Culture Clash: Morphin Time

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And we’re back!  If you’re just joining us, we’re in the middle of reviewing the three typical ways that we as Adventists have responded to pop culture we find ourselves in.  If you need a quick refresher course or have no idea what I’m talking about, click here to get up to speed.

So, other than to reject or ignore culture, another predominant tendency is to

Accept it:

This is when the pendulum goes from one extreme to the other.  No longer is anything seen as “the Devil;” as a matter of fact, one may doubt if the Devil is really a real being or not in this position.  The main thought in this point of view is, “We can’t escape culture and culture is what it is, so let’s just accept the whole thing.”

Nothing is off limits; everything is permitted for this group.  All parts of your particular are great and not only that, they’re the BEST!  All other ones pale in comparison to how cool yours is.

So, which culture/lifestyle is the best (city, suburban, country, vegan, Caribbean, South American, European, Central American, North American, Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, etc.)?   The answer in this case is either all of them, or mine is!  Which culture makes the best food at potluck?  Well… OBVIOUSLY that award goes to the _______.  You can vote in the comments section on who wins the Haystack Award for best potluck.

Which language is going to be spoken in Heaven?  Obviously Spanish, like every other Hispanic thinks.  Obviously English with British accents to everyone else.

As far as what is permissible in church and in your own personal life, everything goes too.  So whatever comes into contact with your five senses is good.  Almost hedonistic in a way: everything that we see with our ears, ear with our ears, or feel with our hands is great.

This wholesale acceptance of culture has some serious side effects, though.  If you think your race is the best, you’re kind of racist.  If you think that your way of viewing the world is the only way there is, it makes you a poor missionary.

Looking at Scripture, wholesale acceptance of culture can either relegate the Bible to a big book of nice stories and poems used to talk to the culture of that day, or the other extreme is accepting the Bible wholesale and trying to live  within the Ancient Near Eastern culture that the Bible was written in.

The problem with the former is that it robs the Bible of the authority with which to speak to the human condition.  The problem with the latter is that it requires embracing such customs as polygamy, slavery, and perhaps holy kisses and hats for women in church.  It also means putting an end to your days of wearing polyester (see verse quote on the left).

‘You are to keep My statutes. You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together.” –Leviticus 19:19

Let’s face it, everyone.  Even Adventists tend to slip into the trap of thinking that their way of viewing the world is the best.  Left, Right, and everywhere in between, it doesn’t matter.  Each one will claim to speak as the voice of authority for all “true” believers.  I’ll probably address why in a later post.

Wholesale acceptance of religious sub-culture at its best (or worst).
Wholesale acceptance of religious sub-culture at its best (or worst).

So, with all that said, what really is the best way to live?  In my opinion, none of them.  I believe that the best road to take as Christians living in culture is neither to reject, ignore, or accept.  Rather, I want a fourth option.

Transform it:

Every culture has parts of it that need to be addressed because certain practices within it go against the principles that we find in scripture.  Take our own country for example.  I’ve always found the Thanksgiving-Black Friday season perplexing.  So you’re telling me, people will literally trample each other to get things they want hours after claiming to be grateful for the things they already have?

Every culture has Sacred Cows that need to be addressed.  Yet, as the saying goes, “Sacred cows make great burgers!”  Engaging in culture and being able to evaluate it for the good and the bad (and contextualizing your own approach to it) is what I hope you will learn as we journey together.

A decade ago (maybe even longer than that!), there was a crazy fad about a group of teenage superheroes called the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. The show’s plot hinged around a group of ordinary adolescents, but they could have access to power beyond themselves to become heroes for justice.  They were still the same people but they fundamentally changed to be something bigger than themselves individually and collectively… with the help of giant robots, too…

It’s funny how the same word “morph” is found in Romans 12:2 where it reads, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed [the root word for “transformed” is morphoo”] by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

I believe this is what God calls us to be.  Yes, Power Rangers.  Not rejects of culture, not ignorant of culture, and certainly not wholesale consumers of culture.  Rather, we are called to engage and transform culture into what is “good, pleasing and perfect.”  You may wonder, “How is that even possible?”

Here is one example:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuweBjA5aEw&w=560&h=315]

This is what this series is all about. Transforming culture while engaging culture within culture.

Side note: due to a change in publishing frequency, this blog will come out bi-weekly from now on.

See you next time!
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How I Almost Quit Christianity

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Every wrong that I see in you, God finds in me.

~Oswald Chambers (Rom. 2:17-24)

 

In addressing the negative commentary many Christians have had about, well, many things, including the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, Pastor Roger Hernandez concluded by saying, “Please stop being the type of Christian other Christians have to apologize for.” Oh, c’mon; we’ve all seen them. The type who picket the funerals of fallen soldiers to tell their families they deserved it, the type who promote websites about how much God hates people, the type who point out others’ sins more than pointing others to a Savior, the type who speak critically instead of thinking critically. You know, the type of Christians we apologize for when talking to our atheist and agnostic friends.

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If my only reference was the comments or actions of professed Christians, heaven is not a place I’d want to be.

[/blockquote]That’s how I almost quit Christianity. I found myself becoming increasingly perturbed at the insensitive attitudes, dialogue, and actions of many professed Christians. Like Anne Rice, I considered quitting Christianity for the sake of following Christ. I couldn’t agree more with her commentary that “Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.” In sum, I’d been lamenting what Christianity has become — a sign of closed-mindedness, of disdain, of hating cultures instead of loving God.

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I vented to a supportive group of Christians that if my only reference was the comments or actions of professed Christians, heaven is not a place I’d want to be. Their responses were obviously meant to encourage me, many sharing the sentiment that “true” Christians have a sweet fragrance, much like a rose. I rebutted that I’d rather not call myself a rose for fear of the many thorns who have pricked others in the name of Christianity. That’s when God pricked my heart, as well. If the bible repeatedly tells us to bear with each other, considering others better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3; Rom. 12:10Eph. 4:2), where had I gotten the notion that other Christians were “the type” arrayed with thorns while I was a sweet-smelling rose?
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What started with my disdain for others’ bad behavior ended with repentance for my own.

[/blockquote]I’ve long believed myself to be a Christian, but I’m certain I’ve pricked many hands while proclaiming I’m just a rose. I’ve yelled at my kids, made rude remarks to my husband, and just flat out disregarded the will of God. Roses have thorns. That’s how I almost quit, but never quite got there. What started with my disdain for others’ bad behavior ended with repentance for my own. This is why I consider “Love the sinner; hate the sin,” to be an unattainable and impractical myth within Christianity, but we can talk about that more next time. The reality is that many of us have a notion of ourselves that we’re not “that bad,” but as Pastor Tullian Tchividjian stated, “A preacher who doesn’t believe he’s that bad will attract people who don’t think they’re that bad. And that’s bad.”

