Affecting Culture Through Stories


HollywoodStreetPreachingHow important are stories? Next to actual Bible study, I suggest they are the most powerful teaching tools available.

Way back when—more than twenty years ago—I read a book by Gary Smalley (which, it turns out, was re-released several years ago) entitled The Language of Love. In that book, Smalley suggested a communication technique that would especially help women reach men, not with abstract information but at the heart level. The technique, in essence is, to tell a story.

After reading that book, I began to see ways in which our culture has been and is being shaped by the stories we embrace. Changes in attitudes toward a particular moral idea often follow the gradual changes in depicting the topic in the media. (The typical pattern is first to make a joke about the subject until joking about it is normative; then joking changes to acceptance and open discussion; acknowledgment, especially of the rights an individual has in connection to the subject then morphs to an attitude of “everyone does it” or “they’re just like us.” This pattern is evident in things such as the attitudes toward pornography and homosexuality).

I was reminded of this by two unrelated sources. One, a letter from a US-based ministry, quoted statistics published in the AARP magazine (that’s for seniors), including questions like, “Do you believe in God, in heaven, in hell?” The startling thing for me was this report:

There was a sizeable number of individuals who believed in a second time around. 23% believed in reincarnation (50 years ago the % would have been 1.)

Now for the second source. In a blog post including information from an interview about the non-fiction book, Rethinking Worldview author Mark Bertrand said this:

After all, the average Christian has been much more profoundly influenced by non-Christian art and entertainment than he has by non-Christian evangelism and apologetics.

That line made total sense as I thought about the 22% of our population who have converted to belief in reincarnation, without people standing on the street corners handing out tracts about it. Or holding reincarnation tent meetings.

Mind you, I am not against these kinds of evangelism tools in the hands of Christians. The point is, persuasion often comes in more subtle ways—through pop culture, through art, through literature.

I’ve ranted before about the “innocent” little Disney movie that so many Christians embraced, The Lion King, in which many New Age teachings were front and center. Shortly thereafter (at least here in SoCal), makeshift shrines began to appear on the street when someone died, followed with claims that “I know my deceased ____ is watching over me/helping me/looking down on me.” I’ve heard such anti-biblical comments from people who claim to be Christians. And maybe are.

The point is, the culture, and story in particular, has had a greater influence on forming belief about death and the afterlife than has the Bible and preaching about the subject. Well, to be fair, maybe not a greater influence. After all, the reincarnation number is still not the majority.

Sadly, however, only 29% believed they would go to Heaven because of a belief in Jesus Christ, though 88% said they believed THEY would go to heaven. Clearly, our culture is an eclectic hodge-podge of false teaching, with truth mixed in.

And how can we sort through the sludge to show the gospel? Next to Bible study and good expository Bible teaching in church, I tend to think stories can be the most effective tools.

With some minor revision, this post first appeared here in September 2007.

Does Anybody Have A New Recipe For Manna?


Gathering mannaBoiled manna. Fried manna. Mashed manna. Manna a la quail. Manna sauteed. Baked Manna. Raw manna. If there’s a way to prepare manna, my guess is, the people of Israel figured it out. After all, they had a steady diet of the stuff for forty years.

The people themselves didn’t take long to start complaining.

We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.” (Num. 11:5-6)

Nothing to look at. Only manna.

Apparently it didn’t occur to them that without manna they would have had nothing. Apparently it hadn’t occurred to them that their “free fish” in Egypt required them to be slaves.

So it is today. We seem so rarely contented. Rather, we live life for the next thing, and the next after that. We want the vacation to Tahoe until we hear about our friend who is heading off to Italy. So we add that to our “Bucket List,” which is nothing but a glorified “I want” list—I want this, I want to do that.

When we own our own home, we complain about the property taxes. We enjoy amazing technology, only to long for the newest gadget now out. We love our cars but can’t wait to trade them in for the upgraded model. Our jobs provide us with the money to pay for food and clothing, but we can hardly wait for the weekend so we don’t have to work. Or for vacation.

Life has become one big stress.

Or has it? Maybe life is not the stress, but we are looking at manna—or life—with dissatisfaction because we want something God hasn’t given us.

We take for granted God’s provision and we even diminish its value because we’re longing for something else—something we had in the past or something we think we’re entitled to in the present.

We replace gratitude with complaining, appreciation for disgruntlement. We disdain the security and constancy God provides in favor of something risky or edgy.

I do anyway. I hate to admit it. God is so faithful, and yet I grow complacent—so unlike Abraham. He considered God’s promises and “did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God” (Romans 4:20b).

I have ample reason to give glory to God, but I tend to think more about what He did not give me rather than what He has given me.

The crazy thing is, some of the things God withholds become things I’m so thankful later on that I haven’t been burdened with. Who knew? Good things can become burdensome.

Let’s take books, for example. Every writer wants above all else to publish her book. But publishing only leads to the need to promote the book and to follow it up with another and another. In short, the very good thing of having published a book grows into a larger requirement, a burden, even.

