Shame, Honor, and Star Trek in John 7

The dream is to be a warrior who dies in battle.  For a Klingon, that is.  There’s no greater call in the life of a Klingon than to give one’s life in battle; obviously, it follows that Klingons don’t generally give up on military missions.  Entering each engagement with a cry of, “Today is a good day to die!” an honorable Klingon warrior is prepared to do just that before he’ll admit defeat or abandon a task once it’s assigned to him.

It’s not just down to bloodlust, either, by the way.  In shame/honor cultures of any stripe, duty is duty.  To give up, be defeated, or talked out of doing what your superiors have instructed you to do is shameful.  At best, it reveals you lacking in those honorable qualities society celebrates.  At worst, it reveals you to be weak of mind, weak of strength, and weak of character, which is just a fancy way of saying it shames you profoundly.

This matters as we move to examine an example of the Bible’s shame/honor theme in the next book of our progression – the Gospel of John – because there is a story at the end of John 7 in which Jesus causes some guards to shame themselves in just that way.  But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.  Let’s begin at the beginning of John 7, when Jesus’ brothers tell him that he should be doing his miracles in Jerusalem, not the comparative backwoods locale of Galilee.

____________________

My post on Worf and the Gospel of Mark addressed the fact that sneaking about is not the path of honor, so bear that in mind as we read that John 7 begins with Jesus sneaking.  Specifically, after his brothers challenge him that if he’s going to act as an honored prophet in Galilee he should go to Jerusalem and claim the honor due to a prophet, Jesus tells them it’s not time yet.  Then, basically when nobody’s looking, he goes to Jerusalem and does exactly what they suggested.  Why?

For 21st Century readers, it’s easy to miss the brothers’ point about Galilee and Jerusalem.  The thing to understand is that Jerusalem was the center of Jewish (which is not to say Roman, necessarily) political, religious and cultural life.  It was the home of the temple, the Sanhedrin, and the historical seat of the Jewish monarchy.  It was, in short, where everything of importance happened in Jewish life, not unlike if New York, Washington, and Los Angeles were all one American city – Los Yorkington, if you will.

Galilee, meanwhile, was as far from Jerusalem in importance and relevance as Monroe, Louisiana is from our hypothetical Los Yorkington.  You can imagine, I’m sure, how silly it would be for someone who claimed they had a message from God for America to spend their time in Monroe instead of Los Yorkington, and this is what Jesus’ brothers tell him.  If he had a message from God, he had to go to the Jewish Los Yorkington: Jerusalem.

____________________

Of course, Jesus does go.  But it’s small consolation to the reader, since Jesus does so stealthily.  In keeping with the theme we’ve seen in previous books, Jesus has little regard for acting in the interest of his own honor; he does things his way.  For once, however, the Gospel writers have actually given us an explanation for why Jesus acts this way in his own words.  In verse 18, Jesus explains (while teaching at the temple, just like his brothers challenged him to do) that he’s concerned only with the honor of the one who sent him.  That’s why Jesus acts in ways that depart from the standards of honor of his culture, and that’s why he sneaks off to the festival: he doesn’t value his own honor.  His brothers may be right that his message needs to be heard in Jerusalem, but he doesn’t have to prove himself to anyone, Jewish leaders and his own brothers included.

Note that Jesus’ refusal to place a priority on his own honor doesn’t upend the status quo (at least not in the moment).  Honor still matters to everyone else, and to that end, the events of the chapter present a problem for the honor of the Jewish authorities.  By verse 25, the fact that Jesus was teaching openly even though everyone knew the authorities had wanted to kill him was creating a PR problem: by allowing him to continue, they were either implicitly endorsing his message (and honoring him) or revealing their inability to stop him (and dishonoring themselves).  Obviously, honor demanded that they stop Jesus.

