Category Archives: Religion

Was Jesus On the Wrong Side of History?

the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him. The Death of Jesus 33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) Mark 15: 31-34

The chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) Mark 15: 31-34 

Have you ever heard a politician accuse someone of being, “on the wrong side of history”?  It’s a figure of speech, a cliché, that is meant to label an opponent as backward or ignorant in the face of inevitable social change.  In other words, the passage of time will vindicate the views of the one and prove that the other was an enemy of progress.  Since we recently marked the day in which Jesus of Nazareth died on a cross, and since today is the day we celebrate his resurrection,  I thought it would be appropriate to ask the question, “Was Jesus on the wrong side of history?”  After all, we’ve had 2,000 years to consider the question.

At the time of his crucifixion, Jesus lost the support of everyone.  Jewish religious leaders believed he was a blasphemer for comparing himself to God and threatening their power, so they tried to kill him.  The Roman authorities desired to keep their subjects in check, so killing this instigator of the people and enemy of the Jewish authorities made sense.  Even Jesus’ closest followers scattered in those dark hours.  The one who was meant to be Christ’s rock-solid representative, Peter, verbally declared that he had never known Jesus on three occasions.  But far more damning than the loss of his people, had to have been the loss of God, his father.

The night before his crucifixion, Jesus asked God,  “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)  The cup he’s referring to is his horrific death.  It’s a death that Jesus saw coming because the prophets of old foretold it.  Isaiah, who lived 600 years before Christ came, wrote, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God,stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions,he was crushed for our iniquities…he was led like a lamb to the slaughter.” (Isaiah 53:4-5,7)  King David wrote 1,000 years before Jesus was born, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?All who see me mock me;they hurl insults, shaking their heads.“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,“let the Lord rescue him.a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet” (Psalm 22: 1,7,8,16)  Jesus understood that these prophecies referred to him.   God declared the nature of his son’s death centuries before he ever walked the earth.

According to the Bible, Jesus was on the right side of history even when everyone forsook him as he experienced an excruciating death.  In the hour of his death it must have seemed to the world that Jesus had made some tragic mistake, or perhaps he had done something terrible to deserve the judgement of God (like if he had been claiming to be God’s son if it weren’t true).  But looking back, and looking through the pages of the Bible, it’s clear that this was all part of God’s plan to save his people.  Isaiah the prophet even declares that it was God’s will to crush him.  It was God’s will to sacrifice his beloved son to save us out of love.  (Why this is so is for another blog post)

His resurrection three days later, his ascension into Heaven, and the subsequent spread of his church all strongly favor the idea that Jesus was on the right side of progress and an unmatched force for social change.  But this all hinges on the truth of his resurrection.  Anyone can die, but who can rise again?

And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.  1 Corinthians 15: 14-19

Paul is saying, essentially, that if Jesus is still dead, he was a pitiful fool, and so are we.  Christ would be on the wrong side of history and so would all of his followers.

In the final analysis, the answer to the question of whether Jesus falls on the right or wrong side of history rests entirely on the reality of his resurrection.  If he did in fact rise from the dead, we can trust all of his claims about being the son of God and the exclusive savior of mankind. But if he died on the cross and stayed dead, we must dismiss him entirely and judge him as an enemy of progress.  The basis of his whole teaching is that he can save people from their sins.  If he can’t even save himself, how can he save anyone else?  If the crucifixion killed God incarnate, God incarnate rose from the dead in three days.  If the crucifixion killed a delusional yet well-intentioned man, a delusional yet well-intentioned man is dust and ashes.  It’s one or the other.  History knows no neutrality.

Jesus once asked two blind men, “Do you believe that I am able do this?”  He asked them if they believed he had the authority and power to restore life to their eyes: if he had power over death and decay.

Today, on Easter Sunday, I join them in saying, “Yes, Lord!”

 

 “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Matthew 28:5-6

“Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Matthew 28:5-6

Advertisements

It’s A Wonderful Life: Why George Bailey Never Left Bedford Falls

 "Now, we can get through this thing all right. We've got to stick together, though. We've got to have faith in each other."

“Now, we can get through this thing all right. We’ve got to stick together, though. We’ve got to have faith in each other.”

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. – Proverbs 13:12

You need to see It’s A Wonderful Life and you need to see it immediately.  It’s difficult for me to understand how an American citizen can successfully dodge this most classic of films.  What heroic lengths one must go to avoid their television during the Christmas season.  This is a film that receives near universal praise from the viewing public, and is a staple of the American Christmas tradition.  Every year, NBC ritualistically plays It’s A Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve night to be shared by all in the land.  If you haven’t seen it, do so at your nearest convenience and don’t bother reading any further.

Today I’m writing to my old Building & Loan pals about a subject that I personally haven’t seen addressed in my perusing of internet articles and discussion boards.  Everyone knows that George Bailey wanted to leave Bedford Falls to see the world.  Walking home after the high school dance George says to Mary:

I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then, I’m comin’ back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I’m gonna build things. I’m gonna build airfields, I’m gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I’m gonna build bridges a mile long…

Of course, we know that George never does any of those things.  And as far as we’re told, George never even leaves town.  It’s like he’s living his own version of The Truman Show where forces have worked to keep him from stepping foot outside the borders of his little bubble.  A man with strong desires to move up and out from his place of origin is destined to stay put indefinitely.   How can this be?  If George Bailey wants out so badly, what’s preventing him from getting his wish?  Time and time again he has an opportunity to leave, but extenuating circumstances seem to beat him back like a pebble getting pushed onto shore by relentless crashing waves.  Poor George, right?  Well, maybe not.  And that is what I want to talk about.  Did George Bailey have to stay in Bedford Falls, and what do his actions reveal about the deeper desires of his heart?

The way I see it, there are 7 critical moments where George could have chosen a different path, allowing him to leave town to pursue his dreams.  I’ll cover them quickly for you.

