Archive | Culture

Intolerance is Bad. Inequality is Bad. But What About Intolerance Inequality?

Intolerance and Inequality are BadEquality is a defining concern of our age. If there’s one thing people today never tire of saying, it is that everyone should be treated equally, and not just in the old fashioned sense that people deserve equal courtesy and respect. Today’s demands include equalizing disparate incomes, and giving all couples (or “throuples” or whatever) equal legal status under marriage laws. Equality is a big deal.

Meanwhile, one of our culture’s cardinal sins is intolerance, which is loosely defined today as non-acceptance in some form or another. This definition is diluted in the way that popular culture specializes in watering things down.

The Meaning of Tolerance

The true meaning of tolerance is not agreement, personal acceptance, or celebration of a particular way of thinking or acting. It is merely putting up with it. It is letting it exist or continue despite my disagreement.

In the following paragraphs, to be consistent and avoid confusion, I will be using the word “tolerance” to refer to the relatively new and contemporary understanding of the word, which, again, means to agree with and/or affirm another’s view or behavior.

A Problem We Must Address

This brings us to a concern that cannot continue to be ignored. I am speaking of the problem of intolerance inequality. We know that intolerance is bad, and we know that we all do it sometimes. We all fail to agree with someone’s point of view; we all fall short of giving support and endorsement to certain of people’s choices; we all, at times, withhold our affirmation or celebration of the sexual or spiritual identities of those around us when they declare them.

In this way we are all equally human. After all, who can be tolerant 100% of the time? But, in the interest of full equality, all human beings deserve the dignity of being judged intolerant on those occasions. In other words, the circumstances of intolerance being the same, why should some—on the basis of nothing more than race, gender, or sexual preference—be denied equal treatment?

A Deeper Explanation of the Problem

The unequal treatment of people and groups, that our society must work to overcome, involves denying certain people or groups the opportunity to achieve certain labels, however negative they may be.

If we deem all persons fundamentally equal, then the same moral principles apply to all of us in equal measure. Expectations and punishments should be the same. To lower expectations or punishments on one group is to demean that group. By presuming that they “can’t help it” we’re implying that they’re unable to achieve the same standards or expectations as their peers. We’re holding them to a lower standard. It’s a patronizing insult to that group, a kind of “soft bigotry” as some have called it. On the basis of the fundamental equality of people, we should expect two adults of similar age and circumstances to be equally responsible and accountable to the same moral standards. This is completely irrespective of their ethnicity, gender or other distinguishing factors. Let intolerance be intolerance regardless.

Historical Examples of the Inequality of intolerance

The contemporary problem of intolerance inequality has parallels from history. Some slave-owners in the antebellum south had low expectations of their slaves. Thinking they were something like a race of neanderthals, they were not held to the same standard. If a slave killed a man, the slave-owner would not have seen the deed in the same moral light as if a white person killed a man. It was often the same with early Native Americans. Many considered them to be a primitive race of human beings, and thus easily prone to savagery. The ‘civilized’ people of European descent did not see the natives as equally morally accountable for their acts. How can they help it, after all, being what they are?

Before you are tempted to think that this is all in the past, come back now to the problem at hand. Listen to the way people address the murders committed by radical Muslims. I dare say you will hear echoes of the same way of thinking. We don’t expect any more of ‘those’ people. Why should we? There remains an idea that people are not equally accountable for their actions because they are not equal (or so it is implied) in some morally significant way.

Intolerance Inequality on Campus

Let’s look at a trend that exemplifies this problem. Recently, a lot of college and university campuses (like Tufts and Vanderbilt) have begun denying long-standing Christian organizations their status as organizations officially recognized by the university. This is because the organizations discriminate along lines of belief when it comes to their leadership. Intervarsity’s status was revoked from some two dozen campuses in the California State college system because they discriminate who their leaders are.

By today’s definition, they are being intolerant. However, the first question we must ask in this age of intolerance inequality is whether other groups are being treated equally. Does anyone believe that a campus Muslim organization would open any of its leadership positions to people who do not affirm that Mohammed was a prophet? Is there a Muslim student group on any campus in America open to a leadership candidate who agrees with gay marriage? So then, have all of the Muslim organizations had their charters revoked as well? Also, how would a campus LGBT organization feel about allowing a Westboro-style fundamentalist into its leadership? Will such groups be allowed the equal opportunity to be deemed intolerant? I find no stories about any other groups being denied their campus status.

