Rachel Still Weeps

“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18)

It’s happened again–only this time it wasn’t in Connecticut but almost 7,000 miles away in Peshawar, Pakistan. This morning, gunmen broke into classrooms and slaughtered boys and girls as they sat learning. It’s a story we know too well: December. School. Children. Death.

Tonight, parents will return to empty beds; food will be left uneaten; and a soccer ball will stand in the courtyard, still and unmoving. And just as they did two years ago, despite the divide of language and culture, our own mother- and father-hearts will crack, life and hope leaking out of us, as we wonder how is there any meaning in this?

Why do grown men kill children?

Why do they target girls going to school?

Why does education and childhood threaten them so?

In an official statement, the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Richard Olson, condemned today’s massacre as “senseless and inhumane.” And suddenly we understand. Suddenly we understand why school children die. School children do not die simply because they are easy targets or because education is somehow a western corruption. School children die precisely because their deaths are “senseless and inhumane.”

This is the point.

On the edge of The Great Battle, The Enemy stands in his tent, leaning over a map of the field. He eyes it with cold calculating resolve while his marshals wait silent around him, ready for his command. And then he lifts a finger and places it down: “Here. We strike here.”

“A school? Children?”

“Yes.”

In order to attack a God who is Wisdom, you must do the senseless. In order to attack a God who became human, you must do the inhumane.

As word relays down the chain of command, forces muster. They begin arranging, plotting, planning an assault that would defy the very nature of their opponent. At the same time, mothers wake their sons and fathers walk their daughters to school in pursuit of  the good and true because this is what their Creator God has given them. Made in His own likeness, they pursue what He is, whether they realize it or not. And all the while, The Enemy pursues the annihilation of all that good and true and sensible and humane, for the exact same reason.

This conflict is especially marked during the Christmas season because it is during this season that we celebrate the reality that God dwells with His people. It is during Christmas that we remember that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” It is during Christmas that we acknowledge that Jesus Christ embodies all that is sensible and humane.

And it is a Wisdom and Humanity that was first revealed in a Child.

I’m beginning to wonder if The Great Battle doesn’t intensify during Christmas. And I’m beginning to wonder whether children–those who most clearly reflect the Childhood so central to our hope—don’t somehow become more of a target during this season as well. Is it inevitable that Mary’s joy will forever be accompanied by Rachel’s mourning?

But even as we weep, even as we look on the senseless and inhumane, we do not lose hope. If anything, this season of Incarnation reminds us that the good and wise and beautiful will prevail. Because this is what Christ’s birth means to us: A Redeemer. A Savior. A Hope for the Nations. In that manger, we are reminded that life has purpose and meaning and that our God has come to restore it.

There will be no Christmas Truce this season. In The Great Battle, The Enemy does not respect such displays of humanity. And because he doesn’t, we must be ready fight against all that is senseless and inhumane. But we do not fight as he does, with meaningless violence; instead, we fight by honoring the One who is Wisdom Incarnate. We fight by engaging in the hard work of joy and faith. And for the next few weeks, we will fight by celebrating the Child who came to make sense of it all.

The Worth of a Soul

Long lay the world in sin and error pining/‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth…

Despite the coming holiday season, the news from around the country has been pretty devastating. Racial tensions, riots, torture, abuse of power, and more. Even if you avoid the major media outlets, you’ll still find yourself confronting the brokenness on social media. Headlines of stories never even read split friends and families along the fault line of  “your interpretation” and “mine.”

For a world that is preparing to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, this is hardly the way to go about it.

We know, of course, the solution to it all. At least, the more enlightened among us do. The answer is that we must see each other as image bearers; we must respect everyone—male, female, black, white, friend, enemy, born, or unborn—as made in God’s image and deserving of our love because God Himself loves them.

But as so often happens, theological jargon and daily life don’t connect easily. Even as we use the correct language and construct proper paradigms, too many of us still don’t know exactly what we’re talking about. “Made in God’s Image” becomes nothing more than a label affixed to a person, like a tag telling you that your sweater has been “Made in the USA.” Proclaiming that someone is “made in God’s image” has no meaning unless you understand who God is, who we are as human beings, and what this daily requires of us.

I was thinking about this when I ran across a lovely bit from Alexander McCall Smith in his book Sunshine on Scotland Street. One of the protagonists, Angus Lordie, a middle-aged portrait painter, is hosting a party when he has a moment of awareness. He looks out over his guests and for the first time, sees them for what they are: souls.

The small crowd… became not just a collection of people conversing with one another at a party, but an infinitely precious band of souls. Souls, thought Angus; that is just the right word. And he remembered reading something that had made a deep impression on him—a small thing, in one view of it, but a very major thing in another. He had read that in the language used for radio communication at sea, the number of people on board was always expressed in terms of souls. “We have ten souls on board,” a sailor might say when asking for assistance from a passing ship. Ten souls. Not ten people. Not ten passengers. Not ten customers. Ten souls.

It was… the idea that each of us, even the least of us, has a rich hinterland of value behind us: the lives we have led, the thoughts we have had, the love we have given and received—the little things of our lives that may not mean much to others unless and until they are granted the insight that Angus was suddenly vouchsafed; that insight that brings love into the heart, sudden, singing, exalting love. To see another soul was to acknowledge the magnificent, epic course that life is for each of us, and to experience sympathy for the other in his or her negotiation of that course. It was quite different form seeing others simply as people. The word soul had a big job to do, and it was the only word that could do it.

