Book Review: Eve’s Revenge

Lilian Calles Barger has written a profound, powerful meditation on what it means to be a woman in the (post) modern world.  Eve’s Revenge argues that our culture teaches women to hate their bodies, to view them as enemies on the path to self-fulfillment.  She explores the roots of this worldview, the disembodied reality it creates, and the insufficient response (thus far) of the various aspects of the Feminist movement.  True to her thesis, Barger doesn’t settle for abstract, theoretical answers  to the disintegrated and dissatisfied world we experience.  Ultimately, Barger believes that the solution is an embodied faith in the crucified and resurrected Jesus of Nazareth, and she closes her meditation with practical, concrete advice for moving forward.

Barger writes as a women, to and for women, so as a male reader, I felt a bit as though I was listening in on someone else’s conversation, but never excluded.  Rather, I was challenged to reflect on what part I played (as a male) in creating the world Barger illuminates.  Even more, Barger’s passion drew me into her writing.  I was shocked at the reality most women today live; I mourned when I asked my wife, Amanda, about Barger’s commentary and she confirmed its accuracy.  As an academic, Barger demonstrates that she is as well-versed and clever as anyone, and the emotion of her rhetoric was a breath of fresh air.  I didn’t feel as though I was just listening to Barger’s mind; I felt as though she was baring her soul.

Barger’s book is a welcome, refreshing voice in the ongoing conversation about sex and sexuality.  With honesty, clarity and transparency, Barger invites us to find wholeness by resisting what our culture teaches us about ourselves – body and soul.

Bottom line: It’s a difficult book on a lot of levels, and if you read it, you won’t look at yourself or the world the same again. So what are you waiting for?

Speaking of… Conversations on the Road

How often do you speak or teach?  Or how often do you communicate ideas to someone else in the hopes that they’ll change their thinking or behavior?

I’ve been writing and delivering talks for about 6 years now in a pretty full-time capacity (on at least a weekly basis).   That means I’ve probably prepared over 600 little nuggets of wisdom that some poor souls were fortunate (?) enough to endure.

Because believe me, most of them have been pretty rough.  And while I’ve wrestled with the content of my talks/lessons/studies/sermons/discussions/etc. as long as I’ve been speaking, it’s only been in the past couple of years that I’ve really put much effort into the style of my talks, the way I deliver them.  And I have to say that as I’ve put more work into the style, the degree to which my audience absorbs and adopts my content has improved dramatically.

I’ve learned that just saying something true isn’t enough to change someone’s life.  We have to learn how to say it well.

So over the next few weeks, I wanted to reflect on some of the lessons I’ve learned in the past few years about speaking.  And whether you’re a speaker or not, I hope you find some stuff that will help you communicate better.  And share your tips with me!

Today, just this:

Who you’re addressing should affect what you say.

One of the study groups I put together in Guatemala in order to figure out where they were.When I prepare a talk, I look at it as a journey.  I am usually trying to convince you (my audience) of the truthfulness of an idea, or the worthiness of a practice to be implemented in your life.  So as I prepare, I think about what your thoughts and opinions are.  In most of my speaking engagements so far, I have been able to assume (rightly, as it turns out) that most of my audience are on the same basic journey that I had to go on, so I have been able to craft my talks so that they follow my own journey of discovering this particular truth or practice.

But one time…

Two of the youth workers with whom I got to bum around Quetzaltenango for two days. I was invited to speak at a pastors’ conference in Guatemala, and when they found out that I was a youth minster, they scheduled a youth rally.  They asked me to speak three times on youth ministry – once to the Guatemalan youth workers, once at the youth rally and once to the senior pastors about Youth Ministry.

I was excited, but also at a loss.  I had no idea what Guatemalan culture, Church culture or Youth culture were like.  What struggles they faced or what questions they were asking. 

We landed in Guatemala City and spent a day traveling to Quetzaltenango on the other side of the country.  Our driver, Carlos, was the head of the Guatemalan Baptist Youth Conference, so I was able to question him a bit.  But I really wasn’t able to write my talks until the following night, after I was able to share a room with the Guatemalan youth workers.  We spent a couple of hours just talking about how they do ministry and what their challenges are.  I learned that almost every ministry there faced two common problems:

  1. The persons they invited to their church communities didn’t come back.
  2. Their senior pastors would not let them implement creative, nontraditional strategies for sharing the Gospel.

I spent the first night, then, teaching on a model of community that encouraged return visits.  And the next day, I spoke with the pastors about creative, nontraditional incarnations of the Gospel in Guatemala (and that talk was followed by 45 minutes of questions and answers).

