Reaction

Donald Trump Is Not the Exception

Sometimes, people try to convince me that the human race is slowly progressing. “Think about it,” they’ll say. “At least in our culture, there’s no more human sacrifice or slavery. Women can vote, and minority groups of all kinds are fighting for and receiving equal rights. Repressive and outdated moral codes are fading in influence, and we’re working toward justice and love for all. Also, Wonder Woman finally came out!”

And some days, I can almost believe them. Yes, I think, I’m delighted that I live in a society where, even though someone in my apartment building has a wireless network called “Racist Neighbor,” (yes, really) at least no one I know is heil-ing Hitler or boiling and eating their enemies. Could we be getting better after all?

And then I go on Facebook or Twitter or the comments section of blogs or articles, and I remember: nope, people are not basically good.

Social media might be the most obvious way to see our true selves: unscripted and unfiltered. Most bad behavior trends in and out, making resurgences like fashion fads: are we cynically self-sufficient this decade? Maybe legalistic condemnation is more in vogue. Or is lawless abandon making a comeback?

Our selfishness takes different forms, chants different slogans, and gets a rebranding to change the packaging, but the content is still the same, variations on those ol’ seven from church tradition: pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth.

For a specific example, in some ways, I’m encouraged to see outrage every time President Trump is unprofessional or just plain mean on Twitter. It’s good to hold those in public office accountable to be thoughtful and deliberate in their choice of words.

 

That said, Donald Trump isn’t the first person to be rude, gossipy, and narcissistic on social media. There’s a greater shock value for what he says because we expect better of our president, and rightly so. But what we can learn from this is more bigly than just dissatisfaction with our current president’s behavior (sorry, couldn’t resist). It should remind us of something much more fundamental: our unrehearsed selves are not kind.

Not just Trump’s. Ours.

(more…)

LeFouGate, Part Two: A Christian Response

Have you ever had this strange, twingy, glance-over-the-shoulder feeling that something is wrong even when there are no obvious signs of it? That’s how I felt about my last blog post on Christians’ reaction to the announcement that LeFou would be portrayed as gay in Beauty and the Beast.

At first, I couldn’t pin down what was bothering me. Most everyone loved it. It was pretty mildly worded and cautious. I didn’t get sucked into the sarcasm trap or say anything that someone could take personally.

lefou3

And, although I felt like I didn’t cover nearly the ground I wanted to, the main message was helpful: if you’re going to be offended by something, be careful to explain why in a gracious way to start better discussions.

But there’s something important that I completely left out.

All of the sample explanations I gave were reasonably worded. Even if you totally disagree with their take on sexual ethics—whether homosexual relations are okay or not—I hope they came across simply as people taking a stand on something they believed.

But—and this is hard—I think some, even most, Christians were not just upset about a gay character in a Disney movie because of their interpretations of the Bible or because of their desire to maintain the innocence of their children.

They were upset because sometimes they do consider LGBT people offensive. They find the idea of loving others who deeply disagree with them in this area incredibly hard. Some are trying to work out what that looks like. Some, sadly, don’t want to. (more…)

The Wise and the LeFous: Responding to Beauty and the Beast

In the spirit of considering how to have better conversations on tricky things, I have a proposal for my Christian friends who are reacting to the news that Beauty and the Beast will feature a (sort of) gay character.

lefou

(This post is mostly directed at Christians, some of whom are outraged, some of whom think this is no big deal, and a whole spectrum in between. If you’re not a Christian, read on! Just know that’s who I’m talking to.)

If you are joining in on a boycott of this movie over LeFou’s sexuality, I have a request: when you talk about it, especially on social media, can you explain why? Yourself, not trusting people to read an article and assume it states your position.

You don’t have to, obviously. You are free to post an article about LeFou being gay with just a mad emoticon. Or “Guess I’m not going after all…” or something like that.

I just think it would save you a lot of trouble in responding to comments if you elaborated a bit. More importantly, I struggle with the fact that many people view Christians only as “people who are against stuff.” If they don’t understand why this is an issue for you, you’re just one more tally mark in the “easily offended for no good reason” category.

