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The Bible Blotter

Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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Celebrity

Taylor Swift: Ding Dong the Witch is Dead!

I love pop culture.

Let me rephrase that – I love the products that pop culture creates. I love movies, music, literature, art…you get the idea.

girl-15754_1920I don’t like the personal drama that comes with pop culture icons. Like the “feud” between Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. Or Kanye West and Taylor Swift.

I don’t follow it.So I really don’t care much about Taylor Swift’s downfall or the end of her career. In fact, I knew nothing about it until a friend sent me an article and suggested a “Christ in Culture” response.

So here’s the rundown: Taylor Swift and her ex-boyfriend are fighting (in the public square). And people watching are jumping in the same way that middle school kids see two kids brawling and begin chanting, “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!”

No, Taylor Swift’s career isn’t really over. This is merely a blip on the radar for these pop stars. Like I said, their personal lives aren’t something I actively follow. But I believe that all of culture can be used as a springboard, places where we can use culture to dive into faith-based conversations. And I believe this story is no different.

As Christians we are called to be people of reconciliation. The Apostle Paul specifically says that we have a “ministry of reconciliation.” Part of who we are and what we do as Christians is to bring the world to Jesus. But I believe we’re also called to be people who seek reconciliation among all of humanity. This is why Jesus gives us steps in Matthew 18 on how to handle conflict when a friend sins against you. The ultimate goal is not payback. The ultimate goal is reconciliation.

But we don’t like to live that way. Reconciliation doesn’t allow for drama. In fact – reconciliation puts an end to drama. What would happen to all of the “reality” television shows if people practiced reconciliation? The industry would shrivel up. Reality tv THRIVES on drama and the complete lack of reconciliation.

dentist-428645_1920One of my favorite words is schadenfreude. It’s a word that describes our pleasure at the misfortune of someone else. One of my favorite movie characters is Steve Martin’s dentist in “Little Shop of Horrors.”He thrilled every time someone experienced pain and suffering. He became a dentist because he derived so much pleasure out of other people’s pain.

While the character is an over-exaggeration, it’s a completely human and natural response to take pleasure in seeing the misfortune of someone we don’t like.

Except it’s not Christian.

We’re called to be better than that. In fact, Paul writes in his letter to the Romans:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (12:15)

As people of reconciliation, as people who embody the character of Christ, we ought not to rejoice when others go through tough times. Even if we dislike them, the suffering of others should never be something we REJOICE in.

Like I said, I don’t care about the personal drama between pop stars. But I do care about how we as Christians respond to the suffering of those around us – even celebrities we don’t like very much.
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What do you think? Have you experienced schadenfreude?

Celebrities and a Theology of Death

cemetaryThis has been a crazy week for me. It’s been a death week.

On Monday I addressed a room of Navy leaders about the role of the Chaplain in Casualty Notification, when a Service Member dies and the Command sends a team to notify the surviving family.

On Tuesday Doris Roberts died.

On Wednesday Chyna died.

On Thursday Prince died.

I always find it a bit odd when the world goes bananas over celebrity death. They’re only celebrities. It’s not as though they are immortal. Of course they’re going to die. And I’m not trying to make light of people’s feelings. There is a genuine sense of loss and grief some people feel when a celebrity passes. I think this is because, while we don’t know celebrities personally, we feel as though we know them because we follow their careers and lives. Many of them impact us through their art, whether it be music, television, film, or any other media. When someone has a profound influence on me, of course I will take his death harder than a total stranger.

Nonetheless, death has been part of the human equation for a long time now. We all deal with it in different ways. Some address it with humor:

  • We die only once, and for such a long time. ~ Moliere
  • I intend to live forever, or die trying. ~ Groucho Marx
  • I am not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens. ~ Woody Allen

Some address this in all seriousness:

  • Death is like an arrow that is already in flight, and your life lasts only until it reaches you. ~ Georg Hermes

How, then, ought we to face death? I’ve seen some people use celebrity deaths to berate the lack of faith in the living:

“The death was tragic but is even more tragic if they don’t know Jesus!”

Sure, this may be true, but it usually isn’t the best time and place to be talking about it. It lacks tact and grace. A better route would be to help people develop a theology of death BEFORE an event (as opposed to DURING). The Bible DOES talk quite a bit about death.