Because I learned their journeys, I was able to communicate effectively a message they needed and wanted to hear.

As I consider who my audience is and where they are on the conceptual journey I want to travel with them, I am able to craft my talk in such a way as to invite them on that journey with me.  My steps become their steps.

And because I invite them to engage my material this way, they are more likely to own my conclusions as their own.  They don’t just take my word for it; they have walked this road themselves.

So when you speak, who is your audience?  And what are you doing to lead them to your conclusions (as opposed to standing at the end of the road and yelling at them to catch up)?

A Death in Reflection

The final installment of my reflections on the life and death of John Barnes, my grandfather.

FW - Barnes I had driven down that road dozens of times.  And I had parked in that driveway just as often.  Every step I took towards the door was intimately familiar.  As was the doorknob I gripped and the entry way.  It wasn’t until I turned the corner into the living room that I noted the first difference.

A hospice bed.  Where the couch had always been.

And on the bed a wizened, crumpled form, barely larger than a child, and wrapped in a white sheet.  It took me several moments to realize that form was my grandfather John.

Amanda and I had flown into Kansas City to spend a few of John’s last days with him.  His kidneys were shutting down as a result of his lung cancer, which in turn had resulted from smoking for three quarters of a century.

John’s long and full life was almost over.

And I couldn’t help but observe how undignified death is.  I’d experienced death before, but this was the first time I’d ever watched someone in the process of dying.

For the next two days, we sat with John as he wasted away.  We fed him bits of toast and pieces of peaches.  He slept often and while he was awake he was barely coherent.  He didn’t know where he was, occasionally didn’t recognize us.  And he was scared and sick and all of this made him mean.  Undignified.  But as I sat with him, I saw two pictures of grace, beauty that even then grew out of the indignity of death.

These two moments will remain with me forever:

John had pulled himself up to sit on his bed and was complaining that he was tired and wanted to go home (he was home).  And my grandmother, Helen, went to him.

She sat down beside him.

And she spoke softly to him.  Whispered into his ear.  And scratched his back.

She held him and sat with him and even as he lashed out at her she stayed beside him.

John and Helen would have been married 60 years this July.  And in their interaction, in Helen’s loyalty and faithfulness to John, I bore witness to a picture of God’s loyalty and faithfulness to us in the midst of our pain and suffering.

God is faithful to us even when we lash out against him.

In another moment, Helen and Amanda had left, and I was alone with John.  He woke up, and in one of his more lucid moments looked at me and scoffed, “You and your tattoos.” (John was never a big fan of my ink.)

I laughed and we had a brief conversation about God.  My mom had told me that in the last year or so of his life, John had begun to doubt his picture of the afterlife.  I and his pastor had both had conversations with him, and one of those conversations must have come back to his mind in that moment, because he looked at me and spat out, “You don’t have any more idea than I do what happens next.”

I have discussed in two of my previous posts John’s faith, which he expressed primarily through his embodied life as a part of the Mound City, KS community.  John was an active part of his faith communities throughout his life, and his faith was lived out through his physical presence in the world – his generosity and service – much more so than through his thought and contemplation.

I sat by John as he lay dying and questioning and I wondered if a short season of doubt at the end of a long, full life can invalidate a lifetime of service and giving, of embodying the Gospel.

And I thought of the man who came to Jesus, asking for his daughter to be healed.  Jesus told him that all things were possible to them who believed and the man cried out,

“I believe!  Help my unbelief!”

Jesus told the man – doubts and all – that his daughter had been healed.  And the guy had to leave, travel a day and a half back to his home, not knowing anything about his daughter’s health.

His actions proved his faith, even when his thoughts couldn’t.

I held John’s hand as he slid back into the stupor of the dying.  And as he slept, I reflected on these things.

God is faithful to us.  And I truly believe that our actions speak at least as loudly as our words.  And hopefully, sometimes, even louder.

John was dead less than two weeks later, his body finally giving up in its long struggle against death.  And I mourned then, and mourn still, but it is a sorrow laced with hope.

I believe that, because Jesus’ resurrection is an embodied reality, I haven’t seen the last of John.

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
— 1 Corinthians 15:55

25 Reasons I Love My Wife

Manda Head Shot So if you didn’t know, today is my wife, Amanda’s 25th birthday.  It’s her ‘Golden Birthday’, which is when you turn the age that is the same number as the day of your birthday (so, 25 on the 25th).  In honor of this special occasion, I present to you 25 reasons I love my wife (in no particular order).

