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.
There’s a good chance you’ve read Blue Like Jazz: Non-religious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality (Thomas Nelson, 2003). Don Miller’s sold over a million of ‘em.
But he and Steve Taylor have adapted it to be a film, and it’s coming out in the spring, on April 13, 2012. Steve (and a swell guy named Dave Palmer who runs Dunk Tank Marketing) came to Madison a couple weeks ago and let some of us at InterVarsity screen the rough cut of the film.
Let’s be honest here, a lot of stuff produced by Christians is either indistinguishable in quality or content from anything else or ham-handed efforts to proselytize make it painful to watch (especially if you’re a thoughtful follower of Jesus).
But Blue Like Jazz comes through:
- It’s funny (a major victory for adherents to a faith that is plagued by its adherents).
- They don’t assume the audience is stupid.
- It doesn’t shy away from issues (or the language) of college students.
- There is a bear suit, a robot protest, tall bikes, and puppets.
- It’s genuine and believable, even with a sort of modern day fairy tale feel.
- The music is great.
- It raises questions without easy answers.
And that’s the real strength of Blue Like Jazz. Yes, it’s a good film on it’s own merit. But in the film, Miller and Taylor have made some space for honest conversations about what my friends believe, the crazy stuff Jesus said, and how the Christians often are way off in left field (and not in a good way).
So reread the book, maybe give it to someone for Christmas, and get ready.
Let me know if you have any questions.
Campus Crusade for Christ is dead. Long live Cru!
Or so went the thinking this week, as the organization unveiled their new name that will take effect in 2012.
It’s been a bumpy ride—there have been over 1500 comments on their site (they’ve edited them down) and another 500 on Facebook, including a flurry of threats from donors to pull their funds. Plus, inflammatory media headlines have fanned the flames of fiery discourse. The VP who led the renaming process was interviewed today because of the controversy.
What can we learn from the process, all this hubbub?
- Input, listening, and buy-in are extremely important. They generated 1600 options for names. They paid top-shelf consultants. They prayed. They surveyed their staff. Names carry personal identification, so messing with them is nothing to trifle with.
- You can’t satisfy everyone. Despite a very careful process over the course of two years, there’s still a lot of resentment and outrage, despite careful explanations of why they’ve done what they’ve done and that their purposes have not changed.
- Lots of people don’t understand how to communicate. I was very surprised to see outrage over the change. Cru did their homework and knew that their name was an impediment to the conversations about Jesus they wanted to have and the work they aim to do. The result of their name change will be more of the same work they’ve always done, as it allows more conversations to happen. The first rule of good communications is to know your audience. For Christians, the biblical concept from Paul being all things to all people applies.
- You need to allow the discussion to happen. Cru has had hundreds of negative comments on their site. They know it’s better to have them there than somewhere else. They are showing themselves to be open, listening, and responsive to all perspectives, even the vitriolic.
- Controversy can be good. Brian Barela posted today on how their work is not changing and the name change is opening significant interactions with all kinds of people, and more discussion about our dearest values is rarely a bad thing.
- You need to keep perspective. Given the 25,000 staff that Cru has worldwide, and the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of donors, the number of very squeaky wheels amongst the couple of thousand comments is actually very small. They’re noisy but they are definitely not the majority. People who are upset scream a lot louder than those who are happy.
- You do what you gotta do. It’s untenable to have “crusade” in an organizational name in this millennium. The organization’s ministry has expanded (drifted?) from “campus.” So there needed to be a major change. A lot of the frustration and outrage stems from the name not having “Christ” in it. But I know that the people involved are not ashamed of Jesus or their faith, but sensed the best name to accomplish their work as being Cru.
So that’s what it’s called. What are you learning this week?
We were en route to the US after three and a half years in South Africa. We had no plans to go back overseas after our years abroad, which also include Nicaragua and China. There was a temporary home awaiting us, but every other building block of daily existence was up in the air. No job. No plans. No permanent church community. No idea where we’d live after six months. Phoebe (7) was heading off to school for the first time, and Zeke (5) to follow in the fall. No car. (OK, we did have a 15 year-old car with 200,000 miles on it, thanks to my folks.)
Looking back over the past year, then, I see Providence weaving together a life worth living, a thriving existence. While I’ve spent more than my share of time pacing in the wee hours, God has worked to fill in all the blanks of life:
- Chrissy’s book, Into the Mud, was released, and we traveled and spoke to groups about stories of our inspiring friends in South Africa.
- I got a job with InterVarsity, working on communications. I’ve commented to Chrissy that it’s hard to imagine any job in the Midwest being a better match. I use my skills in writing, photography, strategy, and humor to do something I believe in—sharing good news about Jesus with college students and constructively engaging our culture.
- Fantastic coworkers.
- Phoebe and Zeke are in school and doing well.
- We’re all healthy.
- We found a small but suitable apartment in a great neighborhood. (And we’ve just gotten preapproval for a mortgage—no small feat after years living in no-credit-history areas—so we’re shopping for a house!)
- Making new friends in our neighborhood is a joy, and Madison is a hoot.
- Chrissy won a big award from the UW.
- We’ve gotten involved with a new church called The Vine that has great vision and people.
And so I thank God, our family, and all the good people who’ve welcomed us back to the U.S. Thanks!
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