On Sexuality, Target, the Church, and True Courage

If there’s one thing we see evidenced throughout human history, it’s that human beings have a great propensity toward fearing that which is different.

And if there’s one thing we see evidenced throughout Church history, it’s that Christians are really good at justifying and legitimizing that prejudice by claiming it is God’s will.

The fact we are so quick to ascribe to God our own discrimination and bigotry is cause enough for mourning and repentance. But watching the pain, destruction, and death it causes as it is played out in real life is a million times worse.

Laws regarding transgender people – and specifically their use of public restrooms – have been all over the headlines the past couple of weeks. And the Christian response to these laws and headlines have largely been predictable and awful.

Those who claim to follow Jesus have sadly flocked to sign petitions and join boycotts over bathroom policies — as of this writing, over a million people have pledged to not shop at Target because the store decided to be inclusive and tolerant. (Given the history of success of Christian boycotts, I guess we can expect Target to soon become the world’s #1 retailer.) Like all knee-jerk reactions, however, people decrying transgender rights – especially in the name of God – simply do not understand what they’re opposing.

The initial reaction most people have is something along these lines: guys have penises and girls have vaginas. Somebody who has a particular body part and claims to be the other gender is gross and weird; therefore, it is wrong and we should fight against “normalizing” such behavior.

It seems pretty cut and dry. I’ll readily admit: up until a few months ago, that was how I viewed the issue as well. Then, I did a crazy thing: I actually started listening to people’s stories. I heard and read their experiences. And suddenly, “transgender” was not an “issue” any longer – this became about people.

It’s so easy to be against an idea. It’s infinitely more difficult to be against a person.

The Church does a phenomenal job of holding these sorts of discussions at arms’ length, of ensuring we don’t personalize them too much. It’s a lot like how the military trains soldiers, actually: dehumanize the enemy, and you have a lot easier time taking them out. For instance, it’s so comfortable to sit back in our privilege and say gay people shouldn’t be allowed to express their love through marriage; it’s a hell of lot harder to sit across from a gay couple, listen to their story, see the love they have for one another, and tell them they don’t deserve to be able to marry one another.

The same is true with transgender rights now as well. Dudes “pretending” to be chicks (or vice versa) instead of what they “really” are is gross, and therefore is wrong. Nobody should do it. But once you shut up and start listening to people and their stories, things begin to look a lot different.

(Side note: when it comes to discussing the transgender journey, we need to drop phrases like “pretending” and what somebody “really” is out of our vocabulary. Stat.)

After hearing and being affected by people’s stories, I went and checked out the science that explains what many of them are experiencing. Guess what? There is an actual, scientific difference between sex, which is biological, and gender identity, which is how people identify themselves. Biological sex and gender identity develop separately from one another in the womb. Hormones affect the development of reproductive organs in a fetus at different times and in different ways than they affect the development of gender identity in the brain. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the two end up in the same place. Every once in awhile, they don’t – and as a result, someone’s sex doesn’t match their gender.

(Another sidenote: this is known as gender dysphoria — and not every transgender person experiences it, but it is a useful place to begin our discussion and understanding.)

If we can understand this, it might stop us from the crude, snide, and mocking comments that have infuriatingly become the norm in the discussion on the “Christian” side of things.

In fact, we could say that gender dysphoria is no different than, say, depression — there isn’t something “wrong” with someone; this is simply something that happens to people. It should not be stereotyped or crudely joked about.

Which makes it all the more maddening and shameful that Christians are doing just that. I had multiple Christian friends over the past week or so share an article from a Christian satire site which mockingly intones, “Target Announces Senior Discount For Anyone Who Self-Identifies As Age 60 Or Older.” Not only does this article betray the author’s lack of understanding, and completely misrepresent the transgender community by inferring that they simply choose which sex to be for personal gain, it invites us to have a laugh at the expense of an oppressed and hurting group of people.

The more I saw this shared on Facebook the more sad I became.