1. She’s a reader.  I love that both of us read a lot.  She is always reading something – usually that I haven’t read.  It makes for some great discussions, and we can kill hours in a bookstore together.

2. She has great style.  One of our first conversations revolved around our mutual love for Chuck Taylors.  She has a unique fashion sense that means she always looks great and probably different from anyone else in the room.  In the best way.

3. She is a people person.  We’re both super-extroverted, so she loves having a housefull of guests as much as I do.  She’s wonderful with people and has never met a person she couldn’t make into a friend.

4. She’s smoking hot.  But I don’t have to tell you that.  Clearly she is the hottest woman on the planet.  Sorry, fellas!

Triceratops 5. She listens to great music.  We have the same taste in music, more or less, and she’s always up for heading to a show with me, or picking up a new CD from one of our favorite bands.  She only sings along when I do too, because I sing way louder.  But it’s still fun.

6. She loves coffee.  This is good because we work at a coffee shop, but also because we can drink it together in the mornings.

7. People like her better than me.  No exaggeration, and no lie.  I have a tendency to be too blunt and not very compassionate.  She balances me very well in that regard.  And I think it’s pretty awesome how much everyone loves her.

8. She is a great leader.  She quickly earns the right to speak truth into other people’s lives, and she does so with grace and gentleness.  It’s quite a thing to watch, and she inspires fierce loyalty in those she calls friends.

Creation Museum 2 9. She thinks about stuff from a theological perspective.  Even though she’s not formally trained in theology like me and a lot of my friends are, she doesn’t hold back from jumping into a conversation and offering her thoughtful opinion.  She does a great job of considering all aspects of an issue, and she offers really practical advice.  Speaking of which…

10. She is always very practically minded.  At the end of the day, I’ve typically been content to contemplate abstract and detached theological ideas.  Amanda is always concerned with how this changes our lives in the here and now, how we can put something into practice.  She has taught me a lot about how to make the Scriptures and my faith more real.

11. She listens to my sermons at least 4 times.  By the time I preach a sermon, I’ve usually talked it through at least 4 times.  And usually Amanda has heard most of those practices, offering me critiques and feedback to make my talk more focused and practical.

12. She gives great feedback.  Yup… like I just said, her feedback is really good.  It’s thoughtful and helpful.  My talks are always better after I’ve given them for her, and she does a great job of helping me come up with solid, concrete content that relates better.

13. She’s fluent in Spanish.  Like for real fluent.  Remember how I said people love her?  You should see her in a Spanish-speaking country.  At least 3 different people told her her Spanish was better than theirs.  She’s truly a marvel to watch in action.

El Sal Group 1 14. She loves to travel.  You know how she got fluent in Spanish?  By living in Spain.  Oh yeah, and Mexico.  And El Salvador.  And she’s going to Honduras twice this year.  I love that she loves to travel so much.

15. She plays Guitar Hero.  She doesn’t play a lot of video games, but she does play Guitar Hero like a fiend.  And she’s just bumped up to Hard for a couple of songs, so watch out world.  The only thing better than rocking out at a concert together is rocking out in our TV room together.

16. She enjoys Sci-Fi.  She has a soft spot for Star Trek and we watched (and loved) Battlestar Galactica together, and discussed it much.  That is way hot.

17. She’s adventurous.  If you haven’t picked up on this by now, she’s the first one out the door when it’s time to explore Dayton or drive across the country to visit a friend.  We’re rarely ever home.

Brandon and Manda 18. She loves her family.  She has a huge extended family, and most of them live in the immediate vicinity of St. Louis, so they’re all very close.  It’s a lot of fun to hang out with all of them, and – no shocker here – they all love her quite a lot.

19. She has tattoos.  Not just a couple, but lots.  And she’s working on her 3/4 sleeve right now, which is blowing my mind.

20. She loves going to concerts.  And she loves getting in the Pit.  This is important.

21. She does hair for fun.  If you’ve never had Manda work on your hair, you don’t know what you’re missing.  For real.  This is one of her many forms of artistic expression.

22. She disciples really well.  If you haven’t figured it out by now, people are drawn to Manda, and she is always on the lookout for younger persons to mentor.  She does a great job of helping them to discover how to live in the story of the Gospel.

23. She serves better than anyone I know.  She is up and serving before most other people have even figured out there’s a need.  I love doing things like Target: Dayton with her, but she has an eye for the little, everyday needs that escape me.  She’s incredible!

