Loving God and Loving People

I opened my Twitter Friday morning as my plane landed at LaGuardia in New York and witnessed my newsfeed blow up with the news of the SCOTUS decision in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges. Simply put (in case you’ve lived in a hole the last few days) the Court ruled marriage as a fundamental right for all couples, regardless of orientation, gender, or state residence.

On one end, people cheered and applauded the decision as a step of progress for human liberty. On the other end, some Christians bemoaned the decay of morals and our country’s supposed religious foundations. Many just didn’t know what to say.

The ruling should really come as no surprise. The culture has been shifting for quite a while now, and we’re probably at the beginning of a post-Christian America. For better or worse, this is the cultural milieu we are in.

I don’t want to debate about whether homosexual practice is a sin or not. If you believe the Bible to be the authoritative Word of God, then there is no escaping the fact that it prohibits homosexual activity, unless you do some hermeneutical gymnastics. Scripture tells us that when Adam and Eve rebelled against God, sin began its destructive ripple, wreaking havoc through all of creation, including a fallen sexual condition. The temptation to be sexually promiscuous for the heterosexual is every bit an evidence of the fall as is the sexual attraction between people of the same sex. God didn’t “make” anyone gay, it is just one of the many ways sin presents itself. But just as the Bible instructs me that obedience to God means sex is to be enjoyed in the confines of marriage with one woman, it instructs us that obedience to God means not engaging in same sex intercourse. It promises us that Jesus offers healing for all of our sexual brokenness and that living in obedience to Him gives us our greatest joy and His ultimate glory. Our sexual ethic is defined by our King Jesus, not our desires or what culture endorses. (Important to note here is that same-sex attraction isn’t anymore sinful than it is sinful for me to be attracted to women. The act is what is sinful, whether it be in the mind (lust) or body, because it is a distortion of the image of God and the union of Christ and the Church. More resources and information will be provided at the end of this article.)

Christians are faced with two challenges in this, the first being that God, in his Word, has expressly forbidden homosexual practice in the Old and New Testaments. This is not a case of us being inconsistent with the commands of the Bible, and contrary to rising popular opinion, the teachings aren’t as ambiguous as proponents of same-sex marriage advocate.

The second is that most of us have friends and loved ones who experience same-sex attraction and struggle through it in a way most of us will never understand. They’ve experienced deep hurt and pain and betrayal and rejection because of their orientation, and it is heartbreaking. They are real people who didn’t just “choose” to be gay.

Most Christians, when faced with these realities, tend to drift toward one of two extremes, both of which are wrong. The first is expressing anger and hatred toward the LGBT community. Bible verses are spit out without love, condemnation is cast, and verbal/physical abuse may occur. There is an insensitivity toward the LGBT community because of a lack of understanding and a gag-reflex because it seems so abnormal. People on this end tend to view homosexual behavior as very high in the hierarchy on the totem pole of sin. They believe they’re being faithful to God and the Bible in calling out sin, but they usually respond without the grace, love, and compassion we’re called to, remembering our own inherent depravity and sinfulness.

The other extreme is being so pulled by compassion that you decide homosexual activity really isn’t that big of a deal. Bible passages are reinterpreted or ignored because they seem outdated. People on this end irresponsibly make the charge that the Old Testament forbids things like eating shrimp and wearing clothes of two materials, which we do, so homosexual practice also must be okay since we’re “ignoring” those other laws. They say Jesus never explicitly taught on homosexuality, so how do we know he wouldn’t approve of it? It is the original trick the serpent used in deceiving Adam and Eve: “Did God really say…?” They begin viewing conservative Christians as bigots and hypocrites, and they do all this because they believe they’re being faithful to a Jesus who does not condemn but calls us to love all people.

Sometimes it seems like you have to pick one extreme and go with that, but I think the tension is actually a good thing! Jesus tells us that all of the law is summed up into these two commandments: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. We’re called to live in the tension! We love God and what He has revealed to his through His Word, and in light of that, we love His image bearers, however broken they are. Love does not mean we approve everything someone does. It is not loving for my brother to not tell me if something I am doing is hurting me or others.

