THE EVOLUTION OF GOD

Some of you don’t remember 1985, but I do.  I remember 1980!  And though there wasn’t exactly a well-formed statement or complaint, I sensed early on there was a cultural disappointment that we hadn’t got our jet packs yet.  I’m not sure about 1980, but by 1985, jet packs were behind schedule!

Think about that a minute.

Sure, this is not a well-defined phenom I describe, but if I sensed it, I bet others did too.  There was definitely a sense of progress in the air as the stock market roared to life and everyone’s standard of living seemed to rise with the tide.  But there were these nagging disappointments about how utopia was so close yet remained just out of reach.  (AIDS?)  At least we had futuristic hair and clothing styles!  (Parachute pants?)

And if there’s one thing about living a life of faith, it’s that the temptation subtle (not overt) to move God out of the driver’s seat when things are good, and, baby, God was very much moved out of the driver’s seat (subtly, of course) in the 1980s.  We complained about it too, but that was just lip service, really.  A political talking point for vanity’s sake, and not much more.

These are my subjective memories and experience, sure, and as such should be modified before accepted willy-nilly.  But I bet others recognize the picture I paint.  There is something to it.  I will freely admit, between my age (as an impressionable youth), the time, and the place(s), personal influences impact my presentation.  But, as I see it, “God” has evolved quite a lot over the course of my life.

My faith heritage was a particularly hardcore sect of American Protestantism.  It would be easy, for outsiders, to say we were evangelicals, but not for an insider, and even as an outsider, you would see us as an outlier on that graph.  We were “people of the book” on steroids.  Passages like Hebrews 13:8 would create a very rigid image of God for us.  But the world around us was becoming so fluid that we didn’t see the changes even within ourselves.

Like the elephant in an alcoholic’s room, Darwin’s evolution owned Monday through Friday, the dirty devil owned Saturday, leaving only Sunday for Jesus.  Sunday and (well, okay) an hour every Wednesday night.

Think I exaggerate?

The science teacher at our school was a member of our church.  He was the one teaching Darwin and evolution M-F, but piously sitting through stale worship with the rest of us on Sunday.  Oh sure, in our small, conservative town in that day and age, he would spend a moment or two qualifying the lesson plan with his double-minded devotion, since practically all 30 kids in his class were “Christian” of one brand or another, and he would tell us we needed to learn this stuff to get along in the world, to pass the test, to get a diploma, so that you can go to college and get a job.  We had to pay the devil these dues.

Really?  As a man of God, a member of the “people of the book,” did he find God authorize that?

No.  He didn’t.

Yet no one challenged this.

Sitting there in a classroom (or church building) lit by electric lightbulbs, invented by scientists and engineers who did not learn this power from Jesus, but from science, the evolution was subtle, but powerful.  No one had to pray for light; you just flicked a switch, and like magic, the power was at your fingertips.  Absentminded power of unbelievable proportions, no need to pray for it.

Wow!

I feared hell, of course, but that was all mythical in nature.  I feared Jason in Friday the 13th like that.  My real fear, the one that had my parents’ generation running drills and taking cover under their school desks, was nuclear war.

I went to the mall each weekend not realizing I was hypnotized by “the Gruen effect”* or that merchants, even from ancient times, create artificial worlds that entrap the human imagination – sometimes inventing problems so they can sell you the new and improved solutions!  And anyway, some of those boutiques offered tantalizing pictures and gadgets a twelve-year-old has no business looking at.  But I found them with no parents around to intervene.

And who took me to the mall in the first place?

My parents.

It was de facto permission.  Shoot, almost an invitation!  They could hardly have engineered this exposure more if they rolled out a red carpet!

With God’s turf whittled down to Sundays and a brief moment on Wednesdays, everything quietly and subtly became clear to my impressionable, young mind.  When my family sat down to eat homecooked meals together, we offered prayer before we ate, but when we sat down to a meal at Taco Bell or Luby’s, we did not.  Someone still offered a prayer along with a ceremonial raising of the flag and the national anthem at the ball game, but this was not real worship; this was a token of a bygone era, as much for the benefit of beer drinkers as Christians.

God was getting small while the rest of us got high.

We made mention of our freedom of religion in political discourse, but of course the “Christians” were already divided and conquered in Baptist, Methodist, and Pentecostal enclaves by that point, and the discussion remained generic mostly except that it addressed abortion, prayer in school, or homosexuals and AIDS.  In fact, I was a little embarrassed by “the moral majority,” not for flexing power, but for being such fuddy-duddy, goody-two-shoes and daring to address the larger world, the turf already surrendered to Darwin by God.  These impotent do-gooders didn’t know their place!

I never would have said these things in those days, but I was feeling them.  That’s how it works being subtle and double-minded.

In the faith heritage-sect I grew up in (and others too, I presume), we held “the health-n-wealth gospel” in ridicule.  This was the one place where God seemed to be growing.  Maybe we were secretly envious.  Not so much of the hair and makeup of the wives on their televangelist shows, but for how that in a world of Reagan and “greed is good” investments (and movies), the health-n-wealth gospel found a way to be relevant.  Either way, this was the evolution of God.

I look back now and see how sexist, racist, and “homophobic” (I have trouble with that term) it all was.  We have evolved since those days!  Our evolved God is now tolerant.  Women preach and lead worship now, we either endorse (or quietly turn a blind eye to) homosexuality, and we fashionably feel bad about our continued racial segregation(s) and inequities.  All these things we thought led us to hell when I was a kid, but of course that was our mythical fear even then.

I mention all of this now on this blog because since it is my lived experience, this is the kind of thing I find behind our ecclesial neglect and mistreatment of the poor.  We don’t even see it; our God has evolved so much!  That utopian dream Reagen brought us so close to before dovetails nicely with a “God bless America” bumper sticker and we take it and live with our Diet Coke version of health-n-wealth gospel.

Oh yes.  We ALL preach health-n-wealth gospel now.  It’s just that some of us aren’t as flamboyant about it as others.  But there ain’t nobody at my old school preaching or embracing downward mobility.  No.  We want retirement plans that match those of the people to whom we preach, and that’s the kind of preachers they want preaching to them.

If Jesus is really the same yesterday, today, and forever, then someone should be selling off all their wealth and giving it to the poor (whether a rich man like in Mark 10 or a poor church like in Acts 2 and 4).  Rich visitors with gold rings should be sitting at our feet while the poor enjoy equity in our assemblies.  But instead, we write and gobble up books about “when helping hurts,” send the poor to our soup kitchens in a galaxy far, far away across the tracks, and join annual service projects while deploying social workers to help poor folx become financially independent – hopefully remaking them in our image.

Hmmm…

And we fretted the loss of “prayer in school” and the teaching of “evolution” when I was a kid.  No one seemed to notice that “God” was evolving.  No one seems to notice that his transformation is nearly complete now.  Maybe if we make America great again, we will finally have him remade in our image!

*”The Gruen Effect.”  Google this for more info, but it is the name given the retailer’s phenom where they attract you to stay in the store and spend more money than you planned on upon arrival.

PERSISTENT, INTRACTABLE APOCALYPSE

Is your apocalypse everlasting, enduring, and unyielding?

Is it killing your friends, your relatives, and your democracy?

Are you feeling a little discouraged, exhausted, and numb from the protracted impact of disease, politics, and stupidity?

Do you miss the good old days when the hardest part about school was passing a quiz, getting accepted at a good college or graduate program, or getting shot by active shooters???  (Nothing brings prayer back in school like a good school shooting!)

God bless America!

