The Wonder of Sunday Morning

by Trevin Wax

Every Sunday, a deacon unlocks the door, an usher picks up a stack of bulletins, a pastor kneels in the study, and they wait. Soon, the parking lot fills, and people from all walks of life stream into the building for weekly worship.

They are not paid to be here. They are not forced to be here. Yet they come and serve in beautiful ways.

In the nursery, volunteers change diapers without complaint, step in to mediate the toddlers’ dispute over sippy cups, and dole out a weekly supply of animal crackers.

Down the hall, men and women open their Bibles and discuss the meaning and application of God’s inspired Word. A doctor with more than a decade of education in medicine takes notes as a construction worker who never went to college exercises his gift in teaching the Scriptures. The small groups then rearrange their classroom space in preparation for the homeless women they will shelter during the week.

The choir and praise team are warming up and running through the songs they will lead in the upcoming service. The hallways are buzzing. Greeters seek out newcomers, teenagers gather near the front of the sanctuary, and the anticipation builds: the worship is about to begin.

This is a place of music, where hundreds of voices soar to the ceilings and the echo of praise hovers over the people. A man who can’t carry a tune lifts his kid up on the pew in front of him and sings along anyway. Some raise their hands. Some kneel. Some close their eyes. Some look to heaven. Various postures, all united in worship.

Then they pray — for the lost, the sick, the hurting in their community. In this moment, the people’s concern for their city is like the ocean tide gathering up its waves of compassion into this place of prayer before rolling their acts of mercy into the city throughout the week.

The pastor opens the Bible. The sermon exalts the Savior and exhorts the saints. Yes, they are saints. All of them, even with their ongoing sins and struggles, their failures and flaws — they are washed in the blood of a spotless Lamb. Forgiven, adopted, and made new. This is not a crowd; it’s a church – a people who have been called out of the world and changed by grace.

From the feast of God’s Word to the feast of the Lord’s Table: now they eat and drink to the glory of God. Christ’s body broken for them. Christ’s blood shed for them. Time stands still, for in this moment, these people are carried back to their Savior’s cross and ushered forward to His return.

The dawn of resurrection morning has given way to the sunlight of noonday. Energized and equipped, the blood-bought saints go out. It may seem like the service is over, but the truth is, their service is just beginning.

-Trevin Wax, http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2015/03/23/the-wonder-of-sunday-morning/

Abortion & Rape: 2 Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

by Trevin Wax
“Abortion is front-and-center in the presidential campaign due to a congressman’s flub on national TV.

In case you’ve missed the news, Todd Akin, a Republican congressman from Missouri running for the Senate, was asked about abortion in the case of rape. His response:

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare… If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Needless to say, such remarks proved offensive. Akin appeared to be making distinctions between violent rape and other forms (statutory perhaps?) as he sought to answer the question about abortion. Other Republicans are calling for him to pull out of the race while the Romney-Ryan campaign quickly tried to distance itself from the remarks.

Rape is a horrific crime with countless emotional and psychological repercussions. No one should ever speak of such an atrocity without having their heart gripped with sympathy for the victim. Any time we speak about such an unspeakable act of violation, we ought to consider the weight of our words.

Even so, as disturbing as Akin’s remarks are, I am concerned about the conflation of issues that suddenly appeared in the aftermath. Once the comment went viral, Republicans all over the country began distancing themselves from the remarks (rightly so) while also claiming to be pro-life except in the case of rape. (Romney is an example.)

The media circus moved quickly from discussion of Akin’s remarks to a wider discussion about the legitimacy of abortion in a tough case. And some “pro-life” politicians took the bait, not only condemning Akin’s unfortunate remarks but also declaring their support for abortion in this particular case.

Let me be clear: Allowing abortion in the case of rape is not the way to express sympathy toward a victim of this crime. Abortion only destroys the life of another victim.

That’s why I wish the conversation with Akin had gone more like this…

Host: So you also believe abortion ought to be outlawed in the case of rape?

Akin: Rape is a horrible crime, and a rapist ought to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I stand for human rights over against anyone who would violate the life of another – from the rapist to the abortionist.

Host: So you’d outlaw abortion in the case of rape?

Akin: Absolutely. As I said, I stand for human rights for all, including the unborn.

Host: But why should a woman who gets pregnant out of no fault of her own be forced to carry a pregnancy to term?

