Sunday, June 22, 2014

Reconsidering Homosexuality

Different and the Same
My perspective on same sex attraction has changed. What hasn't changed is that I still believe that the Bible clearly teaches homosexual practice as sinful. This is not a post that will defend that statement, although one day I may pursue that. Where I have changed, however, is in my perspective of and interaction with people who have same sex attraction.

Marriage, State, and the Trinity
Politically, I'm a comfortable conservative with libertarian itchings. It is true that I am opposed to same sex marriage in America.  I do recognize some accompanying issues with the redefining of marriage as something other than the union of a man and woman. But even with that recognition of potential issues, my opposition of same sex marriage is not primarily political. It's theological. The culture we are immersed in provides much context in our formative understanding. When we read of Christ's loving the church as His bride (Eph. 5:25) and of the great Wedding Feast uniting the Divine Groom to His Bride (Rev. 19:6-9) our assumed understanding is of the uniting of two distinct peoples.

Proper Christian theology teaches that God exists in a Trinitarian relationship. Yet, the Bible also describes God as one:"“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one" (Deut. 6:4). Although three distinct Persons with three distinct personalities, God as Trinity is one. The underlying Hebrew word for one is ehad. This is also the same word used to describe the marital relationship between Adam and Eve. Speaking of the pattern of marriage, Genesis records that "man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). Just like the Trinity is distinct but one, so is a man and woman in becoming one flesh. Men and women are different-both physically and emotionally. But in marriage they are joined together-distinct, differing genders-as one flesh. Marriage is an invitation to mirror the ehad, the oneness in diversity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

It is inevitable that same sex marriage will be the law of the land all across the United States. And that's ok. Public recognition of same sex marriage, although damaging to a theological understanding of marriage, will not doom the United States.

America and Rome
America's embrace of homosexual marriage, preachers say, will be the cause of its downfall. And here the comparisons to Rome are made. It's an understatement to say that comparisons to Rome are misleading. With Constantinople's rise to prominence, Rome became less central to a divided Empire. In 410, Rome was initially sacked. In 455, Rome was sacked again. Rome's decline cannot be attributed to one cultural, economic, or political factor. Disease, decay, lack of natural resources, and invasion all played a hand in Rome's fall. It was a culmination of events that took place over several hundred years. Even with Rome's fall, the remaining Roman Empire transformed and thrived as The Byzantine Empire and lasted for another 1,000 years. 

In 400 B.C. Rome was far more culturally debauched before and during its rise to greatness than in its Christianized state of A.D. 400 when it began to decline. There is no correlation between the morality of the Empire and its success. Conservatives who are quick to point out the similarities between America's increasingly progressive culture and Roman debauchery neglect to mention these factors.

We're All Abnormal
One of the basic truths about the Gospel is its clear proclamation that all of humanity is depraved. Every person that has ever lived, Jesus Himself the sole exception (2 Cor. 5:21), is a lost sinner (Rom. 3:10-12). Not one of us is as he should be. We are all abnormal. When faced with our faults we often say, "we're only human." The truth, however, is that we aren't human enough. Adam was most fully human when he was free from sin, walking in the presence of his Creator. Adam, Paul tells us, "was a type of the one who was to come" (Rom. 5:14). Man, in his perfect state, is but a type, or a forerunner of the True Human. This Man would take the title, "Son of Man." Humanity, ironically, has its fullest expression in the Divine Son, Jesus.He is the most fully human being that has ever existed.  There isn't one of us, saint or sinner, straight or gay who can stake a claim to normal humanity. That distinction belongs to Jesus alone.  

When we view and speak of people with same sex attraction as abnormal we dehumanize them. Though fallen, like us, they still bear God's image, like us. Consequently, our engagement with them will be seriously twisted. Heterosexual sins are not any cleaner than homosexual sins. It is God, after all, who says: 
"Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it"~Ezekiel 16:49-50
This devastating proclamation does not negate the sin of Sodom's homosexuality (Jd. 7). What it does do, however, is reveal God's perspective. In God's eyes, pride and ignoring the poor and needy is just as damning as homosexual activity.

