Dancing through the Past

I’ll admit it. Some of my ancestors owned slaves. One of them, Henry Woolery, was a carpenter and held several people enslaved when his family moved from Kentucky to Missouri. My guess is that these people did the heavy lifting, and maybe a good deal of skilled work, when Henry plied his trade.

The Woolerys were also among the founders of a church that will celebrate its 200th anniversary next year. Sure slavery remained legal in both Kentucky and Missouri, but shouldn’t good Christian people have seen the problem with chattel slavery? Shouldn’t they have at least said, “No, that’s not for me,” if not turning into strident abolitionists? We’d like to think so, but that would ignore thousands of years of human history.

Yesterday, I took a fairly healthy swipe at Elizabeth A. Johnson and her book Creation and the Cross. Johnson tries to “blame” Christianity’s centuries-long focus on sin being corrected through the cross of Jesus on a social construction by Anselm of Canterbury nearly a thousand years ago. Her thesis is that Anselm’s theology simply reflected the prevailing judicial norms of his day.

While I think she overreaches in that conclusion, we should confess that it is impossible–or at least incredibly difficult–for Christians or anyone to completely transcend their milieu and write objectively (whatever that means). That might explain why Henry Woolery could hold slaves and go to church with a clear conscience.

Here’s a case in point. My own faith community, Baptists, have long been opposed to dancing. There’s an old joke: “Why are Baptists opposed to sex? They’re afraid it’ll lead to dancing.” Supposedly, my alma mater, William Jewell College, had a building constructed around a hundred years ago with the stipulation from the donors that if a dance were ever held on the campus, the building would be razed. Through my years there, we had homecoming concerts rather than dances, with occasional “rhythmic activities” held off campus.

Is the Baptist aversion to dancing Biblical? Where did it come from? I haven’t studied this, but I’d surmise that Baptists of another day saw dancing often associated with misuse of alcohol and problematic romantic encounters. Like the Pharisees before them, these Baptists determined to prevent one sin by eliminating the activity that often led to it. I blame these people for my utter inability to move with grace.

What sort of arrogance would allow me to believe that everybody–and I mean everybody–from history had their worldview, including their theology shaped at least somewhat by the cultural biases and currents of their day? We can laugh at the adherence of Medieval Catholics to the cult of relics. We can shake our heads gravely at the denizens of Massachusetts who erupted into the witch trials. We can smile at the inability of most Baptists to dance. But we fool ourselves when we insist on our own objectivity.

How did Henry Woolery reconcile his slave-holding with his (apparent) Christianity? I find that less urgent than to know what foolish thoughts I’m holding simply because of the intellectual currents of the day.

Creatures of Emotion

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.” As someone who has taught writing for over thirty years, I find myself increasingly buying into this quotation from Dale Carnegie. We English teachers spend time talking about constructing a logical argument and how to avoid fallacies, yet, if we’re honest, we see that people respond much more strongly and much more frequently to emotional appeals.

Even highly educated people respond more strongly to emotion than they do to logic, until they can’t overcome your statements, in which case they try to shoot you down with logic. Those same people attempt to build bullet-proof arguments out of logical bricks and mortar. Then, when their logical flaws are pointed out, do they, as logic and science would demand, amend their thinking? No, they go off on an emotional course.

Let me illustrate with an invented example:

Boss: It’s not at all personal that we’re terminating your employment.
Worker: You’re firing me?
Boss: We’re eliminating your position.
Worker: But the company website shows that you’re hiring someone for a job that sounds just like mine.
Boss: That’s different. And besides, your performance made your termination necessary.
Worker: But I had the best ratings of anybody in my department.
Boss: Not that performance–something else.
Worker: I find it suspicious that you’re firing me just after I pointed out your violations of company policy.
Boss: Security! Escort this fired employee from the premises!

What this sort of exchange boils down to is that we want to sound logical but that we’ll actually be driven by emotion.

