Dead Mice in the Kingdom of God

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Last November I began running on a beat up old treadmill in my garage for 4 days a week.  As I spent an hour running my legs to the rhythm of the treadmill’s clangs, I noticed another sound in the background.  It was similar to a scratching or clawing.  Now I am usually a very curious person, but my curiosity failed me.  I blame the treadmill.

At the end of November we pulled our Christmas tree out and found mouse droppings.  .  .a lot of them.  So we bought two traps.  They were the new confangled kind that sought to bait the mouse with food and then enclose them in a round container.

We set them, placed them in the garage, waited for a month and caught nothing.  I assumed the mouse had died or moved on, though the scratching sound did not go away and the droppings increased.

In January my wife finally saw the mouse run across the floor.  She insisted we do something about it, claiming there is a disease you can get from mouse droppings that infects you by breathing.  Considering the majority of droppings were right beneath the treadmill, where I spent a half hour breathing hard every day, I decided to look into it.

So I researched it and found that %15-%20 of mice are infected with the hafta-virus.  The hafta virus is especially sinister.  It is an uncurable flu that can kill people if it gets into the lungs.  The virus itself is killed by direct sunlight but still very lethal if inhaled.  After reading about it, I panicked and bought the old school spring-load traps.

I set one with peanut butter one evening and left the garage.  I came back five minutes later to find a mouse.  “That was quick!” I exclaimed before I realized the mouse was still living.  Its ear and the side of its head were caught in the crossbar but the rest of it was fine.  It looked at me trembling and frightened and immobile.

“Oh, no, poor mouse,” I muttered.  My daughter, who was standing behind me, repeated it.  I stood there looking as equally terrified as the mouse and also immobile.

After ten seconds I knew what I had to do.  I grabbed an old dusty broom and a plastic bag and sought to sweep the trap and the mouse into the bag.  It didn’t work.  The first time I moved the trap, the mouse pulled its ear free, spurting blood onto the garage floor.  It shot like a lightning bolt underneath an old television stand.  For a second I thought it had run clear through it and emerged into the maze of boxes on the other side.

I muttered, “nuts.”  My daughter repeated it.

I turned to go inside when it occurred to me I should at least check under the television stand.  So I carefully pulled it back and there was the mouse, on its side, breathing heavily with the trembling eyes.

I knew what I had to do but I didn’t like it.  I lifted up the broom and brought it down swiftly to end the mouse’s life.

For the rest of the evening, my daughter repeated, “aw, poor mouse” over and over to remind me of what I had done.

The whole event brings into clear focus the true brokenness of creation.  In Genesis there is a wonderful picture of all animals living together in harmony.  In that world mice didn’t carry lethal viruses that could be spread by breathing the same air they do.  At the same time, humans didn’t have boxes of junk sitting in dark garages that mice could chew up and destroy.

But now our world is less than that utopia.  It is full of things like disease and death and boxes of junk.  Still, the Apostle Paul teaches us in Romans 8 that all creation is groaning while it waits for the children of God to be revealed.  I think that includes mice.  The hafta virus and the destroyed Christmas decorations and the disgusting smell are all signs of a groaning creation, waiting for redemption.

As I stood over that mouse and the trap that (let’s face it) is less than merciful when it works properly, I found myself groaning as well.

As I brought that broom down to mercifully end the life that I myself had all ready mutilated, I longed for a better world.

Poor mouse.  Poor humans.  Poor creation.

Come Lord Jesus.

The Activity of God: 2 Case Studies

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Two things happened fairly close to home this weekend that have dominated national headlines.  The first happened within 100 miles of my house on a stretch of highway I drive often.  The second happened just a few hundred meters away from where my brother in law works and my brother in law watched the whole thing from a few meters away.

What caught my attention about both was not their nearness to me but that God was given credit for both.

The first happened Saturday morning, on Interstate 84 right outside of Baker City.  Icy roads and foggy conditions led to a 20 car pileup affecting more than 100 people.  Although several dozen were injured, the picture (right) that made the incident viral was of a man named Kaleb Whitby, who is younger than I am.  Kaleb walked away from the accident with two band aids on his face, but sadly, without a truck.

He probably should be dead, or at least on life support or at the very least on crutches.  Instead he is alive with 2 band aids.  His exact quote, according to the press was, “Thank God that I’m still alive.  Now I’ve got to go figure out why.”

As a pastor I find that quote endearing.   The laws of probability (laws which God created, a random number generator of sorts) dictate that he should be dead.  With that said, it might have been dumb luck and stranger things have certainly happened, though not often.  Yet as a believer I have no problem stating that God would reprogram that random number generator to keep Kaleb alive.  We call that a miracle.

The second thing that happened was that the Seattle Seahawks won both an onside kick and a coin toss, which then led to a conference championship and a trip to the Super Bowl.  My brother in law, who works for the Mariners, was on the sidelines watching the whole thing.  I am in a family of Seahawks fans and cheer for them when I am not cheering for the Chiefs.  I was thrilled they won but their game had been ugly up to the final minutes of the 4th quarter.  They had thrown 4 interceptions and received a ridiculous amount of avoidable penalties, the majority of which were because a player was on the wrong side of the line of scrimmage.

Still a great defensive line, a few miracle plays, the onside kick that bounced into their player’s hands and the luck of a coin toss led to the Seattle victory.

Moments after the game an understandably emotional Russell Wilson gave his team credit for staying in the game and stated how he “had no doubt.”  Then he said, “God prepared me for this game.  God prepared the team for this.”  Then the camera switched to a shot of the Seahawks’ players praying in a circle with one Packer in the mix.  I do not know, nor would I judge if I did, what they were praying.  Still, the entire event was one example of many that football is inventing a spirituality all its own.

Still, I wonder about Russell Wilson’s claim that God prepared them to win the game.  If I were not a Christian I would wonder at the absurdity of such a God, since Seattle was so unprepared they threw 4 interceptions and couldn’t keep their players on the right side of the line of scrimmage half the time.  I might argue that it seems to be the luck of a bouncy football and a coin toss that won the game, alongside an incredible defense that more than covered the offense’s sins.

Still, I am a Christian believer and must treat Wilson’s statement, along with Whitby’s above, with theological earnestness.

As a pastor, I would ask, “Does God really overrule the random number generator that governs the rest of us to save young men’s lives and help Seattle win football games?”