  1. Pa Bailey’s Death: When George’s father dies he chooses to forgo a trip to Europe in favor of taking care of his father’s business.
  2. Potter Moves to Dissolve the Building & Loan: Mr. Potter tries to convince the board that Bedford Falls no longer needs the B&L.  George gives an impassioned speech about his father’s character and the reasons why his fellow citizens need the B&L to continue.  The board decides that if George stays on they will keep the business alive.  George chooses to give up college and lets his brother Harry go in his stead.
  3. Harry Gets Married & Breaks His Promise: When Harry returns from college, George learns that he has a wife and a new career.  Unfortunately, the plan was that Harry would take over for George, giving him the chance to get an education and leave Bedford Falls.  George chooses not to make a fuss and, though we don’t see the exchange, it appears that he doesn’t hold Harry to his original agreement.
  4. The Ground Floor in Plastics: This one is easily overshadowed by the loving embrace that follows, but when Sam Wainwright offers George an opportunity to get in on plastics, he effectively misses an opportunity to make a fortune.  Sam even acknowledges that George turned him down in a later scene for the sake of sticking by the B&L.
  5. George Marries Mary: Now, this might be somewhat controversial for lovers of the film, but I see George’s marriage as another choice that results in him staying in town.  Consider how fiercely he tries to resist his attraction to her.  He knows that marrying Mary is another tie to Bedford Falls and another step away from the free life he wanted to live.
  6. The Bank Run: During the Great Depression, the citizens of Bedford Falls panic and rush to the bank to withdraw their funds.  Those who have money at the B&L want George to give them everything they have, but George reminds them that it doesn’t work that way.  He sacrifices his honeymoon and $2,000 of his own money to keep the B&L open.  He could have ignored it all and went on his honeymoon, or he could have let the B&L collapse.  But he fought to keep it open, choosing to stay tied down to it.
  7. Potter Offers George A Job: If you can’t beat ’em join ’em.  Mr. Potter realizes that he would be better off paying George Bailey a fortune (about $300,000 a year in today’s money) than competing with him any longer.  George quickly realizes that he can’t accept this deal with the Devil and storms out of the building.  He chooses to stay with the B&L, giving up his last chance to be a rich world traveler.

You could look at all of these things as external factors that prevent George from pursuing his dreams, but at the end of the day it’s critical to realize that George made a choice at every critical juncture.  If he wanted to get out more than anything else he would have left to visit Europe after attending his father’s funeral.  Even if he stayed a while, he could have let the board dissolve the B&L.  He could have fought with Harry to keep him in Bedford Falls, and so on and so forth.  Yet, George Bailey stays in a town he wants to leave and works at a job that robs him of his dreams.  There must be something greater below the surface.

All you can take with you is that which you've given away

“All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away”

Above all else, George Bailey is driven by the love he has for his father.  Consider every major choice he makes.  Every choice he makes reflects a desire to uphold his father’s “high ideals” and image.  His whole life plays out in his shadow.  He has the same job, co-workers, passion to serve his community, and even the same enemy in Mr. Potter.  George wants to live his own life, but he ends up living his father’s life.  He lives for his father.  Before facing the frightened and angry crowd, George takes a moment to look at his father’s picture.  Underneath it says, “All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.”  This is the core belief of George’s father, and the core belief that George adopts throughout the film.

The reason George almost kills himself is that he has lived according to his father’s ideals without experiencing the gratification promised by them.  George has given himself away: his dreams, his money, his pride.  But when he is faced with jail-time and scandal and ruin, he looks back at a life lived for others as a complete waste.  Not only has he wasted his life, he has come to believe that his father was wrong.  Perhaps that terrible belief, the belief that his father was a fool who led him to a life of ruin, is what really made him want to jump into that icy water.  The man who taught him right from wrong becomes unreliable.  Mr. Potter, who tells George that he’s worth more dead than alive, now has more credibility.  Mr. Potter tells George what he already fears, that his life of sacrifice for the benefit of others was in vain.  All evidence points to the falsehood that his father now represents.

If not for divine intervention, George would have killed himself, and Mr. Potter would have viewed the whole affair as an affirmation of his warped worldview.  The true turning point comes when George turns to another father for help.

Clarence, a guardian angel,  is sent to show him the value of his life by giving him a glimpse of what the world would be like without him.  George is brought to a point where he desperately wants to live again, and God gives George his life back, but not as it was before.  All of the people that he sacrificed for, all of the hope deferred to give hope to others finally comes back in a joyous celebration of George’s worth within the community.  Now it’s clear that his life was not a waste, and that his father is worthy of all the love and respect George lived to give.

Within all of us is this conflict between our desires and beliefs.  George wanted to see the world and do great big things, but his beliefs about his father and the work he did caused George to deny his dreams.  He served his community through the Building & Loan, all the while keeping Mr. Potter from harming the town.  When it appeared that he had denied himself for no good reason, George despaired at the thought of a wasted life lived in the shadow of a fool.  But the reality of God, the ultimate source of the meaning both George and his father lived for, redeemed the whole story.  The focal point of George Bailey’s life is his father, and the linchpin of It’s A Wonderful Life is God the Father.

So Merry Christmas you wonderful old Building & Loan!

The Truth and Those Who Find It

The Dark Knight Rises

Rise

I haven’t written anything like this in a long time. I used to write about philosophical topics on a regular basis, and it seemed to flow naturally, but for some reason I lost that flow. Now I’m attempting to pick it up again, if just for this one post. What I’m about to write has come out of much thinking and first-hand experience. There were many factors that brought me to this realization, and I think I’ve let it stew quite long enough. I have to say, I feel like an athlete who hasn’t worked out in months, so forgive me if this reads like a torn ligament. Gee, I haven’t even really started yet.

How often have you heard of this business about relative truth? You know, the idea that there is no one absolute Truth (capital T) about life, therefore each of us is left to come up with our own truth (lower case t) based on our limited perceptions. I’ve heard it many times in my life, and I can share one instance with you now. In a college class I sat in a lecture hall with over 100 students. One day the professor asked, “Who out there believes in absolute Truth?” Of the 100 students, I counted 3 hands, including mine. Later on, during a smaller discussion class, I was asked to explain myself. I shared my beliefs about the world and God, and then I figured I got them when I said that everyone dies. Clearly it’s true that everyone dies! You’d think I would have converted the whole lot of them, but instead I ended up arguing with a girl who was offended by my truth claims. Isn’t that the way? Anyway, I want you to consider this concept and to accept that it is a real belief held by many. Maybe it’s not a fully formed belief, like a religious or political doctrine, but it appears to exist as a modern default perception about the world: at least for many. Remember, 97 out of 100 college students didn’t raise their hands.

Since the last presidential election, I have been experiencing a minor identity crisis. You see, I got pretty passionate about that election as I focused intensely on my own political perceptions about the world. I figuratively saw red, taking a steady dose of talk radio and Fox News. In the end, everyone I voted for lost and I went to bed physically ill. I had lost myself in politics, and it took crushing defeat to shake me loose again. Since then I have had to reflect on what it means to define myself as a conservative, and, more importantly, I have had to reflect on what it means to be a Christian. The experience makes me think of this scene in The Dark Knight Rises.

