That’s the question I explore in Our Great Big American God—has America changed God—an idea that certainly rubs up against what most Christians believe to be true about God, that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
But is that true here in America?
**Disclaimer: This post discusses sex, pornography, and nudity as it relates to Game of Thrones. Use discretion.**
Last week, John Piper posted 12 questions that he suggested people should ask themselves before watching Game of Thrones, HBO’s popular fantasy drama, an adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series.
Amid his list of inquiries, Piper asks:
Do I Care About the Souls of the Nudes?
Does It Express or Advance My Holiness?
Am I Longing to See God?
Am I Compromising the Beauty of Sex?
Am I Recrucifying Christ?
I confess, I watch Game of Thrones. In fact, sometimes I watch the episodes twice because I either have to in order to fully understand the narrative or just because I want to re-experience its “magic.” But mostly it’s because I have to in order to capture the show’s subtle twists and turns. The plot lines of GoT are complex, riddled by magic, evil, politics, violence, power, fear, vengeance, and longing. And lasciviousness. There’s lots of lasciviousness happening among the residents of the Seven Kingdoms.
And while I have, on occasion, squinted or turned my head during the show’s most excessive scenes where flesh and/or blood abound, I’ve never once thought to define Game of Thrones by the cultural boundaries it pushes. That’s because, much like its tricky plots lines and subplot lines, so too is GoT filled up with an array of characters, most of whom are very complicated creatures. In many ways, these fictional characters are a lot like the characters we read about in the Bible, grandiose personalities made up of strengths, lusts, weaknesses, talents, faith, deviances, braveries, and other intricate human (and sometimes not so human) traits.
My love for the story, the themes, and it characters is why I decided to offer my response to Piper’s questions.
Do I care about the souls of the nudes? To be honest, I’ve never real thought about the souls of those who get naked on GoT. That said, I’ve not really thought about the souls of those who don’t get naked, either. Perhaps I should think about both. But if I’m honest, I don’t, at least, not in the same way that Piper seems to think I should. Honestly, I just don’t watch TV that way. I’m not sure I have ever pondered the souls of the actors on any television show that I watch. Maybe Dexter’s. But that’s it. I think this is true mostly because they’re acting. They’re playing roles and characters that are not representative of who they are as human beings. With that said, I must ask a few questions: Does not watching GoT suggest a deep concern for the souls of “the nudes”? I mean, by never seeing one episode of GoT is Piper showcasing concern for those who show their skin? And is nudity the requirement or the line at which one should begin thinking about a person’s soul? How about the souls of those who are partially nude? You know, the souls of Olympic divers, for instance? Do you ponder their souls? Or how about the souls of those gracing the pages of the underwear sections in the JCPenny sales flyers? Do you care about them? Forgive my snark, but this question feels ridiculous, in that it implies that nudity of any kind is evil. But in regards to GoT, the question implies that Piper believes the nudity and sex happening on GoT is equal to or similar to what happens in X X X films. Are some scenes over the top? Yes. And some, given the context of the story, are uncomfortable to watch, occasionally pushing me to use the fast-forward button on my remote. But the scenes are not the same as pornography. While the nudity in GoT might certainly trigger impulses in those with histories of sex/pornography addiction (and those people should certainly use discretion), to compare the two seems unfair and unwarranted. So no, I haven’t thought much about the souls of the nudes on GoT. But next season, I just might.
Does it express or advance my holiness? Probably not the same way that posing a question like that expresses or advances one’s holiness, but amid the richly difficult narrative of GoT are threads that indeed challenge me, bring tears to my eyes, make me acknowledge my own humanity, and cause me to consider the great risks that often come with being brave, strong, courageous, and faithful. Does that happen in every scene? Of course not. But HBO’s tendency to accentuate the more gratuitous elements of human sexuality hardly diminishes the power and passion of a good story. Besides, isn’t human holiness a reflection of who God is and what we believe God is doing as opposed to being a list of things of things we should or shouldn’t do?