This question has many answers but I will focus on two.  The first is a philosophical one.  What can we say about a God who easily saves Kaleb Whitby’s live but leaves our high school secretary, who is an incredibly devout Christian and loving servant to our teenagers, with cancer?  Why easily override the laws to save Kaleb and not override those same laws to save the secretary?  Is such a God even good?  At the very least, philosophers argue, God should account for why the angels saved Kaleb and won’t save the secretary.

It gets worse with Seattle’s win.  I know very devout servants of Christ who are Packers fans and they feel wronged and robbed of a victory they probably deserved.  (I admit this, even though I am a Seahawks fan.)  More than that, a God who overrides the laws of a coin toss to help Seattle win is even more a tyrant for not doing so to save the lives of countless others who are starving to death or dying of cancer or being annihilated by extremists in the middle east.  Is a God good who prepares people to win football games, but has done lousy at preparing football teams to eradicate hunger and death?  Once again, philosophers would argue such a God should at least give an account of why.

However, I am not a philosopher.  I took required philosophy classes in college and seminary and went no further in the subject.  Perhaps because of that, I think that if God did indeed save Kaleb’s life and prepare Seattle to win, God would certainly be able to give us an account of why.  I trust God completely in those situations to do what is right.  In fact, if God were to show up and give an account it would probably be a lot like the one given to Job, “Who are you to contend with me?”

There is a second way to consider this question.  It is from a theological and Biblical perspective.  Luckily I took my fair share of Bible and Theology classes in college and seminary so I feel a bit more prepared in those areas.  In fact as I have thought about these two situations over the last day, I cannot get away from the 3rd Commandment which is, “Do not use the Lord’s name in vain.”

To call someone by name is to evoke their entire presence and bring their entire being to bear in the situation.  So a better translation of the 3rd commandment might be, “Don’t bring God into vain contexts” or “Be careful when you bring up God that it is not to address a foolish subject.”

This idea plays out in all of Scripture.  It certainly does so at the end of Job, where God seems to be mad that his name was brought haphazardly into Job’s conversation with friends.  In Isaiah 29:13 God speaks through the prophet saying, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.”  Jesus quotes this again in Matthew 15 to describe the Pharisees who led the way in talking about God and bringing God’s name and presence into situations but did not lead the way in actual service to God.

With this in mind what do we say about the claims made of God this past weekend?  I know most Christians are delighted that God was even brought up in such high profile cases and I struggle to not be happy as well.  I also do not want to violate another commandment of Jesus’, mainly that of being hyper critical.

Still, it would seem to me that the God of Scripture would certainly break the rules of probability to save Kaleb Whitby’s life.  I do not know Kaleb.  He might be a model Saint or a lousy sinner.  He probably is like me, somewhere in between.  Regardless, Scripture reveals a God who works miracles to save the lives of all types of saints and sinners.  I hope that Kaleb finds a great mentor to help him answer his question about why God would save his life and what he should do next.  At the same time, I am sad that God is not doing the same for our High School secretary and pray often that God will.  Still, the God of Scripture would absolutely save Kaleb’s life for no other reason than love of the world and of Kaleb and his family.

The Seahawks are a different story.  We know that football certainly is vain.  It is a fun thing we do and a great pastime and I enjoyed the game yesterday as much as anybody.  Furthermore, I would never invent a new legalism by insisting people not watch it or play it.  Still, it is not an area of great spiritual meaning.  Football is vanity.

To attach God’s name and presence to something as vain as football would surely be a violation of the 3rd commandment.  It would be similar to telling people my wife loves green peppers.  My wife hates green peppers and if she overheard me saying she liked them she would either assume I was an ignorant husband who refused to notice even the rarest thing about her or she would assume I was a liar.  Both would not bode well for me.

I wish sometimes the church would give God the same attention.  Instead we try to attach God’s name to everything and anything that comes our way without stopping to ask whether God really wants to be a part of it.  In so doing, we might be force feeding God green peppers.  Or, to dispense with the metaphor, we are honoring God with our lips but our hearts are a universe away.

The God of Scripture does not prepare people to win football games nor would the God of Scripture rewrite the random number generator of the cosmos (a number generator God invented) to help one team win a vain and silly game over another.

With that said, I am delighted Seattle won and I am even more delighted that Kaleb Whitby is still alive.  I attribute the second to a God of life and love who overwrites the rules so that both may continue.  The first, I attribute to the random number generator that the God of life invented but doesn’t micromanage.  I guess you might call Seattle’s win dumb luck.

Still go Seahawks!  May that luck continue against the Patriots.

Kaleb, my prayers are with you and your family.  May the God of life and love continue to shower both to you as you seek to live a fruitful life.

The Apostle’s Creed and Our Cynicism

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There are 12 lines in the Apostle’s Creed.  I know this because I memorized the Apostle’s Creed and also because I just looked it up on Wikipedia.  On that Wikipedia page are 12 numbers next to 12 lines, one for each apostle, or tribe of Israel, or Day of Christmas.  Actually it is one for each thing we believe as Christians.

However, the list of things we “believe” far outnumbers 12.  For example, Christians also believe God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt by killing firstborn sons.  I am kind of glad I don’t confess that in the creeds though.  We also believe Jesus walked on water and taught us to love our neighbor, neither of which are confessed.  Most of us also believe that Scripture has some authority over what we believe but the creeds don’t mention that.

But there is another belief confessed among current Christians that might be a contender for line number 13.  It currently is not in any creed or statement of faith, but its popularity and potency make it unavoidable.  And to contradict this belief is to be regarded as a heretic of the worst type and maybe even.  .  .a liberal.

If codified by an ecumenical council, this 13th line should read, alongside the 12th line, “and the life everlasting and that the world will get worse until then.”

Most Christians confess this 13th line in conversations I have with them.  They say things like, “Things are bad but I guess the Bible says they have to get that way.”

Sometimes they hide their pessimism behind a veil of optimism, “Man this is such a great time to be alive!  Things are so bad Jesus is going to come back tomorrow!  I am so happy and I hope I don’t die today.”  People have actually said that to me, like 10 of them.

And I disagree with them.

I do not do so lightly, nor am I a “pie in the sky” optimist that refuses to see the great evils and challenges among us.  However, if I were born two centuries ago and time traveled to today I would conclude that we were living in a utopia, not a dystopia or even a post-apocalypse.

I would do this because most of the raw data available to us reveals that our age is a golden one.  In fact, a few have even compared it to the Pax Romana or the Renaissance.

However the average person isn’t listening.  Instead they are waiting for an apocalypse that is not happening nor guaranteed to happen.  And I fear our cynicism might be a self fulfilling prophecy, one where the world gets worse simply because we all act as if it is getting worse.

