One of the Few Things That Can Make Me Angry

I am not an angry person. For the most part, I just deal with people and don’t worry about their nonsense, shenanigans, rudeness, or offenses. When I do think about these things, it’s usually analytically, thinking about the wider patterns in society of which they are a part, and about any theological issues involved. I already digress, though, so back to my point. I don’t generally get angry, and it usually takes some repeated problems to make it happen. Most issues don’t spark any fire any me.

There are a few things, of course, that do. Talking about abortion for more than 5 minutes. Bullies. A handful of politicians. But none of those are the subject of this post. Instead, this post is about what angers me if I think about it for too long: nonchalant money wasting.

What specifically do I mean? I work at a Papa John’s. I see almost every day people spend $20-40 on pizza and cookies. Likewise, I walk into stores and see $1000 TVs that people actually buy. On Black Friday, so many people practically turn into a raging mob trying to throw their money at companies for things that usually aren’t important. College kids buy Starbucks several times a week, or even daily. Well off couples plunk down hundreds of thousands for houses much larger, fancier, and prepared than they actually need. Half of our society, if not much more than that, revolves around buying and selling, and when your society is the size of ours, that guarantees most of the business being done isn’t essential to life and well-being.

So, so much of this money is just wasted. Hundreds of millions of dollars essentially go down the toilet, serving no purpose but to give us some momentary pleasure, distracting entertainment, or a few extra moments of convenience. I could multiply examples, and in fact a part of me is simply dying to do so just to illustrate the severity of the problem and get out some of the frustration that builds even as I think about this subject to write on it. But stop and think for yourself: how much money do you spend in your average week, even average day, that you could quite easily get by without spending? What about the expenses that you could get by without just by putting in a little extra effort?

I know I do this. I try to avoid it, but I do not always do so, and plenty of times if I step back and think too hard about it I get frustrated. But why? Why does this all so rile me? Why does all of this make me so angry?

The reason, which may be obvious to some of you, for my ire is the African child with a stomach bloated from malnutrition and starvation, the Afghan mother struggling to find some kind of health care for her baby, and the old redneck lady who can’t afford to keep electricity hooked up in her trailer. People like these and those in many other situations around the world are suffering in extreme poverty (or at least serious relative poverty for their society), and try as they might they can’t do anything about it. Most of them aren’t just a little bit poor, either. According to Compassion International:

Globally, 1.2 billion people (22 percent) live on less than $1.25 a day. Increasing the income poverty line to $2.50 a day raises the global income poverty rate to about 50 percent, or 2.7 billion people.

This means that for every one of us who can afford to spend $7 for lunch at Chick-fil-A almost whenever we want, there is someone else out there who would have to go without any other food for at least 2 or 3 days to afford that opportunity. 

In the face of such intense and rampant poverty and suffering, the waste I see every day becomes absolutely disgusting. The constant churning of spending more and more money on frivolous or disposable things by whim appears to be pure evil, the evil of a world system under the sway of the evil one. Fancy new gadgets, savory steak dinners, and luxurious vacations are shoved into our faces daily by advertisers desperate for our money, money which could be better spent for the sake of mercy on the poor. And we take the bait! We buy into the system and throw away our money together with our souls for the sake of temporary pleasures, ignoring the billions of people who could never afford our 40-inch TVs or 6-inch iPhones in a hundred years.

Naturally, I’m not saying that we can never spend any money beyond what we absolutely have to have. Moderation is always allowed. But we don’t usually try or think about moderating our spending in order to give. In the US, concern for extreme poverty is extremely low1, and giving is pathetic2. That is what makes me angry. The lack of care, and the lack of action proving care, is what frustrates me.

So let’s fix it. Give. Go. Help. Pray. Send. And waste less money on the stupidities of American consumerism when you can be giving it to those who need it to survive.

If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need but closes his eyes to his need — how can God’s love reside in him?

1 John 3:17

One of the Few Things That Can Make Me Angry

Does Anyone Really Believe in the Church Family?

A few weeks ago, I ran across a question on Reddit about Christians giving preference to helping Christians. Someone, who if I recall consider herself a Christian, had heard Christians wishing to especially help Christian refugees moreso than others. She was horrified by this, and asked if anyone agreed and how they could.

