Thursday, April 03, 2014

Giving Each Other Some FLAC

This post may be a little late to the party, but it's been on my mind for a little while. It's genesis was in the infamous Ham/Nye debate regarding Young Earth Creationism, but found more traction following last week's World Vision fiasco surrounding their decision to hire people in same-sex marriages, a decision that was quickly rescinded in the firestorm of backlash that ensued.

But this isn't really about either of those particular instances, so much as the way we all behaved in the midst of the storm.

For the most part, Christians behaved rather badly.

A few years ago, we here at Lakebay Community Church adopted a Relational Covenant; a document that spoke to our way of living together. Recognizing that people have differing thoughts, beliefs, opinions, and values, we committed ourselves to function together in a way that will allow us to stay focused on the greater values of loving God, loving each other, and loving the world, and (hopefully) not become fractured over secondary issues.

This is what we committed ourselves to be:

- Friendly
      By which we mean we approach each other with an attitude of good will, of basic trust, of seeing and hoping the best, rather than suspicion, doubt, fear, and judgment. We begin with the premise that the other is a good person acting out of good motives, having good reason for what they do and believe.

- Listening
     Before ever casting judgment or thinking we understand another, we take time to ask good questions, to get to know them, to do our best to really get the fullest picture of why another acts the way they do, believes what they do, says what they say, fights for what they fight for. We listen before we speak.

- Accepting
      The Covenant Church bases much of its ecclesiology (the way we do church) around Psalm 119:63 - "I am a friend of all who fear Thee." We find we disagree with people, but we accept them anyway because we see the Image of God in them. Rather than draw dividing lines, we stay in relationship with people, even people who hold to different ideas/political persuasions/theological understandings.

- Compassionate
     And thus, rather than living in suspicion or hostility or division, we are able to live out lives of compassion, because we understand and accept people with whom we disagree. We carry out the greater commandments of loving God by loving our neighbor, even when it's not easy.

Now, if you look closely, you'll see there's a fun little acronym there, if you take the first letter of each of those four points: FLAC.

And so I told the church we all need to work hard at giving each other more FLAC. It's something I remind myself of time and again, when I'm growing tired or frustrated or antagonized over disagreements and misunderstandings. Just when I'm tempted to dismiss or lash out, I hear that voice saying "Give 'em some FLAC, Dan." And on my better days, I do just that.

So it was last week when the internet erupted over World Vision's decision, when Christians were casting WV out of evangelicalism (there was more than one "Goodbye, World Vision" tweet), when my own faith was being questioned by people who knew me, when I saw nothing but anger and judgment and condemnation and outrage, I found myself thinking of how much better this would all be, had people known about the concept of giving people FLAC.*

I wasn't in on the inner workings of it all, but I wonder if Franklin Graham called up World Vision and said "so tell me about this - why did you make this decision" before posting his scathing rebuttal? If Al Mohler had his people contact the people at WV and say "could we meet? I'd like to understand what you're doing." If the leadership at the Assemblies of God (who encouraged their membership to slowly stop supporting WV) made any attempts to listen to the leadership at WV? If any of the 2,000 people (or was it 4,000? Or 5,000? I've heard various reports)** who instantly called and cancelled their support made any attempt to really listen and understand why WV did what they did?

The response I saw certainly couldn't be categorized as "approaching one another with an attitude of good will." Instead it was more akin to "this is the end of Western Civilization and WV has just sounded the death knell of all things Christian."

I know there are Big Issues that need to be worked through, but I find more often than not my concern isn't so much the issue, but how we work through these issues. After all, Jesus said the world would know we were his disciples by the love we have for one another. Instead, so many jumped on Facebook and Twitter to denounce, condemn, pounce, and judge, and the world just laughed at us (or shook their heads in disbelief and said "see - that's why I'm not a Christian.")

Here's my little part of trying to make the Church healthier. Can we please learn to give each other some FLAC, and stop with the judgment and condemnation already? The hysteria isn't good for the Kingdom, and will never help resolve any of these issues. Please. Let's learn to give each other some FLAC, living as Christ commanded as we love our God and love our neighbor.

