Blocking Trolls

I can’t really tell you why but I am not a big fan of blocking people on social media. It just doesn’t typically feel right to me. I have blocked a few people before (a total of four as I write this post) but all but one have been people that I don’t really know in real life and they had to be extreme pains in the butt for me to finally block them. Thanks to the small group of “threads” that Pam and I meet with regularly (BTW if you are not a part of a small group of believers, hopefully within your church, I would highly encourage it) that is about to change.

We have been reading Paul’s letter to Titus and this week I was reminded through the reading and discussion of the fact that Paul was by no means shy about blocking people when he saw them as a danger to the church. Here’s the portion from Titus that hit me:

10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

Titus 3:10-12

What a great passage for dealing with trolls. People who are trollish online are concerned with fighting, not truth. They enjoy the argument itself and merely winning that argument is the goal. Arguing with a troll is like fighting with water, there is nothing of substance there so they take whatever shape or argument necessary to win the discussion. Bruce Lee gave this advice in fighting, be water. It is great advice for winning a fight … but not for exploring truth.

Exploring truth requires substance pounding against substance. Finding truth isn’t about winning the argument. It is divergent viewpoints chipping away at each other to find the truth that is somewhere beneath all the extraneous points. Finding truth is believing there is a David underneath that big block of stone and chipping away at what doesn’t matter to find it. This requires hard substance to pound against. This is iron sharpening iron.

But trolls don’t sharpen anything because there isn’t any substance there to pound against. There is just water that takes whatever shape is necessary to win an argument. I often find myself wondering what a conversation was actually about after I have had an online discussion with a troll. There was nothing really there to discuss or than one’s desire to win an argument.

So what does Paul say to do with people who divide for entertainment and power? He says “to have nothing to do with them.” Hopefully, I’m learning to be a little better as spotting those whose goal is merely to be divise.

Today I have blocked my 5th person on Facebook.

Piously Unfaithful

Golden Calf

One of my favorite stories from scripture is the story of God giving King Ahaz a sign that the Lord is with him. The situation was that Judah was under siege by her enemies and God sent the prophet Isaiah to the King to reassure him that God was still with him.

Here’s the passage:

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 

(Isaiah 7:10-14)

I love this passage for two main reasons:

1st, Immanuel – can’t get much better than that.

2nd, Ahaz rebels against God while looking like he is actually obeying God. He is right not to “put the Lord to the test” in all situations EXCEPT for when the Lord tells you to put Him to the test. When God tells you to do something you are supposed to do that. But Ahaz spouts off religious-sounding language while refusing to do what God has told him to do.

He sounds so pious as he is actually disobeying God.

This is a theme you will see often in scripture. Someone does an action as though they are obeying God while actually doing the opposite of what God wants. Israel did this with the golden calf. God tells them to wait and instead they get bored and create an image of the brought them up out of Egypt and worshipped it (The Bible Project has a great podcast episode on this HERE – thanks for introducing me to this podcast Adam) (Exodus 32:1-8). Saul does then when he feels like he can’t wait any longer for Samuel to come and make a sacrifice (1 Samuel 13:7-14). It happens again and again where someone acts pious while they are actually disobeying God.

This isn’t just true in faith.

I believe it is true in so much of life. We love the symbolism and language of things (the piousity – I may have just made this word up) but not the actual day to day obedience to and sacrifice for the thing we are praising. We talk about loving family, tear up at sentimental family themes, and say that “family is what is most important”, while not actually spending time with our family. We love the symbolism of patriotism, put flags on everything, and sing the national anthem with gusto, but don’t actually love our country enough to sacrifice or serve within it. Etc. etc. etc. You probably can think of your own examples.

Piousity, of all types, is easy, costs us little, and gives us the reward of feeling and looking pious. Actually loving someone or something is more difficult, much more costly, and while the visible rewards are often not much the actual rewards are more real and long lasting, if not eternal.

