Monday, December 18, 2006

my thoughts on monday

Note: The following are my thoughts in response to the questions and issues raised in the 24+ comments on the post two below entitled "I don't mean to bug you . . . " If you're trying to make sense out of this post, better start with that one. I've posted it as comment 26 in the comments section of that post as well as here, for easy future reference.

Happy Monday, brothers and sisters in Christ! Two posts back, I asked for your perspectives and you sure shared them. Thank you all very much for sharing your minds and hearts on this relevant issue. While vulnerable, scary and potentially divisive, I do believe in the concept of passionate dialogue and principled debate. For the most part, I think that is what we’ve experienced around this issue. Nothing got too out of control or too personal. I trust our relationships and fellowship are intact.

I am resigned to the fact that my calling in life as a pastor involves lots and lots of communication. I honestly get very tired of hearing my self talk. (If you do, too . . . just keep that fact to yourself please.) I have made matters worse by starting and maintaining a blog. (What was I thinking?!) As I preach and post regularly, I have resigned myself to the fact that it is inevitable that I will, at times, offend, upset, and/or disappoint some (many?) people. Its not my goal and I sure try to avoid it, but its reality. Pastors need to have tough skin, but a tender heart. I try to maintain both.

Sometimes I know when I’m about to step in a hole, and I pridefully choose to step into it anyway. Not in this case. When I posted the original post, I honestly did not recognize it as a hole, but now that I’ve fallen in neck-deep, let me humbly share some final thoughts. I hesitate to do so, because I have little confidence that I can sway, convince or comfort some of you, but I promised some additional thoughts, so here goes . . .

Let me begin with some apologies:

First, to Original Anon: I’m sorry for posting your email to me without asking you first. I regret doing that. I missed a step in asking if I might post your comments. I wish I would have done that. I understand now there was a reason you emailed me privately instead of leaving a comment. I’m publicly asking for your forgiveness. Will you forgive me?

Second, to any others out there for whom the original or cropped ad might have been a cause of stumbling or a cause for sexual temptation: Please forgive me. I had no clue that the photo held that kind of potential for you or anyone. I have come to believe that men and women are wired and aroused very differently. . . men are aroused by the visual while women are not aroused visually, but in other ways (words, touch, romantic niceties). While perhaps this is true generally, your sharing has convinced me that perhaps this not true across the board. Will you please forgive me?

Please hold on to my apology as you read all that’s written below. It in no way negates the apology above . . .

Why does "life together" exist?

The stated purpose of “Life Together” is up top on the masthead. . . “to explore, contemplate and pursue life together at Grace Church, SLO.” In other words, my aim with the blog is, in some small way, to facilitate our Christian community. I believe this involves, among other things, exploring the ties that bind us in Christ; our place IN the world but not OF the world; and how the Gospel applies to every area and sphere of our lives and the whole universe. I believe these ends require us to think long, hard, critically and Biblically about the cultural context we live in and challenge that culture where appropriate.

I believe that humor and even satire can be a means by which that critical thinking happens. (Anybody familiar with the Christian publication The Wittenburg Door?) In addition, I believe its true that “a picture is worth a thousand words” and that images sometimes have the power to expose lies and convey truth. Furthermore, I believe that laughing is a part of “life together.” Frankly, I need to do a lot more laughing in my life.

I think all that has happened over this post fits well into the stated purpose of "life together."

What was the point of the post?

A few commenters asked, “What was the point of the original image and post?” Stated above. The series of advertising posts was intended to be an exercise in critical and Gospel thinking.

In my message on December 10, I talked about how the prevalence and sheer volume of modern advertising plays upon and fuels our natural discontentment. I thought it would be valuable to pursue that rabbit trail a bit here at “life together.” I believe, with all due respect to some, that the exercise had everything to do with the Gospel, contentment in Christ, and the original sermon.

The post in question referenced a website aimed at challenging modern advertising which was also my original intent in the series of posts. I clicked over and looked at a few things on the site, but not a lot. Nothing struck me as offensive, inappropriate or impure. In fact, much of it struck me as very insightful and quite funny, including the pictures I posted.

The first spoof was chosen because it built upon my grocery store example in the sermon and humorously showed where things might go next. Potty humor, to me, has no point. That spoof made a poignant and funny point. . . . to me and a few others. Apparently a few did not find it funny, but offensive.

The second spoof was chosen, as I have stated, because I thought it insightfully exposed the modern infatuation with the physical and our valuing of some body types over others. While that spoof may have unintentionally caused the stumbling of a few, I think we can agree that was not the original intent of the spoof (or my posting it!) Nor, in my opinion, was the original intent of the spoof to insult men who have shapes or hair like that. The original intent of the spoof (and my posting it!) was to lightheartedly challenge the lies of modern advertising and our cultural values of body image. The image and my posting was meant to be funny. Its obvious that it wasn’t to some, but it was meant to be and it was to me and others.

