Codependency and Egoism: Two Ways To Obscure Easter

It is that time of year when, once again, Churches of all denominations ramp up their hospitality.  One need not look far to find flier invitations for Easter egg hunts, local ads for sunrise services, or Church billboards declaring that all are invited to join them for Easter service.  According to Christian tradition, this is exactly as it should be.  Easter is the most important day in the Church calendar – the Feast of all Feasts – and is the greatest declaration of our salvation.

However, when we take this opportunity to tell people about the Christianity, our advertisements often betray bad beliefs which we have adopted alongside the good.  I have observed two strong motivational trends which I think betray such bad ideas: (1) the “Jesus wants to give you stuff” message, and (2) the “You should pay Jesus back for all He did” message.  The first invites me to come to Jesus because I want stuff for myself, the second invites me to come to Jesus because I feel badly for Him. Continue reading Codependency and Egoism: Two Ways To Obscure Easter

The Comedy of Christ

Comedy is usually thought of as beneficial but not necessarily significant or essential. However, there is actually a structure and significance to humor as seen in comedic pieces. For instance, during comedic movies, many times the events are going decently well but in time they begin to devolve and become somewhat tragic, that is until the arrival of the comedic turn. The comedic turn is what serves as the axis which turns tragedy on its head and the once sorrowful story suddenly becomes joyful and hopeful. In light of the structure behind comedy, it may play a larger role than initially believed.

The important role that comedy plays is to inject hope through a greater understanding of truth. In Harry Potter, students encounter a Boggart, a creature that attacks them in the form of their worst fear. One would think students would be taught a deadly, powerful spell to defeat the Boggart but instead they are taught to use the spell, “Riddikulus” which turns the Boggart into something humorous. Through their laughter, the students learn that the opponent they face is not indestructible but ultimately conquerable. The transformation of approach from terror to humor stems from understanding this truth and allows them to then laugh from an assurance of victory.

For Christians, we are able to similarly fight our enemy with laughter from the same hope of victory. Our hope stems from the unique comedic turn of Christ, the axis that turns tragedy into joy. Raskin, a distinguished professor of linguistics at Purdue, explains the link between the comedic turn and humor stating it comes from, “the idea is that every joke is based on a juxtaposition of two scripts. The punch line triggers the switch from one script to the other. It is a universal theory.” In the biblical story, there exists the two scripts: the present fallen world and the future perfect world. When Christ came, died, and rose again, he was the punch line that triggered the switch from the fallen world and bridged the gap to the perfect world.

Christ’s life and death was a miraculous act that suddenly and irreversibly altered the fight against sin. The fight against a once seemingly formidable enemy becomes a fight filled with the joy and laughter that accompanies ultimate victory. The consolation of a happy ending is labeled by Tolkien as the Eucatastrophe,  “the consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn.”  As a result of Christ’s life and death, we are able to fight against our enemy without total anxiety or fear. If Satan is our Boggart, Jesus is the “Riddikulus” which allows us to claim our assurance of victory. Because of Christ, we are able to recognize the ridiculousness attempt of Satan to rule and can wage war against us. This joy found in the fight against Satan does not trivialize or underestimate the battle but rather esteems the miraculous turn created by Christ’s birth, death and resurrection.

We will face obstacles and struggles in the present world since Christ’s Eucatastrophe has not come to its full effect, but this does not mean His actions lack present effect. The underlying quality of the Eucatastrophe is,“It is not only a “consolation” for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, ‘Is it true?’” While the Gospel’s Eucatastrophe creates a perfect hope for the future, it has the ability to deeply affect our present spiritual struggles by removing fear or anxiety in the midst of battle.

 

The Power of Fantasy

When I was little, my parents chose to tell me the truth about Santa Claus. They thought if I knew this particular myth was false, I would be less susceptible to believing lies in the future. They didn’t want me to confuse fantasy with reality, especially when I began to learn about Christianity. Not surprisingly, a lot of Christians feel similarly about fantasy and ask why would you read or watch something that doesn’t exactly correspond with the reality we experience? While these concerns regarding fantasy are not ungrounded, I believe there is also a lot of good and truth that can be communicated through this specific genre.

Although the genre of fantasy is able to communicate truth, it does not mean it is free from potential danger. Scripture defines the line between myth and reality when Peter writes, “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…” and Paul warns to not, “devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” These two verses clearly warn against the dangers of myths and fables since they have the ability to detract from the truth of the Gospel.

