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Solid Joys and the Cure of Me Addiction

Solid joys and lasting treasure

None but Zion’s children know ~

John Newton

Solid joys. This is what I need. This is what my soul needs. Because I am an addict. I am addicted to me.

I can’t get over me. I will resolutely choose to indulge in me “one last time”, perhaps even in excess so as to punish myself and make me not want me anymore. You know, the reasoning of all addicts. The Me drug is adaptable. It mixes just as well with a holy hymn as with porn. I am my own supplier and I give me to me with no threat of overdose unless it is to sell me on me with the line that the big dosage is well-deserved me time. I believe the lie. I’ve bought into the ideology of the characters of Infinite Jest that the cure of excess is excess.

Some drugs have nasty side effects. Dry mouth. Munchies. Vomiting. Distorted perception. Paranoia. The list goes on. Me indulgences render me cynical, afraid, angry, numb, reticent, barren. When on me everything I do is disabled. I slather my prayers with me, thinking that they are not real unless me flavors all my worship. Subjectivism trumps the objective when I am high on me. 

I need an intervention. I need a halfway house. An escape. I cannot neutralize the fatal attraction of me. Me consumes me. Is there a place where I can be healed? Is there a place where addicts like me can go to be freed of me?

The Church is the halfway house for the me addict that I am. There, in the midst of many other druggies, I encounter solid joys. The kind of joys that only those born again of the Spirit can grasp. From the Church, that halfway house that harbors those on their way from me to forever likeness of God there wafts the fragrance of Christ. It makes some me addicts so sick they turn the other way. But for this me addict, the fragrance of Christ makes me puke up me. In the communion of Christ I run from me to the cross of Jesus where not only did my Healer die for me, but me was stripped of its addictive powers. At the Table of the Lord, surrounded by many other me addicts, the subjective surrenders to the Objective and I feel the power of me crucified and the satisfaction of sensing, “It is no longer I that lives, but Christ lives in me.”  As surely as I taste the bread in my mouth and the wine on my lips is the joy of my freedom from me. 

The cure of Me Addiction is a new me. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Communion with Jesus is joy. It is treasure. It is solid and lasting. And this Sunday, once again, I meet with the halfway house to confess where I have come from and be reminded where I am going.


The Moral People Will Be in Hell

There is a really interesting debate of sorts going on in an orb not ours that resonates with my thinking regarding salvation and morality and the Church’s moral mandate. Greek Orthodox priest, Stephen Freemen, wrote something that I truly rejoiced in because I understood it the way I think he meant it to be understood. I too have started realizing in the last 5 to 10 years that our preaching is moralism + Jesus even in the most conscientious “gospel-centered” environments. It was years ago when I was preaching through Matthew that I realized that the Sermon on the Mount could only be rightly interpreted in light of Matthew 5:48: “Be Perfect.” Or, to put it more shockingly, “Be divine.”

I had been reared listening to moral instructions preached from the Sermon on the Mount, proud that, of all the men in the world who counted adultery as adultery, I was among the class of people that went further with our morality. I, along with all Christ followers, counted the second-glance, the lustful gaze as adultery. Our morality was that much higher! But I was missing the point. The point was simply Jesus’ way of saying, “Unless you’re a God-Man, you’re toast.”

Anyway, read when you get the chance this article, “The Un-Moral Christian” and, for counter-balance, read this rebuttal(which I think fails to do anything, but maybe temper excessive application). Finally, read the rebuttal to the rebuttal. And you’ll be stepping deep into the pool I’ve been floundering in with joy for the last several years.

This is relevant in the TGC orb because some of the Reformed guys are in full panic mode over the Tchividjian/Fitzpatrick so-called antinomianism. The MacArthur guys are calling everyone back to “The Gospel According to MacArthur” series to find out what has been decreed in heaven and are suspicious of guys like me who do not yet have their boxers in a wad over the Tchividjian/Fitzpatrick “spin”.