So what does this look like? It means to stay faithful to the biblical teachings on sexuality and marriage because God created both and ultimately defines them; they are not merely sociological terms. It means to love the LGBT community in a sacrificial way, listening to them, caring for them. It means that we don’t separate truth and love, but speak the truth in love and in a compassionate, gracious way. It means that our churches should be lights shining in the darkness. Russell Moore may have said it best:

We must stand with conviction and with kindness, with truth and with grace. We must hold to our views and love those who hate us for them. We must not only speak Christian truths; we must speak with a Christian accent. We must say what Jesus has revealed, and we must say those things the way Jesus does — with mercy and with an invitation to new life.

This is what I think Jesus would say to the person caught engaging in homosexual behavior: I think Jesus would look into their eyes in love and compassion and say, “Your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more.”

Christians, let us be the church. Let us be identified as those who love God and love His people.

Here are some further resources:

Why the Church Should Neither Cave nor Panic About the Decision on Gay Marriage – Russell Moore

Reaction to the Supreme Court Ruling – ERLC

5 Biblical Responses to Homosexuality – Sam Allberry (Sam is a minster who experiences sam-sex attraction, but because of his love for Jesus, remains celibate.)

Old Testament Law and the Charge of Inconsistency – Tim Keller

Is God Anti-Gay? – Sam Allberry (book)

Is Same Sex Attraction a Sin? – Sermon

Something Greater Than Marriage – Rosario Butterfield and Christopher Yuan

40 Questions for Christians Now Waving the Rainbow Flag – TGC

Review of “God and the Gay Christian” – Tim Keller

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Why the ‘Indian Church’ Should Not Die

Several weeks ago, my friend Charles Samuel wrote a thought-provoking article with the provocative title, “The ‘Indian Church’ Must Die,” and the response was nothing short of incredible. People whole-heartedly agreed, vehemently disagreed, or sat somewhere in the middle. Some were just upset with the title. This post is not a rebuttal to Charles’ post because as a product of the “Indian Church,” I agree with most of the sentiments in what he conveyed. This is about recasting the vision of the local Indian church for the glory of Christ.

The main idea behind Charles’ article was this: there is something dangerous and unhealthy about an ethnocentric church that solely exists to promote an ethnic ideal. Here’s what we mean by “ethnocentrism”: it is when an ethnic identity, heritage, values, or even church, sees other ethnic identities, cultures, or churches as inferior to their own. It is when there is more talk about traditions and the way forefathers did something than about what Christ has done and the implications of the gospel.

For our purposes, ethnocentrism is when a church’s identity and purpose is primarily found in its ethnic culture, and Christ and what he has done in his death and resurrection is secondary.

The gospel, the good news of Jesus, was given in a cultural context, and it will always be so, but it was never confined to a cultural identity. Whenever we present the gospel to someone, it will always be within the medium of the context of culture, whether it be Indian or American or hipster or conservative or urban or affluent culture. Culture isn’t a bad thing: it’s what you naturally get when you have multiple people together who share some characteristics.

The gospel was also given in an ethnic context, but it was never confined to an ethnic identity. In fact, the Bible promises a day when every ethnos (Greek word for ethnic people groups) will worship Christ as King. The book of Revelation has a glorious vision of this:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number,from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Revelation 7:9-10

 

Revelation tells us that a day is coming when every believer of Jesus, regardless of where or when they were born, will worship Christ together. Until then, we continue to meet in ethnic and multi-ethnic congregations, working to continue making disciples of all nations. Ethnic churches aren’t bad! But ethnocentric churches are dangerous and a distortion of what the gospel calls us to.

We can argue about how insular Indian churches can be, but instead I want to talk about how they can be used to accomplish the picture we see in Revelation 7.

The Indian church in America is uniquely equipped to reach immigrants from India in a way that other churches aren’t. Indian churches know the language, customs, and traditions that new immigrants from India are familiar with. They eat a lot of the same food, hold many of the same values, and can identify with Indian immigrants in a  way that most other organizations can’t. South Asian Christians in America know what it’s like to move to a new country full of promises, and to feel a little lost and overwhelmed. They know how reassuring it is to find comfort in befriending other Indian immigrants because they’ve done it too.