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Taking lightly the depths of my own depravity takes lightly the depths of God’s abundant grace.

[/blockquote]When we’re not “that bad,” we dismiss opportunities to be better and diminish the necessity of being made new. Ultimately, when we’re not “that bad,” we downplay our need for the grace of God and the cross of Christ. Taking lightly the depths of my own depravity takes lightly the depths of God’s abundant grace. The first step to growth is assessing and admitting where we are. I almost quit Christianity, almost. I’m a Christian. I have thorns. I need grace. Based on the opening quote, I challenge you to consider those faults you’ve noted in others, those things you so desperately wish were not the face of Christianity, and ask God to show you how you have been the same. You’re a Christian. You have thorns. You need grace.

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Us vs. Them

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The world is constantly turning upside down, from the issues of Ebola in Africa, to the craziness in the Middle East with ISIS, to the crisis of sex ratio in India and China, causing an increase in human sex trafficking. This is the world that we live in, and one simply cannot deny that it is not a reality. As Christians, we have been given a pretty good heads up on the psychotic turn that humanity will take because of sin and also because things are wrapping up for Jesus’s Second Coming. So while these things may come to our ears, and whole-heartedly disagree with such things, it also does not surprise us. However, just because this is the case with the world we find ourselves in, does not mean that it is something that we should find ourselves in, in our own lives as Christians.

What do I mean?

Well, just about a week ago I read an article on CNN.com that was explaining the crisis of sex ratio in India. For about 1,000 males that are born, only 800 girls are born. The article went on to explain that because of selective abortion practices, the ability to kill baby girls is easily available to parents who find themselves conceiving a baby girl. Since a girl is a curse to them and to their tradition, they kill them, leaving no future brides, which leaves men not able to marry, which is also a curse. The article explained that because of this crisis, the men are desperate and pay to have mail order brides; where do they come from? They don’t care, as long as they get a wife…which leads to increase of human sex trafficking. It also has lead to a high sexual violence rate in India, where they publicly have ganged raped several women in Delhi, as if taking out their anger. How dare you be a woman….yet how dare you not get married. And if things aren’t hard enough, once these raped women return back to their villages or homes, if they are lucky, they are ostracized and ridiculed, because by them coming home after being raped, they have brought shame to their village. And the poor girl is left with absolutely nowhere to go; with a country that hates them, with men who treat them as property, and with parents who view them as a curse. It is not their fault that they were born a girl.

And you know what, even though us Americans, or others from first world countries would cry out in horror at such a disgusting act, and we hold our head high with pride saying, “Well that doesn’t happen here at home, and if it did, the authorities would be immediately on their case,” but we struggle with the exact same thing, just on the opposite end, but the signs and symptoms are there.

How many men have you heard that when they get married, they joke about no longer being free, and are now bound, with chains and shackles? Bachelor and bachelorette parties going to stripers because now it is just one person they are bound to? How many women have you heard that make the exasperated remark, “What do you expect, he is just a man, he will never understand?” How many times have you heard the comment, “You throw like a girl?” Or the men comment, “She is the boss now, I have no opinion over the matter?” Wedding cake toppers of women dragging men who are trying to run away, or women thinking they have to look over every detail, because men are not capable or men being bothered by nagging or women being accused of being too emotional? How many times men have gone to women just to satisfy a physical, sexual desire, leaving the women feeling used, and the women holding sex over the men’s head in order to accomplish something? And the question the guy asks sometimes, “Why can’t girls be more like guys?” It leads to women rolling their eyes when men say, “Well there you go, there is something else that you don’t need me for.”

It leads to mistrust. It leads to stagnant, depressed marriages and relationships. It leads to explosive arguments over the stupidest things that hide a mirage of countless of hurts, which are really a big deal. It leads to no communication, no sharing. It leads to a busy life to avoid each other, to avoid confrontation, because it is pointless…so we end up in a relationship that once held so much promise to where now we… just tolerate each other.

We use all these tricks to make the other person “fall in love” with us. Girls with all these “social rules” of when it is okay to answer a guy back over the phone, or text, wearing insane amount of make up or wearing certain clothes. Ranging to where girls act from super needy to being super independent and completely on their own, stopping for no one, especially a man. Where men sometimes are closed off, and distant, frustrated as if their wife’s needs are an inconvenience. Where guys have this web of complicated ways of playing the game, to even sleeping around with girls, so that they can have longer sex and make the girl reach her climax for a protracted amount of time? As if that is the mark of a true man.

And we sometimes enter into relationships with all these unnecessary games, and drama, of who slept with who, and Joe told Annie that he no longer wants Kate, but Jen, and Jen is Annie’s best friend, who is also friends with Kate, yet Joe is making passes on Annie, but Annie likes Rob, who is Joe’s friend….blah blah blah, do you see what I mean?

You may think I am taking this too seriously, and that I am hacking away at the nitty gritty, that I am making it into a bigger deal than what it is, that the majority of this thinking are just jokes, but I am sorry, you are wrong. Divorce rates are not saying that this is a joke. Broken families, and foster care children are not saying it is a joke. Abused men and women are not saying it is a joke.

Because at the bottom line, these scenarios holds the exact same principal of what I just finished explaining about India: a rejection of the sanctity of relationships. And unfortunately, the Christian home is nowhere near better than the statistics of the secular world.

When was the last time you have stopped and considered that relationships are something holy? Something that should be cherished, valued, fought for at all costs, held in high regard, and not something to be tossed around flippantly? Have you ever stopped to think that relationships are the only way, truly, that God does His work? What would have happened if God never made His covenant promise of a Messiah to Adam and Eve? What would have happened if God did not search Abraham to remind him of this covenant relationship? What would have happened if Christ did not come down as Man to accomplish the story of Redemption? Honestly, stop and consider it, if it were not the vehicle of relationship, what would we have left? A narcissistic, authoritarian god demanding his way or else…sounds to me like the devil.

Men were never meant to be like women. And women were never meant to be like men. So instead of trying to warp one to be like the other, how about appreciating and valuing what it is that makes us unique, different, and something to be reckoned with? A woman is not possible without a man, and a man is not possible without a woman. Creation showed that and even Paul says, “For as woman came from man, so also is man born of woman,” (1 Cor. 11:12).