Therefore, the real threat is our perceptions because us humans have a nasty habit of making perception reality.  In order to help us disarm this threat, it is important to look at how our cynicism came about over the last century.

The 19th century ended on high notes of “pie in the sky” optimism, even among conservative Christians.  It was to be a century of progress and peace and revival.  The Holiness Movement (also known as the 2nd Great Revival) was in full swing, though about to die down.  New technologies had increased understanding among nations and tons of treaties had been signed between those nations to guarantee a lasting (and eternal) peace.

On the domestic front, the economy was running strong, prohibition was actually a thing and people filled churches on Sunday mornings with their entire families.

Then it all shattered.  The assassination of one diplomat brought Europe into a very nasty war, and all because of those super logical and “effective” treaties.  After the war, the roaring 20s brought alcohol back, along with promiscuity and a host of other sins.  Then the entire world economy crashed overnight.

Then Hitler emerged as a ray of hope, using clever economic logic to bring Germany back to life.  Then Hitler declared war on the world and tried to annihilate the Jewish people.  The war ended when a group of highly intelligent scientists used the scientific method and new advances in the understanding of atoms to annihilate 100,000 people in a half second.

So about the time the Allied troops were liberating concentration camps and dropping A bombs, western optimism had died a cold, hard death.  The logic that was supposed to save us and the God of perfect logic who was supposed to keep us safe had failed us miserably.

At around the same time a new eschatology was taking over Christianity, particularly the conservative Evangelicals.  This theory of the end times is now labeled “premillenial dispensationalism” and holds that the world must get worse and worse by divine decree.  It goes one step farther and argues that things have to get really bad before Jesus will come again.  At best this meant Christians should shrugg off the world’s evils.  Worse, some Christians find themselves rejoicing in the world’s evils because they are signs of our impending salvation and “their” impending doom.  Even worse, some Christians believe they need to actively make the world a worse place so that we can force Jesus’ hand.

This eschatology brings with it the idea of a rapture which claims that after the elect forces Jesus’ hand by actively destroying everything, God will rescue them so they wouldn’t experience  the consequences of their sin.

Meanwhile, in the secular world, the Cold War was brewing and The US and USSR built enough A-bombs to destroy the world 20 times over.  Very creative artists, used this reality to create a new genre of post-apocalyptic literature.  All of these novels, movies, paintings and TV shows envisioned the world being destroyed in a hundred different ways.  They proved to be good entertainment and even healthy warnings about what could be if we did not get our act together.

Then we did get our act together, which is remarkable, but today, though the cold war has ended without nuclear annihilation, post-apocalyptic literature is more popular than ever before.  For examples you can look at the Terminator series, World War Z, Contagion, The Walking Dead, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and a number of other examples.

In turn, Christians have been quick to co-opt this genre and even help advance it with books and movies like the “Left Behind” series that preach the apocalyptic, premillenial dispensationlist view that we must make things bad before Jesus can come rescue us.

All of this fuels the assumption that things are getting worse and that one day very soon the whole world will quite literally “go to hell” over the course of a week or a day or even a moment.  The average person fully expects the robots or the viruses or the zombies or the nuclear bombs or Jesus himself to rise up and destroy us all sometime in the next year.

But while we turn on the television and go to the movie theaters and visit book stories to study our impending doom, in reality the exact opposite is happening.  Violence is on the decrease.  Wars are no longer fought between first world nations with millions dying as the result.  They are fought against small but violent factions in deserts with a few thousand, sometimes just a few dozen casualties.

At home the mechanisms that sustain us, while being far from perfect, actually do an okay job at keeping us safe, not only from human threats but from things like viruses and tornadoes and earthquakes and even bad economies.  Two hundred years ago, to have Ebola in the US would mean to not have a US.  Last year it was contained quickly, though I, like most people, am disturbed that it even got here.

Furthermore our politicians continue to discuss ways to help the least and most vulnerable.  They disagree about how to do that and they use impolite tactics to do so.  Yet the fact they are discussing it and refuse to stop discussing it is quite unique from a historical perspective.  Let us not forget that in the not so recent past a King’s job was not to provide for the citizens but to get the citizens to provide for him.

But perhaps the best thing fueling this golden age is that the average human is more aware of the global problems now than ever before.  A century ago I probably could have told you that someone was hungry somewhere.  Now I can go online and show you pictures of them and give you their names.  And I can spend 3 minutes donating money to build that person a well or to donate them a donkey or other livestock.  People are doing this in incredible amounts.  In fact the citizenry of the USA is the most generous people ever and we are closely followed by the citizens of a hundred other countries.  We do not give so much because we are better than others were.  Generosity has always been commonplace.  But we are generous because our technology, and our government, has made giving easy.

So I don’t buy the cynicism and I am not going to add it to my creed.  Instead, I believe in the Holy, Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

And that fills me with hope.  Happy New Year.

For The Joy of It: Video Games Pt. 4

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I like Batman.  I do.  He is the only superhero without any super powers which makes him more “super” in my book, despite what the nay-sayers say.  Plus Batman is far more 3 dimensional of a character than any other super hero.  He is a protagonist that struggles to find the limits of his own power and morality.  Christopher Nolan brought much of this to light in his brilliant Dark Knight Trilogy, but the Arkham games, which were released during the same time, perfected the character.

The original game, Arkham Asylum, was meant to be a low budget affair with mild sales.  However, brilliant game play along with incredible boss fights, an excellent original story penned by the comic book scribe Paul Dini, and an open map format with gadgets that resemble the Zelda franchise all launched the game to a 92% rating by Metacritic and a Guiness Record for “Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game of Modern Times.” (You can read a bit more on the wikipedia page.)

I bought it for a few dollars at Wal-Mart and fell in love with it almost immediately, well.  .  .after I spent an hour dialing down all the graphics so my lousy laptop would run it.  To my (not) surprise, a sequel called Arkham City had all ready been released so I bought it for a few bucks.

Arkham City is just good fun.  It has the right amount of everything.  The story is thought provoking and passes all the tests I have spoken about in the other posts.  The game play is delightful and opens the player up in those conscious and subconscious ways to the struggles of good and evil.  The puzzles are complex and intricate and take a good amount of time and creative thinking to solve.  And the ending asks all the right questions without leaving the player with any easy answers (you can tell I am big on that.)

However, the game also introduced me to the online video game marketplace called Steam where you can pick up old and new games for a fraction of what they are worth.  However, Steam also tracks your game play statistics including achievements earned, the percentage of the game you have beaten, special things you have unlocked and how many hours you have spent playing the game.

