesus, and is the same as the “he” who died for all in verse 15. I think 14 is talking about Adam, and 15 is talking about Jesus. The only good reason I can think of not to think this is that I can’t find anyone who agrees with me yet…
I’m struggling to figure out how 14 helps Paul’s argument if he isn’t really developing it, but repeating it, in verse 15. I think verse 15 is a contrast where a second person has died for all. And I think Paul is using the same comparison between Jesus and Adam that he uses in Romans (chapters 5-8), and 1 Corinthians 15. I think Paul would say that all die because Adam died. So, in fact, Adam also died for all…
Here’s a bit from Romans 5…
“12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned…”
“17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!”
And a bit from 1 Corinthians 15…
“21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
I don’t understand why this is even a question? The comparison seems pretty obvious, but I can’t find anyone who makes it (I’ve googled a bit, and used my whizz bang Bible software).
My friend Mitch recorded this in his back yard. It’s crazy. It should be a viral smash hit.
It’s looking increasingly likely that our family will experience a brief period of homelessness after this Sunday. We’ve known about our impending exit from our current address for a couple of frustrating months, and a couple of housing options for us have either fallen over at the last hurdle, or been rabbit holes of non-feasibility. So we’ve spent the last two weeks frantically searching for rentals that are suitable for our soon to be numerically growing family.
Here are ten things this experience has taught me. So far.
1. We have too much stuff. I have no idea how we accumulated so much gear, but trying to pack it all up is driving me nuts. Why do we have so many unused platters that we were given as wedding presents, and two sets of cutlery still boxed? There’s not even any sentimentality attached to this stuff. It just is. It exists. It occupies space. It is a non-liquid asset that is almost impossible to turn into something that looks like its value.
2. Getting rid of stuff is only slightly easier than moving it. The garage sale fiasco taught me this, and again, the sort of return on investment you get for selling stuff second hand makes it hard to justify parting with anything that has even a modicum of utility.
3. Real Estate Agents are not really interested in the renter. We’re at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to their customer base (sellers, buyers, owners, renters).
4. Renting sucks. $400+ a week to rent a house that essentially has no kitchen is ridiculous. The uncertainty of life in a place that isn’t your own is starting to drive me nuts. We were verbally offered a year extension on this place with no rent increase, then a offered a modified (written) year with a $15/week increase, then a six month increase – before we managed to get our paperwork in. It’d be nice not to have to worry about other people’s whims.
5. Moving sucks. We don’t even particularly like this house – we love our neighbours. But the time sink involved in searching for a house, inspecting houses, applying for houses, organising to move your stuff, packing, and unpacking, is an awful experience with no real redeeming features.
6. It’s not really possible to do anything else well during the “moving” period. I’m meant to be preaching the next two Sundays. I’m not in the headspace to produce anything beyond the obvious.
7. Uncertainty is awful. We’ve spent the last five days (including the long weekend – so I don’t blame them) waiting for real estate agents to call us back on a couple of applications. It’d be easier knowing for sure that we don’t have a house after Sunday. The anxiety of phone calls (or emails) not coming is worse than having a clear problem that needs solving.
8. Good friends and family are a blessing. While this week is rapidly driving us insane, it’d be much worse without the help of friends and family who have come round to help us pack, move furniture, or just to hang out at our garage sale. I don’t know how people live without the sort of community being united in Jesus provides.
9. Tough and stressful stuff gets in the way of the big picture. It’s easy to get so down about this (hopefully) temporary hiccup in the life of our family that we forget to be thankful for what we’ve got – a marriage based on love and promises made to stick through this sort of misadventure, a wonderful daughter who brings us joy even as we clean, a church family who offer tangible and intangible support, and friends to temporarily live with if all else fails.
10. There’s no place like home. For those of us who trust Jesus, the comfort and security of the houses we turn into homes is a taste of what’s to come. Eternal security in the house Jesus is preparing for us. Security and comfort now is shadow of a future reality. I wish I could keep this in perspective.
Here’s what Jesus says in John 14… It’s good advice for the present, and for keeping focused on what’s important.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come backand take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
Once upon a time I fancied myself quite the garage saler. My friend Craig and I had the garage saling thing down to an intricate and fine art. I thought it’d be relatively easy to transition from buyer to seller. I was wrong.
I thought I could parlay my experience around the garage saling traps into huge profits. I was wrong.
Here are seven things I learned from our garage sale experience last weekend.
1. Be firm about starting time (in your ad). I explicitly said 7:30am in my ad. And I meant it. Much to the chagrin of the six
vultures cars that pulled up outside our house.
2. Long weekends produce “scarcity” in supply and demand. Nobody wins. The date we picked was more based on necessity than design. The first group of professional garage sale types told us we were one of the few sales advertised, but the morning rush faded quickly into the daytime trickle.
3. It’s great when your neighbours have a garage sale too – but only if you’ve advertised together. Conversely, it’s not so cool when your neighbours have an impromptu sale and don’t tell their customers that the signs on the street and the ad in the paper are for the garage sale next door.
