Monday, September 23, 2013

Christianity Is Not a Crutch

If Christianity is a crutch, than atheism is a wheelchair. I've never liked the crutch argument; it's always carried the punch of a "Straw Man" to me. Christian faith is not for the faint-of-heart or short-of-breath. Only those who are willing to walk tightropes, dig graves, and turn cheeks are worthy of the call.

As I understand it, the argument goes like this: Faith is for those who are not strong enough to  bear their own pain. Belief in God helps people make sense of loss, grief, and tragedy. People of faith demand meaning where there is none, which helps them persevere.

In other words, it shows greater strength to view suffering as natural, random, and morally neutral. To declare life as a bunch of happy accidents and chemical reactions takes true grit.

I disagree.

Faith makes several bold assertions. "There are no happy accidents. We are more than chemical reactions. We are intelligently designed creatures by an infinitely wise God, who has not left His world alone, but actively engages with human affairs."

Such claims require Christians to interpret life through a cipher of divine purpose. God has His reasons for flash floods and prostate cancer and unanswered prayers and domestic violence. Of course, these reasons are not written in neon (or Scripture, necessarily) for public viewing. Any Christian who claims inside information on why God permitted tornadoes in Joplin or armed lunatics in Navy Shipyards, has turned his crutch into a bludgeoning tool.

What a Christian can claim with confidence is that God has built cause and effect into his creation. Hence natural consequences abound. Diabetes isn't the result of a malevolent God, but malnutrition. Criminal activity isn't prompted by a distant God, but by fatherless children. I oversimplify to stress one side of the argument.

I also must acknowledge that God permits these bad things to happen. In some cases, He even prescribes them. A recent sermon series through the book of Habakkuk has made that evident. Even before Habakkuk, God prescribed genocide for Canaanites, flood waters for Noah's neighbors, and boils for Job. After Habakkuk, he prescribed death by crucifixion for Jesus.

Nevertheless, these examples are anecdotal. The mass extinction of Hittites does not explain the Killing Fields. (That was Pol Pot's neurotic evil). Job's skin disease does not explain my grandmother's cancer. (That was cigarette's deadly carcinogens.) The Great Flood (Gen. 6) does not explain the recent destruction in Colorado. (That was an accident of global warming and residential zoning.)

The thinking Christian must constantly walk the tightrope, wondering if the tragedy of the day is an act of God or law of nature. She must also recognize these ideas may overlap. So the crutch becomes their balancing pole.

We must respect that God has a reason, even if He does not tell. We must fight the urge to import theological meaning to  natural disaster, even if we have biblical precedent. We must look for a bigger picture, even if momentary pain blinds our eyes. We must cling to the hope of heaven, even if archeologists and telescopes have uncovered no such place. We must swallow our pat answers in the face of another one's pain, even if we believe God has a greater good in mind.

If it is a crippled psyche that searches for meaning in the face of tragedy, I am happy to limp on a line. For as long as I limp, I am alive.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Discipleship meets Video Games in Man UP 2.0

My friend Micah doesn't just play Angry Birds, he dominates. He will not proceed to the next stage until he achieves three stars and a high score. To call him compulsive would be an understatement: perfectionist hits the spot.

Other men from my church play Minecraft, Modern Warfare, Halo, Ticket to Ride, Bejeweled, Free Flow, Animal Farm, and twenty varieties of virtual sports. My guilty pleasure is the old-fashioned crossword puzzle and the occasional bout of Ninja Fruit. We live to play. We love the points. We fight to conquer. We level up.

Were the Christian life as voluntary, satisfying, and productive as video games, modern men would be spiritual tzars. Most of us, however, are still reaching for the teat (Hebrews 5:11-14) and coasting on the memory of Sunday school lessons or Bible college crib sheets. Our discipleship level has not risen beyond novice.

I can't figure out if the problem today is with Christian men or the church we've designed for them. (Probably both.) The Sunday service certainly does not rival the graphics or story line of the lastest Xbox release.* Nor does the hour of interaction comes close to the collaboration, collective movement, and partnership required of any Mass Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG). The gaming world has drawn something out of man--evident in the time, money, and emotion we pour into it--the church can learn something from.**

I can hear these lessons as bullet points.
  • Compared to virtual reality, church services are boring. We need to get more creative.
  • Compared to virtual reality, church relationships are isolated. We need to get more connected.
  • Compared to virtual reality, church ministry feels unproductive. We need to make more impact.
  • Compared to virtual reality, church growth is slow. We need better marks of progress.
So how do we engage our men? Again, bullet points:

  • Call them out -- we need to Man UP!
  • Create engaging environments -- late night battle zones; early morning boat rides
  • Celebrate growth and hold men accountable -- arbitrary awards and experience points for accomplishing spiritual tasks
Other churches have started Fight Clubs. This Friday we're launching Man UP 2.0.
Perhaps all of these efforts will prove unfaithful to the notion of "secret rewards" in the Sermon on the Mount. I fear misleading our men in my personal effort to be relevant.

The greater fear, though, is allowing our men to continue going the way of the game. Virtual worlds and Angry Birds will take captive our discretionary time. No energy, appetite, or devotion will remain for spiritual community and personal growth.

I cannot accept this fate. Game on.