Monthly Archives: June 2014

It Was a Good Rape

“Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect” Romans 12:2

C28’s Main Brand

 

I used to work at Christian clothing store called C28. The clothing at C28 usually had all kinds of Christian images, symbols and bible verses plastered all over. The art was usually eye-catching, intriguing and edgy. The store’s main brand was the NOTW brand. I’m sure most have seen the sign stuck to the windows of cars. NOTW stands for “not of this world” and comes from the above verse. This “not of this world” slogan is a very popular among Christians and I’m sure most have heard it somewhere.\. Now there is a certain truth to this slogan. However, I think many Christians neglect the other end of the spectrum. We tend to focus a lot on “not being of this world” but forget that we are still IN it. We are still living in this world. I know too many Christians that are would much rather cuddle up in a bunker with each other and sing songs till the end of the world. They do whatever they can to stay away from the world. They attend Christian schools, work at Christian organizations and spend the rest of their time at home or at church.

I want to be clear that there is nothing wrong with Christians surrounding themselves with other Christians; however. far too many Christians would rather bury their heads in the sand and forget about the world that continues to go on around them. I remember going to a camp a few years ago where people were discussing how to best spread the Christian message. The focus was mostly on which verse is most effective to quote and asking people what they plan on telling Jesus in front of the pearly gates. I was shocked at how oblivious these well-meaning Christians were about the surrounding culture they planned using these tactics in. In this age of tolerance, pluralism and religious relativity, these kinds of attempts at evangelism are sadly extremely ineffective.

*Warning, Discussion of Possibly Obscene Material Follows*

Many Christians don’t seem to realize what kind culture we are living in now. Let me give you a snapshot. When I studied at Berkeley, I remember seeing ads for Eve Enser’s The Vagina Monologues. Ever hear of it? The Vagina Monologues is an episodic play composed of monologues given by different characters; the focus is on “reclaiming the vagina”… or so I’m told. Against my better judgment, I decided to skim over a copy of this pornographic play. I remember one episode that completely floored me. This episode, titled “The Little Coochie Snorcher that Could”, involves a female protagonist recounting certain memories for the audience. The earlier memories revolve around traumas the female’s vagina has to endure. This includes getting punched by a boy in between the legs and getting raped by an older man.

The final event occurs when protagonist is 16 years old (in earlier versions, she is supposed to be 13; remember that!). The young 16 year old girl is taken in by an older 24-year-old woman, given alcohol, “seduced” and then molested in ways I refuse detail here. The kicker is that this memory is seen as a POSITIVE experience where the older female pedophile “heals” the 16-year-old’s damaged genitalia. And if that wasn’t enough, earlier versions of the play  have this particular narrator conclude with “if this was rape, it was a good rape”. Leaving aside my outrage for the moment, I want to point out to all my Christian readers that this is the kind of culture we are currently living in. This is the kind of crap that gets passed off as “life affirming” and “a work of art“.

What do we Christians do when faced with a culture like this? What do we do when our culture begins to consider the idea of infanticide after-birth abortions? Most debate which verses can be quoted to the greatest effect or ask people what they plan on telling Jesus in front of the pearly gates. I’m sorry to say this, but this sort of thing is like using a two-inch band-aid to treat a brain tumor. Our culture has changed to the point where quoting bible verses and asking people if they know Jesus no longer works.

In my opinion, many Christians seem to be stuck in the past and think that simply quoting the Bible like zombies is all we have to do to reach the culture around us. I realize that this tactic might have worked an one point in time where the Bible commanded more authority in American culture. But that time is long gone. We no longer live in a culture where the Bible is seen as a moral authority. We no longer live in a culture that views Christianity positively. If we continue to only focus on not “being of this world” and forget to engage with the culture around us, we lose the ability to combat all sorts of poisonous ideas. Sometimes I wonder if things would have been different had the majority of Christians in this country engaged with their culture instead of retreating into the relative safety of their sanctuaries.


Gay for God?

“I’ve got a confession: I’m in love with a man. What? I’m in love with a man. A man called God. Does that make me gay? Am I gay for God? You betcha.” Charlie Kelly from the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

I got the good Lord goin’ down on me.