Does that thought make you uncomfortable at all? Are you alright with giving special treatment to Christians, at least in your personal life? Some of you probably feel fine about that, while I’m sure at least some of you find this a bit disconcerting, at least in some corner of your mind or heart. 

I’ve thought about this lately, and realized that this must stem in part from one Biblical belief which has largely forgotten (at least at a practical level) in the modern American church. What is this basic belief? The family nature of the Church.

In most evangelical churches, there is a sentiment about the Church as a family, but that is usually all it is: a sentiment, a feeling. People in close churches “feel” like a family. That’s not the point of the Biblical teaching, though. Here’s what Jesus said about family:

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, and even his own life — he cannot be My disciple.

Luke 14:26

The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

Matthew 10:37

But He replied to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, that person is My brother and sister and mother.”

Matthew 12:48-50

The Old Testament also demonstrates the primacy of covenant and worship over natural family:

“If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods’—which neither you nor your fathers have known, any of the gods of the peoples around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other—you must not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity, and do not spare him or shield him. Instead, you must kill him. Your hand is to be the first against him to put him to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone him to death for trying to turn you away from the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.”

Deuteronomy 13:6-10

Romans 9 also makes a point about the primacy of grace over natural family relations, but it is somewhat tangential, so I will not look much at it for now. Feel free to peruse it later.

All of this in mind, the Biblical teaching should be clear. Natural family is superseded by the Church family. We are now not, firstly, sons of our fathers, daughters of our mothers, brothers of brothers or sisters of sisters. Rather, the first and most fundamental relationship we have is the new birth from one Father, which makes us children of God and siblings of Christ and each other1 This displaces all of our other relationships. When we become a Christian and enter the Church through baptism, we are re-related. All our previous relationships of family and friends become secondary to our new true family in Christ. We are to, in comparison to Christ and His family, hate them all.

These words, alas, make many people uncomfortable in this day and age, probably because of the liberal (in the classical sense) underpinnings of American society. Embedded in our Constitution and culture is the sense of the individual as the fundamental unit. Every person is his own person and thing, defined by himself apart from all other people. What matters is your own self-determination and preferences.

Most people think this way, even Christians, to some extent and on some level. It is reinforced by the wider culture and legal structures which surround us, embedding itself into our hearts and minds. This has particularly poisoned people’s view of religion. In most people’s minds, religion is a preference, a personal interest. It is no more or less substantial than your interests, careers, or passions. Those are important to you, but are freely chosen and no objective standard really matters. What is sacred is not the religion, but your choice of religion.

If this is the framework, then your religion can’t be a new and superseding family. Religion is a preference! It can’t create obligations to other people, or override any relationships you already had. More importantly, it can’t be used to treat some individuals any differently than others, because it’s all a matter of personal preference, and you can’t discriminate among people based on personal preferences.

We must drop this nonsense. God has recreated us, given us a new birth and identity in Christ. Our old persons and identities are passing away, and only those which join with us in the new life of Christ will last. All of our families and friends outside the Church are not family in the same way that even strangers in the Church are. Our foremost obligations are to the new family, not the old which exists by the flesh.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that we are to neglect or not love the others. Rather, if we love them, we must seek by all means to bring them into the Church, to make them a part of the new family. Our children, parents, cousins, friends, and acquaintances outside the faith need us to love them into it, that they might in fact receive the high place we wish them to have.

So basically, let us remember that the Church is our true family, over and (when necessary) against all other relationships. This isn’t just a negative fact against the rest of the world. It is a positive one, the beginning of the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that His followers would receive more than enough to replace all they gave us for Him. In fact, I had something else to say, but I think I’ll let Jesus finish for me:

“I assure you,” Jesus said, “there is no one who has left house, brothers or sisters, mother or father, children, or fields because of Me and the gospel,
who will not receive 100 times more, now at this time — houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions — and eternal life in the age to come.

Mark 10:29-30

Does Anyone Really Believe in the Church Family?

5 Myths about End Times

Recently I’ve seen more Christians than usual warning about the imminent end. Perhaps in light of recent political events, an expectation/desire for Jesus to return has increased beyond the everyday. This has reminded me of several misconceptions people have about that time, the eschaton, so I figured I’d throw together this list of 5 popular end times myths.

