Category: Culture

We have a problem with authority

Two Texas high school football players gained infamy recently when they intentionally and brutally hit an official who had ejected two of their teammates. A week later, another Texas player shoved an official.

Let’s simplify this. Everyone comes to a football game to see two teams play; those teams have all of the attention. But the truth is that the officials are in charge. Officials represent the University Interscholastic League, which seeks to promote fair contests of skill and will.

These contests generate a volatile brew of passion, and that passion can lead to anger. Usually it comes out in verbal attacks by fans, parents and coaches – often at officials. But sometimes that passion hovers close to violence.

After a Dallas Cowboys game in the early 1960s, police had to escort officials out of the Cotton Bowl in a squad car. The officials had just given the game to the Cleveland Browns when they ruled that Don Meredith had crossed the line of scrimmage before lofting a long touchdown pass to Tommy McDonald.

The place went crazy, and the craziness continued afterward at the tunnel gate. I was about 8 years old and just looking for autographs near the gate, but it was a wild and chaotic scene I still vividly remember more than 50 years later.

We had come to see the Cowboys play. The officials insisted the Cowboys play by the rules, and we fans didn’t like it. I’m sure the players didn’t like it either, but they were not storming the gate.

Despite all of this passion and anger generated by sports, players generally restrain themselves from violence toward officials. Videos of the two recent incidents would not have gone viral if such incidents were commonplace.

Sports officials do an amazingly good job in the midst of fast-paced games. The two football officials I know personally are solid men with solid judgment – and apparently tough skin. They are not your average Joes; they stand tall as men of integrity.

Despite the good job officials do, we often verbally abuse them and now some have physically attacked them. The truth is, we don’t much like submitting to authority.

Those football players are not the only ones resisting authority. Every time we speed along a highway we are saying, “Those speed limits do not apply to me. I will go as fast as I like when the cops are not watching.”

We resist authority when we seek to hide income from the IRS, when we cheat on a test, when we belittle a president or governor we disagree with and when we undermine a boss at work.

We also do it in our religious life. The people of Christ’s church resist God’s authority when we do not care for the poor and hurting, when we do not introduce others to relationship with Christ, when we ignore standards of personal morality, when we do not fight against injustice; and when we give more allegiance to political entities than to God’s kingdom. And the list could go on.

As we condemn the actions of the football players who attacked the officials, it is good for all of us to evaluate our own attacks upon authority, especially on God’s authority in our lives.

(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists web site.)


Video helps us hear a heart

(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists web site.)

Our eyes can deceive us. We look at someone and think we know what we see. But there is more to knowing that seeing.

A video that has gone viral shows a homeless man with beard and long, scraggly hair and hunger-thin arms. But there is more to the man than his homelessness. Donald “Boone” Gould plays piano beautifully, as captured in the video shot at an outdoor piano in Sarasota, Fla.

Now, we can know a bit more about the man in this video. WWSB, the ABC affiliate in Sarasota interviewed Gould.

The 51-year-old started with a clarinet as a kid, eventually playing the instrument for the U.S. Marine Corps. Shortly after his service, he returned to his home state of Michigan to study music education at Spring Arbor University with aspirations to one day teach music.

“I took music theory and ear training, and I had to learn how to play every instrument from the piccolo down to the tuba,” Gould says. “I can write parts like a handbook.”

Gould says he ran out of money three semesters short of graduation, and took up other jobs as he started a family.

Then his wife suddenly passed away in 1998.

“They sat me down, and they told me what had happened, that my wife had passed away. … and I just lost it man,” Gould says.

He began to follow a destructive path that included substance abuse, which in turn led to the loss of his then 3-year-old son to Social Services.

Every person, of course, has a story. Sometimes our eyes play tricks on us and lead us to believe we can know a person simply by looking at him or her.

We see a person driving a BMW and pulling into a three-car garage and think she is on top of the world, but if we could hear her heart we might learn a very different story. And the same is true for those in the opposite circumstances or even for those who just look pretty average.

The song Gould plays on the video is a cover of Styx’s rock classic, “Come Sail Away,” from the 1970s. It has a beautiful melody, which is part of why the video is so captivating. It’s a song Gould learned in earlier years of his life. He does not sing the lyrics, but you wonder if he hears them in his head as he plays.

I’m sailing away, set an open course for the virgin sea
I’ve got to be free, free to face the life that’s ahead of me
On board, I’m the captain, so climb aboard
We’ll search for tomorrow on every shore
And I’ll try, oh Lord, I’ll try to carry on

Lord, help us to listen better to the people around us, to know them better and to love them more. We will try, oh Lord, we will try to carry on, but we need a better captain than our own selves; we need You.

Cultural implications of Bruce becoming Caitlyn

(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists web site.)