One day while walking back from class with my friend Sean, we were discussing a grotesque crime that was current in the news. "What an animal," I said of the criminal. "If not for the grace of God, what kind of people would we be, Josh?" Sean replied. He had rebuked me, and he was right. In my pride, I was actually offended at the what Sean said to me. Although I had believed what Sean said, I wasn't living it. When we in our pride look down on disgust at people with same sex attraction, we are sinning-and our sin is just as wicked as their practice.

It was one summer a few years ago that I returned to New Mexico from school and a young man sought my help in his personal struggles--same sex attraction among them. We talked about the Gospel, sanctification and satisfaction in Christ. I shared with him how as our relationship with Jesus satisfies us far more than sin ever could. And then I asked him if he had "victory over his same sex attraction." He said that he had. Our conversation then moved on. I cringe now when I think of that conversation and the counsel I gave him. While I believe I was correct in pointing him to relationship with Jesus and telling him how that satisfies us more than sin can, I did give him a false expectation. The impression I gave is that he could experience a complete freedom from the pull of same sex attraction. That's just not reality, for any Christian. Sin's seduction is never fully vanquished in this life. Paul himself struggled with this Christian living experience (Rom. 7:15). I've been saved for many years, and I still feel the pull of my own sins. These sins still compete with my joy in Christ. When counseling that young man, I painted an unbiblical, destructive, hopeless picture of sanctification for him.

My perspective at that time was that individuals struggling with same sex attraction are abnormal. Though I would never have said it, in my heart I truly believed same sex attraction to be a far more grotesque, wicked sin than others. During that time, if I saw a same sex couple I would have been disgusted and offended. That perspective seriously crippled my counsel to that young man. If I were to do it all over again, I would explain to him that although our sins are different, we are ultimately really the same. We're both struggling sinners desperately in need of God's grace.

I have finally reached the point in my life where I no longer view individuals with same sex attraction that way. I finally see them as people-magnificent, image bearers of Christ broken by sin just like me. They aren't the enemy. Their sin is no worse than mine. They need Jesus as much as I need Jesus.

Christians, 0f all people, should love and care most for people with same sex attraction. We, who have experienced Gospel power, should not view people with same sex attraction with disgust. We should not resent them. We should give them the Gospel not in word only, but in action. We must remember that we're all abnormal and that the Gospel is for all of us.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sinful, Yet Righteous

Our world is complex: beautiful and lethal, hot and cold, dry and wet. There are mountains and valleys, deserts and oceans.  Our lives are also complex. They are filled with glee and agony, love and hate, life and death. Solomon recognized the complexity of the human experience in his beloved poem:

 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
 a time to be born, and a time to die;
 a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
 a time to break down, and a time to build up;
 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
 a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
 a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
 a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
 a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
 a time to love, and a time to hate;
 a time for war, and a time for peace.
        ~Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
Life, then, is filled with seasons. Complex seasons with complex living. In the Christian life, complexity abounds. There is no such thing as a clean black and white. Life swims in a gray ocean. Though redeemed, we still sin.

Righteousness and Sinfulness
In our Christian experience we long to be rid of sin, and to be fully immersed in the ocean of satisfaction. Though we have tasted God's goodness and experienced His joy, we feel ourselves pulled back down to our sins. Sin, though pleasurable,  falls far short of the happy life in Christ. "Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly," Solomon observes (Prov. 26:11).  We are offered the joy of satisfaction and we refuse it preferring fleeting, unfulfilling pleasure. Speaking of Israel, God exclaimed, "Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:12-13). It was shocking to God that His people refused His infinite bliss for finite, unsatisfying living.

Sound Christian theology teaches what the theologians call the imputed righteousness of Christ. Speaking of Christ, Paul writes "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21).  Just as God imputed our sin to Christ on the cross, He imputes Christ's righteousness to us. Because of Christ's work we are treated by God as righteous. 
We are commanded to by holy like God is holy (1 Pt. 1:16), but we fail. It is easy to become discouraged. Paul felt inner soul tension. "I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate," the apostle confessed to the Church at Rome (Rom. 7:15).