To my Malayalee churches: there are lost Malayalees in America that don’t know Jesus! Hindu, Muslim, agnostic, apathetic. Malayalees that understand the Malayalam spoken and sung in Keralite churches. Malayalees that enjoy eating South Indian food offered at weekly home meetings. Malayalees that are looking for community and recognizable culture in a culture that is far different than the one they know. Lost Malaylees that, apart from the grace of God in saving them, will be eternally separated from God. And this is true of all the Indian cultural groups. Of every culture and ethnos.

What if we reached out to our immigrant neighbor or coworker or friend? What if we invited them into our homes and lives? What if our Indian churches didn’t lose their ethnic identity or traditions or language, but used them to actively pursue the growing Indian immigrant community? What if we realized that God has sovereignly placed us in our city and around the people we know, not to be an inward-focused holy huddle, but to be an outward-focused catalyst of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

What if we realized that the Church exists primarily to glorify Christ and spread the gospel?

The Indian church in America should live because she is uniquely equipped to reach immigrants from India in a way that other churches aren’t.

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In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul compares the church to the body of Christ, and individuals as members of the body. In a very real way, the whole Church universal is the body of Christ as well, and different congregations are members of this body. If one member suffers, the whole body suffers. If one part hurts, everyone hurts.

The Indian church, for all her flaws, is part of this body of Christ, and there are parts that aren’t functioning well. But what if, instead of cutting this dysfunctional part off, Christ redeemed it and made it new and whole and functioning?

What we need is not amputation. We need healing, and thankfully, Jesus is pretty good at that.

 

 

Photo courtesy of ©Sten Dueland under the Creative Commons License 2.0

miss america and the great kaleidoscope

I was born in New York, a jewel of a million different glints of color. Growing up, it didn’t take me long to realize that I didn’t look a lot like my classmates, and English wasn’t the language my parents and grandparents spoke at home. However, many of the kids in my school looked different, from all sorts of different racial and cultural backgrounds, and I learned that although we looked different, we were all somehow in the same boat.

But as I grew older, racism would rear its ugly head here and there. During recess in the third grade, a student told me to “go back to Mexico!” After the September 11th attacks, “Bin” (short for bin-Laden) became my nickname by a certain group of people in my school. While walking through West Campus late one night at the University of Texas at Austin, a car full of white boys driving by slowed down, shouted, “go home, sand nigger!” and sped off. And although these weren’t devastating insults, they reminded me that I looked different. That I was a minority.

Nina DavuluriNina Davuluri from New York was just crowned Miss America 2014, the first winner from Indian descent. Amid the celebration, many took to social media to express their outrage that a “real American” didn’t win. Hateful comments about her skin color, her ethnic heritage, religious background, cultural “voodoo” dance, and Indian stereotypes in general spread through the Twitter-sphere. Other ignorant comments called her Arabic, Muslim, and a part of al-Qaeda. Because, you know, if you’re brown, it’s all the same thing.

But the overwhelming sentiment among these racist tweets  is that she’s not really American. Her skin doesn’t look American. Her name doesn’t sound American. Her dance certainly wasn’t American. This is America, and colored people aren’t supposed to win American contests. In case you missed it, “American” is a race and ethnicity. Never mind the fact that this country was occupied long before the first Europeans ever sailed across the pond and “discovered” it. Look over the fact that my parents (and nearly every other colored immigrant to the United States) were looking for many of the same opportunities that every other immigrant from the last 300 years were looking for.

My initial reaction to seeing all this wasn’t anger, but sadness. When I began perusing through the Twitter profiles of some of the people who expressed their bigoted remarks, I couldn’t help but notice how normal they seemed. They looked like many of the people I went to school with, that I work with, that I’m neighbors with. Some of them even touted Bible verses or “Christian” labels. I don’t think most white Americans are racist, my experience has shown me otherwise, but I was reminded that bigotry and wickedness still remain in the land of the free and home of the brave. I was reminded that racism is common even among minority cultures like my own, where we would freeze and stiffen whenever a black person walked into our South Indian church. It’s a tragedy and distortion of the gospel of Jesus Christ when racism exists in the church.

