We played this song for our worship set at church a few weeks back. I liked it well enough when I first heard it–sounded kind of like U2 (and the chord progression blends right into With or Without You).
But the words emphasize the universal aspects of the Christian faith, the stuff that reinforces what’s common to all of us. It speaks to the widespread nature of God’s love, the human condition common to us all, and the far-reaching call, with a central focus on the cross of Christ.
As I back off a bunch of political debates and frustrating arguments with fellow believers and non-Christians alike, I’m reminded of what’s important to me.
In this place at the foot of the cross, the same Love calls out to all of us, wherever we are.
The same love that calls to the poor and says, “I will be your treasure” is the one that calls to the rich, points to the poor, and says, “Treasure what I treasure.”
The same love that calls to the weak and says, “I will be your strength” calls out to the strong, points to the weak, and says, “Be my hands to lift their burden; be my arms to defend them.”
The same love that calls to the outcast and marginalized and says, “You are welcome here forever and always” is the love that says to the popular and the in-crowd, “Treat them how you’d like to be treated. Go out into the furthest reaches and love them as I have loved you.”
The same love that died for all lives and declared that all lives matter must point our attention to injustice and oppression in the world wherever it is found, calling out that those particular lives in danger matter right now.
The same love that paid the price for all sin and paved a way for all sinners is the one calling us to drop our pretenses and hypocritical standards, fling wide the gates, and let whosoever will come.
Because most often, out there among them is where you will find Him.
Like most of America, I watched the Super Bowl on Sunday (Monday morning for me, living on Okinawa).
My wife is a Broncos fan, and my daughter is too–or was, or maybe still is but has better things to do, or maybe teenage years are hard and you never know what interests of theirs suddenly change…
The conservative pages my wife follows were full of furor about Beyonce’s most recent video being some anti-cop, pro-Black Lives Matter social commentary. And it seemed they all decried bringing racism and tensions into the Super Bowl halftime show.
It got to the point even my wife didn’t want to see it because 1) she expected some risqué or provocative stuff my kids didn’t need to watch and 2) all these pages couldn’t be wrong, right?
We watched it anyway. And I was very pleasantly surprised to hear a variety of expressions akin to “We’re all in this together” sung or said by people in an array of skin tones standing arm in arm.
People of all colors just having fun, summing up with a simple message of “Love.”
Where was the Black Power I was supposed to be afraid of or offended by? Where was Beyonce’s promised attempt to stir up controversy?
Well it was all over the comments on those conservative pages. Apparently I was supposed to read “reverse racism” or “White guilt” or “perpetuating the hate” into a bunch of people dancing and just very obviously having a good time.
And of course the dozens of voices I looked at in the thousands of comments all talked about how Beyoncé should have been banned, or how they changed the channel rather than watch something so offensive, or how it was so patently obvious to anybody with a brain and if you didn’t see it, you’re a clueless liberal moron.
And when the rants about Beyoncé weren’t enough, other sites proclaimed the fearsome Gay Agenda was behind it all, what with those rainbow colors and the big “Love” display in the stands.
When the truth isn’t good enough for a story, go for what plays well to the base, I suppose.
So many of these conservatives are too ridiculous for a traditional Christian couple to get behind them. So many are willing to back Trump and like-minded “politicians” regardless of what they say or do.
They wrap themselves in the flag and cling to the Bible, but they condemn the expressions of unity and love that both those cherished symbols exemplify.
I think my wife unfollowed several pages over their ridiculous pre-biased non-coverage and the flame wars that ensued when we called them out. You may not know her, but that act alone says something.
To such narrow-minded and ignorant people, who create controversy where there was none and spread the hate they claim to condemn, let that “unfollow” say this:
We were in this together with you.
A friend posted a riddle presented in his managment class. “If the day before the day before yesterday is Tuesday, what is the day after the day after tomorrow?”
I came up with Monday, since ‘today’ in the riddle seems to me to be Friday. He had the same answer. The instructor said he was wrong, and the answer to the riddle was Friday. My linguist friends and I started tearing this apart trying to sort out what the right answer is and how to arrive at it. Some argued that the conditional ‘if’ phrase is trumped by the present tense verb ‘is,’ kind of like a grammar version of PEMDAS, the rule that guides which part of a math equation one must complete first. Had the question been stated “was Tuesday” instead of “is,” then Monday would have been correct.
(Or so they claim. I have my doubts. Not to mention, searching for versions of that riddle on Google pointed toward a similar-but-clearly-worded variant, one which doesn’t play a trick based on verb tenses but simply asks the reader to figure out the puzzle. I suspect the lesson writers or instructor copied the riddle wrong from the start. But I’m arrogant about these things.)