These passages were interpreted by many Christians, including my parents, to mean all fiction must be harmful since it was unrealistic and therefore untruthful. To these Christians, fantasy stories are made up of lies and deceit and are directly opposed to the Bible which is completely truthful. The works which include fantastical elements such as talking animals are deemed falsehoods since they promote worlds incompatible with the Christian reality. Whether or not one completely agrees, these types of concerns are truly valid when an individual begins to replace truth and reality with a fantasy world. Fantasy is not meant to be nonfiction and most would understand the label of fantasy to differ from reality. However, the distinction is not always easy for some, which is why prudence and discretion are important guiding factors when exploring fantasy.

However, in spite of the potential risks, fantasy was championed by Tolkien and Lewis as a powerful tool for Christians through its ability to engage the imagination. Their use of magic and myth is supported by many Christians because of their explicit ties to Gospel themes, but C.S Lewis believed fantasy was useful beyond direct connections to the Bible. He said, “At all ages, if [fantasy and myth] is used well by the author and meets the right reader, it has the same power: to generalize while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not concepts or even experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies. But at its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had and thus, instead of ‘commenting on life,’ can add to it.” Fantasy thus has the unique ability to extend beyond the present and introduce to the human mind the potential of a life beyond the tangible reality man experiences.

Fantasy’s introduction to the extension of life beyond the material then allows the mind to break the limitations of materialism and embrace truth’s existence outside materialistic bounds. Fantasy critics construct a false parallel between tangible reality and truth, believing fantasy’s venture outside the realm of daily life is an attack on reality. Tolkien said, “creative Fantasy is founded…on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it.” At it’s core, fantasy still maintains logical thought, but it simultaneously engages in a world which extends beyond an earthly framework.By doing so, fantasy breaks the spell of a mindset that truth only exists in this present earth and teaches us to realize greater truths beyond a material worldview.

 

 

Happy Endings in Love and Life: The Keys to Satisfaction

Man was never created to be an independent creature, free to do as he pleased.  In the garden, God created man to be in constant communion with him. Adam’s sole purpose was found in relationship with God. God created Eve because it was not good for Adam to be alone (Genesis 2:18).  Relationship is a core component of human nature.  Humans were made to be in constant relationship both with God and with each other. Eve broke that relationship when she took the forbidden fruit, choosing  her own way instead of God’s way, disrupting the natural state of man.  Man was no longer in constant subjection to God.  Listening to self instead of God soon became an option for living.  Obviously, this was not without consequence.  Discord and strife, instead of peace and harmony, immediately became the norm for life.  Hello to the world as we know it.

Marriage is an institution ordained by God designed to replicate the harmony in the garden.  Husband and wife entering into perfect harmony with each other; two becoming one (Genesis 2:25). However, just as it was in the garden, the husband and wife experience unity in their submission to God.  This requires mutual submission and self-sacrificial love.  Acting for yourself in opposition to your spouse results in strife.  For many, this kind of marriage seems very constraining.  It is.  You are not allowed to follow all your passions on a whim.  Marriage is a life time commitment to submitting to and loving another human being.  But in this commitment comes great joy that is not possible in relationship outside of marriage.

Desire is an important part of any relationship.  But as with any passion, desire can come and go.  Following desire can lead you down many stray paths.  Desire alone is not enough for a thriving relationship.   Commitment and security are needed.  In Song of Solomon, the bride says, “I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me (7:10).”  Without this firm sense of belonging, insecurity and doubt will destroy even the most passionate relationship.  Marriage provides a framework for desire where security and exclusivity allow it to blossom.

What about people in abusive marriages?  What about adultery?  There is no doubt that these will drastically affect and possibly shatter any union.  Strife and discord are inevitable in any relationship, no matter how committed the two spouses are to God and each other.  But my point here is not to write about the affects of sin on marriage.  My point is simply to present the best bet for a lasting love.

Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is the story of a tragic love affair.  Anna and Vronsky are destroyed by a love that cannot satisfy.  Anna soon becomes consumed with doubt and insecurity regarding Vronky’s commitment.  Without marriage, there is no assurance of commitment or belonging, thereby making insecurity overtake passion.  Vronksy strives to retain his “manly independence” and keep a life apart from Anna.  He holds onto part of himself that he refuses to give to Anna.  This too prevents them from becoming one flesh.  Chaffing is the natural result.  Destruction instead of a blossoming love becomes the outcome of their affair.  Desire outside the bounds of marriage yields nothing but strife.

