Jesus>the (future) President

Tomorrow, November 6th, Americans will head to the polls (if they haven’t mailed in already!) to vote for the next President of the United States. Presidential elections, thank God, only occur every 4 years. This year I’ve seen many of my friends and family alienated from one another because of emotional reactions to political opinions expressed in various formats. That, however, is not the subject of this blog.

The subject of this blog is what happens tomorrow night. After all the votes have been counted (which may actually take a couple of days), a President will have been decided. But something really odd happens after an election- some on the the “losing” side begin to wax depressed about how the country will fall into some dystopian state because “the other guy” won. People put so much stock in their political candidate, and invest so much emotional and intellectual energy into the cause of their preferred candidate that it negatively affects their disposition in a very strong way. I’m not saying it’s unnatural to have some sort of emotional reaction when you face disagreement, especially from half the country… but here’s what I am saying.

I’m writing this to ask Christians to check their hearts before heading to the polls. Many of you will feel this overwhelming sense of dread if your candidate loses. What if it means the end of America? Or at least America as we’ve known it? What if the newly elected President supports legislation you think is incredibly damaging? What if they’re pro-choice? What if they want to keep getting involved in foreign wars and conflicts? This will all lead to catastrophe!

Remember, when early Christians affirmed the statement, “Jesus is Lord” they did so in opposition to the Romans’ insistence that “Caesar is Lord.” Jesus fundamentally stood in opposition to the worship of the highest office in the land. Jesus is greater than any ruler. He’s the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and I’m sure if the office existed during the writing of the Bible, he’d be the President of Presidents. These aren’t spiritual statements. They’re political statements. They all proclaim this one central truth: Jesus>.

Jesus>political parties.

Jesus>ideology.

Jesus>the President.

Jesus>fiscal policy.

Jesus>foreign policy.

Jesus>your candidate.

Plain and simple. Jesus is greater. All I want is for Christians to keep this in perspective as they approach the polls tomorrow.

If, after the election has been decided you feel a sense of dread, I would suggest you’ve elevated a man and his philosophy to the place of God in your heart. If you’re placing your hope of well being in who gets elected President, you’ve offloaded God’s responsibility to the President. If you believe that everything you’ve known can’t withstand a Republican or Democrat in office, you’ve elevated them to an unhealthy level, and rejected the teachings of Scripture. Remember, Romans 13:1 says that the authorities that exist have been placed in authority by God. God is truly the decider of elections. Not you. And He’s in control. So let Him do His thing.

So tomorrow, if you find yourself on the “losing” side, remember this: you are on the winning side because God is in control. Thank God, suck it up, and be a cheerful loser. Congratulate the “opponent”. Rejoice, because God has a better plan than you do. America is just a place, the Church is a people. People are always more important than a governmental system or political philosophy. Ultimately, tomorrow’s election will be simply that: God’s will being elected. All because Jesus is greater.

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#Phony2012 (part 1)

Joseph Kony, number 1 on the ICC's Most Wanted List

I am writing this blog to clear up a few issues surrounding Kony 2012, the initiative started by Invisible Children (IC) to raise awareness and garner momentum for a grassroots movement to stop Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

I have some issues with this movement, and I think they need to be talked about.

I understand that at Northwest University I have a certain reputation that precedes me. As one of my primary roles at NU is as a debater I am often seen as being fairly abrasive and I am often in the thick of controversies. Many who have classes with me will probably know me as the guy they think asks too many questions. I am a very inquisitive and cautious mind. I understand that I can come across as a douche at times and I want to acknowledge that up front.

But in writing this post, I’m asking you to take me very seriously here. This post isn’t just me playing Devil’s Advocate to cause people to think critically. This post is meant to point out some VERY serious issues with the K2012 movement, and to ask people to reconsider their endorsement of said plan- at least parts of it.

Also, I want to be upfront, when I first watched the video I was really excited about it. I was jazzed to see people doing some things for it. I didn’t even watch the whole thing (it was late at night) but I posted a link to their merch page for my youth to see if they would be interested in helping. I was stirred as well. But I couldn’t help but think through a few of the other issues that were nagging me, and I’ve come to disagree with the main goal of their plan- to apprehend Kony (yes, I know their main plan with the campaign is to make him “famous” but the are lobbying for government intervention).

