Christian Sex, Sects, & Secular Sex

sex, incel, marriage

Well, sex is in the news again. (Surprise!) I thought I would use the occasion to articulate the purpose of sex from a biblical worldview, at least from my perspective.

It’s not as obvious as one might think. Based on comments from my atheist acquaintances I get the impression that there is probably some misunderstanding around the topic. I would assert that God’s view of sexual intercourse as defined in the Bible is unique, foreign, and “unnatural” in comparison to that of secular culture.

I should add that it’s also profound, life-enhancing, and sustainable, according to my personal research.

Promiscuous Sects
The recent news event that set me to thinking about all this was a misogynistic terrorist act in Toronto which led to the deaths of 10 victims, mostly women. This particular vehicular act of violence was perpetrated by a man who identified with something called the “incel rebellion movement.” Incel is short for “involuntary celibate.” Apparently many men in this category see themselves as low-status men who, through no fault of their own, are not stereotypically “hot.” Some are angry at the “shallowness” of women who won’t have sex with them.

These men seem to share an underlying assumption that everyone is entitled to sex.
I wonder where they got that idea?

The thing about sexual intercourse is that it involves another person’s body. It’s not something a single individual can claim a right to. The answer to involuntary celibacy cannot involve the imposing of involuntary sex on another person, at least in civilized society. That’s called rape. The incel mentality reeks of pornified thinking, though I can’t verify the connection.

Here’s a quote from Elliot Rodger, who wrote an incel manifesto shortly before going off and shooting 6 people and wounding 14 in Santa Barbara in 2014:

“…I’m 22 years old and I’m still a virgin. I’ve never even kissed a girl. I’ve been to college. For 2 and a half years…and I’m still a virgin. It has been very torturous. College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun, and pleasure. But in those years I’ve had to rot in loneliness. It’s not fair…I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice – a crime. Because, I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy. And yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men, instead of me, the supreme gentlemen. I will punish all of you for it. On the day of retribution I am going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB, and I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck up, blond slut I see inside there…” (Elliot Rodger’s Retribution Video.)

There’s a lot wrong with this picture. All I’ll say is that, in addition to whatever else is going on here, from my perspective these guys have been jerked around by the assumptions and lies of secular culture and its shallow and self-contradictory view of sex: on one hand sex is merely recreation. Sex is not a big deal. But at the same time a life without it is practically a fate worse than death, and secular culture compels us to think about sex 24/7, literally invading our private spaces with sexual imagery.

The world would have us not take sex so personally. It’s just sex. So we should protect our emotional selves by being chill about sex. It’s just hormones and evolutionary impulses after all, so let’s take it for what it is and just enjoy it. Existentially. Hook up. What’s love got to do with it? Or marriage? “Life is short; have an affair.” We may as well use sex to sell product.

I would respectfully like to call bullshit on all of that. There is a more wholistic view.

Hey Look At Those Sexually Repressed Christians Over There
C S Lewis once pointed out a common misconception that secularists may tend to have about “Christian” sexual mores: that we think sex is innately “sinful,” or somehow unspiritual. Forgive me for not having time to look up Lewis’s actual quote, but the idea is that if something is forbidden, or has “rules” around it, this may not mean that thing is considered to be bad or evil. It may be the precise opposite.

We have laws against stealing, not because property is bad, but because property is valuable. Likewise, God prohibits sex outside of marriage, not because sex is evil but because it is a valuable and powerful gift in its intended context.

Many have pointed out that it’s unbiblical to think that the God of the Bible considers sex to be dirty, evil, or otherwise unspiritual in and of itself. The goodness of sex is explicitly stated in the Torah: in the creation story God began with an unashamed, naked man and woman in a paradise, instructed them to “be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth,” and pronounced the whole thing “good.”

It’s human rebellion and meddling that perverts the goodness of sex in both secular and religious cultures. We have a massive porn industry. Secularists insist on deconstructing sex, gender, marriage, and parenthood in the name of humanistic enlightenment. On the religious side we see inventions such as a celibate priesthood, which is a human innovation of religious sects, not a biblical directive.

God’s Idea of Sex
Belief in a Creator who designed human sexuality yields a very different worldview perspective from a belief that we are here by accident with no transcendent purpose, value, or authority. Following is an understanding of sex with which I believe most self-proclaimed followers of Jesus would agree:

The Bible depicts God as an eternally, innately, relational (triune) being who has always existed in love and relational unity. So loving relationship is both the starting place and the goal of our existence. As beings created in God’s image, we are wired to find fulfillment in relationship as well. We all long for connection with others. The overarching story of the Bible is the story of God restoring humanity to the possibility of loving relationship, both with Himself and with others.

Marriage was intended to be an expression of relational unity in creation; what the Bible refers to as “oneness” (Gen 1:24; Matt 19:4-6; Eph 5:28-31.) Sex within marriage is meant to be an expression of that oneness between a husband and a wife; mind, soul, spirit, and body. The unity in diversity in marriage is a profound reflection of the image of God in human experience. The apostle Paul says it is also picture of the love and unity between Christ and His church (Eph 5:31-33 .)

One can see Paul underlining these ideas in this passage:

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own…” (1 Cor 6:15-19.)

Practically, God intended sex to be a bonding expression of love within the context of an adult, lifelong, faithful, monogamous, biologically unrelated, marital relationship. This also happens to be the best context for raising children, which works out great since hetero sex is procreative.

This does not necessarily mean that Christians must be consciously meditating on being in the image of the triune God, or cranking up Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor every time they make love. This is simply the shape of reality in which followers of Jesus live and move and have their being.

The point is that sex is not a happy accident of evolution that we can make into whatever we want. We may try, but the shape of reality that God has created has a stubborn way of reasserting itself. We may find that butting heads with that reality leads to despondency . We may find sex apart from love and commitment to be ultimately lonely and unfulfilling, despite having lowered our expectations.

The Bible explicitly states that God’s desire and plan for us, His creation, is unity and loving relationship (Eph 1:9-10; Jn 17:3.) But truth is an essential part of that unity. Lies separate people. Lies about love and sex are no exception.