Perhaps God withholds that good thing—a published book—because He wants to spare that writer the burdens and responsibilities that would come with it. I’m aware, for instance, of a writer who did not receive an expected book contract. While waiting, though, a family member contracted a serious illness which required a great deal of family involvement. How would it have been possible for this writer to navigate the waters of publishing at the same time as meeting the necessities of family life?

Of course, it’s so easy to say, Why didn’t God give the book contract and withhold the illness? No one can answer that for someone else, and sometimes we can’t answer it for ourselves. God simply hasn’t disclosed all His plans. But then, He doesn’t report to us, does He. He isn’t required to check in with us or get our approval to exercise His will.

In reality, He knows precisely what we need. And sometimes it’s not fish. It’s more manna.

In Remembrance Of Sir Christopher Lee


Saruman-christopher-lee-2509258-800-600Sunday actor Sir Christopher Lee passed away at age 93. He had the unenviable task of playing the part of the turncoat Saruman in The Lord Of The Rings movie trilogy. I don’t know where he stood spiritually except that he took a firm stand against the occult.

Adversaries are rarely appreciated, but we writers need them. Stories need them. They are the opponents against which our heroes must struggle, and Sir Christopher Lee played his part admirably. So in his memory, I’m re-posting, with some slight revision, an article that first appeared here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction in December 2012 under the title “Saruman or Faramir?”

Some while ago, I re-read The Two Towers, the second volume in the Lord of the Ring epic by J. R. R. Tolkien. The first half of the book is devoted to the conflict between Saruman the White, once head of the Council of wizards and Gandalf’s superior, who secretively aligned himself with the great Enemy in the East, against those who aimed to forestall the evil sweeping the land.

For years, in his leadership role, Saruman counseled patience and waiting rather than active resistance as their Enemy grew ever more powerful. Saruman acted the part of a friend, but in reality he was undermining the efforts to withstand the Great Evil.

In the second half of the book, the protagonist Frodo and his servant Sam fall into the hands of a man named Faramir, charged with patrolling the border between the Evil Lord’s stronghold and that of Gondor, the land taking the brunt of the conflict.

Faramir is rightly suspicious of these two hobbits who say they are travelers. There are no travelers here, he says, only people for the Evil Lord or against him. His inclination is to take Frodo and Sam with him back to Gondor.

At some point during Faramir’s inquisition of Frodo, Sam interrupts with these lines:

It’s a pity that folk as talk about fighting the Enemy can’t let others do their bit in their own way without interfering. He’d be mighty pleased, if he could see you now. Think he’d got a new friend, he would.

These two characters, Saruman and Faramir, seem to me to reveal the dilemma of the Church. On one hand there are people pretending friendship, even high up in authority, considered wise, people with influence and standing who others listen to and follow. Yet all the while, they are working for the enemy.

On the other hand there are those who seem wary and suspicious, who want to interview and question, who insist on details in order to be sure which way a person is aligned, all the while delaying and perhaps discouraging those from the work they have set out to accomplish.

Either there is lax acceptance leading to betrayal, or scrupulous investigation leading to division and potentially the undermining of significant work.

Interestingly, in the last sixty or seventy years the Church has tried to utilized the equivalent of passwords to alleviate the problem: Jesus people, born again, Bible believing, Christ followers. All are designed to alert others of a person’s true beliefs so that Family members can find one another.

The reality is, Saruman ended up showing his true colors when he held Gandalf captive. And Faramir showed his true colors when he let Frodo go free. In the end, their actions, not their words, showed their allegiance.

I suspect the same is true today. Whether or not a person claims some sort of connection with Christ matters less than whether or not they actually listen to Christ, put their trust in Him, obey Him. Who is taking up their cross? Who is seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness? Who is dying to self and living to righteousness?

Handsome is as handsome does, Sam says to Faramir at one point, and the old adage is still true. Christians don’t need to talk the talk as much as live the life. Then it will be quite apparent who is Faramir and who is Saruman.

Cinderella – Not A Review


Cinderella posterI don’t see the point in reviewing a movie that has been out since March, but I do think the newest iteration of the Cinderella story is worth talking about.

Thanks to a local two-dollar theater, I was able to see Cinderella the movie today. It’s interesting to watch a story that you’ve known since childhood. At first I was curious to see how this non-animated movie version would compare with the fairytale I grew up with. I soon realized I was watching the same story, revised only to add a sense of realism.

For instance, this movie gave character motivation that answered questions like why did Cinderella’s step-mother hate her so and why didn’t Cinderella simply leave? It also added more interaction between Cinderella and the prince to make their attraction to one another a little more believable.

Inevitably I compared this version of the fairytale with one of my favorite movies, Ever After, also a Cinderella re-telling. What Cinderella did that the Drew Barrymore movie didn’t attempt, was to preserve the magic. I suppose being a fantasy person, I appreciated the fact that that which we do not understand, always believe, and can’t control played a significant role in the story.

