How to Turn Oppressive Government to Praise

I am currently listening to an audiobook by Tony Evans entitled, “How Should Christians Vote?”  (If you’re curious, it is free to download this month from ChristianAudio.com)  Figured it is a timely book for this election season, possibly giving me justification for my candidate of choice or perhaps challenging me to think more about my rights as a participant in this American democracy.  Even if I don’t learn anything new or don’t gain any new perspectives, it might help me to reorganize my thoughts as a civics teacher.

Today a quote stuck out to me and, for a rare moment, I will say that the context is not as important as the immediate words themselves.  Tony Evans is quoted saying, “An overextended government, an overtaxed citizenry limits the freedoms of individuals to pursue their callings under God…”  Indeed, there is more meaning to his words (in context) than I am about to share, but the personal application of that quote led me to many thoughts.

This is a fair assessment, in my opinion, of the United States’s government in 2012.  Politicians have overstepped their boundaries as established by the Constitution and the government has assumed far more responsibilities than the divine institution of civil government is designed for.  The political body has well intentions, but instead of liberating the citizen base and empowering them with self-sufficiency it binds them with dependency upon the state.  Excessive taxes stifle economic growth and cause more anxiety than necessary for the average American.

I fall into that category as a college educated individual, working long hours but making a low income.  I don’t blame the government for such struggles because my situation is a personal choice; I sacrifice pay for something I love and feel like I am making a difference in students’ lives.  But I do feel the economic pressures as a typical consumer.  Prices are rising while salaries are stagnant.  Politicians are calling for an increase in taxes to account for the climbing national debt and record numbers of welfare recipients.  The list could go on, but I am no economist.

I don’t understand all of the ins and outs of our economic woes but, like many others, I do feel the strain on my wallet.  Tony Evans’s quote made me ask myself, why do I allow monetary issues to limit my effectiveness as a teacher?  A friend?  A lover?  A warrior?  When I carry angst over the physical or the material, I am submitting to the government system as if it owns me when in reality I have been called apart from the world and pledge loyalty first and foremost to my God.  There is no problem or limitation of money that is too great for God to address.  Even if I don’t see how something will work, I can be assured that God will carry out His work.  He only asks that I trust Him and obey.

It is easy to criticize the government and lament about oppressive rule.  Putting faith in things that are unseen is far more difficult.  But if the government were more liberating, if the economy were stronger, then when I do accomplish the work I am called to do, who gets the praise?  The state.  Temporal powers and earthly rulers.  Instead, God can do mighty works in spite of a bad economy and in spite of  crooked government.  Under those circumstances, the God who can make something out of nothing deserves and will receive the praise.

Violence All Around Us

Last week’s movie theater shooting in Aurora, CO is undoubtedly fresh in everyone’s minds and, as a result, there has been much discussion surrounding the nature or prevalence of violence in American society.  The media networks are pouncing on this as a hot topic, politicians are using this event to drive gun control debates, and ordinary people are raising ethical questions as they share their thoughts and fears with family or friends.  It is a serious and sobering topic, especially as we draw a connection between violent images and real life tragedy.

I, too, have been vocal on the issue of violence in entertainment.  In particular, I am discouraging people from going to see The Dark Knight Rises in theaters or from pumping any more money into the franchise, just as I did four years ago with The Dark Knight.  Not surprisingly, my position is met with a lot of opposition and that is OK so long as my ideological opponents are willing to balance their cravings for entertainment with a critical mind.

With that preface in mind, this seems like a good time to clarify some personal views which I have voiced in conversation and to share some broader biblical truths related to the issue of violence:

#1 – Violence is all around us. This is one piece of evidence that we live in an abnormal world.  In an ideal and normal world, that may not be the case but the fact is that man sinned.  His rejection of God’s perfect order injected violence in the forms of both human aggression (Gen. 4:8) and natural rebellion (Gen. 3:17-19; Rom. 8:19-22).

#2 – Violence is inescapable.  Some will argue that God is all powerful and God is loving towards His creation; therefore God will intervene and stop the violence.  As a meta-narrative, their conclusion is accurate.  God will ultimately deliver His children from evil, but that is through the wide lens of a telescope. What we experience in day-to-day living is likened to a view through a microscope.  From that more narrow perspective, the premises are true but the conclusion is not.  Evil is a major problem to the original design for this universe against which violence must happen to eradicate it.  An all powerful and loving God will bring justice to counteract this disruptive evil but judgment is a very ugly, violent thing in itself.

What I mean when I say “violence is inescapable” is that it prevails for both parties in this abnormal world.  Those who are set on doing good will still encounter violence around them.  Those who are bent on doing violence will be met with violent judgment in return.  Biblical examples of this include the very controversial “holy” war carried out by Israel against the surrounding “wholly” corrupt nations and the plagues brought upon Egypt (respectively).

