Living the Questions: Why Are You Angry?

“The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 
but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.
So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 
The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry,
and why has your countenance fallen?'” – Genesis 4:4-6

Of all the questions to live, this one is probably the hardest for me. Anger lives in a very dark place. But if we look at the story of Cain and Abel, it’s a pattern we know a little too well.

Proceeding any of this is an offering. Cain makes an offering to God — something that he gave his life to. His brother’s offering was met by God’s approval and satisfaction, his was not. We come with offerings everyday. In a very real way, Cain and Abel were offering their livelihoods. Looking for their worth. In essence, Cain’s livelihood was met with rejection, while his brother’s to satisfaction.

After Cain’s rejection comes anger. But the anger is just what’s on the surface — as is so often the way. Anger is all the deep-seeded emotions that we have boiled to the surface, but it’s not what’s so deep down. Anger is a surface emotion.

Behind anger is often where jealousy is found. 

A lot of times jealousy can rear its ugly head and take us off course faster than we even realize. With Cain and Abel, the jealousy isn’t too far from the surface. Abel’s sacrifice was excepted. Cain’s was not. BAM! Jealousy. Where does jealousy creep into your life? A lot of times we don’t even become aware of it until it’s already taken hold. We don’t even notice it sneaking into our thoughts until its already firmly planted there.

The grass is always greener

One of the things we have to realize, but is so faulty with our thinking, is that no matter what we do, if we get that thing we’re jealous of, if we get our neighbor’s new Porsche, or the promotion or whatever, we’re still going to be jealous. It just moves on to something new. So behind anger is often jealousy — with Cain it certainly is the case.

Behind jealousy is pride.

Pride is one of the things I fall victim to a lot. With Cain, he had pride in his crop. I have pride in my ideas. I want my ideas to be found the best among all others. That’s where my pride comes in. And it can be awfully hard to have so much stake in such fluid objects as “ideas”. But there it is.

A lot of times we take pride in our work — and that’s okay, “I’m not saying don’t take pride in your work.” But when it becomes a barrier between you and other people, that’s when it’s a problem. For Cain, pride lead to jealousy, anger, and ultimately killing his brother. I’m going to go ahead and say that was not the “good” kind of pride.

Be proud of your hard work.

Be proud of projects that have taken you a long time.

Be proud of overcoming things that have been difficult for you.

BUT

Don’t let it become a barrier to you. Because when it becomes a barrier, you do things like killing your brother. Not good. But even at pride, we’re still not at the root of the problem. We’re not at the very core of what the issue is in Genesis 4, the question that God asks of Cain.

So we have anger ==> jealousy ==> pride. And now we have one more dimension to add on.

Behind pride is selfishness.

This is where Genesis ultimately leads us — back to selfishness. Cain’s parents (Adam and Eve) went against the command of God because they were selfish and put their own curiosity above living with God. God’s only rule was “Don’t eat the fruit from that tree over there.” That was the only rule.

But then, when someone tells you there’s only thing you can’t do — every bit of you longs to do that one thing. It doesn’t matter how little sense it makes at the time. When someone prohibits, our desire is to test that rule. To push it just a little bit further. Because we’re selfish. Because we look out for numero uno — ourselves.

This is how it’s always been. And until we can break out of this mold, or at least acknowledge there are people outside of ourselves — we will always be a culture steeped in anger. But when we move beyond our anger to name and acknowledge the jealousy, pride, and selfishness behind our anger, it can do a lot to really get us to acknowledge the things we have in common — our humanity.

A little acknowledgement was all Cain ever wanted anyways.

So what are the things that make you angry? What gets you really pissed off? And what experiences could you share about how God works in those times of anger?

Cheers,
Eric

A New Way to Think About Vocation

Recently I’ve been watching quite a few of the videos from The Work of the People. They’re a wonderful community of artists, storytellers, people of faith who gather from all corners of the religious spectrum to share stories and communicate in very meaningful ways. You should definitely check them out when you get a chance. But there was one in particular that really stuck out to me.

Miroslav Volf always seems to have some good bits of wisdom or some interesting questions to reflect on. In the video that I found, he answers a critical question that I think we, as people of faith, must answer if we are still going to matter to future generations. That question is, “What breaks your heart?”

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/37749858]

I think we could look at this question as a new and different way of defining vocation. Theologian Frederick Buechner said that vocation is where “your greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.” It’s not a bad definition. But what if we spoke of vocation by asking “What breaks your heart?” And then the ever-important follow up — “What can you do about it?”

