Last week, I was in some fascinating meetings about how technology might be used to encourage and facilitate living how we ought, according to the Bible. (Read my post on the problems and possibilities of a prayer app.)
Andy Crouch, the author of Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, said something there that intrigued me: “The form is more formative than the content.” He went on to say that the Facebook Like button itself is forming our culture more than the content people are “liking.”
As someone who spends a lot of time thinking and working to put good content up with Like buttons on it, I had to follow up. I asked if he’d written anything more on the “culture making” of social media platforms, or if he’d like to guest post on this for the InterVarsity blog. He replied that he hadn’t, he wouldn’t, and “You should write it.” I really respect Andy Crouch.
Now, I’m not a brain scientist or a software engineer or a theologian. But I am employed to use social media for good, to equip others to do the same, and I think critically about what I do. So I aim here to reflect a bit and start some conversation on this.
So what are the effects of the Facebook Like button?
We share only what is positive, and its corollary, don’t be a downer. This might be overstating it, but there is a clear preference of one over the other.
We’ve all seen friends lament the lack of a “dislike” button. Is it appropriate to click Like on a post about someone finding out they have cancer and that they’re going to fight it? You like the latter but not the former. So, we are subtly pushed to share what will cause others to read, smile, nod, and Like.
Does this keep us from important topics that are difficult? Are those reserved for face-to-face conversations? As more of our relationships are mediated, do we lack the time and physical space to deal with the hard things in our lives? (Click to tweet this.)
We are inordinately focused on others’ opinions, and its corollary, these are the opinions that matter. I think it’s human nature that we want to be liked, and that this even has some positive social norming to it. We may be more desirous of a life that is worth living—that others commend—as a result of the Like button.
But more often than not, we can end up chasing the approval of the crowd, even if the crowd is headed in the wrong direction. Rather than hearing heroic voices, those who are living—and thinking—in exemplary fashion, we are voted up and down by people who may be trying to feel good about their choices. This is why we need to choose our Facebook friends carefully. (Click to tweet this.)
We have an illusion of action and relationship when we use the Like button. (Click to tweet this.) Does it really matter that I’ve liked a friend’s update or the page of an anti-human trafficking organization? I may have an undue sense of accomplishment from the weakest of all responses: clicking a virtual button while sitting on a couch.
A million little actions can build up into something significant. Maybe the publicness of Facebook inherently fights off hypocrisy. But there is certainly a temptation to Like something and then not write a thank you letter to someone or a letter to your public official, right?
Other effects of the Like button come to mind: it’s hard to have respectful disagreements, we may inflate ourselves, we substitute a thousand shallow connections for a few deep ones, we waste time, numbed to the effect of the tool itself.
So, do you think “The medium is the message?” How is this form forming us? Let’s interact in the comments.
Can your phone help you connect with God?
This week, I had the opportunity to meet with some talented, smart people about using technology to encourage Christian practices.
We gathered in a well-designed, shared workspace, listened to Andy Crouch, and the team from YouVersion, and then split into working groups. I was in the one on the group’s first solid initiative: a prayer app.
Consider some of the possibilities:
- Prayer is a cornerstone of relating to God, and most Christians struggle with it.
- You could see where in the world people are praying for the same issue as you (e.g. conflict in Mali, the fiscal cliff, human trafficking).
- Maybe you could connect with others around you who are praying.
- You could read stories of answered prayer and see them coming in real time.
- People who do not follow Jesus could share needs and connect to someone to be prayed for and counseled.
Consider a few of the pitfalls:
- The Bible warns about public prayer: “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)
- People have radically different ideas about what prayer is (and Who it is with).
- We are questioning our technology and our own disembodiment and disconnection.
- Prayer is messy, and sometimes it seems like God is not answering our prayers.
- Smartphones are for the wealthy and privileged. We need some of our sisters and brothers with limited resources to be teaching us about prayer (and the rest of the life of faith).
We had the question posted to us, “What problem do you personally face in prayer that this might address?”