Akin: It is a tragic situation indeed. And my heart goes out to any woman in such circumstances. That’s why I could never recommend that she abort her child. Inflicting violence upon another innocent victim, in this case the baby, is not the way to move past the tragedy of her own innocence being taken.

Host: So you’d pass laws that would force her to carry on the pregnancy?

Akin: Like I said, I stand for the rights of all human beings. Even in a difficult situation like rape, the unborn child should have human rights. We must not let circumstances dictate to us when humans have rights. Otherwise, we could justify all sorts of atrocities in the name of “difficult circumstances.”

Host: But having a child as a result of rape would be a terrible reminder of the crime, wouldn’t it?

Akin: That’s possible. But let me ask you another question. If a woman chose to carry her child to term and then found that every time she looked at her infant she remembered the horror of the rape, would we allow her to smother the baby?

Host: Of course not!

Akin: You’re right. Because no matter how difficult her circumstances, we recognize the humanity of the infant. Unfortunately, many in our society refuse to recognize the humanity of the unborn.

Host: But your opinion on the humanity of the unborn shouldn’t be forced upon a woman who doesn’t hold that view.

Akin: Biology textbooks and scientists tell us the same thing we see when we look at a 4-D ultrasound: the fetus is human. Now, you can make the case that the unborn human should not have rights. And many do. That’s why unborn girls are aborted at a much higher rate than unborn boys, not only in places like China but in the United States as well. That’s why the number of children with Down Syndrome has plummeted. That’s why so many abortion clinics target inner-city areas with high minority populations. You see, once we begin to discriminate against some human beings, we are on the fast track to denying human rights for others.

Host: So you stand by your conviction that abortion should be outlawed even in the case of rape?

Akin: I believe that all innocent human life should be protected. So, yes. This difficult situation is about three people: the rapist, the mother, and the baby. Currently, there is no death penalty required for the rapist. I refuse to believe we ought to give an innocent victim a sentence more severe than the perpetrator of the crime.”

-Trevin Wax, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2012/08/20/what-todd-akin-should-have-said-about-abortion-and-rape/

What is really behind the boycott of Chick-fil-A

by Trevin Wax

If you’re like me, you’re weary of the excessive politicization of nearly everything in American culture.

Can’t we just enjoy Oreo cookies without making a statement about gay rights? Or savor a chicken sandwich without fear of being labeled a hater or homophobe?

Though I’m weary of our culture’s tendency to politicize everything, I believe this Chick-fil-A boycott has revealed some fault lines in our culture that will lead to increasing pressure upon Christians who uphold the sexual ethic described in the New Testament. Furthermore, in listening to the mayors of Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco, it’s clear to me that – political posturing aside – this discussion may not be about the alleged homophobia of Chick-fil-A’s president but the actual Christophobia of the leaders of the cultural elite.

Christophobia? Isn’t that a strong word? Yes, it is. So let’s define our terms.

First, let’s define homophobia. According to the Anti-Defamation League, homophobia is “the hatred or fear of homosexuals – that is, lesbians and gay men – sometimes leading to acts of violence and expressions of hostility.”

Consider the comments made by Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy that triggered this escapade:

“We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

That’s it. Cathy said, basically, “We believe in the traditional family.” In context, it appears he was speaking primarily about divorce. (What’s next? A sit-in protest led by divorcees?) But this was enough to bring down the wrath of gay-rights advocates upon Cathy and the company.

Though Chick-fil-A hires homosexuals and serves homosexuals (“with pleasure,” no doubt), the company and its president were suddenly labeled “homophobic” and “anti-gay” for articulating the traditional vision for marriage that has been the norm for thousands of years. If the word homophobic has any meaning, then we should reserve it for egregious offenses against homosexuals – not throw the label on anyone who has a conviction about what marriage is.

Now let’s define Christophobia. It is “anti-Christian sentiment expressed as opposition to Christians, the Christian religion, or the practice of Christianity.” When the mayors of prominent U.S. cities in the north and west told Chick-fil-A they would not be welcome there, they were making a statement that goes beyond one’s position on gay rights. These remarks were an example of social ostracism – not just toward those who hold to traditional views on marriage but especially Christians who hold these views and seek to practice their religion accordingly.

Why do I think they were singling out Christians? Why would this be an example of Christophobia?