Ever After, with its “I don’t need the prince to rescue me” heroine, carried more of an “I AM WOMAN” message, flavored with a touch of “I can do for myself.” It was entertaining because it treated the story as historical and this telling, the real account which sorted fact from myth.

Cinderella, on the other hand, accepted the myth and the magic and made both come alive. In that context it developed a strong and clear theme: live life with courage and kindness. Though repeated often enough not to be forgotten, the principle arose from the events of the story—Cinderella’s dying mother instructing her pre-teen daughter to live life with those qualities. Cinderella, in turn, committed to living out her mother’s wisdom even in relationship to her step-mother and her step-sisters.

Not surprisingly she passed on the core principles to the prince in her first encounter with him, and it was this—her inner beauty—which first drew him to her.

Courage and kindness. Not principles many could call into question. They have universal appeal. But those weren’t the only things this movie encouraged. Surprisingly, given our current cultural trends, the movie is quite pro-marriage. The movie called Cinderella’s biological family perfect or ideal. The idea was, she and her parents had such a great love for each other, it couldn’t have been better.

Later, Cinderella and the prince have the same kind of connection, and the king acquiesces and gives his son his blessing, saying that he should marry for love, not political gain. In contrast, the step-mother is trying to pawn off her daughters to whatever rich lord might accept them (and of course, the prince would be the greatest catch of all if she can finagle it). The juxtaposition of the two approaches makes a very pro-relationship statement. People—spouses—shouldn’t be used to gain power or wealth. They are to be loved and cherished.

There’s a great deal of hope in this movie: hope that courage and kindness will take you through grief and mistreatment, hope that love is better than manipulation, hope that the small can survive without compromising what’s right.

Yes, there was magic, and I know this might trouble some Christians. Where magic cropped up, wouldn’t it be better, more true, if God replaced the fairy godmother?

But God doesn’t wave magic wands, and unfortunately, there are Christian stories out there that make it seem as if He does. Instead of a fairy godmother showing up to turn a pumpkin into a coach, mice into horses, and so on, a Christian story might have Cinderella pray and then miraculous things or coincidental things happen. Which isn’t far from saying, God waves His magic wand and fixes things.

Except, we all know of situations we’ve prayed for that God didn’t fix. So the stories are misleading. Yes, sometimes God does bring a miraculous end to suffering, but a lot of times, believers simply grow stronger in their faith as they endure the suffering. (Agent Karen Ball wrote an awesome blog post on this subject today).

So I’m fine with the pretend fairy godmother who could create a temporary coach, horses, coachman, and footmen, but a permanent glass slipper that only fits the foot of its rightful owner. It’s awesome to make believe. And it’s awesome to wish for what is not. It puts a longing in our hearts that C. S. Lewis identified as a longing for the world put right. We want good to win. We want the young woman who suffered greatly and responded with courage and kindness to have the happy ending, not the woman who suffered and responded with self-protection and bitterness.

In the end, Cinderella forgives her step-mother. I don’t remember that in any of my fairytale versions. But it’s another positive this movie slips in under the radar: winners don’t have to gloat or exact revenge. They can forgive.

Would that we had more fiction flooding the movie and book industries like Cinderella. These are the kinds of stories that can prepare the soil of the human heart to hear the true message of lasting Hope.

Published in: on June 10, 2015 at 6:08 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Contest Time


Caption_for_Burma_Shave A week ago on my editing blog I introduced a contest I’m running. It dawned on me today that I should post about it here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction as well. I’ve received over twenty-five entries already and plan to run the contest until next Monday. I’ll then choose a winner and four or so runners-up. Those participating may submit more than one entry.

But what are these entries?

Glad you asked. 😉

As part of my promotion for the new Power Elements Of Fiction volume, Power Elements Of Character Development, I’ve decided to use the old ad idea put out by the shaving cream company called Burma-Shave. Their ads are actually a bit of Americana, some preserved in the Smithsonian Institute, sort of like Norman Rockwell paintings, only in poetry.

The ads first appeared on small signs along the highway in Minnesota back in 1925 and continued until 1963. The son of the owner of a mom-pop kind of company producing, among other things, shaving cream that could be applied without a brush, came up with the idea. He spent $200 to put up signs that first year. Sales shot up, so the next year, his dad authorized more signs, and the ad campaign expanded. Eventually Burma-Shave signs cropped up in 44 of the lower 48 states, all positioned along the highway, so that roadtrippers could read them.

Instead of traditional marketing content, the ads were actually jingles—short lines of poetry, often with a twist at the end, and often with a bit of humor, though not always—toward the later years, they often gave driving safety tips.

