If you steal a pack of gum from a supermarket, who are you stealing that gum from?
Is it the supermarket? Is it the gum company? Is it the packaging company? Is it the farmers who harvested the sugar for the gum?
I don’t know. I don’t know that it matters.
A lot of people point to the Ten Commandments as if they are easy to understand, but even the easy ones are difficult to understand.
Do not steal.
That seems pretty easy, but when the Israelites received that commandment, there wasn’t a real monetary system. When an Israelite stole something from his neighbor, he was stealing something that his neighbor needed to survive – food, cattle, tools. In America, that very rarely holds true.
When a gang member peddles stolen cars, who is he hurting? He is the victim. His community is the victim. The person he sells the car to is the victim, not Ford or Hyundai or Honda.
Stealing now is not a sign of criminality, a sign of immorality, a sign of godlessness. It is a sign of a broken system. It’s a symptom. We need more curative treatments and less band-aids.
I think I stopped writing in February because I got it in my mind that I was going to write a book, but I never found time to write a book and so for a month I just haven’t written.
I was going to write a book about all of the horrible things I do because I thought that if someone wrote a book like that, it could change the world. (I was on an honesty kick. It was inspired by some of my friends’ kicks which include but are not limited to: sincerity, innocence, desire, rationality. All of my friends have kicks.)
I have a friend who believes that we are all selfish. For a long time, I resisted that. I thought that was a tragic idea.
I’m pretty sure she is right, though. And I don’t know that it’s all that tragic anymore. Most of the time, being selfish helps me make decisions. When deciding what I want to have for dinner, for instance, it is easier to simply consider my own desires rather than how my business going to a certain establishment is going to affect their monthly profits. But when I interact with other people on a personal level, that’s when selfishness starts to be a problem. Unfortunately for me, interacting with people is approximately 99% of life.
I hate it when people play favorites. But I play favorites, too. I hate when I can see how funding is affecting an organization, but if I ran an organization and another organization gave me money, I have to say that I would act favorably towards my funders.
Selfishness is not really that big of a deal. People wanting power is not something that is worth talking about. The real issue is when we let the conversations about selfishness and power and greed consume us – when we spend all day pointing fingers at other people.
Jesus once said:
How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Luke 6:42)
A lot of people think this means that after we judge ourselves, that we can judge other people. Some people think this means that there is such a thing as moral high ground.
There isn’t. We all always have the plank in our eye. That’s the issue.
I think real change comes when people stop talking about selfishness and power and greed and start talking about how we can love people where they are. I know that sounds hokey, but I don’t know how else to say it.
A couple of weeks ago, this guy named Jefferson Bethke posted a video to his Youtube channel called “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” It opened a firestorm. Bethke had previously gone viral with a spoken word piece called “Sexual Healing” advocating abstinence. A good looking 20-something guy pushing abstinence? The social media world swooned.
But then his follow-up came in the “Why I Hate…” video. Initially, it was just as popular, but then people began to challenge it. There was backlash. Why was Bethke so mad at the church? The church did wonderful things. Atheists got in on the madness. If Christ came to abolish religion, then what exactly do you call Christianity? It was a very complicated thing.
Typically, I don’t like writing about controversial things unless I feel like I can be very honest and open about it. But a friend of mine asked for a post about it, and I thought it might be good to do so. So, before we go any further, let’s take a moment to watch the video.
I only have two things to say about this video.
This video is poetry, not philosophic theology. Poetry and prose serve different purposes. Poetry is about emotion. Its words are meant to incite, to make the audience happy or sad or in love. And in doing so, poetry takes all of these seemingly non-truths and illuminates a truth that is normally difficult to articulate. In this case, the truth is that sometimes people forget that Jesus and His love are at the center of Christian spirituality, not religiosity or the church. That’s true. And people need to be aware of that truth. Sometimes Catholics and Baptists and Methodists and the Orthodox fight over who is right and who is doing the best job of showing God’s love. And the answer, when they are arguing, is none of them. God’s love is about peace and grace and about people working together and loving each other. That’s what this video is (mostly) about.
It was not meant to be a philosophic treatise. It was not meant to be an argument to be picked apart by theologians and atheists. Typically, things that rhyme or have rhythm aren’t supposed to be full arguments. Rhyme and rhythm limit the number of words you have to work with. Why would anyone trying to make a full-proof argument use these techniques?
It’s easy to criticize something. It’s much harder to support something. Yeah, the Church is imperfect and God is perfect, but that’s not really an original thought. The Church is made up of people. And people need God. But that doesn’t mean we should destroy the Church. The Church is important. God loves it. He talks about it a lot.
There are a lot of people who are fed up with the Church who call for the dissolution of it, and quite honestly, that’s annoying. Because what then? Who would organize community service on a large scale? Who would raise large sums of money for third-world countries to get clean water? Who would provide stable after-school groups for a large portion of our nation’s youth? People come together and organize because sometimes it is easier for them to do so. I think sometimes we forget that. We wrongly think that if everyone just left us alone, we would be happier. I don’t think that’s true, and the Church is one of those organizations that keeps us as part of a community.
I would love to start listening to people and reading writers who worked on making the Church better. How can we work within systems to make them better? I think that’s where the most radical change comes. How would the Civil Rights Movement have been different if African Americans had all emigrated to Libya?
Both sides are right. The critics and the supporters are both correct. This video is both true and mistakenly inflammatory.