I was reminded that even though some of these xenophobic tweeters may have been exposed, my own heart is capable of overwhelming wickedness and prejudice. Sin is a universal curse.

But wickedness and prejudice and sin do not have to define us. The Bible reminds us that we’re all created in God’s image and that in Christ, we are part of a great, multi-cultural family where the thing that defines  us is the righteous, saving work of Jesus Christ. There is no place for prejudice in the Kingdom of God.

America certainly isn’t the Kingdom of God, but it is the country God has placed me in. I’m saddened at the ignorance and prejudice of a few people, but as an American, I dream of a better tomorrow. We are more than the Melting Pot of the West, we are the Great American Kaleidoscope. We are a mosaic made beautiful by the diversity of color and culture that make us up.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

-Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream”

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

-Revelation 7:9-10

Let’s not lash back in vitriolic hatred, but pray for our brothers and sisters and show grace in the face of hate. The gospel of reconciliation requires no less.

the walking dead

When I was in high school, I told my grandmother that I wanted to be an archaeologist. While everyone around me was telling me that medicine was the right path for me (I’m Indian, it’s the default assumed profession), I was convinced that I would be happy and content digging in the dirt. My grandmother then laughed and asked me why I was so interested in looking for dinosaur bones. When I told her that was paleontology and not archaeology, clearly two different disciplines, she laughed again. Harder.

Needless to say, I am currently not an archaeologist.

For as long as I can remember, the earth and stuff from history buried in the earth have always intrigued me. Geology, paleontology, and archaeology were the stuff that fascinated me as a kid. And Power Rangers, but that’s a different story. I wanted to be a mix of Ross from Friends, who by the way, was a paleontologist, and Indiana Jones. Well, maybe not, but I was very interested in what the ground had to offer for me discover, particularly when it came to ancient cultures and civilizations.

No ancient civilization wooed me as compellingly as ancient Egypt. Egypt, with her dual kingdoms and audacious building projects, themselves little more than monumental grave markers. Historians claim that the Great Sphinx, the Great Pyramid and the other pyramids in the Giza Necropolis were already built and standing for over a millenium before the exodus of the Israelites from the biblical account even happened. Egypt with her pyramids and pharaohs and pantheon of deities. Egypt with her mummies.

Archaeologists have found many of these mummified corpses, housed in elaborate coffins that were then placed in stone sarcophagi. The body of the deceased would be embalmed and wrapped in linens, with its vital organs removed and preserved, and then placed into a carved wooden coffin, which in turn would be placed into the rectangular sarcophagus. The idea was that the spirit of the deceased would return into its body, and so to help the returning spirit distinguish its body, the faces of the pharaohs were carved and painted onto the lids of the sarcophagi.

What strikes me is how bright and vivid these ornate coffins are. Many of them are very stylized and intricate, gilded and painted with deep, rich colors and have been attempted to look lively and life-like. Some of the coffins of the royalty were overlaid with, or even made with gold and silver. And despite how beautiful the outside of the coffin is, just one peek under the lid reveals the grave truth (no pun intended… okay, maybe): what lies within is dead, decaying and decomposing. You will never pop the hood and find life.

That description is pretty accurate when it comes to humanity. We spend so much effort and money and time trying to ensure that we look a certain way, maintain a certain image and have everything in order. We paint ourselves with education, money, and fame, trying convince everyone that what’s on the outside is who we really are. We live to satisfy this image that we bear. And all the while, inside we’re dead. We’re life-less corpses walking around in magnificent human bodies.

This is exactly how the apostle Paul describes us in the New Testament: dead apart from Christ. Not that we’re physically dead (although sin will certainly lead to that) but that spiritually, what lies within our earth-suit lacks a pulse. There seems to be no purpose or goodness to life, and we live knowing that there is more, just unsure of what it is.

But God.