They consisted of four or five lines, usually no more than four syllables in length, with either the second or the third line rhyming with the fifth, and were followed by their famous Burma-Shave signature. Here are some samples:

800px-BurmaShaveSigns_Route66

She eyed
His beard
And said no dice
The wedding’s off–
I’ll cook the rice
Burma-Shave

A beard
That’s rough
And overgrown
is better than
A chaperone
Burma-Shave

Relief
For faces
Chapped and sore
Keeps ’em comin’
Back for more
Burma-Shave

We’re widely read
And often quoted
But it’s shaves
Not signs
For which we’re noted
Burma-Shave

The bearded lady
Tried a jar
She’s now
A famous movie star
Burma-Shave

Shaving brushes
You’ll soon see ’em
On a shelf
In some museum
Burma-Shave

(Ironically, the last one is among those preserved in the Smithsonian. To read more jingles go the Burma Shave site)

My idea is to use the Burma-Shave ad concept to help promote Power Elements Of Character Development. So I sat down to write some jingles. Except, what I have to admit is, I’m not very good at it.

Consequently I thought, there have to be writers out there better than I am. What if I hold a contest, offering a copy of the book as a prize for the winner? So that’s what this post is all about.

For any and all who would like to try their hand at writing Burma-Shave type jingles about Power Elements Of Character Development, put your efforts in the comments section below, or if you’d rather keep your entry private, post it at Rewrite, Reword, Rework where moderation is on, and I alone will receive your entries.

Let me show you my efforts, so you can see you don’t have to do much to make yours better than mine. *Sad truth!

Ban PEOCD

If heroes
Struggle toward
Their goal
Readers won’t
Get bored.
Power Elements Of Character Development

If heroes
Make a plan
Readers won’t
Put their book
Under a ban.
Power Elements Of Character Development

Now envision your jingle in the little roadside signs.

I know this may seem hard to do if you haven’t read the book, but you can see the table of contents by using Amazon’s look inside feature to get some ideas that will reflect the content.

I’m looking forward to whatever you submit. This is fun. I’ll just add that by submitting, you’re giving me permission to use your entry as part of the promotion for Power Elements Of Character Development.

Thanks in advance for your entries and for sharing this post with your social network and with anyone you think might be interested in entrying.

Three In One


His_Baptism017More often than not, I think of God as One. I mean, He is. But in some mysterious way, He is also three, without subdividing. He exists as Father, Son, and Spirit and yet the three are one. The theological term for God’s triune being is Trinity, and it may be the hardest concept for someone not schooled in Christianity to grasp.

The Jews of Jesus’s day seemed to have some knowledge of the oneness of God because they understood Jesus’s claims to be God’s Son as declarations of equality with God:

the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. (John 5:18)

Recently I heard a sermon about Jesus, co-equal with the Father, submitting to His will.

I also read the Scripture passage not too long ago about Jesus answering the question concerning when the end of all things will take place and He will set up His kingdom, by saying that no one knows the day or the hour, not even the Son—only the Father:

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. (Matt. 24:36)

These kinds of clear differences between Jesus and the Father indicate that they each have a role to play, in the same way that Jesus died on the cross, not the Father.

In fact, at Jesus’s baptism, all three Persons manifest their presence: Jesus as the One undergoing baptism, the Father proclaiming Jesus to be His Son, and the Spirit in the form of a dove alighting on Jesus.

The thing I find so interesting is that within their unity they exhibit submission. Jesus clearly submits His will to the Father when He prays in the Garden before His crucifixion. In a perhaps more understated way, the Spirit also submits because He waited until Jesus ascended to heaven before taking His place in the life of the believers.

Jesus told His followers about the Holy Spirit, explaining that when He left, the Spirit would come, and that it was actually better that way. You could say, Jesus was telling them that the Spirit was “better” than He was.

But regardless how we look at this remarkable prophecy, it’s clear there was unity within their difference. Jesus came to show people the Father and the Spirit came to guide them into all truth.

So the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are One, though they manifest as three. They are actually He, since God introduced Himself to Moses by saying, I AM THAT I AM. Tell the people I AM sent you.

And yet in Genesis, God begins creation by saying, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. This use of the plural pronouns shouldn’t be misunderstood as a suggestion that God is plural, however. Scripture is peppered with statements about God’s uniqueness as the only God. The pivotal passage for religious Jews is the statement in the Shema: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” (Deut. 6:4). But there are other sections of Scripture that declare God to be One, often by emphasizing His uniqueness:

Take Isaiah 44:6 for instance.

“Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts:
‘I am the first and I am the last,
And there is no God besides Me.’

It appears that this passage declares the King and the Redeemer to be the same person, the God besides whom is no one else.

Jeremiah echoes this same idea:

But the LORD is the true God;
He is the living God and the everlasting King. (10:10a)

Certainly Scripture recognizes the claims of other gods, but reiterates that God is over them as the only true God:

* “I am the LORD, and there is no other;
Besides Me there is no God. (Isaiah 45:5a)

* “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth;
For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:22)

* “Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel,
And that I am the LORD your God,
And there is no other;
And My people will never be put to shame.” (Joel 2:27)

So God is One.

