Phil Robertson and the Lost Art of Nuance

[Embarrassing confession: The following post was begun in December 2013. No joke! It has sat pretty much untouched in my Drafts folder since its birth — a neglected child, orphaned by its maker. Most of that is forgetfulness; some of that was fear. I determined it was likely time to send it out of my Drafts box and move on. :-)]

duck dynastyI have never watched a single minute of Duck Dynasty. Prior to recent weeks, I could not have given you the name of any of the bearded fellows.

But now I know Phil.

Allow me to sketch a few things about myself:

I have been blogging here since 2007. Besides the occasional link in a Six-Pack, I have never posted about homosexuality.

If you enjoy labels, I suppose that I would be considered a conservative Christian from a mostly-Evangelical heritage.

People I know personally and value deeply would claim positions on multiple sides of this multi-faceted conversation. Some of them would even defend those positions well.

Perhaps more than any other conversation topic currently crossing my radar, dialogue around the topic of homosexuality highlights one word for me: nuance.

 

NUANCE IN MOUTHS AND EARS

Literally defined, nuance is “a subtle difference of or shade in meaning, expression, or sound”.

Nuance is the intellectual and linguistic ability to pick up individual grains of rice with a pair of tweezers.

As a speaker, this requires crystal-clear thought processes along with a finely tuned command of language (and one’s tongue). Within any bowl of rice, there will be some whose only utensil is a wooden spoon. These people should never be nominated as spokesmen for potentially explosive conversations.

As a listener, this also demands graciousness, displayed first by a tendency to reply inquisitively rather than insultedly. Such a listener will live with the acknowledgment that numerous views exist upon spectrums that contain more points than  “right” and “ridiculous”. Many of these points will only be discovered as nuanced speakers (mentioned above) enlighten us to perspectives other than our own. Listeners whose ears register only the frequency of their own voices will make as much mess of the rice ball as the wooden-spoon-speakers mentioned above.

 

RELUCTANT REFLECTIONS

As was indicated earlier, I have never posted on the topic of homosexuality. It’s not that I have no thoughts on the subject, but I confess to questioning the value of adding one more voice to a dialogue that seems destined to be hijacked by the opinionated extremes of the discussion. Would it be too simple to say that this post awoke me in the night, and as a father with small children, I’m only typing so that my mind will allow me to go back to bed? 😉

Some random reflections, in the spirit of nuance:

 

ILLOGICAL

Duck-man Phil’s comments about the illogical nature of gay relationships are hardly shocking. His phrasing, containing blunt mention of male and female anatomy, certainly engaged ears. But his basic point is hardly controversial: We cannot imagine what we cannot imagine. I have friends who anoint every dinner in burn-your-face-off hot sauce. My mouth does not enjoy the fire or the flavor of such a condiment. I have no trouble declining their every offer. In fact, I cannot imagine desiring that sensation as part of my meal. To my mind, it is illogical. To Phil’s mind, some other things are illogical. And when nuanced speakers are heard by nuanced listeners, then it doesn’t seem outrageous to imagine that many heterosexual men and women likely share Phil’s sentiment, albeit their expressions of the thought might come out through a different sequences of words and images.

 

TANGENTS APLENTY

As a student of Scripture, the piece of this large conversation that most interests me is the discussion of how we interpret the Bible’s teaching on the subject. I am not so out of tune with reality as to assume that every participant in this conversation gives a rip about the Christian faith or the words of our sacred text. But for my part, that is the strand that grabs my first level of interest. Everyone has a first strand of interest; now I have identified mine.

By its very nature, the more specific discussion about gay marriage demands nuance. The Bible-believing, God-fearing faith-folks will require nuance to keep from the turning this conversation into something else.

It is a separate topic to discuss whether Christian values should govern one’s nation.

  • Who gets to determine this?
  • On what historical or biblical model are you basing your concept?
  • Are you speaking of the Christian equivalent of what we see in Muslim states where Sharia Law governs, or are you envisioning something else?

It is yet another topic to consider what the role of government is within a democratic country.

  • What does it mean that public servants represent the people, when the opinions of the people are all over the map?
  • Shocking as this may be, democracy is not a biblical teaching despite the fact that some of its foundational thoughts might be a rooted in biblical concepts, such as the value of every individual as an image-bearer of the Creator.
  • How are the elected officials within a given democracy expected to protect or provide the privileges described in their Constitution to every stripe of citizen under their care?