Jesus tried to use logic in dealing with people. Frequently, we find him posing difficult questions to his listeners. Take this case from Mark 2:9-12:

“Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat, and walk’?  But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he told the paralytic—  “I tell you: get up, take your mat, and go home.”

Basically, Jesus is saying, “Anybody can say you’re forgiven, but only somebody with power can say ‘Get up and walk’ and then watch the person walk. Therefore, if I can do that, then I must have the power to forgive also.”

And the response of his accusers? Actually, we don’t know how they responded, unless they were among those who were amazed. However, the people who eventually put Jesus to death saw his actions and heard his words. They were not persuaded by the logic of those things. They simply behaved with emotion. “Okay . . . let’s kill him anyway!”

So what’s the point here? Should we be creatures of logic or creatures of emotion? We have to admit that believing in justification through the blood of Jesus isn’t the most logical thing a person can do. Is it an emotional response? Is it a logical response based on additional information? Or is there a third possibility? I don’t have settled answers for these questions, but as a merely emotional creature, I’m not required to have them. What do you think?

Does the Fire’s Source Matter?

Marcus Rogers has over 230,000 YouTube followers. On Facebook, that number is more than 785,000. That’s a lot of people hanging on the words of a guy who describes himself like this:

I am just a nobody trying to tell everybody about somebody who can save anybody! His name is Jesus.

Watch a video like the one here and you’ll see why he draws a following.

The most recent item in his Facebook posts is similarly engaging to my way of thinking. It’s convicting and convincing.

Screen Shot 2019-03-08 at 8.47.31 AM

Yeah–preach it!

But as I revel in the way that Rogers illustrates how we should be on fire for God, as I agree with his take on gossip within the church, I find out that this guy is, from my way of thinking, theologically damaged goods. He’s into Oneness Theology, which means that he denies the Trinity. Also, he was ousted from the U.S. Army after an “unauthorized baptism” in a Fort Campbell creek was associated with the drowning of the man being baptized. (It’s not clear if Rogers was at all responsible for the drowning.) Add to that the fact that this man has recently been divorced, and, Q.E.D., he must be someone we should utterly ignore.

I’ve been amazed at the amount of information on Marcus Rogers that one can find, and a great amount of it seems to be driven by knee-jerk hatred to anyone who (a.) believes something we don’t believe or (b.) experiences significant success. “Why can’t I have 785,000 followers on Facebook?”

Should the noticeable defects in this man’s façade make him someone we should utterly ignore? Let’s take that question up on two levels: theological and moral.

On the theological side, I think Rogers is completely wrong in his Oneness orientation. However, in my dealings with Oneness people, I’ve found that at a very real level our disagreement was more in vocabulary and point of view than in how we ultimately viewed God. The best Oneness people I’ve known have a devotion to Jesus that makes most Christians seem rather anemic. Since all of Rogers’ materials that I’ve seen are free of Oneness-specific teaching, I’ll give him a pass on that.

On the moral side, I won’t say that his separation from the army or from his wife are utterly irrelevant things. I won’t be bringing this guy to the attention of my church when we have a ministerial opening, but does that mean that I should ignore him or repudiate him? I read Psalms by a guy who committed adultery and murdered to cover it up. I read a Torah written by a guy who killed a man in his youth. A former pastor of mine left his position in disgrace after a moral failing. Does that make what that man taught invalid? I don’t think it does at all.

Finally, we could question the motivations of Marcus Rogers. Is he self-serving? Perhaps, but his message is clear and solid. I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the Philippians:

To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. These preach out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice. –Philippians 1:15-18

I’m not suggesting that we not test what people say and approach teachers with caution, but when Rogers praises Jesus and calls people to repentance, who am I to criticize that?



Video Game Controlled?

Snowed in, yet again, I’m pretty sure that I’m being punished. I couldn’t take my dog on an expedition to QuikTrip this morning, there’s nothing good for breakfast, and my lovely wife disposed of a bottle of my favorite beverage to use the empty as a watering can. To top it all off, two of my grandsons are grouchily playing Wii baseball on our TV.