We Can Change Things

By now stories like this should register very little surprise. We’ve all grown so used to intolerance inequality that we simply accept it. If a group of white kids were on camera beating up a black kid, this would easily be seen as racist in nature. But if it’s black kids beating up a white kid, our culture of inequality will deny those black kids equal treatment.

Unfortunately some are so tragically confused by this that they end up in a morass of silliness. Such was the case of the young person who replied to a recent question on debate.org. The question was whether Kanye West is racist. The first reply on the negative side was that he can’t be racist because he is black. This is intolerance inequality at its finest. Sorry, Kanye, it’s mostly a society of equal treatment and opportunity, but there are still a couple of labels that are very exclusive and simply not open to “your kind.”

Inequality rears its ugly head in strange ways today. Once upon a time a black citizen might have been told where he or she can’t sit. Now he or she can’t be racist. When it comes to joining the country club of the intolerant, the pc police have posted a big “Whites Only” sign.

And it’s not just a matter of race. Gays are on the outside looking in as well. A straight white man can earn his intolerance badge with such ease that it is almost like he’s cheating. By contrast, let a Hispanic lesbian try her hardest to earn that same badge and she will find herself slamming into an intolerance glass ceiling. The same people who preach tolerance the loudest, will stubbornly deny her equal treatment.

My fellow Americans, we’ve come too far for this kind of inequality to remain with us. Let us no longer privilege straight white males by giving them a free pass to intolerance. Make them earn the label like everyone else, and remove the barriers of bigotry that have kept certain minority groups from the equal right and opportunity that would allow their intolerance to earn the recognition that is due them.

Should We Trust People’s Near-Death Experiences?

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There is hardly a more popular genre of religious literature today than that of Near Death Experience (NDEs). I often tell people that if they want to become a millionaire, all they have to do is die, come back to life, and then write about what they saw (if Kiefer Sutherland and Julia Roberts could do it in Flatliners, why not?).

The fascination with this subject is certainly understandable.  After all, we are talking about people who assert that they have had first hand experience with the afterlife. Their testimony, were it to be true, could overturn atheism and give us the most insider information that we have had since the Apostle John (so long as they saw something). Who wouldn’t want such confirmation. After all, for most of us, our experience of God is filtered through so many events that are hard to interpret and, frequently, over-interpreted. How many of us haven’t asked God to do something for us personally that breaks through the often boring mundane, in order to show Himself and His will to us in a definite experiential way? I know I have.

In come NDEs (of others) to the rescue. From the claims of a  little  four-year-old boy’s meetings with John the Baptist and explanations of the Trinity to a neurosurgeon’s personal Journey to the Afterlife, we can’t miss a demographic here (although the first is not technically an NDE). We now even have anthologies of this stuff.

Many devoted Christians have begun to see the light (pardon the pun) as more and more of these stories surface. At the very least, we are left scratching our heads, slowly developing a love-hate relationship with NDEs. While most of the NDE stories come from either Christian, or atheists, who are encouraged to become Christian, we do have others joining the conversation. As of 2005, close to 95% of the cultures of the world have documented some sort of near-death experience (The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences [yes, they have a handbook on these things] pp. 1–16). But more significant than this (to me) are the conflicting testimonies of Christians and/or converts who describe the afterlife. While there are some common elements in their stories (discussed below), the details are more difficult to reconcile. Continue Reading →

Are you “on the wrong side of history” (and should you be worried)?

It’s time to take a closer look at a phrase you’re probably tired of hearing by now. Words and phrases come into and go out of style just like everything else. I remember when Devo and Spandau Ballet were tearing up the FM airwaves. In recent years there has been a surge in popularity for the phrase “on the wrong side of history.” An article at the end of 2013 claimed that this “rhetorical two-step,” as it called it, has seen a statistical swell across published articles. It cites the Yale Book of Quotations, which counted 524 articles in 2006 in which the phrase was used, compared with 1,800 articles featuring it in 2013.

 

So it’s all the rage, but what does it mean? If you didn’t know any better, you might think that it means going against history or disagreeing with those who went before us. But of course that is not what those who use the phrase are wanting to say. But let us examine briefly both possibilities. Let’s ask first about being on the wrong side of history as we now consider it (i.e., that which in our past), and then let’s look at being on the wrong side of what will someday be history (i.e., that which is in our future).