_____________________________
*The sad thing is that, while I wouldn't expect any of these Christian leaders/spokespeople to know anything about Lakebay's relational covenant, the principles are right there in scripture. Maybe Al and Franklin didn't know about giving people FLAC, but they certainly know the words of Jesus and Paul, which encourage us time and again to act in love and compassion and understanding and unity, and to "judge with right judgement," which doesn't include press releases denouncing decisions we have yet to fully understand.

** Update: Various sources are reporting today (4/3/14) that it was actually closer to 10,000 kids who've lost their sponsors. I can't imagine Jesus being proud of all those people who displayed their offense by abandoning hungry children.

Friday, February 21, 2014

If you're looking from something new to watch

I've currently been working my way (via Netflix) through the Canadian TV series Flashpoint, a police drama telling the story of Greg Parker and the SRU (Strategic Response Unit), a SWAT-like team of highly trained officers proficient in everything from sniping to forced entry to computer hacking.


There are enough guns and car chases and evil bad guys and complicated good guys to make any lover of cop dramas happy (and to make the anabaptist in me just a little nervous), but there's one thing that sets this show apart - and is probably the reason I've come to enjoy it.

Unlike most police dramas (be they TV or bigsceen), in Flashpoint, violence is used only as a last resort. Flashpoint focuses on the psychological aspects of criminal behavior, and thus paints a more nuanced view of the Bad Guys. Rather than just being one-dimensional super-evil people, most of the criminals in this show have other issues that lead to their behavior. Parents trying to save sick children, young men with psychological issues, broken people simply trying to make sense of a painful world - their stories are fleshed out in ways you rarely see in American police dramas. And because of that, the SRU crew usually find ways to get through to said perpetrators, talking them down peacefully rather than using superior firepower to win the day.

In other words, unlike most police/military shows wherein the day is won by the good guys because the good guys have better and bigger weapons, which they inevitably use to blow away the bad guys, in Flashpoint the SRU crew find ways to understand and reach out to the bad guys, using things like empathy and understanding to diffuse the situation and bring peace at the end of the day.

Not every time, mind you. Like with real life, sometimes the bad guys just won't go down nicely, and lethal force is required.

But usually.

And so you're left with the message that:

a) most "bad guys" are real people with real problems who are broken in their own ways, and are behaving in ways that, while wrong, do at least make some sense. And are therefore deserving of a little bit of empathy and understanding.

b) there are ways to solve violent situations without resorting to more violence. Often, a little empathy, understanding, and time to listen and really hear is all people really need.

So I'm left to wonder whether this is all because the show truly is trying to paint a different picture than most dramas, or is it just because Canadians are generally nicer than the rest of the world anyway?

Also, the more I watch, the more I think I want to visit Toronto sometime.

Friday, February 07, 2014

On division, tribalism, and always being right.

One of my earliest church memories is about anger and division.

Our pastor and his family had attended a conference. They returned to our church in great excitement the next week. In sharing their experience, they said "and we learned a new song that we'd like to teach you all." So our pastor got out his guitar, his wife and daughters joined him at the front, and they began to sing. "Clap your hands all ye people, shout unto God with a voice of triumph. Clap your hands, all ye people, shout unto God with a voice of praise. Hosanna! Hosanna! Shout unto God with a voice of triumph! Praise Him! Praise Him! Shout unto God with a voice of praise!"

Our organist was not amused. She (as I remember) slammed the lid on the organ and stormed out the back, declaring that "if those guitars ever show up in our church again, I'm leaving for good!"

Little did I know that I had seen an early volley in what would become The Great Worship Wars, a battle that would rage throughout the Christian church. And little did I know that I would still witness skirmishes in the same war almost 4 decades later.

I've lived through numerous variations on this war; I've endured horrendous church splits that found their energy in this same battle. People screaming at each other about the value of their "choruses" and the worthlessness of "those old hymns" (and vice versa). People spitting nails over the issue of where to put the piano. People claiming their way as the "true biblical way" and the other as "a danger to the church."

But this post isn't really about the worship wars. It's about all the ways people draw lines in the sand, claiming a moral high ground, proclaiming their way the "one true biblical way" and all others a faulty danger to God's work in the world.

I've seen it over and over and over. The issue changes, but the game is played the same way. "My way is God's way, and all others are scoundrels and heretics and worthy of much condemnation."

