Why we could all be a little more like “Weird Al”

There’s something that I find so compelling about the forever popular “Weird Al” Yankovic. The 54-year-old comic and musician is so hilariously relevant, it is hard for him not to be contagious. Proof in the fact that, the guy who has been at it since 1976 just released his first number one record (and the first comedy record since 1963 to top the charts), Mandatory Fun. Here are my top five reasons that Weird Al exhibits some prophetic leadership (that might be an overstatement, by the way).

  1. He is hilarious, but totally PG. So often it seems like comics get their laughs by using profanity and sexual gratuity. Weird Al is hilarious and both kids and adults can appreciate him. I remember, “Amish Paradise” was so funny for me and I’m not even sure I was allowed to listen to Coolio. It’s a relief to know that comedy can be “clean” and still great. Sometimes adult comics can explore themes that family-friendly ones cannot, so Weird Al isn’t everything, but he does a great job reaching a diverse group of people.
  2. He’s teaches us that we can make fun of ourselves. It’s important to take ourselves seriously, but it’s OK to laugh at the ridiculous things we do. I think the themes that Kurt Cobain explores in Nevermind are serious enough, but you Weird Al’s parody of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is just too funny not to brush aside how serious we have to be. It’s refreshing. His latest parody of “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke is spot-on. Robin Thicke’s ridiculous and explicit music video needed to be made fun of. Writing a song about how texting has ruined our grammar to the same tune? Perfectly awesome.
  3. He respects diversity and has developed the talent to portray it. Weird Al’s parodies and style shows that he cares about music and he isn’t just making fun of it. It’s hard to just make your career mocking everyone else, but he actually explores a variety of musical styles and seems to pull them off well. He’s a master of his trade. In an era where anyone with a video camera can publish a parody on YouTube, Weird Al still thrives because he is so good at it. Moreover, he includes others in his trade. He even was caught back stage at an Izzy Azalea concert asking her to use the music for “Fancy” for his parody “Handy.” (By the way, Izzy’s song is so bad, and Weird Al manages to still respect it!). Almost every artist he parodied loves his work. Coolio didn’t, but they worked it out.
  4. He brings up important criticisms of U.S. culture, but does it with a soft start. He’s not angry or proud, Weird Al talks about the U.S.’s preoccupied with celebrities, junk food, “First World Problems” without turning off the people that might need to hear his message. He’s surgical in his criticism, while also being light-hearted enough to not be a total turn off to those who disagree with him. Comedy breaks down barriers and Weird Al is an expert at it.
  5. He manages to adapt to his culture. Weird Al’s known for lasting longer than the artists that he parodies do! It’s amazing, but his longevity and continued popularity is unmatched in some sense. He stays hip to the times, listening to music and learning about the culture at large and a variety of sub-cultures. He teaches us all that we can’t just keep doing the same thing; in order to survive, we need to adapt. Another example of this is his wildly successful video campaign, which has garnered more than 46 million views. He is all things to all people, since I am sure you can find a style parody that you can relate to on his records, and a song you can’t help but laugh at.

Weird Al isn’t necessarily profound, but I enjoyed listening to his music enough to respect what he’s doing. He’s hanging in there and I want to honor his hard work and perseverance. I think we all could use a little more Yankovic in us.

Israel and Hamas are both wrong, but not all violence is equal

I spent a lot of last week having rich discussions with fellow Brethren in Christ about our denomination’s historic peace position. It was a stimulating discussion that at least showed me that nonviolence is not a hill on which our denomination’s leaders are willing to die. I’ve written about the cost of removing so-called auxiliary distinctions in an effort to grow and expand the church, and how that might leave us with just a generic shadow of ourselves, so I brought a significant level of passion to our discussion on the issue.

There is no question in my mind about the issue. When Jesus says, “Love your enemies,” he never means kill them. But we don’t live in a perfect world and people do shoot and kill their enemies. So what does one do? I suppose I continue to work for peace, advocate for policy that will make it occur on a large level.