 

On the Wrong Side of What We NOW Call “History”

 

History is that which is in the past, quite obviously, so the most literal understanding of the phrase “on the wrong side of history” would be just what it sounds like: to be on the wrong side of history, in this sense, is to hold a belief or position that goes against what those in the past believed or held. Knowing as we do the general thought-patterns of our own culture, we might reasonably ask whether the dominant perspective represented in pop culture, media and entertainment finds agreement with the majority of significant voices from our history.

 

And it would not require a lot of reading from history to come quickly to the conclusion that nearly nobody from the generations of the past would find agreement with leading contemporary social and political voices in the Western world. History is a long tale full of clues about how our present culture came to look, speak, think, and act the way it does. If you familiarize yourself with the story you will come to see that the contemporary notions Americans have about religion, ethics and politics are mostly novelties, appearing just a few ‘chapters’ ago.

 

Historical ignorance and the move away from traditional religious and moral beliefs are undoubtedly tied together. “History is a hill or a high point,” wrote G. K. Chesterton, “from which alone men see the town in which they are living and the age in which they live.” So many today are confused and lack perspective because they have no vantage point from which to see their own tiny plot of time and place.  To borrow the analogy from James the Apostle, we never look into the mirror that would show us a more accurate reflection of ourselves and our surroundings.

 

Reading the words or biographies of prominent people from our past would likely shock – and maybe offend – many contemporary fans of the “progressive” left. A lot of young people who encounter the voices of the past while reading for college courses are given to the foolish habit of rejecting them with a knee-jerk reaction that assumes that everyone who lived before iphones was backward and just didn’t get it. In most cases they read just enough to condemn everyone in history of being ignorant, racist, puritanical religious nuts. This childish view of history says more about our own culture than any of those from the past. We’ve become too inept even to know how to process the predominant ways of thinking of those in our history. “To be ignorant of the past is to remain a child,” wrote Cicero, and he had so much less history from which to learn than we do all of these centuries later. Our confusion is of our own making. We have libraries of brilliant teachers to tutor us, but we’d rather get our wisdom from our peers, from Hollywood, from jaded comedians, or from the twittersphere, all within 140 characters.

 

I challenge anyone to begin reading biographies of the American founders, and see how long it takes to start re-adjusting everything that you thought you knew about the moral and political debates of our time. For all of the specific and distinct differences between them, they all seem to have shared a general worldview that many young voters today would hardly recognize. As far as I can tell, none of them – to a man – could get elected to any office today with the views they expressed in their writings and speeches.

 

Poor Washington, Adams, Jay, Hamilton, Jefferson & Madison, if they discovered a time machine & visited us today, would find themselves in a bizarro-world of contemporary political correctness, and they would quickly find that instead of principled disagreement and substantive debate, our present political culture would offer them only petty mockery and slander for their views. They would be castigated as right-wing religious wackos. They would be called war-mongers, too vicious toward criminals, way too accommodating toward churches and religious organizations, not nearly compassionate enough with the government spending, and generally too uptight. Their views of marriage and family would elicit angry, sarcastic laughter from the entertainment community.  They would feel like the guy from the movie “Idiocracy” after he woke up from a few hundred years of cryosleep to a society steadily degraded in every way to the point of being completely debased morons.

 

My point is that the literal understanding of the phrase “on the wrong side of history” would not suit those are most fond of the phrase. Since they tend to lean leftward toward modern p.c. sensibilities, they would be horrified to discover just how far on the wrong side of our history they have placed themselves.

 

On the Wrong Side of What FUTURE Generations Will Call “History”

 

This second understanding of the phrase “on the wrong side of history” is what most people actually mean to suggest when they use it. They mean to say that the present direction and flow of ideas and events points one way (typically “my” way), and those of you who disagree are simply moving in the other direction – away from the direction that things appear to be headed. It is as if the current of the cultural river is moving along, and a few traditionalists uncomfortable with its direction are trying to turn back against it. The implied argument is that, first, the traditionalist is in denial regarding the way things are actually going, and second, the deniers are impeding the forward progress of things and hindering the natural flow of history toward what we have discerned is its destination.

 

So again I ask:  Is this a fair charge by those who are pushing society away from the traditions of the past? Will people in future generations look back with shame at those who were not on board with direction that cultural progressives are moving society at the present moment?