It’s the futile battle that I was fighting. Each punch(argument or way of reasoning) that I threw came back with greater force until I was inevitably knocked down and defeated by what had become the bane of my existence. I know this sounds very dramatic, but remember that I was so invested in politics that I literally developed a cold when Barack Obama won re-election. I perceived the world through a political lens that made it nearly impossible to see the truth of my situation. By the time I realized that I had made politics into an idol, I was flat on my back, wallowing in defeat. I found the truth, but only after I was broken.

The truth that I found came out of a more humble position. During the election cycle, I had become prideful of my “rightness” to the point where I lost sight of the truth of my folly. My folly was my obsession with politics, and particularly the faith I was misplacing in my conservative candidates. Certainly this must have been clear to those who knew me well, and I can say that at least one of my friends tried to show me the truth. Once again, I didn’t see things clearly until I was broken (humbled) by defeat.

The Bible is quite clear on this subject of pride and humility when it comes to one’s proximity to the truth. Wise King Solomon, who lived about three-thousand years ago, wrote down many proverbs that are recorded in the Bible. One of his most famous proverbs is:

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:17)

This might seem like an odd thing to say, but at the heart of it is an understanding of pride and humility. To fear the Lord is to live with the perspective that you are not the highest authority in your life. Imagine if a child acted as if their parents didn’t exist. Do you see any way in which that child grows up healthy and well-adjusted? No, if a child chooses to go his or her own way, they will live with an ever-increasing pride that will blind them from any truths that don’t fit their particular desires or inflated self-image. It’s a child who views his or her parents with reverence, who acts with an understanding that they probably don’t know better than their mother or father, that learns to see the world outside of their desires. If you are your own best authority for truth, can’t you see how much harder it will be to see and accept any truth that challenges your pride? How much truth is outside of the small space between our heads? Solomon also wrote, “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” (Proverbs 21:2) The principle is simple, humility allows us to see the truth outside of ourselves, while pride keeps us stuck in ourselves, and limited to our own perceptions.

There are billions of truths (lower-case t) in the world, but there is only one Truth. What I have seen time and time again in my life is that the humble are usually much closer to Truth than the proud. The proud are slaves to themselves, and they can’t see past their own feelings and beliefs. The humble have learned, often through difficult circumstances, that they are not the greatest authority on what is true. They understand that the world is more than what they may feel, and the world is more than a canvas to be painted by their own experiences.

To apply this to politics in America, just ask yourself where you see pride. Is there pride on the far-left and the far right? is there pride in Washington? Is there pride on MSNBC and Fox News? Are people seeking to stroke their own egos by conflating faith and politics and forming an American identity based on pride? Where do you see humility? Where do you see it? Honestly, the first thing that comes to mind is Pope Francis. He has defined the beginning of his time in the Catholic Church’s highest position by going low, focusing on service and poverty. He has denied himself many of the luxuries afforded by his office in order to connect with the people. That is humility. He is closer to the Truth, isn’t he?

Finally, I will return to the example I started with The Dark Knight Rises. After Bruce Wayne is broken by Bane, he is cast into a hopeless prison and doomed to watch the destruction of his city. He builds his body and tries desperately to climb out of the prison. Each time, he ties a rope around himself and can’t make the final jump onto a ledge that would lead to freedom. Lost in a dream, Bruce sees a time in his life where he fell down a well and his father came to lift him up. His father asks, “Why do we fall, Bruce?” He wakes up in a cold sweat and receives a word from a blind man in a nearby cell. The prisoner tells Bruce that he lacks the fear necessary to make the climb. He tells him he must climb “as the child did. Without the rope. Then fear will find you again.” Fear, in this case, and when it comes to the fear of the Lord, is about having a right perspective: a humble perspective. Without humility, the climb is impossible. Without becoming like a child, and recognizing the higher authority — the Truth outside yourself — you will be weighed down by your own pride. Bruce didn’t have to listen to the blind man. Climbing without a rope is probably suicide. But he was desperate to get out, and humbled by his inability to do so. He was ready to listen, and to begin the climb of faith.

It is possible to get closer to Truth, but it only begins with the letting go of pride. Difficult circumstances can forcefully strip us of pride, but it is up to us whether that is the beginning of our humble climb or the beginning of an endless search at the bottom of the pit for any shred of our former glory. The first step toward Truth is a step down.

Bible Study

3-10-to-Yuma-wallpaper-3-10-to-yuma-639882_1152_864

“And you just remember that your old man walked Ben Wade to that station when nobody else would.” 

There are many good westerns that are worth your time, but if I had to pick one above all others it would have to be 3:10 to Yuma.  I like it for the acting; Russel Crowe, Christian Bale and Ben Foster are phenomenal.  It has a high production value and a beautiful score.  But what sets it apart, at least in my book, is the theme at its core.  More than a story about a man who escorts a criminal to his jail-bound train, 3:10 to Yuma is about the struggle of faith.  It’s about a son believing in his father, and a criminal wrestling with his own beliefs about the nature of God and mankind.

If you haven’t seen the film, please go ahead and do that.  I strongly suggest that you read no further until you’ve seen it.  That being said, if you have no intention of watching a western, or if you’ve seen it and forgotten much of the plot, here is a summary.  Dan Evans (Bale) is a poor rancher who lost his leg in the Civil War.  He struggles to maintain his ranch for his wife and two sons.  To make matters worse, the local authorities are giving him a hard time about paying his bills.  His barn is even burned down as a threat.  Enter Ben Wade (Crowe) and his violent gang, whose second in command, Charlie Prince (Foster), views Wade as a father.  They hijack a wagon full of money and then retreat to the nearby town.  Wade is captured, but his gang rides away.  A wealthy and powerful man named Butterfield rounds up a posse, which includes Dan,and later his oldest son.   As they trek across the western wilderness they face many dangers, and some of the men die.  The remaining group ends up in the town where the train stops.  Wade’s gang rides in and bribes many townspeople to join them in killing anyone who attempts to bring Wade to the train.  Seeing the odds stacked against them, everyone but Dan tries to back out.  Dan makes a final deal with Butterfield that will ensure his family and ranch will be taken care of, if only he can deliver Wade to the train at 3:10.  Wade willingly runs with Dan to the station as they dodge bullets.  Right when Wade gets on the train, Dan is shot down by Charlie Prince.  Filled with rage, Wade kills every one of his gang members.  Then, Dan’s son points his gun at Wade, contemplating murder.  In the end, Wade is allowed to live, and boards the train to Yuma prison.