Before moving into my concerns, however, I would like to state where I feel IC does well. Firstly, they have a very genuine and authentic passion to make the children who are forced into rebel armies known to the world and to see them emancipated from their captors. They also genuinely want to see young people in America consider others around the world beyond their own little world. Secondly, they are BRILLIANT marketers. These guys could be making 6 figure incomes or more working for retail companies. Many ministry students would also do well to watch and analyze how they persuade people to action (though their techniques can be a bit manipulative… more on that later). Thirdly, I absolutely support their mission to make Joseph Kony a well known criminal- awareness can breed action. Their execution of their marketing strategies has always been fantastic, but this time they outdid themselves, which is why I’m particularly worried, actually.

I have a few issues with IC’s Kony 2012 campaign. My major concern is how they are trying to accomplish their mission of removing Kony from power. In the video that they released they argue for a couple things, things that besides being contradictory, are silly, dangerous, and do not take the complexity of geopolitical events into account.

First, my favorite part, they tell us that the world has changed and now WE are the ones in power. This is good marketing and is very manipulative because it stirs us to action thinking we can actually do something (which we can… but not by posting their video on your social media site). The problem is that it makes us content to think we are actually contributing to change while we sit behind our computer screens. This shifts our attention from more local issues, of which there are MORE than enough (my area of ministry, Everett, has massive gang issues, hard drug addictions, and severe homelessness). So, instead of actually engaging with the felt needs around us, we pay $30 to buy a highly packaged “Action Kit”, wear a bracelet and feel like we’ve done our good deed for the day/week. Eventually, as I’ve seen before, we will forget about this, and your bracelet will become a mere fashion accessory to show how “socially conscious” you are, instead of actually leading to serious change. So my first issue is that it builds local apathy and complacency. But that’s not even the worst part!

So, after the video tells you that YOU are the catalyst for change in the world now, they tell you that the only way of achieving any solvent change is to enlist their “2012 campaign.” This campaign involves targeting the 20 most popular cultural influencers (Rhianna, Bono, Justin Bieber and others) and the 12 most influential policy makers (John Kerry, Condy Rice, and others). So wait a second… I thought WE were the most valuable asset, yet we have to get the higher ups to still do stuff? See what I mean? Contradictory and done for the purposes of manipulation.

Now the 20 part of this campaign I really don’t have that big of an issue with. It’s the 12 part. The intentional targeting of US policy-makers to intervene militarily in Uganda. This is the part that I feel is incredibly misguided. Because, unlike their website suggests that they’re simply filmmakers and social activists, they have now moved into the realm of geopolitics and thus are playing with some serious fire. It’s no longer about social activism, it’s now about foreign policy making and political action. The problem with IC’s plan is that they want to push the US to train and provide the intel to the Ugandan military so they can apprehend Kony and bring him before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The problem that occurs for me is this: the Ugandan government itself is incredibly corrupt and the US will simply give them more knowledge, more firepower, and better training. Sure, they may be able to capture Kony, but it will only leave a bigger mess in its wake.

Some of my friends have rightly asked me what a better option would be, if I didn’t like IC’s initiative. I would have to say- pretty much anything is better than this plan. See, African politics doesn’t work like Western politics. Africa is a hotbed of culture wars, where tribes are often stuck within borders that don’t make any socio-economic sense. During the colonial era, western powers went through and just partitioned off whole chunks of Africa according to whatever land they could grab. They didn’t pay any mind to the regional politics that were in place. In the post-colonial period, the borders stayed, even though there was (and is) significant amounts of in-fighting that occurs. This caused serious regional instability. The West cause serious regional instability. The same exact thing occurred in Afghanistan (and Iraq, Iran, Israel etc.) conveniently. So we just assumed that everyone could all get along. Well back in the 80’s the US was in the Cold War with Russia. Russia was, at the time, occupying Afghanistan. Many Afghan locals wanted to see Russia gone, so the US capitalized on this and started funneling weapons, training, and intel to a rebel sect called the mujahideen, the group that later formed into the Taliban. Osama Bin Laden was a part of this group, and this group eventually went on to subjugate women, commit numerous human rights violations, razed farmer’s land, and contributed to a whole host of civilian problems. Then the US decided that they had to go fix the problem it created by propping up and providing weaponry and money to the very regime that would come to do MORE harm than the predecessors originally had done. The same exact thing can be said for Iran and Iraq.

