31 January 2017

Christian, please stop...

On my way to the office this morning, I noticed a quote on the side of a building near where I live.  A Google search attributed the words to Publilius Syrus, a Latin writer known for that kind of sententiae.  Regardless of its origin, the quote itself -- faded letters on the whitewashed side of a dilapidated building that I drive past nearly every day -- suddenly struck me as so very relevant.

"In quarreling, the truth is always lost."

Of course, the beauty of a slogan is its brevity, but the challenge is interpreting its true meaning.

Here's the way I see it.  We live in the midst of socially and politically turbulent times.  I don't know that there has ever been a time in our nation's recent history, outside of openly declared civil war, that its peoples have stood so internally divided.  And frankly, the issues separating Right and Left are exactly the kinds of things that are truly worth fighting about -- issues of immigration, the lives of unborn children, foreign policy.  In one way or another, these are issues of morality that I believe the Lord bears on His own heart.

But there's a disconnect, because there isn't really debate on this issues so much as there is open warfare between both sides.  And it's not a simple problem of fact-checking when it comes to deciphering who's right and who's wrong.

It's really just the problem of being quarrelsome in and of itself.

The ability to hold different opinions is at the core of American ideology, but both Left and Right seem to have forgotten how to do that with any degree of civility.  Commentary on popular issues from both sides is entirely hateful, vengeful, and destructive.  Protest marches are only peaceful in the sense that no one is openly carrying weapons.  Media coverage from both Right and Left are unabashedly biased, sourcing different information and seeking only to demoralize and vilify the opposition, never allowing for misunderstanding, proper context, or genuine rebuttal.  Statistics are manipulated and rendered useless by both sides.  And even as the masses acknowledge the problems inherent to mainstream media coverage, we swallow it.  And in so doing, we allow the rage to fester.  We seek to dominate the other side rather than defuse the tension by coming to terms.

We lose our way and our identities in the quarrel -- along with what we were even fighting about.

I can't really tell anyone who doesn't hold to Christian ideals how to conduct themselves on these issues.  But for those of us who do confess the name of Jesus, here's a couple things that I beg of those within the church to please, please stop doing.

Christian, please stop needlessly quarreling.

The internet, the news, and the world are all viciously embroiled with conflict.  The noise is sickening: the combatants on both sides are men and women who can't see past their own ideals and preferences, who would rather see the opposition as criminals rather than fellow human beings, who could never swallow the possibility that they themselves might actually be in the wrong.

It is so critical that we as Christians temper our public critique with love and humility -- that is, after first determining if it is even necessary for us to speak at all.

You don't need to prove your point to those who hold the opposite opinion.  They have as much right to hold their perspective as you do, and it's between them and God Himself whether or not they're wrong.  Your job is not to change somebody else's moral standard, their political affiliation, or their stance on Creation.  Your job, when you speak out, is to introduce people to the love and hope of Jesus Christ that you yourself have experienced.  When Jesus instructed His followers to love our enemies and turn the other cheek, I don't think He was talking only about those who are literally shooting at us, but also those who can't see eye-to-eye with us, and those who hurl mixed insults and falsehood.

Truth is lost when we quarrel -- the true facts of whatever we're arguing about, not to mention our real purpose in entering the argument in the first place.  If we must disagree (and on some of these issues, we must), let's do it with poise and a desire to hear out the other side before we even begin to open our mouths (Jas 1.19).  Furthermore, let's also consider the time and the place.  At the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, the internet is not really the place to wage war.  YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram comments are not going to influence someone the way one-on-one conversation can.  The greatest impact to be had is on individuals with whom we have personal relationships, so we must start there, not with a keyboard soapbox.

I know we all burn to speak in the face of falsehood and deception, which we see lots of in the modern political climate.  And by no means am I suggesting that we should just hold our tongues and bear up in silence.  However, we should seek to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the holy calling with which the gospel has ensnared our hearts (Eph 4.1-3), and not simply act out of a desire to correct erroneous perceptions and set records straight.  That kind of vindication will truly come from only one place (Rom 12.19).

Christian, please stop making your local church body a political platform. 

First, it should not be the primary agenda of the church to seek to influence politics.  The church's primary agenda should be seeking to influence its congregants and the world with the gospel (2 Cor 5.18-19).  Don't get me wrong, the church should address political issues from the pulpit and spend much time praying for our nation and its leaders... so that the people as individuals may have positive influence within their communities, the local government, and their political affiliates.  But we must be careful not to confuse a shortsighted goal for an eternal one and potentially damage the image and influence of our congregations in the eyes of our larger communities.

Second, don't assume that you speak for everyone in your congregation.  Christians need to stop lumping all so-called "Leftist liberals" into the same category, just the same as they must stop assuming all "good" Christians are hardcore Republicans.  Believe it or not, a good number of true fellow brothers and sisters in Christ identify more strongly with "them" than with "us."  In other words, YES -- allegiance to Christ CAN and DOES surpasses voter registration.  You should never assume that every Christian holds the same political values as you, or that everyone who disagrees with you is "the enemy."

