Saturday, May 28, 2011

Standards?--I’m Outraged!

“This is an outrage! Every woman should protest this move by sending a letter of protest to the president of that committee.” Susanah, from France, was reacting to badminton’s new dress code for women. The International Federation that governs badminton decided that women must wear skirts or dresses to play at the international elite level. One other observer from Germany noted that in reality, the international Badminton Federation’s choice to have the elite women wear more feminine atire was a cultural issue, since the majority of badminton players at that level are actually in Asian countries where values regarding modesty are different. He wondered if by being upset that we, in the west, were in fact placing our values on another culture. The German observer has an honest point!

It’s interesting to me that some of us in the self-righteous west are indignant to the point of outrage over whether or not a professional athlete should wear a certain kind of uniform. In this case the charge is that the uniform sexualizes women and would be offensive to some cultures. Wait a minute? Who are we in the west to protest sexualizing women?! The author of the article even justifies the use of bikini’s in beach volley ball because it’s easier to remove sand from a two piece than a one piece suit! Now if any uniform is sexually revealing and sexualizes women, it’s women’s beach volleyball. Why the double standard?!

The furor over a uniform that is normal, modest, and even attractive, for example, in the tennis world is humerous to me. Then again, even modesty is culturally relative. I’m not trying to be overly critical here (okay—maybe a little bit). It just makes me chuckle when western culture, which is so intent on being open and tolerant, acts intolerant and closed minded to the point of outrage, over things that aren’t really that big a deal. We can’t have it both ways. To me it shows the west’s duplicitous character. We in the west ultimately believe that we determine right from wrong. We in the west know truth from error. We, in our declarations and beliefs, have the world’s best interest in mind. But our overarching cultural naratives communicate that in reference to our own personal lives there is no right from wrong, of course, unless we determine what that right or wrong is. in which case there is a right or wrong, but then, not really, because someone can, at that point, foist their values on us and say we are right or wrong, but then, hey, wait a minute---that’s outrageous. Do you see my point?

All the International Badminton Federation did was expose what everyone intuitively knows—there are standards! Deep down inside we all know (dare I say want?) some standards—a right and wrong. And to say that anything, or anybody, that declares what those standards are places us in a moral straight jacket or violates our basic human dignity or freedom, ultimately means we lose the privilege of legitimate outrage!

Judgement Day

I saw the large bill board first in downtown Boston, the weekend of the marathon. JUDGMENT DAY—it declared. May 21, 2011. At first I thought it was a rock group, then I noticed the sponsors tag: Family Radio, neatly along the bottom and assumed it was a conference on May 21. It wasn’t until I got home to New York and saw that the world was going to end at 6:00 pm Eastern time on May 21, that I realized what was happening. “Here we go again,” I thought. “More fodder for those who think of evangelicals as losers and lunatics.”

Doomsday prophets like Harold Camping, the progenitor of the recent Judgement Day scare, have been around for a long time. In the middle part of the 19th century William Miller predicted that Jesus would return sometime between October 21, 1843 and October 21, 1844. They are still waiting. Millers followers eventually became what we now call the Seventh Day Adventists. He has about a half a page description of his sect in Kenneth Latourette’s 1500 page tome on church history. The failure of Christ to return then became known as the Great Disappointment. I’m sure Campings supporters feel a similar set of emotions now. According to the New York Times, people quit their jobs, quit saving college tuition for their kids, and came to New York to usher in the Rapture. In their minds there was no better place to do it than in Grand Central Station where they were lined up in the passage ways near the underground trains challenging people to repent! According to my daughter, they were pretty aggressive. I bet money that Camping will come out and say he got the math wrong and they’ll start the campaign all over again!

To me it’s a no brainer. The scripture says, “The secret things belong to God” and God alone (Deut 29:29)! There is mystery and transcendence in this faith we call Christianity. When people start putting dates on the return of Christ or speaking with absolute confidence about the nature and scope of events like the rapture, they cross a line as far as I’m concerned. Millions of dollars were spent on advertising something Jesus himself said no one will ever know (Mark 13:34). In fact, in his incarnational earthly presence, Jesus, himself didn’t know!

