Wednesday, May 29, 2013

All Things in Moderation (Including Moderation)

I am moderate about nearly everything in my life. I am a moderate drinker. A glass of wine two or three times a week. I watch TV in moderation, maybe an hour a day. I exercise moderately, a couple times a week. I am politically moderate, neither too conservative nor too liberal. I give to causes I believe in, but never until it hurts. I get upset about injustice, but never protest it. I pray, but I don't often wrestle in prayer. I speak of Jesus, but usually not until someone else brings him up first.

From time to time, I dream of being a radical. It doesn't really matter what I would be radical about, just the thought of going all in for something gets me excited. I admire the lives of radical followers of Jesus that I have read about: Martin Luther King, Rich Mullins, and Shane Claiborne. But most of the true radicals will remain unknown to us. People who actually live out what they claim to believe, to the point of rejecting what most consider a normal life, often to the point of loosing their lives altogether.

I am reminded of Jesus, when he said you couldn't follow him unless you take up your cross. He said that the only way to keep your life is to give it up. C.S. Lewis put it another way "Christ says 'Give me all. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work. I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it.'" That sounds radical. That also sounds painful. Which is why I've remained a moderate. I don't tolerate pain well.

But what has moderation done for us? Moderation makes us respectable.  Moderation leads to a longer life. Moderation keeps us from doing something that might endanger ourselves or our families.  Moderation lets us do good things, but makes sure we watch out for ourselves. It's not like we should trust God to take care of us. Moderation says don't go all in. Moderation keeps us from doing something fool-hearted like selling all our possessions and giving them to the poor. Moderation holds us back from doing something crazy like giving our lives in service to others.

Moderation tends to keep things just the way they are. Are you happy with the world?  If everything is perfect and looks to stay that way, then by all means, embrace moderation. I, however,  don't see the world that way.

I see a world that is radically broken. A leader uses chemical weapons in his own country. An abortionist murders babies after they are born. A child is beaten to death by his parents. Selfish living is on the rise. Hate takes on new forms, but continues to grow. The poor are exploited, children are sold, women are used. Moderately good living is powerless against such evil.

Radical is at odds with so much of my life. I like having it both ways. Going to church, doing my religious duties, then coming home and enjoying the comforts of American life. I don't want to be the guy that rocks the boat and makes everyone upset. I don't want to part with my possessions  I don't want to put myself in danger. But if following Jesus is inherently radical, then I have to figure out which is more important. To be moderate, or to have Jesus. To have a comfortable life or an abundant life.

My friend Lance recently had the opportunity to help out a homeless man, giving him a ride and helping him secure a place to stay. He told me he kept feeling convicted to do more for the man. Later Lance found out the man he was helping was a registered sex offender. "Does that change how you feel about wanting to do more?" I asked him

His answer: "That just makes me wish I had more compassion on him. Who else is going to reach out to him knowing that." That is so radically different than the way we usually approach helping others. I think my friend is starting to get it. Moderation will not change the world. Jesus did not play it safe. Moderation did not lead him to the cross. To follow Jesus, to love like he does, we need to start going easy on the moderation.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Every Day Tragedy

As I am writing, my city, Joplin, MO, remembers the devastating tornado that touched down two years ago today. The tornado took the lives of 158 people and destroyed a third of the city. Just three hours down the interstate another community was more recently struck by a similar disaster. We stand with you today, Moore, OK.

As always happens after a major tragedy, someone starts questioning God. Then someone else feels the need to answer for God. I find little satisfaction in the answers people give, whether defending God's sovereignty or His love. It seems like something is always left out. Where is God's heart in all of this pain and suffering?

What is it about events like these that make us question God. On May 20, 2013, roughly 155,000 people died. 24 of them died in a tornado in Moore Oklahoma. I find it a little odd that we make such a  to-do about the 24, and forget the tragedy of the other 154,976. Each life was equally precious. Each death equally tragic, whether from cancer, car wrecks, or tornadoes.

The last I checked, the mortality rate in this country is at exactly 100%. I've heard it's about the same across the world. All of us will face death. Each time it happens, Satan chalks up another victory. The curse has beaten out another human being made in the image of God. Death is a tragedy that happens every day. It is not unique to major natural disasters, or mass homicides.

Jesus was faced with one of those every day tragedies, when his dear friend Lazarus died after a brief illness. You can read all about it in John 11 in the Bible.  Jesus came back with the very intention of showing the power and goodness of God in raising Lazarus from the dead. He knew that in a very short time he would defeat death and roll back the curse. Jesus knew Lazarus was about to walk out of the grave. But as Jesus approached the grieving family and friends of Lazarus, he wasn't thinking victory.

"Jesus wept"

If you want to know where the heart of God is in tragedy, look no farther. The God of the universe, sovereign over all creation weeps. God is sick of death beating up his children, enslaving the ones he loves. Even as God has unfolded his plan to defeat death, He weeps and mourns for those that are lost to this unspeakable horror. Every child that dies of malnutrition in Somalia. Every death-row inmate eating his last meal. Every baby who's brains are sucked out moments before it is born. Every octogenarian who dies peacefully in her sleep. God sees it. God weeps.

So today I join God and weep too. Not only for those lost in the tornadoes. Not only for their families who grieve. I weep for everyone who will face this everyday tragedy called death. Even as my hope is confident in resurrection, in victory over death my heart is heavy with the weight of its curse.

