Category: Culture

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.)

Of skinny jeans and cool socks

(This article originally appeared on the Texas Baptist web site.)

A few years ago, a TV beer commercial introduced me to skinny jeans. I thought skinny jeans had to be the most stupid jeans idea yet, at least for guys. But, no, they are proliferating.

And just the other day, a skinny-jean-wearing friend told me about the newest trend: the slim, shortened legging, which enabled people to see his socks. Why on earth would anyone want to see my socks? He showed me his socks, and they were kind of cool and colorful. I realized then that no one would want to see my socks because they are not interesting; they are always one basic dark color.

If I had my druthers, I would wear jeans every day of the week. To work, it would be jeans and a button-up shirt. To play, it would be jeans and a t-shirt. To church, it would be jeans and a polo, with a sport jacket.

This says much about my fashion sense; it’s almost non-existent. I like to be comfortable, and jeans are comfortable.

It used to be pretty simple buying jeans. You walked into the store, picked your brand, found your size and paid.

Not so, now. There used to be just Levi, Wrangler and Lee. (I started with Lee as a boy, then switched to Levi as a teenager, then got priced out of that market and into Walmart Wranglers with no “W” stitched on the hip, which I understand really means they are not Wranglers.)

There now are seemingly thousands of brands and hundreds of styles for each brand. I can’t keep up.

I have strong doubts that the day will ever come when I will be caught dead in a pair of skinny jeans, and my wife had better not bury me in them. But I would kind of like to be a cool-and-colorful sock guy.

What do people see when they get past the outer layer of our reality? Do they see someone who is alive and engaged in relationships of love to the point that others say, “Cool.” I hope so.

To love God with all of one’s being and to love others as much as oneself is amazingly different from most folks. Most people are so in love with self that every decision is made with this self-love in mind, and everyone else soon realizes this. Despite this self-love, most do not want other people to know it; they want to mask the truth. They want to keep their “spiritual socks” hidden.

Maybe it’s time we started wearing some spiritual skinny jeans so people can see our spiritual socks, so they can see what really makes us tick. Of course, this means we have to put on cool spiritual socks every single day.

I would not want people to say, “Man, those are really self-centered socks you have on today. Nothing interesting there. You’re just like everyone else.”

I would much rather people say, “Man, those are cool socks. You must love God and people to wear those socks.”

And I can reply, “They are Jesus socks. It’s a pretty cool brand. You ought to try them.”

Beyond Fifty Shades of Grey

This article originally appeared on the Texas Baptists web site.)

The National Football League is getting serious about the scourge of violence against women. The Grammy Awards show featured the importance of battling domestic violence. But the violence-ridden book, Fifty Shades of Grey, has been extremely popular among adult women, and it now has become a movie.

Here is Time magazine’s description of Fifty Shades:

“Nobody gets raped … and all the physical acts are consensual, but a romance about the possession of a virginal college student by a more powerful, older guy that involves her having to bend to his every whim, call him ‘sir’ and get beaten in the process could be accused of glamorizing a deeply unhealthy relationship.”

Actor Jamie Dornan, who plays the lead male role in the movie, became a dad during filming. “I don’t want [my daughter] to see the movie,” he told Time. “But I can’t stop her seeing it one day. I’d do everything in my power that she doesn’t, but what can I do?”

The answer to Dornan’s question would have been very simple a couple of years ago – don’t make the movie, let someone else. But so much for asking rhetorical questions; they don’t really intend to elicit an answer.

While we leave the question of the wisdom of making a movie, which encourages the degradation of women to Dornan, Texas Baptists can consider sexual ethics from a biblical perspective. The Bible gets pretty steamy at times when it comes to sex, but it is about a man adoring and desiring a woman, not hurting her.

Beyond the steamy parts, the Bible sets forth some basic principles about sex. First, it’s a good thing; God created men and women to enjoy and help one another. Sex is God’s good gift, and God intends it for the enrichment and fulfillment of human life.

But this is a sinful world, and all are sinners. This good gift from God can be misused, and this fictional Fifty Shades story publicly parades such misuse.

The Bible teaches the proper place for sexual relationships is within the covenant of marriage. The Bible is very frank. “But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2-3, NRSV).

Sex is not essential for a person to be fulfilled as a human being. Jesus, in Matthew 19:9-12, said God has appointed some to renounce marriage “for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven” (NEB). And the Apostle Paul said, “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:7-9).

Ultimately, Fifty Shades of Grey is about self-gratification. Anyone old enough to see this movie will realize it’s not about love. It’s just about sex, but it’s a shallow, empty and hurtful version of the sex God created.

While there may be fifty shades of this Grey character, biblical sex is not so complicated or damaging. It is to be between a married man and woman. It involves freedom, not bondage. It includes tenderness, not hurt. It is centered on one’s spouse, not on self.

Ferrell Foster is director of ethics and justice for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission.

Dinosaurs live

Years ago, in something I wrote I described myself as a dinosaur–meaning, I felt like I was from a different time in my mind and spirit, an older time, a time now extinct. Today, I discovered someone else who saw himself as a dinosaur–my greatest literary hero, C.S. Lewis.

On November 29, 1954, some ten months before my birth, Lewis delivered his first lecture as a professor at Cambridge University. “The lecture was a brilliant performance acknowledged by an ovation rarely given to an academic, ” wrote George Sayer, a friend of Lewis’, in his book, Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis. (p. 358)

Sayer says Lewis asserted that the “great divide in culture and civilization had taken place between the period of Jane Austen and the present day,” that being the mid-twentieth century. Lewis talked about the various changes during that period then “described himself as a member of the old order,” Sayer said. Then he quoted Lewis from the lecture. “… In order to read Old Western Literature aright you must suspend most of your responses and unlearn most of your habits you have acquired in reading modern literature,” Lewis said. More from Sayer:

“If his audience wanted to understand the past, specimens of old Western man should be useful to them, he [Lewis] said. ‘That way, where I fail as a critic, I may yet be useful as a specimen. I would even dare to go further. Speaking not only for myself but for all other Old Western Men whom you may meet, I would say, use your specimens while you can. There are not going to be many more dinosaurs.’ One undergraduate commented to me, ‘We were overwhelmed by his vitality and enthusiasm. I had never heard a lecture anywhere near as exciting. We discussed it until far into the night. For weeks afterwards you heard people describing themselves as “dinos.”‘” (p. 359)

So, to those who feel like dinosaurs in their own time, you are not alone. I do not know if we are becoming extinct. I do know that the words of one dinosaur, Lewis, served to certainly delay extinct and possibly even make survival possible.

While we may be dinosaurs in some sense, we can hope to be filled with vitality and enthusiasm. And, as everyone knows, people love dinosaurs.