In the handful of articles I recall reading, which provided commentary on Phil’s remarks,  the majority of writers and journalists expressed bewilderment at a string of words within his opinion. The particular string of words were an impressively accurate paraphrase of Romans 1:21-27, provided below.

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

As acknowledged earlier, some could not care less about Romans 1, or the apostle Paul, or the fact that Romans is one of the most profound texts in the entire Bible. But for some of us participating in the conversation, these are substantial facts.

(An aside to journalists, bloggers, and social commentators: When someone who professes to love the Bible, inserts mid-speech a string of words that don’t sound entirely like their own, the odds are reasonable that they have determined that Scripture expresses their next thought better than their own words. Google will typically decode this mystery, if help is needed. There is no sarcasm present here, as I’m fully aware of widespread biblical illiteracy. I just found it surprising how many people published pieces that expressed mystification over the most un-Phil-flavoured phrases of his whole spiel, despite these words and wordings having been spoken and respoken for two millennia. Tangent complete. 🙂 )

And it is words like those, with 2000 years or more of mileage, that intrigue me most.

 

SEEKING CONSISTENCY

This portion of the conversation is typically framed by the following thoughts:

Critics of the “traditional interpretation of the Bible” (This phrase gets used – sometimes for distinguishing, sometimes for dismissing – by people with a wide range of views on Scripture) point out that the Bible’s explicit mentions of homosexuality are few, with most references coming from the Old Testament.

Bible-loving individuals, whose theology lacks nuance, often attempt to throw down their “God says so” trump card before anything of value is on the table. Even if one believes wholeheartedly in a holy God who governs the morality of the universe, calls for nuance go out one more time. Your cause is not served well by flippant phrases or careless commentary. If the Kingdom of God is as central as you say it is to the reality of the universe, surely there are wiser ways to dialog — even disagree — with those holding opinions not your own.

In speaking of the Bible, it’s a fairly simple concept that not every portion of Scripture is equal in weight. The Bible is not a flat text, with every word dwelling at equal elevation. For some, this concept is shocking. For some, this concept is enlightening. I am not even implying that the Scriptures referring to homosexuality are insignificant. I’m simply pointing out that a lack of theological nuance can cripple any conversation centered upon Scripture.

Bible-bashing individuals, whose un-theology lacks nuance, frequently employ a feisty-while-funny line of reason, particularly when dealing with Old Testament verses that include the word “abomination”. The dismissal can be summed up in one witty line: “Well, God forbid shrimp too!”

Ah, and He did. 🙁

The argument appears an enlightened, humorous indictment of the brainpower so obviously lacking among the Bible-believers. Make no mistake: there is a worldwide lack of brainpower, and some of the shortfall is among the people of faith. But a serious irony dwells here, for the Bible-basher has just displayed the same error so common among Bible-believers: He is treating the Bible as a flat text, where every word is equal in value. (With clarity and conciseness far beyond my own, Timothy Keller breaks this concept down for anyone who cares to learn how to handle Scripture, regardless of their faith convictions. His brief piece is especially about why Old Testament application can seem inconsistent to some. It’s short and helpful to this and other discussions.)

 

OVER AND OUT

Mark McKinnon, an American political advisor, gives mostly-sound advice to any person in any discussion: To pull off successful attacks in debates, you have to execute with nuance and subtlety. It has to be artful.”

Going beyond McKinnon’s strategizing for “attacks” and “debates”, the art of nuance is more than a battle scheme. It’s a good life skill for expressing care toward others and for learning from those unlike ourselves.

It’s a move of grace. It’s a method of wisdom. And it’s not always modeled best by folks whose lives revolve around bird-hunting. If Phil strikes your chord, that’s your choice.

But as for adding nuance to this, or any other potentially dicey conversation, that’s your duty.

So go for it… carefully. 🙂

[One ancient Draft cleared out. Next up: A rousing piece on Y2K! I never claimed to be trendy, at least not in any timely fashion.]

 

 

 

Considering Steadfast Love

typewriterOccasionally, I compose short pieces for our church bulletin. While most would consider 250 words or less shorter than the ideal blog post, allow me to share one such recent post below. If such articles are useful to you or your church for similar use, consider permission granted. Please just tag on my blog address for the sake of reference.