If you answer YES to any or all of these questions, you are not alone in that desperate feeling of deep-frozen isolation.

Get on your knees and pray.  Repent, ask forgiveness, and humble yourself before the Lord.  Tell your friends when you do this, and maybe even join others in doing this.

Who knows?

Maybe even yet, God will have mercy on you.

DEMOCRACY

All that’s left is but a memory

Dreams and trust just left to die and bleed

Got the rhyme but lost my timing.

Don’t you see?

Oh, I believe democracy

Suffering,

Suffering suffrage isn’t easy

Amid acrid smoke the cameras see

Us & them, you and me

Torn apart, Divided ideology

Claims of fraud cover idolatry

Oh, I believed democracy

Why she had to go, I don’t know; she couldn’t see

the trust I put in God and in the GOP

GOP, I give money so you’ll win and be

the light, the truth so plain to see

for anyone who grabs pussy

Yes, God’s man has made me see

How great our land should be

Go to Hell if you don’t agree

Democracy

All our troubles now crash in on me

Civil War and price check on aisle three

Oh, someone please, vaccinate me!

I just might learn to pray to Thee

Please save me from Democracy

Yesterday,

Democracy seemed here to stay.

But now that she has gone away,

I sing the blues and load my gun.

GOT JELLY?

(Claimer: For those few (one or two) avid readers of this blog, you already know that I spent a good deal of last year reading and meditating on Joseph, the savior of God’s people in Genesis.  For those joining just now, I just told you too.  I have been looking at Joe a lot lately.  Joe is the savior of the world at the end of Genesis, providing bread to the starving people far and wide.  That should be a good backdrop for today’s post.)

All that bread for all those people, and now I am wondering if they “Got Jelly” too.

Jelly?

What does that have to do with anything?

X, are you getting all sacrilege on us?

No.  There are two things you can get, biblically speaking, from a grape: blood and jealousy.

Got jelly?

Hmmm…

Scenic Bible Byways

Yeah.  I been thinking about St. Paul’s words to the church at Rome in chapter 11 bankruptcy lately, about how God’s table given to his people becomes a snare and a trap, and that they trip on a stumbling block in their path which leads to their own failures but opens them to jealousy – a jealousy which potentially leads them to Jesus.

Wow!

It sounds really complicated.  It also sounds like God causes Israel to sin for their benefit which can’t be, but which appears to be anyway.  Even the satan didn’t bring up Job to God, since he figured Job was just protected and untouchable until God pointed him out for special attention!  (Yeah.  Complicated.)

Some nuts I can’t crack.  I am sure some reader here can’t live with that conundrum and will need to set me straight.  Fine.  Set me straight.  But I can surely see that if Israel according to the flesh were to ever see, really see with eyes that can see, what the Gentiles have obtained in Jesus, they will be jealous.  And I can see that jealousy in that instance brings you to a fork in the road: one way leading to pride and denial, the other leading to humility and acceptance.

So, the richest family in the world gathered round the lawyer’s desk for the reading of the will.  Their father had built the family business literally from NOTHING, back when there wasn’t anything to work with, and by the time of inheritance, it had become EVERYTHING.  Yet the oldest brother, expecting to get a double share but finding that the youngest brother, that one “Daddy always loved best” gets nearly everything.  Wow!  Sounds like a page ripped from Genesis 39-41.  Sounds like a page ripped from Genesis 25!  It sounds like a page ripped from Luke 15!!!

But as it turns out, the story is changed yet again.  Even the little brother this time gets nothing as the late-life adopted kid gets everything!

(Oh, there is a clause in the will about how the older brothers can share everything with the youngest adopted brother, but they get nothing in the way they expected.)

And so, the older brother(s) suffer jealousy.  They got jelly!  Jelly that can go one of two ways, but it’s jelly alright.

Want in on the family fortune?  Feeling a little jelly?

Yeah.  You are in a good position to make either good choices or poor choices, but the matters of the heart suddenly come clearly in view.

Wow!  That says a lot.  (My thanx to N.T. Wright AGAIN for helping me pull together Israel’s older son/younger son and jealousy story reworked around Cain and Able, around Joe and his brothers, around Jacob and Esau, and around “the prodigal son and his older brother.”)  And for me, at least, it connects the story of Joseph and his brothers with Jesus all the more.  The one story bounces sparks off the other and illuminates matters of the heart with incredible depth.

It tells me that Jesus was handed over to Pilate because of envy.  Matthew tells us Pilate understood this (27:18).  But to be honest, I don’t think that is something I would have seen with my eyes if it weren’t for Matthew’s Pilate.  When did Jews become jealous of the suffering servant who had no form or majesty that we should look at him and no beauty that we should desire him?  A man despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief?  What’s he got that anyone would envy???

Yeah.  That’s how I am apt to see him with my eyes that do not see and my ears that do not hear.  But when I look at Joe’s brothers and their jealousy of him, Daddy’s favorite with his fancy-colored coat and his big dreams of bowing stars and haybales, I can see it.  And I see why they hate him for it.  And (and this is where it gets interesting), I can suddenly see how that if those brothers had chosen to celebrate their younger brother the way their father did – because their father did, they would enjoy more of the father’s favor.

But I can also see how Joe really sorta got what he had coming too.

Yeah.  Joe and bro’s really take me THERE.  And though it is ironic at many levels, I can also see, with Joe’s help, how the Jews that handed Jesus over to Pilate were in fact jelly.  It’s seething behind their poker face.  But it’s there!

And this brings me to the point for which I write today.  There is a lot of irony packed up in this, but the jelly is there.  Jelly that has the potential (should I humble myself and accept God on his terms rather than mine), to draw me deeper into God’s will.

Widow Mite Math

The difference here is my giving.

You see, I give.  In fact, I give a lot.  It’s not my place to brag about that (Thank you Matthew 6), but I do.

But I am rich, and I have a lot to give.  And according to Widow Mite Math, I ain’t giving that much (Mark 12).  The poor widow put only two mites into the treasury, but according to Widow Mite Math, that was more than all the others who put in large sums!

Yeah.  I did a count one night during my evening prayers of all the beds we have in our house, a nice, middle-class house in a middle-to-upper nice, white neighborhood in the white-flight side of town.  (I might be over estimating, but only just barely.)  And the number I came up with was 9.  That’s not counting the couch, the camper trailer, or space on the floor either.  If we add all that in, the number becomes 15, with space on the floor being too fluid to quantify, but we can assume it’s possible to another 9 would sleep in relative comfort.

Add all that up, and we get 33 beds.  (Two of the beds sleep two people too.)  This means I could be bedding down 35 people, if I really needed to do it.  Oh sure, we have 7, counting myself too, in this house right now, and thus we fall into exceptions to various zoning ordinances, but 7 is only 1/5th of the number we could be hosting with relative comfort.

And you just think for a moment about a lady sleeping on the curb tonight in subfreezing wind.  If I offer her a spot on the floor in my garage, it would be an improvement beyond measure for her perspective!

Now…

That would not be some simple undertaking.  No.  Between logistical concerns (food, two bathrooms, laundry, gender privacy, finance, security, COVID and other health issues) there is a lot to work out.  I haven’t yet mentioned comfort and sacrifice.  All of that is serious, and the wise will consider it.

But you know what else needs to be considered?

… I will let you guess…

No, really.  Think about this a minute.  What is the other consideration we need to put into this mix?

Did you give any thought to…

to…

…to love?

Hmmm…

Yeah.  What if love is our first concern?