#3 – When violence originates in man, it does not take long to see the horrific effects.  Consider that when Cain slew Abel he invented the act of murder.  Humans, at that time in history were vegetarians – they didn’t even slay animals for food much less another person of their own kind!  And this was only the second generation of humans to walk the face of planet earth or, in other words, the first generation of humans to be born on planet earth.

With minimal effort, one can find many other biblical or historical examples of violence carried out in a hurried manner, above all the illegal and state-sponsored crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

#4 – When violence is carried out as part of God’s divine judgment, it is preceded by grace and thereby delayed.  Take, for instance, the violent flood that drowned nearly all of humanity and reshaped the entire planet.  God made his decision to eliminate the wicked human race (Gen. 6:11) but gave men the opportunity to repent and change their ways – over the course of 120 years! (Gen. 6:3)  He drove His own people, the nation of Israel, into captivity under a violent and oppressive regime as a means of purging their wickedness but only after warning them by dozens of prophets across several hundred years!

God’s judgment is violent because that is the only fair or truly just way of addressing the problem of evil.  It is likened to a calendar where you can rip the pages off and count down the days.  Until that day of judgment arrives, God extends his grace in more ways than we recognize.

#5 – Violence in shooting sprees of recent years is not new.  Some have claimed that we are experiencing a rapid increase in violent behavior and the world is a much more dangerous place than it was decades or generations ago.  I will allow the statistics to determine whether or not violent acts are more frequent.  I simply do not have, nor am I capable of interpreting, those hard numbers.  What I do know is that we have a heightened awareness of violent or large-scale crimes due to mass media as compared to previous, pre-internet eras. Also, in the words of Solomon, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecc. 1:9)  The crime is never original although maybe the artistry associated with the crime shows more creativity and boldness than before.  The Bible as the oldest history textbook in the world is thoroughly violent and graphic; 21st-century Americans didn’t invent this stuff.

#6 – Violence cannot be legislated effectively.  In light of recent events, a few are  awakening to the widespread presentation of violence and calling for its censorship from television, movies, video games, music, and literature.  Contrary to what you might expect from me, I must contest that government or otherwise public censorship is not the solution.  Besides the inherent flaw in this plan (revisit my point #2), this will result in more of our freedoms being taken away and it will only address the problem on a surface level.  The violent behaviors broadcast through news outlets arise fundamentally as a matter of the heart. Therefore, violence can only be monitored and censored effectively in the private sphere. Everyone, convicted felon or not, needs to re-examine their heart and submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  He submitted himself to the horrors of this world and died under violent conditions in order to free us from sin, from fear, and from eternal death.  He rules over this chaotic world and He alone can perform invasive surgery within the depths of our hearts.

KONY 2012 (Part 2): Fear for the World’s Future

In the fall of 2006, I saw posters appearing on my college campus to advertise the screening of a low-budget documentary called Invisible Children.  The film drew small numbers and many of those who attended the screening were only looking to satisfy a class requirement or to receive extra credit.  In actuality, that tiny audience was moved by the story that they heard.  They banded together, formed an activist group code-named Project Okello, and pledged to put an end to the evils experienced in Uganda (those aroused by the now-famous Joseph Kony).  Over the next few months, “Invisible Children” became a buzzword on campus.  More posters appeared on bulletin boards, dormitory walls, and bathroom stalls.  The film was presented twice more to the public that year and shown dozens of times to individual groups or clubs.  Curious as to what the hype was all about I, too, attended one of the screenings.

Invisible Children drew me in from the start with background music by Switchfoot, a favorite band of mine but one that probably reached their peak around the same time.  Then it tugged at my heartstrings when I saw the plight of real people just like myself.    Finally, I looked around at the wide range of captivated students and heard the concern in their voice during the Q & A sessions.  When all of these sensations collided it gave me an exciting feeling that I would be a part of a movement and that, ultimately, I could change the world.  I joined the ranks of Project Okello and, whenever convenient, participated in their events or fundraisers.

Now, almost six years later, I have no connections with the former group members, no allegiance to this “higher cause,” and no output to suggest that I ever made a difference.  My interest and motivation completely disappeared, that is, until I was reminded of my history with the release of a new film: KONY 2012. What made Invisible Children so gripping before?  And why might its successor be cause to fear the future?

Consider that we live in an image-based society, one in which visuals are more powerful than words.  To cite just a few examples: In the 21st century, movie tickets generally sell faster than copies of the printed books.  Companies build entire marketing strategies around logos and symbols.  USA Today delivers news through infographics and bite-sized articles saturated with photographs. Televised news craft stories and carefully select videos to play on their viewers’ emotions.  “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Coupled with the prevalence of image, consider also how these images are used. They are rarely haphazard.  More than words, images and motion pictures are powerful devices for propaganda.