Except that he couldn’t be, and this is where those guards we mentioned at the beginning enter the story.  The guards sent by the Jewish authorities to arrest Jesus and end his honor and their dishonor did the unthinkable, and accepted the dishonor of neglecting to complete their mission.  Blown away by what they heard, these guards went back to the authorities and said, “no.”

____________________

The entirety of John 7 has to do with shame and with honor, but because the end of the chapter is so terse and has to do only with nameless guards and anonymous authorities (save for Nicodemus, whom we’ve already met in John 3), it’s easy to overlook the most jaw-dropping reversal of the honor system in the entire chapter.  Jesus – even while refusing to assert his own right to honor – is so amazing to behold that the soldiers unrepentantly neglect their duty.  They see something so special in Jesus and his teaching that they’re willing not merely to disobey orders, but to defiantly act in counter-cultural disregard for the primary organizational principle of their society.  Hearing Jesus preach, in other words, has so completely changed their understanding of the world that they’re willing to face the Jewish authorities and embrace the shame that comes from abandoning a mission.

If it hadn’t happened, it would be unimaginable.  Their superiors mock them for it, adding to their shame.  And yet the text of John 7 gives no indication that the soldiers had second thoughts.  Jesus – who couldn’t care less about his own honor – had taught them to be like him.  The Jewish authorities could stuff their honor and their understanding of duty; the temple guards had Jesus.  So the chapter ends with Jesus vindicated, the guards cut loose from their culture by their willingness to hear Jesus out, and the Jewish leaders embarrassed.  The powerful are shamed, the soldiers ignore duty, and a hick from nowhere is king of Los Yorkington.

Worf would never understand John 7.  But in understanding Worf, we get to understand one of the bible’s strangest plot twists.

Beijing Pollution and Keeping Our Brothers

If everything has a price, how much would you charge me for the privilege of watching you inhale – deeply and fully – the detritus at the bottom of my Webber grill?  Just so we’re clear, it’s mostly ash, with little bits of burned squash (danged slices always slip through the gaps in the grill…), and likely some mouse or rat poo, since it hasn’t been used in a while.  Also, it definitely smells like lighter fluid, because I always use too much.  All of which is a bit of a digression, since the issue on the table is: how much?

Maybe some of you would do it for a number in the low five figures, while others would hold out for more, but it’s actually not worth that much to me.  Don’t get me wrong: I’d probably laugh pretty hard at your lunacy if you did it, but I wouldn’t pay much for the spectacle since last week we all got to watch every person in Beijing basically do this for free.  Except that it wasn’t nearly as funny, because they didn’t do it by choice.

____________________

Think I’m exaggerating?  Look at these pictures (to save you time, the stories are all basically the same).  When air pollutants reach a concentration of 25 micrograms per cubic meter, the World Health Organization considers it dangerous.  When pollutants reach a concentration of 300, the U.S. government tells children, the elderly, and those with respiratory problems not to go outside.  When concentration levels reach 500, most measuring devices can no longer record how bad pollution is, because a concentration of 500 micrograms per cubic meter is unthinkable.

In Beijing last week, they reached a concentration of 886 micrograms of particle pollution per cubic meter.

Let’s put that in some perspective.  Did you look at the pictures to which I linked?  If not, permit me to describe them.  They’re pictures of gray brown.  There’s no discernible sky and no discernible ground in some of them, leaving us to trust the editors that they’re even right-side-up.  In one there’s a light that vaguely resembles the moon; this is of course the sun, which would seem to indicate that this apocalyptic cloud of brown is actually a ‘clear’ and sunny day.  The pictures, to be blunt, show air so unremittingly filthy that my initial sensory response is actually tactile: I can’t imagine what it’s like to breathe that, but I’m almost certain one could feel it by swiping one’s hand through the air, and my fingertips tingle as I wonder how that must feel.  On the hands, that is.  I can guess how it feels in one’s lungs – probably a lot like it would feel to snort my Webber.

