Thanks to the folks at WesLife for publishing a piece I wrote for Holy Week.
You can access it here.
Hint: it involves raw spinach.
Here’s a video of Ewan doing the performance that inspired the article.
Thanks to the folks at WesLife for publishing a piece I wrote for Holy Week.
You can access it here.
Hint: it involves raw spinach.
Here’s a video of Ewan doing the performance that inspired the article.
“Laura, are you trying to be boy!?”
It was this question, asked by her mother, that brought tears to Laura Perry’s eyes.
At the time, she had not yet told her parents that she had decided to transition from female to male. She would later go forward with that process. Yet even after an official name change (to “Jake”), doses of hormones, and an expensive surgery—something wasn’t working.
So it was, through an unlikely road, that Laura began to ponder her identity yet again—not merely in terms of “male” and “female,” but in relation to Jesus Christ and the imago Dei.
I sat down with Laura recently to hear her story.
You can find that interview below.
Before listening, however, I must say something as to why I did this post.
I despise the hyper-partisan environment in which we now live. In fact, I hate it. On that note, one lament is that literally every issue seems to have been turned into a “political football” by parts of both the Right and Left.
Make no mistake: this interview is about people over politics.
Like many Christians, I take a fairly traditional stance that gender is not merely a social construct. It has a biological basis, and I have written previously on how we ought to think about such issues in a way that fuses grace and truth (See here for my take on the great bathroom war of 2016).
Still, the thing that moved me about Laura’s story was the human factor.
I heard it as a parent. “How would I respond to my child?” My heart broke for her and others who struggle with questions of identity and gender. The suicide rate alone is testimony to how terrible that struggle is.
Thankfully, however, Laura’s story ends with hope and healing.
In her own words, she came to find her identity in Jesus Christ, and she lives now as woman set apart by his grace.
Listen to the interview below:
(Apologies if the sound quality isn’t perfect; I’m more a writer than a podcaster!)
Imagine a particular township in which literally hundreds of people were dying every year from heart attacks.
Sadly, in this one municipality (unlike the others that surrounded it), the cardiac fatalities had become so common that they now went largely unnoticed, except for the extreme exceptions—or when the paramedics came to your front door.
In response, some citizens from a variety of backgrounds, began to study the situation and to form possible solutions that would involve a variety of factors: diet, exercise, smoking, family history, and better medical testing.
This wouldn’t end all heart attacks, of course, but it might stop some.
“Finally… one citizen began to think. Perhaps we could do something to reduce this blight that strikes only here with this kind of stupid frequency.”
But then imagine if a well-meaning Christian offered this:
“Stop bringing up all this stuff about diet, exercise, and smoking! Clogged arteries are a heart issue—and only Jesus can heal hearts.”
How would we respond to such a person?
THE TROUBLE WITH FALSE CHOICES
While I can think of several less charitable phrases, let’s pretend that we are in a mood to be compassionate (since I wrote about that recently).
After all, the well-meaning Christian is not entirely wrong.
We might point out that “Yes, heart attacks are ‘a heart issue’—but they are not just that.” And because they are not just that, it would be foolish to go about preventing them with only prayer and preaching.
The reason, however, has nothing to do with prayer and preaching being weak.
Even “heart issues” require a variety of responses.
They have many causes and, thus, are not reducible to bumper-stickers. They require nuanced, both/and thinking, and they are not solved by false dichotomies: trans fats vs. lack of exercise; family history vs. sugary sodas; stress vs. smoking.
It’s not either/or—it’s both/and. And yes, it is also “a heart issue.”
Unfortunately, in our current climate, such both/and thinking seems almost anathema, and especially in the land of social media–where nuance goes to die.
It is either “a heart issue” or “a gun issue.”
It is either “a failure of parenting” or “a failure of the mental health system.”
It is either “what happens when we turn away from God,” or “what happens when even self-advertising psychopaths can easily access their own private arsenal.”
Never in my life have I seen so many false choices.
In response, one is tempted to scream: “IT’S ‘ALL OF THE ABOVE’!!! And we won’t begin to fix it till we recognize that!”
Behold the challenge of discussing mass shootings in America.
JESUS AND FALSE CHOICES
Which brings me to Jesus.
One day after the horrific massacre in Florida, a student in my Bible class asked this:
“In the Gospels, why does Jesus almost never give people a straight answer to their questions?”
It’s a great question, and I was just about to answer it. Then I remembered Jesus. So I proceeded to ask questions and tell stories.
“Do you remember what was written on the whiteboard today when you came in?”
Upon entering the room, I had noticed that another professor had apparently given his or her students a choice of essays. The topic was school shootings. OPTION ONE was to craft an essay entitled “Take away all guns,” while OPTION TWO was to “Give them to the good guys.”