No, I’m Not Judging You
Someone may now be thinking, “If you think you’re going to get unmarried people to stop sleeping with each other, you are delusional.” I would agree. I wouldn’t dream of even trying. Many secularists seem to assume that people like me would like to force everyone to stop having promiscuous sex, stop being gay, stop getting divorced, stop using birth control, stop smiling, stop eating ice cream, and so on. Nope. I’m all about free will and diversity.

Hopefully my critics would be happy to know that my wife and I always taught our kids that they shouldn’t expect people who don’t claim to be followers of Jesus to behave like followers of Jesus. Instead we can confidently be who we are, and love other people where they are. There is no hatred of people implied in anything I’ve said here.

I’m simply putting an alternate view out there as something that doesn’t get said in a public forum very often. I think it might be a welcome perspective for some people.

I set out this alternative view of sex for those interested in a healthy, life-enhancing, loving alternative. My guess is that there are some reading this who feel out of step; you feel that sex means something more to you than what the world tells you it should mean. You may feel quietly defensive that you don’t want to be viewed, and don’t want to view other people, as evolved pieces of meat. If this is you, I want to affirm that you’re not alone and that you are not crazy. I think you are right. I think our Creator who loves us has wired us to know better.

I welcome your comments below. Feel free to message me privately also.

Advertisements

Thoughts on “Religion,” and How Not to Fix the World

Maxfield Parrish Humpty Dumpty, fall of man

Before the Great Fall

Does anyone like getting asked the question, “Are you religious?”

When asked this, does anyone ever enthusiastically answer, “YES!”

I only like getting asked that question because it gives me a chance to explain my faith.

One of my earliest insights as a young follower of Jesus was that Christianity is not about a religion; it’s about a relationship. In college I pretty much abandoned the use of the word “Christianity” altogether because it is so broad as to be practically meaningless and confusing.

This is not an uncommon way of thinking in evangelicalism. It is widely understood that our faith has primarily to do with the person of Jesus, not about some system of belief or ritualistic practice. At a minimum most would agree that a religion is not “the answer” to the world’s problems. Most would recognize that one can be scrupulously religiously observant and yet completely miss God. There is good and bad religious practice. I think most people would agree that there are bad religions in the world.

So it’s kinda weird to speak of “religion” in general as either good or bad.

You’ve probably heard evangelicals say,

“Religion is mans’ attempt to reach God, Christianity is God reaching down to man.”

Or “I’m spiritual, not religious.”

I’ve tended to argue that religion can serve as a positive cultural force, but I’ve tended to personally reject the observance of religious rituals, traditions, and practices as baggage. Yes, I pray regularly, but as a part of relationship with God – not as religious ritual. In the same way, I don’t consider talking with my wife to be a marriage ritual.

All in all, the word “religion” has been a pretty distasteful word to me for all of my life, even though, ironically, people who don’t know me well may tend to think of me as religious.

But…Hmmm…Maybe I don’t despise the word “religion” after all

I recently read some thoughts on the origin of the word “religion” that ring true to me.

…Etymologically, [religion] means something like tying back together – re-ligion:
re-ligamenting, re-ligaturing, finding the unifying reality behind disparate appearances, seeking oneness, integration, wholeness…

(Michael Ward, Professor of Apologetics, Houston Baptist University)

This sounds right to me because, for better or for worse, all the religions of the world seem to be concerned with restoring unity to our broken world in some way. There seems to be a universal recognition that things are not as they should be in the human situation, and that the problem is separateness – division between God and man, between man and man, and between man and nature.

However, conflict arises between religions and ideologies because there are vastly differing opinions as to how to accomplish the restoration of unity in the world. Unfortunately, history shows us that human beings are vulnerable to the temptation to externally impose unity onto each other. Of course this doesn’t work, but apparently many ideologues feel there is no other option. Current examples include ISIS and the American left-wing Antifa.

The brilliance of spiritual rebirth

Among authority figures, Jesus is unique in His approach to unity and restoration in that He offers voluntary, internal change for the individual. He offers this to all people in the form of spiritual rebirth:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. (Jn 3:3)

Here’s an apostle of Jesus pithily describing God’s plan for unity and restoration:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
(Eph 1:7-10)

This describes the God of the Judeo-Christian scriptures taking merciful initiative on our behalf, and providing a means for us to be reconnected to Him first, and ultimately to each other and to all of heaven and nature. In the very next chapter Paul refers to this salvation as a gift from God – not something that can be earned. (Eph 2:8,9)

Isn’t this what we all want? We really should tell people about this.

(Original image by Maxfield Parrish, circa 1921. Modified by the author.)

 

What Happened at Loveland’s Fire & Ice Festival

Mona Lisa public art Loveland CO

Actually, a lot happened, with lots of local sculptors and musicians, but I’m going to tell you about a community art event that I and my church, Beggars’ Gate, put on there.

If you’ve been following this blog for long, you know how troubled I am over how divided and uncivil our nation has become. I got an idea for a project that would bring diverse festival-goers together in a fun, creative process that would end in an exciting collaborative result.

With my peeps at church and the Festival organizers on board, we contacted the owner of a boarded-up building downtown. He gave us permission to beautify his blank wall. Already there was lots of trust going around.

I should mention that Fire & Ice is the city of Loveland’s annual Valentine’s Day festival. Valentine’s Day is kind of a big deal here in Loveland, Colorado.

Here’s how it worked:
We laid out a giant 13 x 15 foot grid of 12 inch squares on the wall and painted a gold frame around it. We numbered the squares 1 thru 195. On my studio floor I transferred a (secret) design to 195 wooden foot square tiles. So each tile had part of giant drawing on it. I designated how each area of each tile must be painted in order to make this work: “L” for light, “M” for medium, and “D” for dark paint. Plus a few rare tiles with white, black, and red areas.

At the festival, our small army of volunteers instructed festival-goers in the process. Some of the tiles were impossible to mess up, provided the right color values were used, so even very small children and people with disabilities could (and did!) participate.