Listen, if relationships were never meant to be a big deal, and were never meant to have the potential to be something beautiful and amazing, then God wouldn’t have used that avenue. Period. He does not tantalize us with things that can be if the potential was never there to begin with. If marriage, the relationship between a man and wife, were never meant to have a powerful love that surpasses all things on this planet, then He would not have used it as the first relationship on this earth. Simple as that.

Instead of grumbling how crappy things turned out, why not stop and ask, “What am I missing? What is God trying to tell me to get that I am not getting?” This requires an insane amount of humility and vulnerability. It may even lead you to apologize to things that maybe you never did to begin with…the point is to breech that gap and establish trust, and reliability. True love always leaves the potential for getting hurt. Just look at God. It is a risk you are going to have to take if you are tired of living the way you are living. No relationship has the guarantee of being hurt free. It just boils down to what it is that you are looking for. Is it going to be a selfish love, which is oxymoronic really, or is it a selfless love?

Today, parents almost have the potential to even choose the gender of their baby, but either way, once you are born, you are born, and you couldn’t control if you were boy or girl. It is not your fault if you are a boy and it is not your fault if you are a girl. So instead of hurling accusations across each other of how the man ought to be more in touch of his feminine side, and guys demanding that girls be more like guys, why don’t we just let girls be girls and guys be guys and love each other for it?

When the creation of mankind entered the picture in Genesis, verse 27 in chapter 1 starts out, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” Why on earth would the Bible take the time to make the distinction of both male and female when God was creating mankind in His image? Could it be that God has both male characteristics and female characteristics in His character? You read throughout the Bible God being referred to as the Lion of Judah, another time He is being referred to as a hen gathering her chicks. He chases and pursues yet He looks to be loved and accepted. He is powerful and strong, and He is gentle and comforting. He calls the shots and other times, He agrees to another idea of doing things. When a man and a woman come together in the context of marriage, it is the most powerful and it is the closest representation of who God is on earth.

A man represents something of God that only a man can truly represent, and a woman represents something of God that only a woman can truly represent, and when you get man and woman together, you are suppose to get a holistic picture of God. This is why it is important to have both parents in the home for their kids; it is the first picture of God that they see. This is also why homosexuality does not work in the context of God, it is an imbalance in the character of God, even then in homosexual couples, you have someone playing the male role and someone else is playing the female role.

And this also explains why our relationships and marriages are such in bad shape overall. If it were something that is meant to help share the most holistic picture of God, wouldn’t it make sense then that it is something that is always under attack, something that is “always” being shown that it will not work? What is meant to be one of the most beautiful things on earth to show God’s love is instead being used by the devil to give one of the most grotesque, disgusting pictures of God.

A woman was never meant to be afraid of her man, and a man was never meant to view his wife as a chore. Instead, they are meant to delight in each other and support each other. I am not saying that you never get angry, what I am saying is that because you see that it is worth it, something that is holy, you will stick to it and not run away, whether it be by neglect, or divorce, abuse, or tolerance.

Nicole Parker, the wife of one of my religion professors at Southern one day came to us pastors and talked to us about relationships. And she said this that has stuck into my mind, “If your focus of a relationship is to be happy, you will fail. If your focus of a relationship is to be holy, you will be happy.”

Relationships are holy. If you treat relationships like the majority of families from India, to the typical family of first world country, you are acting the same way, disregarding the sanctity of relationships. But if you are a true Christian, the way the Bible talks about it, your relationships will be something you hold dear, something you work at, something that you will sacrifice yourself for because He first loved you; you love because He first loved you (1 John 4:19).
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The Easterlings, ISIS, Elders, and the Son of Gondor

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Red light. Stop. Hit the presets.  2 – “…that leads to you OOO! The map that…”  3 – “…till we see the sunlight, don’t stop, party rock…”  5 – “…broken hallelujah!  You know the things that…”  Green light.  Go.  Hit 1.  “That was the President outlining his response to the ISIL/ISIS military threat.  Dr. so and so is bla bla bla.”

I’m not listening anymore.  I’ve flown off in my mind.  Sand blows in the desert and black figures draw plans and scribble in the rough grains of it with sticks.  I can feel the sun beating down on me as I listen to them speak, but do not understand their words.  In my mind I look at them with cold disdain.  “You have no idea what the wrath of 350,000,000 Americans armed with the full force of military science can do.” I mutter at them in my mind.  “We will not turn away from the people who need us to stop you.  We may seem like softened, pampered, westerners, but our minds are sharp from the reading of histories that stretch back millennia.  Our weapons and armor are strengthened by the extensive knowledge of material properties at the atomic level.  We will stop you.”  The men look up as fire showers down upon them in my mind.  “It is our duty.” I mutter.

Red light.  Stop.  “…What is far more likely is that our airstrikes will… CLICK!”  I’ve turned the radio off.

My mind is full of the sense of being part of the most powerful nation on earth.  I resonate with all the similar sentiment that I hear around me about how these people are evil, how they are criminals, and how we must respond with decisive force.  I know that all of this sentiment means something, for politicians listen to the voice of the zeitgeist like it is the voice of Gabriel himself shouting from heaven and blowing his trumpet.  Last year, the politicians knew that we, the people, did not like the idea of air strikes in Syria, and they turned the Presidents hand.  Now, they hear the shift in our collective voice.  “It is our duty.”

Green light.  Turn right.  Blinker clicks off.

I’m standing among brush and brambles watching a tall man in a cloak talking to two children.  No.  Not children.  They look full-grown, but they only stand waist height.  His voice breaks into the rush of traffic around me.

“The enemy? His sense of duty was no less than yours, I deem. You wonder what his name is, where he came from. And if he was really evil at heart. What lies or threats led him on this long march from home. If he would not rather have stayed there in peace. War will make corpses of us all.” – J.R.R. Tolkien – The Two Towers

It is so very easy for me to get caught up in righteous indignation to the point of forgetting that there are individual faces involved in every conflict – that each of the people in the Islamic State are as different from each other as I am from my own wife: a massive difference when examined in the intimacy of marriage.  Here I am, on my way to teach in my Seventh-day Adventist school, and I am meditating on destroying my fellow man.  And what?  Am I supposed to get up in front of my class and speak of how the Kingdom comes when we build bonds of friendship and understanding with each other?  And what is Tolkien getting at?  Had not Faramir uttered these words after he had just sent an arrow through this man’s neck?

And THIS is why I believe that the Bible is much bigger than our short 66 books that we bind up in our leather walls, for these words bring home something I recognize as a precious gem of truth.  The difference between a citizen of the Kingdom and a citizen of the world is the ease with which we fight against those with whom we disagree.