The picture of a new person, Caitlyn Jenner, has intruded itself into our world. Bruce Jenner, the amazing male athlete of a few decades ago, has changed his gender, and the results are supposedly revealed in a Vanity Fair cover story.

Some people are talking about the courage it took for Bruce to become Caitlyn. Courage did not come to my mind when I saw the picture and story. Sadness came. I hurt for this person.

Bruce/Caitlyn has become the great exemplar of a movement to push transgender into the mainstream of society. Transgender is, of course, the “T” in LGBT and LGBTQ and LGBTQIA and a growing string of letters.

Jenner saddens me because his sex change seems to be the latest representation of a deep dissatisfaction with himself. Long before this, Jenner had mutilated his face with plastic surgery in order to appear more youthful. Now, he has dived even deeper to alter his appearance, but I stress appearance and I use the masculine pronoun because it just seems the more natural, the more real.

Blogger Matt Walsh captured my own thoughts in these words:

There is more to being a woman than “feminized” facial features and frilly underwear. Bruce Jenner in drag is not beautiful. Women are beautiful because they are women. Womanhood is itself beautiful. Women bring something distinct and special to the world. They fill a void and play a role that no man can.

A woman is a woman not merely because of whatever cosmetic feature a man might vaguely emulate. A woman is a woman because of her biology, which Bruce does not share and never will.

We live in a new world; it becomes more apparent with each passing day. It is not, however, a time to despair.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus Christ, my righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

That great old song proclaims truth for a new day of life in a fallen world.

Between a rock and a hard place

(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists web site.)

A friend shared with me a few days ago of feeling “between a rock and hard place.” That’s how it can feel when one seeks to stand for Christ in the midst of a wide array of competing interests in the broader public square, including the Christian portion of that square.

Trying to stand for Christ and the things Christ valued is not easy, even among Christians, because good people have come to different conclusions regarding what is right or best in dealing with the details of day-to-day living and societal interaction.

Take politics for instance. If you want government to be like Jesus and help the poor then people on the right think you’re a soft-headed liberal. If you want government to be like Jesus and value human life by limiting abortion then friends on the left think you’re a flaming fundamentalist. And those friends can be just as committed to Christ as you.

As our nation approaches the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage we Christians can feel between a rock and a hard place in different ways. We feel it within ourselves. Many of us want to clearly say that the Bible says homosexual behavior is wrong and that history clearly affirms marriage only between a man and woman. But we also want to say to those involved in homosexual behavior and who desire to have a same-sex marriage that we really do love and care for you, that our disagreement with you does not negate our deep love for you.

Those of us who hold this position are feeling marginalized by the broader culture, much as gay people have in the past. We did not always treat gay people well in the past, and some of them are now returning the favor since they have, at least for now, turned the broader culture in their direction.

I use “for now” on purpose. I am not one of those who think every cultural change is good and permanent – they’re not. Majority opinion has never been a trustworthy determinant of truth or right. When I’m in the majority I don’t like to admit this, but when I’m in the minority it’s easier to see. I think of African Americans in the Jim Crow South who for decades, even centuries, knew bigoted white people were clueless about race long before the white folk, at least many of them, recognized and admitted it.

David Brooks said something interesting in a Christianity Today interview the other day. Brooks is a “cultural Jew,” the article says, but he tells of speaking recently to a group of evangelical Christians. The group asked him, “as an outsider,” to address the “ramps and the walls the evangelical community builds for outsiders.”

Brooks responded that “what drives people away the most is a mixture of an intellectual inferiority complex with a moral superiority complex.” He said evangelicals are raising their intellectual standards, but they “are not as high as they could be.”

Then he noted something that is hard for some of us to face. “Everyone wants to be kind to each other,” Brooks said of evangelicals. “But sometimes you have to be a little cruel to disagree, and to disagree sharply and honestly to raise the intellectual standard of the enterprise.”

If he is right, how do we disagree sharply and honestly and still convey care and love for those who disagree? It isn’t easy. The rock and the hard place are evident.

Part of the answer may be in the other side of Brooks’ equation. Maybe we should stop acting so morally superior to those who disagree with us.

On the same-sex issue, the truth is that many people involved in same-sex relationships are honest, good, and caring people. It makes no sense for an arrogant, greedy, or thieving person who goes to church to consider himself or herself more moral than a humble, giving, and honest person who is missing the mark on sex.

In other words, like the Apostle Paul said, we all are sinners in need of God’s grace. We evangelical Christians should get that better than secular folks, and yet sometimes we come across as morally superior. If that’s what we are conveying, then we are not being honest.

Maybe if we stop acting morally superior but argue our points more convincingly we can begin to draw people both to Christ and to truth and righteousness. Let the third chapter of Romans challenge us:

As it is written:
“There is no one who is righteous, not even one;
there is no one who has understanding,
there is no one who seeks God.

