Is Self-Love Biblical? A Response to Allie on CRTV

Recently a video came across my Facebook feed of a conservative commentator named Allie talking about the dangers of placing self-love too high up on the hierarchy of Christian values. The response has been mixed to say the least.

The video raises important questions, and though I disagree with Allie on her ultimate conclusion, there is actually more common ground that we share than we probably realize, though where we differ needs to be laid out so we can better understand each other.

The core difference between myself and Allie (other than her having a large platform and audience) is in our definitions of the term “self-love.” She sums up self love as being “Just pursue what makes you happy” and other hedonistic expressions of happiness and fulfillment. Her idea of self love is probably better expressed in the phrase “radical self acceptance,” that idea of “I am what I am and no one can say anything’s wrong with me.” This sort of self love is a dangerous idea because it shuts the adherer off from potential interventions from others concerning possible dangers in their own lives, be it physical, mental, or spiritual. This sort of self love is diametrically opposed to Scripture, which teaches that in and of ourselves, we are nothing, sinners separated from and in rebellion towards God. Yet in the eyes of God, we are creatures worth redeeming and once redeemed bear His mark which gives us ultimate value and purpose as we are ever conformed to the image of His Son. On this, Allie and I agree 100%.

Where Allie goes wrong is saying that self-love is never mentioned in Scripture. This is completely wrong-headed and based on a different definition of self love and love in general.

Back in early February of 2014, I had the privilege of being present for a sermon from Christian apologist Josh McDowell on the definition of love. You can watch the entire sermon here. What McDowell preached has radically altered my view of love, as it rightly should have, as well as my understanding of self love and how it is, properly understood, a Scriptural concept.

Basically, this is the summary of the main points of the sermon. The second greatest commandment is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s Christianity 101. McDowell points out that this principle is predicated upon our knowledge of loving ourself and the ability to do so. So here we see healthy self love appears to be an integral part of how live our day to day lives as Christians. So how should we then be loving ourselves? More importantly, how to we even define love? This is a question that trips people up nowadays, mostly due to the misconceptions I spoke about earlier.

McDowell points out that Paul mentioned this concept in his instruction concerning the relationship between a husband and a wife in Ephesians 5:28. He says, “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” So here we see that rightly loving others is itself evidence of us being able to love ourselves. Does that not mean then that we should know how to love ourselves? How does that work? Paul tells us in the very next verse, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.” So love then boils down to two words: nourish and cherish. McDowell then shows how this is essentially equivalent to the phrase “protect and provide.”

So there we have it, the definition of loving both ourselves and others is protection and provision. Ok, but how do those work specifically? Let’s start with provide. Here McDowell makes a very insightful connection to the only Gospel account we have of Jesus’ formative years. If we’re looking for answers on how to live our lives  we should look then to the model of whose life we seek to follow. How did Jesus provide for Himself? Or better yet, what was this provision for (as the “how” question could be limited to Jesus’ specific cultural context)? Luke 2:52 provides a surprising insight. Here Luke records that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” Within this verse, we can extract four principles for provision: intellectually (wisdom), physically (stature), spiritually (in favor with God), and relationally (in favor with men). These were all areas in which Jesus matured and had provision for. Some are obvious, like physically, and others less obvious, like relationally. If McDowell is right, and I see no reason to think he isn’t, how we love ourselves is providing for our maturation in these four areas of life. 

But what of protection? The obvious implication is that if we are to provide for ourselves intellectually, physically, spiritually, and relationally, then we should protect ourselves from the things that would hinder our growth in these areas. This is plainly a far cry from the modern definition of self love, of which Allie is right when she says the Bible doesn’t mention it. However there is a differing definition that Scripture does present, and I believe it would be dangerous to leave it behind.

As a side note, a friend of mine pointed me to a podcast transcript from John Piper that talks about this very issue. It’s very insightful, and I would encourage anyone to check it out. However, Piper makes the assumption that we already do love ourselves, we just have our notions of what makes us happy distorted. After all, Paul did say “no one ever hated his own flesh.” So then we shouldn’t teach this idea of self love as some kind of priority. I agree to an extent, however if Piper is right in saying that the notion behind this commandment is to be “as concerned about the happiness and the well being of others as you are about your own” rather than building up your own self esteem so as to rightly love others (and I believe he’s right), this still assumes we have a working knowledge of how to be concerned with our happiness and well being, specifically in the Christian context. Obviously, there are those who take better care of their bodies than others. I myself know there are plenty of things I should be doing to better care for my body. But just because I know I should doesn’t mean I’m doing everything I can, much less that I’m doing everything right. I believe proper self love does need to be emphasized in this day and age due to the misconceptions surrounding it.