 

Keep in mind first that this understanding of “history” (the present time that will be considered history to future generations) differs from actual “history” (the times that preceded the present) in one very important sense: actual history has already happened and is thus set, whereas the imagined history as future people will see it is sheer guesswork. In other words, when asking whether you’re on the wrong side of actual history, you at least can address the question to events that are final and cannot change. The thoughts, beliefs, and deeds of the people before us already happened.  But asking whether you’re on the wrong side of what future generations will think, believe, and do is a presumptuous (and usually self-serving) leap.

 

And not only are those who use this phrase over-estimating their knowledge of what the mindset and beliefs of people in future generations will actually be, they are being equally presumptuous that those supposed beliefs of future people are correct beliefs. Either they invest way too much confidence in the superior wisdom of people yet to be born (which may involve the ridiculous idea that we will ‘evolve’ over a couple of generations), or they have a mystical view of history’s unfolding that places faith in the inevitable move upward toward utopia (something akin to the views of men like Hegel or Marx).

 

Because of all of this, when I hear someone respond to an opponent in a debate over a heated moral or political topic with “You’re on the wrong side of history,” (assuming that the person means it in this second, most likely sense) II immediately want to ask two questions of that person: (1) How do you presume to know the collective mindset of millions of people yet to exist? And (2) even if you are right about their views, so what? What makes them any more correct than anyone living now or in the past?

 

What I think is really going on when people use this phrase is that they are hoping that the idea of being “on the wrong side of history” will register some kind of negative feeling that puts pressure on those who disagree with them to change their point of view. It is a  rhetorical ploy. Instead of a legitimate argument, it is a personal pressure strategy. The opponent is supposed to have a sense that he or she is, after all, on the “wrong” side and therefore should change. It is by no means a new tactic. In 1960 the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was so confident in the Marxist view of history in which the superiority of communism was set inevitably to overthrow capitalism that he told his opponents with full swagger, “Whether you like it or not, history is on our side.”

 

The real issue: Are you on the right or wrong side of the TRUTH?

 

In an age of social media group-think and public cowardice this may sound revolutionary, but it’s high time people today muster up enough common sense and courage to say, “I don’t care what people think or say.” Only someone willing to think outside of the narrow parameters of the immediate culture’s myopic perspective can have any hope of arriving at sensible conclusions on important questions.

 

We seem to care so little about the wisdom of all of the generations of the past, why then concern ourselves so anxiously about the projected opinions of the generations of the future? I submit that if those who are so fond of declaring who will (in the future) end up on the wrong side of history would themselves learn some actual history, they might gain just enough insight to realize that they don’t know what they’re talking about, which may just be the golden key of truth that opens the gates of wisdom for them.

 

All of those who have gone before were flawed and limited just like we are. They weren’t omniscient. In plenty of cases we are confident to call certain of their opinions wrong. But that isn’t the point. As the Chesterton quote in the previous section indicates, the point of hearing the views of people outside of your time and place is that they may help you see outside of your own immediate influences and biases. Or as Tim Keller has famously put it, “”When you read one thinker, you become a clone. Two thinkers, you become confused. Ten thinkers, you begin developing your own voice. Two or three hundred thinkers, you become wise.” We could elaborate this to say that when you are completely submersed in one specific culture, you are a clone of that culture. You have to hear the contradictory opinions of people outside your echo chamber.

 

Truth should carry more weight than the shared feelings or passing opinions of a given majority within a single subculture. The mistake of the dominant media and entertainment culture of the present moment is that it arrogantly and immaturely allows itself to suppose that its current views on religious, moral and political issues are so obviously right that opposing views need not be seriously considered. No time need be wasted, they seem to be saying among themselves, on making legitimate arguments for our current views or engaging with dissenting opinions. Instead we can just ride the wave of our own subjective confidence and attempt to put pressure on our critics to get on our bandwagon and at least pretend to agree with us. And one of the ways we can try to apply such pressure is to taunt them with “You’re on the wrong side of history.”

Tolerance Has No Clothes

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In 1837 Hans Christian Andersen published a Danish fairy tale called The Emperor’s New Clothes (originally known as Keiserens Nye Klaeder). Here’s how the story goes (retold in my words)…

A long time ago there lived an emperor who really loved showing off his impeccable taste for great clothing. Think of him as a modern day male fashionista. Two guys approached the emperor one day saying, “Your highness, sir emperor, we notice you appreciate the nicer things of life. We just happen to be purveyors of the finest custom line of men’s clothing.”