Anna and Vronsky are perhaps an extreme example of something so commonplace in our culture, love outside of marriage.  Anna and Vronsky’s destruction was in part caused by their rejection by society.  Today, “living together” is a common place behavior.  While it may not be openly destructive, as with any other self-centered behavior, it can result in nothing but inward strife and discord.  It may feel good at times, but does it satisfy? True satisfaction only comes through living a life in relationship with and submission to God, and, if that life involves the love of your life, a God centered marriage.

Why is God important?  This too goes back to the garden.  God created us to be in constant relationship with him.  Thriving is only possible through this relationship.  Veering away from God might lead to earthly pleasures but will never lead to ultimate fulfillment.  Jesus came so that we might be fulfilled in a post-fall world.

Are you engaging in a self-centered behavior right now?  Whether it is an extra-marital affair, or something like excessive drinking or viewing pornography, I have to ask you, “Does it satisfy?”  Not just on the surface, but deep down inside.   Jesus tells his followers, ”The thief comes to kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).”  Choose life.

An Insurmountable Obstacle

Did you know it’s estimated that in 2011-1012 about 7.1 billion people were considered chronically undernourished? Or did you know that the estimated number of orphans world-wide is around 1.5 billion? Statistics like these are often employed to raise awareness and are often effective in alerting an audience to the magnitude and importance of a problem. However, they can also have the unintended effect of overwhelming an audience. In light of solving a problem that seems hopeless, how are we supposed to respond?

a) walk away

Even when faced with a small problem, it’s tempting to leave it alone believing someone else will fix it or it will be resolved on its own. Dirty dishes in the sink? Maybe I can pretend I didn’t see them and my roommate will wash them when she gets home. Or maybe they’re not actually a problem at all; maybe she put them into the sink for a reason. As ridiculous as these excuses may sound, they still run through our mind and  cause us to realize there is a daily temptation to ignore and give up on the small problems.

When faced with a huge problem, especially one that doesn’t personally affect us, the temptation becomes even bigger to just walk away. Of course, nobody wants to admit this. Nobody would say, “I don’t care if global hunger continues” because theoretically, everybody wants the problem to end. While there are some who actively work to fix the problem, many seem content only expressing a desire to fix the problem and then ignoring the needed work.

b) settle for less

Sometimes when confronted with a large problem, sometimes one attempt won’t offer a solution so it’s necessary to begin by taking small steps. The small steps then offer a better approach by breaking the problem up into manageable pieces. This approach can be extremely useful and is often necessary to begin addressing the problem.

However with this option, there is a risk of contenting oneself with only the small steps and never resolving the larger problem. For example, removing a tree means the roots eventually need to be removed. Beforehand, sometimes its necessary to prune the branches which is an example of taking small steps to fix the problem. However, sometimes only the branches are pruned and the trunk is never touched. Similarly with a large problem, sometimes actions are only taken to relieve the problem and fail to follow through in solving the entire problem. This option is tricky because it follows the same lines as an appropriate response. However, this option becomes faulty when the small steps fall short of addressing the problem either at its core or in its entirety.

c) try harder

Especially for those plagued with guilt or self-doubt, trying harder seems to be the simple solution to an unsolved problem. We know that when we care about something, we will spend time and effort with it, so if we truly cared about an issue, it would then seem we should spend a maximum amount of time and effort. However, this mindset is a recipe for burnout since it usually doesn’t realistically view the problem’s extent or man’s ability.

Although these options differ in their approach, whether it’s overworking or underworking, they all fail to offer a satisfying solution because of one simple reason. They forget the basic truth that’s taught all throughout Sunday school: the right answer is Jesus. While it’s somewhat of a trite saying, in this case it’s the correct answer. As believers, we are now children of God and we are in the process of being fashioned like Christ.

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” We are called to be obedient to this command in a way that mirrors Jesus’ love. Jesus didn’t abandon the world or settle for the minimum, but in His life and death, He fully engaged with life’s essential and daily problems. While we don’t have Jesus’ divine ability to completely fix the world’s problems, we do have the motivation and the ability to mirror His love. This doesn’t mean trying harder to solve immense problems but rather trying properly by pointing to the ultimate solution of Jesus.