Reformed guys (as in guys who are really Reformed) and not merely cool Calvinists are generally better theologians than either the MacArthurites or the Tchividjian types (who, admittedly, have more Graham in them than Presbyterianism). But if you listen to these two sides bomb each other with their best exegetical artillery the average theological pastor/reader in the middle who was born evangelical/fundamentalist (they are the same thing) and has matured to some level of independence with secret sympathies for the EO interest in theosis (though this imaginary type does not buy into their emphasis or doctrinal explanation of theosis) AND a deep appreciation for Reformed covenantalism AND an ecclesiology that is increasingly untrammeled by extreme baptistic “autonomianism”, one is inclined to think that the extreme readings of MacArthur and Tchividjian blessedly cancel each other out by complimenting each other.

In other words, pastorally, dish out JMac’s “Hard to Believe” along with Tchividjian’s “One Way Love” and the average Christian in the pew is probably going to get a lot more Gospel. If theJMac people are right that the Tchividjian/Fitzpatrick people are antinomian writers, I think it is only because of the fact that antinomians readers read like antinomians. I don’t think the writers can be legitimately charged with such heresy except for the charge of being over zealous about the freedom we have in one-way love. On the other hand, the JMac crowd sound very much like neo-nomians to me. It is not enough that you believe, you must have found it hard to believe or you probably are not saved.

I over-state it, of course. But I think that the other side is right to worry about how legalists could read JMac and other Reformed critics of their soteriology.

This brings us to the other orb. The Orthodox and theosis understanding of salvation. Protestants do believe and teach that we will become partakers of the divine nature, but we don’t focus on it a lot. We tend to think of “glory to glory” tangible steps of progress in sanctification that looks like the making of good habits and the shedding of bad habits with increasing degrees of commitment. But it is more than that. It is the process of making us like God.

The Sermon on the Mount is not, as I had thought, a how to for the Christian dispensation that motivated, yes, but in practical life leaves most of us with an I can’t type of conviction. Instead, it was a grand here’s Who statement that is supposed to leave us with a humble I’m not conviction: Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

In other words, the Sermon on the Mount is not teaching a Christian morality. It’s teaching the inadequacy of morality. The Law was never meant to tell us what to do, but to tell us who we are. Living like God on earth is an utter impossibility for us. The incarnation of God changed that. Jesus only conformed to the moral law out of sympathy. Just as he conformed to natural laws. He could walk on water, but usually he took a boat. Natural laws were irrelevant to his Godness. Moral laws were irrelevant to his Godness. But he submitted to natural and moral law as man so that he could make a way for us become partakers of the divine nature.

Ironically, we can understand this in moral terms better than in natural terms. There are some moral laws that are irrelevant to us. I know that, presumably, there is a law that I must take care of my children. It is irrelevant to me whether that law exists or does not exists because it is my nature to take care of my children. I will live my entire life obeying a law that is irrelevant to me. My nature is above that law. This is how Jesus lived on earth, both with moral and natural law. And the offer of salvation is not merely a freedom from immorality; it is an offer of freedom from morality.

On the new earth there will not be any moral people. The moral people will be in hell. “We shall be like him for we shall see him as he is.”

Evangelicals and Credibility

It is always risky for a pastor to get involved in the political dialogue of our nation, but when he does he should be credible as a thinker. And when he is credible he will end up being non-partisan. Both sides lie. Both sides have earthly ambitions that are completely disinterested in the Celestial City. But sadly many evangelicals promote memes, rumors, false quotes, and outright lies. Sometimes activists wink at stories that they know to be spin because it affirms their agenda in the minds of their followers. Sometimes pastors promote partisan rhetoric, knowing that is is exaggerated, but in an ends-justify-the-means ethos they piggyback on the story to entrench people in their ideology.

Thoughtful analysis of the stories and fair interpretation of context is not difficult and yet most people do not bother to analyze sensational quotes and scandalous stories that promote their ideology.

This is not exclusively a Conservative problem, but many Evangelicals are inclined to conservative politics and, therefore, I will address two egregious examples that are floating around Christian social media. Despite the fact — for example — that there is not one shred of credible evidence that the president is Muslim, panicked Conservatives, including pastors, wildly promote this myth in the interest of keeping their sheeple in a constant state of nervousness. The short-term gains are not worth the long-term costs that violating the Ninth Commandment (“Thou shalt not bear false witness against they neighbor”) will have on their credibility. With slap-happy irresponsibility they post up videos that “prove” that the president is Muslim and then they wonder why young people are leaving them in droves. They wonder why sharp, critical thinkers shy away from them. Conservatism has brilliant ideas, bedrock truths, and unassailable arguments that ought to be considered by every thoughtful man and woman in America, but these ideas and are getting clouded over by Christian men and women who have already bought into these ideas and who lazily and unethically capitulate to a spirit of fear and propaganda. I find it difficult to respect a person who gleefully puts up one of the many video montages that purportedly prove that the president it Muslim because those videos are so poorly edited and spliced that it requires a willful decision to defy intellectual integrity to even be moved by them. We all are guilty of disseminating something that is not true, but when Christians do it without apology or correction or a modicum of qualification I lose any confidence that whatever else they post about politics is worth a second glance.