Am I longing to see God? Yes. The best stories almost always lead us back to hoping that we experience the truths that define our lives. As a show, GoT often seems to be overrun with a deep hopelessness, requiring characters to make difficult decisions, hope for the best, and suffer the consequences of their mistakes. There’s rarely been an episode that, upon watching, hasn’t left my soul filled to the brim with wonder and hope, searching for the flicker of light amid the seemingly terminal darkness. The same is true for when we Christians read the stories of the men and women in the Bible. Most of us don’t let the fact that Esther was a victim of sex trafficking and prostitution prevent us from engaging the rest of the story. Most of us don’t allow the insanities found in the Book of Genesis keep us from gleaning truths from those stories. Because the majority of us Christians believe that God is not limited to being found in stories about purity and holiness. Most of us would never long for the presence of God if that were the case.
Am I compromising the beauty of sex? No. Just no.
Am I recrucifying Christ? This question is outright offensive, in that it only seems to diminish and undermine the power of the cross. And too, if this “recrucifying Christ” is truly a concern that Christians should be worried about, an HBO fantasy drama is the least of our worries.
As a GoT fan and a Christian, I think HBO’s depiction Martin’s epic is beautiful and raw, elaborate and gratuitous, inspiring and uncomfortable, dark and hopeful. But so is most of the Old Testament.
Should Christians watch Game of Thrones? That depends on the Christian. It’s certainly not a show for everybody. At times, it’s violent. Sometimes it’s dreadfully slow. On occasion, it’s sensationalizes the sexual deviance of its characters. And there are dragons. But it’s also quite self aware. Many of its protagonists are very much aware of their demons. Sometimes they fight them. Sometimes they let them have their way. It’s very much a story about humanity (with dragons and zombie-like creatures called white walkers). And like most stories about humanity, there’s a lot of chaos, and occasionally, in the middle of chaos, clothes are optional.
But chaos has its advantages, at least, according to the character Littlefinger (or Petyr Baelish), one of King’s Landing’s master manipulators, the owner of a brothel, a business he uses to wield information and power. In season 3, episode 6, while engaging in a conversation with Varys, a eunuch and “Masters of Whisperers,” Littlefinger says, “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb, they cling to the realm or the gods or love. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.”
The last question that Piper asks is this: Am I free from doubt? He explains, There is one biblical guideline that makes life very simple: “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:32). My paraphrase: If you doubt, don’t. That would alter the viewing habits of millions, and oh how sweetly they would sleep with their conscience.
And there’s nothing wrong with asking that question as long as it’s not rhetorical. And just as long as those who do have doubts about watching GoT are cool with those who watch GoT and then go to bed and sleep like babies.
Why isn’t the Church talking about Syria?
That’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot over the last 6 or 7 months. I’ve also wondered why I haven’t talked about it. Are we afraid to discuss it, scared of the politics involved, scared by the religious differences, or just scared by our own lack of knowledge about the crisis? And trust me, if it’s fear that’s keeping us from becoming involved, I get it. There are a lot of unknowns and differing opinions in regards to what’s happening in Syria, a theme that seems to follow most Westernized conversations about the Middle East.
All of that said, at some point last fall, we (as in the average American) just sort of stopped talking about the travesties happening in Syria, conversations that, for most of us, started in August 2013 when we first learned that the Syrian government was using chemical warfare on its own people. (<-WARNING: Some of the images posted at that link are disturbing/graphic.)
By the time the U.N. confirmed those reports regarding chemical warfare in December, much of the conversation here in the U.S. had died out. And too, even when we were talking about Syria, most of us weren’t really talking about it. Our conversations seemed centered on debating about whether or not the U.S. should respond militarily to Syria’s use of chemical weapons. That was a necessary conversation, of course. And it at least steered our attentions toward the crisis. But much of our chatter failed to reflect the whole narrative, the bigger story regarding the country’s more-than 3-year-long civil war. Even now, as we’re starting to hear news about Syria amid the stories and reports about ISIS and the growing conflict in Iraq, our attentions will likely be drawn away from the overall crisis to story threads that make for catchier (sexier?) headlines.