I have wrestled with this topic for a couple years now, ever since meeting and talking to two transgender women in our church (both of whom were born biologically male), and I have come to this point in my own understanding: I see nowhere in Scripture proclaiming that being transgender is a sin. And I certainly do not see anywhere in Scripture that says using a bathroom based on your gender identity is a sin. Oh, sure, there’s the verse from Deuteronomy that says women can’t wear men’s clothes — but not only are we not under the Law any longer (let’s put this verse up alongside the ones about not wearing clothes with more than one kind of fabric or the ones about having to put tassels at the corners of your clothing and see which ones we want to pick and choose), folks who quote this verse don’t ever examine the purpose for this law or the cultural considerations that went into codifying it thousands of years ago.

The best anyone has ever done explaining to me why being transgender is a sin is this: gender is fixed at birth and transgender people are choosing to not be who God made them, therefore they are sinning. Even that philosophy is rich with irony, though: transgender people would say all they are trying to do is to embrace their gender identity and to be who God made them to be.

But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that somewhere in some hidden book of the Bible God clearly said that accepting your gender identity was wrong and being transgender was a sin. (Again: nowhere have I found where the Bible says this.) But what if it did? Would that make the jokes and the mockery and insults – the awful, horrific insults – shared in the name of Jesus any more okay? Would that make it okay to call transgender people monsters? Sexual predators? Deviants? To tell them that God detests them?

I cannot force myself to believe that response is the way of Jesus or the dream of God for this world.

To make matters worse, we hide our bigotry and fear behind a banner of supposed child safety. Christians sadly make the claim, either implicitly or in many cases explicitly, that “transgender” = “child predator” or “rapist.” I want us to pause and really let the hurtful nature of this argument sink in for a moment.

There has been no increase in public safety issues in cities with anti-discrimination laws that protect transgender people. On top of that, a coalition of 250 organizations who work with sexual abuse survivors are begging people to stop using that argument. It is nothing but fear-mongering divorced from reality. Besides, we all know how much criminals care about the law. (I find it ironic that the same people who say we can’t pass gun control because criminals would get guns anyway fail to see the same argument here that criminals will enter restrooms whether it’s legal or not.)

Beyond that, it’s pretty clear opponents of anti-discrimination laws haven’t really thought this thing through anyways. For instance, I can’t understand why somebody would want to force a person like Brae Carnes, who was born biologically male but identifies as a woman, to use the men’s restroom:

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And I can’t understand why somebody would want to force Michael Hughes, who was born biologically female but identifies as a man, to use the woman’s restroom:

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(Irony alert: opponents of anti-discrimination laws would undoubtedly try to stop Michael from using the women’s restroom, when it was their own bigotry that forced him into the women’s room to start with.)

Brae deserves to use the women’s room. Michael deserves to use the men’s room. And infinitely more than that, both of them deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Sadly, a lot of Christians these days appear to be incapable of such a simple, foundational thing.

What makes this all even worse is watching Christians congratulate themselves for these sorts of responses. I’ve seen so many replies that essentially pat someone on the back for their “courage” (this seems to be the word du jour) in taking an anti-transgender or anti-gay stance — and not just for taking that stance, but for belittling, attacking, and demeaning other human beings.

That’s not courage. There’s nothing courageous about hate.

Standing “against culture” by attacking and mocking a group of hurting people isn’t courageous. And before you say, “disagreeing with somebody doesn’t mean you hate them,” what we’ve witnessed from Christians the past couple weeks goes far, far beyond a simple disagreement. It goes straight to an utter lack of compassion, a lack of desire to even listen or know or understand, and a complete disregard for somebody else’s dignity and humanity.

You know what is courageous? Standing up for love. Standing up for equality. Standing beside people whose suicide rate is ten times the general population because of the shit that gets dumped on them – including and especially from “Christians” – and loving them. Helping them. Welcoming them. Accepting them.

Young people who are transgender are oftentimes bullied to the point they end up hating themselves so much they try to kill themselves. (So yeah, tell me again how teenage boys just say they’re transgender so they can get into the girls’ locker room — it sounds like a real party to be transgender.) You know what takes real courage? Coming out as transgender. That’s courage. Christians should be leading the way in protecting those on a transgender journey. Instead, we’re oftentimes the ones causing the most pain.