So, I think that providing a corrupt government with more power and money is actually MORE harmful than good. So, if you must know, I think that the current problem is better than what they’re supporting. I also have problems with utilizing the Ugandan government to apprehend Kony and any other LRA leaders who are no longer in Uganda. They would have to invade other countries and break their sovereignty which is a major issue. It’s also problematic to ask the US to fund a mission to apprehend Kony to take him before the ICC, which the US revoked its support for. The UN would be a much better actor in this situation, because they have international legitimacy, peacekeeping forces that wouldn’t violate national sovereignty (not perfect but better than Uganda), and a larger pool of internationally supported money. Also, this furthers the silly notion that the United States needs to serve as the police of the world. It takes away from the international accountability that ought to be brought for other countries as well.

This is my biggest complaint with the Kony campaign. Even though the intentions are there, it will actually lead to more problems than it actually solves. There are some more issues which I will illustrate more in my next post, as well as address any concerns that may be brought up regarding this post.

About a Boy- Themes of Christian Discipleship

 

One of the classes I’m taking this semester is called Youth Discipleship. It’s been an engaging class that I’ve very much enjoyed- especially because it has immediate implications for me, since I have the privilege and honor of discipling some awesome youth at EFC. One of our assignments for class was to watch the move “About A Boy” and analyze how it may relate to Christian discipleship. I submitted my paper and my professor, knowing I do a bit of blogging, encouraged me to adapt it for a blog post, so here it is.

The move stars Nicholas Hoult as Marcus and Hugh Grant as Will, the main characters of this dramedy about the evolution of a relationship between a socially awkward boy (Marcus) and a man (Will) who seemingly has it all. Interwoven into the tapestry that composes the plot are a few bright threads that bring a subtle critique of the American individualism that disregards the needs of others, the struggles of an essentially parent-less boy (he has an absentee father and a self-absorbed, hippie mother) caught in the throes of a vicious social atmosphere, and the blatant apathy of of today’s adult male towards familial responsibilities. This scenario is now the norm for Christian youth workers, and we must adapt and learn to address the issues facing us today. There are 3 main principles that show promise for Christian leaders to draw principles of discipleship from: 1.) the vacuum caused by absentee fathers, particularly for boys, 2.) the mimicry process that occurs in relationships, regardless of intentionality, and 3.) the mutual transformation that occurs in discipling relationships.

Within the last five years or so, there has been a lot of research regarding the male decline in society- which has lead to the question of how the church ought to respond appropriately.  “About A Boy,” clearly shows traces of this theme, as the lead character Will has no job, no commitments, and dates casually (going so far as to join a single parents’ group to pick up the ladies). Similarly, Marcus’ father also rejected his responsibilities to his son and comes around only for holidays. This leaves Marcus with very little idea of how to relate to society, except from what he has learned from his “crazy hippie” mother. This leads us to ask, how can we help fill this gap in students’ lives, particularly the boys with absentee fathers/male role models. Much of our job is not only to teach them about Jesus, but now includes teaching them what it means to be a man in an evolving world that seems to be rejecting any sort of masculinity of old.

An interesting part of the movie is how Marcus picks up Will’s mannerisms and demeanor. Marcus begins to glean social cues from Will’s interactions- even if Will did not intentionally go about teaching Marcus societal expectations. Human beings, but particularly young human beings, are naturally mimics. Infants learn by observation and mimicry, they do not understand language yet, so traditional oratory learning is impossible, it’s all mimicked learning. This means that the actions of Christian leaders will likely be passed on to our students- both the good and the bad. This is a powerful tool that can either lead to particular harm or good- if used well, a leader can do positive discipleship simply by being rather than actively pursuing a goal. This leads to stronger affirmation for the student because they do not feel like a project, but rather feel like a valuable human being. Alternatively, however, students can also mimic the negative actions of leaders, which can lead to negative growth in students- thus leaders must be conscious that their actions have behavioral implications for their students.

Finally, this movie clearly illustrates the transformational nature of discipling relationships- not only the character/intellectual transformation of the student, but the transformation that also occurs for the teacher. Not only does Marcus go from the nerdiest kid on campus who gets others beat up for merely hanging out with him, but Will also goes from being the guy that hits on college girls in the bar to bearing the guilt and shame of humiliation with Marcus during the school talent show. Will’s sacrifice of character in that scene has faint echoes of the sacrifice and humiliation of Christ on our behalf. This is the distinguishing factor that separates Christian leadership from other leadership types. Most corporate leadership encourages leadership that ensures the dignity of the teacher isn’t lost- that he/she maintains their power. Christian teaching, as Will picked up on, is based in serving. It requires us to get messy, to get deeply involved with the needs and desires of our students. Much like Christ had to enter into the human condition in order to bring redemption and to teach us the value of life, Christian leaders should make sacrifices in comfort and position in order to ensure the spiritual well-being of our students. Christian discipleship, then, often transforms the teacher as much as it changes the student. When we can model the love Christ has for us, it grows us and teaches us that much more about the nature of Christ’s sacrifice.

