Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Politics, Theology, and the Importance of Dialoguing Well

You might remember that in 2003, the lead singer of the Dixie Chicks said that she was "ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." There was a huge outrage as thousands of people began protesting their music and radio stations began banning their songs. The members of the group even received death threats because of this statement. Eventually, there was a documentary made about the whole ordeal called Shut Up & Sing.

I don't remember thinking much about all of this when it happened, but now I can say I am deeply troubled by the depth of criticism they received.

I don't like much of the political conversation that goes on in our world. There is constantly an us vs. them mentality and I think most of it lacks humility and compassion on both sides. The Dixie Chicks situation is yet another example of how we can forget that others have a right to their opinion without being openly ridiculed and mocked for it. Let's give others the courtesy that we would want from them.

At the blog, Christ and Pop Culture, Nick Rynerson penned a helpful post explaining the dangers of letting politics shape and inform theology. Here's his conclusion:
Within this reaction to the Dixie Chicks and subsequent events, I see a very deep and important national flaw that should not be overlooked: the inability to dialogue well. Dialogue in the public area is so often reduced to cliché rhetoric (things like comparing political opponents to nazis). This goes back a long time in American history to the common school movement, where disagreements in theology and politics were smoothed over in an attempt to bring people together but ended up superficially burying issues that would erupt in divisiveness and anger later on.

Nashville country music over the years has picked up some political baggage in its underbelly and remains a politically shaped entity to a degree. American evangelical Christianity has picked up some similar cultural and political tendencies, making goings-on in the country music world important to understand for the American Christian. Evangelicalism in America has attached to much of it a fiscal, moral and political conservatism that often gets directly glued to orthodox theology and has a tendency to be seen as just as important (not to mention the ethnocentrism that underling much of the American church that also often gets confused with conservative theology). I have had plenty of conversations about politics with well-meaning fellow Christians where my lack of political affiliation and my skepticism towards the policies of Ronald Regan were seen as lack of spiritual maturity. It is so important for Christians to work through the relationship between politics and faith because if we do not, we run the risk of doing to the gospel what the Judiazers did 2000 years ago. It does not matter a lick what cause, party, legalism, or idea we do this with and it has disastrous consequences.

Regardless of political beliefs, we need to discuss, dialogue and ask questions instead of blacklisting. If we are to live in a politically polarized world we must 1.) remember the transcendence and importance of our Savior above all politics and 2.) have a sense of humor. If anything can be learned from the Dixie Chicks disaster it is that politics can bring war. And only Jesus brings lasting peace from the war of American politics. And through the security found in Jesus can politics be engaged in both boldness and graciousness because, eternally, there is nothing at stake. This great gospel also frees you up to convince people you are a fascist for a few laughs if you want (maybe, that last point is debateable).

Sunday, July 15, 2012

YouTube humor

My favorite source for internet fun is Abraham Piper's blog, 22 words. I recommend it if you enjoy watching funny or interesting videos online and don't want to spend the time looking for them. Here's a sampling of some of my favorite videos he's posted over the last month.

This is a funny video about two guys that have a love/hate relationship with "Somebody that I used to know" by Gotye.

Two thoughtful guys

For Friday Night fans, Coach Taylor likes to let people know that he's about to tell them something.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Recap of my trip to Isreal

It's been over a week now since I've been back in the States. Since being back, I've been trying to figure out the best way to sum up my experience in Israel. I'll start with a few favorite memories, and then I'll try to add some concluding thoughts.