So what breaks my heart? The idea that people can be treated as less-than-human, second or third class citizens, because of how they were born. It absolutely breaks my heart. Sickens me beyond all belief. Things like sex-trafficking, acts of racism, sexism, classism, and all the other “isms” out there are so far gone from how we ought to be treating each other that it absolutely breaks my heart. I can’t believe that some people have the opinion that it is their God-given entitlement to have more than everyone else. It sickens me.

So what can I do about it? Well. That’s what I’m trying to figure out. As of right now…

  • I’m a pastor in a church and seeking to lead a community in ways that try to identify injustice and disservice in our communities (and in Arizona, there are a lot), and then try to do what I/we can to right them.
  • I’ve been getting involved with Christians for Biblical Equality. They’re a great organization and there are many others out there that are doing some great things.
  • I’m reading all I can about peacemaking, justice, and things along those lines.
  • I’m always looking for more ways to be involved with people and organizations who are doing good things like this.

I always feel like my job will be addressing these kinds of inequalities and injustices wherever that is or whatever it looks like. I doubt it will always look like a pastor in a parish. Right now it does, but it might not always look like that.

So what breaks your heart? What kinds of stories infuriate you? What are you passionate about?

and the always-essential follow-up…

What are you doing about it? What can you do about it?

Leave a comment. I’d love to hear what you all are doing to make the world a better place. I know some of you who are doing some great work. What breaks your heart? Drop by and leave a comment. I’d love to hear about your passions.

Cheers,
Eric

When Bad Tornadoes Happen to Good Christians

A good way to start this might be to say that tornadoes have terrified me for a long time. I was at a sleepover in middle school when everyone else was getting ready to watch the movie “Twister”. My heart started to race. I knew that if I watched that movie, I would have terrible nightmares. I fought hard for a 50th time through “3 Ninjas”, but no such luck. I didn’t even want to watch a movie about tornadoes because I always feared being caught up in one.

Tornadoes don’t scare me in the same way they did when I was younger. But, as we’ve seen these last few days, they’re still happening and they’re still destroying. The recent storms in through Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky have put huge numbers of people in the midst of the storm.

One way to respond to this, is to blame the people who have just been savaged by these storms and claim that it was some sort of divinely-guided weather judgment. John Piper takes this route. Yesterday, he wrote:

If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command…. God’s will for America under his mighty hand, is that every Christian, every Jew, every Muslim, every person of every religion or non-religion, turn from sin and come to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus rules the wind. The tornadoes were his.

I have a number of problems with this. But I think this viewpoint is a symptom of a much larger problem. When we view God as a being who controls every tiny action that happens in the world, then this is where we end up. God sent these tornadoes down because these specific people were so sinful that they needed to be taught a lesson. So God killed 39 people and destroyed countless towns, homes, and lives.

This is one of the most damaging and destructive views I have ever heard.

Weather happens. Anyone who has taken 8th grade Earth science knows that. The weather doesn’t change because Jews or Muslims exist in the world. (Lest we forget that the title of God’s people was bestowed on Jews in the first place.)

This is the type of Christianity that actively detracts from our 21st century world. There is no need for me to tell you why we shouldn’t embrace a 4th century worldview. The world isn’t flat. The Earth is not the center of the universe. And God doesn’t make the weather.

To suggest this is not only embarrassing to religious people around the world, but it’s pointing a finger at the tens of thousands of people who have just had their lives destroyed and then saying that they deserved it. It’s tragic, hurtful, and actively detracts from the kingdom of God.

God pulls life out of death. But She doesn’t kill someone to do so.

Cheers,
Eric

(Yeah. I did the passive-aggressive refer-to-God-as-a-she thing. I’m still a little offended by Piper’s comments from 2 weeks ago. Lord, have mercy.)

The Dangers of Comparing Sinatra to Bieber

My friend Holly had an excellent post yesterday about this graphic that has been all over Facebook news feeds lately. By comparing Frank Sinatra to Justin Bieber, the poster essentially gets at something that “us young people” hear all the time. Not only was life better back when the Baby Boomers were growing up, but the music, literature, food, and just about everything else was better too! Ok, that may have been a slight exaggeration, but it’s not far off. There’s something implicit (or explicit depending on how deeply you think about this graphic) that hints that we were better off as a society back then. This same line of thought says that music now-a-days is more shallow than ever.

I couldn’t agree less with these sentiments.

Here’s the thing about music. There has always been good music, if you look for it. And conversely, there has always been terrible music, if you look for it. Comparing the two, throughout any generation, is bound to bring up discrepancies. Take for instance Chubby Checker’s “Let’s Do the Twist” — yep, I’m going there.

Come on let’s twist again,
like we did last summer!
Yeaaah, let’s twist again,
like we did last year!

Do you remember when,
things were really hummin’,
Yeaaaah, let’s twist again,
twistin’ time is here!

