Monthly Archives: April 2014

Sign My Petition

One thing we take very seriously in our culture is letting our voice be heard, when we believe strongly in a cause. But, I’ve noticed most of the petitions being shared are pretty standard and predictable. “Stand against corruption,” “Feed the poor,” “Fight against abuse,” etc.

It made me feel sorry for those people who may fall on the other side of those issues. That’s why I created two petitions for them…

“Be Tolerant of Greed and Corruption.”

and

“Stand with the Abusers!”

Let me know what you think…

Adventures with Definition Dennis (Episode Two)

Definition Dennis isn’t very familiar with Western culture. He’s struggling to learn the terminology…

(Click here for Episode One.)

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Police Officer: Do you know why I pulled you over?

Definition Dennis: I’m betting it’s because I hit 85 mph. But, I have to say, that’s pretty intolerant of you.

Officer:  The speed limit is 45 on this road Mr…(*looks at license*) Definition. You were going almost twice what you’re allowed.

Definition Dennis:  Yes–I know how fast you want me to go. But it’s my life, and it’s my decision.

Officer:  Actually, sir, it’s not your decision. And now I have to write you a ticket. (*He grabs a pad and starts writing.*)

Definition Dennis:  Look, I know I’m new around here, but a friend of mine just explained how tolerance works! When I think something is right, you can’t argue with me. Even if you don’t agree–you have to respect different opinions.

Officer:  (*Rips ticket from pad and hands it to Dennis*) Then I guess you can say I don’t tolerate law-breakers. (*smiles*)  Have a nice day!

Amanda:  Poor Dennis! Let me clear things up.  “Tolerance” only applies to beliefs about right and wrong.

Dennis:  But I believe it’s alright to drive 85 miles per hour!

Amanda:  Right…but…well…the law is different. The government decides officially what’s right/wrong, and then it’s not up for debate any more.

Dennis: So, the government can’t be “intolerant?” Uh…then who can?

Amanda:  People who want you to think their way instead of tolerating your uniqueness.

Dennis:  (*excitedly*) Oh! So, like my boss who makes me wear a hairnet in the kitchen? And my mom and dad used to say I shouldn’t eat too much junk food! They just don’t get me, man! Sooooo intolerant.

Amanda:  (Sigh)  I guess it’s pretty complicated.  In fact, let me know if you ever figure it out.

Christians: Stop Obsessing Over Child Labor. (Just Care for the Poor.)

So, here’s the story:

A well-known charity organization recently announced they were putting children from third-world countries in factories to work.  Obviously, this caused a stir–and many Christians decided to stop funding the charity-organization. The donors were upset that their support money was being associated with child labor, so they decided to send a message to the organization’s leaders.  (We don’t support sweat shops!)

So, what’s the problem? Child labor is wrong. Period.  (Right?) Why are people angry that Christian donors stopped funding this charity?

Well, critics argue: If too many people withdraw support from the charity, then kids will go hungry.

Interesting perspective, huh?

Ultimately, the charity decided to go back to their former policy, dropping the child-employment program. Most of their donors returned, and the charity-organization is continuing its good work as usual. (At least, the key players are happy, even though the charity’s reputation took a hit.)

But, still, some bloggers are criticizing the DONORS for withholding their donations while the charity fixed its mistake. “That’s like treating poor people as chess pieces in your silly moral dispute,” the critics say. Christians shouldn’t make side-issues out of things like child labor, when the real concern is: “Are poor families being fed?”

For example, in her article How Evangelicals won a Culture War and Lost a Generation, Rachel Held Evans argues that Christians spend too much time fighting political battles over right/wrong–and it gets in the way of helping poor people.

Ms. Evans knows EXACTLY what donors should have done in this situation–they should have continued sending money to World Vision (so the poor people could be fed), even if World Vision’s leadership made a really bad cultural decision.

From her article:  “[Christians have] a disproportionate focus… [which] prioritizes the culture war…over and against the important work of caring for the poor.”