If that doesn’t repulse you, do the math.  We think of air as lacking mass, but in Beijing last week, the air weighed nearly a milligram per cubic meter.  A man of average size breathes about 6 liters of air per minute, at which rate he’d go through a cubic meter of air in about 2 hours and 45 minutes, if each breath drew air distinct from the previous breath (dubious, but humor me).  Over the course of a 24 hour day, if he breathed at a constant rate, such an average man would breathe between 7 and 8 milligrams of solid pollutants.  Compare that to the 10mg dosage of the active ingredient in my 24-hour antihistamine pills (Claritin), and consider that the full dosage of Chinese air pollution is lodging in the lungs of the weak and the strong, the old and the young, the committed communist and the dissident Christian alike.

____________________

I know, Chinese social policy is not something we can directly control, and if such a powerful state wants to fumigate its citizens, that’s their God-given (Mao-given?) right.  If the United States didn’t care enough to stop genocide perpetrated with machetes in Rwanda, there’s no logical reason to think we’d stop a geopolitical rival and potential belligerent from committing mass suicide.

Even so and logic notwithstanding, I can’t help but wonder if there’s not some role we’ve already played in this murky brown drama.

____________________

I’m not interested in wading into the morass over global warming; scientists agree it’s happening, but many evangelicals don’t believe them.  This is fact, and I’ll not waste time on it.  But I will argue that evangelical skepticism about climate change helped to shorten the lives of thousands – and maybe millions – of Chinese Christians last week.

The first link in this argument is the fact that some estimates say there could be 100 million house church Christians in China.  I don’t trust any numbers that claim to show a distribution of where they live, but 100 million would represent about 1/13th of the population of China.  If we take a wild guess and imagine that this ratio holds true in Beijing – which has a population of roughly 20 million – that would make it conceivable that Beijing is home to more than 1.5 million Christians.  All of whom saw their lives shortened last week.

So how can I possibly blame evangelicals for that?  Because we’ve allowed widespread skepticism about climate change to keep us from trying to stop pollution, that’s how.  Look, it doesn’t actually matter what you believe about climate change; anti-pollution treaties are good for creation and good for people.  Unfortunately, Republicangelicals tend to see anti-pollution treaties as fighting a problem that they don’t acknowledge (global warming) instead of one that’s obvious (Chinese people being dosed with coal and diesel in quantities like Claritin).  The result is that when the world’s countries try to act on pollution (after all, you don’t think that mass darkness over Beijing will magically dissipate at the edge of Chinese territorial waters, do you?), the United States is never viewed as a serious partner, which undermines the whole process.

We can’t make China fix their pollution.  That’s not the way international relations work.  But we absolutely can stop being their excuse not to do something about it.  And when I write ‘we,’ I mean evangelicals.  Democrats already want this, and if evangelicals would push for it, the Republican ability to ignore global pollution catastrophes would be mortally wounded.  This is completely within the power of evangelicalism.

Many will object to my line of reasoning, and argue that I don’t understand the cost to jobs/the economy/small businesses of cracking down on pollution at home in order to have more leverage abroad.  My response is this: air pollution like we’re seeing in China kills people.  Not in the long run; in the short run.  How many people do you think died last weekend from that gray-brown darkness?  Most likely, nobody on earth knows (and if China ever announces figures, we all know they’ll lie).  But many of them were your brothers and sisters in Christ, and they died in part because we’re busy arguing with scientists instead of keeping our brothers.  It’s an old sin, and I’m worried that it is ours.

9 Musings on the Giglio Story

With the news that Evangelical pastor Louie Giglio elected/was forced to drop out of a commitment to deliver the benediction at President Obama’s inauguration due to a mid-90s sermon he gave that offends gay rights groups, the internet and social media have exploded with responses from both sides.  Permit me to make a few disconnected contributions to that explosion with the following observations:

Giglio’s role was to pronounce a benediction, meaning he had agreed to give a blessing to those present, gay and straight alike.  Some people didn’t want him involved at all because that sermon he gave 20 years ago strikes them as bigoted.  But since he was supposed to give a blessing to all those assembled for the inauguration – regardless of whether or not they share his theological and/or political views – his exclusion from the ceremony actually denies him the opportunity to be inclusive on the most visible platform he could ever occupy in life.  In what sense does this count as a win for tolerance?