There is a clear parallel between Dan’s son and Charlie Prince.  Both of them are looking to their father figure as a way to form their own identities.  In the case of Charlie Prince, he loves and respects Wade.  There is no doubt that he is entirely devoted to his “boss” and father.  He is willing to kill innocent people for him and also to protect him.  In one scene he burns a man alive to torture him into giving up Wade’s location.  Charlie Prince believes in his father figure, but he believes only in the worst side of him.  That is why his identity is defined by violence and cruelty, because that’s what he believes his father expects of him.  Dan’s son is a little more complicated.  At the start of the film he views his father as a weak shameful fool.  He does not respect Dan.  Then, as he interacts with Wade on the way to the station, he seems to find his power and confidence attractive.  Throughout the film, there is an unspoken tug of war for this boy’s soul.  Here is some dialogue between Wade, and Dan’s son, who is named William by the way.  I believe it captures the essence of this struggle to form an identity.

Screencaps-3-10-to-yuma-17409476-1920-1080

Ben Wade: They’re gonna kill you and your father, William. They’re gonna laugh while they do it. I think you know that.
William Evans: Call ’em off.
Ben Wade: Why should I?
William Evans: Because you’re not all bad.
Ben Wade: Yes, I am.
William Evans: You saved us from those Indians.
Ben Wade: I saved myself.
William Evans: You got us through the tunnels. You helped us get away.
Ben Wade: If I had a gun in them tunnels, I would have used it on you.
William Evans: I don’t believe you.
Ben Wade: Kid, I wouldn’t last five minutes leading an outfit like that if I wasn’t as rotten as hell.

So you see that Wade is “as rotten as hell” when he leads his gang.  It is this hellish persona that Charlie Prince loves and respects, and it is the same tough persona that Dan’s son finds so appealing.  But Dan’s son isn’t entirely convinced that Wade is all bad.  He views certain actions as heroic and selfless, like helping him and his father escape deadly situations.  His desire to see the good in Wade reveals that he has something that Charlie Prince doesn’t: a good man to look up to.  And when Dan chooses to deliver Wade to the train station against impossible odds, his son finally views him with respect.  Consider Dan’s words to his son.

Dan Evans: I’m gonna be a day behind you, William. Unless something happens, and if it does, I need a man at the ranch to run things, protect our family, and I know that you can do that because you’ve become a fine man, William. You’ve become a fine man. You got all the best parts of me. What few there are.
[Dan shakes William’s hand]
Dan Evans: And you just remember that your old man walked Ben Wade to that station when nobody else would.

800 large 310 to yuma blu-ray3

Dan tells his son that he is a fine man who can protect his family.  The father gives the son his identity.  Dan believes that his son is good, and then he leaves him with an incredible image of courage, loyalty, and perseverance.  Dan proves that he is a man of his word when he delivers on his promise to get Ben Wade to the station.  Dan’s son can believe in him, and believe the good words that will certainly shape his identity as a man.

We have seen two young men who look up to their fathers embrace the identity that the father has given them.  In an interesting twist, Ben Wade develops his own identity in the image of the one he views as a father.  For most of the film, that father is evil.  Wade shares a personal story with Dan in the minutes before their fateful journey to the train.

Ben Wade: You ever read the bible, Dan? I read it one time. I was eight years old. My daddy just got himself killed over a shot of whiskey and my mama said “we’re going back East to start over”. So she gave me a bible, sat me down in the train station, told me to read it. She was gonna get our tickets. Well, I did what she said. I read that bible from cover to cover. It took me three days. She never came back.

Wade read the bible from cover to cover.  In the bible, Jesus dies and then comes back three days later.  In Wade’s life, his father died and his mother abandoned him.  She didn’t come back after three days, which must have caused him to either hate God or not believe in him at all.  Believing the worst of both his earthly and heavenly parent, Wade turned to a life of death and pleasure-seeking.  He took on the identity of the father he believed in.  Then he crossed paths with Dan, and Dan showed him a better father to believe in.  Not the kind of father who abandons, but the kind of father who will give his life for his family.   He’s the kind of father who will even run alongside an unworthy criminal to see that justice is done.  Please take a moment to watch this powerful scene.  The song is called, “Bible Study.”

Ben Wade sketched Dan into the front of the bible.  Dan showed him a good father, which I think made Wade start to believe in a good God.  Why else would he help Dan as they run together?  Wade now believes in Dan, and Dan believes in something greater than himself.  Even if getting on the train to Yuma results in  judgement for a life of evil, Wade is willing to go if it means running alongside a good man he can believe in.

If the Nation Were a Person

Imagine that the United States of America was a person.  It shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.  Culture is sort of like personality and habit.  Politics is like an individual’s worldview or perspective on things.  Both a nation and a person can become demoralized by internal and external forces.  And, just as a person has a soul, a nation seems to have a deeper core that defines and guides it.  It means something to be an American; it means something to be America.

So you have this image in your head of America, the person.  I would be curious to know what you see.  What is America wearing, if anything, and what posture does he or she have?   Let me tell you what I see.

I see a man who can’t stop looking side to side.  He goes from left to right, and each time he turns his head it puts more strain on his neck as he turns it a little more.  At the same time his eyes are looking down at the ground.  For a brief moment, every now and then, he peeks up at the heavens, but it is only for a moment.  His clothes are very stylish, and very expensive, but in his breast pocket is a notice saying that all of his possessions will soon be repossessed if he doesn’t pay his creditors.  His heart is experiencing palpitations due to the stress of a serious identity crisis.  He was raised a Christian, but has started to doubt its significance now that he is more mature and well off.  His daughter wants to have an abortion and he’s equally torn by his love for her freedom to choose and his love for her unborn child.  His son is gay, and he doesn’t know whether to kick him out of the house or celebrate with a parade.  He carries a small document in his hand that begs him not to forget where he comes from and who he is, but his hand is so clenched around it that he hasn’t read it in years.  This man has seen better days.  But not all hope is lost.

Inside the man is an indomitable spirit.  Despite his identity crisis and crippling debt and all forms of adversity, he carries within him a tested spirit.  A spirit that has passed through many fires.  A spirit that burns brightest when the world seems darkest.  This man has suffered many hardships and come out stronger in the end, and for that reason, for the spirit within that transcends the baggage and the vitriol and the pettiness, he has real hope for a better life ahead.  But as long as he carries the pride of his own self-importance, and refuses to acknowledge the Creator that made him in word and deed, he will continue to be a divided man with a sore neck.

The Powerful Subtext of Homeward Bound

Subtext-a message which is not stated directly but can be inferred.