(It’s possible, of course, that this way of framing the debate was designed to illustrate the silliness of such extreme dichotomies. And if so, kudos to whomever wrote it…)
Still, I asked this: “Is it possible that those might NOT be the only two solutions?”
What if framing the debate in such simplistic and false-dichotomizing terms actually prevents someone from answering the question intelligently?
What if that’s why Jesus rarely accepted the premises of his partisan questioners?
“Who sinned, this man or his parents?” (Jn. 9.2)
“Whose wife will she be in the Age to Come?” (Mt. 22.28)
As someone mentioned recently, it’s as if the binary codes that run our social media (all ones and zeros) have infected us. We have been conformed to their electronic image. And now we too must be all “ones” or “zeros” on every complex issue.
Brothers and sisters, this should not be.
It was a cruel twist that the latest in a long line of school massacres took place on Ash Wednesday—a fact painfully pressed home by the gray cross smudged across the forehead of a grieving mother.
In such moments, “Eloi, Eloi” comes to mind.
And as with Jesus’ cry upon the cross, the question hangs unanswered.
In the end, I don’t know how to solve all school shootings. They have many causes, and I suspect they will require many nuanced solutions—all of which will cost us something.
But I do know this: We’ll continue getting nowhere so long as we fall into our partisan talking-points of “gun issue” vs. “sin issue.”
It’s time to stop being “ones” and “zeros” and start being people.
One never expects to see a picture announcing the death of a long-time family friend while casually perusing the national headlines.
Still, that’s what happened last week as I nonchalantly “clicked” on a world-wide news source only to see a picture of Deputy Micah Flick, killed in the line of duty while trying to protect and serve the citizens of Colorado Springs.
I hadn’t seen Micah since we were kids.
His parents and mine were dear friends. We were nearly the same age. And if memory serves, not one but two of my sisters lived with the Flicks for a season there in Colorado.
In such ways, his family has been an immense blessing to my own.
Sadly, I never knew Micah as a man. I never met his wife Rachael. And my kids never played with the 7-year-old twins he left behind. Hence, I have no claim to the kind of grief borne by those who really knew him.
Still, as I watched the live-stream of his funeral Saturday, I couldn’t help but find the scene both hopeful and “excruciating.”
His wife talked of his faith and fatherhood. A fellow officer told how Micah sacrificed his life for others. He was serious about the things that mattered, and a self-professed “goofball” about the other stuff.
It was only later that I realized that this is precisely the right word.
For a story to be “excruciating” is literally for it to be “of” or “like” the Cross (or crucis)—the form of execution Christ experienced.
This was a form of torture.
And that’s how we usually mean the term.
The “excruciating” describes agony and sadness. It describes gut-wrenching grief and unimaginable travail.
A DEEPER MEANING
Yet it struck me after watching Micah’s funeral that we also need a second—deeper—definition.
Because while all tragic deaths are “excruciating” in the first sense, almost none are like the second.
In saying that, Micah would be the first to note that his own sacrifice could not hold a candle to the work of Jesus. His death was not salvific in that sense.
Still, the two “excruciating” stories do have this in common: a willingness to lay down everything for others.
And as Christ said: “Greater love hath no man than this.”
That kind of work deserves respect from people like myself.
So while I am not one who automatically sides with the police in every single use of force (I’ve even written on that topic elsewhere), I do have an abiding gratitude for the impossible and important job they do on a daily basis.
A job, it should be said, done on behalf of people like me, who often live in blissful ignorance of the worries and the risks that accompany both they and their loved ones.
To Micah’s friends and family, I am so sorry for your loss.
And I join with you in the hope that he will be like Christ not merely in his death, but in his resurrection.
For any interested in donating to Micah’s widow and children, see here for a fund established by the El Paso Co. Sheriff’s Office.
The most anxious moment for a blogger is the second just before one hits the button labeled “Publish.”
It is a point of no return.
And it can raise nervous questions:
Will someone try to get me fired for saying this?
Will it be misunderstood?
Could I have phrased this better?
Come to think of it: Is the very exercise of “blogging” only slightly less narcissistic than a suggestive teenage selfie, emblazoned with an out-of-context Bible verse?
(Shut up inner voice! I rebuke you in the name of #Jeremiah_29.11!)
ON PRIVACY SETTINGS
Of course, such questions are not entirely unique to bloggers.
We all wrestle with our “privacy settings.”
And we all hit “Publish” in one way or another.
Hast thou a mouth that thou canst speak?
Hast thou a camera on thy smartphone?
Despite the mild anxiety, the wrestling match can be helpful. Because strange as it may sound in our age of TMI, some “revelations” ought to go unpublished.