John makes a clear statement of Jesus’s place in the Godhead:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (1:1)

And in case anyone is in doubt that “the Word” refers to Jesus, John clarifies that as well:

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (1:14-18)

The uniqueness of God as a Trinity is amazing in itself, but the fact that we can learn so much by looking at His example is also important. I could wax eloquent about the unity of the Godhead, the agreed purpose of each Person with the other two Persons, or I could expound on the role each fills and the overlap that reiterates the nature of God’s oneness.

But I want to come back to the fact of Christ’s submission to the Father. Without breaking the unity of the triune God, without becoming less than God or lower in importance, Christ accepted His place as the One who would ask the Father for permission while accepting the Father’s authority to deny His request.

Clearly there is no shame in accepting the role God intended, even for Himself. He is King, Lord over principalities and powers, over those in the heavens and on earth, and yet He took on flesh, came to earth as a baby, and submitted to His human parents as He grew to manhood. This is the humility Paul says we are to emulate: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant” (Phil. 2:5-6).

What It Means To Be Made In God’s Image


puzzle-piecesI’m afraid this post is going to be ridiculously simplistic.

I’m not a philosopher, but for some strange reason I’m fascinated by the discipline. In my opinion the way we think about things, whether we’re aware of the system from which we’re operating or not, creates the filter through which we look at the world. Sometimes that system acts more like a blindfold that needs to be lifted before we can see.

Today I listened to the beginning of a lecture entitled “One God, Many Paths?” presented by Michael Ramsden of the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. In that opening, Ramsden explained that religions are rooted in either epistemology (thought), existentialism (feeling), or pragmatism (doing). In other words, they either tell people how to think, what to experience, or what to do.

Yes, there are some religions that combine all three—right thinking, right feeling, right doing. According to Ramsden, Christianity is not one of them. It cannot be reduced to one or even all three of those approaches. To become a Christian is not to master a system of thought, nor is it simply to have an experience or to follow a list of do’s and don’ts.

In truth, Jesus did not come into the world to tell us how to think about God or to give us new experiences with God or to tell us to do things for God. Jesus Christ came into this world as God. I’ll call this the relational component which other religions don’t have.

So what does this have to do with what it means to be made in the image of God? Simply this (remember, I said this post would probably be simplistic 😉 ): these philosophical foundations upon which religions are built fit nicely into the categories Jesus laid forth when He answered the question, What is the greatest commandment?

YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND (Luke 19:27b)

Heart, relational. Soul, existential. Strength, pragmatic. Mind, epistemological.

We are the sum of those parts.

We commune with others, feel in our souls, act from our will, analyze and reason with our intellect.

No surprise that God shows these same facets of His character, most clearly in Jesus—the Word made flesh—but no less present in God the Father or the Spirit. How could it be less so? Jesus specifically said He came to show us the Father. And what we find is that God, though incomprehensibly transcendent, is remarkably familiar. He cried and got angry and laughed and felt compassion. He told stories and accepted invitations to parties. He gave reasoned answers to questions and went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. He blessed children and prayed to the Father. He did the right things, experienced life the right way, thought the right things, and related in the right way.

His empathetic connection with others, the way He lived, the things He said that revealed His mind, and the actions He took were not divorced from each other. He was a harmonious whole.

We have those same components.

Our brokenness lies in the lack of harmony we now live with. As a look at those various religious underpinnings reveals, we tilt dreadfully toward one direction or the other. We do this collectively and we do this individually.

Nevertheless, we have the same components Jesus exhibited and that we can find in God the Father. How logical, then, that when we trust in Jesus and His redemptive work, He can put the broken pieces back together.

Backward Thinking – A Reprise


Vitruvian-Icon-bYesterday I addressed the Caitlyn Jenner issue from the perspective that the media is manipulating public opinion—manipulating Caitlyn Jenner, too, I might add, though with her consent. The purpose is to reshape the way we think about ourselves. For the better part of two thousand years, western culture has been influenced by a Christian worldview. We have believed what the Bible says about us. But this Christian worldview doesn’t sit well with people who don’t believe in God. Hence, we need to re-think our opinions about life’s most basic questions: who are we, how did we get here, why are we here, where are we going?

The latter part of the twentieth century brought the triumph, in education, if not elsewhere, of “science” over “religion” in the debate over origins. But more recently the question those who reject God are addressing is, Who are we? No longer is the Bible the source to which we go to find the answer, but in a strange twist, we aren’t going to science either, as is so evident in the acceptance, even the glorification, of those who identify as transgenders.

We simply have dismissed physical evidence—the existence of Y chromosomes, the prominence of the Adam’s apple, deeper voices, hormones, differences in skeletal structure, genitalia, size of internal organs, and more—in the gender discussion. If you feel like a woman on the inside, then you’re a woman, no matter what the physical evidence says.

One person on Facebook explained this dismissal of scientific evidence by saying that perception is reality.