  1. Wars, earthquakes, famines, and other disasters are signs that Jesus is just about to return. This is a common misconception, based on Mark 13:7-8 and the parallel verses. But this is exactly the opposite of what Jesus says in those verse. He tells the disciples “don’t panic” when you hear of such things. These must come, but “the end won’t follow immediately” (literally “the end not yet”). Instead, they must endure for quite some time, for this is only “the first of the birth pangs” and in the mean time they will need to “watch out” for persecution.
  2. Babylon the Great is America/Islam/[insert modern power here]. In Revelation 17-18, John gives a dramatic description of a great city, called Babylon, which has fallen to ruin. Many popular prophecy teachers like to associate this with America, Islam, or some other modern power perceived as a threat or wicked group. Yet the original historical context clearly identifies this as Rome. Rome was known as the city on seven hills (Rev. 17:9), and had by John’s time seven notable kings (17:9-10). The empire relied heavily on puppet kings in the provinces (17:7,12). For John’s original audience, nothing would have sounded more like a “great city that rules over the kings of the world” than Rome (17:18). Like the Old Testament prophets, John prophesied God’s judgment on a wicked nation oppressing His people.
  3. The last days are just starting, about to start, or recently began. Biblically, the “last days” doesn’t just refer to the very end, the time of the Tribulation and return of Jesus. The last days began with Jesus, when He through His life, death, and resurrection inaugurated the kingdom of God. We have been living in the last days for 2000 years. (See Acts 2:14-21, Heb. 1:2, Jas. 5:3, 1 Pet. 1:20.)
  4. Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 are all or mostly about the end times. Despite the common opinion, Jesus’ speech to His disciples on the Mount of Olives after He cleansed the Temple wasn’t mainly (or some people would say at all, but I’m not 100% sure about that) about the Tribulation and His future return. Instead, the primary point was the judgment about to come on Jerusalem, which happened in AD 70. Mark 13:1-4 and Luke 21:20-24 make this point the most clear. Jesus treated the impending fall of Jerusalem as an event of major theological significance, the last of God’s repeated judgments on His wayward people. He constantly warned them to repent or they would be desolated by Rome, just as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and the other prophets of old warned about other kingdoms. When Jerusalem fell national Israel would fall apart, and only the new Israel of Jesus followers would continue in God’s purpose for election.
  5. Jesus’s return will mean the end of space, time, matter, and planet earth. As I have argued in previous posts, the universe is not to be permanently destroyed any more than our bodies are to die forever. Just as we will die, when Jesus returns the world will be burned up, but this is not a permanent end. God will redeem His creation through the Spirit (see Rom. 8:19-22), and it will become a new heavens and earth (Rev. 21:1), just as we have become a new man/new creation (cf. Eph. 4:24, 2 Cor. 5:17). There is no Biblical evidence that it will be timeless, or simply spiritual, or non-physical, or that the earth will be gone forever. We’re not simply going to heaven forever; heaven is coming to us and recreating our world.
5 Myths about End Times

Bible Time with Owl City: Bombshell Blonde

Another new post series I’ve had in mind has been this: Bible Time with Owl City. Because Owl City. Since Owl City (i.e. Adam Young, the sole songwriter and singer) is a Christian and has made that perfectly clear, and some of his songs are either explicitly or implicitly founded on his faith, his material seems perfect for mining.

That said, I was a bit dismayed when I heard one of his newer songs, “Bombshell Blonde.” If you want to listen to it, here’s the YouTube link. Or just the lyrics. At first I was a bit confused and disappointed at what appeared to be a song basically about clubbing and trying to pick up a girl. Here’s the chorus, for example:

She’s a bombshell blonde, wired up to detonate!
I’m James Bond, live to die another day!
Bombshell blonde, high explosive dynamite!
She’s all I want so I, I’m on a mission tonight!

This bugged me. Adam had always appeared to be a rather genuine Christian, and around the same time I heard this song, his new hit with Britt Nicole “You’re Not Alone” was all over Christian radio. So a song that basically seemed to be about him trying to, well, get lucky with some hot chick was unexpected and unsettling.