Piper does provide a safeguard though. We need to be careful that in reminding ourselves of what self love looks like in our day to day lives that it doesn’t become the highest priority. We don’t need to perfect this idea before we start loving others, otherwise we would never do it. We need to already be loving others, but in conjunction with not coming at the neglect of loving ourselves (again, biblically). Self-love, even the biblical sense, is by no means the highest priority, however it is a tool needed to help rightly love others. To help others grow in wisdom, we must be growing our own minds; to help others grow physically, we must be maintaining our health; to help others grow spiritually, we must be maturing ourselves; to help others grow relationally, we must have good relationships around us. For if our cup is empty, how then can we pour into others?

 

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The Cross Most Definitely Does NOT Have the Final Word: Cody Carnes and Resurrection Theology

 

One of my biggest beefs is with the modern worship music industry. That’s not really controversial to say in today’s world, and far better commentators than I have written extensively about the different problems that modern corporate worship is facing. Having spent four years at one of the largest Christian music schools in the nation, I know a thing or two about the different conflicts and debates that spring up around Christian worship music.

If you know me at all, you know I don’t take issue with the idea of contemporary worship. Every church I have ever consistently attended has been infused with a contemporary style of worship. Some of my best friends are contemporary worship leaders. I do it myself on occasion. For me, that’s not where the conflict lies. The conflict lies in the dangers that have slipped into the otherwise good thing that is contemporary worship music. There are many, but I want to focus on just one.

One of the most contentious points among those truly passionate about worship music with a heart for the things of God is the issue of the particular words that we use in whatever songs we’re singing. See, here’s the danger. As Christian music started to gain a more and more popular market throughout the 1970s and into the present day, the focus apparently shifted to writing things that would sell rather things that were true. Now, that doesn’t mean everything automatically went off the rails. In fact, I would say the majority of songs sung in worship nowadays could still be considered “in line” with biblical teaching. But most people can almost immediately point out the difference between past hymns and present songs. It’s not that one is heresy while the other is Sacred Tradition. It’s more like the past focuses on the words while the present focuses on the music. The result of this is songs that, while technically correct, are lacking in any sort of substantial theology. And eventually, without solid theology, songs begin to unknowingly incorporate sloppy theology into their lyrics, with the mindset that so long as the sentiment is good, then that’s all that matters.

The most recent example of this paradoxical trend (the better the music, the worse the theology) is Cody Carnes’s latest single “The Cross Has The Final Word.” (If you don’t know Cody Carnes, you probably know his wife, Kari Jobe.) I first encountered this particular song on a friend’s Facebook profile asking people’s opinions of the lyrics. This friend has a healthy criticism of worship songs and only uses them if they meet a certain content standard. One element of that standard is correct theology, and he was unsettled about that song, so he made the rest of us aware of it and his concerns to gauge whether or not he was correct in his initial apprehension. All of this, of course, being seen against the backdrop of Scripture.

It got my gears turning, and I found myself agreeing with his general suspicion, which I will elaborate on in a moment. Then just recently (within the last few days of my writing this), I saw the song come up as a sponsored ad from Carnes’s official FB page. The post is still public if you wish to see/evaluate my response and exchanges.

Here’s my opinion:

In reviewing the song again, I came to the conclusion that the actual line “The cross has the final word” is not only errant theology, but is actually contrary (read: opposite) to the Gospel message. This is not to say that Carnes is out there intentionally preaching a false gospel, but the words he is using to present it are not accurate.

Allow me to elaborate. Perhaps you aren’t familiar with him (he wasn’t very popular in his time), but there was this writer in the first century AD who went by the name Paul of Tarsus. Maybe you know him better as the writer of half the New Testament and essentially the first writer of Christian theology. Ring a bell? Good, we’re on the same page then.

One of those writings that he churned out back in the day was a letter to the church at Corinth concerning different theological disputes and practices that this church was struggling with, a letter now known as 1 Corinthians. (Struggling is an understatement. I had a theology professor describe them as so messed up that even on the off occasion when they actually tried to do something right, they still got it wrong.) One of the issues that the Corinthian church struggled with was the fate of believers who had died before the return of Christ. This church believed that those who had died before the Second Coming had missed out on the establishment of the physical redemption of the world and were thus gone forever. Paul’s passionate response is basically to say that the Corinthians really don’t have any idea what is actually entailed in what they believe (which is sad, because they should have known, since Paul had already told them).

In the penultimate chapter of this letter (ch.15), Paul presents the case for the resurrection of Christ and what it means for the life of believers. In essence, Paul says that if Christ had not been raised, then the dead are without hope, as are the living. But since Christ has been raised (evidenced because Paul, the Apostles, and 500+ other brothers saw Him), then the dead are not without hope, and neither are we. Christ’s resurrection is the nail in death’s coffin. We have nothing to fear for ourselves, nor for those who have gone before us. In fact, in his first letter to the church at Thessalonica, Paul says that not only do the dead have security in their inclusion in the return of Christ, but they will actually have priority over those of us who are still alive when Christ returns. They will be raised and joined with Christ before living believers are taken away to the same gathering.