Look, it’s simple: one of the foundational themes of Scripture is a choice between life and death. That choice is presented a host of times throughout the pages of this story. In the Torah, God lays out the choice: “Look! I am presenting you today with, on the one hand, life and good; and on the other, death and evil… I have presented you with life and death… therefore, choose life.” Through the prophet Jeremiah hundreds of years later, God lays out the same choice: “And here is what you are to tell this people: ‘Adonai says: “Look! I am presenting you with the way of life and the way of death.'” The book of Hebrew Proverbs is full of contrasts between choosing life and choosing death. We are specifically told that our words carry the power of life and death. The story of a Tree of Life and a Tree of Death in the Garden, and the death which Adam and Eve chose, is reimagined through the lens of Jesus all throughout the New Testament. This choice of bringing life or bringing death is a central tenet of our faith narrative and who we are as a people.

How incredibly sad, then, that we have willingly and zealously chosen the way of death – bringing death both figuratively and literally, and too often physically – when it comes to gay and transgender people.

Once again, the Church has chosen bedroom (and now bathroom) issues as a hill to die on. When will we move on from our obsession with sex and truly just love people? We’ve gotten really, really good at saying, “I love you, but…” I love you, but this is a sin you have to change before I will fully love you. I love you, but you can’t have the same rights as I do. I love you, but I cannot accept who you are. I love you, but only if you conform to my preconceived notions.

I’m so ready to instead just say, “I love you.” Period. Or, perhaps, “I love you, whether…” I love you, whether you identify as a male or female. I love you, whether you choose to transition or not. I love you, whether your biological sex matches your gender identity or not. I love you, and that means I will walk with you in this struggle as far as you want me to. I love you, and I support your fight for equality and a life free of bullying and abuse and pain. I love you and accept you and there is no “but.”

And to those of us who claim Jesus, I’m begging you: choose life. Bring life. Stop talking, stop hurting people, stop mocking, and listen. Learn. And love.

Love Trumps Fear

Fear is a powerful and efficient motivator. But it’s not a good motivator.

Fear is ill-equipped to motivate us toward Good for one simple reason: we are called into love, and love casts out fear.

This is a powerful truth that can be applied to a myriad of different situations, but the dialog and discussion ugly arguments surrounding this year’s political races has me thinking about it a lot lately.

Donald Trump has built an entire campaign on a foundation of fear: fear of Mexican immigrants, fear of Muslims, fear of black people, fear of Latinos, fear of strong women… his entire platform (to the extent which he has one) is nothing more than scapegoating minority populations to satisfy and stoke anger. It’s inherently driven by fear.

I don’t want this blog to get sidetracked with pro- or anti-Trump arguments — I point this out simply as an illustration of a larger point: where fear reigns, love cannot.

In fact, Donald Trump actually released a campaign ad on the subject of immigration that literally ended with these words: “Forget love. It’s time to get tough!”

This, then, is the message of Trump: Forget love. Embrace fear. Be afraid of the “other” and let that fear drive your decisions.

It’s not just the message of Trump, of course. Politicians have used this strategy for decades – probably for centuries – because selfless love would hamstring their campaigns. Stoking fear to gin up votes is part and parcel of the political process. Fear the terrorists. Fear corporations. Fear global warming. Pick your poison and swallow it whole, because earthly power thrives on fear. Trump just uses this more blatantly and more powerfully than those who came before him.

It was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, a man by the name of John, who wrote the famous truth that “love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Literally, love throws out fear. Love forcefully dumps fear in the trash can, where it belongs. The two repel one another like oil and water.

As we watch this political season dripping with fear (on all sides – Trump was just the easiest and most obvious illustration), something ironic happens: people opposed to fear-driven politicians react with new fear of their own. This is how I responded to Trump’s ascendance at first – I became afraid at what might happen if he actually got elected president. It’s as if we don’t actually believe that God is all-powerful or in control – so we see a self-feeding cycle of fear that perpetually grows, effectively insulating us more and more from the liberating power of love.

This idea of fear and love applies to infinitely more than politics, of course. Choosing who to vote for based on fear results in lousy decisions in the voting booth, and choosing anything else in your life based on fear results in equally lousy decisions. Whether it’s the powerful fear of failure, the fear of losing friends, fear of making a fool of yourself, fear of getting hurt, or any number of other things we can be afraid of, we oftentimes rob ourselves of the abundant life God offers when we choose to be guided by fear rather than by a courageous, selfless love.

