Latest Posts

What I Learned from “Weinstein”

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.

– Matthew 27:3-5

I recently watched the Frontline documentary, “Weinstein,” about famed filmmaker Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long resistance to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault. While the documentary as a whole was painfully revealing, exposing as it did the willingness of most of us to put aside what we know is right when we feel enough fear for ourselves and our futures, there was one scene that was particularly striking. In it, model Zoe Brock described her experience of being lured into Weinstein’s hotel room under false pretenses only to have him strip and attempt to assault her. She managed to lock herself in the bathroom, where she shouted at him through the door to get dressed. When she came out, Weinstein was sitting on the bed, clothed and crying. His words to her pierced my heart : “You don’t like me because I’m fat.

When we hear that “Jesus saves us from sin,” it’s easy to picture a moralizing God who is always ready to catch us in wrongdoing and always eager to punish us for it. This image of God as a judge and disciplinarian is scripturally supported, and the view of sin as wrongdoing is not incorrect. But sin isn’t just the way we do evil. It’s also the pathology that twists and perverts our spirits, deforming the nobility that is our birthright. Sin prevents us from trusting in God’s love and power and instead makes our friends and neighbors a blood sacrifice to the false god of our woundedness.

“You don’t like me because I’m fat.” These are devastating words, coming as they do from a famous, powerful and critically acclaimed filmmaker, a man at the peak of his craft. These words paint a portrait of a man so consumed by insecurity that no amount of accomplishment could soothe his fears. And to be clear, there is no sin in anxiety, and there is none in uncertainty. But when instead of leaning on the promises of God to calm our doubts, we turn our insecurities outward and manipulate or bully others in order to bolster our fragile egos or soothe our clanging anxiety, we have crossed a line that is both deadly serious and tragically human. And all the compassion that we may – and should! – feel for someone in that position does not erase that person’s wickedness and depravity.

And sadly, as much as we may wish to believe otherwise, the Harvey Weinsteins of the world have no monopoly on wickedness. Any of us can become a predator or manipulator when we see something important to us put at risk, whether it is our financial security, reputation or self-image – unless, that is, we make a choice to trust in God rather than in our own fears. Absent such a commitment, the only thing that separates any of us from a Harvey Weinstein is that he had the power and influence avoid the repercussions of his actions longer than most.

That choice – to trust, really trust, in God – is hard to make, and I believe that it is only through the grace and power of the Spirit of Christ that we can consistently make it. Sometimes that means taking lumps rather than lying our way to safety. Sometimes trusting God means deciding for the good of someone else to do things that we would rather not do and to refrain from activities we desperately want to engage in. Sometimes it means climbing on the cross with Jesus. It’s not easy, and it sure isn’t fun, but it’s the only way to cure the cancer of sin.

Advertisements

Is Jesus a Nazi Sympathizer?

“Now, just think of this. The blond-haired, blue-eyed white man has taught you and me to worship a white Jesus, and to shout and sing and pray to this God that’s his God, the white man’s God. The white man has taught us to shout and sing and pray until we die, to wait until death, for some dreamy heaven-in-the-hereafter, when we’re dead, while this white man has his milk and honey in the streets paved with golden dollars right here on this earth!”

– Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X

sympathizeintransitive verb: to be in keeping, accord, or harmony; to react or respond in sympathy; to share in suffering or grief: commiserate; to be in sympathy intellectually 

Before we talk about what it means to be a Nazi sympathizer, and whether Jesus is one, we need to acknowledge that there are two Jesuses. Actually, there are probably more, but two of them are particularly relevant.

One is Jesus the ad-man, Your Personal Lord and Savior (TM). A smiling shepherd with a sparkling smile, his benediction is on the wealthy, the powerful and the successful. He is the Lord of the beautiful people – except that he doesn’t so much rule them as retroactively bless whatever power plays they happen to be engaged in. He is the mighty king of Crusaders. The reward for following him is a lucrative job, fair skin, brilliant children, thick but manageable hair, good health, an attractive spouse, a heterosexual and cisgender identity, and maybe even a seat on the city council or a winning touchdown.