Giglio’s job is to speak in public; few people could speak that often and for that long without saying something that would be problematic 20 years later.  Do you remember anything you said in the mid-1990s and haven’t repeated since?  If you could, what are the odds you would articulate it exactly the same now as you did then?  Such an unforgiving standard is no credit to the cause of progressivism.

The argument that words spoken 20 years ago negate years of altruistic and supererogatory action since is both craven and risible.  So we’re clear, Jonathan Capehart is wrong.  Deeds matter more than words.  That’s how the world works, and to argue otherwise is unserious.  Just in case, however: Louie Giglio said something that some people find offensive while others take to be God’s absolute truth 20ish years ago, and hasn’t repeated it since as near as anyone can tell.  What he has done since is devote his life, his considerable influence, and his resources to stopping human slavery.  The world needs more doers, and to revile one for political reasons is truly odious.

He’s a religious figure who holds religious views.  Not everyone differentiates between religion and politics, but just so we’re clear, Louie Giglio is not a political activist.  He has used his influence among evangelicals to try to stop slavery, but the last time I checked that issue disappeared from American political platforms in the 1860s.  Apart from this solitary anodyne advocacy issue, Giglio restricts himself to the standard pastoral roles of speaking, interpreting scripture, and encouraging his flock.  The second coming of Jerry Falwell he ain’t, and he should count among the last evangelicals society chooses to demonize.

The list of who can’t pray at American inaugurations suddenly looks shockingly discriminatory.  Some Christians hold other views, which makes it possible to argue (wrongly, by the way) that Giglio is an extremist, but what if he was a Muslim?  There’s not exactly a huge divergence of Islamic opinions on gay rights, which would seem to preclude that entire faith from participation.  The same could be said, it seems, for Orthodox Jews, the Amish, and those Catholics who actually care what the Church teaches – to name just three groups in addition to Muslims and Evangelicals.  How can the interests of tolerance and diversity banish participation from such diverse and numerous religious traditions?

Doesn’t this mean that not even Pope Benedict himself is qualified to pray at an inauguration?

I have no idea whether or not I agree with Giglio, and neither do you.  For one thing, sermons lose much of their meaning without context, and it’s basically impossible to understand the context of a sermon from 20 years ago.  Also, who knows whether or not his views have changed?  I realize we’re all assuming Giglio probably adheres to the evangelical party line on gay rights, but the operative word here is assuming.  Absent actual knowledge of what Giglio believes right now, how can anyone take sides on his views?  More importantly, why does it seem like everyone has?

Giglio took the high road in his withdrawal.  His statement displays infinitely more class, tolerance, and grace than have the denunciations of him.  He could have been defensive.  He could have used the spotlight to hammer his views (whatever they are) home and start a major fight.  He could have groveled and left us all to wonder whether or not he was apologizing sincerely.  He could have been sullen and terse about it.  Instead, he emphasized that this is not and never has been a major emphasis of his teaching, and that he would like to remain focused on stopping human trafficking.  Hate him if you want to, but he’s doing good things and refusing to be drawn off course in the midst of intense public shame.

Many of the Evangelical defenses of Louie Giglio seem suspiciously hypocritical.  Look, nobody reacts well to being called a bigot and treated like a leper, so I understand why so many evangelicals are so emotional in defending Giglio’s right to his views.  I understand why people feel like the United States does have a state religion, and it’s one that devalues evangelicals as well as our principles.  But as I read responses on blogs and on social media from the evangelical masses, I can’t help but wonder how many of them would be livid if a Republican president had asked Gene Robinson (yes, I know President Obama did in 2009, but imagine if it was a Republican) or Jeremiah Wright to pray.  Or a Muslim.  Or an atheist to give a non-theological benediction.  I’m guessing in such cases the reaction on the right would mirror the current row, which gives this the smell of hypocrisy.

