Sephora’s Transgender Ad: “We belong to something beautiful”

If we could sit down for coffee I'd ask some questions...

Walking down the mall last week I saw this large poster in the Sephora makeup retailer window. It was the end of June, gay pride month, and of all the messages I’d seen celebrating LGBT I found it the most riveting–a made-up face with the gender neutral pronouns down the side and the ad campaign slogan across the bottom: “We belong to something beautiful.”

I continued on to my car, but the poster haunted me. I live in Columbia, South Carolina, not exactly a hotbed of LGBT activism. But here was this poster in our neighborhood mall going beyond asking for acceptance for transgendered people. It went beyond celebration of diversity. It made a strong moral statement: Transgender is beautiful.

When it is July hot and 150% humidity, I walk for exercise in the mall. So a few days later I was back, approaching the store and considering whether to talk with the manager. I reached the store and searched the windows. No poster. I entered and who should greet me but…the manager. She welcomed me with a friendly smile.

“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Hello,” I said. “Yes, last time I passed by you had a poster in your front window that said, ‘We belong to something beautiful.’ I noticed that today it’s gone…”

“Yes,” the manager responded, “we passed the end of the month and we always change them after a month.”
“I’ve wanted to tell you that I’ve really been thinking about your poster and its message.”

Three Reasons Why I Honor Our Slave-Holding Founders and Celebrate July 4th

The leader of one grass-roots group, Take-em-Down NOLA, has said, “We recognize the original sin was the genocide of the Native Americans and the enslavement of the Africans. People bring up the fact that [slave masters] were Founding Fathers. That’s people’s opinions, but for us what disqualifies you is the slave-owning.”

Many have embraced this perspective: slavery and mistreatment based on race is the “original” and apparently unforgivable sin of America. They cannot join in the celebration of the founding of a racist state. As followers of Jesus, how should we respond? Especially on July 4th?

“I am not my body!”  Compassion, peace and hope when we feel alienated from our bodies

May God deepen our compassion for those who live in this tension and bring us wholeness and peace

Whether because of aging, illness, gender dysphoria, injury, anorexia, or even weight gain, many of us feel that who we are on the outside is not who we really are on the inside. When I first encountered the transgender community rallying cry, “I am not my body,” I was shocked. “I am not my body” had been my heart cry for years.

I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 29.

I could empathize with the trans who felt like the male on the inside didn’t really align with her biologically female body. Or the gay guy feeling like his inner longings for connection did not align with his body’s ability to connect. I too felt like: This body betrays me. It’s not who I really am in my heart of hearts.

With the onset of RA I began to fight terrible pain and loss of mobility. The joint pain that had settled into my feet moved steadily up my body—knees, hips, hands, elbows, shoulders. Ten weeks after it began I remember lying in bed the night my jaw joint started to ache. My inner snark thought, Well, at least it can’t spread any further. No joints in my brain.

Landing at Normandy with a “lawn chair and a book to read”

Today is June 6, and TV and newspapers are filled with commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the D-day invasion of Normandy in World War II. In order to land 130,000 troops on a shoreline without harbors (where they wouldn’t be expected), an entire nation had to drop their daily concerns and become players in winning the historic battle.

In the segregated South, a small landing craft factory employing eighty people hired tens of thousands of whites and blacks, men and women, all working shoulder to shoulder, making the same wage. Troops trained, jumping out of boat-sized cardboard boxes and high-stepping through imaginary surf with their rifles up until exhaustion. On the morning of the invasion, more than 2,500 Americans were shot, blown up, or drowned.

Back home in New York’s Grand Central Station, when the invasion was announced, a woman sitting on a bench sank to her knees in prayer, and then another and another, until almost the entire crowd kneeled to pray for God’s mercy on their sons and countrymen. In wartime Grand Central Station became a house of prayer.

Some of us are war cynics–spiritual warfare cynics. Not because we’ve seen too much of war, but maybe because we haven’t seen enough. We look at the spiritual-warfare intensity of some of our brothers and sisters in the kingdom and wonder if they are over-reacting.

Should we truly imagine life as war? Is it simply a romantic notion? Can we believe it? What if we are God-chosen agents appointed to fight for our hearts and the hearts of others? What if we are called to abandon our concerns of daily life? Take great risks? What if God wants to infuse his purpose into the dailiness of our lives—our errand list and our phone conversations? Is that being romantic or real?

We can live our good-life-in-America days, as best-selling author John Eldredge describes it, “as if we have landed on the beaches of Normandy in the early hours of D-day, June 6, 1944, with a lawn chair and a book to read. We are that unprepared for our lives.”