The other Jesus is the Lamb Who Was Slain. His face is alternately lined with grief and mirth as he raises a glass with prostitutes, criminals and sweaty laborers just in from the fields. This Jesus flips over tables and insults the powerful and indiscriminately lays hands on the oozing sores of lepers.  He isn’t fit for polite company.  He is the Lord of the illiterate, the disabled, the black sheep of the family, the gangster, and the unwed mother, and he leads them into a new and dangerous life. The rewards for following him include holiness, sacrificial love, the power of the Holy Spirit, a new family of faith, and the assurance of salvation, but also poverty, homelessness, domestic strife and persecution.

Paul said it clearly in his letter to the Romans:

And not only [do we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God], but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.

– Romans 5:6-10

Paul knew what it was to be a sinner. He was a man of privilege and position, possessing both the rights of a Roman citizen and the birthright of the holy tribe of Aaron. He had authority in his community based on both birth and accomplishment and had turned every ounce of his influence, talent and perseverance to one task: stamping out the renegade sect known as the Way. These heretics proclaimed the fulfillment of the law and had the audacity to claim a personal relationship – even a family relationship! – with God. His life’s orientation changed on the road to Damascus, where, after a visit from the Spirit of the Lord and a change in his name, Paul understood that he had it exactly wrong: the very people he had reviled and persecuted were dearly beloved by God.

Does that sound familiar – someone persecuting and reviling people-groups precious to God? It should; it is what every hate group from the Klan to Westboro Baptist Church has done. We see this phenomenon in action abroad with ISIS and Boko Haram, and we saw it here in the United States in Charlottesville this past summer. Our own homegrown terrorists typically see themselves as being on the side of God and of Jesus when they insult and threaten and demean. But if they are, the Jesus who blesses them is White Jesus, who is a stranger to the Gospel.

So is Jesus a Nazi sympathizer? The Jesus of scripture, whose victory looks not like domination but like death, has no patience for ideologies of racial or national supremacy. The Kingdom of mutual submission and sacrifice that he proclaimed made all the old categories – nation, race, class, sex – obsolete. That said, Jesus had infinite sympathy for those caught in the sin of racial supremacy – so much that he was willing to die for those who breathe hatred and suffer for those who spew lies in order that they could see that real glory isn’t burning a cross but willingly being crucified on one.

Becoming a Christian Nation 

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I can testify that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

– Romans 10:1-4

If you read the Christian biblical narrative, it’s easy to miss how weird it is that the scribes and Pharisees were the bad guys. Think about it: they fasted more, gave more, prayed more, sacrificed more than others did. They were diligent in creating laws that they felt reflected the commandments of God and scrupulous about observing them. They set high standards of behavior and did their best to ensure the community reached them, ruthlessly punishing those who stepped out of line. The scribes and Pharisees wanted nothing less than to use the law to bring their society into harmony with God’s will.

Doesn’t this goal sound familiar? It should: it continues to animate activists to this very day. How else to describe the impulse to ban abortion and resistance to the very concept of same-sex marriage? When pushed, many who espouse these views would tell you that the actions they are resisting “go against God.” And let us not neglect the liberal end of the spectrum: substitute “God’s will” with “truth” or “progress” and suddenly views supportive of – for instance – using the weight of the law to force religiously orthodox bakers to cater same-sex weddings become nearly inevitable.

It is an impulse intrinsic to the spirit of the political activist to use the law as the primary tool in aligning the world with his personal conception of moral order. And laws do have a role in restraining the worst impulses of the human heart by promising punishment for certain acts or, occasionally, omissions. But the political activist sees potential beyond the minimal standards of fairness and decency: he sees in the law the pathway to a new world order, a bridge to a future of harmony and justice and righteousness.

And yet when has the law ever accomplished such a lofty goal? The law desegregated America’s schools over half a century ago, but public schools are less racially diverse today than they were when Brown v. Board of Education ended official school segregation. The law criminalizes sexual harassment and assault, yet sexual violence remains a threat for a disturbing number of children and adults of both sexes, as the horrifying proliferation of MeToo hashtags demonstrates. Laws against murder are perhaps the most ancient and widespread, yet mass killings, gangland massacres and even police shootings persist.