Homeward Bound is one of those rare childhood films that can mean more to you as an adult.  I would place Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in the same category, and I explain why in the posts, Willy Wonka is a Fine Wine and Finding God in Film.  These films touch upon universal themes that children either overlook or fail to appreciate because there is much about life they have yet to experience.  In the case of Homeward Bound, it took many repeat viewings and a good amount of growing up for me to grasp the powerful subtext at its core.  From beginning to end this story is about fatherhood.

The film opens with the character of Chance, a young “pup” of a dog, delivering a brief monologue about his past.  He says,  “I was abandoned when I was very young. I lived on the streets scranging for food, sleeping wherever I could; that seemed like fun at first, but pretty soon, it landed me behind bars.”  We learn that he was separated from his parents, and likely also separated from his first owners.  Like a child whose father walked out, Chance feels the sting of abandonment.

The human children in the film, Peter, Hope and Jamie, are faced with the difficulty of accepting a new man in the role of father.  In the beginning of the film we witness a wedding between their mother and her new husband, Bob.  The children, especially Peter, are noticeably troubled.  There is a touching moment immediately after the couple finishes saying their vows where Peter looks down at Shadow and pats him.  It makes me wonder, what happened to Peter’s father?  Did he walk out on the family, or did he die?  It’s likely that Shadow was either Peter’s father’s dog, or given to Peter by his father.  Regardless, we can assume that Shadow is deeply connected to Peter and his lost father.  And in many ways Shadow fills the role of father for both Peter and Chance.

Without question, Shadow is the heart and soul of Homeward Bound.  He is loyal, faithful, and wise.  He is the leader and protector of Chance and the cat, Sassy.  At the start of the film we see that Shadow views Chance much like an old man views the younger generation.  He says, “I’d sure like to give that dog a talking to,” when Chance misbehaves at the wedding.  Then he continues by asking Chance the rhetorical question, “Would a rolled up newspaper mean anything to you?”  Shadow understands that Chance needs guidance and discipline.  He has a lot to learn, since he has grown up without a fatherly example.

Later in the film, after the animals have spent many days journeying through the woods in an attempt to return home, Sassy gets caught in a river and tumbles over a waterfall.  Once Shadow and Chance determine that she must be dead, we see the first moment in which Chance recognizes that Shadow is worthy of his respect.  Here is the exchange.

Shadow: [after Sassy is lost in the river] I shouldn’t have made her come.

Chance: It’s not your fault, she wanted to come.

Shadow: But it’s my responsibility. I had a responsibility to Sassy – to love her and protect her – the same as I have to you… and to Peter. And the same as you have to Jamie.

Chance: But we didn’t ask for this job.

Shadow: We didn’t have to. It’s built in. Has been ever since the dawn of time… when a few wild dogs took it upon themselves to watch over man, to bark when he’s in danger, to run and play with him when he’s happy, to nuzzle him when he’s lonely. That’s why they call us man’s best friend.

Chance: [narrating] Looking at him that night, he seemed so wise… and ancient, like the first dog who ever walked the earth. I just hope that one day, I can be like him.

The exchange could easily be applied to fatherhood.  Shadow speaks of having a responsibility to love and protect those who depend on him.  And when Chance challenges this obligation by saying, “But we didn’t ask for this job,” Shadow responds that it is built-in.  It is a deep and undeniable truth of life.  Many fathers don’t ask to be fathers.  Many fathers don’t accept the responsibility to love and protect their children. Chance is just beginning to understand.

Near the end of the film, Shadow falls into a hole and it appears that he may never get out.  Watch from minute 1 to minute 4.  After, I will explain how this is the moment that Chance fully accepts fatherhood, and Shadow answers the problem of abandonment, which permeates the entire film.

“I won’t let you give up,” Chance promises Shadow.  He has become the loving protector.  He gets down in the mud with Shadow to give him the strength to move forward.  Chance also finally acknowledges that he loves Shadow and wants him by his side.  This shows a profound devotion, much like the kind a father experiences with his son.  But at the same time Shadow believes that his life is nearing its end.  He states, “I have nothing left to give.”  Despite Chance’s sincere efforts to encourage him, Shadow takes this desperate occasion to teach Chance a “final” lesson.  He says, “You’ve learned  everything you need, Chance. Now all you have to learn is how to say goodbye.”  Every father must leave his son someday, and even if he was entirely loving and wise and loyal the son must learn to be on his own.  He must make peace with the absence of his father.

If you continue to watch that clip you will see the children playing basketball with Bob.  They are very happy, and we witness a touching moment in which Peter and Hope call their new father, dad.  It tells us that the children, especially Peter, have accepted him.  This means that they have learned to make peace with the father that is lost. It also indicates that they have made peace with the likelihood that their animals will never return.  They have matured by learning how to say goodbye.  And a major part of saying goodbye is the ability to say hello to what is in front of you.

The return of the animals at the end is deeply moving.  It is also profound.  After Sassy and Chance return, Peter becomes sad as he embraces the likelihood that Shadow was unable to make it.

“It was too far.  He was just too old,” Peter tells himself.

The gulf between the living and the dead appears too far for us to ever be reunited.  How could we ever hope to see them again?

I can’t help but think about God at this moment.  I think about the promise of new life.  All that is written about God being our loving Father, our protector.  How often are we like Peter, losing hope?  It’s too far.  He is too old.  It’s just an old story.

My Father isn’t about to rise over that hill.

Homeward Bound is about fatherhood, and healing from the pain of abandonment when fathers leave.  The entire film is an expression of a father’s devotion to be reunited with his son.

It is about boundless love.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:38-39)

Two Truths and a Lie: Andrew Sullivan’s Christianity

Andrew Sullivan,  blogger from TheDailyBeast.com, recently wrote an article for Newsweek that made the front page.  It is called, “Forget the Church: Follow Jesus”, and on his blog it falls under the heading, Christianity in Crisis.  I have read it three times through, and some paragraphs more than that, with the intention of discerning his main points of contention with Christianity in America.  Anyone who reads my blog knows that this is a topic that I like to focus on.  As a Christian living in America, I want to better understand both the culture that I inhabit and the faith that I profess.  So, I can’t help but read  Sullivan’s article with great interest and scrutiny.  In my analysis, his article hits on some major truths about the troubled state of the Christian faith in America, but it also declares something that is completely contrary to historical and biblical Christianity.