House Hunters, Acne, and the Power of Kitchens

Christianity hinges upon several vital assumptions, one of which is that all people – without exception – are sinners who need help.  Most people, I should point out, react poorly to being told this about themselves; call a person a sinner, and the best you can hope for is that they laugh and credit you with an ironic wit.

In seminary, I took a class on evangelism in which the professor – a product of an era when street evangelism was socially acceptable in some places (the more I know about the 70s, the stranger they sound) – insisted we should seek to convert sinners into Christians in one conversation, and actually graded us on our attempts.  Overwhelmed with resentment towards the idea that the principles guiding my life could be packaged and sold in one conversation – and mindful of the fact that it generally takes two conversations to buy a cup of coffee at a drive-thru window – I found his prescribed methods abhorrent, and I marshaled all of my considerable stubbornness in an effort not to learn from him.  I failed.  This professor taught me that while nobody wants to hear that they’re a sinner, nobody is ignorant of this fact either.

I suppose I might compare it to a massive zit on one’s chin.  If your face erupts with an apple-sized pimple on your chin, you will probably react poorly to the tactless lout who brings it up.  This is true because it hurts, because you see it every time you look in the mirror, and because you don’t want to discuss something so unsightly and embarrassing.  But your unwillingness to make it a topic of conversation in no way diminishes your awareness of it.  You know about the fruit growing on your face, and you know about your sins, but you probably find equal pleasure in discussing them, particularly with strangers.

____________________

I bring this up because over my holiday travels I indulged in a guilty pleasure that illustrated to me the ubiquity of pride, greed, and other nasty sins in all of our hearts.  I watched two episodes of House Hunters on HGTV, and couldn’t believe at the ugliness exposed by such an innocuous show.  Who knew that House Hunters could be a window into the hidden pollution of the human heart?

____________________

Before I continue, let me clarify a few things.  For one thing, if you had a way to conceal the aforementioned pimple, you would do so.  That’s what we do with things that embarrass us: we hide them.  Unbecoming attitudes and sins – greed, pride, lust, et al. – are exactly the same; we conceal them as best we can.  And the degree to which one succeeds at covering such sins is directly related to the esteem with which one’s social graces are held.  In general, the less obvious your sins, the more likable, respected, and ‘normal’ you will be considered.

I state the obvious truth above so you’ll understand what I mean when I tell you that the home buyers I watched on television seemed pretty normal and well-adjusted.  Of course, that’s how they want us to see them, but I maintain that they were in no way obviously rapacious or narcissistic; as they were introduced, I felt like I knew (and liked!) dozens of people just like them.

Then they started looking at houses.  Wow.

____________________

If you’ve never watched House Hunters (or House Hunters International), I should also clarify that it’s more scripted documentary than reality television.  What I mean by that is that nobody throws drinks in anybody’s face, nobody schemes about the downfall or degradation of anyone else on the show, and the producers never make obvious use of editing to add drama to the show.  Instead, the show pairs a realtor with a person or couple who are shopping for a house, films the realtor showing them three options, and reveals the home buyer’s choice at the end of the show.  The drama is entirely in the struggle between the house hunter(s) and their ability to realize their dreams on the budget they have.

Believe me when I tell you that it is drama, by the way.  The house hunters are filmed in the midst of a quest to realize some part of the American dream, and that means that the cameras capture glimpses of what the hunters have spent decades learning to conceal.  A person can spend her whole life claiming to have simple tastes and feigning indifference about all manner of superficial home luxuries, but in the moment of decision before spending $400,000 on a new home, the truth emerges.