Finally, in spite of our feelings of hopelessness, the truth is He has already overcome the world. Jesus loved us with a love that carried Him through the earth and the heavens and we have been shown this love. If we are filled with this love, our response to the world problems around us will not cause us to become overwhelmed or afraid. Instead, we will be able to act in a way that demonstrates Christ’s love and thus allows our love to be stronger than our fear.

 

A Time to Weep

Ecclesiastes 3 tells us “to everything there is a season” and the current season we are in is Lent. But most of the conversations I’ve had about Lent miss the underlying meaning of this season and focus only on what’s been given up. While Lent does incorporate the practice of giving up, also called fasting, the underlying purpose of Lent is to set apart a time for the purpose of grieving. So when I’ve been asked, “What are you giving up for Lent?” I’m not upset because I know one part of Lent is the practice of fasting, but another part of me also feels the loss in failing to connect fasting to the overall purpose of entering into a time of grief.

From the conversations I’ve had about Lent, grief and fasting are not often linked together, and this is understandable. At first glance, the acts grieving and fasting seem fairly distinct; one focuses on sorrow while the other focuses on self-discipline. However, Lent does not separate these practices but intertwines them. So what is the link between grieving and fasting? One answer may be that both grief and fasting allow the believer to learn how to let go of things belonging this world and to learn how to hold on to things belonging to God

Before diving into the link of grieving and fasting, it is important to first clearly understand what each process entails. Grief is not just an emotion but the recognition of loss, and while the specific examples of loss may vary, the characteristics do not. Loss is a combination of the inevitable, painful, involuntary and disorienting, and while we can’t control loss, we can control our response. When responding with grief, change is directed by the reason for grief. If grief is centered around the self, loss causes despair since it can only focus on what has been lost and the inability of man to reclaim. But when we grieve in the context of the Christian life, loss teaches us to face our mortality, values, and fears. For the believer, this lesson from loss is possible since life is not contained only on this earth but is sustained for eternity from God. Thus for the believer, grief should not cause us to spiral inward and downward but should instead lead us outward to express, embrace and explore.

While grief involves the emotions, it is also not a short or passive experience but a strenuously active processing of loss. This is because part of the Christian life is the long-term process of learning how to acquire and how to let go. Job reflects this process when in his grief he declares,

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”  Job’s cry stems from the knowledge that his life was not grounded in what he possessed or what he lost but rather founded on his relationship with God. This perspective exemplifies the Christian grief which recognizes the loss on earth but simultaneously understands our lives ultimately rely on God.

So during Lent, fasting similarly reminds us our sustenance isn’t found in what we gain or lose but in the eternal relationship we have with God. Often times, fasting is merely seen as a way to practice endurance or self-discipline. However, its deeper meaning is revealed through abstaining from one form of sustenance such as food which then points to the greater sustenance of another such as God. The remembrance of and reliance on God through fasting then allows believers to focus on the renewal of a relationship with God. It’s a self-imposed loss which similar to grief should not cause us to turn inward or despair but should instead lead us to explore and embrace the relationship we have with God.

Grieving is difficult and at times overwhelming but it is also a process which ultimately allows for growth. While growth can be found amidst loss and grief,  “we do not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Likewise, when we fast, we don’t fast eternally but in preparation for feasting. Instead, we learn how to properly give things up with the belief they will eventually be replaced with things far better. So in this season of grief, let us patiently and somberly grow in the process of loss but let us also be encouraged in the hope of what is to come.

Family Matters: A Biblical perspective one’s duty to the family

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14.26).

These are the words of Jesus, spoken to a crowd of his followers. This is a severe and perhaps surprising assertion. One would not expect Jesus, who demonstrates perfect compassion and love, to ask his disciples to show hatred towards their families. This demand does not seem to fit in with the behavior that is expected in the Kingdom of God. To complicate matters, Paul says in 1 Timothy that “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1Timothy 5.8). Paul’s statement is also harsh, but what he says seems to contradict the words of Jesus. Yet, with a deeper investigation, these seemingly opposite claims can be reconciled.