If you are missing out on love and someone else is having it, guess what your natural response is!

Can you say “Jelly”?

Yeah.  If you ever had love or even knew what it was, and you then realized you were missing out on it when someone else was enjoying it, you would most naturally be jealous.

And here’s the thing:

My friend Agent MDJ lives in a tiny pop-up camper behind the drive-in movie complex.  It is tiny.  It is humble.  It is tucked in behind the movie joint.  (It’s a galaxy far, far away from my neighborhood!)  Yet, DJ keeps two people in it with her.

Why?

Because she loves them.

And you know what?

I got jelly.

(I’m talking to God about it now in hopes to get this resolved before the Age to Come when I will be REALLY jelly of Agent MDJ.)

ADMINSTRATIONAL CYCLE

I’ve been blogging off and on for most of the last two decades.  I don’t follow some of the big-name blogs anymore like I once did (some you know, others are big fish from the small pond).  I recall from early times people like Ben Witherington or Scot McKnight occasionally would feature a post on blogging etiquette.  Being Christian leaders, I suppose that was appropriate that they would attempt to police the blog-O-sphere and administer rules of politeness and virtue for the rest of us.

(However, in my view, they’ve had little impact on the world overall – that despite thousands of devoted followers.)

Guess, I am in good company (except for the part about thousands of followers).  I have little impact too, but then I won’t try to police the blog-O-sphere though.

However, I do, from time to time, attempt to explain myself a bit.  This is not the first time I have noted such matters on this blog.  In fact, though I can’t think of the exact post right off, I am sure in recent weeks I addressed some of this.  But perhaps I should try to be more thorough.  

Consider this whole post to be something like the fine print of a contract you sign either way.  Nothing in it is binding on you, but hopefully will lay out guidelines I will do my best to adhere to along the way.

Let me provide a map for this post before I just dive into it.

  1. I agree with points 2, 5, & 12 rather strongly.  Point 15 illuminated something for me or even taught me something new.  Thus, I like your post.  However…
  2. I can’t FIX you, and so I won’t bother trying.  But I will tell you the truth.
  3. I don’t know it all!  However, I know quite a lot.  The problem, of course, is…
  4. Bonus small print (for those just insanely interested in things I write – or stockers)

Let’s just jump right into this.  No point dressing it up.  Just rip that scab!

1. I agree…

Sometimes I sense this is the most difficult point to make.  It is a little complex, but I think, really, it is just harder to accept than to understand once the issue rises to the surface where it must be dealt with (or ignored at the detriment of continued relations).

Normally when people write blogs, they try to make a point.  Usually, making a point involves making several supporting points along the way.  A few people keep it short, but most of the blogs I read require a blogger to make several assertions and sometimes defend all or some of them as part of a larger argument. 

There is complexity in life, and blogs are a place people go to discuss them and iron them out.

This means your post is likely to have several points along the way to making the big point.  Odds are good that I will agree with some or all of your post.  More likely some than all.  I recently found myself leaving a like and a comment on a blog which at first blush I thought I agreed with.  However, after thinking on it carefully, I decided I only agreed in the most narrow sense and that the blogger was attempting to buttress a larger worldview I don’t actually share.  It was a popular blog too, with lots of readers, likes, and comments.  

It occurred to me quickly that I was ripe for an argument I don’t really want.  Nevertheless, the blogger had made one or two points along the way I found important and which I agreed with strongly.  This was a more extreme case than I what I usually engage.  But it provides a good chance for me to demonstrate in THIS post that when I read your blog, I very likely agree with some of it, I might even be deeply impressed and learn something from it (this happens fairly frequently) and yet I would not necessarily endorse everything in it.  In fact, there might be some bits I would argue against.

This and I still LIKE your post.  

However, I am not apt to rush in and try to argue the points I differ with willy-nilly.  In fact, I tend to lay out the bits I would find confrontational on MY blog and invite the argument here.  But I would rather not get wolf-packed by all your ignorant friends with their support for your ignorance.  I generally try to weigh that risk before I jump in, and generally I don’t find it worthwhile.  So, I typically don’t go there.

But HEY!  If I liked something, take that as a compliment.  PLEASE!  I will support the bits I either agree with or which I find enhances my knowledge. 

The first time I read N.T. Wright, I thought he was nuts!  I reread the book two more times for a test I was taking in school, and still was not persuaded.  It was only after the test a few weeks later when I found myself suddenly appealing to something he said that I went back and read it again and began being won over to his argument.  So, let’s leave room for that here too… please.

2. Can’t FIX you.

I’m already brushing up against this point in the previous one, but it bears working out on its own, I think.  The fact of the matter is that I cannot fix you.  

OH YOU NEED FIXING!  I believe that whole-heartedly.  But I can’t do it.  Much as I might like to, I can’t.  Like Dirty Harry said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”  Well, this is one of mine.  But that doesn’t mean you don’t need fixing.  You do.  

Look.

This old world is a mess.  This wonderful nation is a mess.  The greatest nation on earth!  That’s what we used to say before we started making it great AGAIN.  But that was probably propaganda, really.  The kind of thing that surely is the definition of bias.  But I digress.  It’s a mess.  And it can’t be that big a mess unless you need fixing.

(Okay, okay.  I need fixing too, but that is point 3.  So back off me a moment.  Just now we are talking about you, not me, and you are in bad shape.  Admit it – to yourself, of course.)

Right now it’s important that you – I DON’T CARE WHICH ONE OF YOU EITHER – you understand you need fixing.  You are part of the problem.  That is just a fact, and I ain’t so stupid to think otherwise, and I ain’t lying for ya neither.  You are a mess.  Your world is a mess.  That is part of the point of my whole blog. 

But if the futility of blogging has taught me anything, it’s that I can’t fix you.

But if you listen and pray on it, you might be part of the solution to your own fixing.

I will leave that to you and God.  

Meanwhile, I will do my best to show you some respect, and let you find fixing I don’t manipulate for you.  

3. Don’t know it all.

Yeah.  I am part of the problem too.  And this point is my own humility.  

Look.

I am not going to make it my practice to open each sentence and each point I ever make with qualifications like: “I don’t know it all” or “I don’t know what I am talking about” or “I might be wrong about this” or especially “my truth/your truth” or even “It seems to me….”  

Fact is that I don’t see myself as stupid at all.  I intend my assertions to be reasonable and correct.  But I am not infallible, and I know it.  I will make effort to qualify the assertions I recognize as more conjecture than settled fact.  And occasionally, such as with this post, I will own the fact that I don’t know it all, that in fact there are some bits in all the knowledge I in fact do have which are mistaken, and that part of that problem is that I don’t know which bits.  

So, I admit here and now my own need for humility and express it a bit too.  I further admit that I too am part of the problem, that I need fixing (probably not by you – and likely not the way you think).  Meanwhile, I am working on that.

4. Bonus material.

Here’s the thing:

I value the friendships I have online.  Some more than others, but if you engage with me often and especially over time, I come to sense neighborliness with you.  Over the years blogging, I have met people in person who live far, far away from me and others I have visited with by phone or even snail mail, email and the like.

I will never forget the missionary I met on the Navajo Rez on the blogs many years ago who lived out near Shiprock, NM.  After a couple of years, my mom got sick with cancer, and before she died, I made many frequent trips from Texas to her home in Southwestern Colorado which took me through Farmington and Shiprock.  So, I made an appointment and stopped in to meet the man and his family.

Part of the blessing of that meeting was that he was able to show me a shortcut through the desert that cut over half an hour off my trip!  That sure was handy information.  