It’s really bad when many of these same people are preachers of the gospel of Jesus. After they have irresponsibly disseminated video memes and scare-mongering distortions as gospel truth they wonder why what they say about gospel truth is no longer treated as gospel truth. If pastors who promote this garbage thought twice about what it would be like for someone who hated them and their message to make a video montage of “quotes” that they said, ignoring context and intonation and irony and sarcasm and avoiding nuance and clarifications, cutting out very relevant qualifications, they would also think twice about sending out stupid video montages and memes that purportedly quote their political opponents.

Some brief comments on two egregious examples.

“President Obama is a Muslim”

It is true that we have never had a president that attempts to be more nuanced and careful in his rhetoric when it comes to the religion of Islam. But this does not justify the persistent lie that is perpetrated by many American evangelicals that President Obama is a Muslim. And this video montage does nothing to prove this. Within the first minute the outright lying starts:

The video montage quote: “But my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims.”

The actual quote conveniently left out the first part: “I am a Christian, but my father came…”

Furthermore, the video threateningly magnifies the words “I am one of them”, implying that Obama is saying that he is a Muslim. However, even with this hackneyed editorial job they could not get the context out. He was saying that he is one of the many Americans that has lived among Muslim and has Muslim relatives.

The most “damning” quote in the montage is where President Obama is quoted as saying, “my Muslim faith.” Again, the larger context shows that he was not at all saying he was a Muslim and anyone with any interest in fact can check it out for themselves.  This is poppycock journalism. It is propaganda. It is bearing false witness.

I don’t have the time or interest in explaining every quote and the obvious mind-numbing agitprop that brainwashes gullible patriots. The most this video proves is something that President Obama has never been secret about. He has a love for and sympathy for Muslims. There is nothing illegal or wrong about that. Conservatives are free to dislike that, but Christians (and, no, they are not one and the same) are not free to promote lies that disregard nuance and complexity, culture and background, all in the name of protecting Christian values.

Marie Harf and Using Jobs to Combat Terrorism

Here’s just one example of a meme that Christians (and Christian pastors) are posting all over social media:


This is obvious lampooning with, perhaps, a tinge of sexism and stereotyping about a blonde woman, but it is presented as gospel truth by many because they listen to only one news source for an interpretation of what the woman actually said. After all here is what Sean Hannity of Fox News said about this:

One Of The Most Ignorant And Misguided Of The Entire Obama Presidency.

Before looking at what Marie Harf actually said in a — ahem! — fair and balanced way, I’d like to recall something  Republican George Bush said:

We fight against poverty because hope is an answer to terror.

(He also said, “Islam is peace” but we’ll ignore that for now.)

Now, let’s think for just a millisecond about what Harf actually said:

MATTHEWS: Are we killing enough of them?
HARF: We`re killing a lot of them, and we`re going to keep killing more of them. So are the Egyptians. So are the Jordanians. They`re in this fight with us. But we cannot win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need, in the longer term — medium and longer term, to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it`s lack of opportunity for jobs, whether–
MATTHEWS: We`re not going to be able to stop that in our lifetime, or 50 lifetimes! There`s always going to be poor people. There`s always going to be poor Muslims. And as long as there are poor Muslims, the trumpet`s blowing! They`ll join. We can`t stop that, can we?
HARF: Well, we can work with countries around the world to help improve their governance. We can help them build their economies so they can have job opportunities for these people. [MSNBC, Hardball with Chris Matthews, 2/16/15, via Nexis]

This is actually not radical (even though she may be a radical liberal). In fact, there are many Conservatives that understand her and would agree. Furthermore, she did not deny that we need to kill — yes, kill! — more of ISIS! Just because someone promotes the idea of soft diplomacy (soft power) does not mean that they are rejecting the need for hard diplomacy. In this quote she clearly was not denouncing the need for military action. She was saying, rightly, that it cannot be the only way we defeat this problem. Unless you want boots on the ground in that area until the end of time, at least part of what she’s saying is true. It is flat out embarrassing how conservatives are trying to get mileage out of this and succeeding at it because too many people don’t think for themselves.