First, I am cynical about that moment, that exchange, where someone says, “I’ll be praying for you.” I know my own failings in remembering to pray. I suspect lots of people are like me in this.
Today, if I mean something I say, I often pull out my phone to do something. “Hey, let’s get together!” If I mean it, I get out my phone and look for a time. If I don’t get out my phone, I’m just being polite.
I would use an app to grab those moments. This could have categories and reminders built in. If I would find myself saying, “I’ll pray about that,” I would get out my phone. And I bet I would say it more, and I would actually pray more.
Second, I lead a small group at our church. I gather up prayer requests from our time in my journal, then I often later enter them into The City, a web-based tool we use to stay organized. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I’m too busy.
It would be much easier if I could do this through my phone, right as we are gathered. An app, along with an associated site, could help everyone track with one another, reminding us and telling us about answers to what we’re praying about.
Again, I think we’d actually pray more because of this. I do think it would be fascinating to have data displayed about where prayer is happening and to some extent on what issues. Doing this anonymously would avoid some of the theological questions raised by Matthew 6.
I’ve not blogged here much lately. I have good excuses:
- This fall our book, This Ordinary Adventure: Settling Down Without Settling, came out.
- Chrissy and I started a new blog related to that.
- We wrote a column for six months for Relevant, and you can read them here.
- And I worked on InterVarsity’s huge Urbana Student Missions Conference.
I have been part of the 10-member leadership team for Urbana. During the conference, I led our social media efforts and live stream content for the 16,000 people on-site (and everybody else who couldn’t be there).
We had not done either of these before. It seems like we did a pretty good job.
And to get down to results, we had nearly 40,000 tweets on our hashtag (#u12) or about seven tweets per minute around the clock for the duration of the event. My team tweeted over 3,000 times (with a large percentage being interaction with individual participants) and we were retweeted 6500 times.
We posted over 300 photos on Instagram, with over 6,000 likes. Another 6,400 photos were posted about the event by people using our hashtag (#u12).
Our live streaming content had over 10,000 viewers on YouTube. We posted individual videos and segments on Urbana.org, as well as on Vimeo, with total views passing 15,000 during the conference, including 5,500 of David Platt’s message and another 1,000 on a powerful and eloquent call to faith by Ram Sridharan. DJ Chuang also wrote a liveblog for us.
At Urbana 12, we had about 3,700 people recommit their lives to Jesus, 6,500 people commit to study the Bible with friends who aren’t Christians, and a staggering 4,000 people commit to long-term service in God’s global mission. Think of what 4,000 leaders can do in the coming decades!
I wonder if in some small measure God used the efforts of my team to connect participants to the content and to each other in a stronger way than ever before.
How did we do this?
Who really knows how to facilitate social media interactions amongst 16,000 participants, including over 260 organizations, and hours of diverse content from 150 overlapping seminars? This week, I quoted Indiana Jones to a reporter on this topic, “I’m making this up as I go.” Here’s what we did…
Assemble a large, diverse, skilled team (the “social squad”) of people—different experience levels with Urbana and missions, different involvement with social media, different ethnicities, from different parts of the country.
Set vision. Our aim was to “be a conduit for God’s action to move upon as many people as possible as deeply as possible through Urbana content and related conversation to help compel our generation to give our whole lives for God’s global mission.”
Enable others. Our main job was not to push content, but to interact with people. We answered questions, we shared their observations and stories, we connected them to some of the 250 mission organizations on-site.
Listen well. We knew what was going on with participants in way we haven’t in any previous Urbanas (and we’ve been doing this since 1946). We captured important quotes and stories from students that otherwise we never would have found.
Learn as you go. I explained to my team from the beginning that we’d be experimenting, measuring, evaluating, and innovating again. With social tools, feedback is very fast, so you can morph in the midst of a long five-day conference like Urbana.
This is ministry. I kept our focus on facilitating what God was doing in the lives of people at the conference. I stressed the need to be pastoral for participants, to help them process as they drank from the fire hose.
Share great content. This was easy, as the Urbana program team brought together leaders from around the world who are very gifted. We used as much visual content, strong quotes, and student stories as possible.