It is that last statistic that annoys me completely.  It has been around since the Super Nintendo days.  Almost every game tells you on their opening screen how many hours a player has logged on a save file.  I don’t know why the developers included it.  I personally think they are being arrogant and bragging to you about how much time you have wasted.  It is akin to the victory lap you sometimes see after Track races.

But the number always unsettles me, especially for Arkham City.  I won’t tell you what it is but let’s just say when it passed 100, I gave the game up for several months.  100 hours is 4 days.  I have spent more than 4 days of my life being Batman.  And the more I think about that number, the harder it is to justify it.

I have never, nor will ever, add up all the hours on all my save files on all the games I have ever played.  Sometimes I think that God might know that number and will probably share it with me in eternity.  You can blame that on my Evangelical Protestant upbringing, that despite emphasizing grace, seemed to care a lot about silly things like hours logged playing video games.  Still I wonder what my response will be if God ever gives me that number.  Will I try to justify it?  Will I be ashamed?  Will I ask for more time to beat that one final mega boss?  I have no idea.

What benefits and what consequences have come about in those hours?  There was probably a great deal of both but still 4 days is a long time and it reminds me that simple enjoyment of great art can turn into a dark obsession.

So I want to end this blog series by addressing some practical concerns when it comes to video games.

1) Time: To repeat what I said in the first post, there should be a line drawn concerning how much time one spends on a game.  My own rule is that a game needs to tell me to stop playing it, which means the game has to end.  There are a lot of open ended games out there and those seem to be the most dangerous when it comes to addictions.  Despite your policies, every person should have a limit and it should a rule formed in conversation with mentors, family members and friends.

2) Money: Not much needs to be said here except that in all things work with a budget.  When I discover a game I want to play I will regularly look at my finances and say, “I will not buy this game for more than this amount of money” and then watch sales until I can find it.  This means there are some games I haven’t played because they never dropped below my set amount.

3) Quality of Games:  Like every other artistic medium there are video games that are just a waste of time and money.  Although all engagement is risk, if you are going to spend 100 hours on something, it probably shouldn’t be trash, even if it is addicting trash.

4) Video Games At Church:  I have known several church groups that fellowshipped while playing Mario Kart or Halo or Wii Sports.  Those times are just as fun as playing cards or board games.  However, like any movie, song or TV show, I think church leaders should be mindful of both their members (are any of them addicted?) and of the games they choose to play.  This brings me to number 5.  .  .

5) Multi-player Games:  If I wanted to extend this series into next week I would talk about multi-player gaming and the way it both benefits and detracts from true community.  Instead I will limit myself to this paragraph by stating that if you are playing games with a group, care should be taken about the subconscious nudges of the game.  Does this game really add to group identity, increase cooperation and love among its members?  Or does it increase hostility and divisions?  These concerns go for the greater culture of online video gaming.  What cultures are cropping up around these games?  Are these cultures true, noble, right?  Or do they increase hostility?  I know I avoid playing with people I don’t know because I have heard the “F” word used in hostile ways too many times.

6)  Christians in the Video Game Industry: As with any other industry, I think the world and the church can only be helped by Christians being employed by video game manufacturers.  With that said, some companies only seem to make games that are grotesquely violent or focus on paranormal activity to a fault.  As a Christian I would pray long and hard about joining such companies.  However, I think a Godly influence from within would be great for even such companies, so long as the Christian employee is well defended with the armor of God and willing to quit if the Lord so leads.

I want to close on a more devotional thought.  I think God calls us to be a people of enjoyment.  I think ultimately Philippians 4:8, which calls us to dwell on things that are true, noble, right, etc., is ultimately about enjoyment.  As Christ followers we are a people who delight in all good gifts whether those gifts come to us in sunrises or on our televisions.  So before we critique a game’s message or a game’s truthfulness or a game’s aesthetic qualities, we should set out to have some fun while dwelling upon the things in the game that open us up to further enjoyment of the world.

In Arkham City, after a confrontation with one of the villains, Batman looks at the villain and says, “You seem stressed.  What is really going?”  That line is incredibly impacting.  Here is one of Batman’s arch nemesis’, a villain who had moments ago tried to kill him (and had succeeded in giving me a “game over” message about twenty times). And yet Batman looks the villain in the face and with compassion engages him as a friend, “You seem stressed.”

That is a true, noble, right, loving moment and it is one of many in that great game.  To not enjoy that gift would be shameful.

Until Jesus returns, thanks for reading these unnecessarily long posts.  I hope they inspired you to love and see you all next week.

Tense Shoulders and Tired Eyes: Video Games Pt. 3

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Last summer I got a little bit bored.  I know, that is hard to believe but it does happen.  I had read somewhere that there was a game called “Bioshock” released a few years ago.  It was hailed as “ground breaking” and won a few game of the year awards.

However, it was also labeled with the letters of doom, “F-P-S” which stand for “First Person Shooter.”  This means all you see on screen is a gun and you advance by using the gun to shoot your way through a map.

I really don’t like those games but Bioshock was hailed as also having a compelling story, an RPG like quality and a moral choice component.  On top of that the Wikipedia page for the game mentioned the game presented a strong critique against Ayn Rand Objectivism.

I waited until the game went on sale and picked it up for a few dollars.  The game consists of a lone character wandering through an underwater city that has been ravaged by war.  As you wander around, you find out that the city was created by a “Free Market Economist” who thought all government regulation was evil, which is the chief concept in Ayn Rand Objectivism.

Apparently what happened before the protagonist arrived was someone invented a steroid that made people incredibly powerful and gave them the ability to do things like throw fire out of their hands and move objects with their minds.  Unfortunately, the steroid also made people go crazy over time.  But who cares about losing your mind when you can throw fire out of your hands?

The city government refused to regulate the steroid because government regulation of drugs is evil according to Objectivism.  So the city completely lost its order and descended into a bunch of zombie like wizards who were killing each other.

Rapture is the name of the underwater city, now a dystopian ruin.

BioShock asked all the right questions about government regulation, the drug industry, Ayn Rand Objectivism, atheism and modern day economics.  While asking these questions, the character was given a choice throughout the game to save the children affected by the drug or kill them and thus harvest their magic powers.  This choice represents a larger issue in our lives, that is whether to give into the pull for power or whether to choose love, even in the midst of war.  The ending of the game depended upon on how many children you saved.