When Jesus says his disciples must hate their family members, he is not giving instructions on how to treat one’s family, but rather communicating the cost of being a disciple. He concludes his talk saying, “therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14.33). He means that the cost of being a disciple of Christ is a heavy one. It requires the complete renunciation of oneself. We are to serve God and God alone. This does not mean that we ought to hate our families, but it does mean that we have to renounce our duty to them. The severity of Jesus’ statement is genuine. He is reminding us that one cannot enter into the Kingdom of God half-heartedly.

Paul statement on the family is actual instruction for the church. The family is an institution created by God. It was designed so that members could care for each other. In fact, proper care of one’s family is necessary for the thriving of the church as a whole. Regarding church leaders, Paul writes, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1Timothy 3:4-5) To be effective in the church, you must first prove to be faithful in the small things. We are called to care for our families before we can extend our reach to the church and to the world.

Jesus and Paul are speaking of two different aspects of the Christian life. Jesus is talking about the weight of the decision to follow him. Paul is giving guidance of how we ought to live once we have given our all to Jesus. Combining the messages of Jesus and Paul, we can conclude that when we renounce our family, we receive an even greater responsibility for them. To become a follower of Christ, we must surrender all. Yet, we take on a new lifestyle when we choose to follow Jesus. We are expected to behave differently. We now put God above all, and in doing so, recognize everything that all we have belongs to him in the first place. Jesus reminds us that our families are not actually ours. Family is a gift which was graciously bestowed upon man by God. Thus, we must care for them, adhering to the structure and order that God has designed. Of course, this cannot be done without love, compassion, and attention to our loved ones. When we are faithful in this task, we can also serve effectively in God’s church. It remains our responsibility to love our families as Christ loves us.

In Defense of Denomination

There is one Body, and there is one Church.

There is really no way to get around it—it’s right there in Scripture, coming from the mouth of Saint Paul himself.

But unity doesn’t equate to homogeny.

This is an issue that the Church universal has struggled with before Christ was even crucified. When the disciples ran to Jesus whining, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us,” Jesus did not respond and say “Well, then make him a convert and be sure that his theology is aligned with yours.”

Instead, he said, “Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you.”[1]

It’s funny to think that the Son of God didn’t care what clique the man belonged to; he didn’t care if he worshipped with hymns or a full band; he didn’t care whether or not the man believed in a God who might have formed the earth through evolution. Jesus didn’t even care that the man wasn’t in his immediate group of followers.

The only thing that mattered was that he obviously believed in the power of the name Jesus Christ. And instead of saying, “Bend him to your own personal beliefs,” Christ replied, “Let him be. He is not hurting you and he believes in the power of my name.”

While the matter seems cut-and-dry in this instance (as with much of what is obvious in Scripture) this is a tragically contentious point. In the midst of major and minor denominations that cater to any whim, fancy, or preference, many in the Church have been quick to forget that there is one Christ, and there is one God. And perhaps one of the most dangerous things we can do as a Christian is to assume that we have figured God out—that our human minds have truly encompassed the magnitude of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The minute we preach our denomination over our Christ, we have committed blasphemy, for we have shaped God in our own image, and are telling people to worship him. At the moment we force theology over the unimaginable love of that Jewish Rabbi, we are idolaters, erecting a golden calf and dancing around it like a bunch of loons.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a definite line that we can call heresy, but only that we need to be careful where we draw it. There are many voices within the Church that can be heard calling for a single, unified Body, when what they mean is a single, homogenized congregation—a church stripped of the intricacies of a Body and reduced to a hand, or a foot. It would be akin to saying that America should be reduced to a single state.

Instead, let the Church stand in defense of denomination, and not as something to be looked down upon. Many of the differences of the Church only serve to shore it up against attack and illness. When the limp-wristed theology of Joel Osteen or Rob Bell is preached, the commanding figure of a Pope—a Pastor of pastors—is incredibly useful in correcting what is clearly a misuse of the incredibly useful message of Christ. When Church leadership becomes corrupted or misleading, the Protestant teaching of sola scriptura can help right a listing ship that may steer towards human teaching instead of Divine wisdom. When people become flippant or lazy in their worship, the solemnness and intentionality of Orthodoxy can step in to fill the gap.

And this doesn’t even begin to cover personal preference. When the Samarian woman asked Jesus where one should worship God (being that the Jews worshipped in Jerusalem and the Samaritans elsewhere) Jesus does not even address the question, for to do so would only further enhance a cultural and religious chasm. Instead, he replies with all the depth and simplicity only the simple Carpenter could manage, “An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.”[2] The emphasis here isn’t on the differences between Jews and Samarians (although it is addressed), but it instead points to dominance of the Father over all said differences. It doesn’t matter what the House is made of, as long as it can withstand the storm outside.