Coordinate. If there was an area we missed, it was this. We used the @UrbanaMissions and @InterVarsityUSA accounts, but lots of other parts of our organization were also actively producing content. I’d like to pull us all together a little bit more next time.
Did you follow along during Urbana 12?
What was good?
What could have been better?
Leave a comment below.
It used to be that to help your favorite author, there was one action step: buy their book.
Not so anymore.
In the new media landscape, with more authors than ever (and therefore more books than ever), authors need help from their friends. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because our book comes out very soon.
Here’s what you can do:
- Don’t Buy their Book…Yet. Hang tight before buying their book. It only takes a couple hundred people buying a book to make it leap up on Amazon’s ranking. This yields fruit in how Amazon deals with the book and how people view it. (If you’ve not bought our book yet, please wait! We’ll give you a green light either next week or the week after (9/3 or 9/10) on our blogs and social media !)
- Write a review. Few things speak to people thinking about buying a book than reviews. It only takes a few minutes on Amazon and Good Reads. (For example, our goal is to get 100 reviews on Amazon. Help us out!)
- Connect to the author on social media. If you like them and their writing, follow along on a more frequent basis. On our Facebook page for our book, we’re going to be orchestrating a bit of fun and sharing good stuff from other writers, too, as well as news about our speaking engagements, interviews, and other writing. (Click over there and like it now.) Plus, both of us are on Twitter. @ChristineJeske shares good stuff about development, culture, and justice. @AdamJeske tweets about culture, communications, leadership, and funny stuff. We
- Share on social media. The most helpful thing you can do for your favorite author to is share about their work and ideas. Your friends are the kind of people who might also like the same authors, and your opinion is valuable to them. Share favorite quotes from the book. Share your review of the book. Share what questions the book answered or what problems it helps you solve. We’ll be posting lots of good stuff on our Facebook page, and we hope our friends and fans share that, too.
- Share in real life. The worst thing you can tell an author is, “I love your book! I’ve lent my copy to five different people!” What the author wants to hear is, “I love your book! I’ve given five copies to my friends!” Pass your copy around when that’s convenient, but if it’s worth reading, buy a copy for some friends. That will help the author get to write more of the same down the road!
- Use it in a book group. Gathering a group of people around a good book is great for your favorite author and for the group! Some books make this easier than others—This Ordinary Adventure has discussion questions for just such an arrangement. So gather some friends, neighbors, old college friends, people from church, or even people who are spread across the country using a tool like Groups on Good Reads.
- And yes, you should buy their book.
Did I miss anything?
“I’m just can’t talk about myself like that.”
“I’m afraid of rejection.”
And most damning, “It feels icky.”
I’ve been a writer for six and a half years. (Well, at the start, I said I was a writer, but I had no evidence of that fact for editors.) I started off in motorcycle travel photojournalism, telling stories about traveling across southern Africa when we lived there. I had no name. I had no sponsors. I had no publishing credits. I didn’t even have very much skill. But I am very good at the key to good self-promotion:
I find out what people need and help them.
You’re an editor of a small magazine in California about on-/off-road motorcycling? I’ll write you a story about my similar experiences in South Africa.
You publish a motorcycling magazine in South Africa? I’ll give your readers a piece on an American’s view of the riding scene, from the inside.
Your magazine covers living with a faith perspective for young adults in the U.S.? I’ll tell you the story of finding out Chrissy was pregnant and how we freaked out.
You are struggling with living out the extreme teachings of Jesus in middle-class America? We’ll tell you about the journey and struggle of re-entry after our years overseas, with insights from friends there, in This Ordinary Adventure.
All along the way, I listen to people, love people, and seek to solve their problems. This is the most natural and effective self-promotion possible.
So when I share one of our columns in Relevant with my Facebook friends, I use a quote that might be challenging or encouraging. When I tweet about my work for Urbana 12, I share student ministry insights from my InterVarsity colleagues and the excellent work of 250+ international missions. organizations. When I speak on campus about our book, I will first find out where students are at, what issues they’re dealing with, and what they need.