But maybe, just maybe those headlines can get us talking about Syria again. Because we need to be talking about it, praying about how we can respond, help, launch hope. Because our continued silence is just one more thread of the whole story, one that’s affecting the futures of millions of Syrian people.
Most disheartening are the lives of the children whose lives have been put on pause amid this crisis. A recent count by UNICEF concluded that 5.5 million Syrian children are displaced, some inside Syria and some who have fled to refugee camps in bordering nations. Again, 5.5 MILLION KIDS—five times the population of Nashville, Tennessee, and that’s only counting children—have become living victims of Syria’s ongoing civil war, a conflict that began in March 2011. (According to MercyCorps, 11.2 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance, which is roughly one-half of the country’s population.)
Of the 5.5 million child refugees, various humanitarian organizations estimate that somewhere between 1.5 and 3 million children have fled Syria—some with their families and some without—to neighboring countries, including Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Turkey. While the total number is uncertain, what we do know is this: as the massive outflow of Syrian families looking for safe harbor continues, the number of child refugees grows daily by the thousands. (Click here for up-to-date information regarding Syrian refugees.)
The exit is so mammoth the UN predicts that, by the end of 2014, more than four million Syrians will be scattered throughout Middle East and Europe, making the Syrian conflict the worst exodus since the Rwandan genocide in 1993.
That’s why we need to be talking about Syria: because millions of Syrian children are at-risk. What are the challenges that Syrian children are facing? According to World Vision USA:
➡︎Children are especially susceptible to malnutrition and diseases related to poor sanitation. Many suffer from diarrheal diseases and dehydration.
➡︎Children are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation in unfamiliar and overcrowded conditions. Without adequate income to support their families and fearful of their daughters being molested, parents – especially single mothers—may opt to arrange marriage for girls as young as 13.
➡︎Because of the breakdown of the Syrian health system and lack of adequate immunization, there have been outbreaks of measles and even polio in Syria and among refugee children.
➡︎Many children have lost their homes or witnessed violence and destruction. They continue to need food provisions, household supplies, education, and counseling to help them cope with their circumstances.
“I wept with families, those who have no place to live. The need was real. The need was great. It is still, now more than ever.” -Sevil Omer
Tomorrow, June 20, is World Refugee Day, a date “established by the United Nations to honor the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.”
Which is why I’m writing this post. Because we (the American people, the Church, the storytellers and the advocates for justice) need to start talking about Syria again. And we need to do that soon. So that’s why, in honor of World Refugee Day, I’m hoping, praying, begging that you might consider helping me/us spark a new conversation about Syria, a dialogue about the challenges, the conditions, the risks, the future hope of millions, and the role that the Church can play.
Tomorrow, at 2 p.m. Eastern/11 a.m. Pacific, World Vision USA and I will be hosting a live Twitter conversation with World Vision’s Sevil Omer, a onetime news reporter who, one year ago, joined the World Vision team to use her passion for storytelling and writing to retell the narratives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
Late last year, Sevil travelled with World Vision to the countries of Lebanon and Jordan where she came face to face with the stories of hundreds of Syrian families living in refugee camps. “I met orphans and widows,” says Sevil. “I wept with families, those who have no place to live. The need was real. The need was great. It is still, now more than ever.”
During her time there, Sevil engaged the stories of numerous Syrian refugees, their histories, the conditions they live in, the challenges they face, and what they think about the future. “I’ve seen great suffering and darkness, but I’ve seen hope, too. I’ve seen what World Vision is doing! We are making a difference in the toughest place on earth… My hope is for Christians to be open to how the Holy Spirit may be leading them to stand with Syria’s children and their families. I know how prayers have changed my life during times of sorrow, pain and loss.”
