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Lifting Up Jesus Isn’t Always What You Think It Is

Sometimes all it takes to properly contextualize a verse of Scripture is to read the next one.

This is John 12:32 (NIV):

 

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

I grew up hearing preachers and worship leaders quote John 12:32, and the application was, “we need to lift Jesus up on our praises! Honor him with your songs and your prayers, and God will use that to draw others around you into relationship.”

Now, let me be clear. I don’t think that’s wrong in the sense that it’s untrue… I believe we SHOULD lift Jesus up on our praises, and I believe God *does* sometimes use our public displays of affection as ways to engage others into relationship with him.

It’s a tricky thing, though, because, while Jesus did encourage people to pray and give privately to avoid showiness, he also publicly blessed the woman who showered him with expensive perfume. There’s a tension to be managed… it’s less of an either/or than a both/and situation.

Cause a lot of times, outward displays of piety come off as phony and calculated, like we’re doing it more to impress others with how holy we are. Or worse, trying to impress God! To Jesus, these displays are ridiculous and sad, akin to Ted Cruz trying to court Indiana voters by referring to the “basketball ring.”

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Black Panther, Blackest Movie Ever, Is Ironically Quite Conservative

One of the great ironies surrounding the phenomenon of Marvel’s latest cultural behemoth Black Panther is that a lot of Bible-believing, white evangelicals would really love it, if not for the fact that its name is remarkably similar to the revolutionary socialist political party of the 1970s.

(I’m guessing the Wikipedia Black Panther disambiguation page is getting a pretty good workout right about now.)

I’m serious. If it weren’t called Black Panther, if it was called T’Challa’s Triumph or Game of Thrones: Wakanda or something similar, even more white people would love it than already do.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, this movie is a huge freaking deal for a black people, and our people are seeing it in droves, but African-Americans cannot solely account for its record-setting box office numbers. White people are supporting this movie, if for no other reason than it’s the next hit of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Even Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige, after screening it for the first time, told director Ryan Coogler, “that’s the best movie we’ve ever made.”

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What Traffic Cops Can Teach Us About NFL Protests

So yesterday, on the way to church, I received a citation for speeding.

It happened while I was listening to a song from my middle school years, in a blast of nostalgia. The weather was nice, I was grooving along, and before I knew it, red and blues were flashing behind me. 75 in a 55, with my wife and two nephews in the car. My interaction with the officer was civil, if not pleasant. I didn’t take it personally. I didn’t think he pulled me over because I was black and driving a nice car (though the thought did cross my mind). Not my finest hour, but I’ll take the penalties and try to do better.

What’s interesting is that at church, our guest preacher also had a story about being pulled over by police. Except it wasn’t for speeding, but for continually driving in the left lane, a practice that is illegal in the state of Washington, several other states, and in my opinion, should be illegal everywhere.

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Conservatives, Just Substitute Corporal Punishment for Protesting the Anthem And You’ll Get Colin Kaepernick

You probably already know this, but just in case you haven’t been paying attention, here is a breakdown of the main facts surrounding Colin Kaepernick:


  • Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made headlines last summer and fall when he chose not to stand during the national anthem that precedes every NFL game.

  • His quiet act of protest (which he had done without incident several times before reporters asked him about it) sparked a firestorm of controversy and a series of similar protests from several other NFL players, continuing the ongoing national conversation about incidents of police brutality that sparked the #BlackLivesMatter movement

  • Kaepernick went on to have a fairly uneventful year on the field. His team went 1-10, but his individual performance was decent; he threw for 16 touchdowns against 4 interceptions, earning a total QB rating in the bottom third of starting NFL quarterbacks (pay attention to that word: starting quarterbacks).

  •  Now, on the eve of another NFL season, Kaepernick has yet to be signed by any NFL team, despite not only being better than most (if not all) of the QBs signed ahead of him as backups, but according to star cornerback Richard Sherman, better than several current starting QBs as well.

  • This collective unwillingness to sign Kaepernick (some call it blackballing, but whether it’s a coordinated effort or a series of risk-averse GMs choosing not to court controversy, the net effect is still the same) has sparked unrest among African-Americans, and several have called for an NFL boycott, including evangelical pastor Leroy Barber, a longtime Dallas Cowboys fan.


Now… whether Colin Kaepernick is truly elite, whether he’s washed up, whether it’s a good business decision to sign him for NFL franchises or not… none of those are the main concern of this post.

No, my main concern is to address the main criticism I see lobbed at Colin Kaepernick from conservatives who feel that his protests were disrespectful. One Facebook acquaintance said that many veterans feel like it’s “a slap in the face” to disrespect the flag or the anthem.

