Category: Christ & Culture (Page 1 of 38)

The Ad Gets Us

I want to share a few personal observations about the excellent He Gets Us commercial that aired during the Super Bowl on February 11. If you have not seen the commercial… Wait. I know you’ve seen the commercial. I know at least 123.4-million people have seen the commercial and you are one of them. In case you need to view it again before you read my comments or you’re compelled to watch it after reading, here it is:

The ad gives us several beautifully enhanced photographs of different people in a variety of settings adopting the posture of our Savior Jesus Christ, obeying the direct command of our Lord, stooping down and washing someone else’s feet. A police officer washing the feet of a Black man in an urban alley. A White landowner washing the feet of an older Native American. A Pro-Life protester washing the feet of a pregnant girl outside an abortion clinic. An oil man washing the feet of an environmental activist. A White woman washing the feet of her Indian neighbor. A Black woman at a protest over an unidentified issue washing the feet of a counter-protester. A Black and White man sitting together, each with a foot in the same bucket of water, smiling in a post-mutual-foot-washing moment. The ads ends with the dramatic tag-line, the Scriptural, historical, traditional, Christian fact that “Jesus didn’t teach hate; he washed feet.”

Powerful.

Truth.

Genius.

Most people seem to believe this whole two-year campaign is aimed at non-Christians to give them a more realistic view of our King. In dozens of these ads, Jesus is depicted as homeless, as a refugee, as persecuted for his non-conformist actions, as being an outsider in his own community–all of this is true according to the Gospels and are critical facets to the biblical picture of our Lord–to show non-believers that Jesus understands them. He gets us.

But I believe this whole campaign, and particularly this Super Bowl commercial, is aimed at the Christians. It’s a dramatic way to remind us of the identity and the priorities of the King we claim to follow, and to rightly judge those among us who talk and act toward the outsiders, the foreigners, and the marginalized in decidedly un-Christ-like ways.

In almost all the pictures in the ad, it’s very clear who in the photograph has the power and who doesn’t. It’s obvious who’s got the advantages, the rights, the money, and the law. And in those pictures, it’s the person in power who is washing the feet of the one who has no power. These are moving images of people you and I can relate to–pictures of us–setting aside our rights, putting down our megaphones and protest signs, forgetting our claims and beliefs about law or justice or political party platforms long enough to obey our Lord and serve the needs of others. Meet the needs of others. Just like Jesus commanded us to do.

That last night at dinner with his disciples, Jesus got down on his hands and knees and washed their feet. He was their Lord and Teacher, the Gospel says. He was by far the most important person in the room. But he made himself the least important person in the room when he washed their feet. He gave up his power and authority and assumed the posture of a servant. He served. He met needs. He “showed them the full extent of his love,” it says. And when he finished, he said, “Wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

The commercial is reminding Christians that this is our King and this is his Way. Like Jesus, we are called to reject the ways of the world, to reject the ways of power and authority and threat and division–snap out of it!

Jesus didn’t teach hate; he washed feet.

Most of those getting their feet washed in the commercial are representing, generally, groups of people who have been hurt by Christians and, in a lot of ways, in the name of Christianity. Christian values. Again, generally speaking, these groups have experienced hate from those who claim to be acting out of loyalty to Christian principles and Christian rights. The ad is for Christians, calling us to return to love and grace, forgiveness and mercy, service and peace–the authentic Christians values.

If this ad has anything to say to non-Christians, maybe it’s offering hope that there are still some Christians in America who love and serve and forgive and show mercy in the name and manner of the One we follow. Maybe it could even be an apology on behalf of the King’s subjects.

It’s a wonderful commercial, effective on so many levels at presenting Gospel truth in a compelling way.

And, yet, lots of Christians hate the ad. Predictably, I suppose. Sadly. These Christians, ironically, fail to realize they are not judging the ad, the ad is judging them. Most of those expressing displeasure with the ad fit into the categories of people depicted doing the foot-washing. Evidently, these Christians do not like being portrayed as Jesus-figures of love and service in a world of violence and division. Why do they hate the ad? Because they see themselves as what they know deep down they should be but, because of their misguided loyalties to worldly kingdoms and worldly ways, they can’t.

I know which of the pictures made me flinch. I know which photograph caused me immediate concern and put a big balloon-sized question mark above my raised eyebrows. I know exactly which picture did that to me. It was only one. And it got me. It judged me. It convicted me. It took a couple of minutes, but it corrected me. It reset my priorities. I’m thankful. Praise our Lord.

