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We’re in This Together

You may or may not have heard of the controversy that’s erupted around Michael and Lisa Gungor, the Christian musicians who’ve caused an uproar by saying that they don’t believe in a six-day creation or a literal Adam and Eve. I’m not about to wade into the creation-evolution debate, and I know Christians are increasingly on both sides of the fence on the topic, but I have a few thoughts about how I’ve seen this news about Gungor unfold and the reactions of many Christians to it. Actually, these are all things that bother me in general, and this specific episode has just been the latest example of how these play out every time this kind of thing happens.

First, it really frustrates me that a lot of people seem to be all worked up over this without even having read the original post itself, except as quoted by those criticizing it. Now, I don’t know for sure that people aren’t reading it, but from what I can tell, and from what I know of human behavior, many or most haven’t.

The original blog post, What Do We Believe?, was actually written back in February. I don’t remember hearing anything about this back then. It’s only in the last week or so, after some Christian site picked this up and wrote about it, that it’s suddenly become a huge deal. Ironically, the whole point of Gungor’s post was that we shouldn’t be so quick to pass judgment on each other for our differences in belief.

In the last couple days, Michael Gungor has written two follow up posts, I’m With You and Part 2.

I don’t think anyone should be commenting on the issue without reading all three of these in their entirety. This is really just a general principle, as far as I’m concerned. It’s a bad idea to jump to conclusions about anything, let alone voice them, based solely on second-hand information. It’s irresponsible and can really end up making you look foolish.

Today Ken Ham’s response to “I’m With You” showed up in my Facebook news feed. Until this morning, I’d heard bits and pieces of this whole controversy, but hadn’t really paid much attention or looked into it myself. But today it was all over Facebook, so I started reading up. The first link I saw happened to be Ken Ham’s, so I started there.

He takes all the quotes out of context, making them seem far more unreasonable, aggressive, or even crazy. But when I clicked through to the full post, I took those same words in a completely different light in context. People have way too much power when quoting to cast the quote in almost any light they want for readers to rely on the quotes as an accurate representation of the original.

Another thing that bothers me is how a lot of Christians react when another believer, especially a well-known one, even begins to ask questions about things we believe or consider other interpretations of Scripture than the traditionally held one. Especially about certain topics—this being one of them. People get not only defensive, but aggressive. Again, I’m addressing a number of times this has happened fairly recently. Several months back, Dan Haseltine, the frontman for Jars of Clay, started asking questions about the Bible and homosexuality on Twitter, just looking for open and honest discussion. The response was venomous. This has happened again and again. I mean, is it wrong to ask questions? Look at the Psalms. How often do David and the other psalmists question things, even God himself? But what we see is that through that, they and their faith come out the other end stronger.

Another article I read this morning was on Relevant, titled Why Are People So Upset About What Gungor Said? The whole thing is a really good read, and makes a lot of good points that I won’t repeat here. But one passage in there says:

I use this analogy often, as Christians we tend to act like we have a belief system that is like a bubble: It is fragile and easily popped if anything even touches any part of it. We think we have to protect our bubble.

But when did the Christian faith become so fragile? It is OK to ask the tough questions, to question our beliefs to find them to be true (and if not true to find the truth God is revealing to us).

I mean, really, if we believe what we believe is true, why should we be afraid to question or discuss it? Aren’t we confident that it will hold up to scrutiny? And if it doesn’t, should we be believing it at all? I know a lot of people in the church will disagree with me here, but in one point at least I agree with Gungor: our faith should be intellectual. If the Scriptures are true, the evidence will back them up. If the evidence doesn’t support our particular interpretation of Scripture, maybe we need to think about another interpretaton that makes more sense. This has happened time and time again over the centuries. And it was not popular in the church when that paradigm shift began, but over time, it became taken for granted. When was the last time you heard someone arguing for a literal intepretation of the Bible’s references to the corners of the earth or the sun going around the earth?

Now, please, before you jump on me, I am not agreeing (or disagreeing) with Gungor’s stance on creation. I am intentionally trying to steer clear of that debate, because it is beyond the scope of this blog and frankly I just don’t feel equipped to tackle that issue in such a public venue. But my point is that, in this area and others, I don’t think we should be afraid to look at the evidence and let it inform our faith, so that our faith can grow and become stronger. I know a lot of people will think that’s counterintuitive. But I know when I look at the sciences and the way the world works—from the way these mathematical equations and constants keep showing up again and again in nature, keeping the world spinning and functioning, to the miracle of our bodies, how they are constructed and how they work all the way down to the most microscopic of details, to the vast cosmos full of stars and galaxies more massive than we can possibly comprehend, and nebulae, pulsars, black holes—my mind is blown again and again, and I can’t help but stand in awe of the God who made it all, and set it up to work the way it does. (Especially in light of how hard it can be for me to make a few lines of code work the way I want them to.) And maybe I’m skating dangerously close to the edge here, but honestly, if it turned out that he chose to use the mechanics of evolution to create it all, that wouldn’t hurt my faith a bit.

