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.

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.

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

FAITH RE-VISITED (4): Living and Active

faithAt church, our current series is a discussion of how faith grows.

In the process of Sunday sermons and weekly Small Groups, a handful of observations are rising to the surface.

Here is one of them.

WORDS THAT BURN

I once heard a remark from a highly-esteemed Christian leader, who had observed a trend. Every Christian whose life had deeply moved or inspired him was a lover of Scripture. The pattern was so observable that it easily highlighted for him the vital role that Scripture plays in the shaping of our faith.

Along those lines, nearly every “faith story” that I have heard involves some description of a point along the way when Scripture came alive. Something ignited. Something was birthed. And by the help of a human teacher or the direct impact of Scripture itself, God’s written Word came alive.

Perhaps the best such “a-ha moment” in Scripture is described in Luke 24. The resurrected (and apparently tough-to-recognize) Christ pulled alongside two of his disciples as they walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Perceiving him as an out-of-touch traveler, clueless about recent and monumental events, the two travelers begin to educate Jesus on all that he had “missed”.

Beginning in Luke 24:25, Jesus responds. In an effort to frame what they know firsthand, he begins to weave strands of clarity through their blurred canvas. Moving fluidly through long-known Old Testament texts, Jesus connects the dots. What’s more, he connects not only the dots of ancient texts, but he connects Scripture’s dots to the dots of his listeners’ “today”. So impacting was this powerful time of teaching that the two listeners noted later that they could feel it: to a realize Asian: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Lk 24:32)

LIFELESS AND STILL

In Mark 5, Jesus is approached by a man named Jairus; the desperate daddy’s little girl is dying. Jairus was the local synagogue ruler, perhaps something like an executive pastor — first-century Jewish style. Finding myself employed by a church with a house full of little girls, I find this story today far more personal than I used to.

Among the purest pleasures of fathering little girls are the affectionate cuddles and the cozy snuggles that are shared. Cheeks are brushed, hands are held – these life-touches are treasures that represent the tender warmth of life shared. Conversely, death deals in cold hardness. Everyone who has viewed an open casket ahead of a funeral service knows this thought: “Well, that is him. But it is so not him at the same time.” The body may resembles the person, but the body is not the person. The essence of the loved one, to which every memory is tied, is elsewhere. And that is why we feel loss.

It is a tragedy when something meant to be living and active is lifeless and still.

Jairus knows this. Jairus fears this. And before the story is done, Jairus feels this.  But Jesus, in a stunning display of power, whispers life back into the deceased daughter’s ear, and Jairus learns another truth that day.

Yes, it is a tragedy when something meant to be living and active is lifeless and still.

But it is a wonder when something lifeless and still becomes living and active.

So back to Scripture.

LIVING AND ACTIVE

Hebrews 4:12-13 describes the Word of God with those two adjectives: living and active. Like a supernatural sword, God’s Word is sharp and piercing, capable even of discerning our deepest thoughts and intentions. Scripture is intended to impact us in profound and personal ways. But as we said earlier:

It is a tragedy when something meant to be living and active is lifeless and still.

Most of us have experiences where Scripture seemed far less than living and active; lifeless and still would be closer to the truth. Blame it on poor teachers, dry preachers, or slack devotional habits — whatever the path, there are many ways to reach this unfortunate destination where swords are dull and souls stay hidden under layers.

But it is a wonder when something lifeless and still becomes living and active.

Most of us have known experiences where Scripture spoke so clearly, we wondered if someone were spying on us — even spying into us.  That’s just sword-penetration, par for the course for the force of Scripture.  Credit it to passionate pastors, sharp writers, or creative teachers as you wish, but be sure to affirm God’s part in the process. He is the One who packs power into His Word, and He is the One who rescues what humanity might render lifeless and still, to ensure that everyone seeking Him might taste the wonder found in engaging with the living and active Word of God.

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • When did Scripture first come alive for you?
  • What do you suppose keeps people from encountering more of the “living and active” nature of God’s Word?
  • Do you have any suggestions for those wishing to experience more of Scripture’s power in their own lives and churches?

 

Sunday Six-Pack (43)

Welcome to the weekend and to the Six-Pack. Below is the latest installment of best-of pieces I’ve recently read online. As per usual, most pieces are faith-focused or ministry-minded; others are covered under the banner of who-knows-what!