The first truth that I found in Sullivan’s article was the issue of using Christianity as a tool to acquire more political and worldly power.  He writes, “What is politics if not a dangerous temptation toward controlling others rather than reforming oneself?”  This is an excellent and timely point.  In a post I wrote recently, “On Gay Marriage” I identified the problem of Christians treating America like a church and trying to make those outside the body of Christ adopt their values.  It is foolish to look to the state of the world in the hope that it will reflect the truth of Jesus Christ.  What you get is a highly politicized religion that focuses on particular issues more than on living humans.  What you get is greater polarization.  Instead of Jesus being the central polarizing figure in the interactions between Christians and unbelievers, you have issues marking the divide.  And these issues do much to enrage people.  Now, let me wrap up this point by stating that I believe Christians should stand up for the issues that best reflect their values.  It’s a hard sell to say that abortion and gay marriage are condoned in the bible, so Christians shouldn’t pretend that they agree with them in the name of political correctness.  But, and this is important, Christians cannot alienate themselves from those who are on the wrong side of their politics.  If anything, Christians have to swallow their pride and lay down their judgement as an act of love toward one who lives in a way that is contrary to theirs.

The second truth of Sullivan’s article is simple, that Christians must practice what they preach.  He writes a great deal about Francis of Assisi, who lived as an “example of humility, service, and sanctity.”

A modern person would see such a man as crazy, and there were many at the time who thought so too. He sang sermons in the streets, sometimes just miming them. He suffered intense bouts of doubt, self-loathing, and depression. He had visions. You could have diagnosed his postwar conversion as an outgrowth of posttraumatic-stress disorder. Or you can simply observe what those around him testified to: something special, unique, mysterious, holy. To reduce one’s life to essentials, to ask merely for daily bread, forgiveness of others, and denial of self is, in many ways, a form of madness. It is also a form of liberation. It lets go of complexity and focuses on simplicity. Francis did not found an order designed to think or control. He insisted on the simplicity of manual labor, prayer, and the sacraments. That was enough for him.

Sullivan believes, as I and most Christians do, that it is essential to live according to what Christ taught.  In the Book of James it says, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!  But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” James 2:19-20.  It is not enough to just know what is right.  You must live according to it.  Follow the example of Jesus who didn’t seek worldly power and who didn’t seek revenge against those who hated him.  Unfortunately, Christians in America look very similar to the rest of society.  For example, the divorce rate is the same as non-Christians, which makes it hard to have authority in the gay marriage debate.  Jesus spoke harshly against divorce.  We also embrace, in large part, the entertainment, materialism, and quest for health, wealth, and influence.  Not to say that there are not many individuals who rise above these things by living more in accordance with Christ’s humility, charity, and righteousness.  I mean not to condemn all Christians, including myself, just a large portion of us who are either Christians in name only or living out a lukewarm existence defined by half-hearted commitment to God’s will.  It is apparent that it is harder to live a righteous life in the lap of luxury than it is in lowly poverty.  But in each case what is required is submission to God’s spirit and the constant renunciation of pride and power.

Christians in America must repent and submit to God, and not put the majority of their energy into fights for more political influence, since the former is the true way to see lives transformed.

Now, I have said a lot of good about Sullivan’s article.  But he gets something very wrong.  I saw it from the very beginning when he lifted up Thomas Jefferson’s gutting of the Bible as an example of a man who was searching for, “the purest, simplest, apolitical Christianity, purged of the agendas of those who had sought to use Jesus to advance their own power decades and centuries after Jesus’ death.”  Jefferson removed anything that didn’t fit his understanding of who Jesus was.  That included many of the supernatural claims and large portions of the New Testament.  In short, he was choosing which parts of the scriptures he wanted to accept.  And Sullivan doesn’t denounce this as heretical.  That’s a problem.

This type of radical redefining is something that I have seen before from current Christian leaders like Brian Mclaren and Rob Bell. (I have written on both men and you can find those articles, The Biblical Buffet of Brian Mclaren and What the Hell Bell? by clicking on the links)  In response to the pressures of modern society they have attempted to redefine what Christianity has been throughout history.  Mclaren throws the God of the Old Testament completely under the bus, and Bell throws out the doctrines of hell and diminishes the truth of God’s righteous wrath against sin.  Both shy away from the truth of Christ being the exclusive way to God, and therefore Heaven.  It sounds so judgmental and harsh.  But just because something in the Bible doesn’t feel right to you, it doesn’t give you the authority to toss it out or redefine it.  That is so arrogant and I see it as the result of a radically individualistic society.

Sullivan, as far as I’ve gathered, is a man who believes himself to be the “truer” version of both conservative and Christian.  He distances himself from the standard institutions, believing that they have left him, and not the other way around.  He believes the Christian church has abandoned the true teachings of Jesus, and that is why he included the “Forget the Church” in his title.  But though the church of Jesus Christ is imperfect, it is the body of Christ on Earth.  We are meant to live alongside other believers in a community setting.  Sullivan isn’t telling Christians to stop working together to spread the good news of Jesus, but I am confident that he is undermining the established church and its  doctrines.

In a society that is becoming more and more Bible illiterate, I do not see how undermining the authority of scripture and two-thousand years of church teaching is a positive step forward.  If anything, these modern tendencies toward rebelling against longstanding authority and shrinking from any uncomfortable Biblical truths are a sign of a people turned inward.  Andrew Sullivan says many good things about what needs to change with Christians living in America, but he has chosen to diminish the sacredness of scripture in the name of shaping Christianity to fit his mold.

The Day God Died: To See Through All Things is the Same as Not to See

“You cannot go on seeing through things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. . . . If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To see through all things is the same as not to see.” – C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man 

When they see what I do, they will learn nothing. When they hear what I say, they will not understand. Otherwise, they will turn to me and be forgiven.‘ ” Jesus,  Mark 4:12

Christ on the Cross by Rembrandt

Today is a holy day for both Christians and Jews.  For Jews it marks the beginning of Passover, which marks the day that death passed over the ancient Hebrews before their exodus from Egypt.  Christians recognize today as Good Friday, which marks the day that Jesus Christ died, nailed to a cross.  On the first Passover, the Hebrews marked their doors with lamb’s blood as a sign that they were God’s people, not meant to taste the sting of death.   On the day that Jesus was nailed to a cross, his blood poured out for all who would accept him.  He is called the Lamb of God, and his blood was willfully shed for God’s people so that they could have his life.  Blood is life, and Christians get their life from God.   Good Friday, the day Jesus allowed himself to die, is both terrible and wonderful for the ones who see it.  But for those who see right through it, there is only the sight of a mythical fool going to his death, never to rise and therefore never to have any importance to them.