Even this post is an example of this commitment. If I wrote a post today called “Why Our Book is Awesome,” no one would read it. But I’m solving your problem of needing to promote your work but feeling uncomfortable about it and so here you are, at the end of the piece, with a little encouragement, maybe a new idea, and a general impression that I’m a happy, helpful guy with an interesting book coming out. See what I did there?
Love people and solve their problems. That’s the key to self-promotion.
And that’s not icky.
Did this post address your misgivings about self-promotion? Why or why not?
My first book is coming out in a couple weeks (This Ordinary Adventure: Settling Down Without Settling). I co-wrote this book with my lovely wife, who wrote another book a couple years ago. I helped as a quasi-agent for that project. We also write a biweekly column for Relevant and contribute to their print magazine. And we both blog.
In the past few years, then, I’ve thought mucho about how and where our content goes out. The publishing industry continues to lurch and sputter, trying to figure out how to adjust to the new communications landscape. This ought to give you pause if you’re thinking about writing a book.
Here’s why you shouldn’t:
- You want to be rich. The average book sells something like 1,000 copies. Even at cover price (and no one has bought a book for cover price since the 1800s), that’s like $15,000 gross. Take out printing. Shipping. Ads. Editorial staff. You may pocket the advance, but a few thousand dollars for the number of hours that go into a book doesn’t equate to “rich.” It’s got to be something like .1% of all book projects that pay the author more than minimum wage for their time.
- You want to be famous. How many authors do you think you could name? Recognize on the street? Even just know the name of while browsing books? I’d guess maybe a few hundred for myself, and I’m good with names and I read a fair bit. Even in a niche market, there are not many famous authors. Committing a novel crime is a much easier way to get famous than writing a novel.
- You want to be a writer. It’s far easier to just publish your own work on a blog or as an e-book through one of the new services that’s popped up. You don’t need to publish a book to be a writer. You just need WordPress. It’s easier and it’s faster. So why schlep through the months (years!) of a book project?
But we’ve got a book coming out anyway. Here’s why we still thought writing This Ordinary Adventure would be worthwhile:
- We want to reach certain people. A key to effective communication is using the audience’s preferred mode of communication. Some people simply prefer books. So if we want them to consider our ideas, we need to hand it to them, made of paper and print (or pixels for the Kindle and Nook addicts).
- We have big and deep ideas. Books allow a depth and pace that other formats do not. They are focused and immersive in ways that phones, laptops, and even tablets with browsers are not. We do blog (at IntoTheMud.com, ExecutingIdeas.com, and we even have a big announcement coming next week about a new publisher for our new blog). But a book hangs together, welcoming readers to sink in deeply.
- We write and speak. Having a book out really has helped Chrissy (and me, too) build a platform, giving a reason to be in front of audiences. “Author” still confers a level of credibility beyond what we can get from “blogger.” (I’m not sure how much longer this will last.) For now, it makes a lot of sense to do both.
But here’s the biggest reason why we wrote a book, despite all the reasons we shouldn’t:
We want to help people. At the end of the day, our lives are for serving others. We have lived in Nicaragua, China, and South Africa, trying to learn from and to help friends in hard places. When we came back to the U.S., lots of people said, “We would so love to do what you’ve done!” and “That’s so amazing!” What we really heard in that was, “I feel like my life sucks. And there’s nothing I can do about it.”
We wrote This Ordinary Adventure for those friends (and thousands of others) who feel like they’re not living out their calling where they are. Our time overseas gave us a unique perspective on life in the U.S., and now that we’re back here and rooted a bit, we’re wrestling with how to live a life of significance, a life of deep faith for the good of the world. Our hope is that our struggle—our journey—helps others in the midst of theirs.
Have you written a book or thought about it? Why do you think you should or shouldn’t?
About a year and a half ago, Jeff Goins called me. We talked about writing, about being freelancers, about our day jobs with InterVarsity and Adventures in Missions. Since then we’ve kept up the way one can now through social media, occasional comments on one another’s blogs, some retweets, and a bit of witty banter.