24. She uses technology without being addicted to it (blogs, TomTom, etc.).  While I have a gadget addiction, Amanda is a lot more balanced.  She can use pieces of tech for what they do well without becoming obsessed with them (read: unlike me).  She is a great check for me in my gadget obsessions.

25. She has the Sermon on the Mount memorized.  Before she started on her 3/4 sleeve (which is Sermon on the Mount-themed), she decided to memorize the whole thing (Matthew 5-7) and spent a couple of months diligently doing so.  I’m blown away.  Impressed and in awe.  She’s so awesome!

There you have it… 25 of the 100s of reasons I love my wife.  And what about you?  What do you love about Amanda?

Engagement Session 6

A Sabbath Still Remains…

John and Amanda at our wedding rehersal. He is no doubt being sassy.  You can tell because...

Third in my reflections on the life of my Grandfather, John Barnes.

In my last post, I recounted John’s work ethic – that as a young husband and father he frequently worked up to 20 hours per day.  Even as a young boy, I remember going with Grandpa to the rock quarry where he worked.  My siblings, cousins and I would spend hours climbing the giant piles of lime and gravel while John filled trucks and ran the quarry.  When we returned to the farmhouse (and, later, the house by the lake), John would spend hours outside, tending to his garden or fishing.

Old Maid is super fun. And will give small children an ulcer. Proven fact.Rook was created because some Christians refused to use face cards due to their derrivation from Tarot cards. True story!Even after he finally retired, he spent countless hours out in the Mound City community,   And while John certainly played well – he was almost always up for a game of Rook or Old Maid – I remember most that he worked.  And in the last few years, when he got more and more sick, and just couldn’t get out and work anymore, it stole away his soul.  It wasn’t a dramatic sort of thing.  He just gradually became more and more miserable.

  John was a worker, and when he couldn’t work anymore, a real and important part of him died.

Such were my thoughts as I stood under a tent at the Wesley Chapel Cemetery, surrounded by my family, all of us facing the casket that held John’s body.  I thought about John the farmer.  I thought about Adam the farmer.  And the words of Genesis 3 rang in my mind even as the minister declared, “Ashes to ashes; dust to dust”:

“Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

...of the snarky grin on his face. This mischevious grin, as well as Amanda's reaction, were common occurences.

John worked hard.  And in this, he participated in the story of Adam, the story that is our story.  By his own toil and sweat he brought forth life for his family and – through his generosity – to his community.  And in this way, John also participated in the story of the second Adam.  John’s love for those around him was evident despite his gruff exterior, and he worked hard, he sacrificed for his loved ones – his friends and his family.

So as I stood, watching his casket, tears flowing down my cheeks even as rain kissed the canvas over our heads, I recalled for myself what the writer of Hebrews said concerning that second Adam, whose own labors on behalf of us, his beloved, are finished:

“Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins.  But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand.”
— Hebrews 10:11-12

I wept for my loss, for my mother and grandmother and family.  But I understood what it means to mourn as those have hope.  John was adamant that his death be marked with celebration and I left the graveside overcome by joy rather than sorrow.  Because after a long life full of work, John Barnes was finally at rest.

“So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his.  Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest.”
— Hebrews 4:9-11

Generosity and Community, but Blunt.

The Mound City Post Office displayed this sign for a few days before the funeral.  The POST OFFICE. This doesn't happen in cities.  Or even big towns, for that matter.This series of posts comprise my reflections on the life of my grandfather John Barnes. The first entry is here.

A few years after John and Helen married, Eastern Kansas was struck by a pretty severe drought that left their small family in dire straights (since John was a farmer).  They were unable to pay their gas bill, but the owner of the station knew John and extended him credit for over a year until they could harvest a good crop and begin to recover from the drought.

When I first heard this story, I was overcome by the generosity of the store owner.  Such an act of kindness is far from commonplace in my culture.  Credit is offered by VISA and MasterCard, not by a local business owner, and we don’t do business with the same persons often enough that they know our names, much less vouch for our honesty and work ethic in so tangible a way.

That singular act of generosity is a window for me into John’s world; he and my grandmother were unfailingly generous as well.  I remember snippets of conversations overheard by my young ears – discussions between my mother and her brothers about some loans Grandma and Grandpa had made.  I never really knew the persons in question nor did I fully grasp what had actually transpired (I was far to busy exploring the barns or swimming in the lake to be troubled by such grownup concerns), but I do remember that they always seemed to give more than most everyone else thought they should.