The two men convince the fashionista emperor to create a new wardrobe from the most rare materials. Fine clothing usually comes with some unique qualifications. High quality raw denim pants, for example, can be worn for months without needing to be washed. If you wash them every week you may not be worthy taking care of such quality. So what was the qualification to the emperor? Well, the clothing is only worthy to be seen by the non-stupid. If you are a stupid person the clothing will not be visible. Only the most worthy intelligentsia can behold the beauty of the clothing.

The clothiers took his measurements and went to their studio to get started. The emperor wanted to make sure everything was legitimate. He sent two of his most trusted men to check on the progress. Neither admitted they couldn’t see the clothing. They each thought of themselves as non-stupid progressive citizens. So they told the emperor the clothing was as beautiful as promised.

The day came for the emperors new clothes to be unveiled for all to see. Correction, for all of the non-stupid to see. The emperor paraded down the street “wearing” his new high-quality fashion to the applause of everyone. Everyone, of course, was too afraid to admit they were stupid.

Finally, a small child saw the emperor and exclaimed, “But he has nothing on!” The crowd began whispering. “Do you see any clothes?” “No, do you?” Word quietly spread through the crowd until everyone in the crowd shouted that the emperor was indeed naked. The two men had duped the entire empire. Everyone, including the emperor, went along with the masses because they were afraid to be the only stupid person.

A little child was unafraid to state the obvious. The obvious had become hidden underneath apparent niceties and self-convincing behavior.

I have started to wonder if there is another type of parade going on in America today. A parade where it seems stupid people are blind to the beauty of the new clothing. I have started to wonder if the emperor in the new parade is actually naked. The emperor dancing through the streets of America and dancing through the media outlets bears the name “Tolerance.”

Are his clothes beautiful? Is he naked? Am I too stupid to see the clothes? Let’s look at just two examples consuming our non-stop news coverage.

“Tolerance” has become the Emperor with New Clothes
Exhibit #1: Donald Sterling

I was in middle school in the 1980’s when political correctness swept our country. Yes, there are many wonderful aspects to the idea. Yes, there were many things in American needing to become more politically correct. I received all the training under the direction of our school board and then received a lot more politically correct training when I worked for a Fortune 500 company. I resisted none of what I was taught, I thought it made a lot of sense.

The last few weeks in America, however, have made me uneasy. It all started with L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling making private comments to a woman about his dislike for black people. All of us, hopefully, will admit Sterling’s comments were terrible. Why would someone who has devoted so much of his life to the NBA make such an asinine statement? Racism is a wickedness within humanity.

I was a bit uneasy, however, with the backlash toward Donald Sterling. A secret recording within his own home from a lady who appears to be of at least questionable character led to severe rhetoric against Sterling. Almost no one tried to give Sterling the benefit of the doubt. No one withheld judgement until understanding his side. No one tried to see it from his perspective. No one wondered if he needed to receive additional human resources training with the hope he would come to see the error of his way. All of the previously mentioned perspectives I was clearly taught were healthy for a tolerant politically correct future.

It wouldn’t have surprised me during the backlash against Sterling if someone would have yelled, “Get a rope. Let’s string him up” (joking…kind of). The NBA then acted swiftly. Sterling must sell the team. Sterling is never allowed again to own an NBA team. The commissioner then went one step further, Sterling is not allowed to attend an NBA game for the rest of his life. The last statement is the one that made me uneasy. What if Sterling would come to be enlightened? What if he truly repented and truly apologized? Convicted felons who have served their time are allowed to go to NBA games. Sterling officially did not even commit a crime. Would he still never be allowed to buy tickets for a game even in the cheap seats?

To go back to the fairy tale. Can stupid people go to an NBA game? If you can’t see the emperor’s new clothes can you not attend an NBA game? Will people need to undergo racism and perhaps homophobic evaluations before being allowed to go to an NBA game? Will people failing the test be marked for life as outsiders unable to ever attend events designed for the enjoyment of the non-stupid?
Continue Reading →

“I Am” Statements in a Fresh Format

As Ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) each Christian is called to reflect Jesus to our culture. Imploring people to be reconciled to God. Spoken word poet, David Bowden, communicates theological depth in a passionate format.

