No Sins But Our Own

More and more I become convinced that the biggest problem we have in American culture is our obsession with any sin that isn’t our own.

Cecil the Lion. Planned Parenthood. Barack Obama. Donald Trump. The entire GOP presidential field.

I get caught up in the hysteria. I’ve tweeted out things about certain cultural phenomena in an haughty, contemptuous way that only serves to reveal my self-ignorance. It’s a human reflex to see clearly the issue in someone else’s life while ignoring the massive dysfunction in your own.

But lately I’ve come to feel disgusted with myself when I point out the fallibility in others. I think of funny things all the time and normally don’t hesitate to share them; but lately, I find myself thinking more and more about the targets of my jokes. I think about their humanity. I think about what made them the way they are. I think about the burden some of them experience, of living under the never-ending spotlight.

That gets me thinking about myself. How would I hold up under scrutiny?

Truth is, I’m not sure. I know there would be plenty of people happy to take shots at the way I spend my time or my money, plenty of folks happy to pick apart everything from my choice of wardrobe to my choice of restaurants. I know there would be plenty of people just waiting for their chance to point out my stumbles and shout their disagreement with venomous glee.

I know this because it happens in everyday life anyway.

“You let your kids eat a McDonald’s?”

“Personally, I think anyone who buys non-organic milk is just abusing their children.”

“I would never allow my children to play in a public pool. Too many germs.”

Once upon a time we were a society that focused more on personal development within ourselves. We honored self-improvement. We praised folks who worked hard and overcame obstacles. We held people up for achieving things we had not yet attempted because they inspired us to want more.

Now we just tear folks down to our level. We don’t celebrate successes, we celebrate sins, because if there’s one thing we all know how to do equally well it’s screw things up. So we watch others. We wait. And when they succumb to being human, we pounce and pull down the rafters.

It’s easier to tear down someone else’s home than build our own.

And in a perverse way, we end up taking responsibility for the sins of others. We end up enabling the very destruction we celebrate, all because we get a kick out of the whole cycle. It sounds trite, but it’s true: if we would quit watching the Kardashians, the Duggers, the whomevers, they would fade away.

The same is true of the people around you. If we’ll quit looking for the sins of others, those sins will fade from our awareness. That’s not to say those folks will stop screwing up (they are human, after all), but we will stop looking for it.

And it’s a funny thing: when you quit looking for other people’s mistakes, when you quit obsessing over other people’s sins, two things happen. One, you start noticing things in your own life that need work, and two, you start developing a sense of compassion for others.

And that’s the key: we can’t have compassion for others if all we look for are their mistakes. And we can’t live our own lives to the fullest if we are too busy obsessing over someone else’s issues.

We are responsible for no sins but our own. That’s not to say we ignore evil when we see, or don’t confront sin when it bursts into our lives; we should be outraged at things like Planned Parenthood selling the body parts of aborted children or a sudden resurgence in the KKK.

But that outrage will only mean something, will only have resonance, if it doesn’t flow from our mouths and keyboards in a constant stream. Think of it this way: my kids know when I’m upset because I don’t talk and act upset all the time. In fact, I spend most of my words encouraging them, loving them, asking them questions and letting them know how much I truly love them.

Thus, it is the rarity of my anger that provides it power.

Jesus was the same way. He didn’t hesitate to call out sin, and there’s only one instance of him flipping tables. Christ spent the majority of his ministry speaking truthfully in love, calling people to God’s best by living it out himself.

His, it would seem, is a much better way.

Why the Superman of ‘Man of Steel’ is the Jesus we wish Jesus would be

I wish I could have written this…but as I’ve not seen the new Man of Steel, I’m ignorant of both plot points and story. Jeff Jensen (aka @EWDocJensen) has written a great and thoughtful blog post for Entertainment Weekly’s Popwatch blog. I encourage you to read it. There are some spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want parts ruined, don’t read. I won’t say anymore.
Except this: based on what I’ve read online, we have reinvented Superman for our modern sensibilities.
And that’s not a good thing.

Do? More.


Don’t believe this. Not for a second.

From a very early age, we teach kids to identify themselves by what they can accomplish. When a baby can flip over from back to stomach, we ooh and aah; when she learns to sit up, we applaud; when she stands for the first time on wobbly, uncertain legs, we celebrate the triumph; and when she takes her first tentative steps, we announce that she’s becoming a “big girl.”