You may think something seems weird…mostly because child-labor isn’t just a silly “culture war.” It’s plain wrong. (Right?) Obviously the Christian donors were right to stop supporting a business that was putting kids in factories. Maybe you think Ms. Evans is a bit out-of-line for thinking one concern is more important than another…and maybe we should help the poor AND monitor the company’s business practices at the same time?

But let me clear things up: The World Vision story doesn’t really involve the promotion of child labor. World Vision made a company-wide decision to support homosexual staff members, and this upset many of their donors.

The original quote of Rachel Held Evans’ reads: “[Christians have] a disproportionate focus on homosexuality that…prioritizes the culture war against them over and against the important work of caring for the poor.”

Ah….well that makes more sense, doesn’t it?

How sneaky of me to rewrite the scenario and make it sound like the charity was actually condoning something wrong, when World Vision’s leadership only got tangled in a harmless, personal-preference issue like homosexuality.

Everybody knows child labor is BAD (you might call it “sinful”), but homosexuality isn’t a problem. At the very least, it’s none of our business. Christians need to leave the gay thing alone for awhile so they can spend more time concentrating on truly “important work” (as defined by Millennials, of course).

When a donor honestly objects to sending children to factories, the decision is obvious: stop supporting that charity! When a donor honestly objects to charity’s shady book-keeping or a series of top-level affairs or some other scandal, the it get’s more complicated: there will be ethical arguments, and people with good intentions may truly struggle to decide what to do with their money and their consciences.

But when a donor is uncomfortable with open-and-proud homosexuality in an organization, then he should just shut up and pay up, for the sake of the poor people!

I know it sounds like I’m implying Ms. Evans (and critics like her) are hypocritical. Yet I’m only dishing out what she served first. The article above says any donors who claimed they couldn’t support unbiblical lifestyles were lying or being hypocritical unless they became equally outraged over World Vision’s divorced staff members.

But, I propose for your consideration that, if World Vision released an “official policy change” stating: “People can get married and divorced as many times as they want, or they can live with their boyfriend/girlfriend, or they can watch pornography on their own time…it is none of our business, as long as they are committed to our mission of feeding the poor,” then Christians would raise their eyebrows to that, too.

And then they would object verbally.

And then they would take their support money to an organization with better moral values.

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Let me wrap this up:

Not everything is black-and-white. (Isn’t that the liberal mantra?)  Sometimes even two people with the exact same foundation of belief will honestly be torn about how to do the most good with their time and money.  Who are you to say I’ve made the wrong choice with mine–after I’ve researched, wrestled, and written my check…or decided to withhold it?

The only reason Rachel Evans is comfortable siding against Christian donors in this case is because SHE PERSONALLY DOESN’T FEEL CONVICTED ABOUT SUPPORTING HOMOSEXUAL BEHAVIOR.

If we were talking about child labor, Ms. Evans would disassociate with World Vision just as fast as the next person, regardless of the “good” things the charity may accomplish simultaneously (like feeding poor families).

If we want to get technical, the Bible has more to say about the sinfulness of gay-sex than it does about employing children. I could make a much stronger argument against supporting homosexuality than against the support of certain child-labor situations.

But my point is: deciding which charities to support is complicated.  And, if we all agree that we should have a say in how organizations spend our money–we should hold them to certain standards–don’t stick up your nose when you find out what my standards are and then play the “FEED THE KIDS” card.

And just one more thing:  Evangelicals haven’t “won” the culture war here. I’d argue no one has. Perhaps you’ve heard there are no winners when families fight? Totally applicable in this case.

No matter what World Vision decides about homosexual staff members, they will upset somebody: either those “obsessing” about how fine and normal homosexuality is, or those “obsessing” about how selfish and soul-damaging it is.   Lose-lose.

If only everyone could stop obsessing about what’s right/wrong in the first place, and just feed the poor…  (Right?)

Adventures with Definition Dennis (Episode One)

Definition Dennis isn’t very familiar with Western culture. He’s struggling to learn the terminology…
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Cathy Coworker:  I love your tie, Dennis! It looks great with your eye color!

Dennis:  Who are you to judge me?

Cathy:  What? No, …no! I’m not trying to judge you. Just saying you look sharp this morning.