Here’s the dirty trick of fear, though: fear does motivate well in the short-term and it does produce fruit quickly. But that fruit spoils just as rapidly and ultimately leaves us with nothing. Love – selfless, agape love into which we are called as Christians – does much, much slower work in us. It motivates well in the long-term. It takes a long time to produce fruit, but when it does, that fruit is ripe and good and remains forever. We are called to choose the slow work of love over the deceivingly rapid work of fear.

All of which is somewhat ironic, because many of us have unwittingly subscribed to a religious system that has built itself on fear. We can be guilty of using the fear of hell, the fear of punishment, or the fear of disappointing God to motivate people — and then acting surprised when the changes they force themselves to make don’t last.

We are called to choose the slow work of love over the deceivingly rapid work of fear. Click To Tweet

Instead of a fear-based religious system, Jesus invites us into a selfless love-based Kingdom. The difference between those two cannot be overstated. They will lead you in diametrically opposed directions: one directly into the heart of God, and the other directly down the path of those who Jesus attacked for “shutting people out of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

We who are called into love are too easily duped into following fear. It’s why way too many Christians during these election campaigns seem to say, “Screw the fruit of Spirit. What’s their stance on brown people and gays?” No wonder the message of “Forget love!” resonates with so many people who are supposed to be following Jesus.

Lord, have mercy.

But again, it’s not just politics. If we are honest with ourselves, there are a number of areas in our lives where we’ve bought the message of “Forget love!” and find ourselves submitting instead to fear.

So let’s do something about it. Let’s choose love and dump fear in the trash can. Let’s proclaim with our words, attitudes, and actions that we believe the millennia-old truth that love dispels fear… that love trumps fear.

Will you join with me in proclaiming that truth in our lives? Here’s what I propose: whenever somebody tells us something designed to prey on our fears, let’s act to spread hope and life and love instead of fear.

With the tumultuous political scene as a backdrop, I’ve sat down with both of my boys recently and explained to them the concept of the charity Kiva – how we give money that Kiva turns into microloans so people in impoverished countries can start businesses and rise out of poverty. I showed them all of the businesses our family has helped start and all the people who have borrowed and paid back our money. Then I let them choose the next family and next business we would help. I did this as a lesson for them in giving to others, and I did it as a reminder to me that the Kingdom of God is not brought about through the presidency or through fear or through people arguing about who is “right” – the Kingdom is brought about by our small acts of selfless love.

So I invite you to join the movement and proclaim that love trumps fear. Instead of being afraid, choose instead to do something to spread love. Give to Kiva to help lift someone out of poverty or to charity:water to change somebody’s life by giving them clean water. Give to one of the many other charities spreading life and hope and love. Serve a neighbor. Take a meal to a homeless person. Invite somebody to stay in your spare bedroom. Buy the meal or coffee for the person behind you at the drive through. Bring cookies to your neighbors. Donate to or volunteer at a food bank or soup kitchen. Leave a ridiculous tip. Write someone a card or a letter just to tell them you appreciate them.

By doing these small, selfless acts of love, we are giving fear the middle finger, we are becoming who God intends us to be, we are enjoying abundant life in his Kingdom, and we are giving others a small glimpse of what that life is like. This is how the Kingdom of God spreads. Let’s call fear’s bluff and become a community of people known for love. #lovetrumpsfear

Enemies at the Table

You had to know it would happen.

After every major natural disaster, someone in the Christian community makes an insensitive post about how the disaster and the subsequent loss of life was the mighty hand of God’s judgment against sin (usually gays or abortion doctors), or about how we all deserve death anyway and so really it’s not that bad.

And I get it. I really do. I get the desire to explain away the hard things. I get the yearning to tuck away the destruction of an elementary school and a daycare center into a neat theological file folder so it doesn’t shake your faith too badly. I get the temptation to take the horrendously misused doctrine of total depravity and push it to its logical (and heartless) ends.

I get it. I used to be there, I used to do the same things. If the internet had birthed the world of blogging ten or fifteen years ago, I would have been right there, passionately writing those same themes and ideas — and powerfully alienating the hurting and grieving communities who most needed to see the mercy and compassion of God.