My frustration with the explanation boils down to playing a trick of grammar rules and definitions. Rather than speak clearly, the riddle as explained by my linguist friends ignores common usage of language and depends on an oft-ignored rule that supposedly shifts the meaning completely from what is implied. It’s someone claiming a simple answer depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is–technically accurate and a proper debate tactic, but readily dismissed as shady or truth-dodging by the average person.
I thought of this little exchange when my Facebook exploded with a mixture of Cecil the Lion and all the videos about Planned Parenthood. I very nearly posted a tweet something to the effect of
Maybe if there was a market for lion parts, PP supporters could get behind hunting. #profitsmatter
Then I realized that would do no good. It alienates rather than persuades. It mocks issues people care about deeply. And I think we have plenty of that already.
I got the video link for a feminist declaring “Planned Parenthood Isn’t Selling Baby Parts, You F@#$ing Idiots” and a day later, the right-wing response “Planned Parenthood IS Selling Baby Parts, You Freaking Feminist Hosebeast.” (They also sanctimoniously called out the feminist for dropping f-bombs left and right, while they stooped to a ‘clean’ version of name-calling that is no better in my opinion.)
Meanwhile plenty of people point out the disparity between response to the PP videos and the slaying of Cecil the Lion. Plenty of tweets and posts encouraging the murder of that dentist, whether by lion mauling or by drilling him a new orifice. Whichever side of the aisle your circle of friends leans toward, no doubt you’re seeing a ton of outrage that invariably paints dissenters as morons, idiots, worthless human beings devoid of morality. “How can anyone support this?!” both sides scream, while talking about two different subjects.
We’re talking past each other. Everyone’s speaking but no one is listening.
When the right yells about baby parts, the left sighs at best or swears at them, because the legal definition in our country is “fetal tissue” or “medical waste” produced by a legal and optional medical procedure. There may be aspects that are legally questionable, like whether “sales” are taking place or procedures are being altered from what the patients consented to in order to produce better remains. But “by definition” they’re not selling baby parts, duh, because you have to remember what the definition of “fetus” is.
And the right shouts, “How can you care about a stupid lion more than you care about the horrors depicted in those leaked videos? Look at the evidence; listen to the words of the doctors and the staff.” Many will admit if pressed that they’d like to see the hunter who killed Cecil prosecuted for where he broke the law, if indeed that can be proven. But to most, it’s just a lion, and doesn’t compare with the human remains shown in the PP videos. Going from a religious or moral definition of all human life as being precious, the anti-abortion / pro-life crowd can’t help but be furious about the sale of baby parts — because you have to remember what the definition of “life” is.
We’re all heavily invested emotionally into so many various societal and cultural issues that it can be hard to hit the brakes and take a look around. Maybe it’s a debate about white privilege and the #blacklivesmatter trend. Maybe it’s the Confederate flag, or gun control. Maybe it’s a fight for rights we feel we’ve been denied, or a challenging sense that the comfortable culture we once knew is slipping and changing into something far different.
The river of outrage in this country seems neverending. It’s easy to forget that there are people just like us on both banks.
Locking in on my one point of view and refusing to consider the opposition only creates tension, division, and strife. Yes, we might never agree… but at least I can do you the courtesy of listening to find out exactly what I’m disagreeing with, and vice versa. (For example, here is a challenging view on Planned Parenthood from a Christian man faced with an impossible choice.)
I’m grateful for my friends on all sides of these discussions who are willing to have conversations and dig down to the roots of where our points of view diverge. I spent a good chunk of yesterday morning discussing the value of life and the question “When is it justifiable to kill another human being?” I don’t think either of us walked away with a different point of view, but we maintained the mutual respect we’ve developed over the years.
For me, that respect is what matters. Rather than debate words and call each other names, we’ve made sure to define our friendship first. We’ve defined our individual morality to include striving to show respect for others, and we make sure our conversations on these subjects are guided by that definition.
A mind that won’t listen can’t be changed. And when my first thought is that someone else is guilty of this, usually I figure out that it’s me.
Let’s not categorize ourselves with “us” and “them” on this or any other issue. We are not engaged in a civil war despite all the cultural issues and debates. We have to figure out how to be “we the people” because that’s what this nation is founded upon and defined by.
On Thursday, I sat in the presence of an apparent hate-monger. Worse, I listened to her advice on illustrating, collaborating with writers, and marketing.
I might never have known, without the intervention of the Huffington Post on my google search. The day has been saved, if “saved” is not a word too charged with religious meaning.
The local Christian writers’ group I joined two years ago, the Omaha WordSowers meet on the 2nd Thursday of each month. They have a guest speaker who provides information or personal experience about some aspect of the writer’s journey from creative idea to published work.