It is good to question things.  No one wants to be accused of gullibility.  It is also good to test things.  Why accept anything on blind faith?  There is a widespread belief that faith is incompatible with reason and sanity.  And there are plenty of religious people out there that only reinforce the stereotype.  Just watch a movie like Religulous by Bill Maher.   It looks like he had an easy time finding some ignorant people who supported his bias against the sanity of Christians.  Once again, they’re out there.  If you want to feel better about rejecting Jesus Christ, I can understand honing in on some of his less admirable  followers to back up your own beliefs.  Even Gandhi did it. “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

The real test of one who pursues more truth and understanding comes when you’re willing to accept the full humanity of another who believes something different.  If you’re simply “seeing through” the person you’re speaking to, you’re not really seeing them.  If all you see is a silly or ignorant person, you dismiss them without much of a thought.  I struggle with this, as most of us do, but I also take steps to really see where others are coming from.  This is not because I’m looking to find a more appealing thing to believe in.  My faith in the actual person of Jesus Christ is firmly implanted in me, and I not only let it grow, but want it to grow.  Truthfully, it is this faith, which softens my pride, that even allows me to engage in discussion without popping a blood vessel.

There are many things you can choose to believe in: many philosophies you can choose to accept: many people you can choose to agree with.  But I would warn you against the exercise of seeing through everything.  That would mean declaring the death of God and truth in the world and looking past anything that might challenge your position.  I remember taking a Bible as Literature course and the professor assuring us that we would not be approaching the book with any religious bias.  That’s great, but what about the bias that assumes the book isn’t true?  How is that really open-minded?  And furthermore, how does that take into account the purpose of the book in the first place?  To approach the bible as an old book of fairy tales is to not approach the bible at all.

I would encourage you to look at the story of Jesus and a teacher named Nicodemus, from the Book of John.  It is at the start of chapter 3.  It is one of my favorite parts of the whole bible because it is a one to one discussion between an open-minded religious leader and the man who claims to be God’s son.  You see, many religious leaders throughout the story of Jesus are arrogant and close-minded and Jesus doesn’t share this kind of dialogue with them.  They simply wouldn’t want it anyway.  But this guy, Nicodemus, he is interested by what Jesus has to say and Jesus is more than willing to spend time talking about many things.

So today is the day Christians remember the death of God on a wooden cross.  They see more there than an entire lifetime could contain.  They see a hard truth about this world, and an even harder truth about their own.  The world is ripe with evil and pain and death, and these things come to us too, eventually.

But Sunday is Easter.

And two-thousand years ago the son of God saw the first sunrise of a new age on this earth.

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” C.S. Lewis   The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses 

On Gay Marriage

On two occasions I have written about abortion (An Inflammatory Issue: Abortion & Speaking for the Victims of Progress).  For each of those postings I took great care to control my emotions and also the language that I used.  It is too easy to slip into a righteous rant, and I wanted my thoughts to shine clearly.  I bring this up because I am now about to dive into another volatile topic: gay marriage.  Truthfully, I have avoided this issue because of how challenging it is to discuss.  This is the hot button issue of our day, exposing our deepest beliefs regarding freedom, morality, religion, family, society, sexuality, and love.  Like abortion, it is an issue that often defines a political position.  And, also like abortion, it defies many attempts to discuss with a cool head.  Though I can’t promise that I won’t offend, I can promise a most sincere effort to proceed with clarity and compassion.  Here we go.

I’m interested in what is behind an opinion, or a value, or a belief.  What is the primary force inside of you and me that shapes our characters and the nature of our thoughts and wills?  To tackle the topic of gay marriage, I think it is most helpful to try to identify the primary forces at work in both parties, for and against.  You may think I am being too ambitious or resorting to too much personal opinion, and perhaps that is the case.  All I ask is that you consider what’s to follow and ask yourself if I’m completely nuts or if I have a leg to stand on.

The popular liberal position on gay marriage is that it’s good, natural, and nobody’s business.  They see society as advancing in tolerance, freedom, and reason as more states legalize same-sex marriage.  Legalized gay marriage is viewed as a victory for progress.  Furthermore, those who oppose this movement are viewed as having out of touch beliefs that are largely informed by outdated values.  Many who oppose gay marriage are influenced by their religions.  Those influenced by religion are in large part viewed as religious fundamentalists, which means they interpret their holy book literally.  Each of the three major world religions condemn homosexual lifestyles, so the opposition either takes a more liberal stance on their religion (allowing for the acceptance of homosexual behavior) or they dig in their heels and quote their ancient texts.  Many liberals are critical of conservative Christians especially, calling them bigots, homophobes, and haters.  Society as a whole is growing more tolerant of gays and gay marriage, and this is good for those people who have lived in fear of judgment.  There are many cases of teen suicide related to bullying, and many of these are hate crimes linked to anti-gay sentiments.   Accepting same-sex marriage paves the way for gays to live more freely and securely in a society that is just now shaking off its puritanical roots.

If you represent the position I just described, please feel free to critique or condemn what I just wrote.  I’m sure there are elements I am missing or glossing over.  I’m attempting to sum up a position that isn’t my own so it would be better if someone who supports gay marriage had input.

The popular conservative position is that gay marriage is bad, unnatural, and nobody’s business.  They believe that family is the foundation of society and marriage is the foundation of family.  Many conservatives are informed by traditional values, which are informed by religious values.  They point to a long history of civilization, but mainly to the short history of America for evidence of the time-tested legitimacy for heterosexual marriage.  They view their opponents as possessing a worldly morality, that is one formed by the trends and passions of modern society.  These liberals are governed by their own passions and desire for personal freedom, and pay no respect to a higher standard of right and wrong.  Freedom is their god, and they recklessly sacrifice traditional values on its altar.  To many conservative Christians, liberals who favor gay marriage are attempting to redefine marriage and pass legislation that will shift our society’s standards further away from the standards of God and traditional American values.

Once again I am fitting these beliefs into a nutshell.  There’s much more to say on both sides of the issue.  But for now I want to leave them be and move onto my own beliefs on this matter.

 

I ask myself, what is the role of the Christian church in shaping America’s policies?  It is one thing to view a particular way of life as sinful, but it is another to influence secular society by fighting for political power.  Should Christians be able to speak about their critical views on homosexual behavior, absolutely.  This wouldn’t be America if people couldn’t express their beliefs openly.  Open expression doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences.  It just means that the government doesn’t snuff it out of the public square.  I think all reasonable people can agree that civil discourse on this and any other issue is essential.

Regarding the political fight to shape legislation, or to prevent legislation, I am less confident about my role.  It is one thing to establish a common morality within the church, and it is another to try to establish one in the world.