It was so easy for me to, in my mind, paint every one of these ISIS people, people who I had never met, with the same brush.  It is so easy for me to paint with the same brush people in the church with whom I disagree.  “That guy’s wearing slacks.  He must be a total corporate stooge.”  Or “Why are these people dressing up?  They look like they’re working on Wall Street rather than coming in simple clothes to be authentically humble in front of a God who isn’t fooled by their clothes anyways!”  Or “That person just put their homophobia above that girl’s equal right to have an equal standing in the Kingdom!  What a complete…”  And on and on and on I can go in my mind.  IT’S SO EASY TO OPPOSE THEM!  I shoot them down, rant about them to my friends, etc.  It is SO easy.

Then, here is Faramir.  He opposes those who he sees doing wrong.  He stops them, as he must.  But it isn’t easy for him.  He keeps it as a struggle because he acknowledges that people do what they do for their own reasons, which he cannot judge for them, but that he must oppose.

We easily forget that Jesus hung out with and helped heal Pharisees, even though He very much disagreed with many of their beliefs and actions.  We like to remember the stories where he put them in their places – in the temple, when they were judging Mary’s gift of perfume, when they were trying to stone the woman caught in adultery.  We forget that Jesus loved them.  He was just as keen to talk to Nicodemus as to the pagan woman who asked for the crumbs.   He never forgot, even when He was stopping them, that they were HIS.

And now for the mirror.  How do I get to that place and stay there?  How can I push myself to oppose some of their ideas, but still see my brothers or my sisters as just that: MINE.  How can I remember that my allegiance is to the protection of people, and not to the defeating of everyone with whom I disagree?  I don’t have the answer to these questions.  I think they SHOULD be hard to answer and THAT should be the point.  But perhaps part of the answer is a constant mindfulness of those stark words uttered in a dark world of fantasy more than 50 years ago: “War will make corpses of us all.”

Turn right.  Put it in park.  Walk down the school halls.  Prep for the day.  Here come the students.  “Good morning!”

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A Person of Quality

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My mother is a social worker for the state of Florida. The amount of stories that she has brought home has often been sad and traumatic. But once in a while, there are some humorous stories, with an ironic twist. One day she was dealing with a client who unfortunately did not take much advantage of the help that was being offered to her. Not only was she a person not willing to take much from the state and further her own education, she was also an un-kept person, dirty, her clothing dirty and stained, her vocabulary and communication habits lazy. My mother was trying to convince her that if she took advantage of the state’s funds or at least finished her GED she would be in a better position to further herself and her children for the better.

The young lady responded with this, “Oh that’s okay, one day I will meet a rich, educated handsome gentlemen and I will get married and all this will be solved.” She was totally serious.

My mother responded without even blinking (I inherited this from her, which sometimes has placed us both in trouble with people around us,) “Don’t you think that a rich, educated handsome man would be looking for the same or similar qualities that he has in a wife?” And the lady was absolutely dumbfounded. It was as if the thought had never even entered her mind.

My mother shared this story with us from her day around the dinner table that one evening. It did invoke chuckles around the table. But she looked straight into the eyes of her three daughters, “If you want to catch a prince, you have to be a lady.” That has always stuck with me, and its simple logic shared a profound truth.

Be a person of quality.

My family background comes from poor, humble beginnings. My mother was number 5 in a family of eight kids in the poor barrios of Puerto Rico. My father was born in the slums of Brooklyn, New York and grew up between the ghettos of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Brooklyn, New York, and Aguada, Puerto Rico. My stepfather’s furthest education is a high school diploma. My parents told me constantly of their stories growing up, finding pleasure in the small, simple things, to appreciate family and their sacrifices, work, and work hard and well, being honest in your dealings, and just because you’re poor doesn’t mean that you have to be dirty or have stained clothes. Take care of your objects, though it be little, so that they may last long, and always live within your means, even if it is small house, keep it clean, organized, and always offer the gift of hospitality. You don’t have to be rich to get an education; you don’t have to come from pedigree backgrounds to learn integrity, to be smart and wise. You can always be a person of quality, no matter where you are at. People will recognize, especially of those of the same hearts, when there is a person of quality in their midst. It will attract kindred spirits.

I bring this up because, although I love Disney’s adaptations to typical fairytale stories, too many of us have accepted the mentality that if “I just do what I want regardless of those around me”, or be so caught up in “ I will wait by being helpless and pathetic”, that we end up abusing the precious time that God had given us to prepare us for our future spouse, or even our current spouse, or current relationship. We unwittingly end up being like the poor lady my mother was trying to convince. Making present decisions that spells nothing but disaster, thinking haphazardly that will all get better in the future with that “one guy” or that “one girl”, and a string of that “one guy” and “one girl” come and you find out that that day never comes. Why?

Listen, not all girls are cut out to be sewers, cooking gurus, cleaning wizards and fashion polices. And not all guys enjoy getting grease and dirt on their face, cutting the grass, tinkering with cars, sports, video games, or being outside. Some guys like cooking, some girls feel more comfortable wielding an ax outside. And that doesn’t make them more guy or girl. The point is not to submit to “gender specific roles” so that you can have trusty stuff in your back pocket of self-efficiency, but to allow yourself to be molded into a person of quality.

Are you someone that people can trust? Do you manipulate and back stab? Do you blackmail? Are you frivolous? Are you reliable? Can you be kind? Do you compromise? Negotiate? Are you capable of encouraging? Do you have a quick temper that hurts those around you? Do you insist on your own way? Are you willing to offer a helping hand? Can you defend an innocent person? Are you a team player? Do you listen, or interrupt to insist on your point? Do you recognize that you can be wrong and the other person right? Do you feel that you have to be right all the time? Do you make efforts to show the people around you that they are loved or take things for granted? Do you have the strength to say, “I am sorry” when you are wrong, and follow through to help fix a situation?

In the end, the girl can be the civil engineer and the guy a homemaker, but their relationship with each other will not go anywhere, as a couple if these above questions are not dealt with individually. The guy can be a Navy soldier and the girl a secretary in the hospital, and it will go no where if these above questions are not dealt with.

God in His mercy has redeemed thousands of friendships, relationships, and marriages throughout the millennia, but how much drama and trauma would have been and could have been saved if we had taken the advantage of the time given to us if we used the time wisely. I understand that we all go through growing processes in our lives, and I know that not all of our lives are as simple as a “See Jane Run” book. However, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, there are people and relationships, which can grow and be a blessing if we submit ourselves to Jesus.

The Gospel not only restored a working relationship with Divinity, it also restored a working relationship with Humanity. It is vertical and horizontal.