NT Wright, a brilliant (somewhat controversial) New Testament historian and Anglican bishop, has a short video describing Paul’s intentions with his first letter to the Corinthians. He says it’s very easy to read 1 Corinthians as sort of a laundry list of different theological topics. How to do proper worship, thoughts on head coverings, proper taking of the Lord’s Supper, sexual behavior in the church body, etc. And all of that is covered to an extent. However, underneath it all there is a current in which Paul is encouraging his readers to think in a new way. It’s this new way of thinking that is informing his teachings on all of these different topics. He’s teaching them to think “resurrectionally,” that is, in light of the resurrection of Jesus. To Paul (and every other New Testament writer), the resurrection was the event that changed everything, the lens through which all of the past and the future now had to be re-viewed. This was now the crux of all of human history.

Why do I go into detail about this? What does this have to do with Carnes’s song? Because of how the resurrection is contrasted with the cross.

So much of 1 Corinthians 15 is showing the consequences of the fact that Christ has been raised and is not a victim of the cross. Yes, the cross was the means by which Christ atoned for the sins of the world, but without the resurrection, it is pointless. It was necessary that Christ should be raised from the dead in order that the fullness of redemption might be complete. For it is only by His physical resurrection that we will be physically resurrected. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (15:26) This enemy is destroyed by the Second Coming of Christ in the power of the resurrection which He will give to those who have died in Christ. And Christ can defeat this enemy in all of creation because He has already taken it upon Himself on the cross and annihilated it. The cross did not have the final word.

How was the cross viewed to those who first heard this message? It was a stumbling block due to the abject humiliation and shame that was inherent in its very nature. Philippians 2 follows the path of descent Christ took from the throne of glory to the lowest point imaginable. First “he was in the form of God” (2:6). Then He “emptied himself,” He took on “the form of a servant,” and was “born in the likeness of men.” (2:7). Continually, He makes Himself lower and lower. But it doesn’t stop there. After “being found in human form, he humbled himself [even further!] by becoming obedient to the point of death”. But not just any death, for there are noble deaths, but the lowest forms of death any human could endure, “even death on a cross.” (2:8). But from this point, “God has highly exalted him” in the power of the resurrection (2:9). The cross did not have the final word.

The writer of Hebrews demonstrates that the cross couldn’t have held final power because that’s not why Christ went to it. Why did He endure the cross? “[F]or the joy that was set before him” (12:2). What is that joy? The redemption of humanity and the further glory of God in the restoration of the fallen creation. The cross did not have the final word.

When Christ Himself spoke of carrying our cross in Matthew 10:38 and Luke 14:27, what did He mean? The New English Translation gives the following note:

“It was customary practice in a Roman crucifixion for the prisoner to be made to carry his own cross. Jesus [spoke] figuratively here in the context of rejection. If the priority is not one’s allegiance to Jesus, then one will not follow him in the face of possible rejection.”

And yes, for most of us it is figurative language. The threat of crucifixion is mostly far removed from our context. Yet, I believe Jesus’ followers remembered these words as they saw Him literally carrying His cross to Golgotha. And perhaps they asked themselves, “Are we willing to be rejected even so much as to literally carry our cross to follow this man?” What makes such a thing bearable and worth the price? The cause of Christ does, which is the redemption of the world through the power of the resurrection. The cross did not have the final word.

I know Cody Carnes understands the importance of the resurrection. I know that he is not trying to demonstrate the supremacy of the cross to the resurrection. But in understanding the mindset of the biblical writers in their passionate treatises describing just how horrid the cross was for Christ (and how it is our deserved penalty) and just how revolutionary and overwhelming the power of the resurrection is, I can’t imagine even considering using the phrase “the cross has the final word.” Because even if what is meant is that the action of Christ on the cross had the final word over sin and death, that action and victory is represented far more in the resurrection of the Savior, not in His death. We look back at the crucifixion as a paradoxically glorious thing (and the cross itself as a symbol of that) in light of the resurrection. And even then, when we see the glory of God on the cross, we are seeing it because of Who is on it, not because of the thing itself. God’s glory is His alone, and the means with which He displays it cannot be conflated with the glory itself. God’s glory is fully revealed on the cross, yes. But I would think twice before saying His glory is in the cross. His glory is in Himself and in the redemption of His people through Himself, which was accomplished on the cross and demonstrated in the resurrection.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is a glorious thing, but it means nothing without the resurrection. The glory of God on the cross should not be diminished for the overwhelmingly terrifying, beautiful, and powerful thing that it is, but we cannot make the leap to saying the cross has the final word, because it didn’t, and Christ’s victory over the cross and all it represented proves that. It has been transformed into a symbol of power because of Christ’s victory over it, what happened in spite of all it stood for.