(Incidentally, my use of the word “silly” was not in reference to Original Anon’s point of view, as Husband asserted, but in reference to the picture itself. The picture, I believe, was intended to be silly, as in humorous . . . . not provocative or offensive.)

What about the weaker brother or sister?

So we've recognized (I, the hard way!) that some of us think that picture is offensive, while others don’t.

That’s the rub, is it not? We all have different sensibilities in these matters. Depending on our backgrounds, experience, personalities and make-up, what’s appropriate to some is inappropriate to others. What offends me, doesn't necessarily offend you. What makes one struggle, isn’t a problem at all for someone else. What’s sin for one is not sin for another. We see this in the area of language, social drinking, movies, music, financial stewardship, etc, etc, etc. I would call these many areas, “matters of conscience.”

In both Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8, 10:23-32 where these “matters of conscience” are addressed, Paul seems to argue for three guiding principles:

  1. Our Freedom in Christ. It is broad and sweet.
  2. Our Acceptance of One Another. We are not to judge, but leave the judging to God. We are to respect one another's differing convictions.
  3. Our Concern for the Weaker Brother/Sister. We are to curb our freedom for their good.

The weaker brother, as I understand the text, is the less mature Christian who has not fully come to know and understand our freedom in Christ. Their conscience is bound, not because of some direct command of Scripture, but because of some background experience or other reason. Having said that I think its possible for mature believers to differ on matters of conscience.

When we are in the presence of a weaker brother and we know it, we are to limit our freedom in Christ in order to keep them from stumbling. When we are in the presence of mature believers, we are free.

Its hard to hold the three principles together. I think we must stridently argue for and teach our freedom in Christ because legalism is a threat to and contrary to the Gospel of grace. This is the point of Galatians and Colossians 3:16-23. Mature believers are to give one another great latitude in matters of conscience for this is mark of Christian maturity. Mature believers are to willingly and eagerly give up their freedoms while in the presence of less mature believers who we know struggle with particular areas. At the same time, without flaunting or abusing their freedoms, the more mature are to gently instruct the less mature in the principles of Christian liberty.

Its easy to fall into license. Its safe to run to legalism. Paul challenges legalists, but cares for weaker brothers. It’s a constant battle to hold the three principles together: freedom, acceptance, concern for the weaker brother.

Not only that, sometimes its difficult to tell the difference between a legalist and a weaker brother. Sometimes its difficult to know when a weaker brother is present or where a weaker brother might struggle. This is the case in the present situation. I honestly was not aware that the original photo was something that might cause offense or stumbling to some. (see Second Apology above) I don’t think that was poor judgment, but ignorance on my part. Call it poor judgment if you prefer.

However, when Original Anon, brought that to my attention, I cropped the photo, but I was curious and wanted to explore this some, which is why I posted her email to me and invited more dialogue.

In the course of events, I think I’ve sensed among us some legalism, some mature believers with differing convictions; and also the presence of weaker brothers and sisters. Its been a terrific learning process. Hopefully valuable for us all. I remain steadfastly committed to all three: 1. challenging legalism, 2. accepting those with differing convictions and 3. caring for the weaker brothers and sisters by limiting my own freedoms for their good. I believe that the Gospel demands all three.

In retrospect, had I recognized the potential for weaker sisters to stumble, I would have refrained the original spoof. I would have limited my freedom in this area.

My thoughts on a few other issues that were raised. . .

What about the kid readers?

Not only do we have different sensibilities in these matters of conscience, but we also have different parenting styles. I want “life together” to be something that all the generations at Grace feel safe to read. As I have stated, I did not find the spoofs posted offensive, but funny and instructive. . . for folks of all ages. (I have come to see otherwise!)

I’ve had great and open conversations with my computer savy-children about these spoofs and the storm raging at “life together.” We tend to be very open with our children because we’re committed to inoculating them against and preparing them for life in the real world. I want my children, too, to think long, hard, critically and Biblically about cultural matters of all sorts, so they might live the Gospel and impact the world. We, at the same time, endeavor to train our children about the importance of modesty in dress and behavior.

What about the double standard?

If men and women are aroused differently, then there’s not a double standard, but a different standard for good and obvious reasons. If, however, as I’m hearing, bare-chested men are a real struggle for some women, then I better put a shirt on at the lake. Of course, a picture of a woman similarly clad and posed (and hairy?) woman would be inappropriate and offensive to all.

I have posted pictures of my partially naked sons in the tub here at "life together." I didn't think twice about that. You better let me know if that causes you to stumble.

What about offensive Biblical material?