In my last two posts I introduced video games as pieces of art and I talked to the broader concerns about how we critique and judge artwork.  Yesterday I argued that despite our conscious concerns about truthfulness and agreeableness, we have to be ever mindful of the subconscious virtues and vices that are formed within us as we interact with art.

You see, the greatest thing about video games also presents to us their greatest threat.  They are the most interactive form of art.  Paintings engage the eyes.  Music engages the ears.  Movies and stage plays engage both but video games trump them all.  They also engage our touch and allow to us to participate in the story.

This kind of art participation is unparalleled.  Video games, more than anything else, open up a door to our subconscious, allowing all kinds of habits and worldviews to be formed within us.  Therefore, when it comes to video games, we must think long and hard about our subconscious interactions and be careful about what is happening to us as we play through a game.

Put more simply, we must ask the questions about how a game makes us feel and what physical expressions does the game produce.  Do we sweat?  Do we forget to blink?  Do we sit rigidly in our chair with our shoulders crunched against our necks? Does our heart beat quicker for a longer period of time?  Do we laugh?  Do we cry?  Do we get angry and punch the table, or throw the computer? (I have come close a few times.)

More than that, what do we do or want to do upon turning the game off?  Do we want to punch something?  Do we want to hug a tree?  Do we want to yell at our families?  Do we feel victorious and want to solve more problems in the world or do we just want to hide in our dark basement and think negative thoughts?

These indicators might reveal something to us about whether we call a video game good or bad.

This conversation is most relevant when it comes to FPS’s.  Don’t get me wrong, I am trying today to not dismiss the genre as a whole, though at times I want to.  I can’t because BioShock works incredibly well on many levels.

If I were critiquing its “message” I would give it five stars.  I am all about government regulation when it comes to drugs and steroids.  Without it we will descend into chaos.  And if I were critiquing BioShock’s “truthfulness” I would give it 4.  All kinds of studies show that people make their decisions based off of short term benefits over long term consequences.  This means if people were told, “This drug will make you super powerful today but kill you tomorrow,” most would take the drug without thinking and find a way to dismiss the study that proved it killed you tomorrow.  “TIME Magazine says the drug only kills you tomorrow if you eat a banana tomorrow.”  Yeah right.

More than that I love Bioshocks’ setting.  The unsettling music and graphics drive the message home.  The city’s former glory and beauty hide behind every wrecked sign, car, torn up vending machine and exploded wall.  This was a city whose great idea made it beautiful and then destroyed it.  (I think I see parallels between it and America!)

This image really works. It was a gorgeous atrium. Now the stones are torn up and water runs through its center.

However, whatever the back story to BioShock, the game still consists of a lone person wandering around shooting people and zombies.  In my mind, there is a fine line between a game that lets you have a gun while you solve problems and a game that gives you a gun to solve all your problems.  BioShock falls in that latter category.  There are almost no clever puzzles in the game and nothing to engage the character beyond a trigger finger (or button).  The story is entirely back story, discovered through cassette tape recordings and what little story exists in the forefront is shallow.

More than that, as I played through the game, I became antsy, unsettled, a bit angry and hostile.  The graphic violence in the game disgusted me but what disgusted me more was how quickly I was able to get over it.

When I beat the game, I found I was grateful to be done with it.  As much as I vehemently disagree with Ayn Rand Objectivism and, in turn, agree with the central premises of the game, this was not an artwork I needed to spend any more time with.

This does not mean I would necessarily not recommend BioShock or call it a “bad” game.  It does mean that as a Christ-follower, as someone who is trying to be more at peace and harmony with the world, I found this game worked against me, more than it worked for me.

With that said, tomorrow I will discuss the more practical issues concerning video games, like how much time and money we should spend playing them, how multi-player games figure into the mix and where they might fit into a church’s life.  I will also briefly address issues relating to Christians who work in the video game industry.

Until then, relax your shoulders, take a deep breath and maybe take a walk.  That villain will be waiting for you to destroy when you get back.

Prescribing our Described Worlds: Video Games Pt. 2

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The year was 1997 (or was it 1998?).  I was hanging out at my friend Ben’s house.  The Nintendo 64 had been released and his parents bought him one.  I would never think about asking my parents to pay $200 for a video game system, let alone the additional $30-$50 for games.

But I had $100 of my own money and because of the N64, the Super Nintendo’s price was reduced to my range.  I bought one and played the 2 games that came with it.  But Ben had had a Super Nintendo for a decade and 30 games to go with it, 30 games he would soon just give to me because they were worthless now that he had the next best thing.

That particular afternoon in 1998 (or 1997) I snatched one of his games called “Final Fantasy 3.”  I asked him if we could play it and he immediately dismissed it as “too complicated” and “single player.”

I insisted, being offended by the “too complicated” part and so we put it in and watched the credits roll.

It was the 3rd Final Fantasy to be released in the USA but there were 5 Japanese games before it so the numbering was later changed to reflect the Japanese games.

What followed has been a decades long infatuation with quite possibly the greatest video game ever made.  The graphics were gorgeous.  The music was overwhelmingly beautiful.  The plot was intriguing.  The characters were fully formed and moving.  And the game play did not consist of bouncing on enemies or punching or shooting them.  For awhile I played through the game once a year.  Now I go back to it every other year or so and I am always moved by its brilliance.

Yesterday I presupposed that video games are artistic expressions.  I know a few who disagree with me but, mostly because of Final Fantasy 3 (or 6 as it would later be correctly numbered), I hold to the claim.  With that claim I argue that video games should be subjected to the same critique and engagement as the other arts.  That is why I dismissed some of the more ridiculous claims that Christians have made against art.

Today I want to talk about two wider criticisms and apply those to video games.

The first is what I called “prescriptive criticism.”  These are the critics who judge art based off of the world that is supposedly prescribed.  I would include most “Christian” critics in this category.  These critics are always focusing on “what’s the message?”  And if the critic agrees with the message then they deem the artwork “good.”  If the critic disagrees they label it “bad.”

In the case of Christian music, critics don’t pay attention to the melody, the beat, the vocals, or the instruments.  They narrow in on the lyrics and ask, “Does this song mention Jesus enough times?”  “Does this song portray God as able to fix all our problems?”  “Does this song’s God like 6 day creationism?”  “Do these lyrics quote the Bible?”

The problem with such a view is that not all art is prescriptive.  Some art just wants to describe the world as it is and let us figure out where to go from there.  Christians seldom know what to do with that art so they tell the art what its prescriptive message was and then dismiss it as being erroneous.  This is why all the “Christian” art, especially that which is loved by Christian radio and Christian publishers tends to be prescriptive.  They are all sermons in the form of a novel, song, movie or video game.  This has led to some horrible artworks produced and made popular by otherwise well meaning Christians.  In turn many cultural critics have written off the entirety of Christianity as being “close minded.”