 

I was recently in Psalm 107, following along while listening to an online audio Bible. As I listened to the reader’s voice, a refrain emerged from the text, providing a natural focal point for my attention. Four times over (verses 8, 15, 21, 31), the writer urges us:

“Let them think the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!”

The closing line presents this slightly altered form:

“Let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.”

I find value here. There is a reminder to linger, to mentally sit with the reality of God’s steady and unfailing affections toward us.

Life is fast, and days are full. Ideas and emotions, opportunities and obligations – these blast by and through us at blurring speed. And so the psalmist calls us to consideration of something secure and unchanging, something that holds us fast even when our grip feels like it is slipping.

Today friends: Breathe deep. Sit still. Open hands.

And consider the stable and stabilizing passion that flows from the Father’s heart toward you. Take root. Lean in. Consider it.

Sabbath: God is For Us

Slide1Our church recently worked through a series of teachings on Sabbath. Far beyond a weekly holiday, this biblical concept is loaded with meaning, with each additional layer creating a rich tapestry of teaching that displays the love and goodness of God in fresh ways.

This series of blog posts will aim to capture some of the highlights of discovery along the way.

In clarifying the intent of the Sabbath commandment, perhaps Jesus offered no more definitive statement than his words in Mark 2. In one sentence, he expresses the extraordinary goodness of God as seen in the laws He lays down: “Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man.”

BigRedBallsWhenever I’m in need of a chuckle, I search for footage of the TV show “Wipeout”. Contestants trying to navigate the “big red balls” is a personal foolproof recipe for laughter. I imagine the backroom glee that the course designers must experience as they dream up obstacles and traps through which to push willing contestants. They aren’t setting out to create smooth, trouble-free “walks in the park”. They are looking to sabotage participants. Maximize slippery and surprising, minimize success – that’s the formula for great wipeouts. And the name of the show is no accident.

As fun as that job might be, God is nothing like a “Wipeout” designer. He has no interest in creating a system and then recruiting participants (victims) to fail their way through. He hasn’t set out to create unnecessary burdens, diversions, or challenges. Instead, He births children, each one bearing His divine image. Then He sets out to meet their every need! He custom-made us, then chose us as His own, then created guides for vibrant health and life.

If anything regarding Sabbath is to be perceived clearly, it is this: Sabbath is for us!

Sabbath is for us because God is for us, and every gift from His hand is for us.

Any understanding beyond that is misunderstanding.

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • Have you typically considered Sabbath as a gift or as a burden?
  • If you did view Sabbath as a gift, how might you “open it”?

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How Children Pray

photoI was awakened early this morning by our one-year-old (first face in the photo to the right) calling my name, “Dada! Dada!” I entered her room and rocked her back to sleep, taking the wake-up call as my cue to head downstairs to begin some quiet in Scripture and prayer.

I read my scheduled passage, from the book of Numbers, and began stumbling into prayer. Again, our little one cried out my name from her crib, “Dada! Dada!” As I rocked her again, I pondered the barely-veiled prayer teaching within her morning cries.

And I longed for such simplicity in my prayer life.

How easily I make things difficult. How sharp are my skills to dull communication with the Father! Why is it so hard to merely call His name “like I mean it”, then to nuzzle in and draw from Him all the love, warmth, peace, and security that I need?

Far too often, my Bible serves as a barrier to deep prayer. I know the obvious truth that it need not be this way, but my weak mind is quickly pulled into the analyzing of text and the idolizing of ideas at the outrageous cost of intimate interaction with the One who is both revealed in Scripture and far too large for any leather-bound book.

There is something to be said for simply shouting, “Dada! Dada!”

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • What prayer barriers have your experienced or overcome?
  • How would you suggest that prayer can be simplified for the better?

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page.]

Sabbath: Butcher Jesus Loves Sacred Cows

Slide1Our church recently worked through a series of teachings on Sabbath. Far beyond a weekly holiday, this biblical concept is loaded with meaning, with each additional layer creating a rich tapestry of teaching that displays the love and goodness of God in fresh ways.

This series of blog posts will aim to capture some of the highlights of discovery along the way.

