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