So what can we know theologically for sure? Jesus is going to come back some day and restore all things and part of that involves judgment (Acts 3:21). If you are a Christian, you believe at least that. It’s pretty basic I admit, and not near as sexy as JUDGEMENT DAY. But that is what Christians believe! And we believe it because of revelation—the Bible. We don’t believe it because we can mathmatically figure it out. There is an element of faith in any worldview including secular Atheism. All of us bank our eternal destiny on some faith based belief system. I’m a Christian because Christianity makes sense more than any other world religion. I’m not a Christian because I can prove definitively that the resurrection took place or that the bible is inspired or that God created by the simple command of his voice or that Jesus is coming back. Simply put, Christianity is different. God enters our world and does for us something we can’t do for ourselves. He dies a death we should have died and lives a life we should have lived. By faith in Jesus righteous record we avoid the negative side of judgment day—whenever it happens! There is no other world religion like it. And while I think that there are many good reasons to believe in Jesus and his message, I also realize that ultimately, it’s a faith based belief system. There is no bomb proof truth in this life! The only one who knows truth objectively is God himself.

I hope that as the world snickers, Christians will be sobered; sobered by the reality that lives are seriously disrupted, perhaps even ruined, by Mr. Campings disregard for the clear teaching of scripture. I believe in a judgment day and it is something we should take seriously. But how I as a follower of Jesus present Jesus and his message of hope and redemption will do as much to promote the cause of Christ as wreck it. Perhaps Mr. Camping should take his judgment day belief system seriously and re-evaluate his own wreckless behavior. In the end, he may find that the finger of God’s just judgment pointed at him. And that is a scary thought!

Addendum: After writing this blog, but prior to posting it Harold Camping came out with the new date for the rapture and judgment: October 21, 2011—my wife’s birthday. I think I'll take her out on the 20th! (Just kidding)

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Grief Delayed

On the way back from Seattle in June 2010, I visited my mom. She lives in Detroit and wanted me to help her finalize funeral arrangements—her funeral arrangements. The idea of meeting with my mom, who is very much alive, in the building where she’d be embalmed, laid out in a coffin, then stared at while being very much dead, was not a pleasant experience. The quietness of the funeral home amplified the reality that death is real, life is short, time and youth are fleeting, and that someday all of us will meet God one way or the other.

The process was fairly simple, we chose the funeral arrangements—including the coffin (the word coffin is a euphemism for the box they put you in when you die), then she gave them a check, and we left. It was uncomfortable as it was, but the whole thing turned surreal when, shortly thereafter, my mother asked me to do her funeral. I wish I could say that my mom and I had a close relationship. That is not entirely true. But the idea of doing her funeral just boggles my mind. I’m numb to it. Even as I type these words, I don’t feel what I know will be the emotional weight of this task when it finally becomes a reality. I’ve already begun to work on it including asking my mother what she wants said. I figure if I get a jump on it now, I’ll be able to go through with it when I have to because it will already be done.

The whole experience has made me think. But I can assure you it’s a “grief delayed.” Whenever there is loss or even the potential for loss of any kind you have grief. No one wants to grieve. Grief reminds us of reality. Some of us deny reality, deny the loss, deny the pain, but all that does is seal us alive in the tomb of our unrealized expectations and hopes. We live in the past or in an allusion or worse yet, we live in denial of what is often apparent to others and reality in the future. So how do I process grief and loss? Here’s a couple of thoughts from my Christian worldview.