And practically speaking, the call for a homogenous church is simply foolish; when the Lord returns, there will perhaps be a consistency in the way worship is conducted—it is entirely His prerogative. But until then, how can I—a young man raised in the Alaskan cold—expect an African, or a Filipino, or even another young man from Georgia, to have the same church experience I do? Just because a person doesn’t like grape juice Communion doesn’t make them wrong; just because someone abstains from alcohol entirely doesn’t make them right. It just makes them different. Our God is the God of nations, and we must be careful that when we say “our” God, we are not implying ownership.

And our differences—miraculously—are what have allowed the Church to stand and grow. The diversity that our variations provide help guide and balance the Christian community. There is a reason that purebred dogs succumb to disease and illness and die younger than their fellow mutts. And if the Church is anything, it is a beautiful collection of mutts, from the 12 Disciples to the modern Church.

For there are many parts to the Body, but there is one Head, and no man should be disdained for being a foot, and no foot should criticize the hand for having fingers. If we believe—truly believe—in Jesus Christ, we are freed from our endless arguing and spatting. We don’t have to worry about being infallible; we only have to trust that Christ stands with his family—with the wise and slow, weak and strong, Old Earth and Young Earth folk. And we all stand beneath him: one Body, under God, indivisible and wonderfully different—a collage of grace and love.


[1] Luke 49-50

[2] John 4:23

I’m Dreaming of a White Jesus

Are you ready for a heartwarming Christmas story of racial sensitivity, common sense, and humility?

Well, that’s not happening. Because last week, Fox News Anchor Megyn Kelly announced to children everywhere that Santa Claus was a white man. “He just is.” And then things got weird(er), when she claimed that “Jesus was a white man, too. It’s like we have, he’s a historical figure that’s a verifiable fact.”  And then, when people flipped out about it, she backed down–kind of–by acknowledging that Jesus’ race “is far from settled.”

I’m struggling to figure out which is more ridiculous: Her claiming that Jesus was white, or this short clip from “Talladega Nights.” Oh, wait, no, it’s definitely the first one, because the second is from a comedy and isn’t supposed to be serious.

I’m not here to talk about whether it was racist (a little, right? At least a little?). But I am here to say that this kind of attitude is absolutely poisonous to the Christian faith. This willingness to disregard literally everything we know about the birth and origins of Jesus destroys pretty much everything Christianity has going for it.

This kind of attitude, this insistence that we can know so little about Jesus’ origins as to declare him a white man, boils the message of the Bible down to an Everyman Birth. “And at some place (but we don’t know where), and at some time (but we don’t know when), and to some parents (but we don’t know who), God was born into the world as a man.” Such a Jesus would be the epitome of myth, and myth alone. In that situation, we might indeed be justified in siding with those who would recreate him in their own images. If his earthly origins were so unimportant, we might even tempted to make him a mere metaphor, the “Son of God” in all of us.

From the very beginning, the Church has insisted that the birth of Jesus is an historical event, firmly located in time and space, with numerous reference points. Luke in particular goes to great lengths to place the birth of Christ in a specific time (“when Quirinius was governor of Syria“) and at a specific place (“the city of David, which is called Bethlehem,” to a specific woman (Mary, wife of Joseph), from a specific lineage  (that of David).

The Biblical account is exceedingly precise: At this time and at this place and from these people was born this man. And that means that we have no room at all for claiming that Jesus “could” have been white. We don’t even have room for “thinking” of Jesus as white, because then we would be actively building our faith on a falsehood, on a blue-eyed Goldilocks who never existed.