This question of who we are goes beyond gender however.

A few years back PETA brought a lawsuit, quickly dismissed, against Sea World on behalf of five Orca whales because of their “enslavement.” This extreme desire to treat animals with the same care and respect as humans, has the effect of degrading humans. We are, the thinking goes, not more special than the whale or gorilla or titmouse.

The Bible makes it clear that humans are special because we, of all creation, have uniquely been made in the image of God. Our Creator Himself breathed into Man the breath of life and he became a living being—a soul, a self, a person.

But the PETA folks would have us be less.

What’s ironic, at the same time, our culture has weighed humanity morally and found us to be good. Ask anyone. Humans—according to the majority of people in Western society, anyway—believe humans to be innately good. I suppose some might say dogs are good, and cats, horses, dolphins. But at some point, I think most people would hold back on calling mosquitoes good, or fleas or cockroaches or termites.

The truth is, animals aren’t acting out of a moral nature. We call some animals good because we find them to be beautiful or useful or companionable or admirable. Others we find to be a nuisance, destructive, harmful, disease-carrying, and suddenly the brotherhood of all living beings seems a little less desirable.

In truth, the human alone is a moral being, and sadly, we are not good. Yes, we bear the image of God, but we act out of the flaw in our character—the very flaw fiction writers know we must include in the characters that people our stories if they are to seem realistic.

All we have to do is look around us, and we see the flaws of Humankind. Corporate greed? That’s humans acting from our flawed nature. Welfare fraud? That’s humans acting from our flawed nature. Illegal immigration? Same problem, as is pornography, sex trafficking, adultery, extortion, murder, burglary … Need I go on?

Humans are not good. Those who ignore all of the above and insist humankind is indeed good, prove by their stubbornness and willingness to lie to themselves, that all of us are flawed.

So we have this upside down thinking going when it comes to the most basic question—who are we? Humans are just another animal species, some say. But humankind is good, some of the same people say.

But there’s more. While those lawyers were suing Sea World on behalf of the whales, another group of people were doing all they could to keep “a woman’s right to choose” in place. In simple terms, they worked overtime against any effort to chip away at the Supreme Court ruling that declared abortion legal.

Back in 1973, of course, the argument centered on the issue of when life begins. Pregnancy, the women’s rights movement taught, was at the sole prerogative of the woman, because at stake was her body, and hers alone. Inside her was tissue, a fetus, certainly not a separate life. To be alive, that embryo would have to be viable. Until abortion doctors wanted to finish a botched job outside the womb. Then it didn’t matter if the squirmy tissue was living and breathing. Abortion was legal, so there. Partial birth abortions—keep those legal. States that didn’t want abortion within their borders—out of luck. No bending on this issue even though now virtually everyone understands that the fetus is alive, that this is a separate person growing in the womb. An unprotected person, stripped of all rights, without a voice or any chance to do his or her own choosing.

But the irony doesn’t stop. Medical science has determined that certain things a women does when she is pregnant can have harmful effects on the baby she is carrying—things like smoking, consuming caffeine, and drinking alcohol. Other things are helpful like exercise and playing certain music or talking to the unborn baby. Pregnant women, then, are expected to do all the right things as part of prenatal care, while some have been accused of child abuse for doing the things that jeopardize the health and well-being of the unborn. That’s right. A woman can kill the child but not injure it by smoking.

Our thinking is backwards. We make these laws asking the wrong questions—most often, what do I want or what will benefit me? Some people might even go so far as to think, what will benefit society? Few, it seems, are asking, what is morally right?

Is it morally right to cheat on your income taxes? Is it morally right to steal from your employer? Is it morally right for CEOs of failed businesses to take millions of dollars in bonuses? Is it morally right for a congressman to receive thousands of dollars from a lobbyist for whom he will fashion upcoming legislation?

But no. We won’t create law by asking what is morally right because we have backwards thinking. Humankind is good … though an animal … with no right to be born should his mother choose to terminate his life while he’s completely helpless and dependent on her, but with every right to change his gender should he not like the one to which he’d been “assigned.”

In all this the image of God is being so marred it’s hardly recognizable.

A good portion of this article appeared here in February 2012.

Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner And Media Manipulation


Adam_and_Eve019The Jenner media campaign has been quite impressive. Having signed a contract with the Creative Arts Agency (CAA), Jenner has been in the public eye almost non-stop since the beginning of April.

For several weeks we heard of a coming, groundbreaking Diane Sawyer interview with Jenner—a tell-all to end all tell-alls. The promotion was unparalleled for a two-hour network TV special that didn’t involve war, politics, national security, an election, a sports figure, or a celebrity currently touring, performing, or producing (although his involvement with the Kardashians has kept him in a spotlight of sorts).

At least two and a half weeks before the interview, promo spots turned up all over the place. News anchors discussed the coming show. Speculation abounded regarding the big secret Jenner would reveal.