Penny thought the Wii was a great purchase back in the day. After all, it’s a video game system that forces the player to be (slightly) active. But what I’ve found, in listening to these two guys play, is that they are most active in negative attitudes.

With every pitch that he did not hit for a home run, Isa behaved as if he’d been utterly offended by the game system, his brother, and the universe in general. Ira mostly railed at the game system and the injustice of one team having most of the errors.

That was a few minutes ago. Now, Uri and Ira are playing Wii Boxing. On the plus side, they’re not literally hitting each other. On the negative side, I get to hear Uri’s commentary: “I can’t hit you! Oh my gosh!” Nobody ever complains when they win the games. It’s strange.

Games, video and otherwise, often bring out our less-than-best. We grouse and moan because of some perceived injustice, some unfair rule, some cheating opponent, some incompetent teammate, or, in the case of video games, a programming glitch perhaps introduced just for the vexation of the complainer.

I’d love to know what the Apostle Paul would have to say if he were sitting in my home on this snowy morning. Would he perhaps listen to these guys and quote himself from Ephesians 4:31-32?

Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.

There’s nothing wrong with games, virtual or physical, in moderation. What is wrong is when we are not the game controllers but allow the games to control us.

At least if the bitterness, anger, and wrath are not going to be removed, I’d like it to be moved to somewhere that I can’t hear.

Judgment-Free Zone?

judgement free zoneSince moving to Independence last fall, I’ve been doing my indoor workouts at the local Planet Fitness installation. With rows of purple treadmills and a wide selection of weight machines, they had everything I wanted. Mostly, I joined so that I would have a place to run on rainy or overly cold days, but since first passing the doors, I’ve taken advantage of the stationary bikes and, increasingly of late, the free (and semi-free) weights.

Planet Fitness is not inclined to be a bodybuilding gym. They don’t have those industrial-looking squat racks and bench press spots. They do have dumbbells that go up to, if memory serves, 65 pounds, and fixed barbells up to 60 pounds. Anything heavier and you have to work with one of the machines or in a Smith machine. Doing bench presses in a Smith machine is okay. Squats are reasonable. But if you want to do deadlifts, which I’d like to try out, the restricted motion of the Smith machine is less than ideal and the 60 pound barbell is going to require an awful lot of reps.

I did a Google search to see if deadlifting in such an environment was practical. The simple answer, easily acquired, was “no,” but I read on in some weight-lifting and bodybuilding forums, eager for the juicy details. What I read really surprised me.

One respondent asked, “what kind of gym doesnt have free weights???” Another, later in the thread opined, “If your gym doesnt have a barbell then your not at a gym.”

A bit later, as the discussion shifts from Smith machines to the deficiencies of the original questioner’s gym, we find this opinion: “I guess the name Fitness SuperCenters sounds better to the overweight cardio kings and queens. It’s a shame that any more our “gyms” are focused more on stationary bikes, treadmills, and stair climbers. The people come in and doing 15 ‘hard’ minutes on a bike and go home to chow down on their candy bars and potato chips.”

Planet Fitness calls itself the “Judgment Free Zone.” Does that mean that they’re catering to the “overweight cardio kings and queens”? As I look around at Planet Fitness, I see plenty of people who are clearly making some good progress. I see a World War II vet, a guy who fought with the Marines at Guadalcanal. There’s Joe, who walks hard and fast for an hour at a time. I see some legitimately overweight folks who, if they keep pushing like they are today, will soon be a lot less overweight–provided they don’t “chow down on their candy bars and potato chips.”

I don’t fault those bodybuilding guys for loving their gyms with all the grimy-looking racks and benches that look like torture machines. If they want to do Romanian deadlifts with 500 pounds while drinking from their gallon jugs of water, that’s their business, but why do they feel the necessity to deride others?

Of course, I’ll confess that I stroll around at Planet Fitness and glance at the speed at which others have the treadmill set. I feel a bit smug when somebody has it turning at less than 6.5 mph, and I assume that those who have it going at more than 8 mph are probably going to burn out fast.

