Christian Satire in Babylon

1.

The Babylon Bee--"Your Trusted Source For Christian News Satire"--publishes a piece on a famous pastor, an author, a Christian basketball player. It takes shots at the average mini-van driving mega-church family, at Mormon missionaries, at porn-addicted Redditors.  There is a piece about Minnesota preacher John Piper punching himself, Jen Hatmaker's supposed lack of clarity. There is a piece about TD Jakes--a heretic, the Bee insinuates. The sarcasm is thick, the writing a shade of clever, deprecating, perhaps even irreverent. Everyone in the Christian family is fair game; no one is spared from the Bee's falling anvils of irony.

The clickbaity headlines are bookended by ads for Compassion International and Eternity Bible College. A penny a click? A flat fee? Who knows whether the dollars pile up in the office of the Bee, but the message is sent--this is Christian-sponsored mockery. Welcome to the new Church.

2.

If you ask Google to define the term satire, she will tell you it is "the the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues." (Emphasis added.) The satirist is the ironic hit man, the exploiter of the people for personal gain. And sometimes, I suppose, it's all in good humor. Sometimes, I suppose, it's good comedy. Maybe I've used satire in the past. Perhaps I'll use it in the future.

Sometimes, though, it feels cheap. Sometimes, it feels smarmy. What's the difference between good satire and arrogant mockery? As Justice Potter Stewart once wrote about hard-core pornography, "...I know it when I see it." And let me be more to the point: [tweetherder]Christian satire feels more like mockery when it stands in opposition to the guiding ethics of the Christ.[/tweetherder]

3.

The Christ swung by Earth, stepped out of eternity and into humanity. He gathered all manner of folks to himself--tax collectors, fishermen, perhaps a graduate or two from Eternity Bible College--and he taught them the by-God way. Satire was not the primary language of the by-God way (though Christ occasionally painted in redder shades). Instead, Jesus instructed his followers in the ways of love and mercy.

Do to others what you'd have them do to you.

Do good to your enemies.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

These were all things the good preacher preached. But then he upped the ante. "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples," he said, "if you love one another."

Loving our neighbors, treating each other well, being kind--these are the evidences of spiritual transformation. And sure, there were times that Jesus took issue with the teachers of the day, but did he take issue by way of satirical teachings? Did his teachings drip with sarcasm and irony?

4.

I've searched the words of Jesus, the writings of Paul and the other apostles. [tweetherder]I find little proof that satire is a spiritual fruit or a Christian virtue.[/tweetherder] (Granted, I'm not a first century Jew and the satire and irony might be lost in translation.) I find little evidence that the God-way entails commodifying others for personal gain. And when the satire is against Christians, for Christians, by Christians, it sends mixed message to a world that longs for path to peace and love.

We are a people of peace and love. Watch us roast each other to a crisp!

What's peaceful about satirizing your brothers and sisters? What's loving about it? Really. This is not a rhetorical question.

5.

Perhaps you're rolling your eyes, saying "please, for the love of God, stop taking yourself so seriously." Fair enough. But ask yourself this question: aren't love and peace things to be taken seriously?

This, too, is not a rhetorical question.

***TINY LETTER***

Thanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you'll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes.

powered by TinyLetter

I Am More Than A Computer

This is the first part of my series exploring humanity. Click here for more.

***

"[Tolstoy] could observe the mass of persons, the peasants, who in the most miserable of conditions found life deeply meaningful, and even sweet. They had not heard about particles and progress. But this is no longer possible. The peasants now watch TV and constantly consume media. There are no peasants now. " Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

This is what the culture demands: work another hour; add another client; bill another dollar; buy another car, a bigger house, and extra pair of shoes, a new watch (the automatic sort, +/- 20 nanoseconds, Greenwich); know your boss, your neighbor, the contact in Beijing who might be a potential client; connect with them on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn (do millennials use it?), Instagram, Snapchat (do Gen-Xers use it?); know 10 Ways To Travel On The Cheap, or [tweetherder]5 Ways To Please Your Lover in Bed[/tweetherder], or 7 Habits of Highly Defective People; know a language; know Beyonce's "Lemonade," Trump's xenophobia, the time Hillary barked like a dog; Know the best ways to poke fun at Sarah Palin (this might actually come in handy); know about sex, and not just the euphoria of post-relational bliss, but know about its permutations and associated rights; understand gender, identity, the ideologies of sex, sex, sex; know the news, pop culture (an interesting play on words), literature, art; know Jesus, or Buddha, or The Prophet; know religion, all religions, how religion corrupts, the way it gives life and has stolen it; know justice and mercy--conceptually, not practically; know how to make bread, grill steak, roll sushi, steep tea; learn a language; know how to promote the self, the [tweetherder]8 Paths To Marketing Your Ego[/tweetherder]; be so proficient with Google that no one knows how little you know; be a human computer.