Christianity and Perfectionism
Many times, Christianity's focus is not on an individual's heart or relationship with God. Instead, what is important is the external: his dress, his entertainment, even the church he attends. The Holy Spirit is not trusted to conform that person to His likeness. In this Christianity, there is an unsaid expectation of perfect, neat, clean lives. There isn't room the reality of a messy existence. Perfect, neat lives however, do not conform to our experiences. Nor are they recorded for us in Scripture. All of humanity is grotesquely marred by sin, even Christians. 

Heroes in the Bible were fallen. Moses committed murder. David, a man after God's own heart, had an affair with Bathsheba and ordered the murder of her husband. Solomon, the wise king, was a polygamist and worshiped other gods. When He needed their companionship most, the disciples deserted Christ. Peter denied Him. 

As Protestants, it's easy to paint a target on Catholicism's history with its crusades and inquisitions. But our heroes, our theological giants, were deeply flawed as well. Martin Luther was anti-Semantic. John Calvin played a role in the execution of Michael Servetus. While in his fifties, John Knox married a teenage girl. Jonathan Edwards owned slaves. John Wesley failed miserably as a husband. 

Life is unendingly complex. Navigating through its calm and rough waters is no easy task. It's a messy thing to be living person. It's a messy thing to be a Christian. We can bask in the bliss of satisfaction in Christ and we can roll in the mud of sin. No one, however close to God, has it all together. No one has arrived. A Christianity that looks down on struggling people is self deceived Christianity. We are all struggling because we are all deeply flawed. 

So we are faced with a tension. We live as people marred by sin but redeemed by Christ. Although righteous, we still sin. We still fall short. But, there is refreshing, life charging, energizing grace. We should strive for holiness in our lives. But our striving should be accompanied by the acknowledgement that even the righteous sin. Our treatment of other Christians must also be seriously guided by that reality. When we sin and are faced with despair, we must remember the truth of the Gospel: "And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross" (Col. 2:13-14). All our sins, He nailed to the cross. Beautiful, life giving words. Even after this redemption, Even as righteous, we sin.  Again, we turn to Solomon, "Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins" (Eccl. 7:20). Solomon's wisdom, mirroring our own complex lives, leaves us in tension. And that's ok.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Thoughts on Godzilla

Back to Boyhood
A couple of years ago Comic Con brought whispers of a new Godzilla movie. Pacific Rim unleashed excitement about Kaiju's on the big screen again, setting the stage for the King of the Monster's return. I've always loved Godzilla. I grew up watching Toho's Godzilla with my dad who also grew up loving Godzilla. The moment I heard that a new Godzilla was in production I was both excited and nervous. Excited, because Godzilla is totally awesome. Nervous, because the last time Americans attempted a Godzilla movie it was a total disaster (GODZILLA, 1998). But more than anything, I felt myself reverting back to boyhood. Boyhood, back when girls had cooties and the Dallas Cowboys were winning super bowls--good times for sure. Godzilla was a boyhood favorite and I could not wait to see him return to the big screen.

America Redeems Itself
In Godzilla, Director Gareth Edwards made an installment worthy of the name, redeeming America of the '98 mistake. Roland Emmerich's GODZILLA was a joke, having Ferris Bueller face off against a giant mutated, pregnant iguana in cliched New York City. Even though Toho's Godzilla had been reduced to predictable, cheesy, B movies, they were still much better than Emmerich's Godzilla. As a little jab at Emmerich's Godzilla, Toho took  "Godzilla" renamed it Zilla and faced it up against the real Godzilla in Godzilla:Final Wars. Their fight, lasting all of fifteen seconds, is the shortest match up in the entire Godzilla franchise.  Below, is the fight between Godzilla and Zilla from Godzilla: Final Wars.

****Spoilers Below****


Angelina Jolie
Wait, Angelina Jolie isn't in Godzilla! You are right. She isn't. But she did harm my long anticipated Godzilla experience. I waited for a long time to see Godzilla. I wanted nothing less than to see Godzilla in an IMAX theater. Tragically, sseeing Godzilla smack around other monsters on that huge screen didn't happen. Just two days before I made the trip down to Albuqurque to see Godzilla in IMAX glory, it was suddenly out of the theater. Angelina Jolie and her Maleficent were to blame for that. For spearing my Godzilla dreams on her pointy fairy horns, I'm boycotting Angelina Jolie for life. And I won't watch Maleficent. Ever. Because of her, I had to watch Godzilla at the Allen 8 with a significantly smaller screen than IMAX, surrounded by crying kids, slurping sodas, loud popcorn munchers and the glow of cell phones. Thanks, Angelina. 