You know the issues:

- innerancy
- spiritual gifts
- Calvinism
- homosexuality
- justice
- abortian
- women's rights
- wearing hats in church

And just this last week we've witnessed it all over again as the infamous Ham and Nye debate took place over the issue of evolution vs. young-earth-creationism.

And  I just want to say: I am so tired of it all. It almost makes me want to get off the internet completely.

No, I'm not tired of the issues; they are of extreme importance. What I am tired of is the posturing, the bombastic gatekeepers who seek to proclaim their one understanding of truth as God's Truth. The ones throwing grenades at the other side. "It's not just creation, it's the entire scripture that is at stake!" The ones breathlessly tossing out tired tropes that come from fear and anxiety, rather than a seeking after truth.

My friend Wes, speaking of the debate, put it so well: " On issues of faith, the only thing that has ever made a real change in my position was the examples set by people living out their faith. I've got friends posting on both sides of this debate. If we took the time spent watching it, and spent it having a meal together, we might actually accomplish something worth the time spent."

Instead, the internets are filling up with people whose only interest is defending their position at all costs.

Out of everything I learned in seminary, this one stands out: in Galatians, when Paul talks about confronting Peter after Peter had given into the circumcision group, he doesn't challenge Peter about his theological position. Instead, this is what got Paul so hot and bothered: "For before certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group."

Did you get that? Paul doesn't argue theology. His offense is over division in the body, a refusal to come to the table with people who don't agree with a certain belief. Peter wasn't challenged for his belief; he was challenged for dividing the body.

Belief is important. Doctrine has its place. But  when any Christian says to another "I can't worship with you because of your musical tastes," or "You're a lesser Christian because you believe in evolution" (or, as John MacArthur says, "You can't be a Christian if you believe in evolution,"), or as some will say "You can't be a Christian if you are accepting of homosexuals," or, when somebody says to me "you are a danger to the church because your approach to innerancy is a little sketchy," or fill in all the rest - how you dress, what Bible translation you use, whether or not you speak in tongues - when any Christian speaks this way, they are committing the same sin as Peter, and, ironically, become the ones who are actually dangerous to the Body of Christ.

And what of judgment? Peter shows us the way. He confronted Peter. And so, we would do well to call these people out on their sin of dividing the church that is made One in Christ. It is not ours to draw lines in the sand to predetermine who's in and who's out. It's ours to share table fellowship with people with whom we disagree and say "show me where Christ is working in you."

So, let's review:

Going on the internet and finding all the people who hold positions we don't like, and then dumping our condemnation and judgment on them: BAD

Doing the hard work of getting to know people, even people with whom we strongly disagree, and sharing life together because we're both saved through the same saving action of Jesus: GOOD

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Advent Music: Christmas Eve

I think this one needs no explanation.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Advent Music Part 5

Past Three O' Clock has long been a favorite carol of mine. I can't say exactly why (although it is one of the few Christmas carols that mentions cheese); I think partially because it's lesser-known, and thus doesn't get overplayed ever Christmas season. But more so, I think it's because it gets to my favorite moment of Christmas - that quiet, pregnant moment when the world has yet to wake up, when Christmas is set to be sprung but first, there is one last quiet pause. The shepherds are still on the hillside, ma in her kerchief and I in my cap are still settled in for a long winter's nap. The town crier echoes the ancient cry "all is well." And we slumber, gently, and Christmas lays just beyond the horizon, waiting for the sun to rise and all glory to break forth on the earth.

This carol gets at the heart of Advent - Christmas is coming, but just for now, rest. Morning, and with it Christmas, is on the way.

Past three o'clock, and a cold frosty morning,
Past three o'clock, good morrow masters all.

Born is the baby, gentle as may be
Son of the eternal Father supernal,

Sereph choir singeth, angel bell ringeth
hark how they rhyme it, time it and chime it!

Hinds o'er the pearly dewy lawn early,
Seek the high stranger laid in the manger.

Cheese from the dairy bring they for Mary
And, not for money, butter and honey

Thus they, I pray you, up sirs, nor stay you
'Til ye confess him likewise, and bless him.
 



Thursday, December 19, 2013

Advent Music, auf Deutsch!

How about a nice little German lullaby for Advent? And performed by not one, but two outstanding vocal groups - The men of New York Polyphony and the ladies of Anonymous Four.