Now can you honestly tell me that these lyrics are a far cry from “shake it like a polaroid picture”? It’s the same thing, just translated through to the culture. Which brings me to my main point…

The invention of popular music as a genre fundamentally changed the way we relate to music.

Think about the genres of music. There are some genres that have an element of timelessness to them. Chopin composed music 170 years ago and still has some of the most moving music I’ve ever heard. Genres like jazz, blues, and classical all have an element of timelessness to them. Ray Charles’ “Georgia on my Mind” and John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” still pack the same punch now that they did back then.

But pop music is different. Pop music is set in a time and a place — which is exactly why there is a category called 80’s music. This is why VH1’s nostalgia pieces work so well. I love the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s use the pop music of the day to bring us back to those times in our lives. And some of these pop pieces have been less than incendiary to say the least. Comparing Frank Sinatra to Justin Bieber is like comparing apples to month-old milk. You just can’t do it.

If you’re going to compare Frank’s lyrics to some modern music, here are 3 songs you could try — all released in the last year. All with great wonderful lyrics (and no, Bon Iver’s “Holocene” does not make an appearance, although it could).

1) “Poison & Wine” by The Civil Wars

I wish you’d hold me when I turn my back
The less I give the more I get back
Oh your hands can heal, your hands can bruise
I don’t have a choice but I’d still choose you

Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will

2) “Helplessness Blues by The Fleet Foxes

What’s my name, what’s my station, oh, just tell me what I should do
I don’t need to be kind to the armies of night that would do such injustice to you
Or bow down and be grateful and say “sure, take all that you see”
To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls and determine my future for me

And I don’t, I don’t know who to believe
I’ll get back to you someday soon you will see

3) “Someone Like You” by Adele

I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited
But I couldn’t stay away, I couldn’t fight it.
I’d hoped you’d see my face and that you’d be reminded
That for me it isn’t over.

Never mind, I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you too
Don’t forget me, I beg
I remember you said,
“Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead.”

What songs would you add to this list? What are some more recent songs that stir in you?

Cheers,
Eric

A Response to John Piper’s “Masculine Christianity”

“We see the world not as it is, but as we are.” – Talmud

There has been a call to return — did we ever really leave? — to a masculine Christianity. This movement, spearheaded by the likes of John Piper and Mark Driscoll, has come to a head in some ways due to some recent comments by Piper. Recently, he wrote:

“God revealed Himself in the Bible pervasively as king not queen; father not mother. The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son not daughter; the Father and the Son create man and woman in His image and give them the name man, the name of the male…God appoints all the priests in the Old Testament to be men; the Son of God came into the world to be a man; He chose 12 men to be His apostles; the apostles appointed that the overseers of the Church be men; and when it came to marriage they taught that the husband should be the head.”

It needs to be pointed out that this is an extremely selective reading of the Biblical narrative. It only listens to half of the narrative. Take, for instance, the creation narrative. Genesis 1:27 says

“So God created humankind in his image,
   in the image of God he created them;
   male and female he created them. 

In the initial act of creating a relationship between God and humanity, God creates both men and women in God’s image. God’s command to “have dominion” over everything goes to both men and women. It’s plural throughout the rest of the chapter.

While Piper repeatedly highlights the rest of the male-centered stories of the Bible, he leaves out the fact that God has been represented as:

  • A mother (Numbers 11:12, Job 38:8, 29, Isaiah 42:14, Isaiah 49:14, Isaiah 46:3, Isaiah 66:12, Hosea 11:4, Acts 17:28)
  • A seamstress (Nehemiah 9:21)
  • A midwife (Psalm 22:9, Psalm 71:6, Isaiah 66:9)
  • A woman working leaven into bread (Luke 13:18-21)
  • A woman seeking a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10) — This is in a line of parables where God is depicted as both male and female. There’s that egalitarian thing again.

There are countless images for God in the Bible — both male and female. It’s a case of you get what you look for. We could revise the Talmud quote from the beginning of this post to say “We see the Bible not as it is, but as we are.” In John Piper’s case, he wants God to be a man and he wants a masculine Christianity so he finds those instances in the Bible and reads that Bible through a masculine lens.

If we’re proper students of history, we know that Christianity has been masculine and dominant for far too long. I suggest that it’s actually a time to re-imagine feminine images of God. I think when we do that, we gain a richer theological imagination that helps us move outward into a new realm of possibility.

And that’s something that excites me.

Cheers,
Eric

If you’re interested in a more feminine view of God, I would encourage you to check out the writings of Rosemary Radford RuetherSallie McFagueOctavia ButlerElizabeth Johnson, and Naomi Goldenberg. I think you would be better served reading any of these ladies than Piper or Driscoll.

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