If you want a person of quality and substance in your life, then you have to be willing to also be a person of quality and substance in your own life. And that doesn’t happen without the power of the Holy Spirit. Man has been brainwashed to be self-preserving, to watch out for number one. When you enter into a relationship, watching out for number one is the most sure way to commit relational suicide, and it is not even a quick one, it is a slow prolonged, agonized death of many hurts, many scars, many festering wounds and grudges, where people married for 20 years “all of a sudden explode” into a divorce.

At the same time my parents had their divorce, there were four more other divorces happening in my life among family and close family friends. My network of family and friends was being ripped apart all at the same time. My stepfather alone has been divorced three times before marrying my mother. I am very familiar with divorce. And it is one of the crappiest things ever. Once a family is ripped apart, it brings a set of whole new troubles that wasn’t there before the divorce, especially when you are trying to blend a new family. Not easy.

So when my parents tell me that it is important to be a person of quality, it is not coming from hypocritical thinking and ways, it comes from years of hard knocks and pain. It is a “Don’t do what I did.”

Jesus is the best Romancer out there. And the best Husband, when you see how “crazy” of a wife He picked, the church. The best way I can learn to love my boyfriend, who will be my future husband, is to look at how Jesus has constantly dealt with us as a people. Constant forgiveness, constant starting over, a lot of tears, a lot of yearning, a lot of hope, a lot of praying, and a lot of gifts and wooing, a lot of promises and protection, reliability and strength, developing a safe, intimate place, where there is peace and acceptance in that Person’s presence. To dwell in the secret place, that nobody else knows.

It doesn’t matter if a couple does not fit a “gender specific role”, roles change all the time due to culture and society. You can’t base your sexuality off of that. It is true that there seems to be a massive pattern where women would do a certain set of work and men do a certain set of work, but for those who do not fall under that category, we do a massive disservice to them if we declare that they are not a man because he doesn’t deal with his car and that she is not a woman if she does not cook. That is emasculation and defeminizing.

What makes a man a man, in the godly sense in the context of marriage is this: Will he lead his family to God? Will he be a pillar of support and strength to his wife? Will he listen to her? Will he accept her? Does he let her thrive? Does he treat her gently? Does he make sure that her physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs are met? Does he look after her? Does he protect her? Does he stand up for her? Does he plead on his knees for the character of Christ to love his wife like Christ loved the church? He can fold all the laundry and she can be the one who tinkers with the cars, but is he there for when she needs him? When she needs his arms to be the one to support her?

What makes a woman a woman in the godly sense in the context of marriage is this: Will she honor him before the eyes of God? Does she accept him, all his quirks and peculiarities? Does she respect him and his decisions? Does she submit to him and allow him to be leader for life decisions? Encourage him? Is she there for him? Meeting his needs, and looking out for him? Can she be a pillar of strength and offer wise counsel? Will she help her husband lead the family? Does she make sure that she is a place of safety and peace for him? Does she represent him well wherever she goes? She can be a CEO of a corporation, and he can be a nurse, but at the home door, does she leave her work title, to allow her husband be the one who leads?

It is something hefty to consider, but it is something the Bible calls us to look at. What will help make these relationships work is a person’s character; a person’s quality. And a person’s quality will also help define and strengthen a person’s sexuality, the way God intended it to be. A prince can fall in love with a poor lady very easily, if he can see a princess inside of her. A princess can fall in love with a mere merchant; if she can see that he is a prince. Jesus has called us His daughters and sons, and He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. There is not a single reason why we, as His kids, cannot have noble characters, better than the best fantasy book out there.
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Franchise vs. Kingdom

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It might be nice to have the athletic skills of a professional athlete, and it sure might be nice to be paid like a professional athlete. However, I am grateful I don’t have to answer to the media like a professional athlete does. I don’t have to answer for that missed catch, tackle, pitch, field goal, penalty shot, or corner kick. I also don’t have to answer to the media for any skeletons in my closet. I’ve never had to have a press conference about my personal life. I’ve never had a speeding ticket that was a headline on the news the next day.

Now I’ve never been inside a meeting between a team owner and a player, but I imagine there are conversations that happen expressing to the player, “Do not embarrass this organization.” The team leaders don’t want the media frenzy and drama of criticism that takes place when an athlete makes headlines for compromising situations. I’m sure the Cleveland Browns wanted to be answering more questions about Johnny Manziel’s athletic ability more than answering about his partying, or about Josh Gordon’s suspension. I’m sure the New York Yankees would like to never hear another question about Alex Rodriguez steroid controversy again. In fact some organizations will stay away from players that will only draw a media circus. I can’t imagine Tim Tebow would be unemployed by a football franchise if his presence didn’t automatically bring headlines and unnecessary press time.

There are reasons guys like Adrian Peterson, Derek Jeter, Peyton Manning, Rafael Nadal, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Durant are all known as franchise players and sports spokesmen. Their media attention is mostly positive. However, if one of them did have a moral fall, or became involved in some scandal, I am sure their public images would be reshaped fairly quickly in a different light as portrayed by the media. However from all public personification, these athletes represent their families, teams, and sports as well as they possibly can.

As Christians I think our public image has been taking hits. When we allow ourselves to think we only represent ourselves, I think we make a great mistake. We represent our God in the way we work, socialize, and especially in our treatment of other people. If the media was covering my next day of life, I wonder if they would have a lot of positive things to say, or if the headlines would be shameful or embarrassing. A major difference that can be determined, however, is that although a franchise decide a player wouldn’t be a good addition because of their public image, or that he or she may be a headache to coach, or maybe they have issues with the law, God handles His franchise a little differently. He doesn’t care about our headlines, He’s not afraid to bring us in. He wants us on His team despite our flaws. Whether we are a franchise player or a role player, He is just as forgiving and loving. That is the type of organization I would like to be a part of. Its not an organization at all, it’s a kingdom, and one that I desire to represent.

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The God Who Chases: My Personal Testimony

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I am not a spiritual person. I say am, not was, and you will soon discover why. I was born in Belleville, NJ on November 21, 1984. My parents, Vilma and Guillermo Torres, are both from the Island of Puerto Rico and were then (and are even now) living in the city that would become my home for the next 18 years – the infamous city of Newark. My childhood was, by all standards, a normal American/Puerto Rican upbringing. I went to school, ate arroz con habichuelas (rice and beans) almost every day, and attended a conservative Spanish SDA church.

