Friday, August 29, 2014

What Jesus Might Have Done in Ferguson

I will freely admit that I treat politics like hugs. I only share mine with people I trust and in appropriate social situations. But I read something this morning that caught my eye on Barnabas Piper's blog. In a post entitled, "Why White Christians Should Care About Ferguson," he made this statement:

No one culture is better and no one culture is worse, though we are inclined to think of our own as the best and overlook its flaws.

This sounds reasonable and gracious, and when I first read it, it smelled like truth to me. But then I stumbled over this thought when I considered another news story: the slaughter of religious minorities in the Middle East by ISIS (or ISIL or The Islamic State or whatever they're going by this week). Regardless of where one lands on the question of Islam's supposed virtues, can we not all agree that the strand of jihadism that spawned ISIS is a culture, and one that is not as good as others? A worldview that would allow for the beheading of innocent children and journalists, the rape of mothers and wives, and the systematic extermination of anyone who will not join their cause is not neutral, and it's not just as good as any other. It's evil.

I'm certainly not comparing the looting and sometimes violent protests in Ferguson with ISIS. Conversely, I'm also not suggesting that if it turns out that Darren Wilson did, in fact, use deadly force without proper justification, it'd be akin to genocide. I'm merely holding out ISIS as an extreme example that disproves Barnabas Piper's thesis, though I actually didn't have to. Piper disproves his own statement about all cultures being equal in the two sentences that preceded it:

Our respective cultures all reflect His [God's] creativity and character. But we all also bear the stains of sin.

I respect Barnabas Piper, and nothing in this post is meant to be a jab at him, but culture is a human invention. And just like everything else we touch, there is a mix of goodness (reflecting the fact that we were created in God's image) and brokenness (because we are fallen creatures). But this does not mean that these characteristics are always doled out in equal measure. Some values reflect more of God's goodness than others, and some are so anemic in their reflective power that they're more or less worthless. This is the case with a group like ISIS. I'm sure if we looked really hard, we'd find something in that worldview that shines with truth and beauty, but I don't think it'd be possible to find enough of that glimmer to make such a culture tolerable.

But once again I've wandered away from Ferguson into the Middle East. And so, let's get back to the heartland. As I've listened to the gaggle of Christian voices speaking in defense of Mike Brown or in defense of Officer Wilson, one thing has struck me: Though we might not always put it this way, in one form or another, we're picking sides for Jesus. We're asking what He would do. We're looking for the thread of justice—what should have happened, and by extension, what should happen now. And that means we're appealing to the only One who is truly just, Jesus Christ.

In my mind's eye, when I put Jesus on that street with that police cruiser and those two black teenagers, I don't see Him on the side of the cops, but I also don't see Him fighting the law either. I have no magic powers. Like everyone else who heard of the shooting from Fox News or CNN, I don't know exactly what happened on August 9th. I can only hope that the civil authorities and our court system will be able to determine the facts and dispense justice accordingly.

But from what I know about Jesus, here's what I think He would have done: I think the Son of God would have walked over to Michael Brown's body with tears in His eyes, and as He looked down on the young man who reflects His Father's image lying there in the street, I think He would have called Him back to life from the dead, like He did with Lazarus, with Jairus' daughter, and with the widow of Nain's son. In God's kingdom, death does not have the final say.

And then I think Jesus would have turned around to view the police officer holding the smoking gun, no less beloved of His Father. I think Jesus would have walked over, placed His hand on Darren Wilson's fractured eye socket, and healed him, just as He did with the ear of Malchus in the Garden of Gethsemane. And I imagine that after meeting Jesus, neither Officer Wilson nor Michael Brown would ever be the same again. I imagine they would have left that blood-stained street committed followers of Jesus Christ . . . and brothers. I don't think either would be concerned with the other's race ever again.

Jesus didn't come to tell us who is right and who is wrong. We see this time and time again in the Gospels when He refuses to condemn the Romans in favor of the Jews. He didn't come to get involved in the culture wars. He came and died for people of all cultures—ignorant folks and the well-informed, men who would rob a shoe store in protest and those who would fire tear gas into crowds, cops and robbers, black and white. He even came for folks who would seek to join ISIS. The point is not which culture is right and which is wrong. Cultures are not equal, to be sure. They're all broken. None of them have everything right. That's why we're supposed to be seeking the kingdom of God—and we ought to celebrate whenever we stumble upon something that reflects the kingdom's values, no matter what culture we come from. I think if we did that, we'd find much more common ground.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

What No One Tells You About Becoming a Dad

At 9:01 p.m. on July 9, I became a dad. Since then, I've been doing on-the-job training. I think God makes babies adorable to make this training more bearable. Honestly, some days are a joy, and just as honestly, other days are hard . . . really, really hard. Some nights, Laurin and I are amazed at his ability to sleep for so many hours in a row, and other nights, we argue over whose turn it is to try to soothe the beast and stem the screaming.

But I've learned something from this new chapter of life. That's not to say I've got everything figured out—or anything figured out. Mostly, what I've learned are the things no one tells you about having a baby.

1) When a baby is born, his stomach is full—really full—from being in utero. That means that for the first 24 to 48 hours, new parents get to think they have the most well-adjusted, content baby on the planet. They are also free to think about every other parent they know and feel superior. I remember Jonah just lying there in his hospital-issued bassinet looking out at us without making a sound. My baby is definitely cooler than all those other babies in the nursery. Then, of course, those hours of feeling full dwindle, and the baby experiences his first real discomfort: hunger.

I am now proud of my baby's incredible, almost supernatural, lung capacity.

2) Babies steal. I know you wouldn't think so because of their soft, squishy exterior and their sweet doe eyes, but babies are the biggest ripoff artists ever. The first time I held Jonah, he stole my heart. Now, I am irrevocably attached to the little guy. I love him more than I could have imagined. As a result, I can't bear the thought of any harm coming to him. It's so bad that I think it's ruined me for any television shows or movies where children are harmed or put in danger. We've had a long run, Law & Order: SVU. I will miss that *dum-dum* sound you make between scenes.

3) Having a child fills parents with fear for the future, and also with hope. For as long as I can remember, I've always said I wanted to save a newspaper from the day each of my children are born. I think it's because of that song "Levon" by Elton John. Anyway, on the day Laurin went into labor, I asked my brother James to pick up a paper. He kindly picked up an Atlanta Journal-Constitution, our local paper, and a copy of The New York Times. The New York Times has a picture of an explosion on the front page: Israel and Hamas had just begun fighting. The AJC has details about the VA scandal. Both papers featur an article about the crisis on the border. I'm sorry, Jonah, but there were a lot of bad headlines on the day you were born. There still are.

I am afraid of the kind of world that Jonah will inherit. Will there be much of it left? And I wonder what America will be like during his teenage years. It almost certainly will not resemble the country I grew up in.

At the same time, Jonah is a blank page, innocent and new, and he has been sewn together by a loving heavenly Father for just this moment in history. He may be one of the people God uses to bring about good in this world. He will undoubtedly get to see things in his lifetime that I have only dreamed of. He can really be anything he wants—or more hopefully, anything God wants. And that thought fills me with excitement.

Nobody tells you these things before you have a kid—and it's probably because you wouldn't believe them if they did. Oh, and the poop. There's so much poop.