Even when Paul speaks of the power of the cross of Christ in 1 Cor. 1:17, he speaks of the simple message of a crucified Savior as opposed to eloquent presentations. Just in the next verse, he shows that what happened on the cross is the representation of the power of God. Why? Because we know the whole story. The power of the cross here is the power of the truth of its message, that is, the whole message. Truly, without the sacrifice of the cross, there would be no possibility of redemption, but again the complete picture requires the resurrection, which Paul places at the heart of Christianity in chapter 15, for without it having the final word over the death so clearly seen on the cross of Christ, the cross becomes nothing. The cross is necessary, central, and powerful. All was accomplished there. But it is not the final word because it’s only the first half of the picture. Just saying “the cross has the final word,” at it’s heart, just isn’t enough. 

And this isn’t a matter of semantics either. The words we use to reflect the truth are crucial to the preservation of that truth.

One of my favorite examples of this was in the heat of the Arian controversy in the 4th century AD. Arianism basically taught that Jesus, God the Son, was not an eternal being on equal grounds and substance with the Father, as the church had taught from the beginning, but was instead a created being similar to the Father. Divine, but not always divine. One of the ways this was expressed was by Eusebius with the word “homoiousios” which means “of a similar substance.” The competing term, and the orthodox Christian understanding as affirmed by the Council of Nicaea, was “homoousios” which means “of the same substance.” The difference between heresy and orthodoxy here is literally one letter, in this case the Greek letter iota (which is where the expression “not one iota” comes from). So why the big fuss? It’s one little letter. Yes, but that one little letter, if added, denied the traditional understanding of the Trinity and undercut the efficacy and purpose of Christ’s sacrifice and ultimately the Gospel itself and the salvation it carries.

Correct phrasing is key to the preservation of correct teaching. Christ Himself demonstrated this when He proved the reality of the resurrection to the Sadducees (who didn’t believe in it) by using their own Scriptures in Matthew 22. He referenced Exodus when God spoke to Moses and said “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (paraphrased). Why, Jesus asked, would God say that He is the God of people who aren’t around anymore because they’re dead? No, in fact, God said He is the God of those men because He still is, meaning Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob aren’t gone forever. They still exist and will be raised at the last day. One little word undercut an entire false theology. The fact that God foresaw this event and saw fit to include that particular phrasing is (1) testament to His sovereignty and (2) an example to us that we should actively secure correct teaching in correct wording before it gets out of hand.

The real difficulty with Carnes’s song, as an anonymous professional pointed out to me, is that you can spin the lyric to represent whatever element you want. If “the cross” can mean “the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus” then it’s alright. But as I’ve hopefully shown above, that’s not all that is garnered from this phrase, and it devolves into sloppy theology bordering on heresy.

Cody Carnes’s wording of “the cross has the final word” is incorrect, if only unintentionally so. It undercuts the message of the rest of the song and the rest of Christian theology as a whole. I understand that Cody does not intend for this to be the case. The other lines of this song stand in stark contradiction to this phrase, which evinces to me that he either did not fully understand what this phrase entailed, or didn’t think through its implications. He sees it as meaning that the finality of Christ’s work is the end of our guilt and shame, which is a comforting follow up to lines like “evil may put up its strongest fight” or “sorrow may come in the darkest night”. But the fact of the matter is “the cross has the final word” doesn’t convey that message, whatever meaning you may intend to infuse it with. It’s incorrect. The wording and the message is wrong.

We cannot play fast and loose with the wording of our theology, especially in times of corporate worship. The world is watching and waiting for us to slip up, which is why we have to maintain the core truths of our identity. Our message has to be inseparable from the teachings of Scripture. If we don’t consider the implications of different lines that we use, we can end up unintentionally misrepresenting the message of the Gospel. Obviously at times, context clues can shed light on what is meant by difficult phrases, and that is how I know any misrepresentation Carnes’s song may make is unintentional. However in this instance, context clues are not enough to justify the use of a phrase that is contrary to the victory of the resurrection and the message of the Gospel.

Christmas Traditions

 

When I was a freshman in college, one of my first courses was Theology 201 with Dr. John D. Morrison. It was bar none my favorite class that semester, and Dr. Morrison and I had many conversations about an array of theological issues after class. I could justify an entire semester’s tuition just to have had those conversations. One of my fondest memories of him was whenever he would bring up issues involving tradition in the sense of church doctrine and such. He would allude to tradition, proceed to imitate a Muppets song involving that word, and then mime kicking chickens off the stage which apparently had something to do with the scene. I still have not seen that particular Muppets skit, but now I don’t know if I want to for fear of tarnishing the memory that I have of Dr. Morrison.

I’m a Protestant, so traditionally my kind ironically doesn’t care much for tradition, at least nominally. However, I am discovering the beauty of tradition more and more as I learn about its purpose in life and how it is used in other Christian circles like Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Orthodoxy. And I notice now more than ever that tradition has really always played a part in my life as well as everyone’s life, and it’s the richer for it. I would be tempted to say that those who want to throw off tradition for the sake of throwing it off would find the richness of their lives greatly diminished.