Here’s what I mean:
THE SEVEN THUNDERS
In the trippy tell-all book of Revelation, John of Patmos says this about the so-called Seven Thunders:
4 And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down” (Revelation 10.4).
The command seems somewhat odd, since John is elsewhere ordered to “Write” what he has seen, regardless of its strange or controversial content. Yet in this one instance, just as he is about to click the button labeled “Publish,” the voice of God chimes in–“Don’t do it!!!”
“Do not write this thing that is simultaneously TRUE and NOT FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION.”
Did John bristle at the prohibition?
After all, he is not even told the reason for the divine censorship. He simply gets a very pressing prompt: “Do not write it down.”
Whatever could this have to do with us?
WHY THUNDERS SPEAK TODAY
As most people acknowledge, we badly need a better ethic when it comes to use of social media these days—whether in The White House or the hands of certain mal-adjusted Junior-Highers (*tries hard to ignore the irony in that sentence).
None of us do this perfectly, including me.
Yet as I’ve thought about the button labeled “Publish” in my own life, there are some obvious reasons why certain “Thunders” might deserve to go unpublished.
Here are just a few:
In Romans 14, Paul delivers an interesting command with regard to a first-century squabble over food and drink. While agreeing with those (“the strong”) who saw nothing wrong with eating meat and drinking wine in moderation, he also gave this warning to those who were theologically correct:
20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but … 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
In essence, it’s possible to be “Right” in your view, and yet “Wrong” as you press them to the point of harm.
And while this is not a blanket condemnation of all sharp rhetoric (see Jesus, Paul, and pretty much any other biblical prophet), it is a caution against words that are intended merely to get a rise out of others.
Another danger of the Internet is our ability to track how much attention we receive for any given action.
It is the pathology of analytics, and it breeds “tricks for clicks.”
There is thus a constant pressure to say things that will maximize “exposure.” And in some cases, exposure is precisely the right word: as in a cause of death for mountain climbers, and a misdemeanor involving the “indecent.”
In truth, our motives are almost always mixed.
And our aims are often hidden from us.
Is there not a certain irony in this very blog post!? (Inner voice, I warned you!)
As a one of my old professors used to say: “We are a bundle of contradictions”—wanting simultaneously to be seen and to stay hidden. Thus we lock ourselves in the Panopticons of Instagram and Facebook, while grasping feverishly for fig leaves.
Come to think of it: How do I turn off notifications for the Seven Thunders…?
I joked in a prior post that the Hebrew word blogger translates roughly to “Not helping.”
And like all humor, it’s only funny if there is truth to it.
On that point, I often wonder if some Christian attempts (including my own…) to “speak prophetically” do not actually make the situation worse (See here for more along those lines).
In such moments, we end up as the theological equivalent of those trying to ban books. The result is always a bestseller, even when the book is lame.
On the other hand, this so-called “Hippocratic worry” can lead to dangers of its own. It may mean cowardly silence in the face of injustice or a dangerous equation of positions that are actually quite different (See here on how this happened with white pastors in the Civil Rights era).
The fear of offending may also lead to a weak-kneed, boring style of writing that lacks punch, humor, and engagement with issues that actually matter.
“I never discuss anything but politics and religion,” remarked Chesterton, “There is nothing else to discuss.”
While that’s not quite true, it is certainly true enough to discourage the politico-religious equivalent of spaying or neutering our public discourse.
Sometimes we should speak up (as the saying goes) even if our voice shakes.
Despite such qualifiers, the reminder of Revelation 10 is both simple and profound: Some points are not (yet) meant for public consumption, despite their honesty or truth-value.
And so we end as we began: in that moment just before the “Publish.”
Listening for revelation, and for the quiet voice that might say “Do not write it.”
Over the past few months, I’ve been working up a book proposal based on a blog post from 2016:
It’s about reclaiming what I call the sacred middle ground between “Doubt” (pervasive skepticism) and “Dogmatism” (abrasive certainty).
The alternative is something that I’ve dubbed “Faith seeking imagination” (fides quaerens imaginationem).
I’m excited about the project, and I hope to hear back from a publisher this month.
In the meantime, I had the chance to preach on the topic last Sunday–using the story of Gen. 22 (Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac) as a guide.
My big idea was fairly simple: Sometimes, believing in God’s supernatural providence means learning how to say “Perhaps.”
Is it too much to wish that our departed saints might occasionally return to Earth in to “weigh in” on our contemporary issues?
The heavenly commute can be a doozy.
Still, I found myself wishing this past week that “Priscilla” of the early church might come do for John Piper what she once did for another gifted but ill-informed male preacher.
“[explain] to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18.26).
I speak specifically of Piper’s recent claim that women should NOT be allowed to serve as seminary professors.