I strongly believe that peace is a realistic response to violence. It’s not just ideological or idealistic. It’s the truth. But we know the world is not so black and white. We are more than just violent or not. The conflicts in the Middle East shows us this. The violence that British and French imperialists did when they arbitrarily divided the Ottoman Empire after it fell is one kind of violence. Apparently, nations need their own states or they won’t get along. The military dictatorships installed in the Middle East were an attempt to maintain order in the new nation states, by and large to protect corporate interests in the region. That’s another level of violence. Suppressing Islamist groups is more violence. Those oppressed Islamists rising up to build new nations—precisely like ISIS is doing—and doing violence against another nation left without a country, the Kurds, is still another layer of violence. The situation is mirrored in Syria, where you have the brutal dictator Assad against numerous rebel groups, who are not united in mission, technique, or ideology.

The conflict that rages in Palestine is even more complicated. The post-Holocaust Jewish people needed a home. The British made them one in Israel, which has been attacked by the surrounding Arab nations since its inception. The Palestinian people have been oppressed through the warring of Arab and Israeli leaders. The nation-to-nation violence has ended in the Middle East for the most part, following Egyptian President Sadat’s peace treaty with Israel in 1978. The United States has a lot of interest in the Middle East and has a political partnership with Israel and Egypt to maintain peace in the region. It is Israel’s biggest ally in their struggle.

These days, with the Middle East stuck in Civil War (like in Syria), newly forming military dictatorships (like in Egypt), nations deeply entrenched in their oil interests (like Saudi Arabia), war-torn nations from quagmire efforts (like in Iraq), protests to the injustice that the Palestinians experience manifests itself in a variety of ways. When Israel is attacked and three children are killed like they were this time, the Jewish state is absolutely relentless in its counter-attack; that counter-attack is often backed by U.S. weapons. Palestinians keep being killed and displaced and Hamas is the fundamentalist stereotype that many Palestinians want nothing to do with.

It’s hard to observe the conflict and not take sides. Even more tempting is to assume that because both warring parties are violent, they are equally wrong. We might be convinced to claim a “third way,” and just denounce both sides equally because they are violent. In my view, violence is never justified. But the Zionist argument is clearly biased, the situation is not that cut and dry. But defending Hamas? I’m not sure you can easily do that either. Nicholas Kristof’s argument seems to make the most sense to me. Hamas is out of the line and doesn’t represent Palestinians, truly. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority suffers from incompetence as well. The Israeli government is off-the-wall and using a level of force that’s unjustifiable, even if you are a just warrior. The level of power the Israeli’s are leveling, coupled with the endless support the U.S. gives them, provides a level of tyranny over the Palestinian people that is unmatched. Hamas’ actions cannot be justified, but the harm the state of Israel is inflicting onto regular Palestinians is evil. The Onion, as usual, may have put it best in this headline: Israel’s, Hamas’ Disregard For Palestinian Life Aligning Nicely.

Is there a right and wrong side in the Middle East? I doubt it. Are there power differences that can color precisely how we value the variety of violences present in the situation? Certainly the widely protected, supported, and resourced Israel has an upper-hand in the conflict. The desperate cry of the Palestinians is muted by the equally desperate theocratic aspirations of Hamas. Wanting to wipe the entire state of Israel off of the planet? Not the most peaceful goal. The answer in the Middle East may not be a moderate response, however; but the solution is probably not being presented in the loudest voices here. The interest of the displaced people in Palestine must be considered, primarily. Unfortunately, the monied interests in the Middle East, in Israel and Palestine, benefit from the turmoil. So it seems to me like peace may not even be a third way in the Middle East, it might be a fourth or fifth!

I’m thankful I’m a Christian in the middle of this conflict because death isn’t a threat to me. The warring sides intensify one another to the point of complete indefensibility. But just because Hamas and Israel cannot be defended, doesn’t mean that there is no one to defend. Christians should be defending the innocent who are caught between what amounts to a horrific example of a dysfunctional relationship. Support MCC as it does good work there advocating for free movement and the removal of Israeli settlements that displace Palestinians. Pray for the Palestinians and Israelis, pray for peace. Lobby Washington and ask them to support a peaceful solution, not Israel’s right to defend itself which is the toxin both sides of aisle spew. Finally, let’s not try to get caught up in sides of the conflict, but also remain conscious that both sides, and their violence, are not equal.