I also remember when a good friend of theirs was finally dying.  Her husband had long since died, and she had no children to care for her (whether she had never had children or they were not there for some other reason I never knew), so my grandparents cared for her for a long time, visiting her several times every week and helping her to put all her affairs in order.  Small town gossip being what it is, several persons in town began to speculate that they were trying to weasel into her will.  I’ll never forget that my Grandma looked  at me and said, “I don’t know how anyone could think such a thing.  She’s our friend.”  John simply nodded his agreement.

That was John Barnes to me.  He didn’t say much.  And when he did speak, it was straight to the point (for instance, when I got my first tattoo – Hebrew on my left forearm – I knew instantly that he was not thrilled.  He asked me what it said, and when I started to tell him, he cut me off by exclaiming, “It says bulls*** to me.”  That was the first time I ever heard him cuss.)  For most of my life, I’d always taken his gruffness to be a sort of sullen anger – as my mother pointed out in her funeral reflections, he always could throw a good fit.  But in retrospect, I realize that John was just a simple man.  Not intellectually; as my uncle Jim said, “He didn’t say much, but he didn’t miss much either.”

No, I wonder if John’s simplicity was a sort of embodied honesty.  He worked hard.  He loved well.  He lived in a community that respected hard work but that caught you when you fell.  And he didn’t see much point in trying to be anything other than what he knew.

There’s an authenticity there that many of us are missing.  The communities in which we live have become so detached, so disembodied that we now have to seek out those experiences that were part-and-parcel of John’s every-day-life.  And we’re having to learn to be real in a way that he never did.

John wasn’t perfect; far from it.  And that’s the point.  If you knew John, you knew him flaws and all.  He never had a conversation about ‘taking off masks’ or ‘tearing down walls’ in his community.  I’m not sure those conversations would have even made sense to him, so far are they removed from his lived experiences.

It makes me wonder what we have to learn from actual communities actually living in community.  Where your loss is my loss and your win is my win.  I wonder what we can do to begin to reclaim that level of honesty in our lives.  I wonder how we can move back towards an embodied sense of community.

Any thoughts?

A Man of the Land

John on our wedding day... in his signature overalls and wearing yellow to match my grandma, Helen. John Barnes died on Sunday, March 20 at 2:30 am, Central Time.  He died on a hospice bed in the living room of the house he’d occupied for nearly 20 years, surrounded by his wife and two of his four children.  He was 82 years old (b. December 19, 1927) and had lived in Mound City, Kansas his whole life.

He was, among many other things, my grandfather.

And he was, among many other things, a farmer.  A man of the Land.  I learned a lot about my grandpa in the process of his death, and in the next few posts, I want to reflect on what I learned about and from him in the last few weeks of his life.

John grew up farming with his father and brother, and after he married Helen in 1950, they struck out on their own.  Soon, John bought a lime truck and began hauling lime.  His days soon looked like this:

Wake up before dawn, take lime truck to quarry and start hauling at dawn.

Home around 7:00 pm.  Eat dinner.

Farm until early morning.

Sleep a few hours.

From the stories I heard, Grandpa started out with pretty much nothing.  He worked sometimes 20 hours per day and was at the mercy of the Earth.  Some years there were drought; some years they had less.

For a man like John Barnes, the amount of work he did was directly proportional to how much he had.

This is not the world in which we live today.  The world of Office Space in which we do just enough not to get fired.  We live in a world of salaries and benefits, a world in which we are told we ‘deserve’ a certain amount based on how much education we have or the persons we know but – very rarely – the quality of work we do.

For the vast majority of us, job reviews or performance evaluations are a joke.  For John, a poor evaluation was his children’s growling stomachs.

One thing I’ve always remembered about my grandfather was that he didn’t take what he didn’t earn.  No, that’s not right.  He was a very generous man, and he had received generosity often in his life (more on this in the next post).

He accepted gifts and generosity without expecting them.

He worked as hard as he could and never felt entitled to anything.

And that’s something I took away from my grandfather’s death.  Somehow we in my generation have developed a strong sense of entitlement.  We feel the Earth owes us something, that the mere fact of our existence entitles us to health and wealth.

Our culture has become increasingly disembodied, ever further detached from the Earth that was created to sustain us.  In the hours I spent with my grandpa just before and after his death, I was able to peek into a different world, a different culture.

“And to the man he said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.  It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains.  By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”
–Genesis 3:17-19

Crucify Him!

Here is a responsive reading Jason and I wrote for our Good Friday gathering.  Four of us each presented on a day of Holy Week, and then we each took turns as the “Speaker” while the congregation played the part of the Crowd.

Responsive Reading

Speaker: Jesus’ disciples brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it. Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting

Crowd: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!