I know my own penchant for performance, and I’ve wondered if perhaps my growing desire to embrace life as war is another twist on the performance thing. I find my answer in Jesus’ words and life:
I have come…
“to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37 NIV)
to bring conflict! Fire upon the earth! Not peace, but a sword, turning family members against one another. (Matt 10:34 ESV)
“to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 John 3:8 NIV)
to bring Life! Life to the full. (John 10:10 ESV)
“to preach good news to the poor.” (Isa. 61:1 NIV)
to proclaim freedom for prisoners and sight for the blind. (Luke 4:18 ESV)
“to release the oppressed.” (Luke 4:18 NIV)
“to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10 NIV)

Jesus described his purpose in terms of conflict over high stakes marked by intensity and great risk—the very essence of war. He came to take sides and light fires, to fight for the hearts and lives of billions of people who need him. To show us, in the bright fires of conflict, what a breathtaking treasure he is. It is realism that is prepared to endure extreme pain, loss, and no visible results—whatever it takes—to invite everyone into the fulfillment of all our deepest romantic dreams.

If Life is actually a larger Story of kingdoms in conflict, then truly, as Chris Hedges entitled his 2002 book, War Is a Force That Gives Life Meaning. Not the “myth” of war as he wrote about, but real spiritual war with real casualties and victories.

We can pour our passion into chasing our visions of the small story we want to write with our lives, but what happens when we find our dreams, land a career? Then what? We find the love of our life, buy a home, and start a family. Then what? We approach the finishing line of a long career. Retirement. Then what?

Whether we settle for less or chase smaller good-life dreams, life can become boring because so little is at stake. No tension or struggle to pursue higher hopes or dreams: no story = boredom.

Real Life with vision, passion, and intensity flows from seeing how Jesus lived and imagining what is at stake. Jesus does not offer me an invitation to include him in my nice Christian life. He offers an invitation to live in his larger Kingdom Story of conflict. Satan has engaged God in a battle for our hearts, and the stakes of the choices we make in our everyday lives are far greater than we imagine.

The men who scaled the cliffs of Normandy inspire us. They sacrificed so much so that we can live in freedom, and we are forever grateful. May their example rouse us to engage in a great battle to defeat an enemy far more evil than Hitler for a future far more joyful and meaningful than the best a free world has to offer. And may many be grateful that, by God’s grace, we answered his call.

“That which we have seen…and touched…”

Eye witness of an empty tomb

John’s mind raced. Mary’s words, tumbling and breathless, had shattered the pictures of pain that enveloped him. “An empty tomb…no guards in sight…” Peter’s footsteps fell farther behind.  He couldn’t hold up or slow down. He wiped his nose with his hand, his eyes with his sleeve.

His mind grasped at dangling threads of past conversations–“must suffer,” “three days”–and traced them into tangles of things to come. He picked at the tangles but could not unravel them. Around him the world moved in slow motion…yawning…stretching…stirring coals to life. Blinking faces started at the speed and intensity of the figure sprinting past.

From the hedge at the garden gate a rustle of wings took to flight. The path dipped down through the rows of grapevines, past the wine press. Around a final corner, the tomb, bathed in rosy light, matched Mary’s picture exactly. No stone. No guards.

Now. This week. Push back against the great silencing of our time.

If a pro-life movie was refused soundtrack licensing by almost every major record label…
…if it was refused paid advertising spots on every mainstream television outlet (save Fox News)…
…if the MPAA slapped it with an R-rating for portraying a 2-D gray-scale abortion on the screen of a sonogram machine and the bleeding in the bathroom from the abortion pill…
…if it faithfully represented the first-hand experience of a former Planned Parenthood executive who is now Pro-Life…
…if it was attacked by Planned Parenthood saying, “The claims in this film are simply false” (“These are not the droids you’re looking for”)…
…then I would make every effort to see it while it’s in theaters. Buy a ticket to support it even if you couldn’t attend.

The movie is Unplanned, and it opens in 700 more theaters today.

Please try to see it. Let’s defy the censorship trying to crush a project that simply tries to tell the truth about abortion and the pain wrought on 60 million unborn children and countless mothers since Roe v Wade. Have you ever seen a movie or a TV show that comes anywhere near portraying the medical or emotional reality of the actual abortion experience? The forces of suppression have been extraordinarily successful.

A Psalm of Lament and Praise for 2019

2019—a new beginning. My heart is filled with hope and also lament—the makings of a David-styled patchwork psalm from my own heart to God.