What do I do when my faith doesn’t make sense?

What do I do when my faith doesn’t make sense? Oh, the burden of rationality. I really had to wonder this week how we got to the point where we really need to understand everything. Really? This sounds bad, but when I am asked the question “What do I do when my faith doesn’t make sense?” I might counter with, “What do you do when your faith does make sense?”

How could it possibly make sense? Louis C.K. does a bit where he says that it’s impossible to be certain about God not existing. How do you know God doesn’t exist? Well, I didn’t see him yet. But you’re a human. You can see like a hundred yards ahead. What if God was always behind you?

It’s not just our smart phones that make us so entitled to understanding everything. In Paul’s day, there seemed to be a preoccupation with rationality too. In fact, in the Greek world, where he was doing a bulk of his ministry, philosophy itself was born. About 500 years before the common era, or Before Christ, was Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle. Rational philosophers who believed that the world made sense. Pythagoras famously uttered, “All is number.”

Plato, on the other hand, argued that reason superseded senses. Aristotle took Plato’s theories further. He came up with syllogistic logic. We are given a premise and then from there we can make further conclusions based on deductive reasoning. A major premise, coupled with a minor premise, offers a conclusion. For example, “All humans are mortal. All Philadelphians are humans. All Philadelphians are mortal.”

These basic ideas are still instrumental to our thinking today. But they aren’t all good.

In Corinth, Paul needed to subvert this kind of thinking in order for people to believe in something greater than themselves. Christians almost automatically need to acknowledge that the world cannot start and end with their rationality. So it’s not surprising that Paul starts his letter to the Corinthians trying to present a different world view.

Paul is saying God has made foolish all wisdom of people. That even the Greeks, amid their genius, need to submit to their creator. Paul is preaching to Jews and Greeks who think that the death and resurrection of Jesus is either scandalous or foolish. God uses the weak among him to do his work and he wraps them up in his wisdom. God uses what the world thinks is foolish to shame the wise. Paul even says that God uses the people the world considers low-class and low-lives to do his work.

But since so many Enlightenment-era philosophers influence us, and the fact that the United States is the crowning achievement of the Enlightenment, it’s not surprising that we can’t seem to let go of our certain rationality.

Even in the postmodern era in which many truths are based on our individual experiences, we can’t seem to grant ourselves permission not to understand.

By the middle of the 18th Century, Immanuel Kant acknowledges that there are limits to our reason and our experience, on the subject of God, free will, immortality. There are things that are too complicated for our minds to understand, ultimately. Kant, of course, reduced religion down to ethics, and removed faith and narrative from it, and as a result he made religious pluralism possible. Knowledge is subjective.

Reason has its limits, knowledge is subjective, nothing is going to make sense, and since sense is our goal, why bother at all? Quickly, we can become students of nihilism and not care about anything but our own pleasure. Jesus calls us to do something different.

So what do you do when your faith doesn’t make sense?

Truly, there will be moments where we aren’t just having an intellectual issue, but a really personal one. We suffer through trauma in our lives, trauma that doesn’t seem to have any explanation at all, and we think if we had some reasoning and some explanation then we would be healed. A mother that loses a child, for example, wants to know why it happened, and I don’t blame her.

What do I do with all of the problems in the Bible? How do I listen to writers that are giving me a 2000-year-old philosophy? How can I possibly pray to an invisible God and hope that he can change the world? How come God only answers some of my prayers?

Things get confusing when we have never questioned them. Why would God create a hell? What’s the purpose of eternal damnation?

What do you do when your faith doesn’t make sense? We clearly have been indoctrinated into thinking it needs to and I think rather than just saying, “That’s dumb, screw Aristotle,” we should actually consider that this is a real dilemma for people.

For one, there are hundreds of theologians that are trying to make sense of our faith. And they do so for the era in which they live. I can recommend the books to you that might help you clear things up. But it’s amazing, because for me, when my faith doesn’t make sense, I don’t really want answers, I want comfort. When something doesn’t make sense? Talk about it. Relate to others. See what they have for you. Make a relationship. Your comfort might just be in a shared experience.