I would have been right there, alongside John Piper who has made headlines again after a ludicrously callous tweet, quoting a Bible verse about a house collapsing and sons and daughters dying (made in a weak effort to point people to God’s sovereignty). I would have been right there, alongside Pat Robertson who has made headlines again after saying if the people in Oklahoma had just been praying more, then God would have intervened and stopped the tornado. I would have been right there in the thick of it all, defending God… rather than having compassion on broken people.

But listen: I don’t blame John Piper and Pat Robertson and others for their comments. Those sorts of comments are born out of a particular philosophy, a certain perspective, an understanding and approach to the world that I once shared. It’s an approach that says to be a leader you have to have all the answers. You have to be able to explain everything. You have to know or else people won’t follow.

They are comments made in response to an incredulous world asking, “Why would God send a tornado like this?” or alternatively, “Why would God allow a tornado like this?”

Once upon a time I thought the most important thing was to be able to answer that question.

Now, I am finding the best response is perhaps the most honest one: I don’t know. I don’t have any idea why God would send or allow something like this. God’s ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts. Maybe it’s because of sin, or maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s because he’s angry, or maybe it’s not.

Maybe the answer to that question isn’t as important as just loving the people who are directly affected.

Whether that be through financial donations, or traveling to do disaster relief, or praying for the victims, or sending cards and letters, or whatever… acts of love speak infinitely more loudly than any sort of jumbled mess of an answer we can stitch together.

So I don’t blame the folks making those comments, because I understand where they’re coming from. I don’t agree with them, but I don’t blame them. I also don’t blame them because they are part of my family. They are part of my spiritual, jacked up, messed up, eclectic family and they are adopted children of God just as I am.

But it’s become sport in the world of Christianity to hurl insults at our family members. Back in February, I wrote about what happens when our fellow Christians make public displays of ridiculousness:

What happens is we distance ourselves as far as possible from the offending party… We are quick to announce to the world, “We are not like them.”

[I]t becomes a race to see who can denounce the others in the harshest, most public manner possible. “Open letters” are posted, interviews are given, sermons full of warnings and labels and epithets are delivered, websites are launched… But here’s my plea: can we please stop distancing ourselves from one another, and instead band together to help one another?

…I understand you want people to see you are not like Mark Driscoll. I understand you want people to see you are not like Rob Bell. I understand you want people to see you are not like Ted Haggard or Eddie Long or Catholic priests. So rather than rant and condemn, show them.

And love those whom you are not like. Maybe in that process, you’ll realize you are more like them than you care to admit. And you’ll realize we all need help and are all in this together. As one big jacked up family.

This debate is heating up again with Rachel Held Evans taking Piper to task for his latest comments. And I don’t blame Rachel for her passion and her blog post, either, because I understand where she’s coming from, too. She has a heart to see people fall in love with Jesus and experience freedom in the Kingdom of God, and it pains her to see things like Piper’s comments that hinder that journey for folks. Believe me, I get that.

And I get that for some people out there, this is a cause that forces one to take sides – to choose Rachel or John – and respond with tribalistic passion in defending your choice.

I get that, but I hope and pray that we all get something else: division is not healthy. Unity is God’s desire. We are called to love, not to tear apart.

Look: for pastoral care and wisdom and shepherding, I would take Rachel Held Evans over John Piper any day. But in the Kingdom of God, I do not have to choose. There is room at the table for both of them.

If this were truly a family reunion, I think John Piper would be our crazy uncle who stands in the corner saying embarrassing things that everyone shakes their head at. And I know some of you disagree with me and feel that way about Rachel Held Evans. But John is still family, and we still love him. Rachel is still family, and we still love her. I have seen cruel, mean things said about them on Facebook and Twitter and blogs that nobody would say to their faces. That kind of division has got to stop. John and Rachel are beloved by God. Valued. Cherished. And in the Kingdom of God, they share a seat at the same table — the wedding feast of the Lamb.

Whether you agree or disagree with whatever you think they’re trying to say, they both have hearts to see people know God. They both belong to us. We, in our narrowly defined personal versions of orthodoxy, are quick to speak and slow to listen. We are quick to pounce and prove and point… and slow to love. It seems to me we ought to practice loving one another now — otherwise that wedding feast is going to be a mighty awkward event.