That’s why we’re doing a Twitter chat with Sevil, because she’s encountered firsthand the people affected by the civil war, people who have been driven from their homes, robbed of their tangible belongings, and now live amid conditions that put the sustainability of their tomorrows in question.
So… what are your questions regarding the crisis happening in Syria? Do you have thoughts and opinions about how the Church might help Syrian refugees? Do you have questions specific to World Vision’s role in the region? Whatever part of the Syrian narrative you’re curious about or have questions about, tweet them using the hashtag #WorldVisionChat and we’ll do our best to answer as many questions as we can!
Please help us bring awareness to the crisis happening in and around Syria.
1) Tell your friends about tomorrow’s World Refugee Day Twitter chat.
2) Use the #WorldVisionChat hashtag.
3) Share this post with friends and family.
5) To learn more about the Syrian crisis and World Vision’s response, click here.
Evangelicals LOVE gay people. They do. They really love them. In fact, nearly every evangelical I know, when talking about their views on homosexuality, preface their opinions with disclaimers about how much they love gay people. Many prove their progressive-leaning love by talking about how often they watch Modern Family.
For many evangelicals, watching Modern Family is like having a gay best friend.
Now, some evangelicals don’t say anything about loving gay people; but they swear on everything good and holy that they don’t hate gay people. They hate that loaded word—”hate”—because it makes them sound mean and unbecoming.
Both types of evangelicals—the lovers and the non-haters—seem to become frustrated or bewildered or or defensive when people don’t believe them when they say they love or don’t hate gay people. Which makes sense, of course; most of us become agitated or saddened when somebody doesn’t believe us.
But consider the last two weeks. Because I think these last 14 days might offer us a little insight as to why many GLBTQ people think us evangelicals—those of us who affirm and those of us who don’t affirm—are full of crap.
♦ Because on May 28, the American Family Association issued a statement to all of its members regarding the stamp honoring activist Harvey Milk. In that statement, the evangelical organization wrote:
1. Refuse to accept the Harvey Milk stamp if offered by your local post office. Instead ask for a stamp of the United States flag.
2. Refuse to accept mail at your home or business if it is postmarked with the Harvey Milk stamp. Simply write ‘Return to Sender’ on the envelope and tell your postman you won’t accept it.
♦ Because 2 days earlier, Franklin Graham, while talking about how much he loved GLBTQ people, offered the objects of his affection God’s ultimatum: “I love them enough to care to warn them that if they want to continue living like this, it’s the flames of hell for you,” Graham said. “Now, if you don’t like that, don’t get mad at me. I didn’t write the rule book. Almighty God wrote it, and it’s a sin against Him.”
♦ Because on June 2, a whole bunch of Southern Baptists met in Baltimore for their annual convention. On their list of topics to discuss were the “700,000 Americans [who] perceive their gender identity to be at variance with the physical reality of their biological birth sex.”
Amid their chat, a summary as to why the topic was being discussed was offered…
WHEREAS, the American Psychiatric Association removed this condition (aka, “gender identity disorder”) from its list of disorders in 2013, substituting “gender identity disorder” with “gender dysphoria”; and
WHEREAS, the American Psychiatric Association includes among its treatment options for gender dysphoria cross-sex hormone therapy, gender reassignment surgery, and social and legal transition to the desired gender; and
WHEREAS, news reports indicate that parents are allowing their children to undergo these “therapies”; and
WHEREAS, many LGBT activists have sought to normalize the transgender experience and to define gender according to one’s self-perception apart from biological anatomy…
♦ Because on June 3, John MacArthur published a YouTube video offering his best advice to parents of gay children. In the 2-minute clip, MacArthur said that, if the gay child was a Christian who refused to repent, “You have to alienate them, you have to separate them; you can’t condone that [because] it’s inconsistent with a profession of Christ. So, you isolate them. You don’t have a meal with them. You separate yourself from them. You turn them over to Satan as scripture says…”
♦ Because three days later MacArthur offered his wisdom about how bakeries should respond when a gay couple asks them to bake a cake for their wedding…
♦ Because people flock to read evangelicals like Matt Walsh acting like Matt Walsh on the topic of transgender children.