So a counter movement has sprung up that I roughly identify with Christian Hipsters.  These are the descriptive critics.  They don’t ask, “Do I agree?” but instead “is this true?”  By this they mean, “Does this movie, song, video game accurately represent reality as it is?”  With that question some justify watching all manner of profanity, arguing, “The world is a profane place and we shouldn’t ignore it.”  I would agree but it is still hard for me to believe that watching pornography is a way to acknowledge pornography exists.  The same goes for graphic violence.

The real problem with descriptive critics is that they seem to deny that good art can be prescriptive.  Some of the best novels and paintings and even video games have prescribed a better world for us and asked us to strive towards it.  Others have shown us a worse world and begged us not to go there.  Here I think of utopias (like Star Trek) and dystopias (like the Walking Dead).

So I think a better way to critique art is to dig past the conscious questions of “do I consciously agree?” or “do I consciously verify that this is true?” to our subconscious participation in the piece.

On a deep level, what is happening to us as we engage the art?  Are we opened up or closed off to our neighbors and their realities?  Are we filled with hope or despair?  Do we become better at problem solving and critical thinking or do we suddenly start thinking a gun is the answer to all of life’s solutions? Are we made angry and is that anger justified and focused on the evils of the world or is it just that type of abstract anger that is angry for no reason?  And in the case of Zuma Blitz, why am I forgetting to blink?

Tomorrow I will talk about games that fail the above test but let’s go back to Final Fantasy 6.  At first glance FF6 fails the prescriptive test because it doesn’t mention Jesus and it seems to suggest that magic and brute strength are the way to solve the world’s problems.  To add to its “evils” it never quotes Scripture *cough* shameful *cough*.

The greatest moment of the game was when the world was decimated into a wasteland by the antagonist. Walking through this village after the disaster was chilling.

It also fails the descriptive test because we do not live in a world where magicians are running around setting things on fire.  There was never (nor will ever be) a great war of the Magi that decimated the planet.  And every time we get into a confrontation we can’t mystically summon magical Espers to appear and help us out.  More than that, there are not three statues somewhere out there that need to be perfectly aligned or else the world will go bonanzas.

However, there is a prevailing belief that the world all ready has gone bonanzas because our harmony has been misaligned.  There are many who believe we are all ready living in a post apocalyptic world.  And as you go through the game, you find that it is not the brute strength or the magic powers that end the ruin and save the day and bring about harmony.  It is the characters (14 of them!) learning how to love.

With a full 14 characters this was the best cast any of the Final Fantasies would have.

The protagonist, a woman named Terra (top left corner), regains her powers when she falls in love with a group of orphans.  Locke, the thief, comes into his own when he finally grieves and moves on from the death of his fiance.  Edgar, the Prince, fights for the love of his people.  Celes repents of being an Empire General and learns to love her adopted grandfather who works himself to death building a raft for her salvation.  Throughout the game all 14 characters learn to love and in so doing find the power to realign the world and defeat evil.

Beyond that surface, dare I say “conscious” message, the music, the visual art, the dialog, even the game play, all come together to fill the player with a subconscious peace, harmony, hope, encouragement and love that help us survive our dystopias.  This subconscious nudge towards all the virtues is out of this world but, at the same time, firmly grounds us in the realities in which we live.

That and the game is just too much fun.

See you all tomorrow where we visit the opposite end of the spectrum.

Forgetting to Blink: Video Games Pt. 1

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Over the last few weeks I have rediscovered a Facebook game called Zuma Blitz.  It involves a frog shooting balls at a chain of balls that endlessly come out of two holes in the map.  If you match three or more balls they disappear.  You are given a minute to clear as many balls and score as many points as possible.  After a minute the game ends, unless of course you get the balls with hourglasses on them which adds 5 seconds to the clock.

As you can tell, the game is completely realistic and carefully follows the laws of physics, if you can get over that whole frog shooting balls out of its mouth part.  But the reason I like Zuma Blitz is you are given five lives every hour.  This means I only end up playing the game for 5-10 minutes at a time before going back to regular life.

During those 5-10 minutes, my mind works things out.  While my finger moves and clicks the mouse, I don’t think about scoring points.  I think about church and sermons and Cross Country and my marriage and my children and the mysteries of grace.

At the same time, I forget to blink.

My eyes get dry and my contacts fall out.  I never forget to blink at any other time except when I am playing a game like Zuma Blitz.  When I work tirelessly on sermons I still blink.  When I watch movies, I blink.  When I read books, I blink.  When I run really hard and am focusing all my attention on moving my legs faster, I still blink.

But when I shoot balls out of a frog’s mouth I forget to blink.

I play Zuma so that I can think about anything but Zuma but I am still concentrating so hard on matching those balls that I forget to blink.  This paradox lies at the heart of a discussion on video games and art.  Whether our cognitive facilities are engaged or unengaged, the cultural mediums we interact with have a subconscious pull on us.  It seems we should be just as mindful of the subconscious pull then the conscious one.

Video games did not arrive on the scene until 1980 and even now they are nowhere near as popular as other mediums like movies, novels, TV shows or even those old fashioned canvas paintings (okay, I know that video games are more popular than canvas paintings.  Leave me alone all ready :P).

With that said almost every pastor I know under the age of 40 plays video games while not every pastor I know spends hours looking at paintings.  And most pastors don’t just click balls out of frogs but play the time consuming RPGs (role playing games) and violent FPSs (first person shooters) and a few of us still love the old school RTS’s (real time strategy).

This blog is the first in a series of posts that will seek to speak truth into the video gaming medium.  The question isn’t whether we are to accept or reject the medium as a whole.  Instead I hope to provide an analysis of the medium from my perspective as a Christian pastor.  Such an analysis will certainly hope to meditate on whatever is true, lovely and right about video games while encouraging disciples to be thoughtful and careful about which games they play and how much time and money they spend playing them.

In order to begin such a conversation, it might be helpful to briefly visit the reasons that Christians have often chosen to reject artistic and cultural expressions.

The first is summed up in the old Sunday School song, “Be careful little eyes what you see.”  Under this thinking just seeing the wrong thing could cause you to contaminate the purity God intends for you.  There is a lot of violence in video games and much of it offends me (we will talk about that in a future post), but to avoid a longer theological discussion let’s just quote Jesus in Mark and move on.  Mark 7:15 reads, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”  It is what you say and do that makes one impure, not what one sees and hears.