From an early age it was clear that I was the rebellious one but apart from my “stick-it-to-the-man” attitude and my natural disposition to be disrespectful (a disposition that even my father’s military tactics never cured) I was a pretty good kid and stayed that way all of my youth. Some have found this surprising considering where I grew up. Newark, NJ is known locally as one of the worst cities in New Jersey. Gangs run the streets. Prostitutes, drugs, violence and vandalism are everywhere. And it’s common for kids growing up there to end up involved in some of this noise. Somehow I never did. I attribute this to two things: good parents, and a God who chases. I wasn’t exactly interested in God all of my youth, but somehow God kept me from all of the garbage of ghetto city life. My high-school was filled with gangs: Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings, Nietas, and street mobs. Drugs were sold right outside the front entrance and violence was the norm. But God kept me. To this day I have never smoked a cigarette, never tried a drug, and never drank a drop of alcohol. I didn’t even have sex until I was married. Now I am not saying I was perfect, not at all! But God kept me. I can’t take credit for any of that because I have never been a spiritual person. But God has always chased me and kept me.

However, it didn’t take long until I realized something about myself – I was a sinner and I couldn’t stop sinning. In comparison with those around me I was a saint, but when I compared myself to the law of God, or better yet to the man Jesus Christ, I knew I was far from a saint. Others may have considered me a good kid, but I knew better. I tried lots of things to fix my problem. I tried reading the Bible more. Praying more. Memorizing scripture. Sheer will power. I even got myself a Giga-Pet (they were pretty cool back then) thinking that maybe if I just stayed busy I wouldn’t have time to sin. But it was useless. Every single time without fail I would eventually go back. It was as if I was a slave. I could run away from my slave master for a few days, maybe even a month, but eventually he would find me. During these years I would look helplessly at the leaders in my church and wish that I could be as they were. The pastor looked pretty holy and so did the head elder. I wanted to be like them. I was a sinner and fully aware of it. I felt alone,like I was the only one who carried the burden of hidden sins. I wished that I could be a spiritual person. But I wasn’t.

It was sometime during these years of relentless battle that I began to lose interest in God. Sure, I still found theology interesting and I had nothing against God per-se, but I simply found little interest in the whole idea. Guest speakers would often spark my interest in Jesus again but I would, without a doubt, always go back to my natural state – unspiritual and rebellious. My battles with sin became worse and worse. At times I would cry because of how helpless I felt. I longed to be free. But slaves can wish all they want. The problem is, they can’t have what they wish for. So I suffered. And I suffered in silence. Then over time, I stopped suffering. I stopped caring.

Then came my junior and senior years in high-school. These years would prove to be the most significant years of my life because they would set the stage for where I would go next. During these years I entered what I consider to be my first serious dating relationship. My girlfriend and I dated for close to a year (if I remember correctly) and things were, in my estimation, pretty good. However, there was a reality that continually presented itself to me during this time. This reality was the absense of God. You see, while we both attended church it became clear over time that my girlfriend wanted little to do with God. At first, I didn’t really consider that a problem because I didn’t really care much for God. But over time it began to nag me. Now I wish I could sit here and tell you what a man of principle I was in choosing God instead of my girlfriend but remember, I am not a spiritual person. I didn’t choose God at all. I tried, but I failed. I just wasn’t spiritual enough. In fact, she ended up ending the relationship and to this day I consider that to be the hand of God working in my life. God knew I wasn’t strong enough to make the right choice so he stepped in. The relationship ended.

If God had never chased me, I would never (and I mean never) have looked for him.

Shortly after the breakup I thought, If I am going to sacrifice such a meaningful relationship for God then I might as well do something other than warm the pews. So I started preaching and as a result, met Jesus Christ for the first time in my life. Looking back though, I realize that I didn’t sacrifice anything. I wasn’t interested in God. I wasn’t looking for God! God came looking for me. I am not spiritual. I never have been. And as I stood on that pulpit to preach for the first time it was not because I was spiritual, but because God is a god who chases. He chased me until he caught me and now there I was, unspiritual little me, preaching about the second coming of Jesus. Oh! If only I could tell you how amazing it is to know that my God is a god who chases. He goes after us, not because we are on his A list, but because we are on his F list. He searches for us not because we are found, but because we are lost. He calls out to us not because we are perfect, but because we are sinners. And as I look at every significant moment of my life in the past 28 years, I can see one consistent pattern – God chasing me. Each and every time I have made a significant choice for eternity it has been because God initiated the search. Not me. If God had never chased me, I would never (and I mean never) have looked for him.

So now God had me. But he only had me part way. I was preaching and telling others about him and even decided to go into ministry. But I still struggled with the same old secret sins that I just couldn’t overcome. I even preached against one of my secret sins. It didn’t help me overcome it. And the more I preached, the more hypocritical I became. At 18, on July 2004 I joined the U.S. Army and spent the next 4 ½ years wearing combat boots. I kept preaching. I kept being faithful on the outside, but on the inside I was so broken. I knew I was faking it. I knew I was being a hypocrite. How many times did I wish I could reach beneath my skin and bones and into my soul and pull out that black thing that would make me thirst after sin. How many times I would take a shower for over an hour hoping that the water cleansed not only my body but my heart. I felt hopeless. Confused. I spend so many nights in agony over my brokenness, but every morning I got up just as hopeless as the day before. So I decided that it just wasn’t possible. I would be a slave until Jesus came. A proverbial hypocrite and there was nothing I could do about it. You see, there was my unspiritual side kicking in again. The side of me that always wanders from Gods will and plan from my life. As I think back now I can see all of the many opportunities and resources God provided for me to have an authentic and genuine Christian life but I never took advantage of them. Why? Fear. Selfishness. Shame perhaps. All symptoms of a heart that is carnal, or to maintain my chain of thought, unspiritual.

And then God chased me again. I met the girl of my dreams in the land down under. After dating for a year-ish we made plans to spend the rest of our lives together, but just one week after we got married I shipped out to Iraq. That year was perhaps one of the darkest years between God and I. It was almost as if I had gone back to the guy I was before I met Jesus my senior year of high school. But God knew all this ahead of time. It didn’t surprise him. He had it all figured out. My choices, my hypocrisy, and my sins all finally came to the surface and horror of all horrors, I was married. It wasn’t only me dealing with it now, it was someone else. The journey was painful but God knew this was the only way he could corner me long enough to get my attention. And he did. My eyes opened wider than ever and I saw for the first time. God had chased me again. He had given me a new beginning. I was born again, again.

I am a human being, prone to wander, and if it weren’t for God chasing me day after day, year after year, relentlessly and with a love that would not give me up, I would not be who I am today. God is a god who chases. Never in my life have I looked for him. He has always come looking for me. And the only thing that is going to keep me from turning my back on Jesus and making a b-line for the world is the ever-present reality of the God who chases. God is never going to stop chasing me. And so long as he chases me I can rest assured that I am going to be OK. So don’t look at me as though I am some champion of spirituality. Guys, I am a sinner! I don’t have what it takes to be a Christian! I don’t have the strength to be faithful. My only hope is Jesus Christ, the god who chases and who chased me all the way to Calvary. He is my only hope. He is your only hope. Look to him. Trust in him. If you look to me or any other man you will, without a doubt, eventually find reason to be disappointed. But if you look to Jesus you will never be let down. Even today I have a hard time reading my Bible and praying. Contrary to what many people may think, reading the Bible and praying are actually really difficult for me. I have to force myself to do it sometimes and it’s so easy and natural for me to just skip it and go about my day. I also have a hard time reflecting the love of Jesus, especially in my own home. If left alone I would wander helplessly into the very pit of hell. But God isn’t through with me yet. He still chases me.

Well, that pastor that I wished I was like finally was replaced by another pastor and nobody missed him. The church had come to the point where they just couldn’t wait for him to leave. He was an extremist, unapproachable, terrible with the youth, and held his own opinion higher than that of others. After a big rift in the church took place many of the members involved apologized to one another, but the pastor never said a word. So much for me wanting to be like him. And the elder? Well, sadly he ended up committing adultery. He hasn’t left the church but people have lost their faith in him. He looked so good on the outside, but on the inside there had hidden sin – just like me. The guys I looked to as though they were perfect were just as messed up as I was.

So don’t look to me and wish you were like me. Don’t look to anyone and wish you were like them. We are all sinners who need grace. We are all debtors who need forgiveness. We are all patients who need healing. Just believe in Jesus Christ. Make him the center of your life. He is chasing you the same way he chases me so let him catch you. Today I want to invite anyone reading this: Give your life to Jesus Christ. Let him be your Lord and Savior. Trust in him and he will get you to the heavenly city. When I get there, I will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am there only because of Jesus. I am too unspiritual to qualify for heaven. But there is a Lion in heaven who comes after me, not to devour, but to redeem.

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A Spanish Soap Opera

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Well, after two doozies of previous posts, (I admit, they were long, but they kinda needed to be), today’s topic will not be as long, but just as important. In a nutshell of my two previous posts, perfection and purity can be achieved, and that happens when we accept Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. God calls us to this type of living, but it is only because of Him, and through Him that we can do it and this impacts how we view and act on our sexuality.

Now, with that being said, please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that we first need to be perfect and pure and then be saved. No, what I am saying is that perfection and purity comes AFTER we are saved through Christ. It is the work of sanctification, His ongoing work in our lives, where we then become Christ like. It is funny though, because while we go with Christ, we will continually see our sin, because we recognize that we still have areas in our lives that are nowhere near like Christ, but those around us will see us as Christ like.

I am explaining this because sexuality is one of the most intimate things about a human being. It is linked incredibly close to a person’s identity. A person’s sexuality, whether female or male, impacts everything, from thinking, likes, dislikes, habits, interaction with society and so on. And because it is linked heavily with a person’s identity, it is something that has to be constantly submitted to God. A person’s sexuality is one of the most powerful avenues that can project a person’s identity and therefore a powerful avenue that God uses to reflect His image, especially in the context of relationships and in marriage.

With that being said, all of us are a work in progress, and we will make mistakes from time to time, we will trip up, and we will commit sin; and sexual sin is definitely probable, from engaging in premarital sex, lust, unfaithfulness or cheating, masturbation, perverted toys, homosexuality, sexual abuse, porn, or manipulating your spouse with sex denying or granting depending on whether you’re sulking or trying to get him or her to do your “honey do list,” sexual sin is something that plagues the human race. Leviticus 18 and Deuteronomy 22 have an extensive list on what is considered sexual sin. Unfortunately, it is a sin that plagues us heavily today.

I am going to get a little personal here, no; I have not had sex. However, my family has suffered from the generational sin (Exodus 20:5, Numbers 14:18) of sexual immorality. I have seen a lot of pain in my family caused because of it and I have suffered from it as well.

Have you ever seen a Spanish soap opera? I admit it I have seen about two. Anybody who is Hispanic would at least know a grandma or an aunt who watches this stuff. Like, you almost can’t have a Hispanic without someone in the bunch watching a novella. Watch out if 7:00 pm rolls around and your watching TV. The TV will get confiscated, and Univision will get put on. I have seen aunts kick out husbands who are watching their sports so they can watch their novella. Soap operas can get pretty interesting…until it becomes real in your life. Nobody wants a soap opera as their life, especially when there isn’t a cute guy in the mix, or a cute girl, but there are stories in my family’s history that can fill up a Mexican soap opera and make it look like child’s play. It is just something that we have struggled with. So listen to me when I say this….

Sexual sin is NOT the “unpardonable sin”.

I have seen God work powerfully in the lives of my family. They have gone through a lot, some very hard knocks, especially dealing with the consequences of their choices, but God did not lose His hold on them, instead, He went after them that much more. Guys, we serve an all-loving God, a God that gives us more grace where sin abounds (Romans 5:20).

I think that it is pretty powerful that when Jesus was here, John records in his book the adulterous woman. This story is the second instance in the book of John where Jesus specifically mentions of sins being forgiven and commanding to not go sin anymore. The Jews were ready to kill her, I mean sexual sin is a pretty big deal, because as Paul mentions it, it is a sin that you commit against your own body (1 Cor. 6:18), it is a sin that can really mess you up psychologically, emotionally, and relationally, moral credibility, and a bunch of other people around you. The Jews were pretty proud in keeping “their women straight.” Yet Jesus did not act towards her, as the typical Jew would have, instead, He gave her something else; hope, forgiveness, a clean slate, purity, virginity, and dignity, something else to look forward to and focus on; Him.

The church, unfortunately, sometimes acts like people caught in sexual sin, especially certain sexual sins, are passed the point of no return. As if all hope has been lost, as if sexual sin is definitely something that God just cannot forgive. And church, we need to Get.Over.It. If sexual sin was the unpardonable sin, then I think that the Bible would definitely had been incredibly clear on that subject, because then after all, it would become a salvational issue. But it is not, so instead of freaking out when someone is found in sexual sin and they want to change, then that is when we need to gather together and vamp up the spiritual family. We need to gather around these people, help them, give them resources, pray for them, give them accountability, encourage them, battle the fight with them, understand their struggle and suffering, to not belittle them and embarrass them and let them know that they are still sons and daughters of God and are welcomed into the fold.