Such an idea can be no more poignant than at Christmas time.

Everyone always complains about the hustle and bustle that this season of the year brings. And I’m not saying that they’re wrong in their unsettledness. With everything that this season represents, something about getting caught up in spending money, fighting each other for good deals, constantly running around from place to place, and getting involved with all sorts of different projects doesn’t sit right with the core of who we are and what this time of year is all about, yet it’s all too easy to fall into, which is why Christmas traditions, I believe, play such an important role in the life of a person and family in keeping our heads rightly on our shoulders.

Why do I think this? I’m no sociologist or psychologist or anyone certified to speak on such issues, but I’ll give you my thoughts none the less. I’m not untouched by the stress of the holidays. My justification: I work retail. That should be full stop for anyone who has had to work retail during the holidays. It’s not fun. Sure, it pays a little better than most other times of the year, but you’re being amply compensated for the extra blood, sweat, and tears that are shed in trying to meet corporate goals. In doing this for a job, it can be very easy to just be completely done with everything during Christmas time. And sadly, a lot of people in my position find themselves in that mindset during the holidays.

This is where I believe Christmas traditions can help. Christmas traditions help to reorient our focus away from what has been distracting us back towards the things that we look forward to each year, back to the things that are either filled with meaning or that we have filled with meaning that refresh our minds. When we live our lives in a world that is so saturated with the meaningless and empty, traditions can bring us back to the things we remembered mattered a long time ago, before we knew what stressful and busy meant.

One tradition that we have in my family is how we decorate the tree for Christmas. It begins (I kid you not) the day after Halloween. Because my family likes to keep the tree up for well longer than a real tree can reasonably be expected to last, we have an artificial one that goes up on the evening of November 1st. And while I typically refuse to steadily listen to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving, Christmas has nonetheless begun at the Henretty household at this time and will continue for sometimes three months. I’m not making this up. 25% of our year is Christmastime.

We also have a specific method for decorating our tree. There’s no specific date set, but there are requirements. Every member of the family must be home, each kid has to have their own ornaments that they have either made or been given over the years, and the Christmas album by the Ventures has to be playing.

Now I should say, and this is no surprise to my family, that 1) it’s weird that we put our tree up that early, and 2) I really don’t like the Venture’s Christmas album; it’s not something I would go out of my way to listen to out of my own volition. That being said, I can’t imagine Christmas without them. And it’s not because there’s something inherently special about the Ventures or November 1st (unless you’re celebrating All Saint’s Day). It’s because they bring us together as a family. It’s something we don’t have to figure out how to do, because we already figured out how to do it years ago. It’s something that’s simple and filled with memories. It refocuses us from our distracted lives back to moments where we can be not just the family that we are now, but the family that we have been throughout the years.

This is why I think traditions are so important; they give a sense of unity to purpose and to community. And for those of us who understand what Christmas is truly about, traditions commemorating the birth of Christ and the purpose of God therein should be especially honored and kept for the sake of identifying ourselves as in union with the Person of that glorious event and with the body of believers that we are thereby united to.

I’m most likely not the first person to have these thoughts, but I figured I would share my observations nonetheless.

So remember your traditions this year. If you have them, keep them if you can. If you don’t have any, then make them. And there’s always room for a new tradition, so long as it serves its purpose and reminds you of the things you love and what makes this time of year so special.

Merry Christmas!

Church Thoughts: Order of Service

Lots of blog writers like to take you on an emotional journey with them through the various experiences they have in order to get you to side with their view. Talk about their emotional state, their internal conflicts and dialogues, intensely personal feelings about a topic, etc.

I’m not a fan of those blogs.

I’m also not a fan of using short paragraphs for emphasis.

Much

Like

This

(Looking

At

You,

Rob

Bell)

I’m not a fan of those because at the end of the day, emotional appeal doesn’t substitute for good arguments. Making me feel bad or good because you feel bad or good doesn’t make the reasons why you’re feeling the way you do correct. Not that you can’t honestly feel disturbed about something that should disturb you, but just because you feel disturbed about something doesn’t in and of itself mean that that should be a universal experience.

So I’ve got some thoughts on church, but I’m not gonna take you on my emotional roller coaster involved with the thought process. One, because I don’t want to manipulate you into my way of thinking; two, because I don’t even have a strong stance on this. I’m just voicing some thoughts to get them out there.

I’ll probably post a lot on church, but today I want to express an issue I may (or may not) have concerning the order of service. This isn’t a make or break deal for a church, but it could be an interesting conversation to have among the American church.

A Reversal Proposition

So here’s my thoughts. Modern contemporary style churches typically have a division in their service (intentional or not) between music and preaching. Most services begin with an upbeat song, transition into a set of “down” songs, more contemplative, and then fade into the sermon, which may or may not end with another song. That’s the way it’s evolved to be; nothing necessarily wrong with that, just that way it is.