On Friday April 4th, spoken word poet David Bowden released a new video entitled “I Am.” Always aiming to be as much theologian as slam poet, David’s new offering provides us with both Bible and talent. This heavily cinematic piece, different from David’s normal stripped down style, employs the seven “I Am” statements Jesus makes about himself in the Gospel of John. The poem concerns itself with the idea of God’s foreknowledge and providence, and how that interplays with our decisions, sins, and salvation. A suitable summation for the work can be found towards the end of the poem: “Before you even knew how to sin, I Am where your salvation begins.” Clearly, David is taking a strong stance for the omnipotence and preeminence God has in relation to mankind’s election, calling, and ultimate salvation.

Here’s the video:

A unique feature of this video is the vignettes placed throughout its over six minute running time. Each short story is an abstract embodiment of the “I Am” statement in which they are located. For example, during the stanza discussing “I Am the gate,” which talks about the distance placed between us and God, we see a man and a woman running towards each other through a parking structure only to be separated by a vast divide. The most significant vignette however is one of an elderly man during the stanza on “I Am the resurrection and the life.” This man, Earl Jones, was David’s grandfather who died just a few days after the shoot. Jones said to his grandson David that it would be an honor to let his pain represent the promise of Jesus’s resurrection. In fact, David has stated elsewhere that the nighttime shoot on which the video opens was shot the very night his granddad Earl died. Suffice it to say, getting through the stanza dedicated to his grandfather was difficult and moving. But David hopes his listeners will find comfort in the same thing that gave him comfort that night: “I Am the resurrection and the life.”

Check them out at: http://www.dbpoetry.com

The Problem with “Bully Bob”

BullyBobSeveral months ago the NY Times ran an article entitled “Publishers Revel in Youthful Cruelty,” describing how the topic of bullying has ignited a book bonanza on the subject over the last few years. This probably isn’t news to anyone since the ubiquitous nature of the subject is evident way outside of old fashioned print media. Many are the awareness campaigns about bullying, ads with celebrities, special emphases within the schools, anti-bullying surveys and petitions across social media, etc.

Bullying applies to every kind of potential victim: the overweight, the mentally challenged, the religious minority, the socially awkward. Frequently it is associated particularly with the gay issue. Bullying is no longer the straightforward thing we once took it to be. Now it can be subtle, nonphysical, a particular feeling one gets from another person. And of course there is cyber-bullying, a word nobody would have understood in my school days.

I will admit readily that anytime something like this leaps out of obscurity and onto the radar of political correctness, my knee-jerk reaction is negative. I can’t help it. I have such little faith in and respect  for contemporary popular culture that I just assume that whatever captivates all of its attention at the present moment is probably idiotic. But that’s not really fair, so I have to back off and take a closer look sometimes. And even though the issue of bullying has popped up like a trendy ‘cause of the month’, if I think about the issue for what it is, disregarding some of the silliness that is currently written about it, I can’t deny that it is an important subject.

Bullying is necessarily a moral issue, since the word itself, like “murder” or “rape,” is morally slanted. It isn’t a neutral word. It is implied that you are doing something wrong if you are bullying. And as with any moral discussion, we have to make judgments about things that are right and things that are wrong. My specific interest here is not with bullying in the schoolyard but with bullies in the contemporary public discourse. These are the forceful voices who come strong with their opinions and use illegitimate bully-style tactics in order to twist the philosophical arms of people into agreeing with them (or at least into saying that they agree with them). My contention is that this kind of “Bully Bob” is problematic and needs to be confronted.

Bully Bob is a Big Talker

The first problem with the kinds of bullies I’m talking about is of a verbal nature. The general rule is that the bully in the yard with the biggest mouth is likely to cower the first time he’s confronted by someone whose toughness is more than talk. That’s why, when Wyatt Earp looked over & saw ‘Bully’ Bob Thornton as the belligerent Faro dealer bossing people around & doling out the threats (after having abused the regular customers and chased off all the high class play, according the bartender), Earp saw right through Bully Bob & realized immediately that he didn’t need to “go heeled to get the bulge on a tub” like him. A  typical loudmouth, this bully – a “madcap” identified as “Johnny Tyler” by Doc Holliday (and based on a historical figure)- was all noise, too cowardly to “skin that smokewagon and see what happens” when stood up to by a confident and unarmed stranger.

If you don’t get the above reference, never mind the specific names & quotes (but seriously, how can you call yourself an American?). The point is that when someone talks too big a game it is an indicator of the high likelihood that the situation is exactly the opposite. And the odds continue moving in that direction with every additional bit of verbal abuse he adds to his swagger. When I hear someone using verbal and ideological bully tactics in a modern day debate, it automatically weakens that person’s position for me. I hear weakness masked by the noise of a bully megaphone.