♦ Because this Christian politician from Oklahoma seems to think that stoning gay people isn’t out of the realm of possibility…
♦ Because Tony Perkins, the guy in charge of the Family Research Council, had the audacity to say this…
I can’t be sure, of course; but these last couple weeks seem to offer a lot of reasons as to why non-evangelicals of varying kinds don’t believe that evangelicals love (or don’t hate) gay people.
Most evangelicals will say something like this: Those examples are extreme. They don’t speak for me!
While they might not speak for you and me, can we honestly say that these are the evangelical extremes any more? The guy from Oklahoma? Sure. He’s extreme. But all of them? I don’t think so.
Does the average church in American evangelicalism really believe or adhere to a different doctrine than many of these examples? Sure, they might never project their ideas aloud when cameras and microphones are present, but are their beliefs/doctrines/values different enough that they’re willing to challenge these ideas?
Because the only evangelicals challenging the messages of these voices are the progressive ones, a handful of liberal evangelical bloggers who have little influence on the likes of Franklin Graham, John MacArthur, and the SBC. If these people don’t speak for evangelicals, where are the non-progressive evangelicals who might challenge these messages? We need them to speak up, on behalf of the gospel, Jesus, and the evangelicals who really do love gay people.
Because I refuse to believe that the majority of America’s Evangelicals are okay with these agenda-driven evangelicals speaking on their behalf. Because whether we like it or now, right now, they are. And they’re getting louder. And they’re speaking up more often.
And they are the reason why so many GLBTQ people laugh or roll their eyes or scream expletives when an evangelical says that he or she loves them. Because nothing they hear coming out of evangelical culture suggests love or non-hate… it’s the same rhetoric that evangelicals have been preaching in America for nearly 70 years, a rhetoric of shame and hopelessness.
This is real.
According to the product info: Now you can bring the fun and excitement of America’s favorite family, the Robertsons from the hit TV show Duck Dynasty, into your church and teach your kids the gospel at the same time! In the easy-to-use Willie’s Redneck Rodeo VBS program, your volunteers will enjoy acting out the antics of Willie, Jase, Jep, Phil, Godwin, Martin, Si and others as they teach kids five of the Bible’s most beloved parables. This director’s guide includes instructions for everything you need to lasso your children’s hearts as you teach them God’s Word. Read more here.
Yesterday, I learned that a couple of the Duck Dynasty gang were releasing a study bible in October and while I certainly wondered why a Duck Commander study bible was necessary, the product didn’t surprise me.
But this surprises me.
One of the reasons is because personality-branded VBS programs are relatively unheard of. I mean, I’m not saying they’re non existent.
I don’t dislike Duck Dynasty. In fact, I’ve only watched one episode of the show. And while I didn’t get sucked in, I sort of get why many do. Many of my closest friends say nothing but wonderful things about the DD cast, boasting much about their kindness and generosity.
And I don’t doubt that. I disagree with them on a good number of theological and social issues. But I don’t doubt they are kind. And I’m sure, in context to their worldview, they’re intentions are good.
But even if you believe that your intentions are good, are there no limits to how much “good” you should turn into products and sell at Christian bookstores? Doesn’t anybody on their team think, “Let’s be careful not to saturate the Christian market with junk?”
The truth is, Willie and kin may have no say in what publishers and Christian manufacturers create with the “Commander” name on it. Or perhaps they handpick each idea. I don’t know. Watching the promo video seems to imply the former, at least, in the beginning:
Regardless, using the Duck Dynasty brand to teach kindness, obedience, and Jesus’s parables to 4 to 10 year-old kids seems like a huge gimmicky stretch, one that quite honestly feels forced and manufactured to make money.
What do you think?