Top 5 Tuesdays: Old School Hymns

No matter how modern or post-modern or contemporary or relevant or whatever our church services become, sometimes there’s just nothing better to lift your spirits like an old school hymn.

Here’s my top five old school hymns: (and yes, some of the “videos” are cheesy – just go with it. Heh.)

5. Here is Love (1876)

4. Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (1680)

3. Be Thou My Vision (6th century – Irish version; 1912 – English version)

2. Holy, Holy, Holy (1826)

1. Come Thou Fount of Ev’ry Blessing (1757)

Honorable Mention: Amazing Grace, On Jordan’s Stormy Banks

I’m not sure Holy, Holy, Holy would have made it that high, but that version by the group Acappella is ridiculously amazing. If you only listen to one of those, make sure it’s that one!

That’s my list. What’s yours?

The Coming Evangelical Split

The Christian blogosphere has been abuzz lately discussing the future of evangelicalism. The conversation has kind of been propelled to the forefront with the release of Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins, and the conservative responses that followed.

I haven’t read the book yet, so I won’t comment on that particular piece of the debate. But I do know that something has been brewing under the surface of evangelicalism for quite awhile now. At first, people just started leaving the evangelical church – in quite massive numbers. Then the emergent church movement began, giving a voice to some of the more moderate and liberal folks in evangelicalism. Now, the emergent label is on its way out, but the cohort of folks who love Jesus but have serious questions and misgivings about fundamentalist/conservative approaches to Christian faith still remain.

Rob Bell may have just provided the straw that broke the camel’s back. In and of itself, one book – even one that challenges entrenched views on as significant a topic as eternal destiny – wouldn’t have the power to change much. But, to stretch a historical metaphor, folks who are discontent with conservative evangelicalism now have their version of the 95 Theses to go nail on the door of the Southern Baptist Convention.

John Piper leads the fundamentalist side of the split, and when he tweeted simply, “Farewell, Rob Bell.” upon the release of Love Wins, it signaled a shift in the intra-faith relationship between the two sides. Piper is joined by conservatives like Marc Driscoll and John MacArthur in demanding conservative orthodoxy and casting out those who don’t measure up.

On the other side of the split stand controversial leaders such as Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Donald Miller – folks that the Pipers of the world have labeled as heretics and false teachers (and those are among the nicer things they’ve had said about them).

As one blogger put it,

“On one side you’ll have the Reformed Conservatives—entrenching and ‘expelling’ folks. On the other side you will see the Progressive Evangelicals—migrating toward work with mainline churches. This thing is going to split wide open.”

He cleverly calls the two camps the Heretics and the Haters. Heh.

Since that post, many other folks have weighed in on the issue:

There are tons more – just Google “future of evangelicalism” or “post-evangelicalism” or something close to it and you’ll find hours of reading material.

Perhaps the article I resonated with the most, though, was this one: In Which I’m on Nobody’s Side. I’d highly recommend reading it.

The thing is, I find myself torn between these two camps. One demands a fundamentalist orthodoxy I cannot force myself to buy into. The other demands a liberal understanding of God and Scripture that lets a little too much go for me. And so, if this split does happen within evangelicalism, I will be without a home.

All of this Team Jacob/Team Edward style debate has me awkwardly in the middle of the room, wondering if I really have to pick sides.

But if it does come down to “Reformed Conservatives” and “Progressive Evangelicals” as noted above (and I’m not sure it will be that clean of a split), I guess I would grudgingly have to find my home in the progressive evangelical camp, hoping we could still learn and glean wisdom from our conservative cousins. And I would have to wonder if we couldn’t ditch that term “evangelical” with all its baggage and find a better label with which to describe ourselves.

What about you? Do you see a split in evangelicalism’s future? Will it be the haters versus the heretics to decide the future of the church? How should the church respond to the doubts and misgivings more and more people are having about traditional evangelical faith?

Why Did Some People Not Like Jesus?

That’s the question Eli, our three-year-old son, asked me while reading an Easter book a couple days ago.