Jesus-Heals-on-the-SabbathI often muse at how Jesus pushed the issue of the Sabbath. Within the Gospels, we have thirty-seven accounts of Jesus performing miracles. Straightforward statistics would suggest that one-seventh of those acts would have taken place on the Sabbath; however, we find seven Sabbath wonders, among these stories. While this isn’t overwhelming, it does paint for me a picture of a feisty Saviour. He didn’t need to heal on the Sabbath. If he would looking to be “meek and mild”, he could slotted his signs differently in his daytimer. But I imagine him eyeing the Sabbath with anticipation – not just for the rest that was to accompany it, but for the riling that he foresaw as well.

What was Jesus trying to do?

He was trying to take issue.

Jesus has a problem with people distorting the ways of the Father with too-small visions. Jesus gets worked up when life-giving gifts are mutated into death-dealing burdens. These types of silliness make Jesus angry. They also make him hungry. Such fiascoes awaken Jesus’ taste for blood – but not yours. If anything, Jesus’ dealings concerning the Sabbath give clear indication that he loves to butcher sacred cows.

BBQ JesusWhen we begin to value things more than God values them, yet expend energy convincing ourselves that our assessment is right in line with God’s, then our sacred cows come into view. And everyone has a sacred cow. Most of us own ranches full of them. One of Jesus’ hobbies is slaughtering them. After he does, he slathers them in his secret sauce, grills them, and feeds them to us. And then he lovingly watches us squirm as we awaken to the realization that our beloved Betsy’s bell isn’t clanging anymore.

Future posts will look at the practical side of Sabbath: What does it mean? How should we view it in this time and place? How might one observe? What does it mean to keep it holy?

But for today, let’s just admire the Sabbath as a still-live grenade. In his day, Jesus occasionally pulled its pin and rolled it into people’s foxholes just to see them scatter and take stock. In that sense, Sabbath will forever hold value as a case study on the eagerness of Jesus to challenge distorted values, question misplaced priorities, and nudge people to seriously consider whether they are tapped into the full life-flow of their Maker.

If that’s all Sabbath means today, it’s quite a lot.

But I suspect that’s not all Sabbath means today.

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • Why do you think Jesus liked to “mix it up” on Sabbath?
  • Ever had an experience when it felt like Jesus was hunting down one of your sacred cows? Did he succeed?

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Six-Pack (58)

Consider this Six-Pack “right out of the ice” — these prairies are unbelievably cold this past week. Spring may not be far off, but it feels light years away in the midst of these days.

My reading and writing habits are beginning to regain some steam after stretches of sickness and travel. Here are the best pieces of the past week’s exploring.

If six ever feels overwhelming, start with my two *Picks of the Week*, and move out from there.

For a steady stream of such links, follow me on Twitter to the right of this post.  Sharp quotes and solid articles are tweeted 3-4 times daily.

Today’s edition:

1) What Studying Camels Can Teach You About the Bible (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
This is an very intriguing read for any who love Scripture and long to understand its journey from “inspired word” to “leather-bound book”. This piece does nothing to shake my confidence in the Bible, but it raises some great questions for how believers define the Good Book’s authoritative nature.

2) Top Ten Jesus Movies
Last week marked the ten-year anniversary of “The Passion of the Christ”. To mark the date, CT released its assessment of a century’s worth of Christ-centered cinema.

3) Five Powerful Ideas that Could Change Your Ministry Approach
This will take you two minutes to read. How long you think about it after is up to you. Any one of these five succinct ideas has the potential to contain the kernel of truth that you and your church need for the season ahead.

4) Two Different Types of Hitchens (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Christopher Hitchens was a well-known atheist. His brother Peter is a slightly less-known journalist. One died viewing religion as a source of poison’ the other lives, having embraced a faith he once scorned.

5) The Hardest Medal to Win
The nation of Poland have a special medal you can win, but it will take you fifty years to do it! Why don’t more nations do this?

6) How to Begin Forgiving Your Parents
W
hether you’ve had great parents, lousy parents, or somewhere in between, you haven’t had perfect parents. What do you do with those gaps, those shortfalls? What about the wounds or the scars or the hurts you still carry. Leslie Leyland Fields (hosted by Ann Voskamp) has a few ideas on where to begin — they arose as she visited her long-absent and dying father.

May your week ahead be filled with life, as you seek the One from whom it flows!