The risen Christ is a testament to Jesus’ power over death. God makes us alive with Christ in His resurrection, reaching into our dead hearts and replacing them with living, beating, thriving hearts. Our spirits can rejoice because in Christ, life has purpose and reason and meaning. We are no longer selfish beings looking to extend our legacies far beyond our lives, which is what the Egyptians had attempted to do with their mummies and building projects. No, we live in Christ as proclaimers of the love of God in this life and heirs of His promise in the hereafter.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—  among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” — Ephesians 2:1-7

In Christ, we are no longer zombies or walking coffins. In Jesus, we do not live in mindless wandering, attempting to appear as if we’re alive. We are alive and our identity is found in Jesus. The image we project is not an idealized self-portrait, but we display and proclaim Christ in our lives. We live to make His name great. Christian, live in this identity.

Two thousand years ago, a body lay in a tomb, wrapped in ceremonial burial linens. This body didn’t stay in the linens, though. Jesus the Christ rose from grave and gives us a promise that if we are in Him, death will not be our final resting place either.

a tale of two Fridays

I’ve never made a big deal of Black Friday. This is mostly because I don’t have it in me to wait in line for hours in the cold to get a TV. Look, I understand the appeal, I really do. But I understand more deeply the appeal of my mattress and warmth, and I’ve always had an aversion to engaging in a scuffle at Best Buy. We’ve all heard the stories of death and injury from over-eager, crazed shoppers fighting and clawing to get the best door buster deal,  and I don’t want to appear on the evening news because some middle school kid got to the latest Super Mario Bros game before I did. (Mario is still a legitimate gaming character, right?) I decided I’d go the safe route and go to a bookstore for their crazy Black Friday deals. They’re wild.

I figured not a lot of people would stand outside Half Price Books on Friday morning, so I grudgingly got out of bed and rolled into the parking lot at 6:45 AM. There were already over 120 people in line. For a $5 gift card. Seriously. I didn’t get the gift card, but I went home with some consolation in knowing there are bigger nerds out there than me.

At our annual family Thanksgiving dinner, my uncle quipped that Black Friday is when we trample over each other to get cheap stuff exactly one day after being thankful for everything we already have. It’s a cute line, but I think it points to a deeper issue: consumerism and materialism are the altars at which we worship. The United States has never been a “Christian nation,” but we’ve always flirted with the goddess of “stuff.” Thanksgiving isn’t even over before retail employees have to report to their workplaces to prepare for the madness of Black Friday, some even opening Thanksgiving night. It’s been said that the day after Thanksgiving has been called “Black Friday” because, as the first official shopping day for the Christmas holiday, it is typically the day that most retailers begin turning a profit on their merchandise, going from being “in the red” to “black” in their ledgers. But this definition is more recent than the original, darker implications of the name. Black Friday. It isn’t just a happen-chance, economic term.

There isn’t anything wrong with Black Friday shopping at all! If you have the strength and energy, and more importantly, if you have the funds, to wait and get a great deal on electronics or clothes or other goods, go for it. I’m slightly envious of the massive TV you got for the amount of money I spend on coffee in a year. I like new stuff. I love my new iPhone 5 (sorry Fandroids, I jumped ship). But Black Friday, the day that kick starts the festivities for Christmas, when we celebrate our Savior’s birth, is an indictment on how materialistic, consumerist-ic, and selfish we are every day. We’ll spend money we barely have for stuff we hardly need. Stuff that becomes more obsolete, more worn, and less valuable the moment we get it. E-readers make a joke out of my library of physical books. Technology evolves and improves at an exponential rate every second. Fashion trends change every season. And credit card debt is more of a problem now for Americans than ever before. We build treasuries of  stuff that are on their way to the garbage dump. We gather treasures that are destroyed by moth and rust and stolen by thieves.

Black Friday.