The next reason has to do with wasting time.  Why spend a half hour watching TV when you can spend a half hour praying?  Why spend 2 hours watching a movie, when you can spend 2 hours listening to a sermon?  Why spend 100 hours beating that video game when you can spend 100 hours solving the problems of the world?  It is a good question and we should be good stewards of our time.  Yet I have always struggled to articulate just what is a waste of time and what isn’t.  Is running 100 miles in one week a waste of time or a huge accomplishment?  You only need to run about 30 miles a week to stay fit and healthy and 100 miles could work against you.  Why spend a day rafting down a river?  Why spend an evening skiing on a mountain?  Why spend an entire day planning a romantic twilight dinner for your significant other?  I have no idea where to draw the line and that applies to video games as well.  With that said, I still do think there should be a line.

Next we have said:  Don’t waste your money.  And we should be good stewards of our money.  However, if you stick to a budget, video games are fairly cheap for the amount of entertainment you get.  Most $50 games go on sale no less than six months after their release, which means if you are patient you can pick them up for $5-$10.  Most movies cost $5-$10 and give you 2-3 hours of entertainment.   Video games give you far more bang for your buck.  So once again, you have to go through the messy and complicated work of defining what “wasting” looks like.

The last reason people reject artistic mediums is that they are a waste of good emotion.  Why cry at an oil canvas painting when your neighbor’s life is much, much worse?  Why sit through hours of an emotionally exhausting TV drama when your sibling needs those emotions to make their pain less great?  Why waste compassion on fictional characters in bizarre, fabricated circumstances?

Here we have something that causes us to stop and think.  Does our art (whether it is a movie, a TV show, a painting, or a video game) open us up to understanding and compassion or close us off to the world?

That question is at the heart of how we should critique art and so I want to leave it dangling for today.

See you tomorrow.  Until then don’t forget to blink.

Pulling the Bitter Weeds: Anger Addictions Pt. 3

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Monday and Tuesday I wrote about anger in the lives of Christians, particularly among clergy.  I mentioned that I have found the temptation towards anger has worked in me much the same way the temptation for sexual immorality seems to work in others.  In fact if I read books like C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” or “Every Man’s Battle” and substitute “sex” for “anger,” I relate a lot more.

Yet nobody seems to be talking about anger or the addictions that can form around our wrath.  More than that we seem to reward anger, with the stipulation that the anger is directed towards that which our anger is directed.

Today I want to begin a conversation towards a solution to the prevalent anger addictions.  As with all my posts, I do not presume to have the final word but just hope to kick off a conversation.

I also do not endeavor to begin a new area where we can be overly suspicious of each other.  One of the worst things that has happened in our struggle against sex addiction is that now every adult male who is younger than 40 is automatically suspected of being a pervert.  I do not want to add to that absurdity by now claiming every adult male over 40 is now angry and bitter.

With that qualification I do think we need to be better at identifying and helping those who are struggling with anger.  Here are a few areas where such intervention might work the best.

1) Pastors Retreats and Conferences:  Over the last few decades retreats and conferences for clergy have become a multi-million dollar market.  As a pastor I get invited once a month to someone’s next great conference.  While these conferences and retreats tend to be ridiculously expensive (which leads to the exclusion of pastors of smaller churches), they are still a valuable venue for discussing vital aspects of ministry.  Therefore I think these conferences should provide space in their plenaries and workshops for talking about anger.

2) The Ordination Process:  I just now counted how many times I was asked about sex during my nine year process of ordination.  I am sure I missed several instances that are buried in my subconscious but I can still count 30 particular instances where a governing board asked me about how I control my “hormones.”  I cannot remember once being asked about anger.  I was asked a few times about how I resolve conflict but never once about anger itself.  Seminary classes, ordination interviews, interviews with D.S.’s and the like are all great places to discuss anger and its harm and it should be a topic of scrutiny in the ordination process.

3) District Superintendent Oversight and Mentors:  When a Pastor is caught in a sexual sin the district is usually the first call, as it well should be.  In those situations the D.S. is meeting with the pastor the very next day, if not by nightfall.  A D.S. should take reports of hostile rage just as seriously.  The goal of the reaction shouldn’t necessarily be immediate removal but the D.S. should intervene quickly and provide the necessary support and remediation so that one outburst does not become a habit or one bitter and angry sermon doesn’t bring down the whole church.

With that said, I do not seek to add more work to our all ready overworked church leaders which is why every pastor should have a mentor.  There should be some form of direct oversight of the clergy from outside the congregation for issues like these.  I have personally benefited from a few mentors as I have battled with the demons of anger, hostility, rage and bitterness.  Those mentors have been invaluable, not just to me but also to my D.S. who doesn’t need me calling him every week.

I want to close this series by giving the same encouragement I was often given about sexual temptation:  If you find the seeds of anger sprouting in your soul, please seek help before the weeds overcome your Spirit and destroy the harvest of righteousness in your local congregation.

Be kind and compassionate and patient, bearing with one another in love.

Flush Away Your Wrath: Anger Addictions Pt. 2

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Yesterday I wrote about the similarities between sexual temptation and anger temptation and noted that both are seemingly prevalent and destructive.

I had a few friends respond to yesterday’s post and they raised some great questions concerning anger.  The first had to do with definitions.  The second had to do with reading Ephesians 4 where Paul seems to take a mild stance towards anger by saying, “In your anger do not sin” but then comes back a few verses later and says, “Get rid of it all together.”  Today I hope to address both of these in turn.

As far as definitions go, I do not assume any passion that is directed toward or against something is “anger.”  Instead I think anger is best understood as relational.  It is hostile passion that is directed towards somebody or a group of somebodies.

In this case being mad that the Chiefs lost their playoff game last winter (and boy was I mad!) does not fall under the category of an anger addiction.  However, seven months later if I am still angry about the game and demanding Andy Reid’s resignation, using various curse words to describe the coaching staff and insisting Alex Smith be traded to a 1A High School football team, then I would need help with my anger problem.

As far as the context of Ephesians and James go, I think Paul and James would agree with that definition.  Anger seems to be understood as directed against somebody and is summarily dismissed for those reasons.

With that said, Ephesians 4 is fascinating.  Yesterday I planned to write about James 4, where I will end today, but a friend brought up Ephesians and I found it to be more formative.