Talk to God about it. Pray about it. Confront the lack of logic. And don’t go just searching for an answer, especially if you are dealing with something that is deeply personal. Confronting your own fears with God might allow you to face them directly, as opposed to just suppressing them or explaining them away.

Try not to over-intellectualize. Be plain. I really loved the class I took this week on Brethren in Christ’s History and Values because it really told the story of simple farmers trying to apply their faith. They generally avoid systematic theology and they try to be as direct as they can. You can really go off the deep end with some of these philosophers, but try to stay open and generous. Apply the best wisdom you’ve been given now as best as you can, as opposed to thinking you need to corner the market on every concept.

Can we learn to be OK with not knowing? Can we be OK with the pain of confusion? Can we lose the intellectual entitlement? The rationalistic despair? Is it OK to believe something or have faith because it fits you and your community? Because the story comforts you? Must you know? How could you possibly live like that?

Can you try to defer to people who simply know more than you, who have enjoyed a longer life and experience? Can we defer to our elders? Or must we be in control all the time?

When our faith doesn’t make sense, we might need to be prepared to suffer. The world is filled with mystery. And if we don’t know that sometimes that mystery is going to cause us grief, we might as well just try not to feel or think anymore. We can’t spend our lives in a world view that’s to tiny that it makes everything make sense. We can’t limit our emotions that much.

Don’t be afraid to change. Our God is a big God. And if Christians never changed, the faith might be dead. We go through alterations. God doesn’t change, but how we think of him does, and how we present him does. Because in every era there is a new way to talk about God and I think we need to master all of those varieties.

When people are saying the faith doesn’t make sense, it’s actually not the worst thing, because it means they care enough to ponder it and to ask a question. That’s good. When we create safe place for people to wonder about God together, I think He’ll show up.

The problem with essentializing the Brethren in Christ’s Core Values

This is a first draft of an essay I wrote for the BIC Core Course on History and Values.

What the most important Brethren in Christ core values? Which are the most difficult to follow? These are the questions that this author is assigned to answer. Within the question itself, one may find the answer. The question presupposes that the things that make up the identity of the Brethren in Christ, found at least in part within its core values, can be evaluated individually. It is the contention of this author that they cannot be.

The question of importance alone suggests that one might be more important than the other. In fact, it may seek to fundamentalize the Brethren in Christ, a denomination that has formed on the basis of a communal hermeneutic not an individual one. When one fundamentalizes the values that make up the core of the denomination, we dilute the distinctions that make the Brethren in Christ noteworthy at all. Such essentialization is at the heart of the reformation, and does have its merit. In fact, some degree of essentialization protects the Brethren in Christ from many things, not least of which is legalism. When one considers the core values, perhaps it is more significant and important to ponder their application collectively, as opposed to their individual merit.

If one evaluates the core values based on their merit, one might be left with nothing but generic Evangelicalism. Within Western culture, it seems like the most important values would be the ones that the Evangelical values, since that particular “stream” has influenced the Brethren in Christ most significantly as of late.

Furthermore, an additional problem presents itself because the core values themselves are already, simply by definition, value judgments on their own. The Brethren in Christ has already defined the essentials of its movement. That one would seek to further divide what has already been determined and set apart is a further reduction that threatens the very particularity of the denomination.

The core values are holistic. In other words, one leads to the other. How does one follow Jesus without valuing the free gift of salvation? How can one believe the Bible and not conclude that pursuing peace is at the essence of the Sermon on the Mount? The values create a delicate web that might be adulterated if reduced (not necessarily if altered, however). The core values are not perfect, and they should evolve in a discerning process; but they should not merely be simplified.

In this deconstruction, one finds precisely what is most difficult regarding the values: following them all. The Evangelical temptation may be to discern what values are important to each individual. And in fact, this may be the trend in the Brethren in Christ church. At least anecdotally, it seems like pastors of congregations are left to their own individual thinking, as the denominations’ bishops try to maintain order across dozens of congregations in the large swaths of land, which their unrealistic job description requires.