It was crazy and fun!

Loveland Fire and Ice Festival

Unfortunately, this being our first time, there was a lot of guessing and estimating going on. We ran out of tiles and completed the image before the end of the second festival day. But Fire and Ice is a three day festival. So…one of my peeps ran out and purchased a stack of floor tiles. Another one cut some that needed cutting until we had another 100 blank squares. We contacted the building owner again for permission to attach a second mural to his wall. I worked into the wee hours to put together a (much simpler!) second design, and we were all ready for day 3 on Sunday.

A pastor friend, (who ended up hanging most of the Mona Lisa image on Saturday,) must’ve been struck with some deep thoughts while nailing up the creative expressions of nearly 200 people. What follows is what he wrote when he went home Saturday night. He read it to our little Beggars’ Gate congregation on Sunday morning. His name is John Meyer, and here are his thoughts:

The Mona Loveland

What do you see?

This community art piece is a great picture of one of the good things we believe about life.

Everyone is an individual, with different talents, different experiences, different likes. It is those differences that make this picture fun, interesting, and a bit unexpected.

But there is a bigger picture that comes together in a way that makes a beautiful whole out of all the individuality. It happened because each individual brought his or her own expression within the plan of an artist who had an intention from the beginning. It would have been nearly impossible for hundreds of individuals to make the Mona Loveland by talking among themselves. But by accepting (even without understanding) the greater plan of the artist, the unique expression of each individual created something that included everyone, and has a greater meaning and beauty that only exists because everyone came together.

We think this is a good picture of God’s plan for life. Each of us is made wonderfully unique by Him. Just as no two snowflakes are alike, and no two sets of fingerprints are alike, every person has unique and wonderful traits that are found in no other life.

But none of us are meant to be a complete picture alone. We are made for community. The Designing Artist has had a plan from the beginning to allow us to experience both our individuality and the greater good of a community living together.

It is from both living out who we are, and expressing that uniqueness within the “lines” and plan the Designing Artist has for each life, that allows us to experience the beautiful picture of human community to come together.

Our goal is to help individuals appreciate their own uniqueness, and to understand the plan of God that allows all of us to experience His good and bigger picture together!”

Beggars’ Gate Church
Loveland, Colorado
beggarsgate.com

blg-loveld-monalisa-fnl

The finished mural: “The Sweet Heart City’s” own Mona Lisa, painted by local citizens…

I want to extend a big THANK YOU to the army of volunteers who enabled this event to happen for the community. They gave time, energy, and resources to make this event free for everyone else. ‘God bless em’ all!

If you’re new to this blog, please visit my KIDS’ STORYBOOK WEBSITE and sign up in the blue box to hear about my upcoming new storybooks!

Love peace dove mural scott freeman

This is the completed second mural.

My Brother’s Heart: A Tribute

Hanging with my big brother on my first Christmas.

Hanging with my big brother on my first Christmas.

The world just lost another good man. He died peacefully in his sleep at age 57. No one knows why.

I was lucky to be his little brother. Growing up with Craig was a blast. He was hilarious. When we were kids his mind was always cooking up something interesting or mischievous. He could easily have led me into bad things, but that just wasn’t my brother’s heart. His moral compass was always oriented to creative and reasonably harmless pursuits.

Craig was passionate about everything he got into. He got me interested in drawing when I was just a little kid. I feel a little pensive about this now. He really liked drawing, and I wonder if he would’ve pursued a career in art if it hadn’t been for me. He was well above average in his ability, but I happened to be innocently but extraordinarily gifted. Everyone soon made a big deal about my art and assumed out loud that I would grow up to be an artist. This became part of my identity. I thought he simply lost interest in art. He ended up following my dad into construction work, which didn’t really work out well. I wanted to ask him about all of this someday.

Craig was a collector of things. When we were kids it was Mad magazines and Marvel comics. Beginning in his teen years, it was music. I grew up listening to the music of my older siblings – mostly my brother’s. For better or for worse, I still know all of Bernie Taupin’s lyrics to Elton John’s early recordings. As an adult, Craig amassed a huge, diverse music collection and became an avid concertgoer and music festival attendee. If you ever attended the Cornerstone festival in Illinois, put on by Jesus People USA, my brother was there.

Somewhere along the line, my brother devoted his life to following Jesus, passionately, of course. He was blessed with a great crap detector, but he didn’t use it to be harsh with people. He might privately call out a friend, but he used it as much on himself as on anyone else. Despite being outspoken for the truth, when he recognized that he’d been hurtful or wrongheaded, he was humble enough to ask forgiveness. I loved his heart.

As an adult I got to see his heart up close, when he endured a very painful divorce. I don’t know that I could have, or would have, been able to love and forgive as he did had I been in his situation. The depth of his forgiveness was astounding to me. During this time, after hearing his heart, it struck me that he had the mind of Christ. His example was inspired and inspiring.

Craig’s honest walk with Jesus enabled him to cut through and navigate the Southern Baptist, Evangelical subculture in which we grew up. He understood that the point was not to follow a religion, but to follow a person: Jesus. He understood that following Jesus is not about religious legalism and rule-keeping, but about relationship, while still holding to the fidelity of the Bible.

This could be seen in the testimony of two men who stood to speak during a public sharing time at Craig’s funeral – two different men, from two different backgrounds. You could guess their background by their appearance. One guy came from a Christian fundamentalist background. He described how my brother had helped him break free from religious legalism, and helped him to come into the freedom that the Spirit of Jesus brings, (…“where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” – 2 Cor 3:17.) Apparently their conversations often revolved around some of my brother’s “objectionable” Christian music.

The second guy came from an opposite place. He explained that when he came to Jesus, he didn’t so much mind letting go of the drugs and the drinking. But he was a metal head, and it was disheartening for him to entertain the idea of joining a legalistic Christian subculture with lame music. Somebody sent him to my brother, who introduced him to some legit musicians whose music didn’t fit this guy’s stereotype of Christian Music. They became buds. When I shook this guy’s hand afterward, he reminded me that I had met him once, camping with my brother at a Cornerstone festival – home of alternative Christian music.