And if by any chance the person who is reading may be struggling with sexual sin, listen very carefully, you are not too far gone that God cannot help you. God loves you and likes you and cares enough for you to want to help you get out. Get help. Search, humble yourself, and admit that there is a problem and go find help. Unfortunately, the SDA church does not have a powerful counseling arm for sexual sins in their denomination (that needs to change), but there is godly Christian help out there in other denominations and resources online. Just keep your head up, don’t lose hope, and know that God can and will pull you out of this if you just let Him be in charge. Patience and perseverance is key.

The opposite of sexual sin is not abstinence; it is holiness. You can still be abstinent and be lustful. The point here is not just eliminating the physical problem and that’s it, no, there has to be heart and mind change, a paradigm shift. And that starts by once again yielding your life to God. Letting Jesus be the center of your life, and He will make the repairs that He needs to make. He will not leave you in the dark.

And if you or any one you know have suffered from sexual sin and lack of church support, or placed in ridicule instead of being helped, I just simply ask that we, as a people, help change that. Us, as a church, make a stand, and help each other in this. It starts with God. It starts with us. It starts with you.
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Good Day?

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Good Day?

I lay down beside my grandpa on our living room floor.  I was 7, and my grandparents had come to Ellensburg Washington to help us cut and stack wood for the winter.  My grandpa had a custom of taking a short nap on the floor right after listening to Paul Harvey on the radio.   I hated naps, but somehow, between the calm voice on the radio and my grandpa, sleep usually found me.  Each nap seemed to start with that little question, “Good day?”

My grandpa was a big influence on me.  He showed me what hard work meant.  I hated manual labor, but somehow, with grandpa, it was fun.  He, more than anyone, showed me music, an art which would be at the center of my life from then on.  He also gave me my conservatism, which I would ultimately have to reject, but the knowledge that he was a conservative is still a force on me which drives me to dialogue with and respect conservatives who speak calmly and positively – honorable people who respect persons from all walks of life.

I miss my grandpa, and will readily give time to things that remind me of him, so when I came across a poem performed and written by Paul Harvey, I sunk into its words, which transported me back to those days of napping on the living room floor.

 

If I Were the Devil

If I were the Prince of Darkness I would want to engulf the whole earth in darkness.

I’d have a third of its real estate and four-fifths of its population, but I would not be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree.

So I should set about however necessary, to take over the United States.

I would begin with a campaign of whispers.

With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve, “Do as you please.”

To the young I would whisper “The Bible is a myth.” I would convince them that “man created God,” instead of the other way around. I would confide that “what is bad is good and what is good is square.”

In the ears of the young married I would whisper that work is debasing, that cocktail parties are good for you. I would caution them not to be “extreme” in religion, in patriotism, in moral conduct.

And the old I would teach to pray — to say after me — “Our father which are in Washington.”

Then I’d get organized.

I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting so that anything else would appear dull, uninteresting.

I’d threaten TV with dirtier movies, and vice-versa.

I’d infiltrate unions and urge more loafing, less work. Idle hands usually work for me.

I’d peddle narcotics to whom I could, I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction, I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.

If I were the Devil, I would encourage schools to refine young intellects, but neglect to discipline emotions; let those run wild.

I’d designate an atheist to front for me before the highest courts and I’d get preachers to say, “She’s right.”

With flattery and promises of power I would get the courts to vote against God and in favor of pornography.

Thus I would evict God from the courthouse, then from the schoolhouse, then from the Houses of Congress.

Then in his own churches I’d substitute psychology for religion and deify science.

If I were Satan I’d make the symbol of Easter an egg,

and the symbol of Christmas a bottle.

If I were the Devil I’d take from those who have and give to those who wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. Then my police state would force everybody back to work.

Then I would separate families, putting children in uniform, women in coal mines and objectors in slave-labor camps.

If I were Satan I’d just keep doing what I’m doing and the whole world go to hell as sure as the Devil.

 

Suffice it to say that I did not agree with everything in the poem.  More than this, however, I found this poem or essay to be rather unnerving. But why did I find it so?  I knew that Paul Harvey was a conservative, and I definitely knew that he held these views. So why was I feeling so threatened?  I spent the next few days mildly upset, thinking on this poem.

I traced the feeling of threat to some rather unsettling questions:  How do we tell the difference between what the Devil is doing, and what we simply don’t like?  Does the fact that we think something is wrong automatically make it the Devil’s work?  What if we are wrong?  What if our personal interpretations of scripture are wrong?  How would we be willing to accept correction if we perceive any voice changing our minds to be that of the Devil?  If we come to the conclusion that the things we don’t agree with are of the Devil, does that mean that all of what we agree with is of God?  If so, how have we not deified our own opinions?

Two weeks ago the world witnessed ISIS’s beheading of journalist James Foley.  It filled many with horror and disgust.  How can simple differences between peoples cause them to treat each other with such cruelty?  Is the reason simply that no one would consider showing Satan any kind of mercy?  Is all it takes equating others with the Devil?

What if Paul Harvey would have said “If I were Satan I’d just keep doing what I think he is doing?”  I wonder if those simple words “I think” carry with them the difference between “We’ll have to agree to disagree.” and “You are of the Devil, and I must kill you.”

And now for the mirror… How often do I condemn those who disagree with me?  When I disagree with someone over the way they see homosexuality, or Jesus’ ministry, or the Bible itself, how often do I deify my position by assuming that God must agree with me and Satan must agree with them.  Do I keep in mind that I thought differently in the past and yet, at the time, considered myself to be right?  Would I not vehemently disagree with ideas that future me might eventually accept?  This, to me, seems to be the heart of humility: to admit that one does not know, but to commit one’s self to the search.  It is fine to have opinions.  It is fine to have beliefs.  It is too easy, however, to take my beliefs and turn them into Truth.  It is too easy to believe so strongly in that Truth that I would take my fellow travelers and sacrifice them on the altar of my deified thoughts.  Then comes the stagnation, for if I have arrived at Truth, any adjustment of my position is a perversion of that Truth.  I so easily consider myself at the top of the mountain, and what if I should change my position?  Is not any movement away from a summit a movement downwards?

I realize that Paul Harvey was simply using a rhetorical device.  I know that C. S. Lewis used a similar device in his Screwtape Letters.  Our rhetorical devices, though, have real-world impacts on our perceptions and attitudes.  Invoking the will of the Devil is a device which I am no longer comfortable.  I have seen too many holy wars rage and too many casualties fall to live comfortably with such devices.

Yet I still remember with great fondness my grandpa.  Perhaps because he did not label ideas different than his as being of the Devil, or perhaps because I simply don’t remember him doing so, for we all demonize others at some point, and it may be the struggle toward rather than the achievement of understanding which will finally enable us to one day honestly answer “yes” to Paul Harvey’s question “Good day?”

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