With our new book (This Ordinary Adventure) coming out in a few weeks, Chrissy and I have been developing a series of posts on other books y’all would like. When I saw Jeff had a book coming out and saw its title, I knew it would be a good candidate. As it’s launching today, it gets to be the first in the series.
(Jeff’s got some great book launch freebies running for the next day or two, so make sure you click through!)
“This is a book about brave choices, about ordinary people helping beggars and moving to foreign countries. About listening to that still, small voice whispering, ‘Life is not about you.’” So Jeff begins his book, and it’s a very worthwhile read.
Jeff draws upon the wisdom of Mother Teresa, General Patton, Morpheus, Tyler Durden, Yoda, Jason Bourne, Chesterton, William Wallace, Thoreau, C.S. Lewis, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ayn Rand, and Jesus. There’s also a good deal of insight from Jeff’s life lived, his school of hard knocks.
And that’s sort of the point.
We need hard knocks. And a world of hurting people needs us to take them. Jeff casts a very compelling case for us needing to get wrecked, to come to the end of ourselves, to spend ourselves—our lives—on behalf of others. This is life as a Christian—this is life.
“(Kids’) lives are full of reckless abandon, and no one has to tell them so.” I think when Jesus spoke of the need for faith like a child, he was talking less about naïve belief and more about this wholehearted embrace of risk.
Chrissy and I have been talking and thinking for years about life in North America, fearing it (while we were serving in Nicaragua, China, and South Africa) and wrestling with in since we moved back two and a half years ago. Jeff observes correctly, “Something is missing. Something important. Something necessary to making a difference in the world. And most of us are afraid to find out what it is. Because we know. It’s the secret we’re afraid to admit: this will cost us our lives.”
“The process is horrible and ugly and completely gut-wrenching— and at the same time, beautiful. It is real and hard and true. Most of all, it is necessary.”
This resonates with us. This squares with our reflection on the Bible, on our years abroad, of our meager efforts to live for others. As a friend of Jeff’s said, ““When I travel, my problems slide into the context of the rest of the world.” Amen.
“If we are to follow the Jesus who suffered with us and bled for us, we too must suffer. We must hold the dying in our arms. We must shed tears for hungry stomachs, trafficked children, and wandering souls. This is what He wants for us. It’s the reason we are called to lay down our nets and take up our crosses to pursue the Suffering Servant. And it’s the one thing we will avoid at all costs.”
But Jeff and his wife Ashley have stopped avoiding it. They’ve run into it. And their friends have, too. Jeff tells stories of hanging out with people on the streets of Spain and Nashville (which I connected to my similar days in Barcelona and Madison, WI), taking in wounded teens, and touring the country in the real-life grind of a band.
There’s wisdom here, on what you’re living and dying for, when to commit and stay put, when to cut back or move on, and real significance. Wisdom is rare these days. Jeff’s got some that he’s shared well, in a compelling fashion.
Wrecked is perfect for college students and twenty-somethings. This Ordinary Adventure is tilted a smidge older, recent graduates up to our peers in their thirties. I think they actually hang together pretty well as a one-two punch for people starting their first jobs, getting engaged, and trying to start marriage well.
May we each proclaim today, with Jeff, and with people who have lived great lives:
Instead of wanting more, we will strive for less.
Instead of easier, faster, better; we will opt for slow and deliberate.
We will take our time.
We will seek first the needs of others and trust that our own will be provided.
We will discipline ourselves to believe.
We will find our lives by losing it.
We will seek the pearl of great price and sacrifice everything
We will become less to gain more.
We cannot become who we are without going through pain.
Our year in Nicaragua—without electricity, transportation, or water—certainly wrecked me. I was totally insufficient. I was doubled over by giardia and malaria and a broken ankle, and crushing poverty. But God graciously worked on me there (and since) and even used our efforts to work real good there.
What has wrecked you?