With that said, the most important values are the ones that make the Brethren in Christ distinct and identifiable. Perhaps it is more prudent to list the values that make the Brethren in Christ distinct so that we do not lose our identity in an era of atomization. What is it then that makes the Brethren in Christ a body at all? The commitment to the cross, to grace, to the Bible, to follow Jesus, to evangelism at large—these are the spoken commitments of any Christian—the application of these values are distinct in the Brethren in Christ. Not only are they distinct, they are crucial.

This era is so individualized that our mere existence is what makes us distinct at all. Nietzsche said, “What does your conscience say? You should become the person you are.” If the Brethren in Christ is to be that individualized, the cost may be its collective self. Certainly, such submission to individualism may allow for inclusion of many people, but the cost is too high. If the essence of the Brethren in Christ becomes flavorless, it may still be substantive, but it ceases to be notable among the ocean of churches that are identifiable only by their names, not their characters.

Both an important and difficult value is that of community. In fact, if there is not a great value placed on community, then one could simply elect which values are of important to him or her, and subsequently continue on with Western individualism, which has most notably been expressed in a preoccupation with a personal relationship with Jesus. Dialogue discerned in the Holy Spirit is what holds the Brethren in Christ together. Its hard-won agreements are the centerpiece to our denomination. If what one learns in the Scripture, and how one experiences the Holy Spirit, and what it means to follow Jesus is not something that is communally discerned and practiced, the world has won.

Moreover, it is its community that makes the Brethren in Christ a witness to the whole world. As the Brethren in Christ witnesses to the globe, it includes the world into its community. It is precisely this incarnational connection where Jesus is best revealed. Participation in the community is how people are most convincingly converted. If indeed every living person is someone to whom one can witness, how can one not pursue peace? How does not forgive his potential brother? How does one do violence to his sister? How does one claiming to follow the Risen Lord in the new creation pledge allegiance to another master?

Following the commitment to nonviolence, is the need to be compassionate. To treat every one of God’s children as if they were one’s own children is at the heart, not just of the Brethren in Christ’s core values, but of the Gospel itself. True Christian living, James wrote, is to take care of orphans and widows. As one witnesses to the least of these, one truly must live simply. The call to live simply is not just a call to be different, but rather, profoundly relatable. It serves as a witness not just against the wanton materialism of the world, but as a tool one can use to relate to those to whom he or she witnesses. Simple living helps one reach the least of these, and it does not ruin the witness to those of more means.

The brotherhood’s core values lead us to follow both the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Like those great statements, it is difficult to completely and wholly follow the core values. Thankfully, it is not through a legalistic following that one finds his or her salvation. With that said, one must be cautious not to discard the values that most effectively threaten the powers that be and the institutions of the world. The temptation may be to align oneself with the values that least threaten the order of the world. The Brethren in Christ must guard itself against such temptation, for in succumbing to them, it may be left with nothing more than an empty façade.

Why I liked Justin Lee’s Torn

Earlier this year, Circle of Hope as a people, engaged in a lot of theology and discussion surrounding marriage and sexuality. For me, it was a stimulating time for learning and dialogue. We held a large group dialogue, starting off this year’s Doing Theology series around marriage. The pastors came up with a well-thought-out piece of theology surrounding our theology of marriage. It is a statement that our cell leaders can generally use to help lead others.

Over the course of those months, I read many books on the subject. Andrew Marin’s Love Is An Orientation, Jenell Williams Paris’ The End of Sexual Identity, Jeff Chu’s Does Jesus Really Love Me?, and, lastly, Justin Lee’s Torn.

They’ve been refreshing for me. They are deep reads written by earnest people trying to reconcile with one of the most dividing issues of the church today. I want to learn as much as I can about sexuality and marriage and I want to follow God as loyal as I can.

When I first started reading Torn, I honestly did not know what to expect. I knew Justin Lee was the founder of the Gay Christian Network but little else. The memoir-style of the book really lent itself to the subject. Rather than speak theoretically about it, I appreciated Justin’s story. The more he explained his experience, the harder it was for me to put the book down.

Justin’s book chronicles his life as a conservative Christian, who comes out, gets abused by the ex-gay camp (people who believe you can be “re-oriented”), and finally emerges as an advocate for Christians who also are same-sex attracted. The GCN does good work in building bridges and helping people meet Jesus.