Yet, precisely because this looked so out of character for Adam Young (his faith aside, his personality doesn’t even seem to match my initial impression of this song), I listened more closely until I realized something. The language used reminded me of Proverbs. So then it hit me: This isn’t a song about pursuing an attractive woman. It’s about resisting one. Evidence? Here’s Proverbs about seductive women:

My child, pay attention and listen to my wisdom and insight. Then you will know how to behave properly, and your words will show that you have knowledge. The lips of another man’s wife may be as sweet as honey and her kisses as smooth as olive oil, but when it is all over, she leaves you nothing but bitterness and pain. She will take you down to the world of the dead; the road she walks is the road to death. She does not stay on the road to life; but wanders off, and does not realize what is happening.

Now listen to me, sons, and never forget what I am saying. Keep away from such a woman! Don’t even go near her door! If you do, others will gain the respect that you once had, and you will die young at the hands of merciless people. Yes, strangers will take all your wealth, and what you have worked for will belong to someone else. You will lie groaning on your deathbed, your flesh and muscles being eaten away, and you will say, “Why would I never learn? Why would I never let anyone correct me? I wouldn’t listen to my teachers. I paid no attention to them. And suddenly I found myself publicly disgraced.”

Proverbs 5:1-14

So she tempted him with her charms, and he gave in to her smooth talk. Suddenly he was going with her like an ox on the way to be slaughtered, like a deer prancing into a trap where an arrow would pierce its heart. He was like a bird going into a net—he did not know that his life was in danger.

Now then, sons, listen to me. Pay attention to what I say. Do not let such a woman win your heart; don’t go wandering after her. She has been the ruin of many men and caused the death of too many to count. If you go to her house, you are on the way to the world of the dead. It is a shortcut to death.

Proverbs 7:21-27

There is actually even more material like this in Proverbs, but you should get the gist. Solomon speaks of these women in very attractive but deadly terms. Granted, so do many guys out looking for them anyway, but in this case the severity of the warning comes through loud and clear. Upon reexamining “Bombshell Blonde,” I think the exact same theme is present. Again, with this in mind, try reading some more:

That blonde, she’s a bomb, she’s an atom bomb.
Rigged up, and ready to drop!
Bad news, I’m a fuse, and I’ve met my match.
So stand back, it’s about to go off!

That vixen, she’s a master of disguise!
I see danger, when I look in her eyes.
She’s so foxy, she could lead to my demise.
So I’m running, ’cause I’ve run out of time.

All through the song, the same theme comes through that Adam is not going after this woman, but fleeing for his life. He’s running away and trying to save himself from the ticking time bomb. He is indeed on a mission tonight, not a mission to get something but to escape and “live to die another day.”

With that in mind, my confidence in Adam Young was restored, and indeed he seemed more clever than ever. I go on to present this as advice to all the guys out there: take Owl City’s advice. Don’t play around with desire or put yourself in the way of girls you know have a certain reputation. “It is a shortcut to death,” as the wisest king who ever failed to take his own advice said.

Not to be sexist, I should remind girls that it goes the other way ’round, too. Just because he’s sexy, or mysterious, or perhaps misunderstood, that doesn’t mean you should get involved. Be wary, especially when there are any signs of danger (even when that danger is simply your own desires). Flee youthful lusts.

Now, everyone, thank Owl City for being awesome. Until next time, listen to more of his music.

Bible Time with Owl City: Bombshell Blonde

An Obligatory Post in Response to the Legalization of Gay Marriage

I spent quite some time this morning working on my last blog post, and the moment I shared it on Facebook I noticed something else in my newsfeed. There was #MarriageEquality, and within moments the message was clear: after all this time and to absolutely no one’s surprise, the United States Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage is a Constitutional right and is therefore legal in all 50 states. My immediate response: “Darn, I just finished a big blog post and now I have to write another today!”

On a more serious note, this is a pretty big event. June 26, 2015 will definitely be in the history books. Already there have been tons of extreme reactions on both sides of the main aisles. And of course this issue has occupied my thoughts for most of the day, even though I’m not worked up over it. I don’t have a major theme for my response. So here are my miscellaneous thoughts on the national legalization of gay marriage.