“Lord, I give you my heart/ I give you my soul/ I live for you alone/ Every moment I’m awake/ Lord, have Your ways in me” from the song “I Give you my Heart” by Hillsong, a popular Christian worship band

 

There is so much talk among Christians about having a “personal relationship” with Jesus. It’s mantra of American Christians everywhere these days. We have bumper stickers plastered with “not a religion but a relationship” on them. I hear Christians constantly talk about their love of Jesus and hate of religion. But with all these talk of a need for a personal relationship, no one I know really spends that much time talking about what this really means. What exactly is this personal relationship with Jesus; what does it look like? Does it even make sense?

Many kinds of relationships exist. We have romantic relationships, marital relationships, friendships, familial relationships, attorney-client relationships, employer-employee relationships and much more. None of these relationships are the same. They all have their own rules and expectations. Having sex with your lawyer is not something you would expect from that kind of relationship nor would you expect your boss or girlfriend to legally represent you in court. The rules and expectations change depending on the relationship. That being said, what kind of relationship is a “personal relationship”? What are the expectations and rules of a “personal relationship”?

I’m not sure how I would define a “personal relationship”. But it sounds very much like an intimate, romantic relationship to me. Try going around asking people about having personal relationships with them. You will look awkward and creepy, I guarantee it. If you’re a guy, I want you to go out and start asking your buddies to get into personal relationships with you? Sounds a little weird doesn’t it, not to mention girly. A personal relationship just sounds too much like a romantic relationship.

Now, I know I’m not the only one that thinks this. Many Christians talk about their “personal relationship” with Jesus as if it’s some kind of romantic relationship. Just look at the above lyrics from the popular worship song, “I Give You My Heart”. What do the lyrics sound like? To me, they sound like a romantic love letter written from one lover to another. Don’t believe me? Alright, then try reading the lyrics to someone with their name substituted in for “Lord” and then tell me what the lyrics sound like. In fact, to make it really awkward, read it to a sibling or someone of the same-sex. You really cannot get around the fact that this worship song sounds too much like a romantic words put to music. And this is not the only modern worship song does this. There are many worship songs sung by Christians all over the country that reflect this sentiment. Just look at the lyrics for the songs “Draw me Close”, “How He Loves” and “In the Secret”. They all sound like romantic love songs to Jesus/God.

It’s not just the worship songs. People speak about their relationship with Jesus as if it’s a romantic relationship. Christians write about achieving intimacy with God/Jesus. Others talk about loving Jesus and wanting to be with him more than anyone else. Christians everywhere talk about being in love with Jesus, desiring Jesus or being intimate with Jesus and  use quasi-romantic language to describe this relationship. It’s gotten to a point where even non-Christians have picked up on this; just look at the above quote from the show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Yes, it’s exaggerated and not something any Christian guy would really say. But that’s what parody is and it’s only a few steps removed from how some people talk about their “personal relationship” with Jesus.

I’ll be upfront about this; I find this sort of talk about being “intimate” with Jesus gross. Being intimate is something I do with my wife, not Jesus, thank you very much. I never liked singing these modern worship songs because they are too full of the lovey-dovey emotions that I, as a guy, dislike expressing. If I wanted an intimate, emotion-filled experience, I’d go watch a chick flick. I’ll even go out on a limb and state that the Bible doesn’t teach this kind of “intimate relationship”.  Yes, the Bible talks a lot about love for God/Jesus but we tend to import our own modern meanings about love into the Bible. Instead, we should be trying to understand what love might have meant to the original audience and how that applies to us today.

So then what kind of relationship do Christians have with Jesus? Answering that question would take up more posts. All I want to say right now is that whatever relationship a Christian has with Jesus, it most certainly isn’t romantic. Not at all. I’ll go as far as saying that this talk of an “intimate relationship” is the result Christians reading modern ideas into the Bible, ideas that are not in the Bible to begin with. I will point to some examples in the future. Keep that in mind as you talk about Jesus and God with others, especially other guys.


The Myth of Hellfire Part 10: The Finale

We now come to the close of this very short series on hell. There is obviously a lot more that can be said as the Bible is a complex book and Hell a complex subject. I won’t go so far to say that I’ve proved the fires of hell to be metaphor; my goal is simply to show that other plausible interpretations exist. However, there are a few things that need to be said before we conclude this series.

One thing I have noticed is that Christians I talk to tend to have a general fear of metaphors when it comes to the Bible. This is especially true when I’m discussing hell. Most Christians I have talked to worry that if the fire of hell is metaphor then people will not fear hell and won’t want to become Christian. If hell isn’t fire, then it must not be a place horrible enough to scare people into Christianity. There are two things wrong with this.

First is the assumption that only a fiery hell can inspire enough horror to scare people into becoming Christian. I can think of things just as horrible. Imagine a hell as a place where you suffer all the wrongs you’ve inflicted upon others; a serial killer will have to relive the suffering, pain, terror and trauma that he forced upon his victims. A rapist would have to relive the horror of the victim of the rape. I can imagine this being quite horrible for that person. However, at the same time I see it fitting with the Bible’s theme of “reaping what you sow” and being judged according to what you have done.

But what about those that haven’t done anything as bad as rape or murder? They will probably have to suffer the horror of sinning against a Holy God. Look at Job. After seeing God, he realizes how unworthy he is and says “therefore, I despise myself and I repent in dust and ashes*.” After seeing God, Job despises himself. That may not seem like much, but the Hebrew word translated to “despise” carries much more force. Some versions translate the word to abhor, which is much stronger. Whatever the word means, it’s nothing to be taken lightly. Also take a look at Isaiah 6; when Isaiah has a vision of the temple of God, he becomes terrified because he has seen God and has “unclean lips”.  Think about what this could mean. Imagine sin as a horrible disease that can’t be seen yet. Only in hell will the true horror of sin be revealed and those who in hell will see the terrifying infection they carry because they refused the cure. The terror/horror might be so great that those infected will attempt suicide only to find that they are unable to die. Such a destination is, in my opinion, far more horrifying than any fiery hell. Now I’m not saying this is how hell will be, I really don’t know. All I want to point out is that hell doesn’t need fire to be horrible.

The other problem I want to highlight is the idea that we have a job to scare people into Christianity. The concern is that people will stop converting to Christianity if they aren’t whacked with the stick of hell. But honestly, is this really our job? To scare people into Christianity? In my experience, those who convert to Christianity out of fear of hell usually leave sometime later or end up being extremely ineffective Christians. Jesus commanded us to go make disciples and spread the “good news”. I see nothing wrong with using hell as a way to ensure people that justice will be served in the end; however, playing on people’s fear of harm to convert them to your religion seems underhanded at best and manipulative at worst.

When I talk with people about a metaphorical interpretation of the fires of hell, too many people voice the above concerns. They then reject any metaphorical interpretation based on those concerns instead of look at the arguments. That’s just wrong. If you believe the text is actually teaching a literal fiery hell because you actually looked at the text, well good for you. The problem I have is when people refuse to engage the text itself and instead substitute “concerns” they might have for actual argumentation. Don’t be one of those people.

We’ve come to the end of this series on hell and I hope I’ve at least made you think a bit about hell. Some ask me what I think hell will really be like if I believe fires to be metaphor. Honestly, I don’t really know. When the bible uses metaphor to describe something, usually it does so because the thing being described is outside our experience and impossible to really describe. Think for a second about this. Imagine having to explain ice to a native of some tribe that has been living in the desert for thousands of years with absolutely no outside contact. How will you describe so to them. You might describe ice is basically a rock made of water that is really cold. However, we all know that ice is nothing like a rock, it is clear and melts and can even stick to your tongue. Rocks don’t do any of that. Despite these differences, most would agree that the metaphor does actually illustrate quite well what ice is and  this might be good enough for the native. However, the native will never completely know what ice is like until that native experiences it.

Hell works in that same way. When asked about what hell is really like, we usually want some kind of photograph painted for us explain exactly what hell is like. That is precisely what the Bible doesn’t do. These metaphors and descriptions of hell should be viewed “as sign posts guiding our way into the fog“. We won’t be able to really grasp what hell is like though we have descriptions that point to certain things. As I wrote in part 2 of this series (see part 3 and part 4 as well), the primary experience of hell will probably be shame and dishonor. Being under God’s judgment seems to also play a part in the experience of hell as I wrote here. In addition, there are many other things that could be part of hell given the other descriptions we went through. Might physical pain be a part of it? Shame, embarrassment and broken hearts can produce physical discomfort so it’s possible, but I don’t think that is most important aspect about hell. It is possible that hell and heaven might even be the same thing. It might even be possible that those in hell might to be there because they will hate heaven, I don’t know. We do not have a clear photograph of what hell will be like. At least, not in this lifetime. However, what we CAN say is that, whatever the reality of hell is,  it will not involve sunshine, unicorns and rainbows. It won’t be a place where people party all day long. As best as I can describe it, it will be a place where justice will be served.