First, as a follower of Christ, I cry out to God bringing the core of my pain to him. The writer of Psalm 137 said as much when he screamed, “Remember, O Lord… (Psalm 137:7).” I let God in on my grief! Second, I embrace my grief rather than run from it. Grief, while difficult, is a reminder that life is not as it should be. Someday, in the end, at the consummation of God’s Kingdom, all sorrow and tears will be done away. Until that time, I must look forward to my redemption with the deep groaning of grief (Psalm 137:1). Finally, I find my hope in God and the revelation of his Son Jesus. Jesus came, not to take away my grief, but to bear the burden of what caused it in the first place. Jesus work on the cross doesn’t change the reality that we’ll all feel loss, but it does change the reality that we’ll have to experience it forever. There is hope. That hope is not found in the revenge I may want to take out on those whose actions cause me to grieve. The writer of Psalm 137, who rightfully wanted justice, did not see that the way God dealt with justice was not by dashing the sons of the Babylonians against rocks but by dashing his own Son on the rock of Golgatha (Psalm 137:8-9).

Change in life is inevitable and with that change comes grief and loss and sadness and sorrow and anger and confusion. But for me, as a follower of Jesus, I have to learn to see that in every experience of grief there is the seed of reality and the seed of hope. I do not have to live the deluded life of our modern world’s obsession with self and things. If I take my faith seriously, I have the hope of a new life tomorrow with the equal possibility of a changed life today. That alone should make anyone at least consider whether or not Christianity is real because, in the end, we all are going to face death in others in in ourselves. It’s a grief delayed.

Bin Laden's Bye Bye

Osama Bin Laden met his demise this week at the hands of the Navy Seal elite Team 6. It set up a wave of celebration around the globe—mostly in the United States where Bin Laden had ruled as a King of Terror for years. He was 53 years old, born in 1957. From an age perspective, Bin Laden and I are peers. Other than that, the circumstances in our lives couldn’t have been more different.

I’ll admit that I experienced a smug sense of satisfaction late Sunday night when I got on line and read that Bin Laden was dead. It was even entertaining to read how it was done: the helicopters with the Seals rapelling into the compound and engaging in a fire fight. It could have been taken from a Tom Clancey novel. But something else has come to my mind in the wake of it all. I remember Bin Laden gloating over the destruction of the Twin Towers and the damage to the Pentegon. He was giddy with joy over the casualties. I also recall footage of Muslim children waving flags and shouting in glee over the events. Their version of Islam had given the big bad Americans a bloody nose and used the very freedoms we treasure to do it! They were tickled pink. I was insensed.

But now we are giddy with joy. We are shouting in glee. We are dancing on Bin Laden’s grave. And while I agree with the writer of the Proverbs, “…when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy” (Prov 11:10), I have found myself feeling a little unsettled over it all. We should be glad over the destruction of an evil man and so I am happy. In my opinion, Bin Laden was Hitler with a turbin. But this happiness, and the smug sense of inner satisfaction it has created in me, has given me pause. Its our turn to celebrate—its true. But for me personally, the celebration is also turning me appropriately inward. I need to check my own heart. Are there injustices that I unwittingly support without even knowing it that would make someone glad at my demise? Are there things that I do, that would cause others to say to me, “Don’t go away mad, just go away!” Am I blind to things in my life that are hurtful to others that in my own self-righteousness, I refuse to be aware of?

I’ve never been in a fire fight on a battle field or seen my friends heads blown off by an enemy bent on our destruction. But I have watched my neighbors grieve the senseless loss of their son on 9/11! And I watched in horror as those buildings came down and was repulsed by the joyful response to it from many Muslims around the world. I’ll never forget the smell that wafted through Queens as what was left of the towers burned underground.

I’m proud to be an American. I am grateful for the freedoms we have and promote. I’m glad that the guy responsible for the intrusive actions from TSA officials, that I face regularly at airports around the country, has met his end. But I’m also aware of how dark my own soul is. In my understanding of Christianity, the gospel gives me the tools to do the self reflection necessary to be honest with my own issues. So while I’m thrilled at Bin Laden’s just and untimely death, I’m also sobered by it all.