Speaker: Tell me, what do you expect of this Jesus who is called the Messiah?

Crowd: We expect one who confronts our enemies.

Jason: He will not confront your enemies before he first confronts you.

Crowd: We expect one who agrees with us.

Sheila: He will not agree with you. He will question you and challenge you.

Crowd: We expect one who fights for us, who defends us and celebrates over us.

JR.: He will not fight for you. He will weep for you. And he will die for you.

Crowd: We expect one who rules us, whose strong arm empowers us.

Keven: He will not empower you. He will serve you and wash your feet.

Crowd: We expect the Lord to prepare a table before us, in the presence of our enemies.

Keven: He will not give you a table. He will offer himself as bread and drink.

Speaker: I tell you the truth — this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know him.

Crowd: Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!

Speaker: He was arrested. And they came to you, and said to you, “”You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean.”

Crowd: I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Speaker: These people were with Jesus of Nazareth.

Crowd: We don’t even know the man.

Speaker: You must be one of them; we can tell by the way you speak.

Crowd: A curse on me if I’m lying – I don’t know the man!

Speaker: And so Jesus was handed over to Pilate. And Pilate brought forth Jesus and a criminal called Barabbas. “Whom do you want me to release for you, Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

Crowd: Give us Barabbas!

Speaker: And what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

Crowd: Crucify him!

Speaker: What should I do with this one who comes in the name of the Lord?

Crowd: Crucify him!

Speaker: What should I do with this one who challenges us instead of our enemies?

Crowd: Crucify him!

Speaker: What should I do with this one who refuses to make us comfortable?

Crowd: Crucify him!

Speaker: What should I do with this one who embraces death rather than fighting for his life?

Crowd: Crucify him!

Speaker: What should I do with this one who claims to be a King but who acts like a servant?

Crowd: Crucify him!

Speaker: What should I do with this one who offers us nothing except his body and blood?

Crowd: Crucify him!

Speaker: What should I do with this one who has failed to meet our expectations?

Crowd: Crucify him!

Speaker: What should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?

Crowd: Crucify him!

Speaker: I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.

Crowd: His blood be on us and on our children!

Speaker: It will be as you say. Take him away and crucify him. Amen and amen.

What do you think?  Does this reading do a good job of drawing you into the narrative of Holy Week?  Is it too harsh?

Bringing Sexy Back?

I want to wrap up this series by reflecting on the conversation PETA has started with these ads, and what we might learn from them.

PETA’s work is important, and worth our attention.

While I don’t agree with all of PETA’s values or methods, I believe their message and voice are important.  Our culture has made the exploitation of creation for our own convenience and pleasure the rule of the day.  We seldom give second thought to what we eat, wear or drive and how it affects the world around us.

Christians do have a responsibility to Creation, and we would get a lot further by partnering with organizations like PETA.  We don’t have to agree with everything they do, but instead of condemning them, we can offer a helpful voice of critique.  And if we listened a little bit more closely to what they’re saying we can learn something as well.

PETA’s ads raise several important questions we must take seriously.

1. When did you last give thought to where the products you use originated?

If you’re like me, the answer is: a long time ago.  I use animal products – I eat meat, I wear leather, etc.  And I’m not against killing animals as a rule.

But take a look at this horrifying video of a fur farm (if you have the stomach for it).  I don’t wear fur, but this video gave me pause because in watching it, I realized that I need to be more conscious of what I consume.  The way we treat creation says a lot about our picture of the creator, and I believe we can treat animals more humanely than they’re usually treated in our mass-production mills.  (Another great resource to get you thinking is the film Food, Inc.  You can get it on Netflix OnDemand if you’re a subscriber!)

2. What are we doing to live out our convictions?

A lot of the power of PETAs ads comes from the status of the persons they feature.  Each of these persons (allegedly) has some sort of influence over a number of other persons and they choose to leverage that influence to support a cause in which they believe.

PETA works very hard to change your mind.  They work so hard because they’re passionate about their message.  They’ll stop at nothing to save animals from unethical treatment.

I have an important message to communicate.  I’m passionate about it as well.  I bet you are too.  I want to go to the next-next level.  I want you to walk away from an encounter with my message unable to get it out of your head.  I want you to find it compelling.  I want you to mull it over for the next week (or more!).  PETA has encouraged me to step up my game.

3. Why are PETA’s ads so effective?

These ads are brilliant.  They’re smart and sexy (and for the record, I don’t think sexy has to be bad).  They communicate the same message on multiple levels and they have generated an enormous amount of attention.  I haven’t seen anyone in the Church do this effectively in a long time.

