Dec 07 2011
The Big Objection: Our Culture, the Bible and Sex

(Okay, here's another adult-level blog entry.  Not for kids...)

In our culture, it's the Big But.

"I like Jesus, BUT..." and the "but" is usually followed, one way or the other, with an objection about the Bible and... sex.  People think something's deeply messed-up with a belief system that says two consenting, unmarried adults should refrain from sex.  Something's amiss.  Something's backward.  Maybe you think that, too.  If so, let me suggest something you may not like:

You may need to expand your horizons a little bit.

No, seriously.  The moralistic Bible-thumpers may be more broad-minded than you are on this one.  Perhaps you're offended by the Bible's philosophy on sex not because you're so thoughtful on the issue, but because you haven't thought that much about it.  (Of course, you could rule this argument out-of-bounds from the start, but that might just confirm it.  I do expect some people have already stopped reading, by the way.)

Every culture has its objections to the Bible.  The Bible is an equal-opportunity offender.  Thing is, cultures are different, and so we find different things to be deeply offended by.  For us, here, and now, it's about sex, or sexual autonomy, to put it more simply.   We just hate the idea that a loving God would put sexual limits on us.  The Bible says sex outside of marriage -- all sex -- is a sin.  The Bible says homosexual behavior is sinful.  The Bible says lust, itself, is sinful.  The Bible has offended our sensibilities. 

The Bible even embarrasses some Christians, who are desperate to make what it says conform to our culture, here and now.

Author Tim Keller makes a great argument:  In the middle-east, they're not offended by the Bible's teachings about sexuality.  It's the whole forgiveness thing that rankles them.  It's not that they don't "get it".  They get it, all right.  They just don't want it, and find it impossible, ridiculous, and even morally repugnant. 

Like we said:  Every culture has its objections to the Bible.  And our culture worships sex and romance.  WE are the ones who've decided a life without having sex is somehow a life devoid of meaning, a nightmare, and impossible.  The Bible has the audacity to say our culture is wrong on that one.  It suggests that sex is a gift of God, to be celebrated, to be sure, but not what defines The Good Life.  That good life can be lived -- and has been lived -- by millions, who've gone without sex.

I feel strangely guilty for even typing that last sentence, like I just denied the moon landing, or spat on the flag.  It's kind of like -- no, EXACTLY like -- I've committed some sort of heresy, this time against my very culture.  But Christians have always been heretics this way.  From the very outset, in the Roman world, they challenged the idols of their culture, and were even called "atheists" for doing so.  And idols are often something good, made into an Ultimate Thing, and in our culture, that good-turned-Ultimate is sexual autonomy and romance. 

The Bible challenges that idol, just like all idols.  Our culture doesn't like it, and can't imagine how it could do that.  In the West, we don't burn the Bible.  Oh, we're much craftier than that. 

We just try to make it fit us.

Oh yes, we're offended.  But -- and here's the big question -- if it were true, wouldn't it do just that?  Wouldn't it offend every culture at some point, even the ones who think they've just evolved higher than the others?

And isn't it possible that the reason we find it so backward, so strange, is that we can't imagine stepping out of our own cultural biases?  To us, of course, the mere idea that we would be restricted expressing our individual sexuality is ludicrous!  -- but we're creatures of a certain time and place.

So here's another Big But:  Sure, the Bible offends us on sexual matters, BUT... is it possible -- just possible -- we might see things differently, if we took off our cultural glasses?

Dec 04 2011
Quit Spending Money You Don't Have Just Because It's Christmas. Sheesh.

(Look, I have no idea [cough] who this guy is, but he's  I'm certainly offended at his straight-talking.  But I thought I'd re-post it here, anyway, because he has an awesome chair and hat and stuff. Send angry emails to him, not me. Unless you like it.)

The Krusty Sage:  Quit Spending Money You Don't Have Just Because It's Christmas. Sheesh.

"Oh, but it's Christmas!  It's a special time of the year!  I know, we're in debt, overall, but it's Christmas, and that's only once a year, and -- "

"And..." you're a doofus.



The Krusty Sage says it in love.  The Sage also says, in love, that if you spend $300 on your kid for Christmas when you don't HAVE $300, you're not only giving your kid a nifty 360, you're giving your kid a gift that keeps on giving: The gift of foolishness, surrounded by beautiful lights, the scent of pine, on display, and etched in memory.  Ah.

Yes, Target and Apple and Best Buy don't advertise many $30 gifts, and they've ratcheted up the expectation level for Christmas.  But -- last time I checked -- your will remains free.  This means you don't have to be an idiot.

Yes, your parents may have overspent every year as you grew up.  Yes, they may have been Baby Boomers, seeking to atone for parental guilt, for one or another reason.  Yes, there may have been stacks of presents under your tree.  Yes, you think this is way Christmas "is supposed to be."

Yep! -- and so what.  We all make mistakes.  But if we're wise, we change.  

So try it.


Christmas is not "supposed to be" you, buying stuff you don't have money for.  Sorry.  If you're a dad, and feel bad because you can't spend hundreds on everybody, tell them you don't have the money for it, and you'll still have a great Christmas.  If that makes you feel bad, man up, bro.  You're being bullied by a bunch of advertising majors. 