She clearly could be more articulate. She clearly could be more politically astute and realize that Americans, after seeing 21 people beheaded, want to hear some kick-butt language from the Administration. But Christian people who are really interested in peace want to help dialogue, not hurt it. And too many Christians have so wedded their faith to their ideology that they are willing to jettison Christian principles of dialogue and honest thinking in the interest of promoting their political agenda.

And that’s too bad. Because we want to be believable. And to be believable there are times we actually have to listen to the other side in a way that is really fair and balanced.

Stop Using the “Black on Black Crime” Rebuttal

Our nation is in a very loud, emotional argument about race, crime, laws, and “the system.” In The Gospel in Black & White: A Missiological Perspective on Ferguson I suggest that we attempt to view this dialogue as if we were a disinterested third party, paying attention only to be able to bring about a peaceful reconciliation between the two warring factions. In this piece, I’d suggest the same stance, but I speak primarily as a white evangelical to white evangelicals. I would like to address the problem of communication, particularly the use of “black on black crime” as a rebuttal to the concerns of African Americans who are decrying the systemic abuse of their young men.

I would ask our black friends to forebear while I direct this specifically to white Christians. We are not used to being addressed as a collective, the privilege of being the majority. And for my white Christian friends who are already miffed by the use of the word privilege in this context, please forebear. What are we saying as a white Christian community? What are we being understood to say? Much is getting lost in the communication. As ambassadors of Christ we must fix this problem because our main goal ought to be to communicate Christ, his Good News, and show to the world that we are his disciples because we love each other.

Missiologist David Hesselgrave said it best: “Communication is the missionary problem par excellence.” And in his masterful history of Europe, historian Tim Blanning began with this powerful statement:

“Communication is central to human existence. Apart from basic physical functions such as eating and defecating, waking and sleeping, nothing is more central. Whether the form it takes is symbolic, as in speech, or physical, as in travel, it is communication between people and people, or between people and places, that weaves the social fabric (3).

Christian friends, we have a communication problem and it is tearing apart the social fabric of our nation, even negatively affecting families and churches.

On the following pages I will attempt to dissect one counter-argument, used often like a knock-out punch, by whites when feeling defensive and overwhelmed by the criticism of blacks about the number of blacks that have been killed by police officers.

The argument goes something like this:

If blacks are so concerned about #blacklivesmatter why don’t they start doing something about black on black crime?

This is then followed with statistics of black on black crime and sometimes screenshots of statistics from, for example, the O’Reilly Show are put up as evidence of the grotesque difference between the number of black men killed by white officers and the numbers of black people killed by black people, or the disparity between the number of whites killed by police officers as compared to the number of blacks. 1898066_748954573383_1368435872297500088_n

Rather than discuss the merit of the data, I would like to address the argument itself, particularly as it comes across on social media and in the context of family discussions around the dinner table. Something is not right about this argument. What is it?

The arguments are in and of themselves forms of communication that package the desires and fears of the communicators to the hearers, held together by the glue of moral reasoning. But we cannot hear the arguments. What we actually are distracted by is the data, because conclusions are supported on both sides by facts. Facts, however, are not truth. The truth of a matter is much more difficult to assess than merely culling data and facts to support our point of view.

Good Communication Understands that Facts and Truth are Not the Same Thing

First, facts and truth are not the same thing, especially when we are dealing with the truth as it relates to souls. Nations have souls. Collectives have souls. People are souls. In the conflict of souls we must understand that truth and facts are not the same thing. Truth is always more than facts when it comes to the truth of souls. Truth cannot contradict facts, but facts can be marshaled together, logically connected, and presented as a reasonable lie or misrepresentation of the truth. More than just data, truth is meaning, context, understanding, intention, heartbeat, big picture, and soul. The facts will support truth, but the facts never guarantee truth. The truth is always much harder to come by than the facts. 