Jenell Paris does the good work on unpacking why “gay” isn’t a term that is sufficiently description of something as nuanced as sexual attraction, orientation, and identity. Justin basically uses the term because people understand what it means, although he acknowledges how complicated its use can be.

Justin talks a little bit about the science of sexuality, but tells his readers it is rather inconclusive. I personally don’t care much about the science of sexuality because who you are now and how you feel now matters more to me than rationalistically determining how you got there. Although, I do think there is work to be done in spiritual and psychological discovery, so finding out one’s personal story is important. Scientifically determining it for everyone? That seems like a pipe dream.

It is a shame that we live in a world that demands such answers. Science isn’t a fool-proof mechanism we have for discovery. That level of rationalism should give way to some mystery.

It is precisely this mentality that causes people to hurt themselves over reading the Bible and trying to find objective answers to their moral dilemmas. Justin toils through the Bible to try and find the answer that God has for someone like him—gay and committed to celibacy. I know many people who have the same struggle and I appreciate his story. It is damaging and daunting to try to figure out exactly what a word means in Greek and how it applies to us today in the 21st Century.

Eventually, Lee tells the story of just going with his God-given instinct and creating a safe Network for people to explore and express God’s love. He does this for both so-called conservative and liberal camps. It seems to me like the Gay Christian Network is doing good work, and the conclusions that they have reached are not so different than the work we’ve done in Circle of Hope. I was kindly affirmed while reading it.

Lee is never judgmental, or resolute. He’s humble and gentle. Listening first, honestly and earnestly telling his story, while also asserting himself against evil. It is a hard balance, but he seems to have done it well.

The book is powerful because it shows how ugly the church can be, how judgmental, damaging, and difficult Christians can be. But it shows how hopeful, gracious, and welcoming the church can be. For people who have same-sex attraction, I want to include them in the church and part of our Body. It is the best place for anyone.

Should I vote?

“Should I vote?” Well, first, I’m not so sure we should “should” on anyone. I don’t think that’s the way of Jesus. I think he released us from the enslavement of making sure we do the “right thing” all of the time. It’s amazing, the Apostle Paul channels this through-and-through in his letters, which compose a large percentage of the New Testament. Paul’s main rule is Christ.

In Romans 7, Paul is saying that the rule-dominated life that the strict Jews lived was taken away with Christ’s death. Jesus said he came to fulfill the law. That law is basically summarized in the Ten Commandments. Paul says that those rules that dominated Jewish life were good, but they were manipulated for evil.

Jesus changed the world, gave us an opportunity to conquer death once and for all—to “marry” the resurrection life. And to witness to others through it. The problem with the old way of doing things is that people started to do as much as they could get away with. Now we are free from the law and free from sin, so we are free to live a new life of freedom.

We are no longer shackled to anything. We are free to live fully. So ultimately, if you are asking a question to find out what you should do, I am not so sure I can give you an answer that is sufficient. It seems to be against the way I’ve been transformed.

The voting question is a really hard one to answer. In the United States, we are told by the patriarchs of our civil religion to vote because that is elemental to our democracy and our voice being heard. The argument is that if you don’t vote, you can’t “complain.” You can’t protest. You can’t talk about issues that matter to you. Mainly because in our “representative democracy,” our voices are carried out by our legislators. I don’t think that’s the case, and I don’t really believe them when they tell me that. And if my voice is just limited to some symbolic vote? I don’t care that much.

And to be honest, I wouldn’t be the only one. In 2012, the big presidential election that re-elected President Obama, only 58.83% of voters turned out. That’s a big election. If you look at the next year’s election, when huge campaign dollars weren’t spent, it dropped to a measly 11.4%. It seems to me that many Americans aren’t super-interested in voting and even when the state tells us it’s important, it doesn’t seem to be a very important influential voice. So I understand the disillusionment that accompanies the hysteric cry to vote.

What does it actually do? I don’t really know. Should I vote? Well, no one else seems to.