He got to the part about Jesus dying (how do you explain the death part of Easter to a three year old anyways?) and he wanted to know why people would would want to put Jesus on a cross. Why didn’t people like him?

It’s actually a really good question. Deeper than it seems once you start processing it.

Why did Jesus end up bleeding on a cross?

After all, his message was one of abundant life and love. He told people to love everybody. He preached forgiveness and mercy. Sounds like pretty universally acceptable principles if you ask me.

As I sat and thought about this, I was reminded of my favorite quote from the book I just finished: “Jesus and Paul were not crucified for saying ‘Love one another.’ They were killed because their understanding of love meant… standing against the domination systems that ruled their world.”

In other words, anyone can talk about love.

The question is what happens when you try to live it out.

For Jesus, where the rubber (sandal?) hit the road was what love looked like in everyday life. What it really meant to live a life of love. To Jesus, love was more than food pantries and Goodwill drop offs.

To Jesus, love was setting the oppressed free and releasing the captives from prison. That’s how he announced the start of his ministry, anyways. To Jesus, love was bringing about the Kingdom of heaven on earth.

And that meant active opposition to the kingdoms of earth.

The kingdom of the Romans and the kingdoms of the religious leaders were responsible for oppression. They were responsible for sucking the life out of people. They were responsible for a culture of fear and the destruction of freedom. And that meant – if love meant anything – that those systems had to be subverted.

Many of the Jewish folks back in the day were expecting their Messiah to institute his Kingdom be destroying Rome. Instead, Jesus instituted his kingdom based on nonviolent love – a kingdom that would exist not just temporarily to take on Rome, but eternally to take on every oppressive system until the world was fully redeemed.

Jesus claimed titles reserved for Roman emperors. And his harshest words were reserved for religious leaders who, while on the surface were opposing Rome, were unwittingly joining with them in their domination.

It was Jesus’ challenges to those kingdoms that got him killed. In the end, the Romans and the Jewish leaders worked together overtly to put Jesus on the cross – a Roman instrument reserved for those who were undermining the Empire’s authority.

What does that mean for us? How do we take this message of the love of the Kingdom of God and wield it with the aim of defeating oppressive kingdoms around us? That’s what I intend to meditate on as Easter draws closer this year. I’d love to hear your ideas on the subject.

And in case you’re wondering what I ended up telling Eli, I told him “Jesus said that we should love everybody, and some people didn’t want to love everybody.”

I think that about sums it up.

The Internets

Mashable has some pretty interesting statistics about the internet and its use in 2010. They call it “the staggering size of the internet”, but what I found more interesting was how people were using it.

Specifically, it appears a lot of people are still using the web to send spam email. Out of the 107 trillion email messages that were sent in 2010, 89% of them were spam. That’s over 95 trillion spam messages that were flooding inboxes last year.

That’s a lot of Nigerian princes.

Makes me glad for the spam filter on GMail.

Even more interesting were the spam messages broken down by region. Of those 95 trillion spam emails:

  • 39% were in Europe,
  • 34% were in Asia,
  • 13% were in Latin America,
  • 10% were in North America,
  • 3% were in Africa, and
  • 1% were in Australia/Oceania.

Not only is New Zealand a gorgeous place to live, apparently it is nearly spam-free as well. That settles it, we’re moving.

At any rate, here is a slightly more useful statistic (but only slightly): worldwide web browser marketshare:

  1. Internet Explorer – 47%
  2. Firefox – 31%
  3. Chrome – 15%
  4. Safari – 5%
  5. Opera – 2%

This looks nearly exactly like the regional numbers that came out last month. In case you’re wondering, 57% of Reflected Riddles readers use Chrome, 22% use Firefox, and just 6% use IE. Good for you guys. Heh.

The Genesis Code…?

Okay, so this trailer looks like a stereotypical Christian movie: pretty low budget (although they afforded to get Fred Thompson in a cameo role!) with some cheesy acting and an entirely predictable plot line where the agnostic antagonist loves Jesus by the end of the film.

But when I watched it, my curiosity was piqued because of the message the movie is centered around: that the creation story in Genesis and science are in harmony with one another, that they are pointing to the same conclusions. That religion and science don’t have to fight with one another any longer.