The chapter begins with the wonderful exhortations to no longer be infants but to grow up into Christ who is the head.  This involves no longer being Gentiles whose thinking is futile but instead putting on a new self which consists of righteousness and holiness.

Then Paul digs into the particulars of righteousness.  First, Paul says to put off falsehood.  Next Paul says to not sin in your anger and not to let the sun go down on your anger.  Then Paul moves on quite abruptly with no further qualifiers.  This is quite unfortunate because we have no idea from Paul what letting the sun go down on your anger means or what sinning in anger would look like.  We have to make educated guesses, like the NIV did by translating it, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”

If that was all the New Testament said about anger we would be left  with our own assumptions and say things like, “Anger is just fine if you resolve it quickly.”  Or, “I can be angry all I want just as long as I don’t “sin” in it.”  And many have said those things to justify their acts of rage though few have taken any effort to define what “sinning in anger” even means.

But those two verses are not all we have.  In fact, Paul comes back in verse 31 and suddenly makes a sweeping statement to “get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”  The Greek for “getting rid of” might translate into modern English as, “throw away” or “flush down the toilet.”

The words cover the gamut of all forms of anger and their expression.  Bitterness is the slow burn anger that festers over time.  Rage is the quick burn anger that blows up in a second.  Brawling is the physical blows caused by anger.  Slander is the verbal blows.  And malice is the manipulative scheming that one who is angry (or bitter) engages in.

With that in mind, I repeat what I said yesterday, “There is no room for anger in the Kingdom of God.”

I think when Paul said, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger,” he meant the minute you find out you have any bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander throw it away and never take it up again.  Put another way, I don’t think Paul was talking about “going to bed mad” or daily anger but he was talking to the very present day.

In sum it might paraphrase to, “deal with your anger today before it destroys your tomorrows.”  Then, tomorrow (and every day after) live the new life of 4:32 which reads, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Now if we turn to James’ witness in the first chapter of his epistle we find the same idea at work.  James says in verses 19 and 20, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”

With all this said, one of the greatest temptations for me has been anger.  It has been a thought and heart battle to stay gentle and kind and compassionate towards those who disagree with me.  As I have spoken to other pastors, I find many have admitted the same thing and most of us deal with it daily, despite attempting to put it away for good.

More bothersome than that are the clergy (and their spouses) who have given into anger long ago.  They pastor and preach with angry hearts and do severe damage to their congregations and no one seems to notice or care.  So tomorrow I will close this short series by suggesting a few interventions church boards and denominational committees can take to keep their pastors kind and compassionate and help them throw away the anger that manifests itself in all its forms.

You can read part 3 here.

Every Man’s Other Battle: Anger Addictions Pt. 1

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Awhile back I heard about a 20/20 episode that documented a woman’s gender change surgery whereby she became a man.  Among the fascinating discoveries documented, the “new” man remarked, “When I received the first dose of testosterone I was overcome by a strong and powerful desire to both have sex and kill something.  I did not know at the time how other men could live day in and day out with it.”

I join with him in saying that sometimes the insatiable urge to exercise our more natural tendencies is difficult to overcome.  With the advent of the internet and “the portable screen” pornography has taken off as a top addiction among men (and even some women).  Anywhere, at any time, anybody can access grotesque and lewd pictures of their favorite models, actresses and even sports stars.

This has led to a surge of Christian literature that seeks to help men overcome their hormonal instincts.  One such book that appeared 14 years ago is called “Every Man’s Battle.”  I admit that I have not read the book but understand it is a vital and important resource for men in helping them think through this issue.  But I think the title is a bit overreaching.

In addition to books, many churches, including my own, have formed committees to address sexual addiction.  These committees have sought to make recommendations for discipline.  These recommendations almost always include immediate termination for clergy with little hope for restoration.  Many of them have become church law.

While this is all well and good, I find that the emphasis on sex addiction has diminished our view of sin.  We tend to think the only way men can violate God’s covenant is by misusing their hormones.

In turn, we have given an almost blank check to men who sin in every other way.

Therefore, I completely disagree with the title of the above book because I know several men whose primary struggle is not sexual addiction but greed/materialism, laziness, drug and alcohol addiction and of course hostile anger.

As with sex, we live in a culture that doesn’t just tolerate anger from our men (and women too), we outright demand it.  Politicians are awarded with million dollar donations to their campaigns if they will go on national news and rage against the other party.  Our sports icons notoriety increases if they will get passionately angry about some perceived injustice.  We even encourage our Hollywood stars to find a cause and express the “appropriate” rage that such a cause isn’t important enough to the national consciousness.

In the church we are even more okay with “righteous” anger, even if it is violent.  We love righteous indignation, albeit only if it is directed towards the same things we are indignant about.  So while we would certainly fire a pastor who gets caught in a sex addiction, we instead feed off our clergy’s anger addictions.  We yell “amen” to their fury when expressed from the pulpit.  We seek to join in violently denouncing the “thems” who are against “us.”  We are thrilled when we find out our pastor hates the democrats as much as we do and tickled pink when our pastor screams that the world is going to end tomorrow because of those lousy sinners that are destroying everything.  Interestingly those sinners never sin in the same ways we do, though our sin is just as bad.

In all of this, we have absolutely missed the Biblical truth that there is no room for anger in the Kingdom of God, even so-called “righteous” anger.  James 1:20 says, “Human’s anger cannot achieve God’s righteousness.”

There is a whole lot wrong in the world and a good deal of it tempts me towards a lot of anger.  There are Sundays I would love to enter that pulpit armed with my sword of righteous indignation and lash out at all the “thems” who are destroying the cause.

But I fight it daily and it is a battle.  I have found that almost everything we say about sexual temptation is just as true of anger temptation.  It breeds and works in us in the same ways and once anger finds a host it destroys everything we hold dear.

Therefore, I wish our churches would take anger among the clergy more seriously.  I wish we could start committees that would research ways to pinpoint and remove pastors who have fallen into the anger addiction.  There should be paths of restoration for them and those paths should mirror the paths for those who have fallen into sexual temptation.  There should be repentance, apologies, counseling, etc.  We should be writing books about it and offering Sunday School classes on it.  We should even go so far as to form support groups from those seeking to recover from an anger addiction.  I truly believe it is that important.

And that is why this is the first post in a series of posts on anger.  Tomorrow I will offer a devotional thought on Ephesians 4 and James 1.  Wednesday I will seek to begin the conversation about what church polity should look like in diagnosing and helping clergy overcome anger addictions.

This was originally the first post of 3.  You can read posts 2 and 3 here and here.