Everyone Not Named Bryan Cranston
Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays Ford Brody, a very boring character with little depth and lacking of an engaging portrayl. Elizabeth Olsen, sister of famed Olsen twins, plays his wife. She is even more forgettable than her husband and somehow survives the epic fight between Godzilla and the MUTOs. Of all the main cast not named Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanbe portrays the most believable character. The problem with Watanbe's character, however, is he is not a vital character in the movie and doesn't have all that much screen time. The movie teases us with Cranston as Joe Brody but actually focuses on his son Ford Brody and his journey home to San Francisco. 

Godzilla,himself, was awesome. I'll talk about him more in the "The Good" section below. Here, my complaint is that he wasn't in the film nearly as much as he deserved. I knew Godzilla wasn't a mindless action movie. I knew it was a deeply human drama in the midst of Kaiju combat chaos. I just wish I would have seen more of him. I also wish that the movie would have focused less on boring Ford Brody and more on the stomping, roaring, Godzilla. Gareth Edwards certainly did a great job building up the tension leading to Godzilla's arrival. He didn't immediately reveal all of Godzilla, we saw spikes here and a tail there. That was excellent. What wasn't excellent, however, was the inevitable cut away to Brody or his wife when the action began between Godzilla and the MUTOs. You have to wait almost the entire movie before having sustained focus on Godzilla himself. Even then, though awesome, Godzilla's final fight is far too short. 


Bryan Cranston
Best known as Malcom's dad and drug king Heisenberg, Bryan Cranston is the biggest star in Godzilla. Cranston's acting is superb, the best in the entire movie. He plays Joe Brody, a supervisor of a nuclear plant in Japan. From the very beginning with Brody's wife's tragic death, Cranston delivers. His performance was so gripping, I found myself tearing up. Tears in a Godzilla movie? Possible with Cranston. Unfortunately, Cranston's screen time does not reflect his appearance in the movie's trailers. In a surprise twist, reminiscent of Ned Stark, Cranston's character dies fairly early on. Although necessary to the plot and laying the groundwork for the movie's true hero, I would have loved to have seen more Cranston in Godzilla. Maybe he'll be a major player in Better Call Saul. I can dream right?

All of the movie's trailers and promotional images promised a showdown between Heisenberg and Godzilla or Godzilla and Heisenberg vs. some Kaiju.With the early death of Bryan Cranston's character, a gaping void is left.  Who will emerge as the central hero of the movie? With humanity's failure to stop the MUTOs, it becomes very clear who that hero is. Godzilla, The King of the Monsters, dramatically rises from the Pacific Ocean as the movie's hero. He majestically battles and defeats the MUTOs.

Not only is he the movie's hero, he looks and sounds amazing. Long gone are the days of a guy in a rubber suit. This Godzilla is fully CGI, some of the finest CGI I've ever seen. Designed in cooperation with Toho, Godzilla looks incredible. His roar is a slightly modified version of his iconic Toho roar. He is a far cry from the iguana mistake of '98. 

I had high expectations for Godzilla. Even though I wish Bryan Cranston had more time in the movie and that Godzilla's fight sequences were longer, Godzilla delivered. In my opinion, this Godzilla bypassed the cheesiness that has largely characterized the franchise. Its the fullest expression of any Godzilla movie I've seen. It's realistic (as realistic as a giant monster fighting other monsters can be), and it's a serious movie. In many ways it is a throwback to the original Godzilla or Gojira. I'm excited that this is first of a planned trilogy with Edwards as director. I may have missed Godzilla on the IMAX, but that won't happen next time. The King of the Monster's next return to the big screen deserves the big, big screen. My anticipation is already rising.

Godzilla gets four, hot Hatch Green Chilis out of five: