fbpx

Superhuman Jackass Guy

0

I have a lot of people come up to me and say, “I love what you said, but I’m not like that.”

My friend West told me about a sermon he preached where he said something along these lines: “We all think we do our own thing, but look how many of us are wearing black North Face jackets. We didn’t all independently decide this would be a great jacket, we wear it because we saw other people wearing it.” He said that after the sermon, people came up to him wearing black North Face jackets, explaining, “This was a gift, I didn’t pick it out myself!” I call this person super human guy.

I understand super human guy because I am super human guy. This is how I have lived most of my Christian life. I used to even think to myself, “How can I figure out the exact right rhythm so that I read my Bible, share Jesus with my neighbor, love everyone with perfection, be the perfect father, be extraordinarily patient and extraordinarily kind, be extraordinarily bold, extraordinarily brave? I will never be a hypocrite. I will never be a Pharisee. I will never be part of the problem. No lust. No greed. No flaw guy.” In other words, I wanted to be super human guy, making it clear to everyone why I’m not the problem.

I really have a problem admitting my limitations. And I’m not the only one. Yeah, we know all have sinned and fall short. All Christians acknowledge that. I’m talking about something different though: learning to be comfortable with our limitations. Not just our physical limitations in time and space, but our limitations in understanding, comprehending, and emoting. Our inability to actually discern and know and handle truth in objective ways, without going on the defensive. Can I live in such a way that it’s not offensive to know I am severely limited, flawed, and often wrong? 

Adam and Eve thought they could be limitless even before Bradley Cooper’s magic little pill. They thought that if they had the knowledge of Good and Evil they could use it, control it, harness it; they thought they could discern and not be deceived, because after all, doesn’t knowledge help us avoid deception?

Bradley Cooper in Limitless

Super human guy is the biggest of all jackasses, because super human guy hasn’t ignored part of the Bible, he has ignored ALL of it. Humans are limited, unable to be God. Absolutely reliant. Remember the analogy that Paul used in 1 Corinthians 12? That we are all pieces of a Body? Which may in fact mean that no matter what you say, no matter how solid the New Year’s Resolution strategy, you are limited guy (or gal). There is no superman here.

“If you claim you’re not a jackass, you’re claiming to be God: unlimited in your ability to love, to discern accurately. No manipulation, tantrums, prejudice, greed. But that person is God. And you’re not him.”

We like to think, “Sure, I’m less than perfect. But I’m not the problem.” But “less than perfect” is just a euphemism. Our world isn’t messed up because we’re “less than perfect.” It’s the REALLY bad stuff that has ruined our world. Like wanting sex with someone else’s spouse, refusing to forgive even when someone is begging for it. Hording things while other humans starve. Bullying the weak. That’s what ruins the world. The pain in this world exists because of big time jackasses. So it isn’t just that I “missed the mark” (a euphemism for sin), as though I’m not really bad and couldn’t be the real problem. It’s more like Vice President Cheney’s hunting accident, where he missed the target (a duck) and instead hit his hunting buddy in the face. His aim may not have been that far off, but it not a small problem, it’s a big problem.

And here’s the thing: I’m the big problem. So are you!

If you claim that you are not a jackass, you are claiming to be God: Unlimited in your ability to love. Unlimited in your ability to discern accurately at all times. Unlimited in your emotional response to horrible situations. No emotional manipulation, no childish fits, no temper tantrums, no prejudice, no faulty assumptions. No lust. No greed. No mistake guy. Superman guy. But that guy is God. And you’re not him.

Limitation is human. Embrace it. It’s even a huge part of the solution. What if limitation wasn’t a problem to be overcome, but actually part of the solution? Without limitation we are all our own gods and an absolute bloody mess. What if we are limited ON PURPOSE? What if our limitations aren’t supposed to all be overcome, but stand as reminders of our NEED? Constantly pointing us to our need for God, and our need for OTHERS.

The comments are open, so feel free to tell me why you didn’t pick your black North Face jacket because everyone else likes them. Tell me why you’re not the super human jackass guy…

Read the Gospels ≥ Paul

0

Here’s a challenge that would probably do us all some good: Read the Gospels more than, or the same amount as, you read Paul.

That might be a big yawn for some. For others it’s a weird statement to make, because it already fits your tendencies. But for many Christians, this is a big ask. It may even raise some red flags: Is he trying to lead me away from sound doctrine and toward some vague notion of loving everyone?

If this suggestion raises some red flags (it would have for me in the past), then that should raise red flags.

Could we honestly be worried about reading the four books that give detailed attention to the words, works, and ways of Jesus more than or the same amount as we read other books in the Bible? If that sounds suspect, something is wrong.

Think about this: the Gospels comprise just about half of the New Testament. If you leave Acts to the side, the Gospels contain 10,000 words more than all of the New Testament letters combined (including Revelation). The Gospels are more than twice as much material as all of Paul’s letters combined. These are all ways of saying that the material in the Gospels is an emphasis for the New Testament.

“If the suggestion to read the Gospels at least as much as you read Paul raises some red flags (it would have for me in the past), then that should raise red flags.”

And yet, Paul has been a major focus in most Protestant Evangelical churches. Without hard data here, I don’t hesitate to say that Paul gets preached more often, written about more often, and is given priority in the formulation of our doctrines and emphases. That’s not bad, but it skews our thinking and approach. Read Paul. Without a doubt. But I want to issue a challenge for us:

What if we read the Gospels at least as much as we read Paul? I’ve done that over the last couple of years, and it’s been formative. I don’t think it’s changed any of my core beliefs, but it has shaped my emphases and made me more patient, gracious, and tuned in to people. More concerned about love than doctrine. Maybe it’s just me. But Jesus is the cure for jackass. So it could only help.

Set yourself a goal to read through one Gospel per month for the next few months. Or alternate between a Gospel and an epistle for a while. Try reading nothing but the Gospels for a whole year (I’m a pastor, I promise it’s allowed). This isn’t some command or trick. It’s just a means of recalibrating. This should lead us all to be more in tune with Jesus, which should lead us back into Paul’s writing with fresh insights. This is how it’s worked for me, and I pray it does for you as well.

Costumes, Kierkegaard, & Human Dignity

0

In his incredible book Works of Love, Soren Kierkegaard was concerned that we neglect to love our neighbors because we focus on the dissimilarities between us. We are like actors in a play:

“Here you see only what the individual represents and how he does it. It is just as in the play. But when the curtain falls on the stage, then the one who played the king and the one who played the beggar, etc. are all alike; all are one and the same—actors. When at death the curtain falls on the stage of actuality…then they, too, are all one, they are human beings. All of them are what they essentially were, what you did not see because of the dissimilarity that you saw—they are human beings.”

This excellent illustration cuts in two directions. First, it speaks to the way we view other people. We see successful businessmen, gifted speakers, homemakers, professional athletes, homeless people, white or blue collared workers, etc. We notice skin color and gender, confidence and awkwardness.

But Kierkegaard would have us understand that these outward dissimilarities are nothing more than roles we are called upon to play. The differences are there, but the time is coming when the curtain will fall, and the man who played the king will sit down for drinks with the man who played the beggar. And they will sit together as equals, for they are not king and beggar in reality—these were roles they assumed on the stage—they are nothing more and nothing less than actors. People. They are equal.

We would do well, then, to look past the outward symbols of dissimilarity when we encounter another person. We should look deeply into her eyes and recognize the gaze of a fellow human being. This allows us to view the other person as a neighbor. (“Neighbor,” by the way, is an important concept for Kierkegaard. I will inevitably write about this before long.)

“The dissimilarity of earthly life is like an actor’s costume…each one should have the outer garment fastened loosely so that in the moment of transformation, the garment can be cast off easily.” —Kierkegaard

Isn’t this the way it works in our neighborhoods? There is no hierarchy on my street. When I stand on the sidewalk with my neighbors, we don’t relate to each other as realtor, professor, pastor, programmer. We are simply neighbors. We spend much of our lives on adjacent lots. We leave our jobs and head home to talk and play in the street without once deferring to one another’s professional titles. The roles we play and the costumes we wear are irrelevant; we are able to love one another as equals.

The conversations I have on my street are a taste of humanity stripped of its dissimilarities. If only we could see everyone in that light. If only we could stop playing games and simply love.

But this will also require us to see the other direction that Kiekegaard’s illustration cuts. Kierkegaard would have us look to ourselves and remember that we, too, are only actors, regardless of how important (or insignificant) a role we believe ourselves to be playing:

“We seem to have forgotten that the dissimilarity of earthly life is just like an actor’s costume…so that each one individually should be on the watch and take care to have the outer garment’s fastening cords loosely tied and, above all, free of tight knots so that in the moment of transformation the garment can be cast off easily.”

Do you have some level of power in this life? Don’t hold it too closely. Don’t take yourself too seriously. You have been called upon to play the role of an executive or a teacher or a supervisor or a day laborer. But that role does not define you. Make no mistake that one day your costume will have to be removed. Better to wear the costume loosely so that you are prepared to step back into the role of human being as soon as the play ends.

It’s difficult to see other people as neighbors when we see ourselves as big shots. Likewise, it’s difficult to interact with people as equals when we see ourselves as supporting cast at best.

So play your role well. Give it everything it deserves. But don’t forget that the stage only extends so far. Don’t lose sight of the curtain—it is going to drop. And there you will stand. No longer the king. No longer the beggar. But an actor. A neighbor. A human.

Kierkegaard & the Cure for Jackass

0

The 19th Century Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard is without question one of the most influential thinkers in history. If that statement surprises you, it’s because his thinking comes to most of us indirectly through many currently-influential voices. He’s the philosopher equivalent of the bands who influenced the Beatles, who in turn influenced every musician you’ve ever enjoyed.

But he doesn’t do much direct influencing of modern readers because it takes a lot of work to dig into. For one thing, he wrote a ton of books, and those books tended to have many hundreds of pages. But to make matters exceedingly irritating, many of Kierkegaard’s books were written under numerous pseudonyms (Victor Eremita, John Climacus, Anti-Climacus, Hilarius Bookbinder, etc. etc. etc.). Some of these pseudonyms seem to represent more nearly than others what Kierkegaard himself believed, but it’s impossible to be sure.

Kierkegaard would play games with these pseudonyms. He would release two books by two different pseudonyms on the same day, or within a couple of weeks of each other. While he was producing these works, he would be sure to be seen in public frequently so that no one would suspect him of being the author of these works (a bit of theatre that worked for a time, but not for long). These books would offer different points of view on Christianity, philosophy, ethics, and society. Kierkegaard also published many books under his own name, but it still takes a lot of brainpower to untangle the relationship between this Kierkegaard and the pseudonymous authors of Kierkegaard’s other books.

Because of these bizarre methods, there’s no consensus on what Kierkegaard himself actually believed, no universally agreed upon “theology of Soren Kierkegaard.” We only have different camps of scholars who tend to hold the same general view of how it all fits together.

I’m tempted to think of that as a frustrating loss. But I’m realizing that it’s not. It’s actually a gift.

How can I possibly claim that this quirky, controversial, confusing philosopher could be the cure to jackass? Because the kind of reading that his books require would make us all better citizens by dismantling our biggest hurdle to mutual understanding.

When I first started reading Kierkegaard’s works, I read them as I read any book. I was in search of “Kierkegaard’s theology.” I wanted to know his views on things. When I do this with any author, I get a feel for their positions, and then I decide whether or not I agree with Calvin or Piper or Wright or Lewis. My thinking is binary (good author or bad author), and my mind is typically made up on a snap judgment rather than careful consideration. But this is actually unhealthy. Because I actually agree with and disagree with all of these authors.

“When you read Kierkegaard, you’re never quite sure where he’s heading or what it means to ‘agree with Kierkegaard.’ With each argument you must decide what you think. “

Why do I feel compelled to side with some authors and against others? Wouldn’t it be healthier to learn from each author and pull the most helpful parts from each? Isn’t it most important to walk away better informed and inwardly transformed as a result of wrestling with important concepts? How does it help me to be able to “agree with John Piper” or whomever, as though it’s all or nothing? Really, it just makes us all that much more divided. Encamped. Partisan.

But Kierkegaard’s bizarre style won’t let us get away with this. You have to think for yourself. When you read Kierkegaard, you have to engage with his actual arguments, because you’re never quite sure where he’s heading and you rarely get a clear picture of what it means to “agree with Kierkegaard.” You have to decide, to “judge for yourself” (to use a Kierkegaardian phrase). With each pseudonym; each book; each paragraph, sentence, and argument, you must weigh and decide what you think.

It’s infuriating. And exhausting. And healthy.

Our political climate is so polarized. You’re republican or you’re democrat. You’re pro or anti whomever. You’re pro this or anti that. We deal in sound bites, in memes. Your response has to be instant. You have to be outraged or impressed within seconds, and if you don’t make a social media statement right now then you’re siding for or against someone or something bad or good!