Consider a different scenario. What if Dan Cathy were a Muslim? What if he had been a Muslim speaking to an Islamic news organization when he said something about marriage and family? Would there have been an outcry against his organization? It’s doubtful. I can’t imagine Rahm Emanuel taking on a prominent, well-respected Muslim businessman, no matter what he would say about marriage and sexuality. (Perhaps that’s why Emanuel has no problem partnering with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan – an outspoken critic of gay marriage – in a crime-reducing initiative.)

And therein lies the discrimination. Do you see the double standard? Those who are problematic, those who must be shut down and made to feel unwelcome, are not really the people who believe in traditional marriage but conservative Christians who seek to practice the tenets of their faith in the public sphere.

What we are seeing today is a massive cultural shift that permits leaders to label Christians as intolerant and bigoted simply for expressing their views about how society should function. But strangely enough, the same social ostracism and cultural condescension are not extended to Muslims and faithful adherents to other religions. No, the prejudice appears to be directed toward Christians who dare to speak publicly about their deeply held religious convictions.

That’s why, at the end of the day, this conversation isn’t really about marriage, gay rights, or restaurant permits. It’s not about the cultural divide between north and south, liberal and conservative.

It’s about Jesus. It’s about the radical sexual ethic He put forth in His teaching – a moral zealousness that hits our current culture’s sexual permissiveness head-on. And it’s about His forgiveness offered to all sexual sinners, so long as we agree with Jesus about our sin and embrace Him instead.

As weary as we may be of the culture wars, the Chick-fil-A controversy is a harbinger of further ostracism to come. In the United States, the words of Jesus are coming to pass for those who hold tightly to His vision of sexuality: You will be hated because of Me. 

So how should we respond? We’ve got to go beyond boycotts and political statements and feigned offense at perceived persecution. We’re called to love those who ostracize us, not boycott back. So let’s trumpet the message that Jesus is for all kinds of sinners, from the self-righteous deacon to the promiscuous transsexual, no matter what kind of vitriol comes our way.

The world tells homosexuals, “It gets better.” The church tells homosexuals, “Jesus is better.”

And that is why this boycott is really about Him.”

-Trevin Wax,  http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2012/08/01/why-the-chick-fil-a-boycott-is-really-about-jesus/

Why Hunger Games is Flawed to Its Core

“Almost everywhere I go, I’m asked about The Hunger Games (book, not film). The questions used to fly about Twilight and Potter, but Katniss and dystopic death-matches have taken over.

First, I completely understand why The Hunger Games took off. Suzanne Collins knows how to suck readers into a page-turning frenzy. The pace of the book grabs like gorilla glue and the kill-or-be-killed tension keeps fingernails nibbled short. She knows her craft, and I have to say that I’m grateful to her for expanding our mutual marketplace (in the same way that Rowling did). That said, Collins stumbles badly in her understanding of some pretty fundamental elements of human story, and the whole thing is flawed to its core as a result.

The best authors are students of humanity, both as individuals and grouped in societies (big and small).

  • C.S. Lewis’ profound insight into human motivation and relationships is on display in Narnia, and even more intricately in his Space Trilogy. He paints honest and accurate portraits, leading readers through darkness toward wisdom.
  • Think about Mark Twain’s ability to see and image the motivations of boys, and the entire society in which those boys lived.
  • Tom Wolfe’s sharp clear vision is on display in both his essays and his fiction. He sees into the hearts and minds of men; he sees which of their choices and follies will set fire to the world around them, and how exactly that fire will progress and grow. (And, like the greatest writers, he manages to maintain an affection and sympathy for his characters and for humanity in general despite this insight.)

When an author profoundly misunderstands human societies, arbitrarily forcing a group or a character into decisions and actions that they would never choose for themselves given the preceding narrative, it drives me bonkers. I once threw The Fountainhead across the room for exactly that crime, and I’ve never read anything by Rand since. And Collins bundles clumsy offenses like this in Costco bulk…

Quick Switch 1

Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games. Yay. Self-sacrifice. Christian themes, yadda, yadda. So far so good. But that walnut shell slides away immediately and a moment of self-sacrifice is replaced with sustained, radical, murderous self-interest.