We don’t judge great art; great art judges us. Your reaction and response to the ad reveals a lot, I think, about you. The Super Bowl ad says Jesus Gets Us. He does. That ad gets us, too.

Peace,

Allan

The Jesus Way versus Our Way

The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you!”

And the apostles answered, “Master, would it not be better to just run an ad in the Jerusalem Journal?”

Philip, too, replied, “Lord, a mass mailout with eye-catching color and graphics would better reach our target audience at a much lower cost.”

The one called Judas insisted, “Why go door-to-door when we can reach the whole world? Let us create an interactive website with videos and free downloads of music and sermons. With the right content and images, we shall convert all the earth!”

Hearing this, Simon Peter asked, “Why not just force everyone into the Kingdom of God? I have a sword. James and John are prepared to call fire down from heaven. We’ll annihilate and incinerate all who refuse to conform to the ways of the Son of Man.”

“Truly, truly,” Matthew said, “I have much influence with the Roman authorities. Let us lobby and petition the government. Let us demand new laws and fight to change existing ones. Let us debate and protest and threaten boycotts so that all the nation will obey the Lord.”

“Oi, vey,” Jesus said. And he withdrew to a mountain by himself to pray.

Peace,

Allan

Here’s an Idea

For too long, too many Christian churches and whole Christian movements and denominations–Christians like us–have framed the existence and purpose of the Church with being in a fight. That’s our dominant metaphor: we’re in a culture war. We’re always fighting something or fighting against someone or a group of someones. We’re always being attacked, we’re always under siege, always in danger of losing something or having something taken away. It’s been our running theme. We’ve got to fight. We’ve got to fight. If we don’t fight, who will?

Fight?

Our Lord Jesus looked Pilate right in the eye and said, “My Kingdom is not of this world; if it were, my servants would fight.”

What if we finally gave up that whole idea? What if we laid down our defense mechanisms? What if we framed our relationship to the world and to our neighbors and to our enemies in ways that lined up better with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ? What if we laid down our power and our rights and our weapons so we could love others, even if it costs us? Especially if it costs us!

What if we really believed that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness? I know, laying down our weapons and rights in order to love sounds like a recipe for making the Church weak. But, in fact, Nothing. Could. Make. Us. Stronger.

If we just had a little faith. Just a tiny amount.

Please, Lord.

The situation is that our lives and this country and the whole world is even more troubled than anybody thought. And the people around us know right now, more than they’ve ever realized in your lifetime, that the answers cannot be found in government or science or technology. The answers will never be found in politics or parties or protests or platforms. It won’t work. It’s never worked! They’re looking for the way, the truth, and the life right now more than they ever have. And you’ve got it all in Jesus Christ!

Why would we offer anything other than that?

Just an idea.

Peace,

Allan

 

A Story About Race

We’re not going to solve race relations in the United States with one blog post. I’m writing this post as a hopeful suggestion for a different perspective.

Three years ago, during the height of the protests against the murder of George Floyd and the reemergence of Black Lives Matter, I found myself in the middle of a discussion about race at the home of one of our church leaders. There were a dozen of us around the table that evening and the conversation had turned toward the Confederate statue in the city park across the street from our church building. One man at the table claimed there was no racism in Amarillo. He told us he had lived in Amarillo most of his life and there were no issues there related to race. He said any controversy over the statue was fabricated by the media, that before Floyd was killed and before BLM began making noise, there had been no problems. It’s all made up. He’s had several black friends over the years, and none of them have ever complained about the statue.

To which I replied, “Who would they complain to?”

I then described a potential scenario to the group:

Let’s say there’s a Black guy living here in Amarillo and he’s poor. He’s always been poor. His great grandfather twice had his home burned down and his property destroyed. His grandfather never finished grade school because he had to work to support his family on somebody else’s ranch. All four of his grandparents were segregated by school and residential zoning policies, in public places and on government property, in churches and buses, in restrooms and restaurants, and at water fountains. He knows the stories. He’s seen the scars. His father has been in and out of jail for years on petty theft charges. His younger brother was pulled over and harassed by police last week because he was driving in a nice part of town. Let’s say this guy lives in a two bedroom rent house on Taylor Street and he walks both ways every day to work at the meat processing plant. Twice a day he walks right by that Confederate statue in Elwood Park. Two of his children attend Robert E. Lee Elementary in the Black part of town. He works lousy hours at a lousy job for minimum wage. It’s a terrible job — he hates it — and he barely makes enough to pay his bills and support his wife and kids. And every single day he has to walk by that statue in the center of Amarillo’s largest city park. If he hated that statue and found it to be an affront to his dignity and a source of deep pain, who would he complain to?