Here are some examples that I thought of that might be helpful in avoiding the rage-fests I’m seeing in the comments. (more…)

The Han Solo Approach to the Refugee Ban Debate

Looking at my social media feed, you’d think everyone in the United States just divided themselves into two distinct groups overnight: humanitarians and Hitlers. Or bleeding heart liberals and pragmatic conservatives. Or media-crazed, oversensitive hype-mongers and fearful, Muslim-hating hypocrites. Depending on your point of view.

It feels like we’re all trapped in this permanent cycle of hashtags and clickbait and memes and soundbites from biased news sources forming a swirl of emotion and propaganda around every major headline. And I do not like it. Even when I’m doing research, collecting others’ perspectives, and trying to find objectivity, it’s difficult for me not to default to either fear or anger. Maybe worse, I feel pressure to have an instant reaction instead of taking time to consider all sides of a complex issue.

I don’t know about you, but I want out. I want some kind of cultural reset button where I can be sure that I’m thinking critically about this issue and others without being influenced by the clamor of uninvited factors screaming to distract my attention.

That’s why this post is not about what I think about the refugee crisis. It’s about how I’m trying think. I don’t want to add to the noise. I just want to offer some questions for consideration.

Many Christians who disagree with Trump’s latest executive order temporarily banning refugees from seven primarily Muslim countries are voicing concerns like: we have a responsibility to oppose this ban because the Bible teaches us to protect “the least of these” and love our neighbors, even (especially) those who disagree with our beliefs.

Because of the sheer number of my friends who have posted something along those lines in the past few days, I want to say right up front: this is not wrong. Our hearts should be engaged in questions of international policy. And Jesus’ words do have bearing on practical issues.

Here’s the problem, though: only saying those things doesn’t address the best arguments of the other side.

Basic principle of discussing a complex issue: you don’t spend all your time hacking apart a weak, less common argument while the actual issue stands behind you, clearing its throat and waiting for you to notice.

Be like Han Solo. You see Darth Vader in a room, you shoot at Darth Vader. You don’t duck into the hall and take on one of his underlings. Even if you know you have a greater chance of success blasting at a Stormtrooper and that your attack on the Sith himself might not make an impact, still: shoot at Vader.

han

In this case, I’d say Stormtrooper options—the arguments only a few people are making that can be easily dismissed, on both sides—are things like: “Christian lives are more valuable than Muslim lives,” “We should let anyone in who claims to need help without any screening,” or “We should ban all immigration and become completely isolationist.”

For the most part, taking on these issues is the easy way out, because not many people believe them. There will be friends who disagree with me on this, but I don’t think it’s fair to accuse others of saying these things when they probably aren’t. (more…)

How (Not) to Evaluate Complicated Issues

Pretend it’s 1859 and someone just asked you, “What do you think about the anti-slavery movement?”

Here’s the thing: the wider the group, the more likely generalizations are going to be unhelpful. And in this case…it’s a very broad group.

Ten-second history recap! Early on, abolitionists were a few “extremists” who subscribed to the same papers, attended the same rallies, and had a similar ideology. Obviously, even that is covering over a lot of differences, but early on, you could say with a reasonable amount of accuracy things like “anti-slavery advocates believe in the dignity of all people before God regardless of skin color.”

As time went on, more people joined the anti-slavery cause. These included:

  • “Free soilers” who wanted slavery outlawed in new territories because they didn’t want slaves to steal white jobs.
  • Northerners who saw Southerners and their “slave power” economy as a threat.
  • Extremists who advocated violent opposition to slavery.
  • Goodhearted but sometimes condescending white people who saw themselves as patrons and liberators even if they just talked a lot and never did anything.
  • Politicians who wanted to increase the power of the federal government and saw slavery as a threat to the unity of the Union.
  • Actual racists who didn’t want slavery because they wanted all black people to go back to Africa. (You would be surprised how many “free soil” people were anti-slavery because they were anti-black.)

Suddenly, you had a massive collection of folks with different beliefs, values, and solutions who had only one thing in common: they were against slavery.

If everyone in the anti-slavery crowd had marched on Washington, chances are you’d only agree with a third of the signs they hefted into the air. They would range from “There are neither slave nor free, for we are all one in Christ Jesus” to “Save the Union Through Gradual Emancipation” to “Make America White Again.”

Your answer would depend on a lot of factors: where you lived, which newspapers you read, which issues you cared most about, your political party, your geographical region, to name a few.