But I have made other friends on the blogs who seem to be so very devoted to Jesus and to me, even to my mission – supportive with prayer and even financial care a couple of times (for my street friends, not me).  Some of these friendships seemed important to me, even though I never personally met them.  I still came to feel a sense of kindred spirit, to even rely on them to “be there” for me and the like.  

Yet, I am amazed at how these little friendships suddenly end.  It’s always a mystery to me why/how.  Always sad.  I figure it must be something I said, but I wasn’t confronted, and I have to guess.  I don’t get even a chance to make amends.  I’m sure I didn’t use “the N-word” or something heinous like that, but somewhere I must have stepped on some raw nerve I didn’t know about.

But that’s just examples of the really special relations coming to sad and sudden ends.  The fact is that blogging is ripe for misunderstanding anyway.  The less depth of relationship we have, the easier it is to just call it quits and move on over the slightest of slights.  Or to blow up and be ugly.

I’m currently observing a “conversation” between two other bloggers on the comment feed which, to my mind, demonstrates painful patience on the part of the one with the arrogance of the other.  This despite the fact that I LIKE (I did not click the button, though) the arguments of the arrogant one.  But here’s the real kicker, I disagree with him!  

Yeah, he’s both a jerk and wrong, BUT he challenges me to think more carefully than I am apt to do otherwise.  Meanwhile, the nice guy I agree with appears to be getting beat up in the “conversation” all while showing incredible (and admirable) charity and patience with the arrogant one.  

It’s ironic, but I like more of the argument I disagree with, and dread more of the one I side with.

I’m certainly searching for a different route to the same conclusion, because I find the standard one being all over the place with complex reasons, but never delivering the goods or the point that settles the matter (or brings it to a head).  I am weary with it.  

What can I say?

I have complications with my complications!  You might know what I mean, but you might not.  You might be having some heavy feelings about our exchange that I just don’t appreciate (or the other way round).

Actually, I have come to discipline my emotions quite a lot over the years with social media.  It’s amazing how worked up you can get over what seems to be a slight or some disagreement.  You can find yourself arguing in your sleep with a person you never met before, tossing and turning in the bed.  It’s just not really worth THAT.  You can build up quite a passion about the smallest things.

I’ve been running up against some of these things lately on the blogs.  I haven’t for a long time, but then suddenly in recent months… here we go.  I wrote up a massive post recently after a “misunderstanding” I got into on another blog.  The fellow commentator schooled me at length.  However, at the last minute before publishing, I left one more charitable comment which that fellow commentator reacted to saying perhaps he had misunderstood me.

Wow!  

That really deflated a lot of FEELINGS.  

I had written a whole post on my blog about that exchange.  I had changed the names to protect everyone, and I had tried to be even handed about it.  I considered how it MIGHT be nothing more than a simple misunderstanding, but it had inadvertently grown into something of a complex, erudite, intellectual insult.  This commentator really took me to task!  Tactfully and without indulging in crude name calling or the like, but I mean… Wow!

Fortunately, my charitable comeback elicited a change of tone and somewhat of a retraction from that fellow commentator, and I decided to let it rest.  I didn’t publish my post on it either.  It was almost miraculous and almost peace – what I got, and I just didn’t want to upset it again.

However, I still wonder why that exchange didn’t go the other way from the beginning.  I sensed a powerful kindred spirit there initially.  But then this ugly vibe interrupted it, and now I don’t want to stir up the sleeping dogs.  So, I am leaving it alone.

But you know what?

That’s blogging. 

I actually have a wife and family in the “real world” – friends too.  At least a few.  That is the more important part.

But the relationships I have here are important too.  Maybe not foundationally important, but I take joy and comfort in a few of them, and I value them.  

And so, some of this kind of stuff just needs to be said one way or another at least sometimes.  

A blog post is a great way to plant this flag and if need be come back to observe it when trouble arises.

….

…..

……

And that brings me to the hidden track, bonus feature of this post.  The parts not alluded to above in any of the bold print.

….

…..

……

Yeah.  Lean in close so I can whisper this part…

….

……

Closer…

….

….

Okay.  That’s close enough.  Don’t make this weird.

….

I just want to say that if you are accused of a crime (whether you did it or not), DON’T TAKE THE POLYGRAPH TEST!!!

It’s not worth it.

I watch those true crime mysteries with my wife all the time, and man, I gotta say.  You have practically nothing to gain from taking that lie detector test, and everything to lose.  It’s not admissible in court anyway, and for good reason.  It’s not full proof.  It merely suggests whether you are honest or not, and I can do that just by looking in your eyes while we talk!  

IF, though, you pass, you might get the cops to ease up on you.  MIGHT.  But if you fail, they almost never do then.

IF you are truly guilty, this will only make it that much harder on you.  (Actually, I urge you to lawyer up, but then admit your crime and seek mercy.)  IF you are innocent, then not only is the crime investigation unsolved and barking up the wrong tree, but you are a second-tier victim too.

JUST SAY NO TO LIE DETECTORS!

There, that last bit was truly just bonus…

GOSPEL OF TRUMP

There are more than a mere few verses in St. Paul’s letters which prove a bit puzzling to people (to me in particular).  Sometimes it’s a matter of complex rhetoric or argumentation; other times I find myself unfamiliar with the context, the social or historical stage upon which a statement is made.  (“Baptism for the dead,” anyone??? (I Cor. 15:29).)

The example I’m currently thinking of is Galatians 1:8, a “gospel other than the one we preached.”

Other gospels?

Hmmm…

I was a life-long Christian (though still a young man) when I learned that the Greek word behind “gospel,” which means “good news” in a generic sense, was not always a “church word” as it comes across in modern, English usage.  Also, for that matter, even though the translation “good news” is a fair and neutral definition/translation, it says nothing about the content of said good news.

Consider this:

If I call my parents on the phone the night my first son is born and report to them that the baby is delivered successfully, healthy, and weighing in at… (fill in the gap), I am reporting “good news” to them, but that is not the good news St. Paul preached, nor is the good news he prohibits in Galatians 1:8.

Paul is not specific about which competing gospel he opposes here, but it is clear he finds some of them in competition with the one he brings, and he opposes them.  It also is clear that Paul sees himself in competition with the gospel of Rome, a good news message announcing to the world, “Caesar is lord.”  I should give credit, at least in a general sense, to N.T. Wright for this understanding of the gospel.  He makes a compelling case that Rome set out to order the world according to Caesar’s terms, and that they considered that “good news” specifically – and that it competes with the gospel message which claims that Jesus is Lord.

I provide all of that survey of the term “gospel,” not to iron out St. Paul for you, but to set the stage for other thoughts I am having of late.  I have chosen to call this competing good news “The Gospel of Trump,” but that is an oversimplification to be honest.  In all reality, I was finding a closely related “gospel” in a slightly more generic sense years ago when President Bush waged war in Iraq as part of his program to “spread democracy.”  That too was an arrogant attempt at world order, but of course that is an order most of us Americans have some affinity with and aren’t apt to critique too harshly.

I have hitched it to the name Trump now only because of the intense media coverage and concern about the “threat to democracy” posed by Trump’s claims of election fraud – especially as coupled with the January 6 event.

As an American, I see “the logic(s)” of both sides.  On the one side, if we don’t trust our elections, we must overthrow them.  On the other side, we must trust our elections in order to have democracy.

Hmmm…  That strikes me as a conundrum, but everyone I know sees it one way OR the other.