This is why in a conflict of souls it is extremely important that we attempt to understand the souls to get to the truth of the matter. Anyone that has ever tried to help two hurting people come together knows that what is said and what is meant are often two very different things. As Christians who long to be peacemakers in our society we should strive to understand the truth of a situation instead of shouting down our challengers with indisputable data. 

People who think that they can assess truth on the grounds of facts alone are people who will never serve the peace of souls in the long run. Many whites need to understand the pain that many blacks feel because of the decisions in  Ferguson and New York. We need to come to grips with the fact that factual accuracy and legal precision can team up to promote a lie. We must listen to trusted Christians in the minority group who are, by their protests, suggesting to us the reality that systemic injustice can flourish with just the facts and the truth can die at the hands of the law. They don’t believe truth was served despite the facts that legally exonerate the officers.

On the other hand, some of our black friends need to understand that the law will never adequately serve truth. The legal system is a slave of facts. Most are already aware of this painful reality experientially, but even as they fight for fairness in the judicial system, it is imperative that they understand that no person and no new law will be their messiah.  Justice will only come through sustained pursuit of peace. This takes generations of black and white peacemakers who know that truth and facts are not the same thing.

Good Communication Depends on Respecting the Categories of Moral Reasoning used by the Aggrieved Party

This is more complex, but I believe it is absolutely vital for thoughtful communication. In a deep argument with another person we cannot switch categories on them in order to misrepresent their argument. This is more subtle than just pretending they said something they did not say. This is actually using their words against them by responding to a different kind of argument than they are making. Husbands and wives have pulled these shenanigans for years. But allow me to explain:

The average Freshmen in college learns about the difference between consequential moral reasoning and categorical moral reasoning with the noxiously overused illustration of the trolley car on a track. They are told to imagine being the conductor of the trolley car that is careening toward five unaware workers on the track ahead of them. However, in the track ahead of them there is a switch that will steer them on to another track on which there is only one worker. They are then asked what they would do? Most say that they would immediately switch tracks and kill one person for the sake of saving five people. In this case, consequential moral reasoning makes sense to most Freshmen. Fewer deaths are better than more deaths is the justification of their quick decision.

But the same Freshmen are less confident when asked what they would do if they were on a bridge that overpassed the tracks on which the out-of-control trolley was running toward the five unsuspecting workers and they had the opportunity to push on to the tracks a fat man that will be killed, yes, but stop the deadly trolley from killing fiver workers. Most struggle with this one.

At this point, the professor pedantically and purposely “mocks” the students for wrestling with the question, suggesting that they stick to their fewer deaths is better than more deaths rationale. But, of course, it is not that easy. Usually, Freshmen ethicists are then introduced to a Kantian categorial moral reasoning in which some things are always right or wrong. While it is conceded that consequential moral reasoning is not always immoral, it is also emphasized that this kind of reasoning is generally weak reasoning. It is usually over-simplified as a simple ends-justifies-the-means rationale.

Now, enter the “black on black crime” riposte. (I use the word riposte here on purpose because it is most often used as a checkmate, end of conversation.) The African American community is rebuffed by the cold, hard facts of “black on black” crime. The implication is obvious: They should shut their mouths, stop complaining, and quit killing each other.

Some problems with the argument..

First of all, it is a very subtle ad hominem argument because it portrays the argument of the black community (and, therefore, disparages the black community) as a classically weak argument based upon consequential moral reasoning. It pretends that the African American community is only concerned about the mathematics of the situation, the consequences, the numbers of their tribe being diminished, and that the essence of their argument is that too many black boys are getting killed. Thus, the easy rebuttal is, “Well, stop killing yourselves then.”

When white Christians use this argument against black Christians they are essentially dismissing their moral concerns as merely utilitarian while emphasizing the “otherness” of their community, the very problem that the black community is trying to eliminate. It is “otherness” in the liberty and justice for all that is at the very heart of the problem according to most of our black brothers and sisters in Christ. To say in response to their concerns about the slaying of black men at the hands of our government that they just need to worry themselves first and foremost about “black on black” crime is not a helpful communication even though it is factually true that more blacks die at the hands of blacks than do by the gun of policemen. This is, in my mind, a racism that pervades the white rhetoric even if it is not consciously in their minds when they blurt it out.