A human computer--yes, be that. Compute, compute, compute. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Above that, opine. Above all else, consume. Consume like a baby bird or a murder of crows. Consume like a tapeworm. Consume like a blackhole. This is what the culture demands, and to bolster its demands it plays this endless sleight of hand: consumption drives economies forward; expanding economies drive progress; progress provides jobs; jobs make people happy; happy people consume.

This is the truth of the modern life. And if that feels a bit too broad for your liking, allow me to restate it: this is the truth of my modern life.

There comes a point in life when one has to say enough is enough. I think I've reached that point. No matter what the advertisers, social media, the internet, the educational system, the church, the gym, the civic organization, or the market forces sell me, I am a person bound by the very real limitations of time and space. I simply cannot keep up with everything, no matter how much I try.

In the creation narrative provided in scripture, God created the sun and the moon, bodies which govern time. We call the cycles of their rising and setting days, and these days consist of only 24 hours. He placed immovable heavenly bodies as a tangible reminder--there is only so much time. He then gave us flowers, animals, companionship, things to enjoy. And though these things can be enjoyed in near-infinite arrays, there's only so much time to enjoy them. The limitations of time mean, simply, every decision I make excludes another possible decision. This is the fundamental premise of economics--a decision to enjoy or know one thing excludes enjoyment or knowledge of another (i.e., you cannot have it all).

Consider this illustration. I have the opportunity to watch a presidential debate and to live Tweet it, blow by blow. In that moment, my connection to the debate and my followers on Twitter precludes a meaningful engagement with my sons or my wife. (As an aside, she'll attest that I fall prey to this tradeoff.) On occasion, such tradeoff might be warranted. I might argue that voters should be adequately informed before walking into the booth. But the rub comes when we become constant consumers, always trading human connection for the dollar, the digital, or the Donald (or any other politician). The rub comes when we trade our family, our friends, or meaningful experiences for endless consumption.

Winn & John

Hunter

Ken

I love what I love. I love roots music, literature, and I have a passing fancy for art. I'm no expert in any of it, though society expects me to consume to the point of pretending to be such an expert. I haven't watched "Lemonadeyet (thought I want too), and I haven't sorted out the legalities of North Carolina's Bathroom Law (though I have private thoughts on that, too). I have three less clients than I ought, make a few thousand less than I could. I suspect I'm limited in my culinary skills (though I can stew just about anything and make it edible). I've lived 38 years worth of sun settings, moon waxing and wanings. I'm not claiming any unique wisdom has come with that age--I'm still young-ish, after all--but I've learned a hard-won lesson. I cannot keep up with the consumer demands of today. They rob me of my humanity.

So, don't ask me about my thoughts about the news or entertainment item du jour. Don't ask me to care, or to Google it, or to understand the nuances of it all. Don't tempt me to become something I'm not. Don't tempt me to become digital.

I am not a computer. I am a person. I want to live a human life, not the life of a Mac.

***Tiny Letter***

Thanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you'll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes(And if you'd like to make a tiny, monthly donation to keep this blog and the Tiny Letter rolling, click here.)

powered by TinyLetter

Cynicism, Irony, and the Application of Charity

The aging couple was introduced to the church body. Long-term missionaries, they had served (or was it survived?) West Africa for over twenty years. I considered the statement, but instead of allowing space for a holy wow, my thoughts turned to more negative notions.

How does a woman wear tired like an accessory, a man’s carry sorrow like a knapsack?

How many churches wanted a piece of their story in the early days, before the results weren’t quite so world-changing as expected?

Certainly, there were colonial implications to their work; weren't they the embodiment of the "great white hope?"

Was this a complicit, parasitic relationship?

What does a couple do when their entire economy--their occupation, health, and home--is threatened by a ravaging disease, and why does God not eradicate the scourge?

How does the church economy value their effort, really? Can a relief worker return to the church economy after the work is completed? Will there be money for transition, for reintegration?

I tuned the questions out, took a minute to survey the room. I noted a gussied up hypocrite or two. I am a lawyer during the week, which allows me a window into the secrets of others. Some have tax issues; others nurse failing businesses. Some are contract-breacher; others are trespassers. I noted all of this less from a position of judgment, and more from a position of juxtaposition. Oh, the irony of we who lift our hands on Sunday, and scoop them into the mud on Monday.

This is my church. And though the noting of their hypocrisies were convenient in the moment, in all honesty I must confess--I am them.

How often have I contributed to the burnout of the missionary, given the promise that I would visit, or call, or support, only to renege? How often have I spoken holy words on Sunday, only to utter curses on Monday? Have I been the contract-breacher, at least in the metaphorical sense? There is no doubt.

They say that the younger generation is leaving the church in droves. Recent reports show that attendance for the Southern Baptist Church (the church of my youth) has been on the decline for seven years. Article after article discusses the mass-exodus of millennials from the church.  I don’t need statistics or articles to tell me what I already know, though—church attendance is down because my generation has become consumed with cynicism and a taste for pointing out hypocritical ironies.