I can’t help but point to the Revolutionary War which was itself something of a civil war, and THAT is how our “democracy” was started.  If you see that war in any way legitimating the “democracy” we have enjoyed since that time, then it stands to reason that war (even civil war) is a legitimate way of resolving our differences – maybe even a democratic way.  If you think that voting in elections is the only legitimate way of settling matters, well it seems that was the point of the Revolutionary War which legitimated our way of ordering life.

Six of one/half dozen of the other.  Heads I win/tails you lose!  I see a conundrum there.

Both sides of this divide appeal almost to the same original documents and history to come down in opposition, each one logical in its own rite as far as I can see.  But the kicker, for me, is how each side holds to those documents and the accompanying history with almost (did I say “almost”?) religious fervor and devotion.  Those storming the capital on January 6 see the place as sacred and their actions as liberating (also a sacred idea).  Those who oppose what happened see it as an insurrection, a thwarting of the rule of law and of democratic principles.  Each appealing with religious zeal to the Constitution for their actions and beliefs, but each opposed to one another diametrically.

From one source, two opposing destinations.

This is how Americans “order our world.”  It is a gospel, in a sense, since the principles of democracy are (or were) America’s alternative to Rome’s gospel ambitions for the world – which were in competition with the gospel preached by St. Paul.

It’s that religious devotion and fervor adherents to American democracy and/or Trump hold for their respective side which I think uniquely reveals this “other gospel” for what it is, and since the church in America is so lopsidedly devoted to Trump in particular, I call it the “Gospel of Trump” to appeal to those in the church especially to examine it closely and repent.  The Trump Gospel is only a slight variation, as I see it, on that “other gospel” Bush was spreading around the world, and thus essentially the same, but also in competition with that of Jesus.

Jesus does not NEED democracy or Trump or America at all in order to reign as Lord.  He reigned as Lord long before the Revolutionary War and any of the founding documents or rule of law we order our world with today.  You cannot quote constitution and treat it as God’s law.

You have a Second Amendment right?  Good for you.  It in no way represents Jesus.  Jesus never said, “Take up a weapon and follow me.”  On the contrary, he said, “Take up a cross….”  He doesn’t need your weapon.  That is your myth, not his gospel.

This is why the Christians need to get with the gospel of Jesus and leave the “other gospels” to the curse they are.  You do not stand with Jesus just because you really love an “other gospel,” on the contrary, you betray him.  You are the new Judas.  You dip in the bowl, but you sell him out for your greed and lust and gospel of power.

It appears the history and the documents the “founding fathers” gave us were, in the final analysis, full of demons ravaging us and pulling us apart.  Americans now oppose one another with violence “in the name of God” all the while missing Jesus by a country mile.

If I could convince my fellow Americans to have some humility and show some love for one another, for neighbors and enemies, then we would begin to represent Jesus even if we maintained some semblance of “democracy.”  But democracy is in no way necessary or sufficient to achieve the reign of God and the gospel of Jesus.  It is incidental on its best day, an “other gospel” any other.

MADGE, YOU SHOULD’A SOAKED YOUR FACE IN IT

I grew up (in addition to a nuclear age) in a TV, advertising, consumerist whims, magical world.  My parents’ generation might have been the first to get TVs in their homes, but mine might have been the first to be born into the TV world.

When I was four years old, I strayed away from home to be found by neighbors more than a block away who asked my name only to learn that I was “Mr. West,” the main character in The Wild, Wild West television series reruns.  It seemed cute, at the time.  The story of my disappearance was terrifying, of course, but tempered with the humor of my alter ego identity.

The humor is not lost on me today either, but the seriousness of my taking identity from a TV show is a rude awakening to my Christian sensitivities now that I am much older.

Some of my earliest memories aren’t real at all.  I remember that little chuckwagon racing through the house disappearing into the cupboard under the kitchen sink.  If I could think I was Jim West, and if I could blur fiction and reality so easily, what did I think about that little chuckwagon?

No doubt I was taught the difference between real life and “make believe.”  And surely Mister Roger’s Neighborhood helped (or did it hurt)?  By the time I was grown, I found the line between fiction on TV and reality to be purposely challenged in troubling ways with the “holodeck” on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I was more than a little paranoid by Jim Carrey in The Truman Show.  But of course, The Matrix kicked all of that square in the jimmy and left me sweating reality as I drove home from the theater.

I watched Jaws from the front seat of a Pontiac TransAm while in the back my older cousin made out with the girl who drove it (which would have had my full attention, except that in the first grade, that shark had me terrified).  I went home that night tucked into my bed fearing that shark might swim around in the dark on the floor!  Of course, even at 6 or 7 years old, I knew a shark out of water was not realistic, and would be helpless, but the fear was overwhelming anyway.

How did I learn the difference?  When?  In fact, did I?  And to what extent?

After I was grown, I went to work in the psych unit where the TV talked to some of my patients some of the time.  I mean in that paranoid kind of personal experience sense of the word.  I remember one guy visualized swarms of roaches pouring out of the TV and attacking him, finally raiding his anus.  Wow!  That’s too much TV!

All I can say about that is: glad it wasn’t me!

Just where and when and to what extent does the TV impact me?

I have visceral connections to memories almost gone now, except if you can find them recorded on the internet.  I grew up repeatedly hearing messages like:

“There will be no wine before it’s time.”

“You got your chocolate in my peanut butter.”

“When you’re out of Schlitz, you’re out of beer.”

“Calgon, take me away… ancient Chinese secret.”

“Hey, Kool Aid!”

“I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.”

Most of these slogans and teasers aren’t even funny.  Not worth remembering.  Yet they fire neurons in my brain, sometimes haunting me from nowhere.  Most of these listed here are from my early childhood.  Nothing more than sheer nostalgia, or so it seems – a lot of good that crying “Indian” did on the side of the freeway looking at all that litter!

But when you think about it, I was a young man when I learned what was meant by “that not so fresh feeling.”  If I had grown up in my grandpa’s generation, that information might not have been available to me until I was grown with kids of my own.  As it was, I was repeatedly confronted with it watching “CHiPs” or Happy Days I reckon.  In fact, I learned about “gay men” and AIDS because even at 9 or 10 years old I became interested in Peter Jennings news.  At first it was “a mysterious disease affecting gay men;” Mom, what’s a gay man?  I also, therefore, learned about a host of digestion-related ailments.

“How do you spell relief?”

So, why am I writing about all this?

Because I have kids, young kids and I am amazed at all the exposure they find even without leaving the house.  No doubt plenty of it is purposeful, but the unintended stuff is a shock.

I try to offer guidance, of course, and I do it with humor as best I can.

When my kids find themselves fascinated by the Cologuard commercial with the white box that has arms, legs, and a face, walking around talking to people in various scenarios (as if it is perfectly normal to talk to a box or really anyone about your poop), I explained that it is a “poop box.”  That people poop in the box and then send it off in the mail.

Makes perfect sense, right?

To my kids, this is all perfectly natural and normal, but as these words come out of my mouth, I wonder if the TV isn’t influencing me in debilitating ways.  When my kids saw a “Du more with Dupixent” ad with children beating a pinata, they thought it reminded them of the “poop box” and suddenly in my family we became concerned about “poop pinata’s.”  That’s a pinata you beat the poop out of, which you should be wary of, not a game you want to win!

God, please help me raise these kids for Your glory in this TV world.

It’s enough to make me wish Madge had soaked her face in it.

MY YEARLY BATH!