In our immediate family, my wife and I have a saying: “Life is about relationships.” This idea often helps us choose where we spend our time and energy. This saying derives from the greatest commandment as stated by Jesus: Love God, and love people; all of God’s instruction depends upon these two things (Mat 22:36-40.) I never heard Craig say the words, “life is about relationships,” but at his funeral it was clear that he lived them as well as anyone I know. His life was all about pursuing God and investing in people.

Craig was a great dad, and he poured his life into his two lovely daughters, Jenna and Dana. Here are a couple of comments from their Facebook friends:

He valued the opinion of every person he spoke with, no matter what age you were. He taught me the value of presence. The art of conversation. Looking back, I can’t remember a time that I saw him ever leave first! Whoever he was with or wherever he was, he was fully there. Serving as our Sunday School teacher & one of our college group leaders, he taught so many of us young adults how to appreciate art & seek the truth & beauty of God in things like film, music or just being outdoors…He made all of us feel important; believed in. Like our voices mattered… – EC

Craig sought out God in everything and was excited to talk about it. To my group of friends, he was not just someone’s dad or the Sunday school teacher or the adult supervisor. He was our friend. We invited him to all of our parties, we went to the movies with him, we camped together, we ate meals together, we talked about life, we talked about God and His creation… – MT

There are many ways that people look at death. Some see it as a natural, even a beautiful, thing – a mysterious portal into the next stage of existence. Jesus didn’t see it that way. Jesus wept at death. He spoke of Himself as the resurrection and the life. Paul spoke of death as an enemy that Jesus came to destroy. He described the resurrection of Jesus as the first fruits of a great harvest that would follow. The Bible describes a salvation that encompasses our entire beings – body, soul, and spirit. Death is a separation. God promises to restore total unity. I suppose we should expect nothing less from an all loving, all powerful, and all good God.

I loved my big brother’s heart. I admit that I’m frustrated and sad that he is gone. I expected to have a lot more time with him. We had a lot of catching up to do.

Here’s looking forward even more to “the restoration of all things.”

The last picture of my brother and me. Craig Lee Freeman -  January 5, 1958 to July 27, 2015

The last picture of my brother (on right) and me – Dec 2014.
Craig Lee Freeman – January 5, 1958 – July 27, 2015

A Humongous Mural Project Outside of My Comfort Zone

 

Lake Providence mural 1
Can public art make a difference in a town’s identity? I think I now believe it can play a part.

I certainly don’t think that painting a huge mural on an old building is going to solve anyone’s problems. However, perhaps living alongside inspiring words and images can help to create a climate favorable to positive change. Perhaps it can announce that there are those present who are willing to see change come, and even willing to do something to make it happen. Perhaps seeing a life-enhancing message every day may work on a person’s spirit, at least raising the possibility of new possibilities.

If there were ever a town that could use an identity change, Lake Providence, Louisiana, would be a good candidate. This town has gotten more than its share of bad press. Here is just a sampling of national and regional news stories singling out Lake Providence and the county where it is situated:
–  In 1994, Time magazine designated Lake Providence the poorest place in America.

–  In 1996, the Shreveport Times reported that East Carroll Parish, Louisiana, had the highest rate of child poverty in America.

–  In 1998 George Magazine named LP as one of the most corrupt cities in America.

–  In 2013 CNN called East Carroll Parish “the most unequal county in America.”

This northern Louisiana town of under 4000 people is a Mississippi River town, situated around a lake.  80% of the population is black. Traditionally there has been a white side, and a black side of the Lake, (although this is beginning to change.) There is a public school with no white students, and a private school with no, or few, black students. Though the town is filled with churches, they tend to be either black or white.

When I say these things to non-Southerners, they tend to be appalled, incredulous that such a situation would still exist in 21st century America. I admit that it’s taken me some time to wrap my head around the situation. I was born in 1960 in St. Louis, Missouri, and my siblings and I grew up assuming that racism was stupid and backward, despite having close relatives who sometimes made racial slurs. As a young parent, when my family lived in the inner city of Kansas City, my wife and I sent two of our boys to an all black charter school, partly because we thought it might be good for them to experience how it feels to be a minority. Especially before moving to Loveland, Colorado.

But despite the demographics in Lake Providence, it would be wrong to assume that LP and other towns like it are brimming over with racial hatred today. At this point it seems to be more a matter of ingrained patterns and inertia, especially with younger generations, who haven’t lived with the actual acts of hatred that the older generations have seen. Political power is no longer held by whites. For the past 20 years, LP has made great strides in pulling itself out of the ashes of a nasty history. There are concerned citizens working to turn the town around, and making improvements. I spoke at length with an older gentleman, who grew up in Lake Providence, and who is an agent of change. It’s interesting to hear him describe his upbringing:

By way of background, segregation in the South meant there were two of everything. Two entrances to the only movie theater in town, for example, & two seating sections…Blacks sat upstairs in the balcony; whites sat downstairs. That’s the world I grew up in & I didn’t think much about it at the time. That’s just the way it was…In a small town like Lake Providence, we associated with blacks. Our family had a black maid and I grew up around black folks, played with blacks as a child. In the army I roomed with a black man. Once in TX, we were denied service at a diner because he was black. Though he “took” it, it was my first experience with bigotry and it made me angry on his behalf and helped me to understand a little of what he went through.  

In the courthouse here, there were two drinking fountains – one for whites & one for coloreds. I drank out of the one labeled “white” and didn’t think anything about it. Three restrooms – one for white men, one for white women, one for coloreds (men & women). I went to the one labeled “whites”. That’s just what I did. No one made a “to-do” about the separateness of it…Of course, that’s all changed and you’d never know it even existed now. Everybody shops together at Walmart now.”

Today, I think people still tend to assume racism and hatred where it may not exist. One of my white Lake Providence friends told a story of going to the black section of the mall to have her hair done. She was totally well intentioned, trying to build bridges, and wanting to support a black business. She was met with cold stares, and was refused service. She insisted, saying, “but I want you to do my hair.” The hairdresser refused, saying she had never done a white person’s hair before. My friend insisted again, but the hairdresser said she didn’t have the right supplies, and told her to go the white salon. Is this racial hatred?