In fact, we have no room at all for claiming that Jesus “could” have been anything other than what we know he was: A Jewish man from the line of David and the city of Bethlehem. And there is a very good reason for thinking of him like that. Karl Barth, a German theologian, brilliantly describes what happens when we try to “generalize” Jesus:

“The Word did not simply become any “flesh,” any man humbled and suffering. It became Jewish flesh. The Church’s whole doctrine of the incarnation and the atonement becomes abstract and valueless and meaningless to the extent that this comes to be regarded as something accidental and incidental. The New Testament witness to Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, stands on the soil of the Old Testament and cannot be separated from it. The pronouncements of New Testament Christology…relate always to a man who is seen to be not a man in general, a neutral man, but the conclusion and sum of the history of God with the people of Israel, the One who fulfills the covenant made by God with this people.” – Karl Barth, “The Way of the Son of God into the Far Country”

To generalize Jesus, to claim that he could have been any race, is to utterly sever the New Testament from the Old Testament. It is to make the Christmas story merely a strange accident and an aberration. It is to tear Christmas from it’s context, history, and meaning, all for the sake of making it about me and me alone. It is an inherently selfish and senseless act.

And the truth is so much more wonderful! Because when we acknowledge Christ not as Surfer Jesus, or White Jesus, or Tuxedo T-Shirt-Wearing Jesus, but as Jesus of Bethlehem and Nazareth, then we can see his birth for what it really is: The birth of the Chosen Person, born of the Chosen People. He is the answer to the covenant God  made with Abraham those hundreds of years prior, the answer to the prophecy God made to Adam and Eve, the culmination and fulfillment of everything the Old Testament tells us about God and Israel.

Some want to think of Jesus as white, because they think it increases his relevance to them. Such could not be further from the truth. In fact, it is because Jesus was Jewish, and because he was a direct descendant of the founder of the Jewish people and of their greatest king, that he could be the Christ for the whole world.

Is it really worth losing all of that, just to make him white?

Homesick Holidays: Why Long-Distance Relationships Are Good For You

One of the hardest things about life is being away from the people you love. This sort of pain does not heal with time; it only gets worse. However, one of the best ways to grow, as a person and as a Christian, is by being away from those same people.

You are bound to experience the pain of separation at some point or another – so you might as well make the best of it. For example, when you’re growing up and trying to figure out what kind of a person you are, it helps to have physical distance between yourself and the people who have always defined you. If you’ve only ever lived relying on your family or close friends to help you make decisions, then maybe it’s time for you to leave home and learn what it means to rely solely on God. Don’t be afraid of forging a new path for yourself, whether by going off to college, moving to a new job, or you getting a fresh start in a new place.

Because the world isn’t perfect, Jesus had to spend time separated from His Father. It was painful and unpleasant, but it was necessary for our salvation. You feel some of that pain when you’re separated from loved ones, and you become more like Jesus because of it. Thankfully, as Christians, we can never be separated from God; we will never experience the same pain that Jesus felt. Striking out on your own somewhere, even if just for a little while, allows characteristics you’ve never seen in yourself to come out. It requires you to build your identity around Christ. Yes, we were made to live in a loving community of fellow-believers, and I’m not suggesting you go live by yourself on a deserted island. You need people around you who will go see new movies with you, who will spontaneously bring you food from your favorite restaurant, and who know when you’ve had a good or bad day. You need those relationships no matter where you are. But when you’re always around the same people, when relationships are easy, how well do you really know the people you’re spending time with? How well do you really know yourself? If a relationship, any relationship, can last through hundreds of miles between two people, than the bond that keeps them together can only grow stronger.

I had many childhood friends that I went to school and church with who I felt close to growing up. Only one friend stuck with me through the years and asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. She was the one who lived 800 miles away and I only saw twice a year. We went to school together from kindergarten to second grade, and then her family moved away. But we wrote letters to each other and her grandparents lived down the street from my house. We relished the time that we could physically spend together, and it made both of us appreciate the friendship all the more.

As the holiday season approaches us, I’m reminded of the distance between my family and me. We measure that distance by time – I’m three hours away from my parents and oldest sister, nine hours away from my other sister, and sixteen hours away from my third sister. This distance, though painful, has actually brought us closer together as a family and has brought each of us closer to God in our own way. It forces you to put effort into a relationship, to actually take time to talk to someone and understand how they are doing, not just casually ask them “how are you?” at the end of each day. The distance isn’t permanent, and I’m not suggesting your relationships should always be long-distance. Jesus was only separated from God for three days. We learn something different about people when we are constantly living beside them, and we need those people. But we shouldn’t be afraid of long-distance relationships, either. Relationships can survive and grow through the distance.

So go to another state, another country. See new sights. Experience new adventures. Email, Skype, and call the ones you love. And when you get back to them, your relationship will be stronger because of the distance that was between you.