It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart. (Ecclesiastes 7:2)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Why Abercrombie and Fitch Won't Go Out of Business

No one wants to be the fat kid. But many of us are. In fact, studies show that obesity rates have nearly doubled to 35% in the last twenty years (perhaps we'll discuss gluttony another day). Americans are getting fatter, but we loathe ourselves for it.

Enter Abercrombie and Fitch. The clothing retailer has made a business out of clothing the thin, cool, sexy kids. Not the fat kids like many of us. A&F doesn't even make clothes the majority of people can fit into. Their womens' line stops at size 10, even though the average woman in America is size 12. CEO, Mike Jeffries, explained his marketing strategy in a 2006 interview.

"In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he told the site. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely."

Some people have fought back against Abercrombie and Fitch lately. My favorite is a campaign to give away Abercrombie apparel to the homeless. Nothing tarnishes the brand's young sexy image like seeing it on a drunk Vietnam vet. Forbes Magazine recently predicted Jeffries' insensitive comments would "wreck the brand." That won't happen. Fitch has staying power, and here's why.

Envy and Pride. These traits that have been plaguing us since the time of Cain and Abel. It hasn't gotten any better since. People want what they don't have. If they have "it", they want to be envied, to be given worth by having whatever "it" is. 150 years ago "it" was a full figure, at least for women. Since the masses were underfed, people who could afford to be fat were at the center of society. If A&F were around in 1870, they wouldn't have sold any sizes under seven. You don't want the brand tarnished by twiggy emaciated laborers. In 2013, food is abundant and cheap. It's easy to be fat. It takes discipline, and usually money to maintain a thin sexy figure. So being abnormally thin has become the desirable trait. If everyone could do it, it wouldn't be desirable anymore.

I admire brands like Dove, who make a concerted effort to idealize normal healthy women. In the end, their efforts will have little impact on our view of body image. People will still envy what they can not attain to. As long as food is cheap and abundant, filled with high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils, then thin will remain the enviable status. 

The cure isn't in stopping obesity. If we get everyone to a healthy weight (which would be great) we will just change our perspective and find someone new to envy. The cure isn't in learning to love our bodies, no matter how healthy or unhealthy they may be. Self-Idolatry is no more healthy than our idolizing of others. The cure is love. I don't say this out of a vague sentimentality. I say it because the Bible says it. 

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud." (1 Cor 13:4)

Abercombie and Fitch will continue to make money selling immodest clothes to undersized women, until we learn to love each other, accepting each other as people made in the image of God. Love requires that we rid ourselves of pride when we have what others desire, and envy when we want what others have. I don't see that happening any time soon, but I long for it as I long for the kingdom to come.

Read more:

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Facebook Fast

I did the three-day Facebook fast over the weekend. I don't think anyone knew I was gone. Fortunately my wife was not taking the fast, so I didn't miss out an an event a friend of ours posted about at the last minute. As a part of the fast, I read through "Unfriend Yourself" By Kyle Tennant. It's a short read. You find it here on  Amazon.

The fast and the questions raised by the book got me thinking. The conclusions drawn by the author were rather lukewarm. In the end, he keeps doing Facebook and advises using it in moderation. I was hoping for something a little more radical. "Use it in moderation" lacks the romance of "Down with the Evil Empire!" But I will probably keep my Facebook account as well, so what can I say?

I have known several people over the years have quit Facebook at some point, usually on strong moral grounds. Most of them are back on. Is there really a moral issue to social networking? Is it just their resistance to change, their discomfort with the rapid development of technology? Or is there something inherently wrong with the world we have created and the way we have learned to relate to each other online?

Tennant correctly points our in his book that the setting of social media is designed to promote ourselves. Never before have we had the opportunity to dress up our lives in such a way. We have always been able to put on the right clothes and try to say the right things. But Facebook (and similar media) give us the power to create an image. We pick the best pictures for our profile. We like the things we want people to associate with us (whether or not we actually like them). We post the good things, the clever things. We don't have to mention anything that might make us look bad. Facebook never created sections in the profile for "Common Vices," "Failed Relationships," or "Emotional Baggage." Facebook can be a lot like building a  beautiful statue... of ourselves, an idol to present to others for the worship of "likes."

The key barrier of building relationships is getting past image we put up of ourselves to impress others. We don't know others or allow ourselves to be known. We all have dirt under our nails and skeletons in our closet, but we try the our best to keep them hidden. The more distance we keep between ourselves and others, the better we keep this image in place. Social media creates an environment for keeping people at arms length. We gravitate toward Facebook precisely because it keeps us from the pain and vulnerability of authentic communion with others.

I have concluded a few things from this weekend. Feel free to glean any wisdom that may apply to you. I have a deep personal struggle with pride. I keep people at arms length. I live to keep up a gleaming image of myself, afraid that if people know the real me, they wouldn't like me. Facebook has been helping me feed the lie of perfection. Can I use Facebook to be more authentic? Maybe. But I think I will be more authentic the less time I spend there.

Social Networking has its place. If you're trying to promote yourself, write a book, start a business,or  raise funds for a cause - Facebook and the like can help you. Use it. If you're trying to post as many memes of cats as possible, please stop, it's getting old. If you're trying to build relationships, invite someone to coffee or a meal, write a letter(with paper and ink), or pick up the phone and call them. I'm going to try spending a little more time this week doing the later.