Key wow moments:
The first was when we first made it to Jerusalem and we were driving up Mt. Scopus to get a view of the city. As the city was coming into view, it hit me how crazy it was that I was there.The second wow moment came when we made it to the southern wall of the Temple Mount and saw the Southern Steps. We had heard a lot about where Jesus might have done this or that, but these steps where the first time we encountered a spot where we can be fairly confident that Jesus walked, since these steps would have been the entrance and exit to the Temple Mount.The third wow moment came while being in and around the Sea of Galilee (or Lake of Gennesaret). We stayed on the lake, swam in it, took a boat out on it and had a worship service, and visited many of the towns in the area. The Gospels are full of stories about Jesus' ministry in this area, so it was cool to experience it.
One of the coolest moments
(though definitely not literally):
Swimming in the Dead Sea. Although it was 112 degrees and the water was super warm and salty, it was a lot of fun trying to do anything but float in it.

Favorite person on the trip: My roommate for the two weeks, Cody Charland. Always good for a laugh, pleasant conversation, or a travel companion while walking around Jerusalem one night because we were lost (mostly my fault).
Major take-aways:
I went over to Israel after hearing from different people that Israel had changed their life, which contributed to me having a certain expectation about how the trip might impact me. And though I was somewhat skeptical of needing to have this kind of experience, I found myself feeling disappointed when I wasn't emotionally connecting with certain sites and places. I should be affected more than this, right? Well, not necessarily.

One of our professors on the trip, the esteemed New Testament scholar Marianne Meye Thompson, helped me make sense of some of what I was feeling. At the midpoint of the trip, on a Sunday morning, she gave a sermonette while we were on a boat on the Sea of Galilee. She talked about meeting God and following Jesus in ordinary places. Although there are some fascinating things to see in Israel, all in all it's a pretty ordinary place. We don't have to go to Israel to experience Him. He's here with us now, where we are, no matter how ordinary our lives may seem.

Another big thing I will take away from this trip has to do with seeing the land and the historical sites. I don't think I'll ever read the Bible the same. I have already seen how certain stories now seem to come alive in a different way, just by being able to recall what these places were like. It's also fascinating to see how much of what we saw is connected to historical records outside the Bible. There are some really interesting things that are constantly being discovered archeologically that bring harmony to historical records and biblical texts.

The last thing I'll mention has to do with Israel and Palestine. I think I came away with a clearer understanding of some of the issues going on over there, but also now know how much more complex the situation really is. Also, we really only heard from people who were pro-Israel. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I do know that there is another perspective that I wish could have been discussed more. The problem over there is so complicated that I couldn't offer a educated opinion on what I think is best. I think I do support Israel and the desire that the Jewish people there have for a country to call theirs, though I don't think that argument should be made based on biblical promises.

I believe the greatest need for that area that goes beyond political borders is peace. Some might argue that that will only come when the correct boundaries are set in place or others may say that peace is just an impossible dream. I can't really say how it might come, but I do hope and pray for peace.

For other pictures and video, I recommend this slideshow I put together below. You can also check out my Picasa album, which includes my favorite pictures with info explaining what different places and things are.

Israel trip from David Wilhite on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why do Christians follow certain laws from the Old Testament and not others?

Tim Keller recently wrote an article responding to those who might say that Christians are inconsistant with what they follow from the Bible. For example, we do Christians eat pork and shellfish and why do we not execute people for breaking the Sabbath? His explanation is helpful and clear. Here's his conclusion:
Once you grant the main premise of the Bible---about the surpassing significance of Christ and his salvation---then all the various parts of the Bible make sense. Because of Christ, the ceremonial law is repealed. Because of Christ, the church is no longer a nation-state imposing civil penalties. It all falls into place. However, if you reject the idea of Christ as Son of God and Savior, then, of course, the Bible is at best a mishmash containing some inspiration and wisdom, but most of it would have to be rejected as foolish or erroneous.

So where does this leave us? There are only two possibilities. If Christ is God, then this way of reading the Bible makes sense. The other possibility is that you reject Christianity's basic thesis---you don't believe Jesus is the resurrected Son of God---and then the Bible is no sure guide for you about much of anything. But you can't say in fairness that Christians are being inconsistent with their beliefs to follow the moral statements in the Old Testament while not practicing the other ones.
Read the whole thing