So. It’s 1859. Someone asks you what you think of the anti-slavery crowd and their cause. What do you say?

Regardless of your answer, I hope you’d…

  • Ask them to be more specific. Maybe point to just one issue or statement and evaluate it, or take one approach and say whether you think it’s helpful or not.
  • Try to get a sense of what a particular event meant—what happened and why—and acknowledge that there isn’t one story to explain the actions or motives of everyone involved in a cause.
  • Know someone involved with anti-slavery activism so you can ask questions of a person on the front lines, while realizing that one person won’t represent everyone involved.
  • Expose yourself to more than one side if they ask about a particular event, say, John Brown’s raid—reading more than just the flowery poetry idolizing him or the Southern screeds condemning him to inform your opinion.

If by now you’re thinking that I’m not really talking about the anti-slavery movement, you’d be right.

womensmarch

Just a few images of protest you might have seen this weekend.

Just a few images you might have seen from this weekend.

Am I saying that the anti-slavery movement in the 1800s is the same as the anti-Trump protests after the inauguration? Nope. Except in this one, very important way: they were both movements that encompassed a wide range of ideologies and motivations.

Fine. Two ways—they were also both subject to a lot of broad generalizations and caricatures that oversimplified the issues involved (on both sides). And I think that’s extremely unhelpful, if not destructive.

When you try to glorify or demonize a diverse movement, you risk giving a false picture of what’s really going on.

So when talking about politics, please, tell the truth. Fact-check your news sources, be okay with saying, “I’m not sure” and willing to admit when you’re wrong.

Tell the whole truth. It’s okay to have a strong opinion about an issue and still acknowledge its complexity. That might look like: “I realize that X, and I’m obviously not okay with Y, but I still think that the overall impact of Z is positive, and here’s why.” Or: “I appreciate that some people are motivated by X, but here’s the negative impact I think Y has—I’d rather see more Z and here’s why.”

Tell nothing but the truth. Personally, I think that often, sharing memes/cartoons/articles that intend to mock instead of provoke thought are pretty pointless. Sarcasm is a destroyer of gracious conversation. Ask yourself, “Why am I posting this?” and only go ahead if you have a convincing answer.

How you talk about politics matters because it both shows and shapes the kind of person you are. So be the person who does the hard work of overlooking insults and using logic and asking why, who thinks before speaking, who holds convictions graciously and always seeks to learn and understand more. History will thank you (and so will I).

Thoughts on Inauguration Day

My idea of home remodeling is finally remembering to take the Christmas decorations down a few weeks into January, so needless to say, I’m not a huge design/construction TV watcher. That said, I recently had a lot of friends sharing a post from Chip and Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper, whether they were fans of the show or not. (Go ahead—read it. It’s short.)

fixer

Many of the comments or captions for re-posts I saw revolved around two short lines: “Listen to me, we do not all have to agree with each other. Disagreement is not the same thing as hate, don’t believe that lie.”

“Yes,” fans responded, “this is what I wish people realized.” “This put into words what I want my family members and friends to understand.” “PREACH.”

And something in me said, “Wait.”

Before you freak out on me, I completely agree with that part of Chip and Joanna’s blog post. But here’s my question: who is this message preaching to? Who should understand this and put it into action? Who needs this revelation to land on their soul and let it sink in deep?

Me. Not everyone else out there who is intolerant of my opinions. I am the one those lines are addressing.

I’m reading through Proverbs right now, and I realized that, while occasionally one will hit me and make me think, “Yeah, I need to work on that,” most of the time, I see other people and their problems in the lines. I take a bit of wisdom and think, “Oh, totally. I wish everyone I knew lived like this” or “Yes, I know so many people who don’t seem to get that even though it’s so obvious.”

This is 100% the wrong approach. Also 100% arrogant, in a weird way. Isn’t it funny how the whole world revolves around us…until it comes to pointing out sin? Then, it’s about anyone but us.

Not convinced? Here are other examples: I listen to sermons and glance around to make sure so-and-so is listening. I read books and see myself as the hero, not the villain. I write my workplace evaluation or a critique of our culture and think of the problems others are causing, but not how I contribute or respond badly.

Back to Chip and Joanna’s post. So many people resonated with: “Disagreement is not the same thing as hate, don’t believe that lie.”