Last week, 120 younger leaders in the evangelical movement got together in Madison, WI. I was privileged to be one of them. This was the first of several “younger leader gatherings” that the Lausanne movement is pulling together in each of the regions of the world. We started from the Cape Town Commitment document and broke into working groups that included business as mission, leadership development, unreached people groups, cities, theological education, and arts and media, where I found myself.
Tom Lin and the rest of the steering committee brought us together to consider how we see the work of the church from our roles with our churches and organizations. But the real beauty of this was the connections that formed in the hallways, during breaks, late at night, and over breakfast.
I met fantastic people. Bryce is leading a church way up in Canada and doing some cutting edge research. Chris is facilitating a conversation about who we are and who we should be. Bethany is making the case for justice work from a biblical framework. Matt is gathering together first hand observation and analysis from people on the ground all over the world. Emily is mobilizing people to care for vulnerable children. Jonathan is re-envisioning the church as gospel communities on mission, with a network of others. J.R. is leading a conversation about what our church cultures do to us and the potential of that, in his new book. And Tanya is traveling and teaching about God’s character to young adults.
These leaders—and knowing gatherings like this are happening around the world—give me hope.
What gives you hope for the next 40 years?
Don Miller was speechless.
Just before Blue Like Jazz opened, I interviewed Don. I knew he and director Steve Taylor wanted to make people laugh. I’d seen the film, and I thought they did a pretty good job.
“So Don, why aren’t Christians funny? Why isn’t the church known for being a place of laughter?” I asked.
“That is a great question…I don’t know,” Don said slowly. And so my quest began…
The Dark Side of Laughter
Mike Sacks has found a striking pattern in is 2009 book And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on their Craft. He interviewed comedy writers from just after World War II through SNL and The Onion to Arrested Development and David Sedaris.
These funny people confessed consistent struggle and dysfunction.
Paul Feig, creator of Freaks and Geeks, told Sacks, “(The reason) why a lot of these people go into humor in the first place (is) the only thing you have to hide behind is comedy. I did stand-up for a few years, and a good number of comics I met were extremely angry people. They were not pleasant…And I noticed one thing: comics love to be laughed with, but if people laugh at them, they fucking lose their shit…there’s a real insecurity that comes with being funny. You’re on a razor’s edge. Comedy is an attempt to control things, and it just so happens that you’re trying to control people through laughter. But laughter can go off the rails at any given point.”
So maybe Christians have moved beyond hiding behind their jokes. Perhaps Christians find a solace and security that draws them off that razor’s edge. Or maybe Christians aren’t that funny because we’re learning to let go of control in another way. It could be that we’re dealing just a smidge better with our own issues—we know we’re broken, and we know cracking jokes won’t protect or fix us.
Sacks quotes humor columnist Dave Barry who once wrote, “Humor is really closely related to fear and despair…We live in an extremely dangerous, scary world, run by all kinds of forces over which we have not control. And we’re all gonna get sick and die.”
Christians have some antidote to fear and despair. We deal with theology, thoughts of eternity, of heaven and hell. At our best we don’t need to escape this “extremely dangerous, scary world,” but face it with some answers. But maybe the weight of all this crushes our jokes, breaks our funny bones. We have important work to do with tremendous implications—there’s temporal and eternal suffering on our minds every day. That makes it hard to goof off.
The Lighter Side
When Marshall Brickman, the Oscar-winning writer of Annie Hall with Woody Allen, talked with Sacks, he said, “Tom Stoppard has said that laughter is the sound of comprehension. So when an audience laughs, it means they really understand, and, by implication, identify with the material…Woody used to say that comedy sits at the children’s table. But I don’t agree, and I don’t think Woody really believes that, either. I think humor is a way to an essential truth. If you get an audience to laugh together, it does a whole lot of great things. It solidifies them; it gives them a mystical experience of being in a crowd. It socializes people.
Here we start to see some of the upside of humor. And at least some preachers have taken this to heart and have reaped the advantages of humor bringing their congregations together. But let’s get real—a lot of the sermon jokes are lame. I wonder if that’s because Christians have found something that “solidifies” and “socializes people” and “offers a mystical experience” better (and even more truthfully) than comedy.