Which brings me to…

We would do well to learn from PETA’s communication techniques.

PETA is not the devil; they’re doing some good, and they’re working harder and more creatively than most faith-based organizations I’ve encountered.  They’re using the resources they have at their disposal and they’re using them well.  For me, they call to mind Jesus’ parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16:1-12).

Listen to what PETA had to say in defense of their ad campaigns: “As for the sexy women in our ads, the silly costumes, the street tableaux and the tofu sandwich give-aways, in a world where people want to smile, can’t resist looking at an attractive image and are up for a free meal, if such harmless antics will allow one individual to reconsider their own role in exploiting animals, how can it be faulted? Yes, Peta could restrict its activities to scientific work, but how often do you read of that in the papers? It could just hand out lengthy tracts about ethics, but how many people would stop and take one, let alone read it? Any peaceful action that opens eyes, hearts and minds should be commended, not condemned.

I would debate whether the ads truly are peaceful – there’s a violence in pornography and in misappropriation – but that (important) debate aside, notice what PETA is doing: they recognize that just talking at people doesn’t effect change, that facts and figures (and, I would add, casually quoted Bible verses) don’t move us to alter our lifestyles.  So they appeal beyond our reason, to our emotions and to our identities.

HERO-JESUS-T-Shirt-Front-Design-M I wish that within the Church our communication was more creative and intention in the ways we communicate.  I don’t think that everything PETA did in these campaigns was right, but they are effective, original and creative – three words we can seldom apply to anything coming out of the Church.

PETA’s ads make me ask, “Am I using all my creativity to generate compelling and original incarnations of the Gospel?  Am I working at what I’m communicating, or am I stuck in a rut, talking at instead of talking with?”

What we need is a better picture of healthy sexuality.

The short takeaway from this for me is: Until we as Christians develop a healthy picture of sexuality that is indebted more to thoughtful exegesis of Scripture than it is to traditional (read: Western, post-industrial revolution) gender roles and unreasonable, culturally-formed sexual expectations, we’ll never be able to do anything more than stomp our feet and throw a temper-tantrum when we discover cultural texts such as the PETA ads.  To borrow a line from Andy Crouch, our posture will always be one of condemnation, never one of critique and certainly not one of creativity.

And we desperately need creative and clever pictures of healthy sexuality in our culture right now.  If this study has taught me nothing else, it’s how broken we all are, how fully our culture screws up our picture of what it means to be sexually healthy.  I don’t have much of an idea of what this looks like yet, but it’s something I’m exploring pretty heavily for an upcoming series of posts.

For now, though, I’d really like to hear your thoughts about what constitutes a healthy sexuality.  Pretty please?

Coda: Better Late than Never?

One last note – one of PETA’s more recent campaigns is “Ink not Mink”, which features various tattoo-bearing celeb in an anti-fur message.  And best of all, most of them are male – from R&B artist Mario and rocker Tommy Lee to “Miami Ink”’s Ami James and “Jackass” star Steve-O.  And, of course, Dennis Rodman.  The ads are no less pornographic (with the possible exception of Steve-O, who is just absurd), but at least including men in the ads is more… balanced?

And in case any of you are unsure, these pictures are great examples are what NOT to do.

In A Godda Da Vida

In this series, I’m exploring a recent series of ad campaigns by PETA.  The ads are striking for their use of nude (or nearly so) minor-celebrities to creatively and cleverly promote various aspects of animal rights.  The first post explored PETA’s use of sexually suggestive imagery and text such that the models are dehumanized and thereby relegated to the moral level of animal.  The second post dealt more specifically with the “Angels to Animals” campaign in which (I argue) PETA misappropriates Christian religious imagery and language (the cross, rosary, concept of ‘savior’ and others).

In one regard, I believe I have not clearly communicated my intentions in this series of posts.  I do not believe that PETA is engaging in this advertising campaign maliciously.  I want to argue that these ads are indicative of larger cultural trends: we are dehumanizing ourselves through our (mis)use of sexuality and we are losing the unique and significant meanings of our Christian symbols.  PETA is not a Christian organization and so has no reason NOT to undertake this campaign. From a non-Christian perspective, the ads are, frankly, brilliant.  But more on THAT in the last post (coming next week).