“Bath 2021” was canceled due to COVID; it was extra special to get to the yearly bath this year!  I try to get one (at least) every year whether I need it or not.  Bathing is a luxury not everyone has access to or enjoys.  I haven’t enjoyed a bath like this year’s bath in many, many years.  I even went so far as to pump a couple squirts of Mrs. Agent X’s bath-foam bubbles in it.  I made it extra hot and stayed in it for a nice long soak.

I bet someone reading here knows what I mean.

This year’s bath was extra special – worth writing about.

It’s a cold day outside.  One of those “beef stew kinda days.” as Mom used to say.  I took the kids out to play in the freezing snow early, brought them in and ran them through the wash, all assembly-line like.  They got bubbles too.  And I was a little jealous.  Couldn’t remember my last bath.

Here’s the thing: I’m one of those (like a lot of you out here reading this, I bet) who almost always opts for the shower instead of the bath.  Our house has two full bathrooms, bathtubs fitted with shower nozzles too.  You can go almost anywhere in the world with the exception of the places where the top 5% of wealthy people bathe and shower, and you would think my house is luxurious.  But if you watch TV or visit the Jones’s house next door, you might think I am not quite keeping up.

My home has those water-saver measures and devices which preclude me getting the full effect from a bath.  Oh, I can get clean, but it’s a lot of hassle.  The older and fatter I get, the harder it is to sit down in that low bath and get out again for one thing.  It’s kinda tight quarters too.

When I was a kid, the bath seemed so big.

In fact, I might have been a teenager before my family lived in a home with a real shower.  In all my early memories, I got a bath, and taking a shower was almost adventurous – something we did in motels or sometimes at a friend’s home.

I see it the other way round now.

But the tub seemed so much bigger when I was so much smaller.  That might be attributed to a change in perception as I have grown up and grown older, but my granddad built an upholstery and antique business in the second half of his life, and for many years he owned a restored old Victorian house in the mountains of western Colorado.  (You gotta imagine how his ornate, old home looked like Santa’s joint around Christmas time with all the restored antique furniture in an old Vic with the little parlor and fireplace and all!)

But he had two bathrooms in that house too, and they both enjoyed giant bear claw bathtubs (not showers).  I thought they were big enough to go swimming in!  I am certain that when I sat in the bottom of those tubs as a kid, I could not see over the side down to the floor.  I bet the sides were two and a half feet tall at least.  I needed a step stool to climb in, and the length of the tub was probably more than five feet.

The tub I bathe in now is barely over four feet long across the bottom and tapered both vertically and horizontally to conserve water, meaning as I laid back and tried to sink into the water, my knees poked out like two mountain islands in a tiny, foamy sea.

Still, I forced myself into the sardinish squeeze to soak as best I could, and I relished the memory of Grandpa’s tub.  Nary a grain of bath salt would fit in it with me, but that’s okay.  I was in in poor-man’s heaven on earth.  I felt a little like Eli Wallach from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly when he got a bath and shot a man for interrupting it.  Life was good.

I had time to think, time to pray, time to meditate in my baptism.  It occurred to me that God created the earth covered in so much water, it seems self-evident he wants people to bathe.  If the American “founding fathers” could find “unalienable rights” to be “self-evident,” surely this was even more obvious.

And while all of that seemed too easy, the part that surprised me was how nice the bath was in that cramped space.  A lot of work, alright?  I’m not gonna get another one tomorrow.  Okay?  But I really might not let it go two years before I do it again.  It was a warm comforting experience, even nostalgic.  It felt right, felt like self-care, felt like maybe God intended this.  Time slowed down.  I caught my breath.  I got clean.  My day got special.

If I could find that much joy and comfort in a fifteen-minute bath, something I overlook so often now the option almost vanishes from sight, just imagine how it would be for a homeless man (or woman!).

Do you have a humble bathtub in your home?

Consider inviting a needy person to come into your place just once this year to have a nice soak.  Maybe supply some bubbles and salts, some candles and soft music.  A simple gift of time, water, and soap to someone who might not get this opportunity everyday – ahem every year.

I bet you would impact that person’s life.  I bet that person would be grateful AND would discover gratitude in discovering the joy and comfort in that gift.  I bet most people on the streets don’t realize how bad they want a bath until they get one.  They have vague memory of wanting one a year ago, but so many urgent needs eclipse it that it vanishes as either a possibility or even a desire.

So, if you give such a gift to such a person, I think you will make a deep impact they will remember for years on end.

Maybe you could offer it again in a year.

It could be your yearly bath.

NEW YEAR CHALLENGE PLUNGE (I DOUBLE-DOG DARE YA)

I could have called this post “Ten Simple Things You Can Do To Walk A Block In Their Shoes.”  I would even emphasize the SIMPLE part to make it easier.  But I don’t think I will get any takers.  I really don’t.

Call me pessimistic, but I’m just getting real about it.

So, instead I will challenge you.  This is going to be tough, very tough.  You will be stretched beyond your “comfort zone” and your wildest imagination.  But if you accept this challenge, you will not be the same afterward.

Some people actually pay money, and some of them even get college credit, for the chance to take an “urban plunge.”  The plunge can last a night, a week, a month, even a semester.  The serious plunges require you give up all your money, maybe even your ID, and take no resources with you as you step out on the streets of an urban area and begin fending for yourself.  It’s a crash course in homelessness that raises awareness, empathy, and understanding.

Some plunges aren’t really plunges at all, but perhaps an overnight camping experience, a candlelight vigil with an overnight component.  I see people post their experiences of such things on blogs from time to time, and they always come back discussing their deep spiritual experience.

All of that is the deep end for my readers.  So, I will break it down to just one block in their shoes, and not the whole enchilada.  These are simple exercises you CAN do which will illuminate the world from the viewpoint of the poor and homeless in small manageable bits, so you will not be overwhelmed with fear, suffering, and shame – but so that you come into at least SOME exposure to those things.

(It’s not Poverty Porn; it’s poverty tourism.)

So, here at ten simple things you can do to walk a block in the shoes of the homeless this year.  If you can rise to the challenge and complete even one, I will be impressed.  And if you do, I invite you to come back here (at any time throughout the year) and leave me a comment describing the impact your experience has on you.  Tell me if you “learn” something or find yourself closer to Jesus.

The Challenges:

  1. Get a sleeping bag and sleep on the sidewalk IN FRONT of your own home.  Don’t go out until after dark and until after most of your neighbors have gone to bed, eliminating (hopefully) the need to explain yourself to them or law enforcement, but bed down in the wet, the cold, the heat, the dirt (which ever) and as you fall asleep, look at your own front door praying and asking God how you might make it a more welcoming place.  (But resist the urge to go back inside until dawn.)
  2. Starting Thursday night, skip your shower for 3 days.  If you need to use extra deodorant to get through work on Friday, so be it, but get your stench started and keep building up intensity all the way through Sunday morning worship.  Jesus was dead 3 days; you can stink for 3 days.  After work on Friday, go get a strenuous workout, then go drinking (or hang out around drinkers and smokers) and spill some booze on yourself, get smoke on yourself, maybe do some gardening and get mud and mess, stains and all that all over your clothes.  Then go to worship Sunday entering that Holy Place looking and smelling like a lost soul in drastic need of Jesus and see for yourself, firsthand, how you are received.
  3. Take off your shirt (men), kick off your shoes, mess up your hair, or wear your back-of-the-closet, worst laundry-day shirt with stains on it, and go shopping in a boutique downtown.  Carry all your credit cards, your cash, what have you (able to pay), but look the part of the poor and see if you can conduct your daily business as usual.  In less than an hour, you are done.
  4. Get a hamburger at your favorite hamburger stand and take it to a busy intersection or overpass, walk out onto the lane island, sit down in front of all the traffic passing by, bless your lunch, and eat it there amid the noise and exhaust fumes.  In half an hour, you are done.
  5. Go find a soup kitchen in your town and find the hours of service.  Then show up and get in line.  Eat with everyone else there AS IF you were one in need of this service.  (No need to skip a shower or dress down for this one.  Go ahead and stand out like a rich person.  Let people wonder why on earth the rich guy is eating here.)  Sit down with others dining on the gruel and ask them where to get in on a good Bible study.  Come back here and tell me what they say.
  6. Get a cardboard box and cut off one panel.  Create a placard, but don’t ask for money on it.  Ask for prayer instead.  Then walk out near a major, busy intersection with your sign asking for prayer for the homeless and try to make eye contact with passing motorists as they drive by and as they stop at the light.  Talk to anyone who speaks to you.  Pray with anyone who turns around to come back and pray with you.
  7. Sneak out to the dumpster in the alley behind your own home at a time of your choosing to maximize the security of your dignity for this challenge, but when there, climb into the dumpster and relieve yourself #1 & #2.  Then sneak out of the dumpster and back into the house before anyone knows what happened.  Then DON’T TELL ANYONE about it (not even anonymously on a homeless ministry blog!).  EVER!  You are on your own dishonor with this one.  Just you and Jesus know about it, but you will have walked a block in some tough shoes to fill.
  8. Put on your heaviest coat and hoodie, your warmest snow or mud boots, pack two bookbags full as you can with a blanket or some stuffing, then go to a local McDonalds and park two blocks away so you can walk in with no one seeing your car.  Show up at least 30 minutes before the lunch rush and ask for a cup of water.  If they give it to you, take a seat.  If they don’t, ask other people in line if they can spare a dime and purchase a cup of coffee (NOTHING MORE).  Then take a seat.  Pray, play on your phone, or just stare out the window, but stay put for two hours or until you are asked to leave (whichever comes first).
  9. Find a park bench or a bus stop bench and lay down on it, close your eyes, and stay there like that for half an hour (or until law enforcement asks you to move, whichever comes first).
  10. Put on shorts and flipflops and go walking around town.  Walk at least four miles.  Spend your time praying and count it as your prayer walk.  You don’t even have to look homeless but walk around busy areas where you must deal with traffic and congestion.

Pick at least one of these challenges and set foot out the house merely attempting itThe single biggest obstacle to completing any one of these is most likely your own pride.  So, the first step is likely the hardest.  Pray and ask God to grant you humility and faith to take that step and endure the burden of shame, pain, and despair as you walk just one block in the shoes of the homeless and needy just once this whole year.

I hope to hear from you before 2023.

God bless your endeavor to rise to the challenge.

THE PP-WORD

You have heard it said, “…the N-word.”  You have heard it said, “…the R-word.”  You probably have heard of a few others too. (“… the F-word” anyone?)  These words are deemed so damaging, each in their own way, that we dance around their use with these substitutes.  

In this post, I propose we do the same with … (dare I say it?) … Poverty Porn.  (There.  I said it, and now we all know what I am talking about, but I surely hope not to cause further offense by repeating it.  And I hope you won’t either.  From here on, I advocate we dance around this term* by “… the PP-word” – if you know what I mean.)

What’s so wrong with the PP-word?

(Glad you asked, because that is what I really want to write about.)

Taking the PP-word apart, each component part is not something dirty to avoid, and so we will begin with doing that.

Poverty.

My own survey of definitions for “poverty” show the chief meaning of the word as relating to a lack of financial resources.  There are secondary meanings which may or may not involve money, but the primary definition always goes right to clash-of-cash-and-trash.  The Center for Poverty and Inequality Research at UC Davis likewise defines it and measures it in the United States based on income and basic living needs.

In their wildly popular book, When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert attempt to redefine poverty as four different types: Poverty of Spiritual Intimacy, Poverty of Being, Poverty of Community, and Poverty of Stewardship.  Elsewhere on this blog, I have argued that such redefinition makes a smokescreen behind which they smuggle eisegesis into their otherwise fine, biblical study and ministry guide to helping those in need.  But even after emphasizing all these “types” of poverty, their own book quietly goes back to dealing primarily with “material poverty” which basically means “poverty” as you already understood the term before the smokescreen.

Why iron all that out now?

Just to give a fair analysis to both component parts in the PP-word.  Honestly, I think you know poverty when you see it most of the time.  The only exception being when people hide it, which happens frequently enough.  Between denial, studied nonobservance, and shame, there is a lot of poverty hidden from view alright, but still, when you are confronted with it and see it clearly, I think you know it.  I think we both have a good handle on the definition even without technical jargon, dictionaries, or Corbett and Fikkert’s smokescreen.

So, let’s turn to the other part of the PP-word.

Porn.

Porn is a bit trickier to talk about.  For one thing, researching the word “porn” on the web runs the real risk of opening up porn on your computer screen.  Porn is seductive, and many people “have a problem with it.”  I get that.  I am not immune to its allure myself.

I studied koine Greek in school, and as I recall it, the word “porn” is almost a complete transliteration from the Greek.  The word in Greek, as I recall it, means “evil” and/or “fornication.”  We tend to put those two ideas together for the full impact, I think.  Fornication is evil, of course, but porn seems to compound its emphasis as evil.

In English, we use the term to mean images of sexual arousal eliciting sexual arousal, though it can refer to written materials as well.  I perused the internet for definitions, and all of them seemed to concur with my description here.  

So, when we put the Greek and the English together, we have a case of fornication with images (whether photo/video or written-word images).  The images designed for sexual arousal, some more explicit than others.  (Hey!  What I find staring out at me in the checkout line is often times plenty arousal-oriented!).

But let’s put this in a slightly more wholesome perspective.

If my wife, the woman I am publicly and officially married to, choses to pose herself before me (or even make photos of herself for me), as long as these arousing images remain strictly within the confines and confidence of our marriage, are not evil and not fornication.  (BTW, I in no way advocate taking pictures!)

Sexual arousal of this sort with my mate is not evil, not fornication, not sin.  It is a sexual image I am welcome to indulge within God’s good providence.  In fact, it is his gift to me.  His GOOD gift.

Hmmm… Such a fine line there.

So, let’s talk a bit about that part of porn we find in the English for a moment, because it has deep theological bearing on EVERYTHING.

Image.

When a married man and woman, married before God and the public, come together in sexual union, they bear the image of God as he made them (see Genesis 1:26-27).  While we might arguably suggest there is more to God’s image, other ways of bearing his image, we must accept that this account is the first in the Bible.  In a sense, it is the Bible’s primary definition of image bearing.  (Though Jesus on a Roman cross arguably complicates that statement.)

The image of God is complicated here in that it is a private image and yet a governing image.  It is full of mystery!  But as long as the man and woman of Genesis bear God’s image properly, the world is ordered rightly.  It’s just that simple.  And since it is sexual, we can presume that this man and woman’s sexual arousal has (or had) cosmic consequences!  

It’s enough to raise questions like: Did their coitus make blossoms bloom?  Did the fruit and vegetables grow while the man “knew” his wife?  Was their sex mountain moving???  Look out for tectonic plates!

Questions like that almost sound pagan to my post-Victorian, Christian ears; they almost sound like some sort of sexual crop ritual of some ancient tribes.  And while that surely does come to mind, we should consider that in ancient times the residue of the goodness of God might well be something those ancient ones chased after in their crooked ways.  This observation in no way means Christianity derived from pagans but can suggest quite potently that pagans derived their practices from longing for God’s blessings.

