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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner: It ain’t Sidney Poitier

Rachel Dolezal

Rachel Dolezal

If Caitlyn Jenner married Rachel Dolezal, would it be an interracial same-sex marriage? For those of you living under a rock (I’m seriously thinking about joining you), Rachel Dolezal is the white lady and former leader of the Spokane NAACP who made the news recently because she self-identifies as black. Egad, just when I thought identity-bending couldn’t get any more confusing. It was bad enough when Bruce Jenner switched teams. Back in the day I had a man crush on Jenner when I was in high school because he was a cool jock. But the recent story about Dolezal choosing to be black made me wonder what the hades is going on in American society? Well, when humanity throws me for a loop, I check out the Bible for answers.

Going way back in history, the Bible says God cautioned humanity that those who did not know God or believe in God would eventually find themselves confused and off track about a variety of things in daily life. For instance, Deuteronomy 22:5 says that a man must not wear a woman’s clothes and a woman must not wear man’s clothing because such behavior is detestable in God’s opinion. The inclusion of this warning in the ancient text of the Bible tells me that Bruce-Caitlyn Jenner and the transgender community today are not breaking new ground. There has always been a demographic with a strong inclination to change their gender identity, whether society approved or not. Apparently that fact has now expanded to race, as well. Is the desire to switch teams and become a different gender or race something natural and healthy due to a genetic hiccup in the womb, or does it indicate mental illness? Is it a disability, a lapse in judgment, or a breakdown in character?

Isaiah 5:20 says, “What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.” I find it curious that a significant segment of our population today believes that radical self-transformations like those of Jenner and Dolezal are admirable, brave, and healthy. They say it is a good thing and anyone who disagrees is evil or hateful. They are saying bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. A growing segment of our population is losing the ability to discern the difference between good and evil as well as the difference between healthy and unhealthy.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” These two verses are at the root of many of our problems. We do not ask God about the way we live. That said, allow me to change direction here. What if Jenner’s decision to change gender was indeed the result of years of mental torment because he felt feminine in a masculine body? What if Jenner tried to find healing through every traditional clinical approach without success? What if Jenner asked God for help, but received none? (Yes I know it changes the dynamic if Jenner does not know God, but bear with me.) If that is the case, it is understandable why Jenner would take such drastic action as to change his gender. Given enough pain, EVERY person will try almost anything to make the pain stop. This is true of severe physical as well as mental pain. I know what some of you are thinking: God answers prayer and heals those in pain. I’m sorry, but sometimes God does not answer our every prayer and heal our body and/or mind of every ailment? The reality is that there are times when we are compelled to do whatever it takes to function without pain pushing us to the brink of jumping off a bridge.

I admit that I do not understand why God sometimes allows people to go through severe pain, and I try not to blame God. But in such situations, well, grace becomes priceless. Jenner needs our grace. As for Dolezal, I’m suspicious that her decision to change race was political or influenced by cultural forces, but ultimately I do not know her heart. Don’t get me wrong; I do not believe society should treat the decisions of Jenner and Dolezal with reckless admiration as if they are somehow leading us into a brave new world of utopian tolerance. However, extending grace and compassion to Jenner and Dolezal feels like the right thing to do.

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Stop Having Fun

MH900386362Christians get accused of trying to use the political process and laws to stop people from having fun and experiencing fulfilling lives. (Ironically, the political process is the definition of un-fun.) Many folks believe entertainment, fulfillment, jesting, and gaiety (just so there’s no jesting about gaiety) would mostly be eliminated from society if Christians had their way. The question Christians should ask is: Should we shove our values down the throats of adults who have little comprehension of all the spiritual and physical ramifications for immorality? Heck, I’m not certain most Christians understand all the ramifications. When it comes to sin, adults have freewill. We’ve had freewill since the Garden. (Of course some of the “fun” sins I’ve indulged as an adult fall into the category of childish . . . . which though ironic, won’t get me off the hook in God’s eyes.)

Some of the fun yet immoral things people enjoy clearly cause physical or psychological harm. The harmful effects of other fun activities prohibited in the Bible are not so clear and we take it on faith that God does not want people to indulge them because they harm us in some way. Granted, we have an obligation to prevent behavior that harms people and society, especially behavior that harms the most innocent and vulnerable among us. On some issues we need to take a hard stand. But again, we can only take it so far before freewill trumps our efforts to protect adults from harm.

Last year I got hooked on Duck Dynasty. It’s a TV show about a multi-generation family (the Robertson’s) who found financial success making duck calls for hunters. At first, the Robertson brothers, uncle, and father come across as a bit edgy with their long hair, beards, and Southern drawl. But as you watch more episodes, you become aware that these guys are just having a good time, despite conflicts and setbacks in life. The program shows how faith is a key component of their life.

