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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Simon, do you see the text message this woman sent me?

I have recently been reminded of the biblical importance of seeing people. I'm not talking about seeing them, as in dating or being in a relationship, but rather seeing someone with your eyes. The act of actually looking at someone. This was brought to my attention at a family gathering the other day. Everyone who belonged to the generations younger than myself, and some from my generation, spent the majority of the family gathering staring at the screen of some sort of mobile device (ipod, iphone, blackberry, nook color and kindle fire were all on display). My generation and the ones older than me talked, laughed, engaged in conversation. But the younger generation sat in isolated spots, disconnected from the reality around them instead plugged into a virtual reality. Much has been written on the dangers of distraction and our brain not functioning properly when we use mobile devices or the fact that we really, at best, only give people part of our attention. But I'm not really concerned with that for the moment. My concern is elsewhere.

It should go without saying, but I'm obviously not against technology. If you are reading this blog on the internet from a computer (or other device) then obviously you are not opposed to technology either. But I am opposed to bad habits with our technology that hinder our ability to see one another.

That is because there seems to be a link in Scripture between seeing others and having compassion on others. Observe the following:

Matthew 14.14 “When he went outside he saw a great crowd and he had compassion on them...”

Luke 7:13 “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her.”

Matthew 9.36 "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."

Then there is the story of the woman who anoints Jesus. It is found in all four gospels but I want to spend a little time looking at Luke's account, found in 7.36-50. In this version, Jesus expands his teaching and emphasizes forgiveness. In verse 45, there is a dramatic shift in the story as Jesus turns "toward the woman" and says to Simon, "Do you see this woman?" In this moment, Jesus forces the conversation to switch from the academic to the personal. He makes Simon actually consider the condition and person of the woman standing in his presence, to shift his mind from the intangible to the tangible, to look at the woman.

People are real. Their needs are real; their stories are real; their problems, joys, triumphs and failures are all real. To enter into their lives, however, we need to first realize that they exist on more than partial level. And to do that, we need to look at those around us. Until that time, many will continue to look at the poor reflection of themselves on their mobile device screen and miss the needs of those around them.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Yes Virginia, religion really does matter.

Well, in the past week--a small circle of Christians and (secularists?) have been making much ado about this video. In the video, Bethke tries to paint a positive image of Jesus and a negative image of "religion." Kevin DeYoung has said more than enough about what is helpful and not helpful in Bethke's video. And by God's grace, the two seem to be moving in a happy direction.

So I don't want to repeat what others have already addressed.

But I bring this up because last week, amidst the brouhaha surrounding this video I heard a comment on NPR that I can't get out of my head and seems to be related to the entire "Jesus without religion" issue.

Last Thursday, I believe, I was listening to NPR's "All Things Considered" while driving home and they were doing a story on the upcoming primary in South Carolina. The reporter was talking to a well-spoken Republican in South Carolina. A question came up that addressed Romney's potential popularity among evangelical Christians given that he is a Mormon and the interviewee responded more or less, "Mitt Romney's religion isn't an issue with voters. I'm a Christian, and for Christians it is about a relationship and not about religion. It is about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, not what religion one belongs to."

Perhaps in Bethke's video and the gentleman from South Carolina's response we are seeing the result of years of evangelicals, for the sake of broadening the appeal of Jesus Christ, downplaying religion. "It's about a relationship, not religion" is a slogan I have heard countless times over the years coming from conservative, evangelical sources. Was it worth it?

Religion matters. Religion sets parameters for the relationship. Religion defines who we are in a relationship with. Religion places us within a community of people struggling with relationship issues that can help us along the Way. The Mormon understanding of Jesus Christ and the orthodox understanding of Jesus Christ are fundamentally different. I'll not comment on who Mitt Romney knows, that would be inappropriate; but to say that religion doesn't matter when it clearly does, is also inappropriate. (However, it is worth noting that Mormons make good movies.)

Moving forward, evangelicals should stop emphasizing relationship over religion but rather, show how religion can enrich the relationship.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Exclusivity, Tebow and Culture

Better late than never, I suppose, to weigh in on the Tebow sensation. There has been a lot of talk about Tim Tebow, his faith, his 316 passing yards, and of course, his prayers (Tebowing) this week since the Broncos beat the Steelers in OT on Sunday. There are several observations I would like to make.

First the great irony of it all. Tebow's demonstration of his faith is seen as being inappropriate on the football field. Consider this article at the Salt Lake Tribune as an example of the media calling on Tebow to stop his practice of kneeling in prayer during and after a game. The irony of it all is that we now live in a so-called "inclusive" society and such actions are considered exclusive and inappropriate. Yet such calls are exclusive and not inclusive as they are sidelining not only Tebow but other athletes who may make public displays of faith, i.e. both Polomalu and Rothelisberger made demonstrations of faith during the final tying drive before OT.

Interestingly enough, I have not seen one person IN the media call for the MEDIA to stop filming Tebow praying. Instead, people just want him to stop. If you watched the game, then when it was over you saw Tebow strike his famous pose. If you were paying attention, you also probably saw that several cameramen were kneeling down, focusing on him. You probably also noticed that the producers of the game had that scene be the main shot at the end of the game, rather than show the other players, the stands, etc. Perhaps the media is creating a story; or to put it another way, perhaps the news is making the news.

But, what I really want to draw attention to is how well this sensation reveals our true human nature.

We are more than in love with ourselves, we are drawn to worship of ourselves. We are drawn to "be like God." This has been the human condition ever since the beginning. Tebowing highlights this, and Christians, should stand in solidarity with this light of truth shining in the darkness of our lives.

What is a touch down dance? On the most basic of levels, it is a celebration of an accomplishment. One recent criticism I have seen is the absence of Christians thinking. So let us think about the touchdown dance. The touchdown dance is an individual stealing the show from a team effort. The touchdown dance is an individual desiring attention. The touchdown dance is one person wanting the attention, the adoration, the worship, of the millions of fans watching the game. But again, this is just who we are. As John Calvin said, "scarcely a single person has ever been found who did not fashion for himself an idol or specter in place of God. Surely, just as waters boil up from a vast, full spring, so does an immense crowd of gods flow forth from the human mind..." The touchdown dance is a form of idolatry.

When Tim Tebow bows down in prayer he reminds not just Christians, but the world, that it is not about himself but about God. When any other football player does a touchdown dance, he is telling the world it is about him and not God. Christians need to stand with Tim Tebow and echo his message: it is about God. It is about God, who in Jesus Christ, provides a way for us to escape the worship of the self. It is about God who has the power to transform us from selfish creatures to humans focused on others, their needs, their concerns and most especially, on God.