First, this battle was lost years ago. Nothing that new is happening. Public opinion has been moving steadily for decades towards acceptance of homosexual relationships as equal to heterosexual ones. More than that, the idea of gay marriage works perfectly as part of the conception of marriage in the modern world. The West started a very long time ago moving marriage from the sphere of commitment, responsibility, reproduction, social stabilization, etc. to the sphere of “twue wuv” and personal fulfillment. Once that became the dominant paradigm, which happened well before I was even born, gay marriage was a natural and reasonable outcome. To undo the damage, we would have to completely reformulate society’s understanding of what marriage is all about and for. Maybe that will happen, but politics won’t be enough and such a worldview change will take generations.

Next, real marriage is still untouched by legal fictions. If marriage is, as I believe, something with a distinct nature and a specific ontological shape, then it exists before and apart from any legal recognitions. This means that the government may be redefining “marriage” for legal purposes and as an example to society, but it still can’t change the leopard’s spots. The new legal unions between gay couples may be called “marriage” by our society, but that doesn’t make them in any way a real marriage. This means God, too, is unhurt. He will only recognize the marriage covenant as He pleases, whatever government may say.

As well, nothing has changed in our nation to invite God’s judgment. This legal decree is just the latest symptom of existing moral faults in society and government. Those are what fall under God’s “No,” not the enactment of a policy most of the nation was already in agreement with. If God at all intends to bring America down, it will be on the basis of many preexisting faults which led to this act. There is nothing new happening in the Supreme Court decision to affect God’s response to us for better or for worse.

For these reasons and more, Christians don’t need to panic or decry the end of the world. The truth is that, as I mentioned, America has been on this path for some time, so panic now isn’t necessary. Moreover, God’s purposes and the Church have survived far worse. The Church in Germany made it through Nazism. When the first Christians burst onto the scene of the Roman world, their society was even worse than ours was. Yet just in that place God turned the world upside down and Jesus was proclaimed everywhere with great results. Even the atrocious conflicts between Catholics and the Reformers, an evil which grew up within the Church, did not spell the end for God’s people. For God is faithful, and the gates of Hell will not prevail over those who share the Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead.

What Christians must do is prepare to address the new challenges for the Church. First and simply, we must prepare for churches and any Christian organizations to lose their tax-exempt status. That’s very likely at this point. Moreover, it’s not inconceivable that Christian colleges could lose accreditation from federally recognized agencies. Christians in many occupations, if they have any voice, may find themselves fired, suspended, or penalized in pay for opposing gay marriage. But most of that isn’t what I want to focus on. After all, if Jesus is Lord and the government is not we should expect such things. What concerns me far more is the challenge coming to the Church from within. For years there have been people within Christianity arguing that homosexuality isn’t actually condemned in Scripture. Some of them have decent arguments and are serious scholars. Voices for this belief will only grow louder now that gay marriage is a fact of American existence. This means that Christians will have to deal with people within the Church disagreeing on this issue moreso than ever before. Many of these people even have a genuine belief in the authority of Scripture and are convinced that this position is Biblically faithful. How should we handle that? Will we excommunicate them? Will we ordain them or not? Can they serve as deacons? Must we treat them all as unbelievers? To what extent should we feel the need to respond to their arguments, and how do we decide if they are “too wrong” on this matter of Biblical interpretation? We will find this issue confronting most congregations, even the more conservative ones. We need to be preparing answers now.

It is more important than ever for believers holding to the traditional view to live quiet and respectable lives full of grace. We are now, more than we even were before, on the “wrong side of history” in the eyes of most of society. As we go on, it’s probably time to focus on living peaceable and upright lives. If we are modest, reserved, and blameless, we cannot be faulted on character charges. If we are quiet (not silent!) respectful, we will earn a better hearing. But more than anything, if we show radical, unconditional love to all people as we try to live these unassuming lives, our actions will speak the loudest. We must in every way defy the stereotypes of people who believe in traditional Scriptural marriage by being too approachable and easy to get along with for anyone to get away with calling us “bigots” or accusing us of hate.

There’s probably other stuff I might say, but I can’t remember anything else right now. Nonetheless, I think these points are enough for today. We’re dealing with a major change, and who knows what all will happen but God? So these are my 2 cents. Feel free to spend them as you wish.