The inference here is simple: Colin Kaepernick must not love America, because if he did, he wouldn’t be protesting.

Allow me a brief thought experiment while I demonstrate my moderate habit of switching ideological teams…

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Today’s Racial Microaggression Courtesy of WinCo [UPDATED]

In case any of you doubt the existence of racial micro-aggressions:

I was shopping at WinCo today, and when I went to pay for the $150 or so worth of food on the checkout counter, the young lady at the counter told me that “I’m sorry, it came up declined.”

I was taken aback by this, but I didn’t want to get defensive until I checked my bank account on my phone, so I did so.

“Huh. I’m pretty sure there’s plenty of money on that card,” I said, as I pulled up my app and waited for it to load.

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In Praise of the Get Out Brotherhood

By now you’ve no doubt heard about Jordan Peele’s hit film Get Out, the satire that inverts genre tropes to show an African-American perspective on horror. It wildly exceeded its opening weekend earnings estimates, and has enjoyed a strong buzz from the cultural cognoscenti for its rich, layered portrayal of liberal racism in both interpersonal and institutional forms.

And Lord knows we need more discussions about revealing and deconstructing racism in America… [cue Stephen A. Smith voice] howeva… I just need to stop and give thanks for what was, for me, the most life-giving aspect of the film: the friendship between the protagonist Chris and his friend Rod.

(And yes, I realize how ridiculous it sounds to refer to a horror movie as “life giving,” but stay with me.)

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Get Out: Why Evangelicals Should See It

Get Out is a taut horror thriller from Jordan Peele, famous as half of Comedy Central’s sketch comedy duo Key & Peele. In Get Out, Peele makes his debut behind the camera, directing fresh-faced Daniel Kaluuya (Black Mirror, Sicario) and Allison Williams (The Mindy Project) with his original script. But rather than comparing it to horror classics, I found it instructive to compare Get Out to another story with a relationship at its center – 2015’s film adaption of the hit musical The Last Five Years, starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan. They’re both masterful in the way they use characters to hone a sense of perspective.  And Lord knows, when it comes to racial issues, evangelicals could use a healthy dose of the black perspective.

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What Traffic Can Teach Christians About Racism

So one of the problems I see in our political discourse, is that we often use the same words but mean different things.

And nowhere is that problem more vexing than in our discussions about race. It’s been a problem for a long time, of course, but ever since the election of Donald Trump, there have been a fresh round of arguments springing up on cable-news pundit panels, message boards and social media feeds. And the typical argument goes something like this:

 

Progressive: [Insert recent news story] is a clear example of racism! That [incident, action, statement or idea] is racist!

Conservative: No, it isn’t! Why do you make everything about race? That had nothing to do with race. [Insert person at the center of story] is not a racist!

Progressive: You don’t know what you’re talking about! Your denial of racism is racist!

Conservative: You don’t know what you’re talking about! Your accusation of racism makes you the real racist!

Rinse and repeat.

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Engaging the Halo Prophecy

They say that those who don’t know their history are bound to repeat it.

And there’s a less well-known but corollary idea, that people who create realistic fictional content end up pulling their ideas from recent events.

But every once in a while, both ideas converge: a piece of speculative fiction, drawn from elements of real-life, ends up over time looking like a retroactive prediction of real-life events.

Remember how Back to the Future II predicted this year’s Cubs World Series win? I recently stumbled onto a similar phenomenon, with even bigger consequences.

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How to Move Forward and Fight Better Political Battles (Starting Right Now)

Last night, I posted the following status update to my Facebook account:

 

Wait, there’s been reports of racial harassment to people of color from Trump supporters? Well, we shouldn’t be surprised.

I mean, when white Republicans send candidates to the White House, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending a candidate with supporters that have lots of problems. They’re bringing crime, and they’re racists, and some of them, I assume, are good people.

 

It was my tongue-in-cheek way of trying to get conservative Republicans who feel defensive about accusations of racism to see how it feels to be targeted rhetorically, and then to remind them that guess what? Your choice for president said this, and much more.

But satire is always a risky proposition when it comes to making a point, and most of the time it ends up serving as a way to signal congratulations from people who already agree with you. Last night’s post was no exception. A bunch of my Facebook friends who knew what I meant, laughed. (One friend said she laughed so hard, she ran out of capital letters. “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAhahahahahahaha,” That cracked me up.)

On the other hand, a few of them responded somberly, aghast at the ideological divide that this election has revealed. They wanted to stick up for people they know who voted for Trump who they feel are good people who agonized over a difficult choice and just made it differently than I did.

I get that.

I still think they’re wrong for choosing Trump, but I get it.