Hmmm… this could potentially be really interesting… as long as it’s not a “science really says the earth is only 6,000 years old” message. But the trailer doesn’t make it sound like that. Here’s a few interesting lines from the trailer:

“Science and its 15.75 billion years and the 6 days of Genesis are in complete accord.”

“What I find most amazing about this is that mankind had to evolve to its current level before we’re able to understand the story as it was originally written.”

The film is already coming under attack by religious groups because they fear it pushes theistic evolution, and by skeptics because they fear it pushes young earth creationism. It seems to me that both sides should just hold their fire until they actually see the thing.

Take a look at the trailer below, and then if you’re interested, check out the Creation Week posts where we dialogged these sorts of issues a few months ago here at TWM/RR.

My Super Bowl Pick

Well, having redeemed myself somewhat by picking both games correctly on championship weekend (and thoroughly enjoying Rex Ryan’s deflated ego erupt in anger at the end of the Jets/Steelers game), I am no up to 4-6 for this postseason’s picks. That means if I pick the Super Bowl correctly, I will match last year’s equally as pitiful mark of 5-6 for my picks.

So, since I know you’re all waiting on pins and needles to see if I can finish slightly worse than flipping a coin once again, here’s my Super Bowl pick for this Sunday.

Sunday, 6:30 ET, FOX
Green Bay Packers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh has done some impressive things this season. They only lost four games all year, and all four were to top-notch teams: New England, New Orleans, Baltimore, and the Jets. They avenged two of those losses to get to the Super Bowl. They have the best defense in the league in terms of points allowed, and the second best in terms of yards per game. As much as it pains me to say it, they belong in the Super Bowl.

But Green Bay has been equally as impressive. Their defense has been underrated all season. Pittsburgh might have the number one defense for points allowed, but guess who comes in an incredibly close second? That’s right – the Pack. And they are number 5 when it comes to yards per game. They lost some tough games throughout the season because they lacked any semblance of a running game — but that all changed when they reached the playoffs. Somehow, James Starks has come out of nowhere to propel this team into the realm of legit Super Bowl contenders.

Interestingly, the weaknesses in each team’s defense matches up with the other team’s offensive strengths. The Packers are fantastic at defending the pass, but have trouble containing the run. The Steelers, behind Rashard Mendenhall, are a better rushing team than a passing team.

Likewise, the Steelers excel in stopping the run cold, but are weak against the pass. The Packers have relied on Aaron Rodgers to carry them all season, and he tore apart the Eagles and the Falcons.

To me, it seems like the Packers are surging at just the right time and have the momentum coming into this game. Plus, I have dismissed Aaron Rodgers all season long, and now he is beginning to make a believer out of me. It will be a hard fought, close game between two defensive powerhouses, but in the end, I like Aaron Rodgers to pull it out for the Packers and begin building his young legacy as one of the NFL’s elite.

Green Bay 23, Pittsburgh 20

Questions About Death and Heaven

I’m not going to pretend to know the answers to these questions… they have just been bumping around in my head the past few days and I thought they might be good conversation starters.

If there is no death any longer when Jesus returns and everything is made new, what exactly would that look like?

Can I jump off a skyscraper and not die? Am I invincible? If somebody doesn’t see me in the street and runs me over, can I just get up and walk away like nothing happened?

Does it mean we all stay the same age we were when we “died” before Jesus came back? Does nobody grow and mature in heaven? Or do we just all get to live to be a trillion years old? It seems really strange that kids couldn’t grow up, or babies would be frozen as infants, never progressing and learning and growing…

Wouldn’t the world get way overpopulated really quickly if nobody ever died? Or can we not experience the incredible joy of the miracle of having children in heaven? I know Jesus said there would be no marriage in heaven, but can you imagine living for eternity without having newborn babies around?

If there are no new babies, does that mean that a year into this thing that there will be nobody less than a year old? A hundred years later, the youngest person alive will be a hundred years old? Doesn’t that seem kind of strange?

Or do we all get zapped into 30 year old bodies for eternity?

Is it possible that, just as Genesis 3 more than likely refers to something other than simply a physical death, that Revelation 21 refers to something other than simply physical death as well?

“There will be no more death.”

What exactly does that mean?