Not necessarily, though it probably felt like it to my friend. I don’t know the hairdresser, but I do know that black people hair is really different from white people hair. My wife had dreadlocks for ten years, and she definitely had to go to way more effort to make that happen than black do people. I once had a friend in Kansas City tell me that it was kind of a hassle for her to come to Colorado because the stores didn’t carry the right products for her hair and skin. These is not an insurmountable problem, but it illustrates the point that it’s just more work to accommodate differences. That is not to say it’s not worth the effort.

I can tell you from experience that it is way more work to racially integrate a church congregation than to remain separate. This is partly because integrating involves figuring out how to bring together different, sometimes very personal, cultural aspects such as dress, speech, music, and worship styles. Again, it’s just more work. It requires humility, forbearance, and cooperation from all sides. The multi-racial churches I’m familiar with specifically have a vision to be multi-racial, and are committed to making it work. Yet this is only fitting for any New Testament church that claims to believe the biblical call to love and unity under a universal Savior.

A Brief Word About Hate
Leaving the specific topic of racism for a moment, let’s consider the topic of hate-blaming-and-shaming in general.

I assume everyone has noticed by now the political left’s current tactic of assigning hateful motives to those who hold views it doesn’t like. This is not helpful. Assuming hatred where it doesn’t exist has a polarizing effect on the culture – it promotes a false picture of a society consisting of people who are politically liberal versus people who are motivated by hate. As if the picture is that simple. It’s a lame political tool used to manipulate and shame those with “incorrect” opinions into getting in line. This tactic is being used to shut down honest dialogue, so desperately needed between those whose opinions differ. But accusation is much easier than dialogue. It promotes sucking up to popular opinion over actually thinking about the issues. It’s also blindly arrogant: “If you disagree with my viewpoint, it is because you hate.” End of discussion.

And, by the way, if you’re a liberal hate-shamer, this business of broad-brushing people’s motives isn’t ultimately going to work. Those relative few who actually are haters don’t care what you think (because they hate you,) while the majority of us whose views differ from yours resent having our motives maligned by you. We know we’re not motivated by hatred, we’re not ashamed of our beliefs, and we’re not going to be manipulated or forced into silence.

Racial hatred, homophobia, misogyny and other types of irrational prejudice exist, but probably not to the extent that the ankle-deep news media would have us believe. For example, if you think the millions of people who oppose gay marriage are necessarily motivated by hate, I am thrilled to inform you that you are simply wrong. We’re actually motivated by truth, love, and tolerance. If you think opposition to abortion-on-demand and to Planned Parenthood constitutes a “war on women,” you should be relieved to know that we’re actually motivated by a desire to create a culture that upholds the innate value of all human life; in other words, truth, love, and tolerance. Disagreement does not equal hate.

Attempting to shame people into conformity ultimately won’t work because it doesn’t change people’s hearts. Government force does not change people’s hearts. There is simply no easy substitute for the hard work of building relationships.

The Humongous Lake Providence Mural
Resurrection Fellowship, whose pastor was once a worship leader at a church in Lake Providence years ago, has committed to building a long-term relationship with the town of Lake Providence. This Loveland church sponsored the LP mural project. A local black business owner in LP agreed to let a bunch of (mostly) white people from Colorado paint on his building. The team consisted of 9 adult artists and their families. Most considered themselves to be amateurs or non-artists. As the only full-time professional artist, I headed the project along with my wife and our leader, Eric Holmlund. Our team had one week to paint a very complex design on a huge, already primed, old building. I had my doubts that it could be done in a week.

Lake Providence mural 2
The design, which Eric had named “Destiny Words,” consisted of a crossword puzzle-like grid with interlocking words. In the spaces between we were to paint images reflective of the town and region, based on input from local citizens. Eric created the basic design for this using photos .

I felt that giving inexperienced artists photographs to paint from on such an ambitious project would probably not have ended well. So Mollie and I translated the photos into basic flat shapes, with gradated color, and incorporated heavy line work. We used the design approach of poster artists David Lance Goines, and Michael Schwab as inspiration. We felt that this would unify the overall look of the mural despite the large number of people involved, (some of whom were children.) I also felt that the simplicity of the shapes and flat color would give us a chance of actually finishing in one week.

Lake Providence mural 3
This was uncomfortable, but good for me. When it comes to art, I don’t see myself as a person who is naturally great at collaborating with other people, but for this project I determined to do the upfront design work and then “let it go.”

We arrived in Lake Providence at night in a freaking downpour, but for the rest of the week we had great weather. Our first morning there, Mr. Brock, an LP local took us on a bus tour of the town and impressed on us how different Lake Providence, LA was from Loveland, CO:

Scott Freeman painting mural

The author working on the trumpeter.

Population: LP – 3,991, Loveland – 66,859
Median hh income: LP – $16,900, Loveland – $47,119
Poverty rate: LP – 55%, Loveland – 4%
Race demographics: LP – 16% white, 80% black; Loveland – 91% white (2010)

Wow.

Then, we were off and running, working hard from morning ‘til night. The LP locals were very generous hosts and fed us extremely well all week. Even strangers fed us: one night, a black lady, dressed all in white and wearing a big white hat, was on her way home from a revival meeting. After stopping to talk with us, she went home and brought back the remains of a cheesecake for me! Really?!

The whole week was a big, crazy, colorful party with people stopping by throughout each day, many of whom joined in to paint. We were on the corner of a very busy, very close intersection, so we painted to a serenade of honking horns and encouraging shouts.

Lake Providence mural gator

Rene, Sandy, and me hard at work. The gator is my favorite.

In the end, we went right down to the wire and got the mural done with the help of many hands and much support. (Well, there is this one little area that didn’t get painted, but I’m not going to point it out.) On the very last night Eric and I went up and painted the url to a website that Eric had set up that day, so that passers by can look up the meaning and inspiration behind Lake Providence’s newest downtown public art addition. You can read about it here: www.LPmural.com.