At last the day came, and to few people’s surprise, the “secret” Bruce revealed was that he believes himself to be a woman.

So that was done.

Or was it?

Not really.

Next was the a two-part special titled Keeping Up with the Kardashians: About Bruce which aired in May and received network news coverage. Then in June, Bruce revealed his female identity, choosing the name Caitlyn and changing to the use of female pronouns in relation to herself.

A scant two days later came the Vanity Fair cover revealing sixty-five year-old Caitlyn Jenner posed in a woman’s undergarment (and looking like anything but a sixty-five year old). Of course the nightly news led with the story. The next night there was more Jenner news—she revealed the first trailer of her highly-anticipated docu-series I Am Cait. Somewhere in there the news also came out that she’s been announced as the Arthur Ashe Courage Award recipient for this year’s ESPYS and which will be presented in July.

Last night, I believe it was, the news broke that perhaps Caitlyn Jenner would not receive the same treatment in her country club now that she’s a woman, implying that men are given perks women don’t enjoy. So apparently, the transgender cause is going to be hooked to the feminist cause.

Don’t expect the Jenner news to simmer down any time soon. Expect a book deal soon, and watch for product endorsements.

Before all the hoopla started, and while still answering to Bruce, she made it clear, through a source that she “wants this to be taken seriously so that [his situation] can have the most positive impact on society’s perception of the transgender community.”

As one pop culture site reported

The 65-year-old has been very open about how she hopes exposing her journey to the public will help other transgender people feel less alone, and to lower the high rate of suicide attempts within the population.

In other words, selling Caitlyn Jenner to the public is by design—a very good design, apparently, since newscasters on all the network shows I’ve seen have only positive things to say about “such courage.”

So many thoughts go through my head in regard to this on-going story. I’d even call it a tragedy. Jenner has suffered, apparently for decades, with gender identity disorder (GID) or gender dysphoria. According to Wikipedia this is

the formal diagnosis used by psychologists and physicians to describe people who experience significant dysphoria (discontent) with the sex and gender they were assigned at birth. (emphasis mine)

In one of the clips for the docu-series, I believe, someone says to Caitlyn, “I miss Bruce,” and she answers, “Bruce hasn’t gone anywhere.”

Apparently not, since reportedly the outward changes have not included “sex reassignment surgery.” Caitlyn has benefited from hormones that Bruce took as far back as the 1980s, as well as facial plastic surgery (and breast implants?), but not an actual reconstruction of genitalia.

But she feels like a woman.

So which is true—the physiology that is the kind of stuff science usually requires (male genitalia, a Y chromosome, male muscular structure, and so on) or how she feels? Why is the biology wrong and the emotions right?

Are emotions oh-so-reliable that we can’t question a person’s choice when they announce they feel this way or that? At one point Bruce felt enough like a man to play football on a men’s team, compete for a spot on the men’s Olympic team, win a gold medal in the men’s decathlon, marry a woman—well, actually three different women—and father children.

To this day, Caitlyn says she’s never been attracted to a man (which doesn’t sound like the women I know), and considers herself asexual.

In truth, our culture, with the kinds of media orchestrated focus on gender issues, is redefining, not just marriage, but what it means to be a man or a woman. How can a man act as God intends him to act or how can a woman act as God intends her to act, when we’re scrambling to figure out whether we agree with the gender “we were assigned” at birth?

In contrast, God was not ambiguous about gender:

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply. (Gen. 1:27-28a)

Something else this whole spectacle has made me think: this transgender movement seems to depend on having money. What would Caitlyn be without her hormone therapy and cosmetic surgery? How many transgender people live in developing countries where they don’t have the luxury to reconsider the gender “assigned to them” at birth? Where they can’t afford to get drugs that change their chemical make up? Where there is no subsequent “evidence” that suggests GID has physical and not merely psychological causes? If this were true, where are the transgender people in the poorer countries of the world? Where are the transgender Huaorani or the transgender K’iche’? Maybe they exist but simply don’t have the spotlight Catilyn Jenner has.

But I suspect our western culture has a greater percentage of discontented people when it comes to gender. If you think about it, how would Bruce Jenner have known what it feels like to be a woman—so much so that he believes he actually is a woman inside? He has no basis of comparison. He knows what it feels like to be a man, but he only knew what it felt like to be a cross-dresser, not an actual woman. He still doesn’t know since he has kept that part of his anatomy that women don’t share with men.

Is there any more evidence we need to validate the truth claims of the Bible regarding our increasing propensity to call right, wrong; up, down; good, evil? God made men and women and called them good. Our sinful society says, the “assigned gender” might not be the real one. On whose authority? Who gets to say? Well, apparently Bruce/Caitlyn—or any other person who wants to say what God made isn’t good, and they’d like to remake it as they see fit.

Shame And Trusting God


RockClimbingA growing concern connected to Internet communication is shame. I read a post yesterday that cited several instances in which shame campaigns grew up around something a person posted—either a picture or comments. In the end, more than one person lost their job.