Yesterday’s guest speakers were Lori Schulz and Hannah Segura, who talked about the process of publishing Papa’s Plan for Buddy Bee, which Lori wrote and Hannah illustrated.
Lori gave her blog site link, but Hannah only mentioned an online following where she posts some of her art. I searched in hopes of finding her blog or site, since I hope to stay connected with the friends and fellow writers I’ve made here.
Hannah is one of many home-schooled young people I’ve met that challenge old stereotypes of that method of education. She is (like they are) full of vigor and joy, polite, socially at ease, well-spoken, and most of all just plain nice to everyone.
So the first few sites I found surprised me, because Hannah was equated with hate. Some time ago, she illustrated another book written by a different Christian author, on the subject of God’s design for families. A Bible-believing author wrote a kids’ book about marriage being one man and one woman for life, and a Bible-believing illustrator drew pictures to match the story. This came as no surprise to me. It should come as no surprise to anyone else.
That word choice, hate, really bothers me.
Maybe it’s because I am a linguist by profession and a writer by passion, so words and their definitions matter.
Maybe it’s because I know Hannah as an acquaintance, and as trite as it may sound, she doesn’t appear to have a hate-filled cell in her body.
Maybe it’s because I’ve heard the same term used to accuse me of feeling a way I’ve never felt about someone else.
And maybe it’s because I’m sick of rhetorical guerilla tactics, using evocative words to provoke a reaction and “win” a cultural battle without any reasonable discussion.
People throw hate and homophobe (among other terms) around at anyone who bucks current public opinion, regardless of motivation, regardless of personality. It’s equivalent to creating a minefield around the discussion table. Anyone who tries to say something gets blown up before they can speak their mind. Nobody wants to be affiliated with hate. No one wants to be associated with a homophobe.
The target changes from discussing a cultural, political, or religious position to attacking an individual person.
Worse yet, if one’s intended purpose is to convince the opposition to reconsider their view, attacking them as individuals shuts them down.
“You’re full of hate.” If I don’t feel hatred toward anyone, this makes me defensive, eager to absolve myself of crimes I don’t think I’ve committed. It doesn’t help me hear opposing views.
“You’re a homophobe.” If I am not afraid of homosexuals, if I’m not one of those who says, “Eww they’re icky” and acts all disgusted, then once again I will feel the need to object instead of open up to a different point of view.
“You’re too close-minded,” I’ve heard people say when confronting so-called “hate.” Yes, I think, because you’re closing them down by attacking instead of opening them up by connecting.
That sword definitely cuts both sides of this cultural debate. I hope we all want to be above that sort of thing, whichever side we’re on.
Nobody gains anything from a discussion that never happens.
I’m a fan of understanding, of seeing from the perspective of the other. I have said and done many things out of ignorance, and my responses over the years on the subject of homosexuality are no exception. Thankfully, I’ve had the benefit of friends and even rational opponents who take the time to open my eyes to their point of view while demonstrating willingness to listen to mine.
So what helps that take place?
First, avoid assumptions.
Some hate and fear is obvious, but not all. Jumping to conclusions about what motivates an individual gets us nowhere but angry at each other. If I can’t know that someone hates another person, then ‘hate’ isn’t the right word. If I don’t know that someone actually fears another, then ‘homophobe’ is a poor choice. Build bridges, not walls.
Second, use accurate terms.
Maybe “ignorant” or “unfamiliar” is more appropriate. It’s hard to walk in the shoes of another, and we all pretty much suck at it. So instead of declaring “I know what your kind is like,” how about “Can I tell you what it’s like from my point of view?” Speak to flesh-and-blood people, not emotionless positions.
Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ-the Message-have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives-words, actions, whatever-be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. (Colossians 3:15-17 MSG)
Fellowship is one of the key components of worship – both the things we do to express God’s worth, and the times of singing praise as a congregation.
Individual times of worship and devotion are important, of course. We spend time with God in a relationship. Like any relationship, there should be some intimacy, some “you and me” time. We see Jesus as our example in this: if He took time away from other people to get alone with God, then certainly we might benefit from doing the same.
But Paul points out that our worship of God is something we do together with others. Paul did not write just to individuals, like Timothy or Titus. He wrote to churches. He wrote to congregations. He wrote to groups of people and said “This is how we all do this together.”
This is part of why I love a good Bible study group. When I say “a good group” I mean a place where a bunch of different people can discuss the Scriptures and how they apply to our lives. Good groups have a strong facilitator who can allow discussion and multiple viewpoints without getting off track or derailed by a vocal opinion.
Some groups are hand-fed and led by a teacher who lectures. I’ve been in groups where the only time anyone other than the leader is allowed to speak is to read a particular verse and not one word more. I suppose that ensures that only the accepted teaching gets brought to light, but I didn’t come for a sermon. To each their own; that’s not my cup of tea.