 
Title: “Destiny Words”
Artists: Sandy Beegle, Mollie Walker Freeman, Scott Freeman, Aubrey Grieser, Margie Gray, Eric Holmlund, Sabrina Peterson, Rene Prinsloo, Marcus Robinson
Opinions expressed here are not necessarily the views of the other artists or Resurrection Fellowship.

Lake Providence mural 4

At the center of the mural is a depiction of two recent high school graduates. These girls, both prom queens from their respective LP schools, agreed to appear on the same parade float for the first time in LP history. Both were members of Providence Church in, which supported our team while we were there.

 

LP Judah

An Invitation for Holy Week

JoW Facebook announcement 1It’s the week before Easter, and, for those of you who are in or near front range Northern Colorado, I would like to issue an invitation. For the rest of you I would like to share some jaw-dropping, mind-expanding, God-revealing thoughts about the Passover/Easter season.

A few years ago I was on staff at my church as the “Worship Arts Something-or-Other.” During my brief stint as a staffer, I created an event for Holy Week, (the week between Palm Sunday and Easter,) called the Journey of Worship. Perhaps you may find my reasons for creating this event interesting.

First of all, I sense that the Church in general is lacking a good and meaningful way to give expression to the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus; arguably the most important Christian holiday. Lovers of Jesus want to celebrate it, but may seem to be at a loss as to how to do it. Christmas has a number of traditions surrounding it. But Easter…not so much. There are no Easter carols. It’s hard to even find a good children’s storybook about Easter. I think there are reasons for this, but I’ll leave it at that.

Secondly, I created the Journey of Worship because there is an amazing back-story behind the climactic events of the life of Jesus that has been largely lost to the “gentile Christian church,” I’m not speaking here of some new, unsubstantiated, Dan-Brownish-horse-crap theory, such as: Jesus was married; or gay; or an alien, or a hologram. No. I’m speaking of something much older than Christianity that has been right there all along, but that nearly 2000 years of anti-Semitic “Christian” theology has buried. I’m speaking of the rich Hebrew roots of what has come to be called Christianity. We have the good fortune to live in a time when we can openly speak of these things without religious authorities lighting us on fire.

Thirdly, in light of the disturbing history of Christian-Jewish relations, the Journey of Worship seemed like a way for the gentile church to humble herself, and acknowledge and honor the Jewish roots of her faith. The apostle Paul referred to the gentile (non-Jewish) believers as uncultivated branches that had been grafted into the cultivated tree. He reminded gentile believers not to be arrogant, but to remember that it is the root that supports the branches and not the other way around (Ro 11:17,18.) He said that the gospel of God was to the Jew first (Ro 1:16.) Indeed, I have come to believe that one cannot fully understand who Jesus was and what he accomplished apart from the Jewish context into which He was born.

So…what is the Journey of Worship?

 “We are all part of a larger story. It is our Creator’s story of love, light, & redemption…”

JoW Announcement 2

These are the opening words of the Journey of Worship, a self-guided tour of the final climactic events in the life of Jesus. There is no speaker, live music, or program. We have simply created a contemplative, worshipful environment in the church sanctuary, where people can stay for as long as they like. There are nine stations guiding the viewer through a tour of the spring feasts that Yahweh gave to Israel. Lit luminaries at each station explain the meaning of the four spring feasts and how Jesus fulfilled them. There is a fair amount of adult level reading, so you should be aware of that if you have small children.

What do these ancient Jewish feasts have to do with us today?
God’s appointed feasts have both historical and prophetic significance. They are a remarkable example of the linear, progressive, unfolding revelation of the whole of scripture. In fact, the 7 (or 8 if you include the Sabbath) mandatory festivals given to Israel by God can be viewed as a sort of prophetic calendar.

If you think I’m getting weird on you, please hear me out. Look at how these mandatory feast days are presented in Leviticus chapter 23:

1)     Passover (v 5)

2)     Feast of Unleavened Bread (v 6)

3)     Feast of Early First Fruits (v 10, 11)

4)     Feast of Latter First Fruits [Pentecost] (v 15-17)

Then there is a four month interval…

5)     Feast of Trumpets  (v 24)

6)     Day of Atonement (v27)

7)     Feast of Booths (v34)

Doesn’t it seem odd that the first three feasts are clustered together in the first month, and then after Pentecost there is a four month interval? Then in the seventh month there are 3 more feasts clustered together? Why didn’t God distribute these feasts more evenly throughout the year?

Well, in God’s sovereignty, it appears as though the feasts and intervals are situated this way for prophetic reasons. The Journey of Worship details how Jesus fulfilled the four spring feasts by His crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Each of these world-shaping events occurred in succession precisely on each of these four feast days. In a remarkable and ingenious way, Jesus instituted a new covenant, secured our redemption, sealed our salvation and empowered His new church, giving new and further meaning to these (at the time) 2000 year old traditions. Amazing.

Equally amazing is that the prophetic fulfillment continues today, and we get to be a part of it. The four month interval between the spring and fall feasts seems to correspond to the time in which we now live – a time of harvest. – when people are being added into the kingdom of God. In fact Jesus often used the language of harvest in His parables. In the fourth chapter of John he refers specifically to a four month interval:

“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? I tell you lift up your eyes, and see the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life’” (v35, 36)

Jesus is not concerned about the wheat crop here. He is speaking of spiritual things – about the salvation of human beings. While our expectation would be that the harvest comes in the fall, He tells his disciples not to wait. There is harvesting to be done right now.

Here’s the analogy in the feast of Latter First Fruits (Pentecost): Pentecost was an agricultural festival wherein the people would bring the first fruits of their crops as an offering to God. It was a way of expressing thanks to God for His provision, as well as an act of trust that he would provide an abundant later harvest. According to the scriptures God chose the occasion of the feast of Pentecost to fulfill His promise to introduce the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in a new way (Acts 2:13-33.) Upon seeing this, some 3000 people believed and were added into the kingdom, the first fruits of a great harvest that is still in progress.