An Obligatory Post in Response to the Legalization of Gay Marriage

Reflections on Cinderella

Last Saturday night was date night for my lovely wife and me. Since our baby Nathan is old enough to stay with his grandmother for a few hours these days, we could go out for dinner and a movie for the first time in forever. What movie did we see? Cinderella. And I will admit to the face-palming of my masculinity that I was the probably the one most interested in seeing it.

As expected, the movie was lovely. Disney pulled off its Disney magic yet again, to the surprise of few, and created a fresh take on a classic which will certainly become the new canonical Cinderella story in the next generation’s consciousness. All this is quite fitting.

But Disney movies, fairy tales in particular, seem to always leave me with many thoughts which I simply must express. So as I did with Frozen before, I want to simply highlight a few themes and moments from Cinderella which I especially enjoyed or noticed. Hopefully you’ll all agree and enjoy.

“Have Courage and Be Kind”

I might as well start with the movie’s most explicit theme, namely the advice given to young Ella by her mother on her deathbed. She told her to promise to have courage and be kind. Ella takes this as her life motto and seems to truly stick to it. As to courage, she remains brave as her father continues his travels even after her mother’s passing. She hesitates not a moment to bless his wishes to find happiness with a new wife. And even when he finally passes away, she tries her best to keep living well among her stepfamily. As to kindness, she never stops for a moment. To her father, to her evil stepmother, to her obnoxious stepsisters, to the prince, and to her fairy godmother in beggar form she continues to show kindness even when in great personal despair.

Naturally, we have a lot to learn from this. For to have courage and be kind easily sums up Christian virtue. We are to endure all things, proclaim the name of Jesus, and even be willing to risk our lives for the Gospel of the Kingdom, so we must have courage. We are to love our neighbors and our enemies, bless those who curse us, give our worldly goods to those who have none, and by sharing the truth save others from eternal danger, so we must be kind. If we live by this advice given by Ella’s mother, what will we lack in doing good? Indeed, if most of us were even half as kind as Ella herself, we would be very different people and give our testimony of Christ much more credibility.

Who Am I?

There was also a quote that caught my ear near the end of the movie. As Ella descends from her attic to meet her prince, the narrator makes this point about her nerves: “This is perhaps the greatest risk any of us will ever take—to be seen as we truly are. Will we be enough as we really are?” And of course this is a real risk which we must reckon with in all our relationships. Will we abandon pretense, vanity, self-consciousness, and all other pride or fear so that we may truly love and be loved? Will we be actors or involve our real selves with others?

After this comment was made, Ella went down to see her prince, who was glad to have found her but wondered greatly who see was who appeared to him before dressed like a princess, vanished, and now stood before him a servant maid. What was her response to him? She says, “I have nothing. I am nothing, but who I am.” Finally she adds, “Will you take me as I am?” Naturally he agrees. What strikes me about this is how, for us who affirm the Gospel, it is radically our reality. We’ve come to Jesus having nothing and claiming nothing of ourselves. We must drop our disguises of self-righteousness and self-sufficiency and ask Him the all-important prayer, “Will you take me as I am?” And praise be to God that He promises to never turn away or cast out those who come to the Son! He will take us as we are.

Falling Headfirst into Love

An obvious major point of Cinderella is the romance of Ella and the prince. It was a pretty enjoyable development, in my opinion. The magic of their meetings in the forest and at the ball struck me as identifiable having myself only just left my teens. The movie called to memory the feeling before of meeting someone new, a hint of attraction involved, and getting to know a lovely stranger. It can feel like real magic, and seeing this onscreen is just altogether pleasant.

Of course, in the real world such experiences rarely lead to permanent, meaningful relationships. They tend to last briefly, and only a few grow into a lifetime of love. But they are not to be entirely spurned or written off for that reason. The very idea of these times is what makes them possible, regardless of where they end up, and when they happen the memories are worth it. And in some rare cases, such as I suggest the case of Ella and the prince, these events are enough to warrant further relationship and even marriage simply because they reveal quickly how worthy and good the people are.