In the Christian ethos, laying down one’s life for another is glorious. In the Darwinian world, self-preservation is the ultimate shiny good. Readers bite the lure of sacrifice, and then blissfully go along with survive-at-the-expense-of-murdered-innocents. Katniss becomes evil–she’s even relieved at one point that someone else murdered her innocent little friend, because she knew that she would have to do it herself eventually. And we still give her credit for being sacrificial…

(Sacrificial Sidenote: Many people point to Peeta as the truly noble and sacrificial character. I don’t mind him as a character, but a picture of heroic sacrifice he ain’t. InHunger Games, he’s fundamentally passive and submissive. He’s that guy who is happy to ‘just be friends’ with the cute girl. Or a lot more than friends (but only if she initiates). He’s just the puppy at her heels. “Sure, kill me Katniss. Oh, you’d rather we both killed ourselves? Yes, Katniss. Whatever you say, Katniss.” Really? There are plenty of guys in the world just like Peeta, and kudos to Collins for using the type, especially since nice second-fiddle fellas like that confuse and conflict girls tremendously. But worldview readers are gaming themselves into seeing something that just isn’t there.)

Quick Switch 2

The self-defense defense. Katniss is a victim, but so is every other innocent person thrust into these games. She should be rising above the game and defending herself (and everyone else) from the Hunger Games. Instead, she kills her fellow victims. Sure, if someone is in the act of trying to murder you, shoot them through the throat. But dropping tracker jackers on sleeping kids? Negativo. Why is she playing this game by the rules at all? The Hunger Games are the real enemy.

If Collins wanted her protagonist to be the kind of rebel who would start a revolution (and she does want that), she should have had Katniss cutting her locator out of her arm on night one instead of participating in and perpetuating the evil. But readers are a little numb to killing, and this particular switch wasn’t hard to pull on us.

Here’s a thought experiment to help us see clearly. What if Collins had thrown her character into this arena and the rules had been different? Last one raped wins. Rape or be raped. Obviously, a real hero wouldn’t play the game. Explode the game. (Sidenote: rape is awful, but at least the other kids would have survived.)

Faux-revolution

File this under misunderstanding humanity, which is just another way of saying that The Hunger Games misunderstands courage, inspiration, oppression, and nobility as they relate to people in a collective herd.

If you want to see an accurate picture of how one enslaved victim can threaten a regime, watch Gladiator. Twenty thousand people (and the emperor) are commanding one slave to kill another. (Kill!Kill!Kill!) But instead, he throws his sword in the dirt and turns his back on the emperor. And…the people he just defied now adore him. He inspires. His courage is unlike anything they’ve seen, and he is now officially a political problem.

Walk through what Collins has Katniss do while playing in the Hunger Games. First, she does and says exactly what she’s told to do and say (trying to manipulate the mob with false sentimentality). Second, she plays the vile despotic game, and by the immoral rules.  Finally, she threatens to kill herself (and talks her faux-boyfriend into doing it with her). This, allegedly, panics the establishment and is the spark that will start a revolution.

But the world doesn’t work that way. Men and women are not inspired to risk their lives in insurrection and defiance by someone reaching for poisonous berries. Revolutions are not started by teen girls suicide-pacting with cute baker boys. Oppressive regimes are not threatened by people who do what they are told.

Put yourself in the author’s well-worn desk chair. If you really wanted your Katniss to threaten this tyrannical system like many great men and women have threatened many tyrants throughout the ages, what would you have her do? She needs to be a lot more punk rock (in the best possible way). She needs to stop giving a rip about her own survival (the most dangerous men and women always forget themselves). She needs to refuse to be a piece in the game. Imagine millions of people watching her disarm some boy who was trying to murder her, and then cutting out his locator, hiding him, and keeping him alive. Every time she defied the order to kill, she would earn the true loyalty of the spared kid’s district. And she would start being a legitimate political threat. (Even Tom Wolfe asked me about The Hunger Games, having apparently heard it had some revolutionary insight. I hit him with the primary plot beats and watched him blink in confusion.)

There is more to say, but I’ve said enough. Well, almost. One final thought: never read or watch a story like a passive recipient, enjoying something in a visceral way and then retroactively trying to project deeper value or meaning onto the story you’ve already ingested. Such projections have been making authors and directors seem more intelligent than they are for decades. As you watch, as you read, shoulder your way into the creator’s chair. Don’t take the final product for granted, analyze the creator’s choices and cheerfully push them in new and different directions. As we do this, the clarity of our criticism will grow immensely. Which is to say, we’ll be suckered far less often than we currently are.

Lastly, Suzanne Collins can really write. It’s just that we can’t really read.”

-Nate (N. D.) Wilson, via Trevin Wax, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2012/05/17/why-hunger-games-is-flawed-to-its-core/