The music of Josef Lieber, Josef Mein can be traced back to a 14th century German carol (although it may go all the way back to the 12th century), while the words were used in the 16th century mystery plays in Leipzig.

The lyric is sung by Mary and Joseph as they ponder their newborn son, wrapped up in the glory and wonder of this miraculous birth. It is meant as a gentle lullaby, rocking the baby to sleep.




"Joseph, dearest Joseph mine
help me cradle the child divine
God reward thee, and all that's thine
in Paradise" 
So prays the mother Mary.

      He came among us at Christmas time,
      At Christmas time, in Bethlehem
      Men shall bring him far and wide
      love's diadem: Jesus, Jesus
      Lo, he comes, and loves, and saves, and frees us.

Gladly, dear one, lady mine
Help I cradle this child of thine
God's own light on us both shall shine
in Paradise
As prays the mother Mary.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Be nice. Everybody's broken.

I made a trek to get my pre-Christmas haircut at a local chain place. I was settling into the comfy chair and going through the ritual of "how do you want your hair cut" with my stylist* (whom I shall call "Carol", just because that's a good Christmasy-sounding name) when another customer came in.

Carol left me to check in the new customer. I couldn't see the exchange that followed, but I heard it clearly. And it went like this:

Carol: Hello, and welcome to (redacted).

Customer: Grump grump grumble.

Carol: Can I get your last name?

Customer: Mfpththgrumble**

Carol: I'm sorry, can you repeat that?

Customer: Mpsthsgrumpgrump

Carol: Sorry, could you spell that?

Customer: intelligible grumble.

Carol: Okay, just to make sure, one more time?

Customer's female friend (possible wife?): SMITH! S - M - I - T - H! GOT IT?

Carol: Yes, thank you. And how about a first name?

Customer: Grumble grump fsgetedpde

Carol: And could you spell that?

Customer's female companion: JACK! J - A - C - K! Got it? SHEESH!

Carol: Yes, I have it now - thank you.

Customer's female companion: We're leaving! If you're so deaf we don't want to be here! Grump grump grump! (stomping footsteps out the door)

At which point Carol came over and stood behind my chair. We made eye contact in the mirror - she rolled her eyes, but I could see the pain in her face. "That was the wrong thing to say to a person who'd just had ear surgery," she said.

Turns out she's been deaf in one ear since childhood, and just had surgery last week to (hopefully) repair the damage from early sickness, and (hopefully) restore some hearing. But it's still quite stuffed up, so she remains partially deaf.

She was hurt by the exchange, I could tell. I don't know her story, but I would guess, based on her reaction, that this wasn't the first time she'd been bullied for her impairment. And all the while she was fighting to remain professional. I suspect that, had she said what she was thinking, it wouldn't have gone over so well with management. So she let them go without challenging their rudeness.

We ended up having a delightful conversation about our kids, and our favorite Christmas movies, and family customs over the holidays. I could tell she loved her kids, and was doing her best to give them a great Christmas, in spite of the fact that she had just had surgery (and was working less than a week later). I would like to think that, just maybe, I brought some light and levity back to her day, after she had been treated so poorly. I did my best to encourage her, anyway. This is the work of the Kingdom of God: to shine light into darkness. To turn swords into plowshares. To speak of peace in the midst of violence. To encourage, where there has been discouragement.

So next time you're tempted to insult somebody, or you feel like stomping out in a self-righteous huff, or you're frustrated because somebody is a little bit slow***, just be nice. Be patient and friendly and understanding, okay?

It's possible they actually are deaf, and are trying their best to put up with your mumbling.

And after all, it's Christmas.

______________________________________________
* As a man, I'm not comfortable with saying I have a hair stylist. But she wasn't exactly a barber, either. Hair services professional? I could live with that.

** All names have been changed so as to protect the grumpy

*** I don't want to overlook the possibility that this customer and his female companion were also acting out of pain, as well. It's possible they were just rude; it's also possible that they had recently received some bad news, or maybe he had a speech impediment that I didn't know about. Maybe somebody had been rude to them earlier in the day. None of that is an excuse for their behavior, of course. But if given the opportunity, we should try to be nice to rude people, as well. Maybe they've got some pain in their lives, as well. Maybe that will be my new Christmas theme: Be nice. Everybody's broken.