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • Which link above was today’s best-of-the-best?
  • Why that one?

Direct others to the best of the bunch with a quick comment.

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Sabbath: Why We Stopped Resting

Slide1Our church recently worked through a series of teachings on Sabbath. Far beyond a weekly holiday, this biblical concept is loaded with meaning, with each additional layer creating a rich tapestry of teaching that displays the love and goodness of God in fresh ways.

This series of blog posts will aim to capture some of the highlights of discovery along the way.

tencommandAs a child, I don’t remember any mention of Sabbath. I memorized the Ten Commandments for bonus points at Bible school one summer, so obviously the word was in my vocabulary. But I don’t recall ever giving much consideration to how this ancient-sounding term might be meant to impact life today.

But Melanie changed that.

She and her family were some of the finest people I knew, and I counted her among the classmates that I most genuinely enjoyed in high school. Her family drove quite some distance to be active in an Adventist church. If the weekly commute wasn’t noteworthy enough, they worshiped on Saturdays. How weird was that! And they used the word Sabbath – it was a legitimate term, still alive in their mouths as they lived out their days in the 20th century.

WWF-Superstars-cerealSo I asked the question that every kid asks when they encounter a way of living different from his own: “Why don’t we do that?” Truth be told, I was desperately hoping we wouldn’t begin going to church on Saturdays; that would have ruined my sporting life and cheated me out of the Saturday morning cartoons and WWF served up by our three TV channels. But this was one of the earliest instances where I met someone else who valued the Bible and loved God and desired to please Him, yet did so in visibly different ways. What to do with that?

Back to Sabbath: I got my answer. Now you should know that I grew up in a fellowship of churches who prided ourselves on seriousness about Scripture and a fierce commitment to “New Testament Christianity”, a long-standing goal within the Restoration Movement from which my childhood church had sprung. In a sentence, this form of “restoration” was a deeply-convicted drive to (wait for it) restore the first-century church. (I confess to having a long list of questions about this entire venture of restoration, but that will have to be another set of posts. In this space, I share this only to provide context for what comes next.)

I don’t know who voiced it. It may have been my parents. It might have been our preacher. It may have even been whichever adult was teaching my Sunday school class at the time. The particular voice doesn’t matter, for the answer rang true from the collective consciousness of our congregation.

Q: “Why don’t we observe Sabbath?”

A: “Because Jesus didn’t say we had to do it.”

One could do lifelong study on how Old Testament laws are handled in light of the New Testament. One current example that highlights the issue well is found in the red-hot discussion around homosexuality. Many note that the Bible explicitly speaks of homosexuality only a handful of times. Some then make the move of attempting to undercut the majority of those passages, from the Old Testament, by highlighting inconsistencies in how we handle Old Testament laws. “God hates gays” (a statement I’ve never actually heard from the lips of any Christian I know) gets rebutted with “Well, God hates shrimp too.” Sharp-witted way of stating, “We’re obviously not heeding some of these old rules. Can’t we just toss them all?”

(For a brief-but-helpful explanation of how to handle Old Testament laws with integrity and consistency, Tim Keller offers these guidelines.)

How does this speak to Sabbath? It attempts to decode the meaning behind, “Because Jesus didn’t say we had to do it.” (JDSWHTDI) For some, Sabbath has been dismissed; it’s viewed as expired, unnecessary, burdensome, even unhelpful.

I don’t see it that way.

7_playing_cardsIf I had a handful of JDSWHTDI cards, I confess that I would not slap one down on the Sabbath discussion.

If the discussion revolved around cutting bacon from our diets, I’d lead the charge on playing our JDSWHTDI cards. If stoning rebellious children were the topic, loving parents the world over would lay down their JDSWHTDI cards. If circumcision were put forward as the chat of the day, you can already hear half the population slamming down their JDSWHTDI cards!

While joking somewhat, I am serious when I say: I think we need better reasons to disregard Scripture’s teaching of Sabbath. When your Maker puts out a call to regularly rest, to habitually slow, to set periods aside when “More God” is the only item on your task list – that seems to me like a time to put away your JDSWHTDI card, and instead to play your IDTUHTMTS card.

“I’ll do that until he tells me to stop.”

Just a thought.

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • What do you do with the concept of Sabbath?
  • Practice it? Wonder at it?  File it away?

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