And yet…when someone disagrees strongly with you, isn’t your first instinct to be just a little bit defensive?

Isn’t it nice to have a circle of friends where everyone has similar beliefs and values?

Don’t you get annoyed and feel the need to fight back when someone makes a critical comment on something you post on social media?

I know those are all true for me.

In my head, I agree that disagreement is not the same thing as hate. But I believe that lie in practice every time I avoid certain subjects out of fear, insult other people behind their back, and wish I could go through life without my beliefs and opinions being challenged by people smarter than me.

Bottom line? I am willing to disagree boldly, but not graciously. I am willing to fight hate everywhere but inside myself. And this is not okay.

Change is hard. Disagreement is tricky. Other people are both the best and the worst at different times.

But that doesn’t give us an excuse to preach grace without practicing it. So here’s my challenge, especially on an Inauguration Day at the end of a controversial election season: have convictions, but remember that if you want civil dialogue, you can’t just demand it from others. You have to create it.

How, you ask? Here are some thoughts:

  • Assume the person talking to you is not a terrible person.* Or stupid, or intentionally cruel, or just regurgitating information from fake news sites and talk radio. They may be some of those things in part. But when you have respect for the person you’re talking to, it shows, and it makes the conversation significantly more helpful.
  • Make your goal to love others better. If that’s too abstract for you, make your goal to learn about the other person and to help them learn about you, instead of winning an argument. Pretend you’re trying to find the strongest reasoning for the other side, or that you really need to understand why others disagree with you on this.
  • Talk to people in person when you can. Seriously, blog/YouTube/Facebook comments seem to be the place where kindness and decency go to die. When you feel you need to, intervene in those spaces to bring a bit of grace. But there are other times when the best medium is a nice chat over coffee.
  • Choose to remember that people are astonishingly complex even when their statements are painfully shallow. By that I mean that each and every person is a masterpiece of God, even when they are making generalizations, using bad logic, or venting their emotions. If you can graciously point out what troubles you, do it. If you can graciously overlook an offense, DO IT—I think there are significantly more times where this is the best thing to do.

Let’s continue speaking out about issues that matter to us, using good logic (while not being afraid of emotion…but that’s a different post), and engaging in politics and other tricky conversations. That’s what Jesus’ command to be “in the world” involves. The “not of it” part talks about how we treat others and represent Christ while doing those things…and that’s the area I think the church has neglected recently.

What would you add to a list of tips for starting and engaging in civil dialogue?

*Stuffy Theological Footnote for the Dedicated Reader: I also think it can be helpful to assume that the person talking to you is a terrible person—and so are you. I didn’t say that it’s confusing and not as obviously practical when it comes to political discussions. However, I’ve found that understanding that we are broken people in a broken world gives me a ton of compassion when discussing difficult topics. Just a few examples: I can refuse to be offended even when someone is being offensive because I know I’ve done the same thing many times. I can understand why someone might desperately cling to a wrong idea, because if proven wrong, they’d lose a lot of their worldview. I never assume that I’m right about everything because I’ve been wrong so often (or right with the wrong motives). A healthy view of depravity (the Fall) can be just as helpful as a healthy view of the dignity of others before God (the Image) when interacting with others.

Millennials: Don’t Abandon the Church

I’m taking a short break from Christmas posts to talk about an article I’ve seen recently being shared on social media: “12 Reasons Millennials are OVER Church.”

The article is funny in places and characterized by the tell-it-like-it-is candor that my generation hates in people they don’t agree with (a certain president-elect comes to mind) and loves in articles that voice what they’re feeling. It also has some useful observations about why millennials are staying away from organized religion.

Are there some suggestions here that some churches should consider? Sure, especially the challenges to listen to, appreciate, and involve younger people (although I should also point out that implementing everything in the article would take a programming-heavy megachurch).

hipsterjesus

This seemed like the right time to bring out Hipster Jesus.

But I had some significant problems with it.

The first was the tone. General principle: when you are talking to people made in the image of God, especially ones who have dedicated their lives to prayerfully trying to lead a group of believers, please be respectful. It’s fine to have difficult conversations, point out weaknesses, and suggest solutions. But you should always do so in a gracious, careful way, motivated by love.

This was not that. (more…)