Yesterday, I considered my own cynicism, my own penchant for noticing the hypocrisy of my fellow church attendees. I asked myself, “how does it feel to carry this load of negativity?” and the answer was “not so good.” So, I did that thing that the good book teaches us to do when the darkness of our own hearts creeps up on us. I simply uttered, “I’m done with all of that; teach me to love.”

Then, in a sort of Brave New World altar-building experience, I tweeted:

I tweeted this during church, mind you, so I didn’t expect much of a response. Apparently, though, I am not the only person tweeting during church. (Counterpoint: perhaps everyone really has left church and they are all sitting at home tweeting Brave New Church thoughts?) The tweet was retweeted, began to build momentum, and as it began to make the rounds a few thoughts occurred to me.

Maybe the millennial church, if only a small minority, is tired of the cynicism and the noting of hypocritical ironies.

Maybe we’re all ready to walk in a better, more hopeful way.

Even if it’s just a minority of folks, maybe we can lock arms, sing a few hymns, and decide that we’ve had enough of all of the negativity.

Perhaps we can live toward the coming kingdom.

These might be pipe dreams, and I'm not suggesting that we should not ask hard questions and push against hypocrisy. [tweetherder text="There is a way to move from the default position of cynic to the default position of wow."]Isn't there a way, though, to move from the default position of cynic to the default position of wow.[/tweetherder] Maybe it begins with extending charity to those around us, with the recognition of the beautiful people of both the local congregation and the church at large. That's my best guess, anyway. To that end, and in an attempt to make a personal shift, I pray in the words of St. Francis, “mighty God, great and glorious, enlighten the darkness of my heart. Grant me, Lord… a perfect charity.”

And if I'm employing proper scriptural imagination, my best guess is that perfect charity will drive out cynicism. Let it be.

*****

If you haven't heard the BIG NEWS yet, sign up for the Seth Haines' Tiny Letter: A Compendium of Projects, People, Places, and Things. The Tiny Letter is a personal newsletter sent to subscribers once (sometimes twice) a month, and it highlights my personal projects, a few good folks, the places I go, and the things I like. The inaugural edition--the newsletter containing the BIG NEWS--has already been sent, but if you sign up for the newsletter, I'll forward you a copy!

powered by TinyLetter

On Cigarette Ashes, Magnolia Blossoms, and Driver-Side Doors

I. This is not so much a piece about marriage as it is about certainty, about propositional truth. In a certain sense, this is a piece about driver-side doors.

II.

At the wise old age of eighteen, I laid on a bed sheet under the midnight stars with a God-fearing girl; we flung dreams into the river of hot summer wind. She was supposed to be my first love. She was not--not really. She was, instead, the girl I was supposed to love, I being the youth group preacher-to-be, and she being the daughter of an upright minister.

We had a First Baptist kind of relationship, one that was more of a profession of faith than a profession of passion. The truth was--and boy, did we ever know the Truth...

Continue reading at A Deeper Story.

Featured image credit: "Magnolia" by THOR.

Clean Air

There was a time when Amber and I tried our best to undo our vows. We were young and headstrong, the sorts of kids who had loved like roman candles on the fourth of July--hot; bright; fast. For those of you who met and married in 'round about a year's time, you know how this sort of whirlwind romance feels, and how that whirlwind seems to continue well into your marriage. You also know that whirlwinds have a tendency to upend your fancy place settings and well-hung family photographs. It's just the way it is.

In any event, I penned the below poem for Amber a while back and stumbled across it last week. Though it tells a cryptic sort of story, allow me to unpack it. During the Christmas season of 2007, I visited a dear friend in Mozambique. The trip was an undoing of sorts, a course correction, if you will. I returned to the States, where things in our house began to change. Marriage secrets were exposed, forgiveness was extended, and the healing process began.

For the full story, visit Amber's place. Otherwise, enjoy my poem, "Clean Air."

(Note: This piece was first published on February 11, 2011. The below is a revised version.)

*****

"Clean Air"

Nuclear winter only lasts for a season. After watching the meltdown, we tried on lead sweaters hoping they would shield us from each others’ radiation. No matter how much you layer, though, a little skin is always left exposed. Skin has to breathe.

I left for Mozambique to find clean air. There was a boy there like the one Samuel Gray sketched in charcoal. He spoke to me, said “you can wipe a canvas clean if you rub hard enough, but you’ll lose the life in the eyes.” Then he smiled, picked up his soccer ball from the weeds, and ran back to the goal slung with bed nets.

I stood on the hill and watched him. He kicked the ball time and again into that net, the one some missionary gave him so he wouldn’t die of malaria. Following the leader, I shed my lead sweater (boy was it heavy) and stood as tall as the Portuguese pines that lined the village.

Epiphany, You promised a miracle. That day, on that Holy Hill, I knew You’d un-spin her sweater too, knew You’d sum us up proper.