At that, the wife of the first man looked at me and said, “Ohhhhhhhh. You’re trying to put yourself in his shoes.”

Yes. Yes, I am.

Shouldn’t we all be doing that? Isn’t that exactly what our Lord did? Isn’t that our calling as disciples of the Christ, to empathize, to sympathize, to walk alongside and understand?

Here are some realities that are not made up, some hard cold statistics from the 2021 U.S. census. The following numbers represent non-Hispanic Whites and non-Hispanic Blacks.

38.3% of Whites have at least one college degree compared to 24.7% of Blacks.
The median household income for Whites is $77,999; it’s $48,297 for Blacks.
19.5% of all Blacks live below the nation’s poverty level; it’s only 10% of Whites.
The life expectancy for a White person is 76.4 years; it’s 70.8 years for a Black person.
The homicide rate among men ages 15-34 per 100,000 is 6.1 for Whites and 126.1 for Blacks.

On this day when we honor the significance of the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, allow me to humbly offer this one suggestion: have a conversation with a Black person. Somebody at work, somebody at church, somebody in your neighborhood. Take him to lunch. Invite her over for dinner. And just talk. Do it before this month is over. Just talk about life. Talk about your kids or your jobs. Talk about the weather or the Rangers. Do more listening than speaking. Come to the conversation prepared to hear something different, something new. Be open and receptive. Ask this person if you can pray for him or her. Be a safe space for your friend.

Blacks have a much different experience and viewpoint about life in your city than Whites. Our Lord would try to put himself in their shoes. Actually, he did.

Peace,

Allan

Take a Break on Your Take

“Everyone has to have their take. That’s how it works now. If you don’t have a take, you don’t have a voice. If you don’t have a voice, you don’t exist.”
~ Quintin Sellers, Vengeance

Ashton Kutcher’s character in the movie Vengeance perfectly describes today’s loud and polarized culture. We have rapidly been conditioned by the internet over the past twenty years to react immediately and strongly to every single thing that happens and to take a side. All of us are compelled to take a position on everything as soon as it occurs, staking out immediate and immovable opinions on matters large and small before any conversation or reflection can transpire. Those hastily formed opinions then become our identity and our “cause.” You’ve chosen a side. And the other side will take the other side just to take the other side. Louder and more aggressive. On and on it goes, proving, as Quintin Sellers says, the defining truth of our time: everything means everything, so nothing means anything.

It’s so bad now that not saying anything, not having a take, not making immediate and loud conclusions about an event, is worse than having the wrong take or saying the wrong thing. Saying nothing is an even faster way to be labeled now as part of a side or a cause.

I think that happened to Nicodemus.

The most highly esteemed rabbi in all of Israel had met with Jesus under the cover of darkness – the conversation is recorded in John 3. We’re not really sure of his motives. Is he investigating Jesus on behalf of the Pharisees or is this a personal visit? Either way, when Jesus tells him he must be born again, Nicodemus sounds like somebody who doesn’t believe and won’t ever believe. He sounds immovable. It sounds like he has taken a side. Maybe.

By John 7, Jesus has stirred up some controversy among the religious and political set. The police and the religious-political leaders come together to discuss their options, and Nicodemus sounds somewhat sympathetic to the troublemaker. He asks the gathered leaders, “Does our Law condemn anyone without first hearing him out?” And they ripped Nicodemus to shreds.

“Are you from Galilee, too?!”

Are you on his side? Are you taking up his cause? Is this who you are? Is this your “take?”

There was no room in this heated political and religious environment for measured conversation and careful reflection. And this was several years before TV, much less the internet.

By the end of the Gospel, all the apostles have deserted Jesus during the night. And there’s Nicodemus, in broad daylight, with permission from the government, taking care of Jesus’ body.

Our society is in trouble largely because all the “thinking” we do is expected to be immediate and public. If you don’t have a position posted as soon as some question emerges, somebody’s going to ask if you’re really “one of us.’ Someone will say your “silence is deafening.” But that’s not how human beings change our minds about anything. We change after we wrestle through questions, as we ponder and reflect, as we talk with others and read new ideas, as we experience different views and cultures, as we pay careful attention to all sides and show grace and mercy to others and to ourselves.

None of that can happen under the pressures of our “post-your-take-now” culture.

Take a break on your take. Leave some wiggle room. Give yourself and others a cushion. And, above all, take your time. Show some restraint. There’s a big difference between reconsidering a viewpoint and losing an argument.

Peace,

Allan

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