As a final note on falling in love, when memories like this are looked at in retrospect, nostalgia is almost inevitable, and a pang of sadness that those days have ended. I’m a married man with a 9 month old baby now; I’ve already met my wife, gotten to know her, and fallen in love. Seems like a shame it will never happen again, right? But the truth is, as watching Cinderella reminded me, that these days do not have to be over, nor should they. The difference is the challenge and effort. Falling in love to begin with isn’t hard if you are willing, but to continue to learn about your beloved, to know them more, and to find every day more delight and reasons to love—that is hard and takes conscious effort. This is what the ideal of fairy tale love compels us to seek by confronting us with magic. As long as we long for that magic which Ella and her prince so embody, we have inspiration to keep working on knowing and loving our spouses every day.

Why Get Married?

As the prince spoke to his dying father, the issue of the reason for marriage came to my mind. The king gave in; he told his son to marry for love and not advantage. This was good, because it made for the happy ending. But was he right? Is this fairy tale teaching of marriage for love the right reason to get married? After all, that’s not what most people have historically believed and done. And while Ella is right when she says, “Just because it’s what’s done, doesn’t mean it’s what should be done,” were our ancestors actually wrong? They often married for many reasons besides love.

I do not believe it is wise to marry if because of love alone, at least in the sense of being in love. Contrary to popular belief, just because you love someone doesn’t actually mean you should marry them. Other things matter as well. Can you reasonably unite your two existing lives? Will you hurt other people in the process? Do you have goals and beliefs about your life and future which work together or which will conflict? And what about children? Surely reproduction is one of the most important reasons—though certainly not the only or necessarily the controlling reason—for marriage and sexuality. In all honesty, as well, when we hold to the traditional and Biblical teaching of sex as reserved for marriage, is there anything to gain from marriage besides sex and children which cannot be gained without marriage? All of these questions and considerations matter in the real world.

But I do not in saying all this dismiss love as a motivator. Instead of saying people should marry for love, with “for” meaning “because of,” I might suggest people should marry—at least in part—for love, with “for” meaning “in order to.” After all, when we are following the right path of waiting until marriage to become one in life, body, and habitation, how much can we really already love? Surely we do love, but not to perfection. There is much growth to remain, and is it not for the full potential of matured love and not the usually temporary and passionately-determined seeds of love that we should actually marry? This sounds correct to me.

The Cinderella Story

Finally, I want to address the actual plot of the movie. We all know the story. It is timelessly classic, and beloved.  Countless versions, spin-offs, and retellings have been made. So why is this story so enjoyable? Why does it receive so much attention? While I’m sure there are many reasons, I do offer one possible part. In the story of Cinderella we see redemption in Christ.

Trace out the plot and think of it. Though we were made by a good Father, before long we found ourselves the wretched servants of an unnatural parent, Satan. Even though as children of the Father we ought to have abundant life, we were miserable in dust and isolation. In one point very different from Ella, we ourselves were no less wicked than our stepfamily of evil. But all that changed. For the Son of the King found us, and in love He made us His bride, raising us from our pathetic existence in slavery to exalt us as royalty through Him. We are both Ella, the wronged servant, and her stepsisters, the ones wronging others, yet we were rescued by a worthy Prince, Jesus Himself, with a little supernatural help in the form of a fairy godmother the Holy Spirit. With this allegory so clear, it is no wonder that the story of Cinderella captures the hearts and minds of so many people. For all souls long for rescue by the Prince of Peace.

Blessed be the God who has done all this! Amen.

Reflections on Cinderella

The Hunger Games, Amos, and American Christianity

If you have any idea what this post is about by the title, you deserve a prize. I doubt the connection between the items is at all obvious, unless maybe you’ve recently given them each good thought. But there is a connection, and one that concerns me. To put it as concisely as possible, the connection is “luxury and poverty.”

The Hunger Games presents this theme quite prominently, and even a bit humorously. While most of the people in Panem live difficult, impoverished lives, working hard to just provide the basics for their families and avoid the government’s wrath, one small part of the population does none of this. The residents of the Capitol live pampered lives in comparison. They feast while those in most Districts starve. With plenty of leisure time, they keep busy with absurd fashions, graphic television, and celebrity gossip. All of this comes, of course, from the slavish toil of the inhabitants of the Districts who struggle to get by.

Our reactions to the citizens of the Capitol seem to range from condescending amusement to unadulterated loathing. We tend to look down on them and think they should realize the tragedies outside of their walls. We may find ourselves indignant: “How dare they party so hard with so much food while poor children like Primrose never know if they’ll have enough to eat!” And that reaction would hardly be unwarranted.