If you need direction, begin with my two *Picks of the Week*, and move out from there.

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

Today’s edition:

1) You’re Reading the Wrong Book of Esther
The Book of Esther occupies a controversial place in the Bible. So says Joel Miller. Check out this reflection on this unique book of Scripture.

2) I Am Sorry (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Exodus International, a polarizing organization for its stance and approach to homosexuality, is closing after thirty-seven years. This apology letter by its leader is important reading for anyone wanting to enter the dialog. This response from Exodus spokeswoman Julie Rodgers supplements the follow-up conversation richly.

3) Three Things Churches Love that Kill Outreach
I have been part of churches all my life, and I have yet to be part of one where outreach appeared to be happening in a natural and unimpeded way. Some of these factors (from Church Leaders) have been tied into those struggles.

4) You Can’t Think Your Way to God (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
This CT gem features an interview with Canadian philosopher and professor James K.A. Smith. The title isn’t nearly enough to summarize this rich reflection. Too much to sum up; go read. You will be given several logs that you’ve never before placed on your fire.

5) Ten Inspirational Leadership Quotes
I am a sucker for good quotes. This batch is from Personal Success Today. If even one of these does for you what it’s supposed to do (inspire), then the link will be worth posting.

6) Angry is a Habit
As is his practice, Seth Godin packs a punch in tiny package. Allow him to nudge you toward a plan on how to address that habit(s) that is holding you back.

Another Six-Pack served.  Have at it!

May the remainder of your weekend be full of awareness and enjoyment of the God who loves you deeply. Grace and peace, my friends.

YOUR TURN: Which link above was most useful–why that one? Direct others readers to the best of the bunch. Your input makes this post better!

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

Losing Faith (Part III): First Cracks

This post builds upon two earlier posts: Here, then here.

It has been a remarkable decade.

  • the-big-ten-11

    9/11, admittedly more than a decade ago, altered the Western consciousness and global relationships in some profound ways.

  • Most of us looked up Darfur on a world map for the first time.
  • Mexico’s drug war became a fixture in international headlines.
  • Coups toppled leaders in Haiti, Thailand, and Honduras.
  • Chretien became Martin became Harper in my homeland.
  • Bush became Obama in the land below the 49th parallel.
  • A number of larger-than-usual hurricanes and earthquakes destroyed whatever centers were in their paths.
  • Tsunami became a part of everyone’s vocabulary.
  • H1N1 did too.
  • The Euro established itself across most of Europe.
  • Dark matter and “God Particles” confirm that we know a sliver of the world in which we live.
  • Wireless internet arrived, and flat screens–now touch screens–dominate many of our spaces.
  • Social media exploded to change the way both media and society function.

And that is but a scan!

Change Out, Change In

No doubt, the world has changed; no doubt, more personal movements can be measured as well.

Ten years ago, I was on the verge of completing my Masters degree at a local seminary. Even today, I count that three-year opportunity to study Scripture and theology within a tight and meaningful community of Spirit-filled men and women, as hugely significant in my shaping. Ironically, one of my chief memories from that time of construction felt like a wrecking ball. The details around the experience are hazier than I wish, but I do recall feeling an unusual weight of heaviness.

My mind was spinning and my footing was slipping, and I knew I needed to talk to somebody. Knocking on the door of a trusted professor, I entered without any script. And what came out? Mostly tears, mixed with frustrated attempts to give phrase to an inner experience that I could not grasp.

I was coming apart.

Long-held assumptions were dissolving, being replaced with glimpses of a reality too grand and elaborate for my senses to handle. I was learning a new language, hearing a new rhythm to dance by, and I knew neither the steps nor the lingo to participate in this unfolding realm. Like Abraham, I was being called to a land far away, unmarked on all the maps I had ever used. And while willing to follow, my heels were dragging. And the pain of resistance brought tears.

That was one of the first moments when I knew I was losing the faith I had always known.

“The Bible” Miniseries

"The Bible" MiniseriesI just learned that the History Channel will be airing a 12-hour miniseries, entitled, “The Bible.”

It will begin next Sunday (March 3), and you can learn more HERE.