Dennis:  Pleeeeease, Cathy. I may be new here–but I know “judgment” is for God alone. Only He can decide whether or not I’m well-dressed…

*Cathy makes a strange face and walks away*

Amanda:  Let me explain, Dennis. When somebody says “don’t be so judgmental” they mean, “don’t point out my negative traits.”  But you can compliment others all you want.

Dennis:   Wait…so it doesn’t count as “judging” if I like the person’s conclusion?

Amanda: Exactly.  In fact, Americans love that type of judgmental person…the ones who say nice things no matter what choice we make are called “tolerant.”

Dennis:  I’m confused.

Amanda:  Keep working on it, Dennis. You will get the hang of P.C. speech eventually, as smart as you are.

Dennis: Don’t judge me.

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Tune in next time for another Adventure with Definition Dennis…

The Noah Game

I won’t go so far as to say I LOVED the Noah movie. (My husband and I agree Noah’s near-total-breakdown at the end was just too much…)

But, I want to stress:  I don’t think it’s technically “unbiblical.”   And that’s what I found so intriguing about Aronofsky’s script.

He took the bare bones of the Noah story (which is just a few chapters in Genesis), and basically stayed true to everything the Bible says happened. But he went as far outside the box as he could imagine, when reading “between the lines.”

Example (*spoiler*):  The Bible states multiple times that the wives of Noah’s three sons were aboard the ark.  Lots of Christians were upset that Aronofsky left two of the sons wife-less. (“Only six people were aboard in his version!”)

But that’s just not true…because–surprise–one of the women is pregnant, and she gives birth to twin girls on the ark. The twins’ mother tells Noah, “God has provided what we needed,” implying the babies will act as wives for Noah’s younger sons when they’re older.

Now, is that probably what happened?  No. It’s really not likely at all.  But, it’s “technically” possible…and that’s what makes it so interesting.  Creativity is interesting.

I respect creativity.

The same goes for Aronofsky’s solution for the very valid question: How did Noah care for all those animals for months and months? And exactly what is a “fallen angel?” Also–who’s to say there one of the evil men didn’t hitch a ride for a few weeks before being discovered? There’s no reason to assume that happened–but there’s no way to argue otherwise.

You may have different theories about what the Bible DOESN’T say…but I believe there’s value in being challenged by the more wild imaginations among us…

When we get too familiar with the standard interpretation of a story, it starts to lose its flavor.  Every once in awhile, a gifted story-teller comes along and suggests plausible details which breathe new life into the tale. He makes us realize once again that those old, familiar caricatures were real people with real struggles.

But, over time, we honestly forget that many events from the Bible probably looked quite different from the image in our heads. I think ALL of us are going to be surprised when our eyes are opened to the Whole Story. And, in the meantime, we fight so hard to keep our comfortable, sacrosanct versions of Bible stories…taking for granted what used to be awe-inspiring…magical…almost-unbelievable…

The real problem most people have with the new Noah flick is that it challenged a lot of things we just KNOW about the story:

-All the plants/animals before the flood looked pretty much like they do today.

-The fallen angels (“Nephilim”) didn’t help Noah build his ark, and they certainly didn’t look like THAT.

-God spoke audibly to Noah; he never struggled with doubt or confusion about his purpose because God made everything crystal clear.

-The rest of humanity was so depraved they didn’t believe in God at all. They mocked Noah as a crazy person. Nobody wanted to come aboard the ark because they didn’t believe there was a flood coming…

etc. etc.

But, when angry Christians crack open the Bible to explain the problems with Aronofsky’s Noah, they struggle. The best they can do is complain his details are really far-fetched. (Which is true.) But, I just have to ask, is that completely bad?

Because, personally, I appreciated the chance to see Noah through a lens I haven’t used since I was a child…to be inspired by the possibilities, once again, of any tale about the All-Powerful-Creator-Interacting-with-Someone-Like-Me.

When God is involved, shouldn’t we be surprised sometimes?