It is also remarkable to note that, in Jewish culture, in addition to the original agricultural meaning, this feast eventually acquired a secondary meaning. Rabbis determined that it was on Pentecost that God gave the Law (Torah) to Moses on Mt. Sinai, so Pentecost also came to be a celebration of the giving of the Law. How amazing that the festival that commemorates the giving of the Torah in the old covenant would be the festival that God chose to pour out His Holy Spirit at the advent of His new covenant. Paul elaborates, “…But now we are released from the Torah, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Ro 7:6.)

The three autumn feasts have yet to see a Messianic fulfillment. Many of us think this will happen with the return of the Messiah. The apostle Paul gives us the strange detail that the Messiah’s return will be accompanied by a trumpet blast. Scroll up and look at what the next feast is after the 4 month harvest interval. Just sayin’.

I realize that, to the modern, enlightened, sophisticated ear, this all sounds like a bunch of religious superstitious legend. Except that it simply isn’t. It’s all demonstrably real. Passover and the other spring feasts have been celebrated and handed down by Jewish people for centuries. Real Jewish people are celebrating Passover today as I write this. When the Torah was given 4000 years ago, no one had an inkling that these feasts had Messianic significance. But in fact, they prefigure the climactic events in the life of Jesus, forming perfect analogies that help us understand what Jesus did for us. While Paul alludes to these analogies (1 Cor 5:7,8; 15:20-23) he doesn’t spell them out as they must have seemed obvious at the time of his writing. Who would’ve guessed that the Messianic witness of the Torah would first be denied by most Jews, and then eventually denied by a theologically anti-Semitic gentile church? Nonetheless, the Messianic foreshadowing in the Torah is clearly acknowledged in the New Testament writings:

JoW Announcement 3“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food or drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col 2:16.)

“For since the Torah has but a shadow of the good things instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near” (Heb 10:1.)

The Invitation:
I welcome you to step out of your busy routine and take some time this week (through Saturday) to meditate on what our loving Creator has done for us. If you live in the area, you can visit the Journey of Worship at Summitview Community Church in Ft. Collins, Colorado. Click here for times and details. Admission is free.

No matter where you live, this season I hope you get a glimpse of the larger story of which we are all invited to be a part!

Part 4: Five Things in the Bible that Once Embarrassed Me but that I Now Think are Freaking Profound

Image

Thing #4 – God Commanding Violence in the Old Testament
This one was beyond embarrassing. This issue calls into question the biblical claim that God is loving and good.

Of course, as a kid I grew up with lovey-dovey Christianity, believing that Jesus was all about loving everybody. But at the secular art college where I studied painting, my seasoned, cynical, liberal arts professors reeeelly pressed this point of the supposed “two different Gods” presented in the Bible – the Old Testament God of vengeance vs the New Testament God of love. And the Old Testament God was not merely passive-aggressive, or theoretically OK with violence. At times He specifically commanded Israel to mercilessly slaughter even the women, children, and animals of Israel’s enemies Furthermore, Israel was initially the aggressor, with “God’s blessing,” wiping out people groups with the aim of occupying their land. On one hand, the OT presents the idea that YHWH is unique, and above all other gods, but His commands to Israel to slaughter her enemies suggests that He is no different from any other war-like, barbaric, us-vs-them god.

Furthermore, I hope we can all agree that “God wants me to kill these people” is horrible foreign policy for our world, yet we still have precisely this kind of reasoning guiding militant Islam today. How can Bible lovers like myself say this thinking was OK for ancient Israel but not for contemporary Islam?

In light of Israel’s role in the world as stated in the Bible, I see three reasons for God commanding violence:

1 – The “J”-word
If God conceived and created all of life, then He has ultimate authority, and we are accountable to Him. The Bible portrays all of humanity as lost and dying. With Abraham, God established the nation of Israel and explicitly stated that Israel’s role in the world was to be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Gen 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14.) He promised a land to Abraham’s descendants at this time. Later, under Moses, God delivered His Torah (Law) to serve as a guide to His “witness people” and a witness to the surrounding nations (Deut 4:7,8.)

So…how does killing off the surrounding nations constitute being a light and a blessing?

Initially, the Torah states that God was using Israel as an instrument of His judgment against the inhabitants of the Promised Land. It says He withheld judgment against those inhabitants for 400 years “until their iniquity was complete” (Gen 15:15,16.) We are told the nature of their iniquity: rampant violence and murder, thievery, rape, prostitution, incest, bestiality, and child abuse including routine child burning in sacrifice to their false gods (Lev ch 18, specifically v 24, 25.) This describes a society, most of the inhabitants of which would be imprisoned or on death row in our legal system. This was a time before there was such a thing as spiritual re-birth, or even 12-step programs. The picture is of a society openly practicing evil (which always entails harming others,) liking it that way, and passing it on to their children. For example the story of Sodom says that the men of the city, “both young and old, to the last man” came out to gang rape Lot’s guests.

Justice is part of goodness and love. It is not good or loving to any party to let a playground bully have his way everyday with the other children on the playground. Good authority must step in to keep evil in check. It must also be remembered that Israel herself was not exempt from judgment. God promised to use the nations to visit the same judgment upon Israel should she turn from God’s covenant, as eventually happened.

If the idea of God using Israel to judge the surrounding nations is objectionable to you, I would sincerely like to hear your ideas as to what you think God should have done instead to keep violence and evil in check. (Call out the UN Peacekeeping Force?) Even today, the world’s peace loving and “enlightened” nations are sometimes forced to revert to warfare in order to keep greater evils in check. Ultimately the spiritually corrupt state of the human condition is the reason God sent a Savior. In part, the Torah was designed as a temporal agent to set a reasonable standard for Israel and the nations until the Messiah’s coming (Gal 3:23-25.) The whole batch of humanity was lost, and pretty much rotting from the inside out.