Cool Cats & Kittens and a God Who Isn’t Chased Away

The above video is Eric G’s latest half-hearted attempt to get this phrase past me and into the weekly Tapestry Worship Video Gathering. He has been saying this phrase from the Netflix documentary series Tiger King for the past 10 weeks or so. I think it is pretty funny but I am also thankful that he only does it at the beginning of each video so it is easier for me to remove. This week’s version was a little cuter, and ironically creepier than normal because of the Glaze girls being involved in it, so I asked his permission to post it. Enjoy and try not to be too disturbed by it.

Not actual color

I have been meaning to post for a while now concerning my favorite part of each week’s videos. They aren’t usually a part of the final video though I find myself leaving more and more of them in the video. My favorite parts of the videos sent to me are usually the small moments that happen before and after the actual video.

In these intros and outros, I get to see small moments of real life that are wonderful. Couples that I now and love smiling knowingly at each other, kids that I have seen grow up in the church interrupting the video, people improving at musical or oratory skills, friends pushing themselves out of their comfort zones, pets suddenly causing a second take of the video, conversations that have ended just prior to the video where I get to hear the last phrase of it, sometimes messages that are meant for me telling me something that is going on, etc., etc. These moments of life pop up in the videos and I smile almost every time. I find myself allowing longer and longer pauses of seeming “nothingness” to be left in the video segments because I want other people to be able to see these moments too. Each week I find myself thinking “Look! Jesus is peeking out of that moment!”

He is so often barely hiding in plain sight.

I have worked with a few ministers in my life who were very concerned with the flow of a worship service. They were worried that anything could interrupt the smoothness of a service and thereby distract from people intimately connecting with God. So they spent a real deal of time making sure everything flowed smoothly.

I appreciate that these ministers were concerned with enabling people to connect with God, but I worried that their focus was on the personal emotional feeling of connection rather than the actual presence of God. If your god is chased off by a cell phone ringing, a missed cue, or the songs having space in between them as something is rearranged, well, you have a rather small god. My God isn’t chased off by the ordinary, mundane, boring, slow, or awkward moments of life. Thanks to the Incarnation He is actually present in those moments. Of course, He is also present in the exciting and emotional moments of life too, but there are many more boring moments than there are exciting ones. At least that’s true in my life.

I am so glad that Jesus is peeking through the boring moments hoping I will see Him. I hope I regularly see Him. I can’t wait to see Him again in these week’s batch of videos.

Bioshock Infinite & Eyes on Jesus

I am not a huge gamer but there are some video game series that I really love. One of those is the Bioshock world of games. I love the first two because they challenge the philosophical underpinnings of Ayn Rand‘s thought (which I despise and think is a threat to genuine Christianity). I love the third game in the series, Bioshock Infinite, because of its confrontation of civil religion, an equally abhorrent threat to real Christianity.

Proclaiming that Caesar is Lord is a denial that Jesus is Lord.

By civic religion here I don’t mean the general civil religious values of a society a religious ideology in which the state is the deity. Rome, as well as others, did this with the Imperial Cult. To worship Caesar was the highest good. Such worship led to the Caesar’s believing in their own divinity and that they alone could save the world. The early church denied the divinity of the Caesars and in the process gained its first confession, Jesus is Lord, from its refusal to say the creed of the Imperial Cult that Caesar is Lord.

The second you place anything else in Jesus’s position you commit idolatry.

The thing is that it is quite common for this to happen with people who love their nation. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good thing to love your nation within some boundaries. Our homelands are good things. It is good that we love them. I hope everyone can love the place you are from. Yet when the homeland becomes our ultimate source of meaning and purpose that is a terrible and dangerous thing. Our nation should never be our ultimate source of meaning and purpose.

Bioshock Infinite does a great job of breaking this down. The game displays so many of the symbols of our country being treated as religious symbols. In the game there is religious zeal associated with them. In the game’s reality people pray to and worship the founding fathers and the flag. In Bioshock Infinite Jesus has been replaced with and image of America, Washington, and even Old Glory.

The sad thing is that it happens in the real world too.

If you look around you will see it. It is one thing if you don’t proclaim Jesus as your Lord. I still think such civic religion is bad for you because I don’t believe such a faith in the state can healthy be anyone’s ultimate value. It is an entirely different thing if you, like me, are someone who proclaims that Jesus is their Lord. If He is your Lord then you can’t allow anything, no matter how good it may be, to replace Jesus.

When we take our eyes off Jesus and place them on a nation or the symbols of our nation we make an idolatrous choice and idols, even the ones that come from originally good items, are destructive to us and the world in which we are a part.

Long & Short at the Same Time

I’m presently reading Albert Camus’ classic work “The Stranger” and ran across this discussion that seems to fit our time.

“I hadn’t understood how days could be both long and short at the same time: long to live through, maybe, but so drawn out that they ended up flowing into one another. They lost their names. Only ‘yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow’ still had any meaning for me.”

I’m not exactly sure how the pandemic feels for many of you (who am I kidding my mother is the main one who reads my blog – Hi Mom!) but this quote rings very true to my experience. I have spoken with many people who have mentioned how they feel like the days drag by but at the end of the week the feel like they have accomplished nothing because the week just flew by. A continuous Monday or Friday depending upon your situation. It is definitely both long and short at the same time.

A Lament and Call to Repentance

Pam wrote the following responsive reading based on Amos 5: 14-24 and Micah 6: 8 that we will use as a part of Tapestry’s worship gathering. My wife is pretty cool.

Speaker: Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.

Congregation: Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Speaker: Therefore, this is what the Lord, the Lord God Almighty, says: “There will be wailing in all the streets and cries of anguish in every public square. The farmers will be summoned to weep and the mourners to wail. There will be wailing in all the vineyards, for I will pass through your midst,” says the Lord.

Congregation:  Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Speaker: Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?

Congregation:  Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Speaker: “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.”

Congregation:  But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Speaker: He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?

Congregation: To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.

What is the Church?

A little over 10 years ago I had the opportunity to sit under Jurgen Moltmann for a few days of lecture. It was an amazing experience and one for which I am ever so thankful. So much of what he spoke about during those lectures shapes how I understand Jesus, the church, life, and ministry. Of course, continuing to read his works helps also. A few months ago I was reminded of the lectures and I tweeted about one of the statements that he made that really hit me.

Here’s the tweet:

It is such a small thing, asking ‘how do we do church?” versus asking “what is the church” but I think it has tremendous consequences. “How do we do church?” is all about the pragmatics of church and never really addresses or considers whether or not certain actions, programs, buildings, etc., etc. actually should be a part of the church.

“What is the church?” is about mission. “How do we do church? is about efficiency.

“What is the church?” leads us to ask if what we do actually fits into the core of who we are. Who Jesus has declared His church to be.

“How do we do church?” leads us to ask “does it work?” This isn’t a bad question, it just isn’t one of the most important questions.

After His testing in the wilderness, Jesus began His public ministry by reading from the prophet Isaiah. Luke records the following:

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
       because he has anointed me
       to proclaim good news to the poor.
       He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
      and recovery of sight for the blind,
      to set the oppressed free,
19  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-20)

When Jesus began His ministry He described His good news, His gospel, as being for the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. He didn’t enter the world just the set the captives free but the freedom of captives is the natural occurrence of receiving His good news.

In my opinion the danger with “how do we do church?” being the primary question we ask is that it can lead to some incredibly unChristlike actions being allowed and encouraged in the name of “doing” church better. These actions may be organizationally efficent. They may bring people in. They simply don’t represent Jesus.

His ministry began with a proclamation that declared a change in the lives of those who were viewed as weak by those in power. I am fairly sure that His church should follow His example.

It is who we are.

Or at least who we are supposed to be.