It continues throughout childhood – each physical or developmental marker brings another round of Facebook statuses, Tweets, videos and pictures. The first tooth lost. The first day of school. The first dance. The first game. Every achievement documented, celebrated, and cemented in the child’s head as the surest way to understand themselves.

I am what I do.

Naturally we don’t let that idea remain. We tell our children that they are more than their accomplishments. We try to instill in them that their value lies not only in what they can do, but also in who they are. We teach them that they are intrinsically valuable – even without doing a single thing, they are beloved and special and worhty. We say that, and then spend most of our time praising them only for things they do. It’s our default setting.

Heck, even Aristotle sad as much: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, it is a habit.” The connection between identity and productivity is dadgum hard to override, because we understand that there are bad things that happen when a person gets too caught up in what he or she can or can’t do. I mean, I’ve seen elementary school kids crushed because they didn’t get an A on a spelling test. I’ve seen high schoolers devastated because they didn’t get into the college of their parents’ choosing. I’ve seen adults completely adrift in life after losing a job they thought was their dream.

We are what we do.

Since we’re human, things are naturally complicated. We shouldn’t solely define ourselves by our actions, but our medium for expression as individuals is throughactions: thought, communication, creation. We cannot tell the world who we are unless we do something. But we go awry when we come to believe that what we do is all we are, and that when we can no longer do those things that make us us, then we are no longer someone who matters.

It’s what makes nursing homes so challenging. Same as hospitals. We hate being reminded we have limits; that the very thing that makes us feel alive – our physical/mental capabilities – will be stripped away. People struggle with aging because it’s a regression to the mean; it’s the universe’s way of telling us that we are finite, we are frail.

We are not gods in flesh.

When we come to the end of ourselves, we wrestle with the notion of value. Life becomes an existential cage match. If we cannot do, then what good are we? If we’re merely clogging up the planet, using up money and other resources better spent on those who can create, why should we linger? Why spend our last days as a museum piece that only teaches it’s hell getting old?

I’ve heard those questions from the lips of people who’ve gotten old, gotten beyond their prime years of production: why am I still here? What good am I?

My grandmothers both ask me that question when I go to visit. I look at them and I see life, my life, sitting there in front of me, and I wonder, how do you not know you’re valuable? I look at them, aged and beautiful, and all I can think of are things like sunshine and laughter and meals and hugs and wisdom and prayers and guilt trips and love. And I love them for ALL of it. Every bit. I don’t necessarily remember any one single act (though we do have a few stories to tell) but what I remember, more than the lifetime of doing, is the person who did it, and did it all, because she loved.

Maybe she can’t get her shoes on anymore. Maybe she doesn’t sleep well at night. Maybe she is reaching a point that she’ll require someone to watch over her the way all of us worried parents watched over our own children, someone who can encourage and celebrate each accomplishment, regardless of how small. Maybe all of that and more.

But there will come a day when neither one is here. When both will have gone the way of all people, when both will be a marker next to the marker for a good man who went before her. And when that day comes, I will wish not for her to do something for me, not for her to create or accomplish anything. I will simply wish like hell that she were still with me, that she still existed in a form I could hug or kiss or look at, simply because she’s who she is. My grandmother.

Funny, isn’t it? We spend so much time trying to do something, and not enough time enjoying who those somethings make us into. We think about that only in the end, only after it’s too late to truly appreciate the person for themselves. I think about friends and family today who would give anything to have just a little more time with a Pop, or a Nana, or a brother or sister or a child…

We are not merely what we do. We are more.

Love someone for that today.

From Nietzsche …

From Nietzsche –

“The end of a melody is not its goal: but nonetheless, had the melody not reached its end it would not have reached its goal either. A parable.”

Been thinking a lot about endings recently. With graduation upon us and my own transition out of my role as a youth pastor, there are an awful lot of things coming to a tidy conclusion in my life.

Maybe you’re the same way. Maybe a big part of your journey is drawing to a close. Maybe a horrible time in your life is coming to an end. Maybe both are the same. Wherever you find yourself, this much I know:

Endings are necessary. They are good. They aren’t always happy. They aren’t always tidy. But they must happen for us to move forward, because that’s what it means to be human. To move forward. To grow. To change. To chance. Too often we forget that; too often we strive to be unchanging, sedentary, immovable and thus end up rebelling against our own selves. We aren’t static creatures because we lack the resources for it.