As I was in service today (in a church I had never before attended), may things were running through my head. To a fault, I can tend to be hyper-critical of new churches (I really want solid theology, sue me), and there were several things I noticed that kinda made me cringe (and strain my vocal chords), though overall it was a good service with a good message, but one thing hit me that I noticed transcended the specific church situation. Now, it’s just a thought, nothing completely solidified, but maybe something to consider.

What if we switched the order of service?

What if we put preaching of the Word before the musical praise?

Here’s why I say this. Congregants come into church every week from all different types of life stories. Each person has their different struggles, temptations, failings, and pains that they bring with them to church seeking some relief and peace in Christ. The last thing some of these people want to do is sing. Some people come in not having thought about God twice that week. Whether they sing or not isn’t a big deal. They could just as easily be anywhere else.

Rationale

Is it hypocritical, knowing that this is most likely a significant part of the congregation, to lead these people to give a praise offering to a God they aren’t pursuing in their life?

Now, I don’t want to put myself in a hypocritical, holier-than-thou position; I have been both of these people, and there are plenty of others I could describe, all of which I have probably been at some time or another. So this is just as much inward aimed as it is outward aimed.

I know that at times when I have had time to study God’s Word and pray before the service begins, I feel that much more prepared to go in and give a praise offering to God. And though we should praise God no matter our circumstances, precedence exists in scripture for preparing our hearts before we engage in congregational worship.

I recall a time several months ago, I decided to attend an Eastern Orthodox Church about 20 minutes away from my home, just to see what a different tradition of worship looked like for myself. Everything about it was strange to my contemporary Protestant eyes and ears, but beautiful in its own way. As I was researching the church to prep myself on what to expect before I got there (information on which was very readily available), I noticed that there were two different times listed for starting, each a half hour apart. As I dug in a little, turns out that the first half hour, meant more for regular congregants, was for confession and prayer so their hearts were cleansed and prepared to worship. Think what you will of the theology, but that is an admirable quality to have in any church, taking what measures we can as redeemed people to prepare ourselves to honor God and His work in the world.

Final Thoughts

I’m not advocating for a revolution in the way we order our church service here in the West (there are plenty of other, more pressing issues). But perhaps I can bring attention to this issue and get some mouths moving.

Maybe we don’t need to reverse our service orders, but maybe at the least we should begin to incorporate a time before our praise offering, whether corporately or privately, where we quiet our minds before the Lord, seek reconciliation and forgiveness, and then rejoice in the singing of songs in the renewed fellowship and grace we can find every morning.

The Golden Mean: Rights and What is Right for the NFL

There are two things that my mom gets incredibly hyped up for, Christmas and football season (like a true Southern lady). Mid-February to August are the doldrums for my mother because there is no Christmas or football, unless you go to Cracker Barrel, where the decorum is out so early the season is over before it begins (or if you watch Christmas in July on the Hallmark Channel). But come September, there is only one thing on our television every Sunday, Monday, and Thursday, and you risk losing a hand should you dare to change the channel.

Football and I have a slightly different relationship. Growing up, I hated football for what I now realize was the stupidest reason. When I was younger, I would see all these big guys line up on the field, watch the ball get hiked, watch everyone scramble, and then sit there confused as everything was over two seconds later. I’d be thinking “I don’t get it! Nothing happened!” As far as I could tell, everyone moved for two seconds and then they stopped, which was frustrating. What was there to get so interested in? Now that I understand the game, I highly enjoy watching it, but I enjoy it like I enjoy most things that aren’t music or the Bible, in such a way that I have a good time, but I don’t base my life and happiness around it.

Fast forward to today and football has become about so much more than just who wins. It has become intertwined with politics and cultural tensions, with everyone chiming in to the controversy, from Joe Schmoe down the street to the President himself. So it seems only reasonable I should chime in with an opinion. Think of it what you may.

The Goal

Aristotle once opined that the way to determine morally good actions was to find a place that met in the middle of two extreme ends, terming this the golden mean. While not a hard and fast method in my opinion (because I believe in hard and fast objective morality), it is nonetheless a decent rule of thumb when interpreting morality between two sides of an argument. There is usually a balance to be struck, and no side is typically as morally reprehensible as another side might make them seem. So with any luck, I will attempt to lay out what I think is some form of golden mean concerning the NFL protests. If all goes well, those on either extreme will see me as conspiring with the other side, and no one will like me for it. So here we go.

Let me start with a frank opinion. I don’t want football politicized. I don’t want anything politicized, really. I remember last summer I saw the third installment of the Purge anthology in theaters (SPOILERS AHEAD), expecting a decent followup to the first two movies. To me, the series had everything going for it. A good premise, good characters, and interesting social commentary. But for the third (appropriately called Election Year), everything about it was politicized, starting with the fact that the politicians that were shown to be for the Purge were in cahoots with the gun manufacturers who saw this as a great opportunity to make money selling weapons, an obvious connotation calling congressional supporters of gun rights organizations supportive of violence. That’s a whole other topic to discuss. Suffice it to say, the political implications and negative tone toward gun supporters disconnected that portion of the audience from the movie.