But there’s another Friday that also has a special designation on our calendars. Good Friday is the Friday before Easter Sunday, the day most Christians set apart to remember the day Jesus of Nazareth was crucified upon a Roman cross. That Friday, a truly black Friday, was the day when the Son of God willingly submitted to injury and death, absorbing the wrath of God meant for rebellious sinners. Sinners who disobey the authority of the trinitarian God of the universe, who have affections that are prone to wander, who worship the created things instead of the One who created everything. Sinners who deserved the punishment of a holy God. On that black Friday, God showed the extent of His love for fallen people whose counterfeit gods are money, image, sex and self, by allowing sinless Jesus to die — but not letting death have the final victory. Three days later, Jesus showed His power and authority over even death by His resurrection, proving Himself as the Savior of a needy world, saving them from their sin and death. And that is why we call that black Friday “Good Friday,” because on that day, the “red” in our ledger of righteousness and right standing before God the Father has been wiped clean by the red of the blood of Jesus Christ. That Friday signaled our crossing from being “in the red” to moving into “the black” and into the everlasting Kingdom of God. We don’t have to be enslaved to consumerism and materialism and selfishness and idolatry. We don’t have to hoard treasures that will either rot or get stolen. We’ve been saved to amass treasures in heaven that can’t be destroyed by moth or rust, or stolen.

Good Friday.

I hope you got good deals on Black Friday. I hope they still hold your attention. But more so, I hope you’re not looking to satisfy yourself with stuff, because trinkets and clothes and goods won’t satisfy the deepest desires of your heart. You can’t purchase your way into the Kingdom of God. Satisfy your soul with the One who has purchased you.

iRevolution

“How Steve Jobs Changed the Auto Industry”. “Steve Jobs’ Reach Into Sports”. “National Federation of the Blind Comments on Steve Jobs”.

All of the above are news articles found on Google on the death and legacy of Steve Jobs, mostly known for being the co-founder and former CEO of Apple Inc. And unless you’ve been living tech-free out in a cave somewhere, you know that Steve Jobs passed away on October 5, 2011 after battling pancreatic cancer. “RIP Steve Jobs”, videos of his Stanford commencement speech, and countless quotes that he said currently litter Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere. The tech titan with the turtleneck (always a black one) has been called “visonary”, “genius”, and the Thomas Edison/Henry Ford of our time.

I remember using an Apple Macintosh computer when I attended PS 213 in Bayside, New York. Later, when I was in middle school, I told one of my friends that I had used these machines and he laughed incredulously at the ancient-ness of the Macintosh and Apple line. “Who uses Apple?!” he said. And Apple floated through the 1990s without causing too much of a stir.

In 2001, they released the iPod. And frankly, the world as we know it hasn’t been the same since.

You probably are familiar with the line of Apple products that have taken the world by storm this last decade. The iPod family with its many members, iTunes, iPhones, iPads. Macbook,  Macbook Pro, iMac. Apple products are the hot and trendy items in the gizmo galaxy. They’re used by musicians and moms, pastors and professors. We laud these inventions and devices and wonder in perplexity at how we survived the primitive days before we attached the prefix “i” to a device.

Yes, Steve Jobs truly was a visionary, a unique figure in modern history, but besides putting cutting edge technology literally in our hands, what has been the impact of his creativity? What is the message of his products?

He sparked an iRevolution, becoming the unofficial spokesperson of a new iCulture. This new culture is defined by the prefix “i”. Whereas it originally stood for “internet” for the iMac, it quickly was replaced with another “i”: “individual”. The advent of the technology boom of the last decade has shrunk the universe with you at its center. You with your 3,000 songs of your choosing on your iPod with the white earbuds. Put them on and you’re in your own zone, your own world. You with your versatile mini-computer on your iPad and iPhone, making you a walking resource for anything imaginable. There’s an app for that. This iCulture is a universe, not with billions of planet-filled galaxies, but filled with isolated planets in their own orbits.

I could launch into so many aspects of this different culture, and the resulting phenomenon, things our predecessors of even a few decades would gawk at. But I want to focus on one area: communication.

When I was young and moved to Dallas, I had a few pen-pals that I would swap letters with, letters that I would write with my own hand. Then came emails and instant messaging. Now we text, email, Facebook, and every now and then maybe we’ll actually call someone. And we describe these things as conveniences that have made life so much easier, and why? Because we have increasingly become a culture of busyness, defining ourselves by what we get accomplished. I’ve discovered this disturbing reality in my own life, as I constantly evaluate my day, week, month by what I’ve done and achieved. We’re always on the move, always doing. And to be fair, the new technology helps us with that. Why waste precious time sitting in front of a desktop to send an email when you can do it in the car as you rush to a meeting? Why meet up with an old friend when you can just text them or even FaceTime them if you really want to get personal.