The “black on black crime” rebuttal is an insult to the intelligence and morality of the Christian African American community because they are, in fact, presenting to the nation a concern that is grounded, not on consequential moral reasoning, but on categorical moral reasoning. If their concern was strictly utilitarian they’d settle for a deal like this: if you can cut your black on black crime by 50% we will guarantee the diminishment of police brutality by 50% and then fewer black boys will be killed. Of course, they would not accept this because they are not grounding their concerns in raw utilitarianism. They are, in fact, making a complaint about systemic injustice that is supported by sound moral reason; to answer their argument as if it is merely a utilitarian argument is gravely insulting.

If I may detour a little bit just to say that I find it very disturbing when whites make the argument because it is a not-so-subtle way of saying, “You people.” Your kind needs to take care of itself. Survival of the fittest. While the black community issues its complaint with the we/them language regarding the systemic issues in our country, it is immoral and unjust for white Christians to issue a counterpoint to their we/them differentiation with a you/them rhetoric. Too many Christians think that blacks do not have the right to use we/you rhetoric because it is racist. However, I would argue that in an argument between two collectives (in this case, the dominate white culture and the minority black culture) it is justifiable that one party have more leeway with the we/you rhetoric than the other party.

Suppose white evangelicals are incensed that their children who are being justly incarcerated for their bad behavior are getting targeted in prison for sexual molestation because they are Christian and no one likes Christians. Suppose the prison guards turn their heads the other way whenever one of our children is getting molested. Suppose we decide to band together and object to the systemic “turning of the head” toward our children, saying that too many of our children are getting molested in prison. We use a we/you rhetoric when we go to the streets to protest our grievance. Now, suppose we are told on Fox News the IRREFUTABLE (because it would certainly be shouted) fact that most Christian children who have ever been molested were molested in the Church and that if we really care about the sexual crimes against our children we should address the issues of the Church first. Furthermore, we are scorned by the talk show hosts for using we/you rhetoric when this is a concern that affects all Americans.

That would be systemic injustice toward our children and the response of the conservatives would smack of anti-Christian bias to us even if all they were doing was being sloppy in their argumentation.

Welcome to the plight of the African American community.

In the case of the molestation of children in the Church, the fact that the facts are irrefutable ignores the truth of the matter that concerns us. If we were making a simple utilitarian argument then the facts shouted at us by unconcerned citizens would be relevant. But we are not making a utilitarian argument. We are making a moral argument grounded in categorical moral, biblical, and American reasoning: that we are a land with the promise of justice for all and systemic isolation of any people group is categorically unjust.

The “black on black crime” argument is racist because it ironically discriminates racially by the very people who are using it to rebuke blacks for not being good Americans and desisting from crime. It forces African Americans to think of crime in terms of “black on black crime.” I am white. I do not have to think about crime in terms of “white on white crime.” I don’t have to think in terms of “black on white crime.” I get to think about crime just as crime, as if I am a human being in a world of human beings who are potentially criminal. Yet we verbally chastise  the African American community for being race hustlers and thinking of themselves as a collective instead of individuals while simultaneously demanding  that they think in terms of “black on black crime”.

Good Communication Feels the Aggrieved Party

We need to feel what the other one is feeling to get at the truth of a matter. I always wondered what “bowels of mercy”  in the King James Version of Philippians 2:1 meant. It’s uninterestingly translated affection in the ESV, but the word is more like guts, intestines, entrails, or bowels. While I cannot be certain, I think that it is possible for Spirit-filled Christians just to feel along with other Christians in our gut. The black community wants to be fully and freely and safely American. Can’t you feel that? It’s an instinct to feel with mercy.

If Christian whites really want Christian blacks to feel like they are a part of us then we should refuse to use we/you rhetoric when talking to them about systemic injustice. Because the system is something is not just fact, but feeling. Let me explain:

Going back to our Freshman philosophy illustration of the trolley on the track. Supposing it is your loved one that is the lone person on the track that is selected in order to save the lives of the five who were on the other track. You could live with the quick thinking rationale of the conductor because you might have done the same thing in the flash of a moment. But suppose this same accident happens again. And again. And each time the lone person on the track happens to be a loved one of yours and the five workers that just so happen to be members of the conductor’s family. No matter how rational the decision, you’d begin to suspect something was wrong systemically because your loved one was always isolated on a track.