Humans tend to connect the Bible’s dots like this:

Traditional Connect-the-Dots

Aronofsky connected them like this:

Aronofsky Connect-the-Dots

Truly, I understand “probability” and “accuracy” and people arguing that we-shouldn’t-add-outrageous-details-that-God-didn’t-include.  I understand being worried a non-believer is mocking a text he doesn’t view as sacred.

But, can’t we see any value in being a little imaginative with the Scripture–or do we resent anyone who even makes us consider our history from a brand new perspective?

In my opinion, you have to go pretty wild to shake people out of their assumptions with a story that has been around for centuries.   Aronofsky did that. And–no–I don’t believe his account is exactly what happened (or even close to it in some cases).

But neither is my version of the story.  

Being challenged by such extreme plot points reminded me to Think Big–even if we still find out some day we were wrong. The God who walked on water and raised people from the dead loves surprises. I don’t think He has finished revealing some… 

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Thanks to the creative license taken by Aronofsky (and the brain-teasing effect the movie had on me), I’ve come up with the Noah Game. It’s an exercise in imagination–to think outside-the-lines.

Take any chunk of Scripture…or a well-known poem or song lyric…and connect the dots Aronofsky-style.  You know what I mean, right?! Give me the “REAL” story behind the written words, that most people would be surprised to learn.

For example, did you know that Mary Magdalene actually traveled with Jesus and the other disciples, and witnessed many miracles such as the Feeding of the 5,000?   (This little stretch-of-Scripture was included in Son of God. Interestingly, I didn’t hear nearly as much complaint about the liberties taken in that movie…)

But, maybe the Mary Magdalene tid-bit isn’t quite imaginative enough to ruffle Christian feathers.  We need to go bigger! Crazier!  Not this:

Traditional Connect-the-Dots

But this:

Aronofsky Connect-the-Dots

Just one rule: You can’t include details which clearly, definitively contradict Scripture.  (For example, you can’t say “Mary wasn’t really a virgin” or “There were only 9 disciples”)  If the Bible says it happened, it happened. But, if the Bible is silent, go crazy.

How would you retell the story of David and Bathsheba?  (Or, if you have a brilliant retelling of another story, go for it.)   Let’s play the Noah Game.

Viewer Discretion is Advised

The True Story of Noah

I found this helpful viewers guide (click to enlarge) on Facebook a couple days before watching the new Noah movie. Based on the comments, I believe it helped a lot of people decide whether or not to see the film.

So, in the name of further helpfulness, I’ve created a similar bullet list to give you the heads-up on another story which supposedly was based on the Bible, but clearly missed the mark (as you’ll see). Maybe you’ll think twice before supporting this with your money…

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Jonah–The True Story
Jonah

1. There was no caterpillar traveling with Jonah

2. Jonah didn’t talk to his map and scrolls while deducing his mission to Nineveh. “The word of the Lord came” to him. It just came!  I mean, if that’s not clear…

3. There were no gospel-singing angels in the belly of the fish.

4.  Notice above: FISH…not “WHALE.” Open your Bibles, people!

5. God never would threaten to decimate an entire city just because they slap each other with fish. That makes him sound merciless and a little bit petty.

6. The sailors who brought Jonah to Nineveh did not go into the city with him–and nobody was taken prisoner before Jonah got the chance to preach.

7. Jonah’s job was to give Ninevites the chance to be forgiven, and he understood that from the beginning. God told him exactly what would happen–plus how and WHY. He likes connecting all the dots for humans, so they don’t feel too in-the-dark or out-of-control.

8. A worm ate Jonah’s shade-tree, not a caterpillar. (See point #1)

9. Talking vegetables don’t exist.

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Share this with your friends, so they understand that VeggieTales fictionalized the story of Jonah. Their salvation may depend on it.

 

 

Trust: The Beautiful Side of War

Is there anything more inspiring than the relationship between soldiers who have fought side by side in the heat of war and emerged victorious?  Think of the deep affection between brothers-in-arms, after walking through Hell together…

It’s no coincidence that such incredible bonds are formed in the midst of ugliness, chaos, and even death. The very fact that ordinary men/women knowingly, willingly unite with each other and sacrifice everything a human has to sacrifice is precisely what makes their relationships so deep.