I scream, you scream, we all scream for theology! Wait, what?
But when a Bible study is facilitated well, you get to experience a Baskin-Robbins of theology. It’s all good ice cream, but you get a variety of flavors, some you like and some that aren’t your favorite. You test it, hold to what’s good, ignore the bad (or maybe discuss it if someone is saying something opposed to Scripture). Everyone has something to offer, and you hear perspectives you’d never expect – some of which might speak profoundly to your heart as you look at a Scripture in a new way.
And you get to build relationships with others.
The relationship we have with God is great, and we affirm that every time we sing a song about how “You are all I need.” But that’s not entirely true, nor is it biblical. We read in 2nd Peter the following statement about “all we need.”
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3 NIV)
The relationship we have with others in light of our common faith is essential. God did not make us loner Christians. He relates to us individually, but He also relates to us and calls us to relate to each other in a church Body. We all have something to offer, some part to play in the story God is telling in our local church. (See 1 Cor 12 about parts of the Body fitted together.)
Worship alone, yes. Worship together, definitely. See God and others from a different set of eyes. Discover a new perspective. Hear something new from God, through the voice of your brother or sister in Christ. Sing a song that ministers to your heart, and let it touch the need of another. Share the comfort God has given you in past times of distress with someone who is hurting right now. We were made for God, and we were made for one another.
So get a little pink-spoon taste of what all the Body has to offer. They’re free. You’ll find way more than 31 flavors of awesome God.
How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along! (Psalm 133:1 MSG)
As a parent of four, I can sure relate. Our soon-to-be thirteen-year-old usually gets along with her eleven-year-old brother. They team up and torment our soon-to-be seven-year-old, who tags along after them constantly, just hoping to be included in whatever they’re doing. And he generally gets along great with our one-year-old, although he’s not really old enough to help take care of him. Helping out generally falls on the older two, who flip-flop between viewing their baby brother as the best plaything in the world…
Mommy, can we take Judah out and set up the kiddie pool and put his swim trunks on and let him play in the backyard?? Pleeeeease??
…to the most frustrating and despised chore ever.
You feed Judah. No, you! No, I’ll go clean up the dog droppings, so you have to take care of Judah.
There are some days that shatter nerves like glass, and then take the nerve stumps and run them over the glass repeatedly. (I take my wife’s word on this, as I miss most of those days by being at work dealing with the Air Force version of the same problems.)
But there are those days when everyone seems to get it… when the kids work together, or play together, or just plain get along nicely. Days when my daughter defers to the little brother she normally ignores, and chooses to play the game he loves. Days when my son offers to clean up a mess without being asked. Days when our ears are filled with the laughter and joy of children instead of the screams and cries of a war-zone.
Days when we’re not six separate people fighting it out in a house, but a family sharing our lives together in a home.
This morning, our worship team gathered together to sing. We got everything plugged in and set up, and then started a song. Suddenly no one could hear the keys, and none of the background vocals had working mics. This led to about an hour of scrambling and searching for the culprit. Our sound techs are awesome servants and were all over it. The rest of the team finally gave in to the delay and began practicing while the audio issues were being fixed.
We got through the first practice run of our set. Problem areas were addressed. Individual parts were discussed. All the timing and solos got worked out. Still no keys or background vocals.
Then keys started working through the house audio, and we practiced a couple of the songs a second time. Soon, the sound tech tested out mics for the background vocalists, and we were all in the system.
We finished a second run through a few songs, but this still seemed more technical preparation than anything else, until we got to the end of the last song we practiced. All the parts came together, and it seemed like we were able to get past the details to really worship Deity.
The song ended, but the music and the singing–more importantly, the worship–continued.
There are few things like that moment when a group of individuals playing or singing at the same time turns into something both less and more.
In an instant, ten separate people become one collective team. That’s the “less.”
The “more” is how those ten individual offerings of talent and heart do not simply add up, but build on each other and multiply.
When we as the lead worshippers on stage are able to get to that place, there’s a much better chance for the several hundred individuals in the sanctuary to likewise become both less and more.
I don’t know if secular bands experience something similar. I assume so. And I imagine there’s something powerful when they hit that sweet spot at a concert, and the audience really connects with the music too.
All I know is that it’s powerful to join together with a single focus and a single purpose.
If it’s been a while, I suggest you find that thing, that single worthy ideal deserving of your attention. Find that connection with like-minded individuals, and together become less so that you also become more.
And if you’re in Omaha, and that worthy thought around which you want to gather is the glory and goodness of God revealed in Jesus Christ, well, I know a place for that.
The home of David M. Williamson, writer of fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, and cultural rants.