The people of Israel in the prophet Amos’ day were in a similar place. There were poor and needy people throughout the land, but the rest did not care. They made their poverty worse with high taxes, lots of fines, slavish work, and apathetic attitudes. All the rich offered lavish sacrifices with extravagant celebrations which did not include the beggars they pushed their way through on the way to the temple. Women exploited those in need for clothes, then called to their husbands for more wine bought with fines and tax revenue.

Again, it is clear to see where the Israelites were wrong, especially when you see the strong language of the actual Bible. The natural response is horror and disbelief that people could live such luxurious lives at the expense of others who must live pathetic ones. The exploitation going on in Amos’ day seems to clearly justify the violent and terrible judgment which he prophesied against Israel.

I now reach us, the American Christians, and find disturbing parallels. Like the citizens of the Capitol and the rich Israelites, we never lack in food or clothes, and instead have our own problem of too little space in our closets and fridges. We act and speak as though we think of ourselves as the only people in the world, much like Cinna’s oblivious assistants. Many of us do not know or care anything about the state of peoples and nations that are aren’t in the news, like the Israelites who grew so proud in their national election that they thought nothing of the people near them. Republican Christians are likely to despise legislation which could actually help those in need if the government plays any part, while Democrat Christians are likely to support high taxes and strict regulations that no matter who they target, are likely to do damage all the way down to the poorest. In our individual lives, we applaud God’s condensation of the women who enslaved the poor for sandals, but I wonder how different that is from our imported clothes made in sweatshops. We stuff ourselves after church at Golden Corral without a thought to the millions of people whose budget to feed their children for a month is less than the price of our meal.

The truth is that we American Christians, even those of us who make below the official poverty line, live a life of luxury compared to most of the human race, both historically and geographically. This isn’t to say we’ve got no problems or lack. The rich life brings its own troubles. But we do sit obliviously atop the world’s economy. Ninety nine percent of Americans are really the top 1% of the world at large. This itself isn’t a bad or wrong thing. What justifies or condemns us is how we respond to that fact.

So what should we do if we don’t want to fall like Israel or Panem? I doubt God will be pleased if all we do is tag Jesus in the album of our otherwise normal, oblivious, pampered lives. In fact, I know He won’t be, since He tells us Himself in the parable of the sheep and the goats that He identifies deeply with the poor, oppressed, and needy. So to go most days ignoring them is all too close to ignoring the Father, even when we do personal devotions and church. Jesus tells us that He is hungry, He is sick, He is imprisoned, His children have been sold into sex slavery, He works hours and hours for a couple bucks, and can’t afford a place to live. So what will we do for our God?

To be honest, I’m not sure what all to do. Since I don’t see much of the suffering out there, it’s hard to get most of the needs. Moreover, I don’t like boycotts or such things because they are rarely effective or consistent. I’m also not convinced that the best route is a radical abandonment of normal life. Normal isn’t bad, after all. It’s a gift to be received with thanksgiving. But it is simply not enough on its own. So what do I propose? I don’t have much of anything concrete, but here are a couple ideas bouncing around in my head.

  • During a month or longer, or even indefinitely, match all the money you spend going out to eat with a donation that puts food in the mouths of the hungry.
  • Get out and see needs up close. Find the bad part of town and explore. Imagine how you would feel if you and your children had to live in that ratty house in that dangerous neighborhood. Make it hard to forget or ignore.
  • Start keeping up with the politics, news, and general welfare of another, less prosperous country, and consider what it would be like if you lived there. Start praying for them and getting involved in projects that can benefit them. Maybe even take a trip.
  • Try getting involved in something obvious and stereotypical that you never thought to do, like helping at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Avoid excuses, e.g. You are not truly too busy, and if you are, then get less busy. Take real time and real effort to meet needs and involve yourself with people who don’t have so much luxury.
  • Fast, but not for your personal growth in particular. Instead, give up something you have that much of the world doesn’t, and spend the time in prayer, service, and giving for their provision.

All of this is pretty experimental in my head, and I still need to try to implement stuff like this in my own life. I haven’t so far, at least not much, but reading Amos has convicted me again. So also remember not to be offended, because most of this criticism is really about me.

The Hunger Games, Amos, and American Christianity