That “hinterland of value” that each of us possess is what we’re trying to communicate when we say that we are “made in God’s image.” But McCall Smith’s point is that this value only reveals itself when we acknowledge “the lives that we have led, the thoughts we have had, [and] the love we have given and received.” Proclaiming that someone is made in God’s image is pointless unless we acknowledge the “magnificent, epic course that life is for each of us, and experience sympathy for the other in his or her negotiation of that course.”

This requires a bit of imagination. It requires putting yourself in someone else’s place and learning about their experience. It requires listening to them as they tell us what it is like to “be” them. It also requires dropping categorical thinking. We are not truly engaging people as image bearers if we insist on speaking of them as “crowds” or “enemies” or “fetuses.” We are not these things; we are souls.

Those of us who believe in the direct act of God to make people in His own image must be the first to shift the conversation. It is not enough to acknowledge people as people, to slap a label on them as “Made in God’s Image.” We must see them as souls, as great expansive, eternally valuable souls. Until we do, we will never be able to love them the way that God, with His own great, expansive, eternal Soul, loves us.

CAPC & Love in the Digital Age

Illustration courtesy of Seth T. Hahne. Check out Seth’s graphic novel and comic review site, Good Ok Bad.

Every so often, I get to write for this great site named Christ and Pop Culture. My relationship with CAPC happened gradually, as so many do. You start out as friends, you find yourself more and more often in the same place, you realize that he’s funnier than you first thought, and smarter too. And then one day, you wake up  to discover that you’re meant to be together. Well, it wasn’t exactly like this, but I have come to believe that the folks at CAPC are some of the brightest, funniest, and most committed Christians writing on the web.

Christians tend to have a complicated relationship with the culture around us. From our earliest days, we’re taught that we are not of this world, but then we spend the majority of our lives living in it–encountering and engaging with art, thought paradigms, and culture that may or may not be consistent with the Christian faith.  It creeps into our worship, influences our buying habits, and affects how we raise our kids. Even those of us who actively try to protect ourselves from its influence are shaped by it, if only in response. CAPC exists to be a guide in this crazy, often confusing world, to uncover what is beautiful and good and to call out what is tawdry and evil in our culture. To do this, they write on a whole host of topics that Christians rarely talk about well: gaming, the music industry, television, movies, technology, and cultural events.

I don’t agree with every opinion that every writer presents at CAPC, but that’s also one of the things that I love about it –it’s a space for vibrant, engaging dialogue and at times, flat-out disagreement. CAPC also offers a monthly membership that allows you access to their fantastic online community  (if you’re a blogger or writer, this interaction alone justifies the cost of membership), free book and music offerings every month, and a subscription to their bi-monthly magazine. And that’s nothing to speak of the loads of free content that go up on the blog weekly.

Last month, I wrote a piece for CAPC about the struggle of romantic commitment in a digital age. It seems that more and more of us are using social media and technology to keep in touch with friends and previous lovers as a kind of insurance in case our current relationship goes bad. These “back-burner” relationships pose all kinds of questions for Christians. Even if they are not steamy or exotic, what are the potential dangers of cultivating them? How does digital interaction skew our sense of reality?  What does marital commitment require of us?

The irony of commitment—the kind evidenced in marriage—is that it exists because of the what if, not despite it. Without the potential for other alternatives, the concept of commitment is meaningless. If two people are by all measures the clearest, most direct avenue for each others’ happiness, they will naturally gravitate toward one other, bound together by sheer self-interest. In this sense, marriage exists, not because other viable options don’t, but precisely because they do.

You can read the rest here at CAPC.

Catching Up

This November, I took a leap of faith and decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, and as of this morning I am happy to tell you that I am 3,200 words away from the goal of 50,000! Here’s hoping I can squeeze out those last few before the deadline on Sunday night. (Also, I can’t promise that these 50,000 words make any sense but that’s beside the point: 50,000 words, you guys!)

Still, while NaNoWriMo may have made things quieter here at the blog, things have kept hopping right along in real life–school programs, the first snowfall, Thanksgiving vacation, and some encouraging feedback about Made for More.

Over the last few weeks, Made for More has been featured on several blogs, along with some really great, in-depth interviews about the process and ideas behind it. I love seeing the conversation about imago Dei grow beyond this blog and the book itself. One of the most basic truths about living as image bearers is that God intends for us to work collaboratively–I see that beginning to happen and it’s exciting. When you have a minute, check out these links:

John and Kathy Show on WORD FM (starts at 12:22)

Kendra Dahl’s 31 Days: Know Thyself, Know Thy God

Ungrind

Amy Kannel’s Choosing Hallelujah

Also, if you missed it, Made for More was named as one of 14 Best Books of 2014 by Tony Reinke –WOW!

And finally, here’s a piece I did over at Gospel-Centered Woman about what the book of Numbers teaches us about God’s faithfulness through the gospel. Even though we may reject the promises of God–just like the Israelites did when they chose to wander in the wilderness instead of entering the Promised Land–He does not reject us. He is faithful to His promises, even wandering with us in our self-imposed deserts. You can read the whole piece here.