Image result for the purge election year

Now where I’m going is where things get tricky and will take some time to pull apart, so bear with me. I start with this: There is a difference between believing an idea to be right and believing in the right to an idea. Way too many people get these issues mixed up. So I want to take some time to separate the two and elaborate on the examples I have presented.

The Right to An Idea

Whatever I may have thought about the Purge sequel, whether I believed it to be correct or not, is irrelevant to the fact that the creators of this series have the right to present their idea the way they do. The free exchange of ideas is central to a free people, and the attempt to shut someone down just because you don’t like their opinion is among the most ignorant things anyone who cherishes political freedom can do. Expressing a contrary opinion and working to promote your idea over and against one you disagree with is fine (and necessary for balance in a free society), but understand that for you to do that and be consistent in your values, you have to allow for the other side to express their idea freely as well. So long as an opinion or idea is not an immediate and imminent danger to people’s well-being (think, “I have a nuke and feel I should bomb the capitol”) then the right to free expression, in general, should not be withheld.

Whatever anyone may think about the content of the NFL protests, what the players stand (or kneel) for, or what their ideology is, that’s irrelevant to the fact that they have a right to have that opinion as well as a right to protest. (Here again, please keep in mind that I’m coming at this from an objective standpoint as best I can and am not expressing approval or disapproval of the actions taken. I am here defending rights as opposed to what is right, which I here define as what should be done regardless of legal privileges). As far as legal privileges are concerned, every single player in the NFL has the right to protest during the national anthem. Therefore, they are under no legal obligation to listen to the President nor the public opinion that tells them to stand. That is authority that they as private citizens and public servants to a free society do not have.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

– First Amendment to the Constitution (1791)

The NFL is a private organization, and such is the beauty of a free market. As such, they do not have to follow any federal code of patriotism and are free to express dissent whenever they please, so long as it is within the confines of the law. For the President, as a full-time public servant, to call for the players to stand and the NFL to change their rules is a gross attempt to breach his capacity as President in an attempt to violate First Amendment rights, which extend to parties that do and don’t support certain American policies and traditions. Now, whether or not coaches and owners decide to let a player go based upon their actions on the field is completely up to them. Once again, because it is a private organization in a free market, and the hiring and firing power is within the rights of the owners of the company, should they feel they don’t want that kind of attitude on the field, then they are within their rights to fire that person. This is typically dictated by how the actions affect sales and revenue, just to be honest. Or they can place a code of conduct in their contract.

So keeping all of this in mind, I want to take more time to cover a second part of this.

The Right Idea

As I said before, there’s a difference between the right idea and the right to an idea. Now we get to the part where I talk about what I think should have been done and the attitude we should have about it. I am not (repeat, NOT) going to talk about the content of the issues themselves (i.e. BLM). Far better minds than mine on both sides have written extensively about them. Form your own opinions. For my part, and for the goal of this post, I’m going to speak as to whether the National Anthem was the best place to express those opinions.

First, a preliminary note, going back to having the right to an idea. As I stated before, I don’t like seeing anything politicized. Sometimes I just want to be entertained without having to think too much about societal issues. It’s nice to take a break every now and again without being forced to take a side on an issue. But I don’t have a right to that. Much like the Sleep Number Mattress, that’s a personal comfort preference, and whether a company wants to accommodate that preference is a decision they have to make independently in the free market, and then they wait and see if consumers respond well.

A Quick Tangent

At the same time, I have to call out some hypocrisy. Often times, certain factions of people get all up in arms when a celebrity or figure otherwise in the public eye not involved in politics, expresses a political or social opinion. “We pay you to entertain us, so shut up about stuff you don’t understand!” That’s the entirety of the argument I hear. Now to the people who tote these celebs as speaking God’s truth, understand that their opinions are no more valid than anyone else’s and to carry them around as having some sort of superior opinion because they are in the public eye is absurd and frankly makes no sense. BUT, to the crowd who think celebs should keep their mouth shut about their opinions, understand that they have a right to their opinions and the free expression thereof as much as you do. Further, both sides have shown themselves to be hypocritical when the tables are turned. Those who typically praise celebs’ opinions suddenly oust a dissenting view, and those who criticize them for having opinions at all rally around the ones that agree.

This particularly irks me as a musician and songwriter, because what am I supposed to put into my songs except those things that I believe? Am I just supposed to write mindless pop music about celebrity feuds (looking at you, Swift) or another generic worship song that rehashes tired or not-well-thought-through metaphors? I think not, and I lament those who do or only write about trivial things, and never use their platform to talk about real issues, topics that matter and affect us on a deeper level than just the surface. I think it’s the responsibility of people in the public eye to use their platform to genuinely fight for truth and justice and influence the public to a better way of thinking. But with this influence comes the responsibility to use it to wisely communicate your values.