2 – Extreme intervention
Many Bible critics seem to assume that if God commands something anywhere in the Bible, then He must think it is categorically right and good. But we can easily see that this is not the case, neither in the Bible nor in the rest of life. For example when my children were toddlers, I absolutely did not allow them to cross the street by themselves. Now that they are grown, I expect them to.

Similarly, one can’t isolate a biblical command of God and claim that it represents God’s perfect ideal when the whole of the Bible claims that it does not. The Bible’s linear, progressive, unfolding revelation is consistent both with itself and with the world we know. If a skeptic’s argument ignores the whole, he forfeits his right to argue against the legitimacy of the Bible. His argument is simply reduced to “I really don’t like that part of the Bible.” To which I might reply, “I’m with you bro. I don’t like that part either. And apparently God didn’t like it either, seeing as He sent a Messiah.”

A benevolent doctor may prescribe chemotherapy for a cancer patient, even though chemo would be a terrible prescription for a healthy, cancer-free person. The benevolent doctor may even need to amputate a limb in order to save the larger body, though this would appear unspeakably cruel to an uninformed onlooker. However, it would be wrong to call the character of the doctor into question unless he goes around sadistically cutting limbs off of healthily functioning people.

Perhaps God viewed the cutting off of the depraved nations inhabiting the promised land as an amputation; an intervention necessary to spare the larger body of the human race, until such time as something better – true healing and guidance – could be brought into play. The cancer of sin threatened to bring judgment down upon all of humanity again, as with Noah’s flood. Eventually, God’s Messiah would come to deal with the sin issue once and for all. God would judge sin in the Messiah, and introduce the possibility of spiritual rebirth to humanity.

The Bible states that God is not categorically happy with slaughtering evil people. Several times He states that this is not His first choice: “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked should turn from his way and live…” (Ezek 33:11, see also 18:23 & 32.)

3 – Prefiguring better realities
Now comes a surprise. In a previous post I wrote of God’s vision for Jewish-gentile unity, and how the coming of the Messiah has made this possible. The apostle Paul writes of this unity in an often-overlooked passage in his letter to the Romans, chapter 15:8-12. Here he quotes prophetic passages from Moses, King David, and the prophets to make his case:

“For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised [the Jews] to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the gentiles might glorify God for His mercy. As it is written,
‘Therefore I will praise thee among the gentiles, and sing to thy name’; [David – Ps 18:49]
And again it is said, ‘Rejoice, O gentiles, with his people’; [Moses – Deut 32:43]
And again, ‘Praise the Lord all gentiles, and let all the people praise Him’; [David – Ps 117:1]
And further Isaiah says, ‘The root of Jesse shall come, He who rises to rule the gentiles; in Him shall the gentiles hope.’” [Isaiah – 11:10]

Don’t these Old Testament quotations sound nice? They’re not. In what appears to be a feat of dishonest interpretive gymnastics, Paul cites one of the bloodiest Psalms of David as a prophetic statement on Jewish-gentile unity! Psalm 18:49 is, in fact, David thanking God for giving him victory over his gentile enemies. In other words, he killed them. This Psalm contains statements such as,

“I pursued my enemies and overtook them; and did not turn back till they were consumed. I thrust them through so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet…” and, “…I beat them fine as dust before the wind; I cast them out like the mire of the streets.” (v 37, 38, & 42)

Wow. What possible justification could Paul have for using the warrior-king’s exultations to speak of unity and friendship with the nations?

Well…exactly the same justification that he had to interpret every other aspect of the Mosaic Covenant as a foreshadowing of the new and better spiritual realities that arrived with the Messiah’s New Covenant. From top to bottom, every aspect of the Torah and the prophets has been (or will be) fulfilled in the Messiah, and is now translated into spiritual terms, according to the teaching of Jesus and His apostles. This is not some interpretive sleight of hand. This IS what all the Torah and the prophets pointed to and looked forward to. This is what all of creation and its Creator have been waiting for. It’s the historic coming of salvation and the kingdom of God, entering into our present, corrupt age. It comes with an invitation, with the aim of eventually unifying all things (Eph 1:9,10.)

Specifically, New Covenant teaching acknowledges a warfare, but says we no longer fight against flesh and blood. Neither are our armor and weaponry material (Eph 6:11-17.) We still invade nations on behalf of a kingdom, but we bring a message of love and salvation, never a sword. We do hope to see the inhabitants of all nations individually surrender to Israel’s God, but not as prisoners. We surrender to the Lordship of Jesus, becoming spiritual sons and daughters of our Creator, and co-heirs with believing Israel.

In keeping with this radical New Covenant way of thinking, Jesus says things like, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies…” (Mt 5:43,44.) And we have apostolic teaching agreeing, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God…” (2 Cor 10:3-5.)

Summary
I don’t believe that King David had the slightest inkling that what He was writing had anything to do with an eventual New Covenant wherein God’s people would love their enemies. Nor did Moses have a clue that the feasts of Israel in Leviticus had anything to do with prefiguring the work of a Messiah who would come two millennia later. These prophets were immersed in the dispensation of the Old Covenant under which they lived, and what they wrote was in complete fidelity with that context. The fact that there is a precise, uncanny correspondence between the Old and New Covenants over a period of several millennia is due only to the genius of God.

Clearly, Mohammad also had no inkling of these things when he founded Islam, 600 years after Jesus established His New Covenant. Despite the Koran’s repeated claims that it supports the Gospels, it clearly does not. In fact the Koran contradicts all that Jesus accomplished, reverting back to physical terms and conditions similar to those of the old Mosaic Covenant, including the recognition and slaughter of Islam’s human enemies. Islam’s prophet was a warrior. There is no new covenant in the Koran.

In the teaching of Jesus and His apostles we see a revolutionary, seismic change that far transcends the time in which it was written. Specifically, in the New Covenant of Jesus we see the elimination of ethnic differences (no Jew or Greek,) status and economic differences (no slave or free,) and gender differences (no male or female.) Freaking revolutionary.

“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus…” (Gal 3:27-28; also Col 3:9-11.)

(Thanks to Pastor Jonathan Williams for first pointing out the Romans 15 passage to me.)