Some Christians say that God doesn’t promise us happiness or fun times. I suppose there is fair amount of truth in that theological argument. On the other hand, I don’t recall God promising us nothing but suffering in this life. Sure, we will have problems, but we can often choose whether to have some fun along the way. The alternative is to become a dour bitter Christian who has no joy in life and takes delight in thwarting the joy and fun of others. Genuine Christians with a truly transformed heart don’t like to see people have fun in sinful ways because of the damage it causes. They love people so much that they hate to see them harmed.

Before you theologians point out that I don’t know the difference between joy and fun, let me just say that the two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the demonstration of the ability to have fun can be a great testimony of the presence of deep joy in a Christian’s life. So don’t feel guilty about having fun. It is possible to have a great deal of fun without slipping into debauchery.

The Blessed Realm of Suffering and Satisfaction

Tom (not his real name) and I were having tea yesterday (don’t judge us for doing a girly thing). Both in our fifties, we feel the onset of age-related aches and pains. And yet we were both laughing at the insidious assault of time against our bodies and minds. Tom said with a chuckle, “I can see the inevitability ahead.” Nevertheless, even with a serious medical condition that has impacted his lifestyle, Tom seems to age with dignity.

Growing old gracefully doesn’t necessarily happen naturally. It’s like any endeavor for improvement; it requires thoughtfulness, effort, and suffering. Jim Collins, author of Great by Choice, said: “. . . all writers seem to agree on one point: writing well is desperately difficult, and it never gets easier. It’s like running: if you push your limits, you can become a faster runner, but you will always suffer.” Suffering is a necessary ingredient for anything worthwhile.

Aging can make us cranky, bitter, angry, sharp-tongued, and a host of other unpleasant things. It doesn’t have to be that way. If we ask for God’s help, I believe we can push through to that place of satisfaction that comes through suffering. We can become gentle, funny, and wise even as our body aches and our hair turns gray. Without God’s help, we will become whatever the world makes us.

My Dog is Bitter (No, I did not mean biter.)

It is a beautiful day in Northern California and my two dogs won’t go outside after breakfast. (If they had thumbs they would play video games all day.) Anyhow, we recently bought two identical food bowls, one for each dog. Each food bowl is divided into sections designed to reduce the speed at which my dogs gorge themselves at feeding time. My female dog, named BG, is often bitter and irritable if our male dog, named Joe, gets his bowl of food a few seconds before she gets her bowl of food. BG probably thinks Joe is getting fed with her bowl. In the spirit of détente, my wife wrote each dog’s name on their bowl with a permanent marker, but that didn’t ease tensions between the dogs at meal time. (No, I have not questioned my wife as to why she thought it helpful to write the dogs names on their identical bowls, which made me wonder if my dogs are more literate than I give them credit.)

BG often gets irritated at everything Joe does. If Joe gets a few pats on the head, BG growls at him. If Joe runs to get his bone, BG growls at him. If Joe tries to sleep under the bed with BG, she growls at him. If we go to the park and chuck a tennis ball for Joe to retrieve, BG chases Joe and barks at him. (Their relationship is a lot like marriage . . . did I just say that?)

Have you ever noticed how some people are just like BG? They find fault with everything and everybody. Negativity oozes from their pores. If management changes the layout of office furniture at negative Neal’s place of employment, he doesn’t like the new layout. If a colleague at work makes a mistake, he is on it like white on rice. If the company changes a policy, negative Neal whispers complaints under his breath. If a meeting starts late, negative Neal gripes about the leader’s lack of punctuality. On the other hand, if negative Neal makes a mistake, well, you bring it up at your own hazard. In the mind of negative Neal, his work is important and highly confidential while the work of others is unnecessary and inconvenient, especially when it interferes with his duties.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not an acolyte of Norman Vincent Peale. I do not bow down at the altar of the power of positive thinking. To deny that bad things happen is to deny the truth. I do not believe God expects us to live in a fantasy world where we pretend everything is OK. But I find it disconcerting when encountering uber-negative Christians who have been churched a long time. I have fallen into this trap at times. You know the type: the person who will tell you they are an imperfect sinner but never seem to see their own flaws, only the flaws of others. Again, don’t get me wrong, I too see all the faults and warts that are part of the modern Christian church. What I am talking about here is an unhealthy personal feeling of superiority to others. A need to constantly feed the beast of superiority through criticism is evidence of something amiss in a person’s life. It is, rather, a weakness and a possible sign of deep insecurity.

If the entire Christian church would spend several weeks a year studying and implementing the three verses in Matthew 7:3-5 (it will have more impact if you look it up), it would send shock waves through the darkness for generations. It would also drastically improve the spiritual, mental, and physical health of God’s people. In addition, Philippians 2:14-15 tells us to stop grumbling and complaining. We can attend church for years and go through all the motions of piety, but it is just dead religion if we never make these verses active in our lives. Sure, we’ll feel good when our ears are tickled by truth, but we won’t be transformed down deep in our soul. These verses are the cure for many ills.