But that is a trail to chase on another day.

This brings our discussion (well, MY discussion) of the PP-word to a new juncture.  There are a couple different routes to take at this point, and we will need to cover them both to do the discussion justice, but which one makes more sense to begin with?  I don’t rightly know.  Let’s take the low road and maybe merge back to this one later.

Fork in the PP-word Road.

Let’s begin by picking up the trail of common usage of the PP-word.  To be honest, it’s a new word to me.  I’ve been involved with ministry to the poor in one way or another for over two decades now.  Yet it’s only been in recent years (maybe as little as three), and I think as a result of reading blogs, that I have been confronted with the PP-word.

I’m not gonna lie; it was a bit jarring the first time I came across it.  I had a pretty good idea what was meant by it immediately, though I was guessing.  And I felt a twinge of shame, since I too have been involved in the PP-word.  I have photos of homeless people doing homeless things (a couple of them even posed for the camera) posted throughout this blog.  Some with consent, others not.  Photos seem to be the main thrust behind the term, though I will consider practically all my written words here to be lumped in as well.

Still, I have surveyed the internet to verify the meaning just to be sure.  (No.  I did not research it extensively, but I looked at enough sites that I believe I have the general, common usage idea.)

I did not determine who the first person was to use the term, but I found multiple sources claiming it originated in the early 1980s.  I found a handful of sites giving some in depth discussion of it, and my takeaway is that the PP-word is meant to describe photos/videos (esp) depicting people suffering poverty, usually taken and published without their consent, published usually without good contextual background information, and then most often used as a way of raising money – or sometimes “awareness.” 

The photos are said to be exploitive in nature of the suffering of poor people.  The poor featured there are often powerless to dictate any terms of usage, the people publishing them leverage money and legitimacy for themselves at the expense of the humiliation of the poor and powerless.

And you know what?  

That does sound distasteful, alright.  Maybe even exploitive.  Definitely insensitive.  It is humiliating to be poor; it’s all the more humiliating for your poverty to be paraded before the world.

Apparently, this phenom came under scrutiny with the rise of late-night infomercials of the early 1980s where a number of major international charitable organizations used photos and videos of impoverished people (usually in Africa) to raise awareness, to bring conviction, and to raise money for relief programs.  Sometimes these images were staged too, not quite as real as they seemed, or taken out of context (in fact smearing the reputation of all of Africa as being impoverished).  

Suddenly, you can imagine (and I recall the likes of Sam Kinison, no less, making jokes about it) a photographer featuring a starving child in a mud pit covered in flies and retaking the shot numerous times trying to get the right lighting effect.  The photographer makes the child wait to eat food s/he brought to share until after the pose is captured, thus the child is teased mercilessly with the sight and smell of food while the photographer tortures him until he gets the most anguished facial expression to tug at your American heart and purse strings.   

Hmmm… 

Yeah.  That does seem problematic.

But I will tell you something else problematic about this: the PP-word.

Oh, it’s poverty alright, but porn?

And yet it’s the part of the term “porn” that puts the kick into the PP-word.  That’s the real bite.  That’s the part that shames the photographer and the publisher.  

We have raised an awareness of potential exploitation alright, but not by use of the word “porn.”  We raised that awareness by talking it out.  We shamed it by calling it “porn.”  Yet, calling porn “porn” doesn’t shame pornographers – and there’s a LOT more blatant exploitation going on there than in poverty!

Oh, I get it.  I do.  But when you use the PP-word, you suddenly conjure up the idea that well-meaning organizations and photographers fiendishly set out to exploit poor children for their image.  And while there may be some instances, where some well-meaning people have done some harm, to negate all the good done by talking about, demonstrating, and publishing images with this kind of shame surely is not right either.

I remember Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous with Robin Leach when I was a kid.  Wanna talk about porn that isn’t really sexual?  Talk about that!  It was video designed, not for sexual arousal, but for greediness arousal!  No one looks at poverty images and thinks, “Oh, yeah, BABY!  Gimme some more o’ that!”

In fact, I read where someone connected 1985’s Live Aid concert to the PP-word.  And, well, maybe that should be considered since Bob Geldof apparently, according to his biography, was sitting up late one night watching video of the famine in Ethiopia late one night and was so moved and deeply convicted by it that he started calling his musician friends and stirring up charity among all the rich and famous, chart-topping artists around the world to come together, record songs, and eventually put on a world-wide rock concert to raise relief funds to help! 

Seriously, read his story; it’s fascinating.

And while it turns out, after all, that much of the money and awareness raised turned out to be a bust and didn’t actually help in the way Geldof had envisioned, we simply cannot blame all of that on the pictures he looked at which gave birth to so much conviction.  Even more, we cannot call those pictures “porn.”  Most of that is actually beside the point.  Closely beside it, maybe even involved at certain points, but still not the point itself.  

Fork in the Road Merges Back Together.

So far in this post, I have visited the PP-word in quite a revolutionarily different context than ANY I have found elsewhere, and in part because we took a tour through a fair bit of Bible and theology.  We must return to that part of the discussion now and bring it to a new conclusion.

I doubt very much anyone has an addiction to the PP-word.  Are you sneaking off with a copy of Bag Lady Buggies to masturbate?  I bet more people flipped the channel to a different program that night Geldof chose to watch, and I doubt very much he thought of masturbating.  

But he felt pity, compassion, and was moved as in his bowels (splognizomi – as the Greek Bible would call it).  While more people felt repulsed, he was drawn to the images.  Inside his guts, a feeling boiled up that maybe, just maybe, he could give something to the cause and help.  He did, and it changed his life!

That simply is not porn, and to characterize it even remotely as such is to blow open a blasphemous worldview with your shame bating.  Something very near to holy happens in that, not porn.

There may be a fine line between the image of my wife in my own eyes appealing to me with sexual arousal and the same kind of image involving someone else.  But when the first humans in Genesis 1 were created in God’s image, that was the image they bore.  A delicate image, fragile and requiring great care.  So easily abused.  

But I hinted above that the image of Jesus naked on a Roman cross also bears the image of God, and that one is hard to look at.  Some are drawn to look, to ponder, to be moved in the bowels there by what they see, but more often it is a repulsive sight.

I was flipping channels back in 2014 one day and happened onto CNN covering a scene where some ISIS warriors had rounded up Christians and crucified them in the town square.  I saw it early in the news cycle before the editors sanitized it, and I was mortified.  

Me.  A Christian who has looked at Christ crucified before my eyes, as St. Paul presents him, many times in my meditative life, suddenly was confronted with brothers and sisters I never met tacked to crosses dying in the public square, and I was stunned in horror.  

But the good folx at CNN quickly decided that suffering image was just too much suffering porn or something, so they blurred it when it cycled around again.  

The thing is, though, it’s not really an image of poverty.  It’s not a lack of money and finance pictured there, it’s the image of a suffering God who loves us and forgives us even as we turn our backs on him.  It’s a lack of our love for him we see in those PP-word images.  It’s the image of his abundant love for us.  It’s something far too holy to call porn, to call evil.

So, there.  Next time you want to shame someone with the PP-word, think on these things first.

 

*(Not really.  I don’t honestly care if you say “poverty porn,” but surely by now you understand that I will not be intimidated by it.)

Oh… and here’s the centerfold from the Bag Lady Buggies magazine.  You would probably appreciate it more for the articles than the photos, though.