God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day, Psalm 7:11.

As I look into this new year, read the news and take the stories and research to heart, I too feel indignant. And deeply sad. Lord how can it be that…

…56 million a year are dying from abortion, almost four times as many as from heart disease and stroke (the next leading cause of death). These little ones are human beings, yet, for no scientific reason, they are denied personhood by American law that promises to protect life.

…Entire groups of school friends are cheered as heroes with soaring social standing for surgically altering their bodies to match the “gender” they want to be. The doctors who will cut off breasts and penises and dispense powerful hormone therapy drugs are seen as “compassionate.”

…If a gay student wants to change his sexual feelings to like girls, THIS is unspeakable and taboo. And any therapist who would help altering sexual desire simply by talk therapy is “dangerous.” Guilty of a “barbaric” and “cruel” practice.

Advanced Christmas Story Trivia: how well do you really know the story?

And a Christmas Trivia game to enjoy over the holidays

Angels, shepherds, wise men, Jesus lying in a manger–we know the story so well. But it’s been sweetened up, romanticized, censored, stripped of its violence and desperation through the years. It’s good to go back to the original sources and renew our appreciation of the extreme drama of the story.

Here are 9 questions to challenge you and your family to worship a God who would orchestrate such an amazing story to reconcile us to himself. (You might enjoy using one each night as a conversation starter at dinner. You can even include these questions in a larger game of Advanced Christmas Trivia to share at Christmas gatherings with additional categories like music and history using this free download.)

1. What four women are mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus?
2. In what way does the Christmas story include murder?
3. Besides “being born in Bethlehem,” what is one other Old Testament prophecy fulfilled in the Christmas story?
4. Which of these Christmas Story events is not in chronological order? Gabriel announces Jesus’ birth, Caesar Augustus’ decree, Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem, Mary gives birth to Jesus, angels appear to shepherds, shepherds find Jesus in a manger, Mary and Joseph go to Jerusalem to offer a temple sacrifice for their firstborn son, the magi follow the star to find Jesus,  Herod orders all baby boys 2 and under in Bethlehem to be slaughtered, Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt.
5.In Luke’s words, how many angels appeared to the shepherds?
6. In addition to these angels, and beginning with Luke 1, how many times did angels appear to help guide the unfolding events of the Christmas story?
7. According to the Bible, how many wise men came to worship Jesus?
8. What Hebrew prophet may have given the wise men the idea to watch for Jesus?
9. According to Simeon’s prophecy, what two things was the child Jesus appointed for?

Click through for answers

Thanksgiving, Black Friday Whiplash and 3 Ways to Cultivate Contentment

Oh the irony: we give thanks and bask in the contented glow of food and family, only to wake up and launch into Black-Friday–the starting gun for fulfilling long Christmas lists on short budgets. ‘Tis the season of discontent.

Family gatherings may mean hours of navigating broken relationships and difficult people. Or the aching absence of those we love. Holiday festivities constantly invite us to measure our looks, dress, domiciles and social skills against others far more gifted or well-endowed.

It’s the perfect time to read or refresh our reading of Ann Voskamp’s book, 1000 Gifts. I read her book seven years ago and it changed me. Ann describes herself as a “woman who speaks one language, the language of the fall—discontentment and self-condemnation, the critical eye and the never satisfied.”

But she took a dare to list 1000 gifts in her everyday experience. In the midst of piles of dirty laundry, piles of dirty dishes, squabbles among six children and her husband’s concern over the viability of their farm in the great recession, Ann began to train her eyes to see God’s gifts and record them on her blog.

This Thanksgiving I give thanks for Ann’s book, and in the Christmas season ahead I’m refocusing on three deep insights that have radically altered my life and will prepare our hearts for a Christmas of contentment and joy.

What values most determine how you will vote? Please consider this one today…

I queried my politically engaged friends about what top two or three values would most determine their vote and received a wide range of thoughtful answers. For example, one friend said, “sanctity of life, respect for the rule of law/constitution, and the danger of social engineering with dark money.” Several mentioned “respect for others, especially those you are working with.”

Many mentioned “immigration.” Some mentioned “democracy vs. authoritarianism,” “populism vs elitism,” and “jobs not mobs.” Others want to vote for “Christians.” Others greatly value the candidates’ stands on “education,” especially at the state and local level.

By far, the biggest vote getter was…

Nancy Pearcey’s “Love Thy Body:” The deepest truths about sexuality, gender, human dignity, science and human flourishing

Question: What do these ten truth claims at the heart of today’s culture have in common?

1. The body is only a clump of matter. A wet machine that we can use as an instrument for our own purposes.
2. The design of our bodies is completely by chance. Tells us nothing about our purpose.
3. I am not my body. The real me is my mind, will and feelings.
4. The value of our bodies depends on if they can function at a certain level.
5. A baby is a human life from conception, but not a person until it can function at a certain level.
6. Life is no longer worth living or caring for unless our bodies can function at a certain level.
7. We can have sex with our bodies, detached from love and trust, and still enjoy the ideal of human flourishing, including rich and lasting intimacy.
8. My thoughts and feelings of sexual attraction are more important than the biology of my body.
9. My thoughts and feelings about my gender are more important than the biology of my body.
10. The highest purpose of marriage is to protect the “personhood” of the adults, not the well-being of the children.

Answer: They are all based on assumptions about the human body that devalue the body and fragment human nature.

Nancy Pearcey’s new book, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality, addresses each of these secular assumptions and shows how a Christian worldview of the body and sexuality is more reasonably aligned with science and evidence than a secular worldview. How it assigns the body more dignity and value. And how it resonates more deeply with our longings for integrity, meaning and joy in these intimately personal areas of life.


Nancy will be speaking on Love Thy Body in Columbia

Sunday, Sept 23rd, 2018    6:30-8:30 pm

Cornerstone Presbyterian Church

Details here

Grieving with Willow Creek Church, Bill Hybels, and the Women Whose Stories Should Concern Us All

“Love one another…weep with those who weep.” image c/o Story Blocks

 

Few Christian leaders have impacted me as deeply as Bill Hybels. As a pastor’s wife, Bill’s vision for the power and nobility of the local church changed my understanding of what my life was about: “The Church is the hope of the world.” “There’s nothing like the local church when the local church is working right.” His contagious passion energized me to be more creative and invest more deeply in the church Jesus loves.

So along with tens of thousands of others I groaned at the news that several women have accused him of sexual sin. And not just any women. Extraordinarily gifted women leaders that I watched him encourage and elevate in his own church ministry: Nancy Beach. Nancy Ortberg. Vonda Dyer.

What follows is a summary with links of this sad business and a bit of my own struggle to come to grips with these accusations.

While the accusations were brought to the Willow Creek Church elder board four years ago, after two investigations that found no evidence they broke publicly in the Chicago Tribune newspaper on March 23rd:

Eight Things You Should Know about Gangs in Your Community

Courtesy Story Block

Last week my preparation to speak on behalf of a ministry to victims of human trafficking landed me in a gang training seminar.

Officer Z, head of gang investigations in Lexington County in South Carolina, shot straight with us about the situation here, and maybe where you live as well.

Lexington is a nice middle-class suburb of Columbia, 80% white, 15% black, 6% hispanic 5% foreign born. The median home value is $144K. 89% have a high school diploma. 39% have a BA or higher. Officer Z gave us a reality check about the presence and threat of gangs “right here in River City.”

Things I was surprised to learn about gangs:

Movie-A Wrinkle in Time: Oprah & New Age Co. Hijack (fairly) Christian Classic Book

A Look at movie's meaning from a Christian Worldview

A few weeks ago the movie A Wrinkle in Time was released to DVD. According to Catherine Hand, the producer, “We had to take the essence of the emotional story—e.g., why did this happen in the book?—and explore how to give it a new look but with the same meaning…We all loved the themes, the characters—the essence of the story. And I hope audiences will agree that we stayed true to that essence.”

Hand was friends with the author, Madeleine L’Engle, so I had hopes she would have honored her intent. But this is one audience member who would have to regretfully disagree. While she kept the same characters and plot as the book, she managed to completely co-opt the meaning.

Watching Movies from a Christian Worldview: 10 key questions to discuss

When it’s hot outside one of the coolest things to do is watch a movie. Aside from going well with popcorn and cold drinks, movies go very well with discussion, because every movie has a message. Every writer, director and producer has a worldview, a view of truth about the way the world works. And it always finds expression in their movies.

A good movie discussion will tease it out and help us think about how it lines up (or doesn’t) with a Christian worldview. What is the movie’s message? Is the message true? Movies are best enjoyed in families and community where we can ask 10 Key Worldview Questions (below) and more.

Movies don’t just tell us ideas, they show them in the context of a story. A well-told story can connect with our hearts in ways that facts and precepts do not.

C.S. Lewis has said that we have two ways of knowing: imagination and reason. By engaging our imaginations, stories/movies can torch our desires, making an end run around our reason.  So we need to take a closer look at stories to see how they line up with our reason and belief. (If you look at Lewis’s life, it’s interesting to see how he stopped writing books on apologetics and started writing books working the same Biblical ideas into stories.)