The Hard Questions
Here I have to pause. If Wilmore and Rosenthal have it right, humor arises from our real, lived-out lives. If Christians are not funny, I think it’s appropriate for Christians to ask ourselves a hard question.
Are we living enough?
Maybe Christians aren’t funny because we’re too wrapped up in eternity, potlucks, outreaches, liturgy, debates about spiritual gifts, and the crisis du jour.
And to return to Dave Barry, he told Sacks, “A sense of humor is a measurement of the extent to which we realize that we are trapped in a world almost totally devoid of reason. Laughter is how we express the anxiety we feel at this knowledge…I don’t know that you can explain why we, as a species, laugh. Maybe it’s just that there’s a disconnect in our brains when we realize that obviously we’re going to die but we can laugh anyway. There has to be a release. For me, it’s either you laugh or you become religious.”
Why can’t we do both?
First of all, I like cats, and some wonderful people close to me (like my daughter) are cat lovers. Bear with me.
You may have heard of a mysterious ad campaign this week. Posters appeared across the country with headlines like:
HIPSTERS DESERVE TO DIE
THE SMUG DESERVE TO DIE
THE TATTOOED DESERVE TO DIE
THE GENETICALLY PRIVILEGED DESERVE TO DIE
CAT LOVERS DESERVE TO DIE
These posters caused outrage. “What the heck?” Who can say that? Who’s behind this?
“We knew that one would be polarizing,” said Denise Kohnke, vice president of strategy for Laughlin/Constable who designed the ads. “The absurd thing is no one deserves to die.” Then a website was unveiled: www.noonedeservestodie.org.
The outrage struck me. But Kohnke’s quote and the website name struck me more. No one deserves to die?
Everyone deserves to die.
One of the cold, hard truths I wrestle with as a Christian is sin. You may be familiar—Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, rupturing Eden and their relationship with God. It’s also Hitler, genocide, sex trafficking, Bernie Madoff, Jeffrey Dahmer, you, and me.
In my Philosophy of Religion class at the University of Wisconsin, we talked about the fundamental questions that everyone has to answer, often through a package of answers called a religion. One of the key questions is, “What is the nature of humanity? Are we fundamentally good or evil?”
Some people think we are fundamentally good, and evil is illusion. Christian Scientists and Buddhists are in that ballpark. But it is really hard to make that case. We see, feel, and perpetrate evil. We may not be murderers, but in our own subtle ways, we wrong others, our thoughts betray our hearts. Even our kindness and generosity can become a source of pride.
In the Bible, in the letter Paul wrote to the Romans, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…the wages of sin is death” (3:23 and 6:23). If everybody is a sinner and sinners deserve death, we all deserve to die. It’s like the transitive property of condemnation. (I don’t remember that one being covered in algebra.)
Why do we deserve to die if we’re sinners? What if we’re not very bad? What if we try our best? What if we’re not Hitler or Madoff or Dahmer? Why do we deserve to die?
I ask those questions. And the theological answers started to make more sense to me when I became a dad. If Phoebe hauls off and slugs Zeke, I need to address that, or I’m a bad father. If Zeke is a stubborn, selfish little brat, I need to discipline him. There are consequences for bad behavior, because I want what’s best for my kids, because I’m a good dad, because of my character.
God’s the same, but way more and way better. He’s perfect. (You’d agree that I’m not.) He’s not going to stand for genocide, greed, gossip, or any of our other garbage. “That’s wrong. And there are consequences.” It’s the model for how I parent my kids. Because of God’s character, he judges and punishes wrongdoing, sin. Death is one of the big signs of that, so much of our lives and thoughts are devoted to alleviating the fear that our mortality (and what comes after it) brings us. I think this leads to some of the outrage about the ad campaign. We don’t like that we all deserve to die. But deep down, we all know it’s true.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that God not only judges us. He loves us, too—incredibly so, unbelievably so. He took the fall, he took the punishment.
The good news is Jesus.