Gee, you're in debt?  How'd that happen?  This is a mystery.  Someone call a C.S.I. unit.  Maybe they can figure out what happened.  Maybe they can piece it together.

Or maybe you bought a bunch of garbage.  Maybe you should stop it.   Maybe Christmas isn't special at all.  Maybe it's just the latest excuse to overspend.  Gee.  Huh.  Wow.  Gosh.  You think?

"Okay, we're in debt, and yeah, we did buy a $1,200 TV, but it's not that simple, because sometimes --"

No, it is that simple.  Sorry.  Next?

"But everyone at my kids' school gets tons of expensive gifts like 360s and Wiis and stuff and -- "  

Are you in debt?  

"Well, yes, but it's not that simple, and -- "

Nope.  It's that simple. 

"But it's not realistic to spend only $20 per person in this day and age, and -- "  


"It's just not that simple, and -- "



If you don't have the money for it, you don't buy it.  Don't act like your kid "needs" an iPad, either.  It has nothing to do with "needs", or even your kid, really.  It has everything to do with you:  Your desire to have some kind of "perfect Christmas", your guilt, your insecurities, your conflict-avoidance, your expectations, and you know, just

Bottom line:  You wish you a merry Christmas.

"But didn't the 'wise men' bring GOLD to baby Jesus? And fancy myrrh and stuff?  That was extravagant, and -- "  

They were royalty.  You think they used a Discover Card?

"But isn't 'Christmas' in the Bible, and -- "



Dec 01 2011
On Being Too Secular. Or Too Christian. Or Whatever.

When you work in public, you get lots of input.  And you better like it.  Shoot, roadside construction workers get input from passers-by.  ("You guys taking another break?")  It's the nature of the biz.

I occasionally hear I'm "too secular".  A legit point, well-made, and sometimes gracefully put.  I love getting feedback.  But it's a good chance to explain something, so that - even if you think I'm messed-up - you'll know where I'm coming from.  It's always good to have your suspicions confirmed ("Now, I know this guy's messed up...")

I don't believe in a line between sacred and secular.

A tree isn't "secular."  A car isn't "secular."  And, while most agree my accordion will not be in heaven, it isn't "secular", either.

There are Christians in the music business, and not just in the "Christian Music Business."  Some of the best "Christian Musicians" will never win Dove Awards.  They play bass trombone for the Boston Symphony (Douglas Yeo) or principal trumpet for the NY Philharmonic (Phil Smith) or sing mezzo soprano for the Metropolitan Opera, like Wendy White.  They're not "secular."  They're gifted by God as artists, participating in His creativity, Soli Deo Gloria.

And your job?  Your computer isn't secular.  If you mop a floor at work, you're not mopping a secular floor.  If you're mowing grass, you're not mowing secular grass.

It's God's grass, man.

And Jesus didn't change water into secular wine.

You can now buy Christian-marketed pants.  Does that mean my current pants are secular?  Have the Christian pants truly repented?  And what can be done to reach my pants for Christ?

Is Left Behind a secular book series because it's sold in secular bookstores?  Is Relient K a Christian band, or, if MTV likes them, do they lose the "Christian" label?  What about The Fray?  What about U2?  You say "no" to U2?  Okay, what about Mercy Me, who covers U2 songs?  Or Sanctus Real, who covers U2 songs?  Or Michael W. Smith, who covers - you know - U2 songs?  (And Chris Tomlin's song, "Where the Streets Have No Name"...? You better sit down.)

What if an album is recorded in digital by a secular producer, with a secular studio bass player, mixed in analog by a Christian, and then mastered by an agnostic, printed by a Christian-owned-CD manufacturer, and distributed by Sony, before being played on Christian radio stations?  What then?

My head hurts.  Good thing we really don't have to keep track, huh?

I believe the Kingdom of God is here, and the King wants everything.  All truth is God's truth, which means we can be unafraid of finding it, as we do, all over the place.  And we find it in unlikely places.  "Secular" scientists can find it.  And so can - you know - smelly animals:

“I had a professor one time... He said, 'Class, you will forget almost everything I will teach you in here, so please remember this: that God spoke to Balaam through his ass, and He has been speaking through asses ever since. So, if God should choose to speak through you, you need not think too highly of yourself. And, if on meeting someone, right away you recognize what they are, listen to them anyway'.”
― Rich Mullins

And, oh yes, your favorite Approved Christian Publishers (TM) and Christian Radio Personalities (TM) can miss it.

So, if you hear me talking about what you consider "secular" news stories, or secular TV shows, or secular hot dogs you can have sent by mail, well, just know what my problem is:  I don't see the world that way.  I used to.  I don't anymore.

God's grace, His beauty, His truth, His obvious HUMOR -- it's everywhere.  The whole earth is filled with His glory.

Can our culture misuse it, abuse it, discolor it?  Oh, sure.

For now.

But, like Mike Yaconelli said:  Our purpose isn't to condemn the culture, it's to redeem it.