The Eve of a New Day

Today, I want to focus on one last ad-campaign with which I’d like to dialogue: the “Turn Over a New Leaf” campaign.  The text of the ads is fairly innocuous by itself – ‘turning over a new leaf’ is a common idiom in our culture for trying something new, and the ads suggest that we try Vegetarianism.  So far, so good.  But I find fascinating how they’ve chosen to use their models.  Here are model/actress Pamela Anderson and actress actress Maggie Q.  Both women’s essential parts are covered in lettuce leaves, and they bear an uncanny resemblance to Eve, our first mother who gets a bad rap for – well, most of the rest of Western History.

Why use Eve?  She’s a complicated figure even within the Biblical text, and 6,000+ years of human history has only made her more complex.  Today she is both an object of scorn and a paragon of feminist virtue, an uber-woman who long ago escaped the texts in which we meet her to roam across our culture leaving a powerful impression.  For some Feminists, she’s become the ultimate example of choosing to embrace advancement against the threat of patriarchy.  As Lilian Barger argues in Eve’s Revenge:

Rubens_-_Adam_et_Eve[1]This act of eating forbidden fruit has in recent years been seen as a ritual of empowerment within feminist theology.  In this reinterpretation, the first woman is said to have been exercising power over her own life and challenging the existing order.  Through ritual eating of an apple we follow the first woman in an act of subversion, encouraged to overthrow the oppressive patriarchal power that has dominated us (136).

Is it a stretch to see in these ads this Eve, this empowering symbol?  I don’t think so; in fact, to use Eve in this way is clever and subversive in its own right.  Cruelty of any kind is often viewed as a male trait, albeit a lesser, undesirable one (see, for instance, the writings of Grace Janzten).  Vegetarianism, on the other hand, is often touted for its many health, ethical and social justice benefits.  It’s a short step from there to imagine that vegetarianism is, well, a little bit more evolved than omnivorism (quick shout out to my Veggi-minded friends who have never once made me feel this way for enjoying my steak!).

lisa_vegetarian[1] So Ladies, are you unhappy with your life?  Or perhaps more pointedly, given the ad’s choice of models, are you unhappy with your Self?  Then it’s time to go, girl!  Time to recreate yourself, to unleash the kind, clever, strong and beautiful woman trapped inside!  Turn over a new leaf and stop eating meat!  You’ll look and feel better than ever before.

This model of Eve is not the most healthy or helpful model available to us.

This rebel-against-patriarchy is not the most helpful picture of Eve.  In fact, I think the Genesis 2 narrative offers both men and women a more helpful answer to patriarchy.  I don’t have space for a full exegesis here, but briefly:

Genesis 1:27 reveals that the image of God is both male and female – that neither is complete without the other, and that both are necessary to embody the fullness of God’s image.  Genesis 2 affirms this by stating that “It’s not good that the man is alone.”  Woman is introduced as the man’s ezer, a Hebrew word that means ‘ally’, ‘partner’ or even ‘savior’ in other biblical texts.  It’s not until Genesis 3 we see hierarchy (read: patriarchy) introduced into the text.  As a result of the Fall, God tells the woman that her “desire will be for the man and he will rule over you.”  In this reading, patriarchy is the consequence of our choice – both Adam and Eve’s.  And more importantly, it’s a choice that is reversed at the Cross.  The church is meant to be a place in which gender is no longer linked to power (as Paul points out in Galatians 3:28).

So what’s wrong with the PETA ads?

Is PETA buying into the image of Eve-as-rebel?  I think so.  The message I see in these ads is a call to reinvent yourself in your Mother’s image, as a Vegetarian (is this a subtle appeal to Ken Hamm’s pals?).  Our path to overcoming patriarchy and (re)creating ourselves as stronger, moral persons runs through the Cross.  We don’t recreate ourselves, reverse the curse we brought down on ourselves.  We are renewed, regenerated, recreated through Jesus, who is even now making all things new.

image Of course, I don’t fault PETA for not creating advertisements consistent with a Christian worldview.  They’re not a Christian organization.

I wonder what might happen if we try to recover Eve as a model not of rebellious or anti-religious womanhood, but as a model of good and pure humanity, an example for both men and women to follow?  A model of a person who chose unwisely, but who through self-sacrifice and faith can be rescued from death.

Truthfully, I’m not sure a PETA ad inspired by that Eve would look a whole lot different.  So maybe I’m reading too much into these ads.  But they’ve at least given me pause to reflect on my own idea of gender roles.

To what sort of Eve are you drawn?  Does she figure prominently (or at all) in your theology or spirituality?

Next time: I want to take a step back and reflect on the issues this series has raised.  I’ll talk about what I really like in PETA’s ads and a bit more generally about what I think a healthy Christian response should be.