I’m not linking to the article because I disagree with the solution—and that’s not really my topic. The problem of shame is.

I have a friend who recounts ways a particular family member shamed others. The baggage from that cares over to adulthood.

I’d never thought about shame before. I came from a family with parents who loved me. It wasn’t perfect. My siblings and I were quite competitive and always struggled with the idea that one or the other (but never me—and we all thought this) was favored. Still, though I suspected I wasn’t the favorite, I still knew I was loved.

As a teen, of course, I was sometimes embarrassed about my family and even about my faith, but I didn’t feel shame in the way my friend describes it.

I wonder now if freedom from shame was connected to my being a Christian. What I’m discovering in Scripture, though, are verses addressing shame.

I suppose it would help if I gave a picture of what I perceive shame to be. Let’s say a person is expected to be the top of his class, but in the last semester, he forgets to write down the due date of a major paper, turns it in late, and gets a B. Someone else claims top honors. He had his chance and blew it. He bears the shame of his failure.

Shame is also something a person feels when a person you hold in high esteem says they’re disappointed in you. Or they tell others things like, he probably won’t have the grades to get into med school. It’s a public declaration of inadequacy.

So here are the verses about shame that have caught my attention. There are four. First, in Philippians:

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.(1:18b-20)

Paul was essentially saying he knew he’d be delivered (he was imprisoned at the time), and that he would not be put to shame for believing so, whether he lived or died because Christ would be exalted either way.

1 Peter 4:16 is the next passage:

but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.

At first this verse seems to address the kind of embarrassment I felt when I was a kid having to tell people I belonged to the Mennonite denomination—which most people in my SoCal public high school had never heard of. But the context would seem to indicate there’s much more to this. Peter was addressing believers who were being persecuted because they believed in Jesus. Writing to the churches in Asia Minor, the Apostle Peter wanted to assure them that their suffering was not a sign of defeat. He encouraged them by reminding them that it was temporary, that it was expected, that it gave glory to God, that they were blessed that God had chosen them to suffer for His name’s sake.

In other words, suffering as a Christian was not a mark of failure but of accomplishment. Therefore, they had nothing to be ashamed about.

The thing is, when someone trusts God and then continues to suffer and even to die, the world can point the finger as they did at Jesus Himself and say, See, if your God was real, He could get you out of this mess. He’s failed you because He doesn’t care or isn’t strong enough or because you didn’t believe enough or He plain isn’t there.

Peter was assuring these early Christians that none of those accusations was true. In fact, in chapter five, he specifically mentions the devil, who, among other things, is the Accuser of the brethren. It’s easy to miss the connection between what Peter says about the devil and what he says right afterward about suffering, but I think it’s the issue of shame. Here’s that passage:

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. (5:8-9)

Suffering, Peter says, is an experience Christians all over the world are going through. It’s not a sign of failure. It’s not something to be ashamed about.

There’s another one in Psalm 37, but I’m going to cut to the last one since I sneaked in a second passage from 1 Peter. This last one is the one that has helped me tie my thoughts together about this. It’s a short verse: Psalm 71:1.

In You, O LORD, I have taken refuge;
Let me never be ashamed.

The unidentified psalmist is putting his life, his destiny, his soul in God’s hands, and if that decision turned out to be foolish—if God failed Him—he’d be ashamed before those who didn’t think God could take care of him.

I view this as sort of his “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief” moment. He’s tying himself to God. There is no one else to which he could go—just as Peter said about Jesus. But he knows how this must look to those who haven’t made God their refuge. It looks dangerous, foolish.

You know the old joke, about the guy who falls from a cliff but is able to grab hold of a safety rope. He starts yelling for help: “Is anybody up there! I need help!” Suddenly a voice from heaven says, I’m here. What do you need. “I can’t hold on much longer,” the guy says. “Can you help me get back to the top?” No problem, the voice from heaven answers. Let go of the rope, and I’ll catch you. The man hesitated a moment, then yells, “Is anybody else up there?”

Dangerous. Sometimes the things God asks of us feel dangerous. Or foolish.

We aren’t risk takers. We’ve been taught to be good stewards of our resources, so we want to know we have enough money stashed away for retirement, for example, to cover our expenses should we live to be 143. We cringe when we read about Abraham going, not knowing where, just because God told him to pull up stakes and head in the direction of the Great Sea. Most likely Abraham didn’t even know there was a Great Sea. He was simply going until God told him to stop.

He wasn’t ashamed to be a friend of God, even when it meant marching to the top of a mountain with his son as the intended sacrifice. He did what others may have thought risky, foolish. But he had confidence in God. Ah, one more passage:

yet, with respect to the promise of God, he [Abraham] did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. (Romans 4:20-21)

Fully assured—not in himself, but in God and His promise! I’m pretty sure that’s what keeps a person from being ashamed.

Published in: on June 2, 2015 at 6:05 pm  Comments (8)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,