Now, all that said, the Gungors aren’t just asking questions, but openly already believe something other than the traditional six-day, young earth creationism of orthodox Christianity. But that brings me to my next, and most important, point: How much does that matter, really, to the rest of us? More importantly, does this trump the unity we should have with them as the body of Christ? They still believe and follow Jesus, and all the essentials held up for two thousand years as the core beliefs of Christianity. I would hope everyone reading this would agree that there’s no reason this disqualifies them from being followers of Jesus. Because it doesn’t. And if they’re followers of Jesus, and we’re followers of Jesus, we are one. Whether we like it or not. Jesus said we would be known as his disciples by our love for each other (John 13:35). When I look at the perception of the church—especially in the West—by most of the outside world, that doesn’t make the top of the list. I don’t think that even makes the cut. Not only that, he prayed that we would live in such unity that the world would know he was sent by God (John 17:21). All of our disputes and venomous attacks and hatred for each other over these issues fly in the face of these verses.

If you take nothing else away from this post, take this: we are following Jesus. Jesus, who came to earth and turned the world on its head. He turned the Pharisees’ worldview on its head by challenging the centuries of pointless moral code they had built up that was only making themselves feel good and oppressing everyone around them; by telling them that more important than any of that, we are to love God and love those around us. And then he lived that out by hanging out with everyone from the Pharisees to the most despised people in society. He turned the world’s social order on its head by choosing fishermen, tax collectors, and revolutionaries as his disciples, and teaching them to love each other and to live by serving others. And then he sent them out to change the world. He turned justice on its head by suffering and dying with our sin on his shoulders, and then conquering death, so that we could join him in this new way of living. We need to live by keeping our eyes on him, and by helping the guy next to us who’s also trying to follow him, regardless of our differences. We’re in this together, and Jesus is our guide, leading by example.

Missing Out: a response to “Look Up” and the argument that my iPhone is evil

So this post is a bit different from what I usually write here, but I’m feeling the need to get on a soapbox about something I’m seeing a lot of these days. It’s probably not what you might think. It’s about attitudes about our use of technology, and people’s fear of it turning us all into zombies at worst, or poor wretched souls with no life who will one day die alone, at best.

(Disclaimer: I’m feeling more sarcastic than usual.)

There’s a video called “Look Up” going around. Its point is that we’re too absorbed in our screens and we’re missing out on life going on around us. That “social media” is making us antisocial. Sound familiar? The more ubiquitous Facebook and smartphones become, the more I keep seeing videos, tweets, and blog posts telling us to sign out of Facebook and Twitter, turn off our phones, and live life. (Also a little ironic.) But the more I hear this message, the less I agree with it.

The sentiment is valid. It’s entirely true that we can spend too much time looking at our screens. There’s the classic scenario of a group of people sitting around a dinner table, all looking at their phones and not talking to each other. And yes, this happens—probably more often than it should. But I don’t think that makes our phones bad. Or social media. Or the internet. I think it’s healthy to keep our use of these things in check. I’ve taken steps to do that myself. But I think these videos, and this one in particular, can take the message too far.

The fact is, you can have too much of anything good. The fact that gluttony and the obesity caused by it are rampant, especially in the developed world, doesn’t make food evil. It’s entirely necessary to life itself. The other half of the world is suffering and dying from a lack of it. (Another huge issue that I’m not about to tackle in this post.)

Now, I can’t make the case that technology is necessary to life. It’s not on the same level as food, anyways. But technology is enabling so much life. It’s bordering miraculous what we are able to do these days because of technology and the internet. If we traveled to a couple decades ago with an iPad, it would blow people’s minds. (The time traveling probably would, too.) If people from a few hundred years ago saw us with our iPhones, they would think we were sorcerers. And lives are being saved every day by technology.

The human race, contrary to what these videos are saying, is more connected than ever. And the entire sum of mankind’s knowledge is available to us literally at our fingertips, almost anywhere on the planet—even to people orbiting it. And startups from Silicon Valley to Germany to India are coming up with apps and devices every day to solve problems and make life better for lots of people.

My friends and family are scattered across the globe. But because of Facebook, Skype, FaceTime, and iMessage, I can stay in touch with them in a way no generation has been able to, ever. Gone are the days where you send a letter to another continent by ship and get a reply months later. Now, if we coordinate time zones (technology hasn’t quite fixed everything yet) I can see a friend in the mountains of Asia face to face, and talk to them in real time.