Celebrating July 4th as Peacemakers

America’s birthday comes at a good time this year. In the midst of escalating cultural and political tensions, the Supreme Court resignation of Justice Kennedy has thrown gasoline on an already hot fire. The anniversary of our founders love for America and their great sacrifice to establish and protect it calls us to recommit ourselves to the same love and sacrifice. How? Quite simply…

@ the Smithsonian

…every one of us can take time from our busy schedules to serve and pray.

Many of us as evangelical Christians tend to live in suburban bubbles isolated from the people who cannot afford to be our neighbors. July 4th calls us to love America by reaching out to fellow citizens who need our time and attention, our prayers and our touch.

Our normal default is to focus our service on our families and our churches. But we can’t just fiddle while Rome burns. We need to challenge ourselves to reach outside our bubble and serve the very people that the Lord Jesus loved to touch. The very people whose needs are often championed by political activists with whom we disagree. Refugees. Prisoners.

What has the Lord gifted you to do? How can you take it to people at the margins?

Here in Columbia, South Carolina I have the privilege to go into prison with a team from Columbia International University. Once a quarter we take in a meal for about 40 prisoners and eat with them. One of the guys last Wednesday said “This is so good. I haven’t eaten fried chicken in 20 years.”

Samson-Making Israel Great Again

The Blinding of Samson-Rembrandt

Reading through the Old Testament book of Judges lately and I’m struck by how God raised up Samson to make Israel great again. The Angel of the Lord visited his barren parents and promised them a son who would “begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” As auspicious a beginning as John the Baptist.

God’s Spirit “rushed” upon Samson and enabled him to kill Philistines who had been oppressing Israel for forty years. When he called out to God for strength, even for water, God provided. He empowered Samson to slaughter 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, then cracked open a rock to replenish him with water.  Samson judged Israel 20 years and is included in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith.”

And yet, Judges 13-16 portrays him as a strongman who was a narcissistic liar, a womanizer, an arrogant and boastful loudmouth, cunning and shrewd, thin-skinned and bent on mayhem and revenge.

A Brief Summary of the Colorado Baker Case in the Supremes’ Own Words

This case is so important for freedoms of religion and speech still to be determined, including your own freedoms, that it’s worth reading this short summary of what the Justices actually said in their own history-making words. 

The Colorado baker who fought for his freedoms of religion and speech

Last week a happy Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, celebrated his religious liberty at the Supreme Court. Maybe you read headlines like, “Court rules in favor of baker who refused to make wedding cake for gay couple.” As you read these excerpts of their opinions below you will grasp so much more of the issues, context, and future challenges to our freedoms than just reading headlines and short quotes. (My words appear in italics.) Here’s a powerful example from Justice Clarence Thomas’s opinion:

“Phillips told the couple, ‘I’ll make your birthday cakes, shower cakes, sell you cookies and brownies, I just don’t make cakes for same sex weddings.’  It is hard to see how this statement stigmatizes gays and lesbians more than blocking them from marching in a city parade, dismissing them from the Boy Scouts, or subjecting them to signs that say “God Hates Fags”—all of which this Court has deemed protected by the First Amendment.

“Moreover, it is also hard to see how Phillips’ statement is worse than the racist, demeaning, and even threatening speech toward blacks that this Court has tolerated in previous decisions. Concerns about “dignity” and “stigma” did not carry the day when this Court affirmed the right of white supremacists to burn a 25-foot cross; conduct a rally on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday; or circulate a film featuring hooded Klan members who were brandishing weapons and threatening to ‘Bury the niggers….’…The First Amendment gives individuals the right to disagree about the correctness of Obergefell and the morality of same-sex marriage.”

Two Hidden Truths that Deepened the Joy and Meaning of the Royal Wedding

On May 19th Great Britain’s Prince Harry married American Meghan Markle. As soon as it ended, the TV commentators swooned : “The whole room was filled with happiness.” “It’s enough to make me believe in love again.” It was a joyful occasion. The prince was dashing. The bride radiant in her tiara. But there was also a beautiful subtext woven into the ancient ceremony that may have contributed to inspiring people to want to get married…stay married…even believe in love again.

In today’s cynical hook-up culture, it lifts our spirits to see a bride and groom promise to love and cherish one another till death. While almost three billion people around the world delighted in the beauty of Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan’s marriage ceremony, I wonder how many of the guests and viewers really grasped the deep truths woven into the familiar words.