But when we look at other arguments for voting, they are a little more compelling. Voting hasn’t always been everyone’s “right.” It was only in 1920 that women gained the right to vote. Black people in the U.S. truly didn’t have the right to vote until 1965, when racial discrimination was completely prohibited. Now, that’s questionable, since there is still a debate about whether voters should be literate or whether or not they should have an ID present when voting.

There’s been a lot of work done to ensure that everyone has the right to vote. With a battle fought very hard among many oppressed people, to ignore the vote seems like an affront to their work. So, I suppose it makes sense to consider that perspective too. Should I vote? Well, a lot of people have fought for your right to.

Perhaps, however, abstaining makes some sense because it could send the message of indifference that our elected officials need to hear. Not voting may be more powerful than voting at all. We are collectively indifferent because we don’t think anything changes whether you are empowered or not. This might not already be a conscious choice of the voter, but it is certainly in the nation’s unconscious.

There is a distinct belief among many Christians that we shouldn’t participate in elections because we are called to be set apart from the world. We don’t deal with the world’s affairs because we are under God’s kingdom and covenant. We are connected to God, and casting a vote for another ruler seems to be violating that. There is a good argument to be made that we shouldn’t participate in worldly institutions because we are so committed to making the alternative. You can clearly see this in the Old Testament when God repeatedly says that we are His people and He is our King.

For a long time in the Old Testament, the Israelites only had God as their ruler. When Israel demands a king, God and Samuel really try to convince them not to. They persist, and God concedes.

There is a cost to being ruled by a king. That warning is very noteworthy for us if we sell our souls to the state. People really have ideological reasons not to vote. They really think it is idolatry. They might even characterize it as a sin. And if we are empowering people in an unjust system, I see their argument. The entire system is built on violence, and for that reason it seems to be categorically the opposite of the Kingdom, which is built on grace. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the ultimate protest of the violent system—when given a chance to avenge himself, he didn’t. There is a very good theological argument to be made against voting at all, that is for sure. Committing yourself to a political party? That also adds to the idolatry.

Moreover, voting itself might not be the most Christian way to make decisions. I prefer consensus and agreement, occurring as a response to intense dialogue. I was demonstrating this at the BIC General Conference last weekend when I was engaging in dialogue. Some people thought I was talking too much, but I really believe in a dialogical process and I am talkative! I don’t want to just cast my vote and let it be still. In fact, sometimes I refused to say “yea” or “nay” on an issue we were voting on because I think the system itself is flawed. As if we need another thing to divide. Voting might just divide Christians and oppress the minority too!

Some people really believe that we vote to preserve our values (whether they are “Christian” or not is up for debate) in our government. There are a variety of issues at hand here, but there are those “issue voters.” I don’t want to get into the politics, but some people vote because there is an issue that is really important to them. The Brethren in Christ made exceptions to their typical non-voting stance, when it came to issues surrounding prohibition. Outlawing alcohol was important enough to curb their conviction not to participate. There are other issues like that today. Some people believe that we need to vote for the candidate that is most likely to offer equal marriage rights. Others might think it’s the people that are going to outlaw abortion. Still others think we should vote for the people that are not going to engage us in international entanglement, military or otherwise. Others think we should vote for people that will keep the government out of our lives. There are a lot of issues that people may vote for or against, because they are really important to us. And the truth is? Those actual laws and policies may affect a lot of people. Sometimes we will elect someone that’s going to influence the world positively, save lives, share resources, create justice, clean the environment, all sorts of things. It is conceivable that voting might do a positive thing. So there’s that too.

I personally vote. I read the newspaper (on the Internet, of course) and other news magazines. I try to stay informed, in part to participate as best as I can, leaving no stone unturned. But also because it’s a hobby of mine. I follow politics so that my dad and I have something to talk about, too. I do it so that my neighbors, who care a lot about who is in office, see me at the booth. They often introduce me as their neighbor and sometimes their pastor! I like that camaraderie. Like many things I do, I vote so I can be relatable. This a personal and relatively nuanced reason, to be sure.