Don’t you hate it? Isn’t it ugly? Don’t you feel in your bones that we need something better, something more sustainable?

What we need, I submit, is a Kierkegaardian reading of everything. Take your time. You’ll have to decide, but don’t simply follow the party line. Do your homework. Weigh each comment, each argument, each moment on its own merits.

Judge for yourself.

Kierkegaard also rails against indecision, so you do have to make up your mind. Deciding is important, but you’re not allowed to decide by default, by following your tribe’s voting guide. If we could all retrain our habits of engagement in light of Kierkegaard’s infuriatingly inefficient approach, perhaps we’d learn to understand each other better, to renounce the “hot take.” We would then develop wise, patiently-formed, true-to-the-depths-of-our-soul convictions, and we could hold hands and walk away from the echo chambers we’ve been told to pledge allegiance to.

If you want to start on a super healthy journey, I encourage you to read some Kierkegaard. You can do it. I recommend you start with his masterpiece: Works of Love.

What Is Jackass Theology?

5

What is jackass theology? The concept may sound funny or edgy or irreverent or descriptive, depending on where you’re coming from. But we assure you, jackass theology is exceedingly common. We’ve all participated, though most of us are unaware of it. Simply put, jackass theology is what happens when we hold our theological convictions in such a way that we act like, well, jackasses. And that’s shockingly easy to do. Jackass theology happens when ideas, rules, and “being right” supplant love, joy, peace, and basic human dignity.

Theology itself is not the problem. Theology means “the study of God,” and God doesn’t make people into jackasses. The problem is the way we hold our theology. It’s the way we explain it, the way we use it to divide from others, the way we use it to beat other people up. For those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus, this is inexcusable. Jesus, if you recall, said that the two greatest commandments—the two statements that summarized all of the Old Testament—were love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.

How do we go from Jesus insisting that loving other people is the most important thing to using Jesus’ teaching to ostracize and exclude?

Not many of us are doing this on purpose, but we’re all doing it. Making jerk moves in the name of Jesus. Saying hurtful things on God’s behalf. We don’t get a pass just because this is the church culture we’ve been raised in. Flannery O’Connor said, “Ignorance is excusable when it is borne like a cross, but when it is wielded like an ax, and with moral indignation, then it becomes something else indeed.” She was talking about people who have never put any energy into understanding how art works, and yet do not hesitate to criticize artists. The point works equally well when we co-opt the words of God to fight against other people without taking the time to understand the heart of God.

Let’s be clear: if your theology is making you less like Jesus, then something has gone catastrophically wrong.

“How do we go from Jesus insisting that loving other people is the most important thing to using Jesus’ teaching to ostracize and exclude? When our theology makes us less like Jesus, that’s a problem.”

So what are we doing calling this site Jackass Theology? We’re just a couple of pastors trying to help people get closer to the heart of Jesus. We’re using the concept of jackass theology in three ways: as a lament, as a confession, and as a way forward.

LAMENT

As we look at evangelical Christianity today, we see a ton of jackassery. It’s seriously everywhere. Stick with us and you’ll recognize it too. But don’t get too excited, once you start to notice jackass theology, you’ll see it mainly in your own past and present. We just want to help you weed it out of your future. We also want to note that it’s not just in evangelicalism. As I said, it’s seriously everywhere. Republicans, democrats, liberals, conservatives, upper class people, lower class people, etc. etc. etc. Jackassery is part of the human condition, but Jesus shows us what it means to be more.

CONFESSION

This part is key. We talk about jackass theology as a means of confession. Ryan and I are bigger jackasses than most, and we will often share our own jackassery. It’s important that we do this. The moment you point a finger as someone else’s jackassery, you’re guilty of it yourself. The theme passage for all jackass theology is Luke 18:9–14:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Fill in the blank however you want, as soon as you find yourself saying, “God, I thank you that I am not like _________,” you’re being a jackass. We confess our jackassery so we can turn from there and pursue the ways, works, and words of Jesus.

A WAY FORWARD

Ultimately, we’re trying to find and show a way forward. We all start as jackasses, but it doesn’t need to be like this. Jesus is the anti-jackass. Really, all we want to say is that we want to be more like Jesus. The problem is, we all assume that Jesus would do the things we tend to do, even when we’re actually being jackasses. The way forward is the way of Jesus. He invites us to join him, and that’s our heart with Jackass Theology. We want to be more like Jesus. And we’re hoping you’re interested in joining us as well.