We could all  feel along with this scenario even if we knew that, rationally, it was just a string of bad luck. But this illustration fails because it doesn’t get at the heart of the meaning of the word systemic. 

Systemic is a word that talks about the whole. When the black community rises up in protest about systemic injustice they are saying, “We are all sick.” To retort that they need to take care of themselves is to say, in essence, “you are not part of the whole.” But there are two reasons why white Christians in America should feel what they are saying and hurt alongside the black community besides the fact that we are all human. The first is that we are Christians in one body and if any members of the body hurt we should not dismiss them with political jargon, partisanship, and cultural bias. Secondly, we are Americans and as horribly as we have treated the black community we have begun the long process of restoration by saying, loudly, that they are Americans too.

Just as we would want American government to look into the abuse of our children (defined narrowly as Christian children)  in prison on the grounds that we are American, so we cannot ignore the cries of our black brothers and sisters who say that they are being unfairly singled out by our system with trite and flippant data about “black on black” crime. Instead, we should recognize the American principle that we are our own government, we are governed by us, and that blacks who feel the weight of systemic unfairness are feeling it, not from them, but from us. Furthermore, it is not they alone who are suffering, but we are suffering the systemic injustice of us on us.

Our gut should tell us something. We have to have Solomonic analysis when he threatened to cut the baby in half. The real mother objected passionately because she couldn’t bear to see her child die. The person with the most emotional investment is the one who might lead us to the just solution. Look past the vitriolic criminality of looters on the street and look into the faces of the godly, black mothers and fathers. Your gut should tell you they have a point. To dismiss the truth hidden in the looters’ excesses is akin to rejecting the claims of Christianity hidden in the excesses of Benny Hinn. As Christians we do not like it when our cherished feelings are rejected on the grounds of excesses that have been done in the name of Christianity by other people. How can fair-minded white Christians do this to the black community generally?

The irony here is that the black community is not monolithic, but our “black on black crime” argument treats them as “you people” and “your monolith.” Yes, the black community is coming before the nation for justice as a black community, but they are not a monolith. There are many ungodly among them. There is, of course, a criminal element. To choose to let the criminal element be the voice of the black community is to voluntarily choose to not understand the black community.

We are a nation that must find a just solution to our anxiety and the true mother in this scenario is not the system. It is not the criminal element. It is not the looters. The true mother, the woman who agonized through the birth of civil rights and will mourn the setback of unjust analysis of Trayvon Martin, Ferguson, Garner, is the hundreds of thousands of God-fearing, upright citizens who are black. It is these people, the majority of the black community, who are not getting heard in the media because the truth of these Americans is a narrative that doesn’t fit the narrative of white conservatives who feel defensive about anything that criticizes their idyllic conception of America and the more liberal media that favors the splash and sensationalism of the “angry black man.”

It is a tragedy that white Christians cannot quickly perceive who the real mother is. I think we could get to the truth of this problem, despite the facts, if we decided to embrace good communication with black Christians and remembered these three simple rules:

  1. Good communication understands that facts and truth are not the same thing.
  2. Good communication depends on respecting the categories of moral reasoning used by the aggrieved party.
  3. Good communication feels the aggrieved party.

Why Are Christians Not Discussing the Ethics of Torture?

In 2008 I objected to President Bush’s views on “enhanced interrogation.” This is a re-working of that article.

What happens when safety becomes a god? You condone torture.

Torture of any kind (even waterboarding) must come under careful scrutiny by Christians, particularly those who would like to claim our country as a Christian nation and a moral leader in a world of moral ambiguity.

Waterboarding is torture. It is not merely “simulated” drowning. It is, in fact, a monitored drowning where the victim involuntarily gags and swallows large amounts of water. It can be done in such a way that water does not actually enter the nose and mouth, but the effect is so terrifying and the psychological impact so intense that convulsive gagging is involuntary. It is so dangerous that doctors must be present to determine whether a person has entered the final drowning spiral. John McCain and most everybody is right about this. It’s been called torture for hundreds of years by a whole bunch of different names.

President Bush, his ambitious neo-cons, and their army of evangelical lemmings were wrong.

One expert says,

Waterboarding is not a simulation. Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.

Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim’s face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.

Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration –usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten with its use again and again.

Call it “Chinese Water Torture,” “the Barrel,” or “the Waterfall,” it is all the same. Whether the victim is allowed to comply or not is usually left up to the interrogator. Many waterboard team members, even in training, enjoy the sadistic power of making the victim suffer and often ask questions as an after thought. These people are dangerous and predictable and when left unshackled, unsupervised or undetected they bring us the murderous abuses seen at Abu Ghraieb, Baghram and Guantanamo. No doubt, to avoid human factors like fear and guilt someone has created a one-button version that probably looks like an MRI machine with high intensity waterjets. (source)

I do not see anywhere in the Christian world-view a place for torture. God’s warriors always struck their enemies. A decisive blow. God’s warriors never, as far as I can tell, resorted to the debasing of human life and dignity to accomplish their purposes. God’s warriors simply accept the fact that sometimes there are things only God can do.

I cannot think of an instance in Scripture where God’s warriors ever tortured their enemies. Joshua rolled a stone over the cave where the five kings had fled, but that was to incarcerate them until he could properly execute them. He hanged their bodies only after they were dead.

Even the decision of the armies of Israel to cut off the big toes and the thumbs of Adoni-bezek appears to me not to be for torture, but for justice. An eye for an eye so to speak. But what the people of Israel did is not necessarily the right standard, nor is it clear that they were directed to do this by God. Nonetheless, in the main God’s people killed outright their enemies. Pagans gouged out eyes, castrated, and tortured. God’s people killed with a sudden strike. Then, if necessary, hacked them in pieces. For didactic purposes.

God’s people have always honored the dignity of people. Even enemies.

It continues to amaze me that Christians in America are so naive that they never suspect that some of the very laws they are glibly tolerating today in the spirit of red, white, and blue could very well one day be used against Christians as enemies of the state. Other countries already perceive Christian witness as psychological terror.

Is there any Christian who is going to be proud of his country if government authorized officials are waterboarding him, forcing him to gag and swallow water, in order to get the confession they want?

Are we so stupid as to trust human nature with torture? Does anyone really believe that the so-called “controlled environments” are really that controlled? Does Abu Graib not ring a bell? And if you should be a proponent of such torture, at what moment — at what split-second — does “justified” torture become gratuitous, masochistic gratification at the sight of kinetic physical torture? Even troops who have fought in combat say that they know when, in the heat of battle, they cross an invisible line, crossing over from killing to murder. Something happens in the heart. Something happens when it is too easy. Something happens when one has unchallenged power.

Our soldiers that endured waterboarding in Vietnam seem to be persuaded that it is torture. The Navy Seals used it to train their men in counter-interrogation techniques but abandoned it because it was too brutal. Hurting morale. But President Bush said it was “one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror.”

I for one am an American Christian that is not so American that I am not repulsed by the slide to barbarity that I simply do not speak out because I’m suspicious of Democrat motivation in disclosing the report. In 2008 I said this: Some tools, Mr. President, are not to be judged purely on the basis of whether or not they work. Some tools are not allowed. And if it is right for us to use, it is right for our enemies to use as well.

Laws are made because we are suspicious of human nature. Even our own. If we are empowering a few men in a dark room to determine when or not torture is expedient we are stupidly placing the reputation and dignity of an entire nation in the hands of a few characters. Characters that may have all the moral fiber of the soldiers at Abu Ghraib who were not on a remote island in a closed room, but in a “controlled-environment” with soldiers of varying ranks and authority all around. Their evil sadism and masochism was unfettered by normal military and prison protocol. Imagine giving them a license to torture.

Some things are more important than national security. National morality is one of those things.

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A Gardener with Scars

The first Adam died in a garden. The Second Adam resurrected in a garden and He was mistaken for a gardener. Those with indomitable life appear so mundane.
This is one of the most remarkable features of Jesus Christ’s resurrection: His humility. The angels blazed with more brightness than He did post-resurrection. Jesus is still patiently waiting for His ultimate exaltation. Thus, those Christians who have death-defying life abiding in them still appear to an unbelieving world as merely regular; gardeners, gardeners with inexplicable scars. We are copies of our Elder Brother, the first fruits of resurrection, just ordinary people with the hidden glory of eternal life. He is risen!