Before adding yet more fuel this fire (after all, the Hebrew phrase for “Not helping” is pronounced Blogger), a brief caveat is in order:
I do not think that all so-called “complementarians” are the sexist trolls that they are sometimes painted as — many are just trying to be true to Scripture.
And I am thankful for John Piper’s ministry in certain ways.
His book Desiring God was a game-changer for me. I respect that he holds true to his convictions even when he knows they are unpopular. And I’ve greatly appreciated some of his statements on racial reconciliation and the need for evangelicals to proclaim the gospel over (say) partisan politics.
I don’t dislike Piper.
But I do disagree with what he said last week.
“I SUFFER NOT A WOMAN”
And while I understand his argument, I couldn’t help but note that it might come as a surprise to the greatest (male) preacher of the early church: Apollos of Alexandria.
As the book of Acts implies, Apollos received his “seminary education” partly from Priscilla, who took his gift for persuasive rhetoric and combined it with what he lacked: a more nuanced theology (Hmm…).
Could she not do that for someone else?
Say, a Baptist from Minnesota?
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that Piper would listen to Priscilla.
After all, she is a woman.
Perhaps though it might be possible to get a letter through—or at least, an email. Not from Priscilla, but from the famous man that she helped train for ministry: Apollos.
Would Piper listen to him?
Thankfully, it just so happens that I’ve “found” just such an email.
And lest some doubt its authenticity, consider this:
Subject: RE: “I suffer not a woman”
Date: Friday, January 26, 2018 at 3:04 PM CST (Celestial Standard Time)
From: Apollos of Alexandria (Apollos_Creed777@aol.net)
To: John Piper
Attachments: The Book of Acts
Can I call you John?
I realize it may sound informal, but when you’ve been on a first name basis with “Paul,” you mostly drop the honorifics.
I’ll get right to it; I think you know why I am writing.
While I respect your attempt to be faithful to those passages that might seem to prohibit women from the full usage of their Spirit-given gifts, you know full well that there are other (well-supported) readings of those texts (see here, here, here).
My goal though, John, is not to swap proof-texts (of which I have my own…).
Instead, it is merely to recount my story, because as you will see—WE HAVE MANY THINGS IN COMMON:
Despite my gifting and my influence, I had not yet fully realized the change that happened as God’s Spirit was poured out “on all flesh” (Acts 2.17).
On all flesh, John.
In Acts 2, it specifically, it says that “sons and daughters,” “men and women” will join the ranks of God’s prophets. (Have you not read of the daughters of Philip? Have you not heard of Phoebe’s role as a the first interpreter of Romans? Have you not heard of Junia, the apostle?)
To be blunt, my friend, I fear that in this sense (though not in others), you too “know only the baptism of John.”
Which brings me to Priscilla.
Let me remind you about her:
She was a Gentile, high-born, and well-educated.
She was a member of the Roman nobility, and better schooled than most all women of the period. (Picture: Lady Mary from Downton Abbey. You know you watched it, John).
Yet she married a Jew, who was a former slave.
It was not only an interracial marriage, but also a union across classes.
“Aquila” wasn’t even his real name.
As ancient records show, it was likely the name of her family—which he took on through marriage
Did you catch that John? He took her name. (I know!!!)
Their marriage showed the full extent to which the Spirit transformed boundaries between race and class and (yes) gender!
The couple was, of course, from Rome—but they moved East as refugees when Claudius expelled the Jews.
Since Priscilla wasn’t Jewish, she could have stayed amongst her family, wealth, and privilege. But she didn’t. Talk about mutual, voluntary submission!
It was around that time that I met them.
As you can relate, I had come into the local “pulpits” with a heady mix of knowledge, boldness, and a penchant for robust debate (Sound familiar?).
But there was one thing I lacked—a fuller understanding of the Spirit’s work.
Ironically, given my great learning and my patriarchal background, it took a female “seminary Prof” to teach that to me.
As a fellow Jew, “Aquila” also helped. (I don’t want to discount his role!) But as you might guess, it was Priscilla who had the academic pedigree to explain to me “the way of God more adequately.”
Their union was a parable for what the New Covenant looks like.
God brings together different races, classes, AND GENDERS for the work of training and equipping Christian ministers.
Actuality implies possibility, John.
And the fact that God used this gifted and well-educated woman to train me shows that he can do it for others—even you.
In fact, to deny this (fittingly, on account of your own name!) is to prefer only “The baptism of John.”
Apollos of Alexandria
For a related post, see “The Other Phoebe: Why an alleged chauvinist chose an ordained woman to deliver the world’s most influential letter” (here).
Note: Evidence on the family background of Priscilla and Aquila was taken from Reta Halteman Finger, Roman House Churches Today for Today, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007).