I agree that there is much in the Bible that is offensive to at least someone. Christmas is the story of how God impregnated a young, poor, unwed peasant girl. That’s pretty offensive and scandalous! When Paul calls all his life before Christ “excrement” in Philippians 3:8, is he using potty humor or is he making a point? Jesus contemporaries were appalled by the people He hung out with, the places He went, the things He said, and what He did and didn’t do on the Sabbath. The concept of a dying Messiah was offensive to the Jews and foolishness to Greeks. Paul ate meat sacrificed to idols, scrapped circumcision, and encouraged Timothy to drink a little wine for his stomach. David danced before the Lord. Proverbs openly references female body parts. All these examples were/are offensive to someone or some culture at some time. (At least I’m in good company!)

I don’t think our goal is merely to not be offensive. Its much more ambitious than that. Our goal is to believe and embody and glory in the Gospel of God’s grace, which obviously involves a lifestyle of growing holiness and Christ-likeness.

What’s the difference between what’s appropriate in worship and what’s appropriate on a blog?

My own view is that the blog medium does allow for differences in format (dialogue, comments, referenced articles), but also in content. I agree that a different moral compass should not be used in the two mediums. I did not say that in my initial response. When we worship, our focus is far more narrow in scope. We come to God with song and prayers and offerings. God comes to us through Word and sacrament and our fellowship together. There’s a whole lot I talk and blog about in the whole sphere of life that I don’t talk about when I preach. For example, I would never show that “silly” (there’s that word again!) baptism video from the last post in church.

In Conclusion. . .

I think I’ll leave it at that. Once more, I apologize to those for whom recent posts were a cause for stumbling or sexual temptation.

I can say with confidence that "life together" will continue to be engaging, thought-provoking, occasionally offensive to some, Gospel-centered and messy. I will strive to keep it wholesome for readers of all ages.

Thanks for reading and thinking along. . . Pastor Tim

Oh yeah, Colin rocks for pegging that "I don't mean to bug you . . . " is a Bono quote from Bullet the Blue Sky off the Rattle and Hum album.


GDL Wong said...

Bravo Tim!

I'm glad that your blog stirs people to diagree and open a forum to express their thoughts.

Truly it is LIFE TOGETHER...

Suzette Lyons said...

Wow, I get sick and can't keep up with the blog for awhile and I missed all this.

It is so sad that some peoples feelings were hurt especially since I could tell that most of the posters were humble and appologetic in their wording. Maybe it is unavoidable when we all hold differing views. So I will just appoligize ahead of time - I want to be sensitive and I will do my best.

The whole "legalism" issue is what stood out to me most. Although I was not offended at the picture, I find myself really agreeing with the "strict fundametalists". Which is weird to me because I grew up with a secular and basically anti-chirstian view (I thought that Christians were self-righteous, look down on other people, were just into following mindless rules, and out of touch with reality(otherwise how could they be so joyful) - it is embarassing to me now, but those were my thoughts. And when I first became a Christian I was quite worried about what other people (especially my non-Christian family) would think of me. As God has given me a little joy, what my non-Christian relatives think just pales in comparison.

I think wanting to be pure in all our ways and encouraging others to a higher standard is something we are all called to do. There are so many little things that I struggle with that fall into this catagory. It is so easy to trivialize little white lies and gluttony and going five miles over the speed limit when I am late or any of the "the rule is this _____, but something else would be so much more expedientand and it's just legalism, so why not just do it my way" type of thinking - the list is just endless and the temptation is always there. Does God care about _____ or is it just legalism?

That blank can be filled with all kinds of things great and small. For example I was pro-choice when I first started going to Grace Church seven years ago(don't worry God has spoken to me on that one).

So I guess I fall into the weaker sister catagory. God has worked very hard in convicting me and changing my thinking and all His work could be undone by one little word "legalism". I think that legalism is a concept that is too easily used to justify sin. I feel very much like raskell 8. Clinging to the Word of God and what it says about a certain issue is a very safe place for me. God speaks through His Word and changes my heart. One issue at a time God has been turning me 180 degrees from myself to Him. So God bless every one of you who quoted scripture and encouraged us all to remember how high and holy God is and how we are called to be like Him. When I hear those words I do not hear criticism. I hear life! And I am reminded that I can never do it on my own stregth. Yes! God wants me to follow so many rules. He wants me to be completely honest in every detail of my life. He wants me to obey every law of man even if it is stupid. He cares about how much I eat and my motives for eating it (like for comfort which He wants to provide). He wants me to do what is right even if everyone else is doing wrong and be kind to people who are spitefully using me (and not think "you've got to be kidding"). And most important is how I am to do it all. Not by my own strength (good thing because I have none), but by His strength.

This one was worth commenting on because it just hit me right where I struggle in my faith.

Roy said...

I think your right on Suzette, God wants us to be Holy as He is Holy!