All have turned aside, together they have become worthless;
there is no one who shows kindness,
there is not even one.” …

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law (Romans 3:10-12, 21-28).

The Good News challenges. Grace rules, but grace does not do away with the law of God. We lean on the grace of God, and in so doing we seek to allow God to reshape us and to bend us away from our sin, whether those sins have to do with sexual behavior, financial practices, misuse of power, or the silent sins of hateful attitudes.

Bad blood

(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists web site.)

Pop singer Taylor Swift is famous for putting her hurts and pain into song. She’s done it again. The word on the street (the web) is that another pop icon, Katy Perry, is the newest object of her ire. That really doesn’t matter; the words matter.

Now we’ve got problems
And I don’t think we can solve ’em
You made a really deep cut
And baby, now we’ve got bad blood, hey!

Many of us can identify with those words. People hurt us; they figuratively cut us. Our hurt and pain causes our blood to rise, as the saying goes. We get angry.

Did you have to do this?
I was thinking that you could be trusted
Did you have to ruin what was shiny?
Now it’s all rusted
Did you have to hit me where I’m weak?
Baby, I couldn’t breathe
And rub it in so deep
Salt in the wound like you’re laughing right at me

This lady can write songs. She has once again captured pain in a lyric and mixed it with a catchy tune. Bam! A hit is born.

Appreciation stated, I have a problem with the video for this song, which shows Swift first being injured physically and then reemerging with weaponized friends to fight back.

This song and video captures our cultural moment. This culture is not a Jesus culture. We no longer value turning the other cheek; we now value revenge – you hurt me, I hurt you. Eye for eye, tooth for a tooth, slander for a slander.

In short, revenge doesn’t work. It doesn’t get us down the road to healthy relationships with the people around us, with the people who hurt us.

Jesus famously said in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile”(Matthew 5:38-41).

If you can’t help but tap your foot to this new song, then at least remember the words of Jesus and know that the attitude expressed by the words and the video are part of the problem, not the answer. And here are a few words of advice from the Apostle to help further along this road:

“If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:18-21).

Help for dealing with a changing culture

The American culture seems to be getting away from us; that, at least, is how many Christians with more traditional values feel.

One of the most seriously threatened values is the sacredness of marriage between one man and one woman for life. First, we saw the “for life” part mostly fall away as divorce grew more common, and now the “one man and one woman” portion hangs in the balance.

Most states already have redefined marriage as including same-sex relationships, and now many experts think the U.S. Supreme Court is about to make that redefinition apply to the remaining 13 states, including Texas.

For many of us, this just seems downright wrong. We hold to the tradition, which is well-grounded in biblical faith, and in the broader history of humanity. This legal redefinition can cause anger or sadness or both. In our churches, we can retain our biblical beliefs, but those beliefs may increasingly be seen as wrong or dangerous or mean or discriminatory.

How do we respond? The Bible can help us in many ways to deal with this cultural shift, but James 1 may be an especially good place to start.

In this small New Testament book, James says, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing” (vv. 2-3, NRSV).

Our Christian faith today in America is not being tested as severely as it was for those addressed by James, but it is being tested. James said to consider “trials of any kind” to be a “joy.” I surely have experienced no joy in watching the American cultural shift regarding sex and marriage.

James, however, was not speaking about happiness or exuberance. He was talking about something deeper.

“There is a curious thing about the Bible’s testimonies of joy and injunctions to joy: they very often come in the midst of negative experience and difficulty,” wrote Joe Haag for the Christian Life Commission in 1994. He mentioned several passages:

Isaiah 66:10 says joy is for those who mourn. Psalm 30:5 says that those who weep at night will find joy in the morning. Psalm 51:8 cries out to God, “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.” Psalm 126:5 says, “May those who sow in tears reap shouts of joy.” The author of Hebrews describes Jesus as “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame” (Heb. 12:2).

Haag said Christian joy “is not the same as happiness. Happiness is our normal response to things going right. Joy, in the Christian sense, is the exquisite possibility of our souls thriving when things are not going right. Happiness flows from the good times we rightly hope to happen. Joy is born in the middle of the difficult times which nearly always do happen.”

In the midst of cultural changes today regarding marriage, we Christians can still experience the joy of our souls thriving in tough times. And this joy can overwhelm the sadness and destroy the anger.

James next wrote:

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord (vv. 5-8, NRSV).

We need wisdom in these days, and Scripture says God will give it generously and ungrudgingly. Faith opens us to God’s wisdom, and I suspect that will be understanding related to God’s will and to our neighbors’ hearts and minds.

There is much in the first chapter of James, but I will close with this quote:

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls (vv. 19-21, NRSV).

Lord, help us to listen – to You and to others. Help us be slow to speak. Help us be slow to anger. Help us, Lord, to live Your righteousness and experience Your joy.

(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists web site.)