Now think of how they got there. Think of the months spent training and learning to work together in preparation for their mission.

Boot camp kind of makes the average civilian wonder, “Why would anyone want to join the armed service?” No one likes being micro-managed and scrutinized. No one likes emotional and psychological pain. But boot camp is necessary to teach new-recruits how to function as part of that well-oiled machine.

The process starts with senior training officers stripping away the bad habits developed by recruits during civilian life. Most agree, the whole experience sucks…but, the more stubborn and prideful the boy, the worse his experience is. Boot camp exposes weaknesses and breaks the individual down. It’s a kind of death. But it serves an important purpose:

Recruits are yanked from their comfort zones and thrown into situations that make them feel out of control to learn trust for their commanding officers and each other.

The results speak for themselves, most of the time. Oh sure, there are squadrons that go to pieces on the battle field. But often, the right training pays off. There are few relationships stronger than the ones between soldiers united for a cause.

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What if the military decided to overhaul its boot camp system, so it wasn’t so darn unpleasant? What if they decided to keep the roles and expectations basically the same, but they shifted their emphasis a tiny bit?

I’m imagining a day when drill sergeants are asked not to pick apart the little flaws they find when new recruits arrive. After all, most of them are really good kids with good intentions. Do we have to yell at them? What’s the harm in letting them rest between exercises?

And why can’t they ask questions or make suggestions about their training?

Instead of focusing so heavily on forcing the new recruits to fit in the well-oiled-military-machine (which is a painful process), why don’t we teach officers to lead differently? Better?  They can show examples of order and respect, rather than getting in the face of young recruits; earn the right to lead through patience rather than demands. Maybe training officers could work with the recruits individually–learning their strengths and highlighting them–instead of hammering so much about conformity, group-function, and trust.

I can picture a young boy, asking a commander why it’s so bad to have an un-tucked shirt. And (rather than snapping) the commander patiently explains the dress code. Maybe the boy still doesn’t agree with it, so he asks whether the dress code can be changed. The commander starts to raise his voice. (Old habits die hard, after all.)  But, the boy doesn’t fault him for his being imperfect. Commander apologizes. Recruit accepts. And the two of them cultivate a life-long friendship based on mutual respect.

We probably should keep the rank system, so everybody knows what job they have. But we need to make sure EVERY soldier understands the titles don’t mean one person is more or less important. The Commander-in-Chief (aka the President) ultimately makes the decisions, but the rest of us are peer-equals, trying to carry out the Chief’s orders the best we can…

THAT needs to be the bottom line—the part everyone takes away from training.

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I worked through a pretty standard Love/Submission Bible study in my devotions this morning.

I can’t help thinking Christian culture keeps approaching this training wrong…

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Imagine it with me:

The military team is dropped into a raging battle and barely hears the team leader over the sounds of planes, explosions, and the cries of the dying. Suddenly, an order comes down the line: RUN STRAIGHT FOR THE TREE LINE RIGHT NOW! But, who gave the word? Is that REALLY a good plan?

A couple young soldiers get low to the ground and head for the wooded area, but several mill about in confusion and indecision. Two boys shout to each other over the noise, “Where’s the Chief?! We need to find out what HE wants from us!”

At that moment, the team leader grabs one of them by the arm and screams, “We’re vulnerable here! Head for the trees NOW!” But the boy still isn’t sure what to do…

“For the love of God. WHERE’S CHIEF?!” he cries in desperation. The leader just repeats his order–yelling angrily,  “Even if the Chief is mad, I’m the one he will hold responsible. Do as I say, Soldier!”

But the boy hasn’t been taught the importance of obedience to authority.  When life is on the line, he ultimately relies on himself–his own ears and reasoning. He feels comfortable speaking with the Chief personally and asking questions about the plans. It’s not easy for him to get messages second-hand.

He has no idea how to behave in war–since he trained using a system that emphasized discussion and equality rather than respect and loyalty.

What a shame…

…because he has been robbed of the beautiful relationship–the life-long affection–which could have bonded him with the Team Leader, if only he had the courage to trust.