And while the big talkers who bring the noise can be intimidating, a certain calm confidence on the part of someone who questions the verbal bully can cut right through his bluster. The worst thing you can do in response to his or her noise is to play the same game and try to talk more trash and louder. The best thing you can do is to ignore the petty stuff and go right to the heart of the person’s point of view. Ask her pointed and penetrating questions that require her to articulate and defend the view she is trying to bully people into accepting. It is sometimes surprising how quickly someone who seemed so sure of herself will back off once critical questions are put to her.

Continue Reading →

The Gospel of BREAKING BAD

I don’t like the first part of the Gospel. Let me rephrase that. I don’t like telling people the first part of the Gospel. It’s tough to swallow. You know, the part that goes like this: “You’re a sinner,” “you’re totally depraved,” and “if you really want life you can’t get it on your own.” The heart of it is that no one likes to be told what to do. And what’s more, no one wants to hear the words “you need to be saved” either. We like to encourage people. Part one of the Gospel is pretty discouraging and we don’t always know just how to say it. Of all things, could it be possible that Hollywood’s come to the rescue? Could some television networks, like AMC for example, actually be helping us in our efforts to tell the world why it needs a savior? Scandalous thought, I know, but at least hear me out.

AMC’s corrupt crime-drama, Breaking Bad, is one of my favorite television shows of all time. So many reasons. To name a few, it’s got an airtight narrative and the dialogue and the acting are anything but average. It’s safe to say the show stands out. It’s also safe to say that it stands out as a poignant expression of the darker side of entertainment. Except I wouldn’t be so quick to call that a problem. Better put, maybe Breaking Bad stands out most because it’s actually a moving trailblazer, slowly arranging network television on the path toward Gospel redemption.

Let me back up for a second. Much of media today, telecasts and transmissions we fill our susceptible craniums with, is taking a plunging nosedive into moral bankruptcy where the Gospel is wholesale absent. It’s no secret to anyone with a pulse that a result of postmodern thinking is relative truth. Since the nineties (some would argue the sixties), protective boundary lines, once held securely in place, have been moving around haphazardly. Black and white are melting together into many shades of gray and a motion toward subjective experience over that which is concrete and knowable is on the rise. Media and mainstream television wield some of the largest swords in the arena where truth is being constantly defined and redefined.

Hang with me. I’ll get to Breaking Bad in a minute. But there are some things that need to be understood first. Continue Reading →

The Forgiven by David Ramirez

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“For a long time now, I’ve been convinced that what happens in New York (finances), Hollywood (entertainment), Silicon Valley (technology), and Miami (fashion) has a far greater impact on how our culture thinks about reality than what happens in Washington D.C. (politics). It’s super important for us to understand that politics are reflective, not directive. That is, the political arena is the place where policies are made that reflect the values of our culture–the habits of heart and mind–that are being shaped by these other, more strategic arenas. As the Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher said, “Let me write the songs of a nation: I don’t care who writes its laws.” Tullian Tchividjian, Unfashionable, p. 95.

Based on quotes like Tullian’s above, I try to keep my ears open for songs speaking into our world. The Grammys, for instance, are an amazing time for Ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:29) to get a good view of our culture. I was moved today as I came across “The Forgiven” by Austin, Texas musician David Ramirez. He seems to do a good job in this song exegeting our culture.

The song is simple and insightful. I think it articulates an accurate view of many 21st century cultural leaders toward Christianity. The lyrics are below followed by the song. I’ve made bold the portions of the lyrics I found to be especially strong:

They love me for being honest
They love me for being myself
But the minute I mention Jesus
They want me to go to Hell

It’s hard to find the balance
When I don’t believe in one
When you mix art with business
You’re just shooting an empty gun

You’re just a songwriter, you ain’t a preacher
We came to mourn you, not to look in the mirror
Sing about those hard times, sing about those women
We love the broken, not the forgiven

These songs will only take me
As far as the people will go
If I can’t make them happy
Well then they won’t come to my shows

Maybe that’s what killed
All the great voices in the world
Always bleeding for every line
But no one was bleeding in return

You’re just a songwriter, you ain’t a preacher
We came to mourn you, not to look in the mirror
Sing about those hard times, sing about those women
We love the broken, not the forgiven

Listen to the song here:

What do you think?