The sad fact is that even the most just laws cannot make a just society unless the people love justice. Even the most protective laws will fail to protect unless the people see the vulnerable as objects of care rather than targets for predation. Even the most righteous laws will fall short unless the people hunger and thirst for righteousness. If the people are wicked, the law can punish and, hopefully, deter – but the law cannot transform. Its only power is coercion, its only persuasion the threat of violence.

Does that mean we should give up on seeking just laws? Of course not! But if what we want is not just an orderly society but a flourishing one – where God is revered, families are strong, human life is cherished, the natural creation is protected, and justice and mercy share a place of honor – the law won’t get us there.

What will? Love, which is the mark of the true follower of Christ. I’m not talking about a weak, wishy-washy love that puts up with anything, but a love too strong to abandon a friend and too pure to be silent in the face of sin. This is the difference between our current practice of either cutting off or silently accommodating people we think are wrong and the assertive, godly approach of using loving, authentic relationships to share the good news of God’s truth and love. To paraphrase my dear friend Brandon Zicha, if we would truly see America become a Christian nation, we must put our highest efforts into honoring God’s Word in our hearts rather inscribing it in our laws.

You show that you are a letter of Christ … written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

– 2 Corinthians 3:3-6

When a Quaker’s Convincement Meant Being Found Guilty

In seventeenth-century England, convinced meant proven guilty. It was a term used in the courtroom, similar to “convicted.” A person became a convinced Quaker after being shown the errors of his or her ears, admitting them, surrendering to God’s judgment, and becoming liberated for a new kind of life. The Light reveals all the internal thoughts, mental patterns, and fantasies that resist the work of God. Although it is painful to see one’s internal conflict, continuing to face the Light and to see what it reveals in one’s own mind, heart, and behavior allows God to refine, or melt away, the inner impediments to the Light.

– Marcelle Martin, Our Life Is Love, p. 62

The Cross of Fellowship

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death—

even death on a cross.

– Philippians 2:1-8

For all of the celebration of friendship and togetherness that we see in our culture – is it an accident that one of the most popular shows of the last 20 years was called “Friends”? – abiding in the spirit of Babylon leads inevitably to a sense of isolation.

This should not surprise us. Indeed, how could it do otherwise, when the watchword of Babylon is It’s All About Me? As a result, supervisors use up their underpaid workers, then toss them aside when they cease to produce. We see generally intelligent people arguing that expecting obedience from children is oppressive. We have otherwise reputable newspapers celebrating the “love story ” of a man whose happily-ever-after happened when he abandoned his wife and children. Reneging on promises and failing to meet commitments is so common, it’s hard to even get hurt or offended when it happens, knowing as we do that we regularly do the same and worse to others.

This focus on self – my wealth (versus my duty to employees), my fulfillment (versus my duty to family), my appetites (versus my prior commitments) – makes true fellowship impossible. When I know that others are unreliable – because I myself am unreliable – I can’t afford trust. When I know that others will take advantage of me – because I myself stand poised to take advantage of others – I can’t afford vulnerability. When I know that others feel no duty to me – because I feel no duty to others – I can’t afford obedience. I can’t afford these things, that is, as long as I, too, am focusing on myself and my sense of security.

Jesus shows us another way: instead  of focusing on himself, he focused on God. To obey God’s will, Jesus abandoned divinity – the ultimate bling – for a smelly sweaty human body. He abandoned his throne for slavery. He was willingly tortured and killed. This is the faithfulness to which Paul encourages the church. This is the degree of sacrifice required for true gospel fellowship.

The only way to stand as the Body of Christ in a culture that is unparalleled in its narcissism is to throw away the playbook that says, “My wants, my needs, my comfort,” and take up the one that says,” Not my will, but yours, Lord.” When faced with our real flawed brothers  and sisters who hurt us – usually accidentally, but sometimes on purpose – the world says,”I deserve better,” but the follower of Christ says, “As I forgive, so will I be forgiven.” When faced with a decision that vexes us, the world says, “I’ll find a better church, one that does what I want,” but the follower of Christ says, “I am more concerned with our unity in Christ than with having my own way.”