This is real. I can hardly believe that anybody would be so dumb. But somebody was/is. I mean, what were they thinking, using Adolf Hitler’s words to promote their Christian children’s ministry… I mean, seriously. Even if it wasn’t a quote by Hitler, the message is still a frightening and gross proclamation, hardly something that Christians should celebrate as their personal mission.
Thankfully, the ministry is pulling the billboard: “We are pulling the billboard and certainly never intended to cause confusion. … Herbert Hoover would have been a far better one to quote when he said, ‘Children are our most valuable resource,'” founder James Anderegg told the Ledger-Enquirer. “We are a children’s organization and had honorable intentions and nothing less.” SOURCE
Who’s excited for the second coming of Left Behind: The Movie?!
I’ve been told that this is a scene from a movie, though I’ve not been able to confirm that…
But I’m on it…
This post is for all of you, teachers…
First of all, how do you do it? I mean, how do you put up with our kids each and every day? Sure, they’re amazing kids. In small numbers and doses. But combined into large clumps, even the best of kids can become headache-inducing. Perhaps a better question is how do you put up with us, the parents—the sometimes overbearing, overprotecting, over-informed Huffington-Post-reading—parents? Seriously, how do you do it? Because most of us couldn’t do it. Hell, sometimes being around that many kids/parents for field trips makes me want to find the nearest corner so I can curl up and rock.
Of course, let’s be honest: some of you don’t actually do it all that well, either. Some of you have personalities better fit for the DMV. And a few of you are far too passive aggressive for anybody’s good, let alone, the good of small children.
Still, most of you border on being saints. And this post is for you, all of you who are good, hardworking, caring teachers who probably won’t have time to read this until tonight or tomorrow morning or next week.
Because I want to say thank you.
Thank you for making the choice to teach.
Thank you for instilling our children with information regarding words, spelling, history, math, science, hygiene, safety, and other topics.
Thank you for putting up with our kids. Sure, most of them become well-behaved and even human-like when in your classroom. But we know that’s not always. We know that, for every time you mention to us about our kid’s behavior, there are likely numerous occasions or events that you don’t bring up.
Thank you for enduring our many questions, our need for details, our desire to know everything, our forgetfulness, our impatience, and our occasional lack of interest.
Thank you for tolerating the bureaucracy of our education system. We know it’s not always easy. We know that amid the politics and opinions that swarm from all sides, you are having to sustain lots of red tape, make do with the lack of funds, and jump through a vast number of governmental hoops, all the while teaching young people. Thank you for trying making the most of it. Thank you for attempting to make the system better. Thank you for not taking your frustrations out on our kids.
Thank you for making boring topics exciting and interesting and applicable. Thank for being creative, for believing in our kids enough to make learning fun and hands-on.
Thank you for sacrificing better pay, better raises, better benefits for the “thrill” of educating young minds.
Thank you for seeing the unique gifts in each of our kids. Thank you for challenging our kids to explore and discover new gifts, new talents, and new interests. Thank you for giving our kids reality checks on occasion, for saying to them what we sometimes cannot say or we have said but far too many times to be influential.
Thank you for all of the long hours that you put in to grading papers, planning lessons, organizing events, and rallying the attention spans of kids and parents.
Thank you for all of the gentle reminders of how we the parents can become involved, stay involved, and help our children succeed.
Thank you for putting up with us, our cynicism, our opinions, our neediness.
Thank you for loving our kids. We know you don’t/can’t love every single child. But you love a lot of them. And your investment doesn’t go unnoticed.
Thank you for being a teacher. Thank you for taking the narrow career path. Thank you for putting up with all of the committees, conventions, tax cuts, propagandas, and the long line of seemingly ungrateful parents. Thank you for believing in the power of learning and for helping our kids discover that too…
We might not always say this: But we appreciate you. We value you. We think you’re incredibly gifted. We thank God for you. And we—most of us anyway—know how important your roles are in our children’s lives. We know how difficult your jobs can be at times. We know that putting up with us AND the administration can’t always be easy.
So thank you. Thank you for doing what you do and for being who you are. But most of all, thank you for believing in our kids.