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them. ~ Ecclesiastes 9:11-12

All of humanity is mortal, and no one will escape it. Though we like to watch movies about immortal beings (living through the 80s and 90s meant I was a huge fan of The Highlander franchise), the reality is that death comes to us all. This doesn’t surprise us. What surprises us is when we’re not expecting the death. It’s easier to wrap our minds around the passing of a loved one who has spent time ill under hospice care than it is to comprehend a very sudden and unexpected death of someone regularly in the limelight.

But even though death comes for us all, the Bible points CLEARLY to the idea that death does not have the final say. The entire biblical narrative moves us in the direction of understanding that death is a natural part of our broken world but is defeated by Christ.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. ~ Romans 5:12-15

Paul writes that the final enemy of humanity to be defeated is death. And Death is not the winner. Christ is the winner. Death is not the end of things. It is the beginning of the next thing. This is why the Apostle Paul can declare with complete assurance, “Where, O Death, is your victory? O Death, where is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:55).

But our theology of death cannot end here. It’s not merely about understanding that it’s going to hit us all and that Jesus has the final say. A real theology of death ought to affect the here and now. Paul writes:

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. ~ Romans 6:8-13

Knowing that Jesus conquered sin and death means we have a call in the here and now daily to put our sinful self to death. He died to sin for us and now we’re called to LIVE life for Him. His death is a clarion call for us to be fully engaged in the godly life now.

None of this is to negate the sorrow and loss people feel. We still work through those emotions. But a proper understanding of death will do us good not only in terms of grief and recovery, but in terms of living this life to the fullest now. And to those who grieve, I’ll leave you with the words of Marcus Tullius Cicero:

The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.

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If you’d like to do some more study on living and dying well, check out The Art of Dying by Rob Moll.

Dear Cam Newton, Jesus Tried to Tell You

football-801047_1280I don’t know Cam Newton – never met the man. So I confess, everything I know about him comes from the news and his public actions. He seems to be a very talented athlete, and superstar athletes have their own brand of swagger.

A lot of people call it arrogance. It sure does feel that way sometimes. Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, was constantly accused of being arrogant. I understand that performing at that level requires a certain amount of confidence. But at some point the confidence moves into arrogance, especially when you’re flaunting performance in the face of your opponents.

Since I don’t know the man I can’t say where his confidence/arrogance balance is – I just know that it can be a fine line to walk for any of us. You don’t have to be a superstar athlete to wrestle with that balance. Jesus talked about humility. The Bible tells us:

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” ~ Luke 14:7-11

Sure enough, even superstars get humbled.

As I’ve said repeatedly, I don’t know Cam Newton. I try not to make assumptions on his character and personality, since all I see is a public persona. But the words of Jesus are important for superstars and nobodies. Humility is a quality we would all do well to embrace.

To paraphrase Jesus, “Embrace humility before humility embraces you!”

I Think Your Face is Not So Ugly

I recently saw a short video about compliments that are not related to physical appearance. Among them were:

1. I admire your confidence.squint-518072_1920
2. You’re empowering.
3. Your positive energy is infectious.
4. You’re intelligent.
5. You’re a light.
6. You’re so funny.
7. You have a beautiful soul.
8. You inspire me to work hard.
9. You’re so talented.
10. Your passion is contagious.
11. I can always depend on you.
12. I’m happy you exist.

No, they’re not all winners, but I think the folks who put the list together were trying to make a point that it is possible to compliment someone without falling into the usual physical features that we find attractive.
While there is more to people than the outward appearance, physical features are the go-to method of evaluating everything. Our sight tends to be the sense that is first engaged in any inter-personal connection, so of course that will be our default method of complimenting someone. And our sense of sight not only guides our compliments of others, it also regulates how we behave towards.

Think about it.

When you see you’re about to interact with a child you put on a certain persona. When you see a spouse you put on another persona. When you see your boss walking up you have an entirely different persona. Culture itself primes us to behave differently around celebrities than around “mere mortals.” Nobody goes ga-ga when I walk into a room, but when a pop star does – WATCH OUT! The place goes berserk

But Jesus wasn’t like that. Not at all. In fact, he was even complimented on his ability NOT to be like that:

And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. (Matthew 22:16)

Jesus said what he had to say regardless of the identity of the person creepy-157657_1280standing before him. That’s integrity. Can you imagine a world where we lived with that kind of integrity? Can you imagine a place where we behaved the same way I the presence of the high-and-mighty and the low-and-humble?

I have a hard time imagining it – probably because I also have my own fair share of personas for myriad situations. But I think that should be our goal. Forget what culture says about celebrity and popularity. Forget about human standards of power and importance. Let’s be authentic in every circumstance.

That’s how Jesus did it.

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