The video goes on to make a distinction between being alone reading a book, painting, or doing something else “productive”, and being alone on the internet. Saying that reading a book is enriching and constructive and surfing the web is not. Because there’s nothing at all worth reading on the internet (including this post), and no mindless trash has ever been published in the form of a book, ever. (That was sarcasm, by the way.) And how are kids learning to code at a young age, learning the critical thinking and problem solving skills needed for it, and creating their own apps, not being constructive? Or children with autism who, given iPads, are able to express themselves and show creativity in a way they never could before? (True examples. Google them. The information’s at your fingertips, remember?)

The second half of that video tells the story of a chance encounter, where a guy asks a girl for directions, and they end up going on a date, and then getting married, and all about them becoming parents and then grandparents, and blah blah blah. But the guy would’ve missed all that if he’d been using his iPhone for directions. Come on, really? Keep that in mind next time you ask someone for directions. You might end up marrying them.

I’m tired of being told that all this technology is making me more disconnected from the people I care about, when I know for a fact that the opposite is true. I’m tired of being told I’m going to miss out on life because I have an iPhone and use it. Not only have I made lots of memories hanging out with friends, but technology has made it easier than ever to plan those times, coordinate meeting up, and capture those moments to remember them. I’m tired of being told that technology is bad when the world is so much better off because of it. Going back to the developing world—if the right technology could be made accessible and affordable in developing nations it could have a huge impact. I’m not talking about everyone being able to watch cat videos. I’m talking about being able to solve real problems.

So yes, don’t be a jerk to your friends and spend the whole evening playing with your phone. But if you do, that’s your problem, not your phone’s. What I don’t want us to miss out on or take for granted is the huge potential in those phones, and the way they—and all the technology we have available to us—are making the world a better place.

Checkmate

Tuesday is my fullest day of the week this semester, followed closely by Thursday. Both days I have back-to-back classes from 8 to 4:45, except for a break between 10:45 and 12:30. On Tuesdays I go straight to work at 5, and don’t get off until after 9.

At the beginning of the semester, I decided that break between classes would be a good time to read the Bible and pray. For the most part, that has worked out well. But in recent weeks, I’ve been finding myself using that time for homework more and more.

This Tuesday started the same way. My 9:30 class got out at 10, so I had extra time. I started out by making my equation sheet for my steel test the next day. I was going to get started on one of my two assignments due today, but for both of them I needed books I’d left at home. So then I started to work on the recording from the message on Sunday. Most of the time I can do all the processing, editing, and exporting on my iPad. But some weeks, like this week, there is a lot of noise in the recording. To clean that up, I would need my laptop, which I didn’t have with me.

It was as if God had cornered me. So I prayed, “Alright, God, checkmate…what do you want to say to me?”

I was fully expecting something about my lack of discipline, about how I needed to be better about spending time with him, about how much I’ve been drifting away and not really living for him most of the time. Or something along those lines.

Instead, he said, “I love you.”

That was it.

It started to sink in. On the one hand, I’ve been more and more distracted lately by so many things, and I haven’t been focused on God much at all. In some things, I feel like I’ve just been going through the motions, and in others, I’ve been letting them slide almost completely. On the other hand, as I’ve been realizing this recently, I’ve been beating myself up over it, and telling myself I need to do better. To the point where that’s what I expected God to say to me when I took the time to listen.

But he didn’t. He just said, “I love you.”

I realized in that moment that I’d reduced him to a religion – one that I couldn’t even keep.

He doesn’t care about how much I’m following the rules if it’s just for the sake of following the rules. He doesn’t want me to begrudgingly give him time out of my day just to check it off my list. He doesn’t want me to serve at church and be a leader and all that if it’s not an outpouring of love for him. And he doesn’t want me to strive to do better in all those areas if I’m doing it on my own strength and because it’s what I “should” do. He loves me, and he just wants me to choose to love him. Everything else flows out of that.

It’s so simple, but so easy to forget. But in spite of that, he relentlessly pursues me. Until I finally listen.

In my mind I heard the lyrics from “One Thing Remains”:

Your love never fails
It never gives up
It never runs out on me
Your love

And it’s higher than the mountains that I face
And it’s stronger than the power of the grave
And constant in the trial and the change
This one thing remains

And on and on and on and on it goes
Yes, it overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever have to be afraid
This one thing remains

In death, in life
I’m confident and covered by the power of your great love
My debt is paid
There’s nothing that can separate my heart from your great love

No matter what I’m going through, no matter what I do, no matter what happens, he will never stop loving me. And he just asks me to love him back. And sometimes he needs to break through all my distractions and checkmate me to remind me of that.