Is it our place to fight for the highest seats of power?  Is it our place to expect the same way of life from those who don’t know Jesus Christ? I think it is damaging for people to treat America like a church, as if everyone used to be Christian and we just have to knock some sense into them.  I see many people like myself dreading the changes in society as if society is meant to reflect the status of the Christian church.  Society as a whole is a part of the world, and even though we live in it and shape it, we can’t look to it like we would look to the body of Christ.  The church is called to be set apart from the ways of the world.  What happens when the church judges someone outside of it as if that person were a member?  Is that what Jesus wants us to do?  Or does he ask us to live for Him and model a righteous life?  Maybe then we would appear as bright lights to a dark world.

To sum up my position,,,

I believe that those on both sides of the gay marriage issue should speak openly and courageously.  We as Americans shape the world around us based on our values.  Christians like myself should vote for those people who most closely reflect their values just as anyone else should.  But when society shifts further away from biblical values, Christians are not meant to panic and dread as if the church itself were crumbling.  The church is a people set apart, and cannot demand of the world that it live in submission to its principles.  That doesn’t mean that we curl into a ball and die.  It simply means that we expect one thing from the church and another from society.  Since Americans have the freedom to shape their government, and as a result their society as a whole, every individual also shares in the responsibility of the result.  For that reason religious and non-religious alike should take an active role in politics.  But the Christian doesn’t look to a worldly nation for his or her spiritual affirmation.  They look to God, and their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Is America a Christian Nation?

Is our country a Christian nation?

The first thing we need to explore is what it means to be Christian.  If you were looking at the true definition of Christian you would find that it can only apply to a human being.  Christians are followers of Jesus Christ who accept his identity as God, savior, and master of their lives.  Jesus told his followers, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”(John 14:15)  Christians love Jesus and live a life that expresses love toward him.  They still sin and fail regularly at imitating him, but at their core they are devoted to the struggle of seeking God in a fallen world.  True Christians are living and active, so this means that CDs and books and movies cannot truly be Christian.  They don’t have the life of God in them.  In the same way a country cannot be truly Christian.  Even if 100% of the citizenry were Christians, and all of the government’s policies were informed by Christian principles, what we would have is a very large Christian community composed of individual believers.  The United States would not be Christian; its people would be Christian.

Now, all of that being said I know that when people call an object “Christian” they don’t believe that it is saved by Jesus.  They likely mean that it has a message which somehow ties into God.  Switchfoot is a Christian band.  Their music is shaped by their beliefs and many call it Christian.  In its own way it points to Christ, so I will say that when anything outside of a human being is labeled “Christian” it must in some way point to Jesus Christ.

The two working definitions of Christian that I will use for the rest of this post are:

  1. A human being who accepts Jesus Christ as their personal  savior, which results in an inner transformation turning the individual, over a lifetime, into the likeness of Jesus Christ.  This means their thoughts and actions will be increasingly like those of Jesus as they seek to know him.  More than a title or affiliation or even religion, Christianity is giving all of yourself with the belief that God will give you his own life in return.
  2.  Anything that is not a human that points to Jesus Christ as he is portrayed in the gospels.  Examples are music, paintings, movies, books, culture, etc.

Is our country a Christian nation?

I have heard arguments from both sides regarding the Christian foundations of America.  One side claims that the founding members of this country were largely Christian, or at least heavily informed by Christian principles.  As a result they drafted our core documents with divine assistance from God and turned to Him in prayer before taking critical first steps as a nation.  The other side points out that many of them were Deists (namely Thomas Jefferson who made his own Bible by taking out all that mystical stuff about miracles and resurrections) or simply non-religious like the Enlightenment hero, Benjamin Franklin.  This side also is keen on emphasizing the separation of church and state, which they say is the intention of our founders.  Taken even further, this separation is used as proof that the founders wanted religion far removed from the governing bodies of this land.  So what’s the deal?

Based on what I’ve gathered, and trying really hard not to let my own bias taint my senses, I believe that Christianity did play a critical role in the formation of this country.  But at the same time ideas shaped by the Enlightenment were used to craft our government structures.  The Bible was not the central document through which the Constitution was formed.  That being said, many of the men who had a hand in the beginning were devout Christians, so it is not correct to assume that they wanted Christians to be separated from government entirely.  Their ideal government wouldn’t be one in which men didn’t allow their faith to play a role in their decisions.  Religion would never be forced on anyone, but America would also not force the religious to deny their convictions once in public office.   If you need some proof of someone in high office exercising their faith, just look to George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.   American citizens elect these people to reflect their own values.

More important than where we were yesterday as a nation is where we are today.  Does our culture look Christian?  Do our policies look Christian?  Are our people even Christian?

Certainly, the dominant culture in this country is far from reflecting Christian values.  The American Dream at its core is about amassing worldly wealth and happiness so that you can have a comfortable life.  Is this anything like what Christ meant when he said to his followers, ” If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”? (Matthew 16:24)  The values that we see on television are shallow and ungodly.  Physical beauty and the vitality of youth is idolized and sex is used as a tool for profit.  How many advertisers and television shows whore themselves in our living rooms?  The internet spills over with porn with millions of men and women captivated by the dull lustful glow of their computer screens.  This isn’t about gay marriage and abortion, though legalized abortion is perhaps the greatest noose around the neck of America’s spirit.  This is about a culture of death.  We live in a culture of death.  In one moment we are thrilled by distant or digital violence and in the next promised that eternal beauty and health is attainable.  Just buy this or watch this or read this.  So much of our culture is based on avoiding the reality of our inevitable deaths.  This is the opposite of the Christian life. Clearly we cannot call our culture “Christian” since it does little to point anyone to Jesus Christ.

But what about our people?

How many people who say they are Christians are truly followers of Christ?  Say 70% of the country identified themselves as Christian.  Of those, how many go to church maybe once or twice a year and live their lives as if they didn’t love Jesus?  A conservative guess would be half.  Just consider all of the people you know who call themselves Christian or Catholic.  Of those, how many would you actually label as a legitimate follower of Jesus Christ?  How many actually live as if God was the love of their life?  I even recognize that I am in danger of falling into this category when I consider how little I resemble Jesus and how much I embody the culture in which I live.

The point I’m trying to make is that Christians, true believers who live for God, are not the majority in this country.  Christians are in the minority.  Many conservatives hold tightly to their traditional “Christian” values but their lives are far from the heart of God.

Most Americans are not Christian.

Is America a Christian nation?  No.  We were once much more united by Christian values, but we are currently far removed from that past.  Our culture is not Christian.  Our people are not Christian.  And increasingly less so.

God moves in the hearts of people.  What will become of ours?