If we get too ideological about it, I think we miss Paul’s point about being free from the law. Voting should probably occupy as much space in our minds as it takes to do it. And if we think our work for justice and for Jesus is done once we press that button that often produces all-too-familiar results. We might want to think a little bit harder. Vote or don’t vote, but our work isn’t done once we are out of the booth.

Truly, like Paul tells the Corinthians in his first letter in chapter ten: “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.

For me, the question isn’t what is right or not. What is permissible or not. What you should do or not. But what is beneficial? What builds up? If you give it that level of thought and seriousness, I don’t think you can really go wrong. I think everything is worth that level of testing, so if you haven’t asked yourself those questions, it might be a good time to start.

Louie and reconciliation as entertainment

I’ve been catching up all of the seasons of Louie. Admittedly, I watched it because of Seinfeld’s cameo in the show and I’m a little bit of a super-fan (same reason I started watching Curb Your Enthusiasm and 30 Rock). The show is a little too vulgar, but there is an earnestness and honesty in Louie C.K.’s comedy that is quite compelling to me. He characterizes the trouble of a divorced 40-something in a way that is both hilarious and heart-breaking. Louie needs Jesus, of course, but it is amazing that he is being like Jesus to others throughout the program.

Although we see this as he relates to his friends and his daughters, Louie, despite his general narcissism and self-pity that is the key to his comedy, is a pretty compassionate person. It seems to me like he’s burned some bridges, but watching him try to restore them is quite amazing. Whereas, tabloids seem to get their sales by telling us all about celebrity relationship problems, Louie’s reconciliation processes are the entertainment. It is almost the opposite of my dear Seinfeld, which  makes most of its jokes at other’s expenses.

The most famous example of this is Louie C.K.’s conflict with Dane Cook. Several years ago, Louie’s friends, although apparently never Louie himself, accused Dane Cook of stealing some of Louie’s jokes. That Dane Cook and his brand of humor and target audience were much different than the typical comics is central to the issue. The comradery among other comedians, which the aforementioned Seinfeld exhibits in his Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, is special and not for everyone. I personally hate that  Dane Cook is the “jock’s comedian,” delivering the “bros humor.” The exclusion that the high school jock enjoyed in his high school with his football jacket and clique is reversed in this case. The inevitable social outcastness that is so many Woody-Allen-influenced have made very popular is that clique that now excludes Dane Cook from their cadre. Dane Cook is set up to be vilified for stealing jokes.

Louie had him on his show and they seemed to try and work out their relationship. The scene felt tense, and subsequently genuine. Apparently, it was dramatized and the tension between the two was never that high, but Louie seemed to do it to honor Cook, to cool down the community of comics who defended him.

A similar thing happened with Marc Maron, a longtime acquaintance of Louie, who had a major falling out that is showcased on the show. In fact, in the season four finale, Maron accuses Louie of being a particularly bad friend who is both unavailable and jealous. Maron invited Louie on his podcast. In a very long, almost two hour, interview, the two of them work out their relationship with a surprising level of vulnerability.Their candidness is contagious. It makes me want to work out all of my relational problems.

I’m not sure what it is about broadcasting reconciliation or apologies or why celebrities do it at all. (Remember earlier this year when Macklemore Instagrammed his apology text to Kendrick Lamar after he won his Grammy?) There is something about that reconciliation that is more entertaining for us than just the drama and the beef.

We want people to work things out. We want them to get through their problems. And it feels good when they do and they share their story.

Jesus works it out with us. We are reconciled to him and forgiven. His is the ultimate story of reconciliation. When we forgive each other and overcome our trouble, we are modeling Christ’s behavior.

We would rather avoid that difficulty than forgive the individual, I know. Louie demonstrates this when he so doesn’t want to see his father, than he starts spontaneously vomiting and breaks out in a rash. When the time comes to see him, he runs off and ends up on a boat in the middle of the bay. We want to run from the relationships that are a challenge to participate in.

Jesus has another way, and when we see the world modeling it, we are marveled. There are problems with a public broadcast of your apology, but it does lead others and it may cause them to do the same. Although these things can happen because of all of the eyes watching him and he wants to be the “good guy,” I’d rather just see the positive in it this time. For Louie, he might be changing how many of us perceive reconciliation and the importance to do it in our lives.