More often than not, it happens in the kitchen.  It starts with the pride evident as the potential buyer expresses ridicule and contempt for the current homeowner’s taste in kitchen lighting or layout or counter material or cabinet color or any one of 100 changeable details.  Preferences are expressed as absolutes, wants are expressed as needs, and the home buyer presumes to be an arbiter of truth and taste when it comes to architecture, interior design, and construction materials.  In short, the perfectly normal house hunters become insufferable in their self-regard as the show unfolds, and like a zit too massive to hide, sin announces its presence.

____________________

I’ll omit the specific maladjustments evident in the buyers in the episodes of House Hunters I watched over the holidays; they’re not actually the point.  The point is that these insufferable buyers were just like all the other house hunters.  The point is that they were just like me, and just like you.

We’re all sinners, and – like that class taught me – we all know it, and with time we learn to hide it.  Being at the precipice of realizing a dream, however, creates a circumstance in which our efforts to hide our self-regard are in conflict with the opportunity to let our desires off their leash.  And when that happens, our selfishness slips into the open.  It happens basically every episode on House Hunters, but I imagine that’s only because it happens in home buying whether there are camera crews involved or not.  House Hunters just happens to show people when their defenses are down.  And that – along with the gorgeous houses – is what makes it such a great show: in just ½ an hour, we first get to see each house hunter how they wish they were, and then we see who they really are.

So remember that the next time you contemplate changing your kitchen.  No matter how nice it is or how nice you make it, the insufferable narcissist who buys your house next will mock you for how it looks.  Just like you will the next time you buy a house.  Apparently, that’s where we’re worst at hiding our sins: in the kitchen.

Top Ten Embarrassing Evangelical News Stories of 2012 (Part 2)

2012 is gone, and with it died the opportunity for the following five newsmakers to escape my naughty list.  In the event you missed it, I introduced and presented the first half of my Top Ten Embarrassing Evangelical News Stories of 2012 here.  And now, the five most embarrassing evangelical news stories of 2012:

5) Lifeway Christian Stores Refuses to Shelve Rachel Held Evans’ Vagina             Lifeway is owned by the Southern Baptists, which makes it the most powerful retailer in the world of Christian publishing.  Rachel Held Evans, meanwhile, is an evangelical nonfiction writer and blogger with a gift for both clarity and angering certain misogynistic corners of the evangelical kingdom.  The two clashed this year when Held Evans’ book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, was published by Thomas Nelson but Lifeway refused to sell it in their stores.  Lifeway wouldn’t say why, but Held Evans speculated that it was because the book – which chronicled a year of her life spent adhering as literally as possible to every biblical directive for women – included the word vagina.

Admittedly, Held Evans was never actually told that the word vagina was the issue for Lifeway, but that’s the story that made the news and Lifeway couldn’t have been less concerned with correcting the public perception, so I’m going to offer a ruling that we’re free to draw our own conclusions. When it comes to vaginas, women, and thinking critically about scripture, I’ll be directing the benefit of my doubts to Rachel Held Evans and my embarrassment towards Lifeway.

4) The Squabble Between Dawn Harper, Kellie Wells, and Lolo Jones    As perhaps the 2nd most outspoken Christian athlete in the United States, Olympic hurdler (and now bobsledder) Lolo Jones received a mountain of attention before and during the London Olympics.  When she failed to medal in her race, however, while two of her American teammates performed to expectations and bested her, the fireworks began.  Harper and Wells – who finished second and third respectively in the women’s 100m hurdles – crowed on national television about their hard work, hinting that they deserved the spotlight that had instead shone on Jones to that point.  Jones, never out of the spotlight for long, was later given the opportunity to confirm on television that this hurt her feelings.

Which sounds like typically immature and narcissistic athletes arguing over glory and fame, except for the wrinkle that Harper and Wells – while inarguably less celebrated (media racism alert: they have darker skin) – are both outspoken Christians as well.  So the entire public feud over hurt feelings, earned medals, and media fame was the type of in-house Christian dispute that should never happen in public (and should really never happen, period), let alone at the Olympics and in the international news media.  And wow was I embarrassed for our entire evangelical tribe.