To some, this may sound like the ranting of a bitter old-fashionist. I was discussing this shift in communication to my 14 year old sister the other day and she just couldn’t understand. She has never really known a time pre-internet, much less dial-up internet. She texts constantly and her phone is glued to her hand. Imagine what much older folks have experienced the last several decades.

Do you have friends that you can have incredible conversations with over text messages or Facebook, but when you actually see them, it’s a bit awkward and strained? You really don’t know what to talk about or how to go about the conversation. Isn’t that just a bit weird? Or are you a different person over the virtual medium than you are in person? I have many friends that are soft-spoken and shy in real life but very much the opposite over Twitter and text. Isn’t that just a bit strange? You see it all the time, you can be whoever you want to be with all this new technology. You can escape your real self and live a different life and not be yourself. But you don’t just see this with emails and chat rooms, even virtual simulations like The Sims games have allowed us to escape reality and live a fantasy. Isn’t that just a bit odd? Steve Jobs did not single handedly create all these shifts in culture and communication, but the products Apple came out with certainly propelled and perpetuated the shifts. We find it hard to believe when people don’t have smartphones.

Maybe it’s not necessarily an evil thing, but it is far different than the world our predecessors lived in. The nature of communication and life has changed and bemoaning this will not change the times or culture. But in the midst of this, we can be different. We can choose not to allow our relationships to become only virtual realities. We can still gather and talk face to face and share meals and slow down. We don’t have to define ourselves by what we do or how much we do. We don’t have to get sucked into iChristianity.

God communicated to us and we call it revelation (not the book of the Bible). He has revealed Himself to us through nature and creation and also through the inspired Word of God, the Bible. But that’s not all! God sent His Son, the second person in the Trinity, to actually become a human and live with mankind! “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) He talked and ate and laughed and mourned with actual people. That’s definitely direct communication! And after His triumph over sin and resurrection, the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in us and we have access and communication with the King of the Universe. Isn’t that more than just a bit amazing?

Steve Jobs certainly was a creative genius, a man who could see ahead and he has certainly left his dent in the world. Don’t throw away your cool gadgets, but don’t allow yourself to be sucked into them. In a society where being an individual is respected and exalted, don’t be afraid to be part of community.

“No man is an island entire of itself” – John Donne

Defining Us

What defines America?

Is it our culture? Our religion? Our politics? Our landscape? Our race?

And therein lies the tricky part. You can’t compartmentalize America into any of those categories, because we are more than just that. There is more than one culture in America. More than one religion represented. More than one way of thinking, of looking at things, of living. We are the steamy stew of the West, a cauldron of every culture, religion, and idea on earth.

I was recently asked to write a very brief article on how Christianity has enriched America. I did so, and you can find it alongside other articles about the impact of other religions and faith ideas.

Now, let me lay some things out. I very much believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life. He is not just “a way”. Jesus takes our brokenness and redeems it, restores us to how things should be. And if you are a follower of Christ, your role is to be His image, to restore the world through Christ.

This article is not meant to be an evangelistic piece, but was solely to show Christianity’s role in our country, and to encourage others to learn more about the faith. Several other faiths and ideas are presented on this website, and they all talk about how America has been enriched by their ideas. I think it’s a very good idea to engage in dialogue with other people who don’t think, talk, or act like us. How do we know how to reach those who don’t know Christ if we ourselves don’t know who they are or what they really believe?

I also encourage you to check out the website. The movement is called DefineUS and it’s purpose is to highlight the diversity in our nation and for greater dialogue between people who think differently.

You can find the link here. To read my article, simply click on my picture.

And if you don’t know yet… I’m the Indian guy with the beard… and a cross on my palm.

So what defines America? Well, that’s a tricky question. But what defines a Christian?

Simple. Jesus.