Judgment of others, it seems, is one of the easiest things that people can fall into. How do we actually move into a Judgment Free Zone? I find it easiest to avoid judging others when I am most aware of my own sins. With them on my mind, the shortcomings of others don’t seem so significant.

What Would You Change?

This video by Cassey Ho has been making the rounds recently. In it, we see a young woman admiring her fit body and then, in response to negative comments, “Photoshopping” herself into some semblance of perfection.

What place does body image–either the image that we see in the mirror or that we see in others–have among Christians? Are we supposed to look at the 400-pound person down the pew from us and somehow not notice? Are we supposed to look at our own bodies and not see what’s actually there? That’s not realistic.

Does God somehow not see the body scarred by overeating or bad nutrition, by drug or alcohol abuse, by years of hard living and bad decisions? Of course He sees those things, just as surely as He sees our sins. The wonder of the Gospel is that, while we were still sinners (including while we sinned against our bodies), Jesus demonstrated his love by dying for us (Romans 5:8).

Our Bodies Should Testify to God

God created our bodies not as objects for personal pride or as a means to sexual attraction–although both of those things can be a healthy side effect of a God-oriented body. He formed us as the crowning achievement of creation.

Look in the mirror. What does your body say about God? Does it proclaim you as fearfully and wonderfully made or does it suggest that God does indeed make junk. Regardless of your imperfections, you body is a marvel. To the best of your ability allow that body to testify to God’s amazing creative powers.

Our Bodies Should Be Healthy

When God created Adam and Eve, neither sin nor death had yet entered the world. It is intriguing to wonder what Adam and Eve looked like. How physically mature did God make them? How “perfect” were they and what standard did that “perfection” follow?

Regardless of the answers to those questions, we can be certain that Adam and Eve were healthy. Where there is no death, there is no disease. Could they catch a cold? That’s an interesting question, but it ignores the larger matter of health.

We have all seen the ravages that various diseases, self-inflicted and otherwise, can impose on the human body. There’s not much you can do to avoid many illnesses, but many others we seem to invite. To the best of your ability, you should keep your body as a healthy tool and temple for God’s use and habitation.

Our Bodies Should Be Functional

Paul tells us that we are “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10). Part of that handiwork is spiritual, but those good works require a body. Our actions will end with our death. Even prayer, a seemingly passive good work, cannot outlive the mortal lifespan.

The perfect Christian body will be strong enough to do the works that God has prepared for us. While a bit of belly fat will not keep us from doing much of anything, we have all seen people who have allowed their infirmities to keep them from teaching, keep them from missions, keep them from works of service, or even keep them from worshiping with the body of Christ.

Imagine if you had been in Antioch and been asked by Paul and Barnabas to tag along on the first missionary journey. What disappointment would you feel if physical limitations that you could have avoided made you turn that trip down. Physical decline will find us all eventually. We shouldn’t hurry the process along. To the best of your ability, maintain your body as a functional unit.

What do you see when you look in that mirror at your body? The triumphant Christian body doesn’t need to look good in skin-tight workout gear. Your muscles don’t need to bulge and ripple. Don’t allow the world’s looking glass to form your opinions of your body. But don’t be complacent either. Instead, look at your body realistically, through the lens of love.

To the End

You might have seen the video. University of Oregon steeplechase runner Tanguy Pepiot looks to be coasting to an easy victory. So great is his lead that he begins to motion to the stands, urging the crowd to cheer him on.

And then … he is passed at the finish line by Meron Simon of the University of Washington.

In 2 Timothy 4:7, Paul tells his protege, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” He knows that no matter what he might have accomplished, he can still mess things up. In fact, the more that we accomplish, the greater our lead in the race, the more obvious will be our stumble.

I’ve seen far too many people, some of them solid Christians and some I don’t know about, who have trashed a fabulous legacy just a few yards from the tape. Despite all the good things these people had accomplished, what do people remember? The foolish thing at the end.

Congratulations to Meron Simon for running through the finish. There’s always time to celebrate after the race is complete.