For instance, several minutes of the KONY film are reserved for the producer, Jason Russell, to describe his relationship with his three-year old son.  He then proceeds to tell this young boy about a man who harms children and makes them soldiers for evil purposes.  When shown two photographs, the son easily points out which man is Joseph Kony and identifies him as the “bad guy” daddy is seeking to bring down.  While never explicitly stated, the message behind these images is clear: If a three-year old can tell right from wrong or separate the good guys from the bad guys, I should be able to as well.  Duh!

Images reach a broad audience and appeal to the senses, even when we are unaware.  It worked on me in 2006.  It worked on the world in 2012.  That is not to criticize the documentaries or their producer, only to explain why these films are so powerful.  In fact, I applaud Jason Russell for his skillful command of this medium in order to achieve a noble purpose.

But the downsides to this approach relate back to my own experience.  We are so saturated in images that we can lose sight of our mission quickly.  What was inspiring to people in March might not be so motivational in April, in May, or (dare I say) by December.  Within a year or even less time, the enthusiasm can die.  My point is this: If the world’s quest to bring down dictators and evil persons is driven exclusively by images or motion pictures, many of those villains will remain in power.  Regardless of whether the KONY campaign succeeds or not, many resources will inevitably be wasted in the process.

Thus leading to my next question and the second thing we have to fear: If the KONY campaign works, it will be a launching pad for future endeavors.  Jason Russell and his team have devised a system to mathematically evaluate their success.  According to the video, if you purchase one of their activism kits it will have a serial number which you can register online in conjunction with your Facebook account.  It is much like registering a new product with its manufacturer.  To sweeten the deal, you can even share your involvement with others through this means and encourage them to get involved in the cause with a click of a mouse.  That makes this campaign the first of its kind because all KONY-related activities can be tracked, identifiable to the user with nearly all users linked through social networking.

In theory, the strategy is brilliant.  If it puts an end to Joseph Kony’s reign of tyranny in Uganda I will celebrate with the next person.  But now what we have to fear is governments utilizing the same means to get whatever action out of their subjects that they want.  And it will not take much coercion.  Present the right images, prey upon emotions, and find a means to unify the masses through social networking.  I don’t wish to speculate what could be accomplished, but I can foresee a very powerful strategy playing into the wrong hands, advancing immoral or otherwise dangerous agendas.

In conclusion, do not let KONY be a repeat of Invisible Children where it seizes you with enthusiasm but dies as barely a memory.  Whatever happens to Joseph Kony, be aware that the methodology behind this campaign will endure as a new reality for us in the 21st century.  Be critically minded of what information you are fed, use sound judgment to determine whether it is worth joining the cause, and look for the cunning implementation of propaganda at every turn.

KONY 2012 (Part 1): Hope for America

My outlook on this country has turned very negative in the past few years.  Part of my pessimism stems from a greater awareness of the political climate, given my college education and current position as a civics teacher.  I also gripe because I am on the receiving end of any actions taken or decisions made by the state and federal governments.  Either way, an earnest conversation with me would quickly reveal that I have pride in Western civilization and the United States’ heritage, much disappointment in the United States as it stands (however feebly) today.

It is not surprising, then, that I often ponder questions like, “When was the golden age of the United States?”  “When exactly did we start to decline or what event/series of events prompted that?”  And most controversial of all: “How or when will the United States fall from its position as a world power?”  My sensational thinking always leads to imminent destruction, within the next 10 or 20 years to put a figure on it.  Fortunately, 2012 is not that year. There is hope for America as delivered by KONY 2012.

To understand the rise and fall of civilizations, the prosperity and captivity of a specific people group, one may invest a lot of time studying abstract histories or he may appeal first and foremost to the examples in the Bible.  In the Old Testament, the ancient Israelites went through two cycles of captivity and deliverance – first, in Egypt, then under the slavery of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires.  I am currently studying the latter of the two episodes through a course on the 8th century (B.C.) prophets and it sheds a lot of light on the matter.

God is involved in the life of His people; that includes all of mankind but in a time before Christ He would have shown a particular interest in the Israelites.  He made a legal contract with them, or a covenant, and both sides were expected to abide by the terms.  If Israel obeyed, they were richly blessed.  If Israel violated the terms, they were punished.  Sometimes God would express His wrath with direct intervention while other times He would submit the Israelites to the surrounding political climate.  The Assyrians and the Babylonians naturally fit into this picture.

So how did God determine when they were no longer fit to rule themselves?  He could have arranged this much earlier than He did but that’s not the point in this post.  I am discovering (and finally internalizing) how concerned God is with human affairs and how much He desires that justice is carried out.  When people hurt, God hurts for them.  This is precisely the condition of Israel in the 8th century B.C.  The nation was wealthy and prospering, but only on the plight of its own people.  The rulers, the judges, and the wealthy land owners had found ways to exploit the agricultural community through illegal and immoral means.  They violated the contract again and again, taking advantage of a powerless and now impoverished people group.  The rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer, all the result of an initial contract that had been violated gradually over time.  When He could not bear the injustice any longer, God turned Israel over to its surrounding enemies.  Their time had come.

Moral of the story: we reap what we sow.  And the comparisons I am finding between an ancient civilization and the history of the United States are startling. But our time has not come; there is hope.  While politicians overstep their jurisdiction, judges take advantage of their power, and the so-called 1% get wealthier at the expense of their communities, I find that Americans are not as bad as they’re portrayed.  The release of KONY 2012 reveals a calculated attempt to bring about justice – not to ourselves but to another people in a remote part of this world.  It is a call that millions are rallying around, from the humble worker to the exalted celebrities and all groups in between.  Somehow, in the midst of economic and political turmoil, this country has found a way to rise above our own problems and consider the dire needs of others.  I am not saying that this one video or this one movement will acquit the United States from judgment, but what I am saying is that KONY 2012 is symbolic of a people that can still be redeemed.  It represents millions of hearts that have been activated for a cause greater than themselves and a concern for those who can’t help themselves. Surely, this must be a pleasing response to God.

KONY 2012: Hope for America and Danger for the Future

If you don’t live under a rock, you will know that this was a big week for Jason Russell and his non-profit organization Invisible Children.  They released the mini-movie entitled KONY 2012 and within 48 hours it went viral across the web.  How do I know that this is a big deal?  Because I don’t even have a facebook account and I heard so much buzz on or off the internet that it made me wonder what was capturing everyone’s attention.

The video sparks many reactions and I, like millions of others, was moved.  In response, I am posting a two-part series to identify the promise and the scare behind this movement.  By design, The Workshop of Worship is about “reclaiming the carefree spirit of a childlike faith,” but the reality of our fallen world is that few things are truly “carefree.”  And so I write about ideas more than anything, whether in an attitude of wonder and reverence or an academic mindset.  These next few posts are no exception.  By the time I can actually get my thoughts written down and published it may be old news.  A busy life might interfere with my aspirations of writing and the hype may have passed, but that is also a portion of the message behind part two so stick with me!

In the meantime, if you have not seen the video yet, allow me to follow my orders and repost it.  You may see the full video below or visit http://www2.invisiblechildren.com/videos.

Video

Entertainment and Awareness

I don’t watch much TV.  In fact, I have prided myself in years past for not owning a television set at all.  There are two half hour shows that I watch on a weekly basis, if that, and then I might have the news playing in the background through breakfast or dinner.

Lately, my viewing hours have drastically increased due to the Republican Presidential debates.  These debates have been playing out and broadcast ever since May though I have paid more time and attention to them in recent months.  Sometimes they are useful to my understanding of the candidates and the issues, like on Saturday night with the ABC News/Yahoo! debate where I learned more about the history of Israeli/Palestinian relationships.  Sometimes the debates don’t really offer much, like Thursday night’s FOX News debate in Sioux City, Iowa.  Still, I want to hear what the candidates have to say, even when they don’t say much.

Politics, in some peoples’ views, is boring or our government is showing such disregard for our founding principles, they say, that these debates are not worth watching.  The average American is uninterested, even moreso if they have no intention of voting for a Republican candidate in 2012.  What perturbs me, though, is that our society permits this attitude of ignorance.  It is perfectly acceptable to watch several hours of television a day or a quarter of our waking hours throughout the week glued to a glorified light box with no awareness of political candidates or issues.  Then, when general elections have passed, those same people spend their time complaining about the President or elected officials whom they knew little about before empowering them in political office.

So as not to waste my word count on complaining about our government or criticizing the general populace, my counsel is to find some way to get informed.  If you have not already done so, research the issues, read about the candidates, write to your politicians, and get involved in our great American system.  And if you do spend several hours in front of the television set, don’t waste it all in front of entertainment that, in the grand scheme of things, will in no way benefit your life (see Chapter 1 of Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death for more on that line of thought).  Instead, invest your time wisely and responsibly in things that matter.  Admittedly, there are even better sources for understanding the political climate of this country than televised debates between bickering candidates who seek to gain publicity through name calling and predetermined attacks.  Still, televised debates, news reports, or conversation with your neighbor are things that will ultimately matter.  In the words of one of my favorite theologians and authors, applying this line to a different context: “Don’t waste your life.”

Scoop