It’s Not Religion, It’s a Relationship!!!! (Or is it?)

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My wife and I were over at the house of some friends of ours playing Apples to Apples one night. It’s an incredibly entertaining game and it’s very simple. There are two types of cards, red and green. Green cards have an adjective on them and red cards have a noun. One person in the game gets to be the “chooser.” The chooser controls a green card, then everyone else places a red card he/she thinks fits the adjective the best. The chooser picks which of the red cards he/she likes the most. A small description/definition is included on each card as well, just in case anyone is unsure of what the card means.

It’s a great game because it forces you to learn the tendencies of the people playing, because a chooser might like a more literalistic approach, or ironic, or funny etc. You learn a lot about people from playing Apples to Apples with them.

Well I grabbed a green card because I had just won a hand and the card said, “Worldly.”

I thought to myself, “HA! NOW THIS IS GONNA BE GOOD!” I was expecting something really trite to be laid down. Like TV, drug dealers, Jersey Shore, sex- y’know, something really bad. Because that’s how Christians think of the word. “Worldly” always has a negative connotation for Christians.

Then I read the definition of the word. I was shocked.

“Worldly- experienced, sophisticated, materialistic.” I let out a sigh of relief that at LEAST the writers included materialistic!

It really got me thinking, though. Christians use words in ways that nobody else uses them ALL the time! We have our own little jargon to separate us from “the world.” We are supposed to be “Not Of This World” as one particular brand of Christian apparel so constantly reminds us. This Christianese is ridiculous. It doesn’t really get us anywhere, does it?

When people use the same words to describe different things, it leads to confusion. There are brilliant philosophers who’ve written scores of books about this. In argumentation, the power to define almost always gives you the advantage. Christians don’t seem to mind too much though, we still keep using words differently!

My favorite Christian slogan is an extremely common one. It’s all too common, but doesn’t really mean anything. One time, I had somebody ask me if I was religious. I didn’t even have time to think about my response. No, I had seen too many strong Christians handle this in a brilliant way before me, so my response was automatic. Perhaps you’ve said it too?

“Nah man, I’m not religious. I’m a Christian. It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship!!” Man… That TOTALLY worked. My friend, judging by the look on his face, was speechless. He must have accepted Jesus because he finally realized that it’s not about religion, but about relationship. In reality, maybe not so much.

Most likely he thought, “whatever floats your boat man. Last time I checked, Christianity was the biggest ‘relationship’ on the planet.”

A powerful video was just released on YouTube by a guy named bball1989. It’s a video entitled “Why I hate Religion, but love Jesus.” It’s been passed around Facebook by a TON of my friends. When I took a screenshot of it, 25 people had already posted it, but now it’s over 35. The video is fantastic, and I don’t want to dog it. But it still falls into that trap of using words differently than everybody else uses them.

Even some of my favorite preachers use this phrase. They say, religion is about rules but Jesus isn’t. Really? Jesus doesn’t give us guidelines to follow? Seems like Matthew 5 piles on even stricter rules than the Old Testament had given… And what dictionary in the world actually says that religion is about rules?

Now, I get that we aren’t saved by rules. The fact of the matter, however, is that when it comes to defining what religion is, the rest of the world tacks on “rules” almost as an afterthought.

Here’s how dictionary.com defines religion, “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

Huh, sounds like Christianity fits ALL of those criterion.

Maybe, when somebody asks us if we are religious in the future, instead of highjacking the question we should just answer them straight. “Yeah, yeah I am. Are you?”

Maybe, instead of trying to reeducate people about the Christian definition of religion we can just use our faith as a springboard for having a conversation. Maybe we can say, “hey Christianity might not be what you think it is.” Or “yeah I’m religious, could you tell? I’m glad you could- let me tell you what Jesus has done in my life to make me believe in him.”

Just say anything other than, “no man, I’m in a relationship with Jesus!” All religions claim to be in a relationship with their gods, we just need to show that ours cared so much about being in a relationship with us, He left his home and came to ours so He could be in relationship and community with us and to point us back to God.