Do many in the opposing camp hold ideals contrary to the morals of Scripture?  Certainly.  But not all of them do.  And furthermore, it's comical to be offended by the fact that an individual who doesn't adhere to the same standard as we do might practice or support things contrary to what we ourselves believe to be right.  In other words, why should people who aren't Christians act like they are?  Does that actually gain them anything in the light of eternity?  Be careful -- if you said, "Yes!" then you might be preaching a gospel of works rather than a gospel of grace.  If those on the "other side" are truly in need of rescue, then let's first address hearts, not behaviors.

Whether you identify as a Democrat or a Republican, assuming the guilt of the other side impairs your ability to understand the complexity of the issues at stake and also keeps you from engaging on an individual basis.  No one side or the other is immune to hypocrisy or human error -- or, for that matter, the tendency to cover up rather than confess such things.

In that regard, no matter who he may be as an individual, and no matter what political party he spearheads, we need to remember that the president is not the Messiah.  The One who truly claims that title died a long time ago to save you from a much bigger need.  And while God might use the current administration to accomplish His purposes, that doesn't mean that the president is acting with that perspective in mind, nor does it mean that he is the answer to all the issues facing our country.

On the other hand, even if you're of the opinion that the man currently behind the Oval Office desk deserves neither honor nor your respect... well, frankly, not a one among us deserves those things from our peers either.  The grace of the Father is only applicable to sinners who admit their own unworthiness, after all.  Personally, I didn't vote for Donald Trump.  Even though I might align with a number of his policies, I could not in good conscience support the man for the role of president.  But all things considered, he is now in the position of Commander-in-Chief, and I should do my best to demonstrate both honor and respect, the same as I did with Barack Obama (for whom I also didn't vote, by the way).  As Christians, we are responsible to respect those in authority over us, even in a place where we are Scripturally obligated to speak out against them.

Christian, please stop elevating American ideals to the place of Scripture.

I've ruffled feathers with this before, but it is one of my deep convictions that Jesus didn't die for my right to vote, own a gun, or say whatever the heck I want in any given forum.  Our Founding Fathers certainly did, and I -- like you -- am deeply thankful for it.  But Jesus gave Himself for something much bigger.  That sacrifice, that of God on behalf of all humankind, should enable us to engage in disagreements with those who hold opposite political viewpoints with a degree of intentional aloofness, because this world -- this nation -- is not our home, and the laws and liberties we hold dear are nowhere promised to us in the pages of Scripture.

As a matter of fact, Jesus and the Apostles both preached that living the life of a truly engaged disciple is to incur hostility, persecution, and even physical altercation -- not rights, freedoms, and liberties (John 15.20; Rom 5.31 Pet 2.19).  While God does give countless blessings to mankind, the New Testament resounds with the theme that when we are truly living lives that demonstrate our faith in and allegiance to our Savior, we will be on the receiving end of animosity.  Let us be cautious, then, to incur the world's hatred not for the hypocrisy of preaching love, peace, and justice on the picket lines with angry signs in the air, but for our faithful commitment to true religion -- the love of orphans, widows, and the afflicted; and the lifelong pursuit of self-control and holiness (Jas 1.27).

So let's not quarrel over the peripheral stuff.  Let's be earnest, and disagree about it with civility, respect, and humility.  Let's not obscure the truth of Christianity with the idolatry of American ideals.  Let's uphold the good of our nation in an open-handed way -- not with a lack of careless regard for the issues at stake, but with a greater sense of what we possess in Christ for all eternity.  Let's fight for the life of the unborn and the protection of the refugee without tearing down the entire institution.  Let's make it a priority to deal one-on-one with individuals, because it is in our real relationships with real people that we can affect real change.

Let's not quarrel at all, because quarreling only obscures truth.  As Christians, listening first and carefully choosing our battles can go much farther toward affecting change in the world around us than can getting needlessly red in the face.

06 January 2017

Reviews, Pt. 11

Part 1 -- Part 2 -- Part 3 -- Part 4 -- Part 5 -- Part 6 -- Part 7 -- Part 8 -- Part 9 -- Part 10

Next on the playlist!

After much delay, here are the handful of album reviews I've written since July.  As usual, clicking on the album covers will take you to the band's music where you can listen to and/or download the album in full.  The hyperlinks will take you to my reviews.


Yossi Sassi Band - Roots & Roads (Israel)
[PROG Mind / Tollbooth]

The Yossi Sassi Band officially debuts its unique brand of Middle Eastern metal with a conscience, branching out of the independent musings of the band’s founder into a collaborative effort.
Karmakanic - DOT (Sweden)
[PROG Mind / Tollbooth]

DOT is a new apex for Karmakanic, a symphonic project rich with virtuosity and creativity.
John Wesley - A Way You'll Never Be... (USA)
[PROG Mind / Tollbooth]

Another hook-filled, hard rock album with an indie, singer/songwriter bend, A Way You’ll Never Be is the distillation of John Wesley’s past projects and a conception of music that is raw and unapologetic.

The Jelly Jam's well-crafted fourth record is their first concept album.
Syndone - Eros & Thanatos (Italy)

Eros and Thanatos is a powerful, multilayered concept album with memorable passages (whether or not you speak Italian!) and plenty of complex musical hooks that will especially attract the ears of keys aficionados.