This leads me to the appropriateness of the National Anthem as the venue for protests.

My Personal Opinion

Firstly, I’d like to point out that it is a very tempting thing to do. Those who protest want their message of solidarity (which is what it is, by the way, it’s not a protest of the country) to be seen by the broadest possible audience.

Secondly, the idea of the “greatness of America” should not be turned into a sacred cow by those who “boo” the protesters. America is great, I believe this, but just because she’s great does not make her impervious to flaws. Expressing discontent in America because of perceived serious flaws is not in itself a cardinal sin. If the grievances of the protesters are legitimate (an issue which I have not here addressed), then protest of the status quo becomes not only right, but a necessary exercise of rights explicitly acknowledged in our founding documents.

It’s also come to my understanding recently that the mindset that wants the protesters to stand despite their feelings evinces a desire for these people to act against their consciences. To ask someone to pay lip service to an idea that they may or may not agree with is to ask them to go through the motions of the majority. As a Christian, one of the things I hear preached about time and time again is the danger of going through the motions. How then can I desire for someone to go through the motions of something that they don’t believe in if I myself desire for all of my actions to flow out of my heart and not from rote?

Understand then this as the context for the protests. Having said it, I can present my thoughts without them being too emotionally charged. I don’t think the singing of the National Anthem was the appropriate venue for the protests to take place. Why? Particularly because it’s explicitly stated before the song that this is to honor America and those in the armed forces who protect our freedom to have events like NFL games. The protesters’ cause then seems unrelated to the event. There are an overwhelming number of things about America that should be honored and appreciated, rights and freedoms applicable to everyone on that field, regardless of perceived social unrest. Laws are in place that protect minority rights, more freedoms had precedence here than almost anywhere else in the world, and countless numbers have died for those freedoms; these things should be honored and respected in their own place away from protests and social issues, because there is always something about America that everyone should respect, and it is best highlighted in the singing of our anthem.

There is also a second reason I don’t think it is an appropriate venue, that being communication of the issues. The kneeling during the national anthem, in and of itself, does not effectively communicate the grievances of those who are protesting because it comes across to the American people at large (intentionally or not) as being anti-American. Now, I think I can confidently say that a large portion of the protesters do not hate this country, and I am not accusing them of such. What I’m saying is that that is the message that comes across from this silent and unelaborated upon action. I give props to the Cowboys (though it pains me to compliment them in any way; sorry Al) for their demonstration on Monday. They understood that they wanted solidarity among Americans in a country that they care about. They stated their intentions concerning their actions which the commentators expressed, took a knee as a symbol, and then rose for the anthem. Agree with the idea or not, it was an appropriate action as far as I am concerned, and I applaud them for it. Why they were booed is beyond me.

This goes across the board for anyone in the public eye. The general populous tends to think at the surface level, so to express nuanced values and ideas at the surface level then is to do your cause and the people paying attention a disservice. It’s the responsibility of those with a platform to think deeply about the issues that they care about, to effectively express ideas that lie at the root of issues rather than how it is always perceived by the public, and to understand how it will be received by audiences.

It also falls to the general public to begin to think beyond the surface when it comes to people’s intentions. Almost no issue is quite as cut and dry as people would have you believe. Learn to separate rights from what is right. When you criticize the action of another, criticize an idea before you criticize the person. Always think, “What if the roles were reversed?”

Disagree, but fight for someone’s right to do it.

Final Note

C.S. Lewis (can’t really get through a blog without thinking of him at least once) once wrote a book entitled The Abolition of Man. At the end of the book, in an attempt to demonstrate how morality is something that is objective to everyone regardless of nationality, race, or upbringing, he showed that certain core moral principles that we hold to today had been taught in cultures throughout the ancient world, almost independent of one another. What does this mean? Elsewhere (can’t remember where) I’ve read that even in the more “savage” parts of the world where “civilized” behavior isn’t immediately evident, this same morality is evident just below the surface. A culture that eats the remains of their dead, while to us would seem cannibalistic and depraved, may be a primitive culture’s way of honoring their dead and ensuring a safe passage into the next life. The important thing to note here is that the core moral principle of honoring and respecting the dead is still there, though it is expressed in a vulgar way. This doesn’t mean that all expressions of morality are equally as good as the principle itself, but it does mean we shouldn’t immediately criticize an action for being irredeemably depraved without understanding the intentions behind it, because it’s likely the underlying moral principles are very similar to ours.

While that is admittedly an extreme example, it serves to prove a point. Pundits that regularly accuse opposing sides of being morally wrong often don’t take the time to go beyond the surface to see if 1) they in point of fact share the same moral principles and 2) have a valid way of expressing them.

When we get beyond the surface, we find that we all have a lot more in common than we think we do, and that is the first step to real conversations and real change.