4. Garage sale customers aren’t particularly interested in coffee. I had anticipated making more money from sales of cups of coffee than from our stuff. Despite our meagre stuff sales, they dwarfed the value of my coffee sales ($2).
5. Garage sale customers are interested in cheap, portable, and resellable, goods. We had a pretty good range of stuff (I thought) on sale. But we sold books (for cheap cheap), DVDs (for cheap), some small glass bottles, and some other assorted goods priced between $10-15. We did not sell our furniture.
6. It pays to think a little bit about pricing before hand (and about if you want to sell stuff). We sold a couple of things that we’d put out a little reluctantly for much less than they were worth, because I was sick of not selling anything. I’d say we also overpriced a few things and the fact those prices were displayed meant people wrote them off really quickly.
7. It’s a soul-destroying experience being judged by your taste in material possessions. I try very hard not to define myself by what I own, but I also work hard enough in the purchasing process to be a little attached to some of my things. When I put them out for display so that other people might buy them, I might feel a little affronted if they turn up their noses and leave almost as soon as they arrive. I’m thankful that I’m storing up treasures in heaven.
8. Selling a couple of Christian books is a good conversation starter. Also – don’t sell popular atheist books. I pulled one from sale after I noticed someone looking at it because I didn’t want to be responsible for their destruction… I had the best conversation I had all day (and sold a coffee) to the young guy who grabbed the “Five Love Languages for Singles” (OK, so it’s not really a “Christian” book).
9. Gumtree is far superior to garage sales in terms of investment of time, ease, and reward. Garage Sales take heaps of time. Are low return strategies. And aren’t much fun. I put the stuff we didn’t sell on Gumtree and I’ve shifted a fair portion of it in 36 hours.
I don’t know about you, but I find the idea that the outcomes of my life are determined by my biology – something I have no control over – pretty repulsive. It robs me of my individuality, my identity is chosen for me… who’d want to live like that?
The whole “born this way” juggernaut has been rolling for a while now – championed, most famously, by Lady Gaga and her anthemic Born This Way…
I reckon the best bit about Easter Sunday – and the resurrection – is that it kills the idea that “born this way” cuts it when it comes to deciding who we are.
The song isn’t just musically problematic – it’s also both anthropologically problematic and theologically problematic.
Let’s take the anthropological issues first – because their solution shows why Christianity is actually one of the most progressive accounts of what it means to be human competing in the intellectual marketplace…
In the Bridge of Gaga’s song, we’re given a comparison between race, gender, and sexuality that many of us take for granted – and each is said to be both innate (something we’re born with), and essential (something that defines part of our essence).
“Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
Whether you’re broke or evergreen
You’re black, white, beige, chola descent
You’re Lebanese, you’re orient
Whether life’s disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied, or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
’cause baby you were born this way
No matter gay, straight, or bi,
Lesbian, transgendered life,
I’m on the right track baby,
I was born to survive.”
Doing what our genes tell us – what our birth gives us as “default” is something that we should apparently embrace without question as “the right track” which will apparently lead to our surviving (especially if we love ourselves).
That’s a level of biological fatalism that I’m uncomfortable with – and I’m the sort of Christian who takes such a high view of God that I sign up for predestination. I’ve got no qualms with agreeing that people are born with a race, a gender identity, a physical gender, and a sexual orientation, and that these are complicated, and that our society should not just accommodate people with whatever biological permutations and inklings the complex biological sequencing that makes humans humans throws up, but see people as people. Equal. Complicated. Messy. Broken. No matter what state we’re born in – choosing “straight” or “gay” or “bi” or anything as a marker of identity, on the basis of biology is, I think, a silly use of labels. Especially the “straight/not-straight” binary – if you’re going to bring a Christian account of humanity and sexuality to the table – we’re all sexually broken. Anyway, I’m drifting into theology…
When it comes to the “born this way” argument, It’s politically useful to keep trotting this line out when you’re fighting for whatever “rights” or “equality” you want to be tied up with something you’re born with. How can we argue with biology, mother nature, God, or whatever entity we choose to ascribe such a choice, and such control to… Gaga gives God the credit..
I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way
And we’ll get to the theology later.
But what sort of life does this leave you leading? What about one’s capacity to move beyond one’s station – what about liberty and the pursuit of happiness? What if deep down I don’t want my biology.
The whole born this way thing is clearly ridiculous as soon as you throw gender into the mix. If there are two aspects of gender that are biological – anatomy (your bits), and identity (how you are wired to think of yourself) – then which bit wins out? Typically it’s thought to be your identity – because the bits can be chopped and changed. But this is pretty arbitrary… It’s even more clearly ridiculous if we start suggesting that people are born biologically wired to all sorts of behaviours that are socially unpalatable – but that’s where the Bible goes… but again, we’ll get to the theology later…
Anyway. I read this interesting article from a blog called Social (In)queery suggesting maybe, just maybe, the GLBTI community should move beyond the “born this way” trope towards something a little bit more, well, freeing. Something that gives the individual a little more liberty to move away from their unchosen biological tendencies.