It is a hard thing to willingly suffer for the sake of God and imperfect men and women. Yet this willingness to empty ourselves for the love of God and neighbor makes of us a sacrifice fit for our king. We must be willing to take up the cross of fellowship, which spells death for the ego and suffering for the will, if we would be friends of Jesus – or of each other.

Man’s Sin Problem 

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

– Romans 7:21-25

We all want to be the hero of our own story.  The hero courageously fights against villains to protect the vulnerable. He stands up for his principles. The hero is always good, his anger always righteous. The hero is consistently honest, diligent, generous, patient, wise, strong and kind. Being a hero is a wonderful thing.

There’s only one problem: none of us is that kind of hero.

The most patient person among us may occasionally snap at his parents, spouse or children. The bravest person among us may occasionally face situations that paralyze her with fear. The most scrupulously honest people may occasionally, in the heat of the moment, exaggerate or leave a misconception uncorrected. And so on. None of us perfectly embody all of the traits that comprise virtue. We all want to do good, we all want to be good, but each and every one of us must face our failure to live up to our own standards.

As far as I can tell, this is a uniquely human problem. My poodle has zero anguish over his failure to sit on command. He feels no regret about eating a fallen piece of fruit even though I told him to leave it alone. Through training, I can shape his desires to fit my lifestyle, but fundamentally he does precisely what he wants to do without agonizing or chagrin, whether it is promptly obeying my command to lay down, utterly ignoring my command to fetch or eagerly sniffing another dog’s hindquarters. Humans are uniquely capable of aspiring to moral standards we don’t meet.

There is a term for this failure to do what we know to be right and this persistence in doing what we know to be wrong: sin. And despite sin’s having become unfashionable, we all know in our heart of hearts that it is part of our lives, that we can’t will ourselves into being the heroes we want to be. Oh, we try to soften the blow by telling ourselves that we aren’t sinful, just human. Or that we aren’t that bad, after all – at least, not as bad as Republicans or Democrats or White supremacists or Islamic terrorists or your bogeyman of choice. We learn mantras and self-affirmations and tell ourselves that fixating on our harmful actions and impure motives is unhealthy. But the reality of sin remains, and the fact that it seems universal and inescapable doesn’t make it any less pathological.

Thankfully, our sin problem has a solution: Christ. Did you know that Christ wants to fix your sin problem? He wants to show you God’s forgiveness for your past sins. Even more, he wants to show you a new, righteous way of living, where compassion, patience, justice, integrity and holiness are as natural as breathing. He wants to welcome you into the revolutionary reality of the Kingdom of Heaven – not in some distant life after death, but now, today. Are you ready?

A Sneaking Suspicion of My Own Badness

I can sense there’s something entirely unacceptable lurking inside me. Even in the midst of my righteous indignation when I bitch about Woody and [his stepdaughter turned wife] Soon-Yi, I know that, on some level, I’m not an entirely upstanding citizen myself. Sure, I’m attuned to my children and thoughtful with my friends; I keep a cozy house, listen to my husband, and am reasonably kind to my parents. In everyday deed and thought, I’m a decent-enough human. But I’m something else as well, something vaguely resembling a, well, monster. The Victorians understood this feeling; it’s why they gave us the stark bifurcations of Dorian Gray, of Jekyll and Hyde. I suppose this is the human condition, this sneaking suspicion of our own badness. It lies at the heart of our fascination with people who do awful things. Something in us—in me—chimes to that awfulness, recognizes it in myself, is horrified by that recognition, and then thrills to the drama of loudly denouncing the monster in question.

The psychic theater of the public condemnation of monsters can be seen as a kind of elaborate misdirection: nothing to see here. I’m no monster. Meanwhile, hey, you might want to take a closer look at that guy over there.

– Claire Dederer, “What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?”, The Paris Review Blog