3) Mark Driscoll Condemns Twilight, but for Some Reason Also Seems to Fear Hot Moms            Seattle pastor, boor, and evangelical celebrity Mark Driscoll blogged his disdain for the Twilight franchise upon the release of the final film installment in November.  While many of his reasons for disliking Twilight appear perfectly defensible, his rant was bizarre enough to immediately earn him a spot in the week’s news.  In comparing the franchise’s impact on young women to that of porn on young men (since watching real surgically-altered junkies fornicating in the most degrading ways conceivable is exactly like vampires, werewolves, and a desire for true love), Driscoll was only getting warmed up.  The best (and arguably most embarrassing quote) reads, “Tragically, many will be driven by their parents, including some cougar moms encouraging and joining their daughters’ obsession with handsome young males.”

What do cougar moms have to do with it?  Why is it noteworthy that they drive?  Should mothers dress frumpily and feign loathing of attractive or young males?  Do good Christian moms encourage their daughters to pursue only ugly old men?  I have no idea, but Rev. Driscoll, you are beyond caricature.  And that makes you embarrassing.

2) Mark Sanford Plans to Re-enter Politics           You may remember in 2009 when the governor of South Carolina disappeared for about a week.  His staff claimed he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, which turned out to be untrue, and slowly it dawned on an incredulous America that the only person on earth who definitely knew the whereabouts of this evangelical governor – Mark Sanford, so we’re clear – was the man himself.  It turned out, of course, that he had decided he needed to spend some time with his secret Argentine mistress, so he lied to his wife, lied to his children, lied to his staff, lied to his security detail, lied to the people of South Carolina, left the country, passed a few days – including Father’s Day, on which he remained incommunicado even from his family – with his ‘soul-mate,’ and betrayed more of his professed evangelical convictions in one week than any politician in memory.

Governors are not allowed to go AWOL, and when the truth emerged he had no choice but to resign as perhaps the most disgraced politician of all time.  Oh wait, no he didn’t.  He shamelessly served out the rest of his term, although the South Carolina House of Representatives censured him, his wife moved out (with the kids) and subsequently divorced him, and those of us with faith in humanity thought we’d heard the last of him.

Of course, those of us with faith in humanity keep thinking we’ve heard the last of Marion Barry too, and it hasn’t been true yet.  Sanford announced his engagement to the Argentine mistress in August, and in December it emerged that he plans to run for the United States House of Representatives in 2014.  The announcement came with the usual insulting palaver about redemption, forgiveness, and second chances, and while we could spend our time dissecting the manipulative narcissism Sanford displays, I propose we should just agree to be embarrassed, and we can quibble over whether or not he’s truly an evangelical some other time.

1) Syrian Christians Suffer, American Media Notices American Christians Not Caring      I’ve observed before that the plight of Syrian Christians is unenviable (to understate it wildly).  A related observation, however, is the fact that much of what has been published on the plight of Syrian Christians has been published by the secular media.  Particularly noteworthy about these secular reports, however, has been what one can read between the lines in the restrained prose of the big-media writers: they seem confused as to why American Christians haven’t made the plight of Syrian Christians a bigger deal.

I can’t answer that question, but I am willing to bet that your church didn’t pray for Syrian Christians on Sunday, and it probably hasn’t looked into sending relief supplies either.  I don’t know why we don’t seem to care about them, but they’re hungry, they’re sick, they’re being dispossessed, they’re dying, and they’re our brothers and sister in Christ.  Also, most of us seem more outraged by Mark Sanford than by this ongoing travesty.

Looking ahead to 2013, Lifeway Christian Stores will still be run according to Southern Baptist sensibilities, Mark Driscoll will still be a boor, and Mark Sanford will still be a narcissist.  None of those embarrassments are within our control.  Our concern about Syria is.  The most embarrassing evangelical news story of 2012 is the only one we could ensure doesn’t recur in 2013, but it’ll take some effort.  Who’s up for it?