We are finite. And finitude means adaptation, and adaptation means changing things about ourselves, our circumstances and our lives as often as necessary.

So part of becoming who we are meant to be is letting go of one version of ourselves, or one time in our lives, and moving towards the next. We don’t live for the end, and I don’t really believe we stop at the end; I think each ending is for the moment, not for the one found within it.

Many thoughts. These are just a few.

The Real Test


Are you smart enough to talk about God with a preschooler?

I happen to have many friends and acquaintances who are interested in apologetics (being able to explain the Christian faith). We are an interesting crew, ranging from folks with highly advanced Ph.D’s to schmoes like me, and we are keen on being able to put our faith into words. We want people to understand that belief in God and His Son, Jesus Christ, is not a blind leap into an uninformed, unintelligent abyss, but a reasonable belief grounded in reason and evidence.

This desire for understanding puts us in the path of people who don’t always agree with our view of the world. In fact, many apologists actually seek out those with the toughest questions, the most skeptical of the skeptics. They do this not as a fool’s errand, but as an act of worship and charity; worship, because they want to tell of their glorious God, and charity, because they want their skeptical friends to hear the truth of the Gospel. And it is exactly encounters like those that keeps my apologist friends forever reading, researching, writing, honing their understanding of God’s universe and will.

We seek, to the best of our ability, to make God known.

All of this is well and good, but if we’re not careful we can get into a rut. To put it plainly, we cheat. We tend to think that the deep questions of the faith come from mature minds, from people who are able to critically assess the universe in which they live. So we build our answers around that presumption, importing large words and sophisticated sounding terms that are meant to impart wisdom as well as create the impression that we know of which we speak. We arm ourselves for adults and feel like we have things mastered.

But have you ever tried apologetics with a not-quite-four year old?

Now THAT is a test. Perhaps the real test of whether or not you truly understand what you believe.

Because a four year old doesn’t have the intellectual or moral hang ups of an adult. They don’t have the baggage of past sins, the experience of past hurts, or any other number of objections that make faith in God difficult. A four year old is just the opposite: so gloriously free of preconceptions that their questions are truly a search for knowledge.

You don’t think about this when you’re doing apologetics with adults. You assume there’s a knowledge base of some sort, and you go from there. With kids, it’s a blank page. And it’s hard. You never realize just how silly you can sound until you try out a fancy apologetic argument on a preschooler.

It sounds about as stupid as trying to explain superheroes. In your mind it all makes sense, but you can see on the kid’s face that what you’re selling, they ain’t buying.

And when a kid doesn’t get a concept, when they truly don’t understand – but want to – they ask the question that every parent dreads hearing, but every apologist thinks they’re prepared for: why?

Why can’t we see God?

Why does God live in heaven?

Why did Jesus have to die?

Why is there sin?

Why did my grandmother get sick?

Why do some people get baptized?

Why do you pray?

Why do some prayers not get answered?

Not all of a preschoolers questions are whys, though. You get a lot of interesting whats as well: what will heaven look like? What does Jesus do all day? What if God has stinky feet? What happens if we don’t love God?

And don’t forget the wheres, whens and hows.

It is astounding how quickly the philosophy in your head falls apart in a four year old’s hands, how guilty you can be of not thinking deeply enough so a preschooler can understand.

When Jesus said it takes the faith of a child to come to God, I don’t think he meant simple-minded in the sense we think of. I think he meant it in the sense that a child seeks genuine answers with genuine awe. As adults, we just seek answers that will shut somebody up, end the argument, get us through the day. It’s a utilitarian belief rather than a sincere one. That’s a broad statement to make, but I don’t think it’s unfair.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because both of my children have been asking some profound questions, but especially my son. He wants so badly to understand things that he can turn a five minute car ride into an interrogatory hell. He asks a million questions, often repeating the same ones, not because he’s not listening, but precisely because he is. And it pushes me to constantly reframe my answers, to drill down, distill, cut away the fluff that adults will allow until I get to the meat that he’s craving.

I’lll stand on a stage and face an audience full of adults any day. And they’ll probably think I’m smarter than my son does.

So for all you apologists out there who think you have the answers down pat, may I issue you a helpful challenge, one meant to hone your own thinking and help make you sharper for the adults you face?

Sometime in the next month or so, volunteer to teach your church’s preschool class, or give the children’s church sermon.

You’ll be amazed at how much the kids can teach you.