“The problem with such statements is that they infuse biological accounts with an obligatory and nearly coercive force, suggesting that anyone who describes homosexual desire as a choice or social construction is playing into the hands of the enemy.”
It’s worth a read. It’s about time people started thinking this way. The idea that we’re slaves to our flesh… err… I mean our “biology” is one of the more depressing outcomes of our modern naturalistic approach to human identity – and it immediately falls foul of what Hume called the “naturalistic fallacy” – he said we can’t say that something is how it ought to be, simply because that’s how it is in its natural state.
Who wants to be stuck being allergic to peanuts if that’s biological and can be fixed. We can’t force everybody to be fixed – that’s an equally dangerous flipside. But denying individuals the opportunity to make decisions about their own lives because we decree they have no choice in the matter because of their biology… Well. That’s an awful form of slavery.
The first theological problem with Gaga’s account of humanity is the idea that because it is “natural” it is something that God says is good.
That’s certainly not true for a Christian understanding of life in the world described by the Bible.
Sure. We were made in God’s image. But that was broken pretty early on. The whole point of the narratives in the Old Testament and God’s repeated use of sexually broken characters, who couldn’t be trusted to keep their sexuality on the straight and narrow (as defined by God at creation – one man, one woman, one flesh), is that all people are broken. That even those who are meant to be most explicitly bearing the image of God can’t. Or won’t. Or don’t. The patriarchs, the priests, the kings – they all stuff up. From Abraham (who pretends his wife is his sister and gives her to Pharaoh), to David, to Solomon… the big characters in the first half of the Bible are clear examples of this.
The OT stuff is relevant because people still want to claim that Paul made up the idea that people were broken, or that God’s image was tainted by what’s called “original sin,” when he wrote Romans. But Romans is completely consistent with every other description of humanity in the Bible. Especially the image of God stuff.
The idea that we have to obey our biology – without choice but with total compliance – is something Paul would describe as slavery. Here’s what he says in Romans 6.
16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey.
The best thing about Paul’s account of humanity is that he isn’t claiming to be anything other than a broken human himself. In fact – he claims to be just a normal bloke, a human, who experiences a struggle between two powerful internal forces – the residual bits of being a person made in the image of God, and the bits of him that want to serve his biological desires – his selfish genes – the genes that tell him that the way to be truly happy is to “love himself” because he is “born this way”… that’s slavery. Paul doesn’t want to be a slave to his nature (which he says is “sinful” – which he means leads him to do things that aren’t consistent with bearing the image of God)… but he can’t help it. Here’s what he says in Romans 7.
“I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me“
Paul is saying exactly what we should all be saying – the idea that we must conform to our biology to be truly happy is a limiting prison that defines our lives, rather than frees us.
We’re faced with two choices – when it comes to our anthropology – as humans. We can conform. Or transform.
We can be slaves to our broken nature – or even just to our biology if we want to reject the idea that our nature could possibly be broken. Whichever way you cut it – this is a form of slavery. Not liberty. If who you are is determined for you, not by you, and you have no choice, that’s awful.
Or we can try to transform ourselves in a positive direction – this might mean taking the path suggested towards biology-free sexual enlightenment described in the link above, or it might mean, if we’re like Paul, looking for some sort of rescue.
24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
This is where Christianity is truly progressive.
If the resurrection that will be celebrated all over the world tomorrow really happened. In history. If Jesus really is “Lord” – if he calls people everywhere to turn to him for their identity – which is the scope of his claims over people, if he is God, and became man, and died and was raised… If these things are true then the implications for every aspect of our lives – not just our sexuality, not even just our biology – are huge.
And we have a choice. It’s not forced on us – this reality being forced on people would bring the same lack of liberty that being forced to conform to your biological reality would bring. But it’s a choice about who to serve, and where to draw value and fulfilment from – flesh, nature, biology… or Jesus.
Paul might step out of the frying pan of slavery into the fire – but at least he’s making a choice. He says following Jesus is just another form of slavery (to righteousness, not the flesh), but a slavery of your choosing, a voluntary slavery, is, in his mind at least, superior to a slavery you can’t choose.
The delivery Jesus offers – the transformation Paul says he offers – is a stunning account of what it means to be human. To be free from biological obligation. To be free of slavery to things beyond your control. To find your value in something outside of yourself. To find your identity based on choice, not just biological complicity. And to have the image of God not just restored in your life – but renovated. Here’s how Paul opens chapter 8…
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
He starts fleshing out the anthropological and identity implications of this freedom. It changes what it means to be human.
How we think…
5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.
Our future prospects…
11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
Our identity – we’re not slaves, but loved children…
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
Christianity offers a more compelling and progressive vision of what it means to be human because it’s not about conforming to something you can’t choose – that was chosen by the random intersection somewhere in space and time, of two people who carry the biological data that made you, who bring all sorts of genetic baggage, and leave you as a person made in their image – forced to embrace your biology… it’s about being transformed, voluntarily, into the image of the person space and time was created to host – Jesus – and becoming a loved child of God – a God who knew you, planned you, and loved you, before your biology started kicking into gear.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
This is how Microsoft chooses to sell new technology. It’s nice. But Apple looks to the future…