The Art of Stereotyping

original photo credit: Symic via photopin cc
original photo credit: Symic via photopin cc

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by all of the information that you must process on a daily basis? Of course you have. The rapid rate of technological breakthrough results in the need to learn more just to stay current. And speaking of staying current, so much is taking place on the local, state, national, and international levels—keeping up with all of the happenings is a full-time job within itself!

What about dealing with money? The financial world is so complex! There’s also the question of how we involve ourselves. With every blink of the eye, our government seems to be passing a new (and unfavorable) law. Most of us would like to the poor, the down-trodden, and the powerless. But whom do we give to? And how do we give to ensure the money is being used wisely? Of course, the environment can always use our help. Do we save the whales? The bears? The trees? The air? The water? So many questions to be answered!

Almost by default, we are compelled to limit the amount of information we absorb. This is especially true in dealing with people. According to wikianswers.com, as of June 2013 there are an estimated 7,090,372,979 people alive on earth. How many do you know? Some experts expect a daily population increase of about 212,035 people—far more than the number of friends most of us have on social media!

photo credit: DonkeyHotey via photopin cc
photo credit: DonkeyHotey via photopin cc

We can’t personally know every living human, let alone everyone in our community. Thus, it becomes easier to lump people into groups with well-defined boundaries. Male, female. Young, old. Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, Asian. French, Italian, Chinese, Mexican. Conservative, liberal. I think you get the picture.

Certain personality traits are indeed common to stereotypical groups. Most of the Chinese people I have met, for example, are extremely gracious. Thus, I am tempted to assume that every Chinese person is gracious. The same is true of negative stereotypes. To a white, middle-aged conservative, a young black male wearing a hoodie has got to be trouble!

A certain amount of stereotyping is necessary for our sanity—there is simply no way that we can process it all. At the same time, we would do well to consciously recognize the limitations of our stereotypes. People are individuals. It is entirely feasible for a young black male to wear a hoodie simply to be fashionable.

All of this brings us to my primary point: I find it reprehensible that leaders from various camps would intentionally (and skillfully) paint negative stereotypes in an effort to manipulate well-intentioned people toward various actions. And, yet, this is the world in which we live. The universal prevalence of media in our culture hasn’t corrected the problem. Instead, it is now worse. Why? Media can easily be manipulated to present predetermined images. New pictures of reality are thereby created.

photo credit: jatmoos via photopin cc
photo credit: jatmoos via photopin cc

Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s minister of propaganda, played a huge role in creating the stereotypical Jew as an enemy to be feared and, thus, destroyed. Goebbels’ well-designed techniques stirred the hearts of the German people into frenzies that fed the fuel of World War II. Goebbels once wrote, “That propaganda is good which leads to success, and that is bad which fails to achieve the desired result. It is not propaganda’s task to be intelligent, its task is to lead to success.”[1] To Goebbels, “good” and “bad” were not defined by moral guidelines but by success or failure in pursuing a particular task.

We would do well to distinguish between information and truth. Information, which abounds in our world, may or may not be beneficial. Truth, however, is more elusive –and more necessary. When truth is obscured by vague words, doctored images, and nasty stereotypes, we are ripe for manipulation by skilled propagandists who care little about morals and much about results.

There is a tendency for those on the right and the left to blame the opposing camp for irresponsibly employing the art of stereotyping to promote their causes. Personally, I think that both carry a lot of blame. In the short-term, such methods may achieve their desired definitions of success, but in the end we all lose. Real change–change that brings healthy long-term change–can be found only through the pursuit of truth. As Christians, we dare not accept anything less!


[1] Joachim Fest, The Face of the Third Reich, p 90

Why Justice Is Elusive

photo credit: jerekeys via photopin cc
original photo credit: jerekeys via photopin cc

George Zimmerman: found by a jury to be not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin. Was justice served? Personally, I don’t see how the jury could have convicted Zimmerman of murder; there simply wasn’t enough hard evidence. That’s probably why the authorities seemed to be so reluctant to file charges. At the same time, I think that Zimmerman should have been guilty of something. His reckless actions started the chain of events that led to Martin’s death.

Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence, however, is not the primary point of this post. Nor is Martin’s tragic death—as important as that should be. What I find especially troubling about this case is that opinions on Zimmerman’s culpability appear to fall along fairly well defined lines. According to what I’ve seen, most African Americans and political liberals were outraged by the verdict. The majority of white conservatives seem to feel that justice has been served. Why is that?

photo credit: Dan4th via photopin cc
photo credit: Dan4th via photopin cc

As a society, we have allowed race and political leanings to taint our perspectives of reality. This isn’t the first time we’ve done this, and it certainly won’t be the last, but it is a bad sign for our nation. Any culture that allows emotion, rather than truth, to color its sense of justice will be ripe with division. I understand that it is entirely natural that we would want to side with those who share our perspectives, ethnicity, or skin color, but we create a recipe for injustice when we allow these things to form our view of reality.

The real problem isn’t race or political ideology; we are plagued by a culture full of people pursuing their own personal and corporate agendas. Personal bias is the archenemy of justice. Those who use their personal desires in an attempt to create their own reality will always bear some sort of bias as they navigate the sticky issues of life on earth.

Jesus Christ stands as the supreme champion of justice in the annals of human history. Why? He never allowed His personal desires or affinities to influence His perspective of reality.

“I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” John 5:30 (NASB)

This passage both encourages and challenges me! I am encouraged by the fact that, regardless of what happens in the courts of human affairs, impartial justice will be served sometime in eternity. All who have been mistreated, abused, or unjustly accused will one day see the perpetrators of such acts called into account. This doesn’t mean that we should passively accept injustice in our world, but that our hearts can be free of hatred and bitterness as we strive for what is right.

As always, I am challenged by the example of Christ. I want to see as He sees and have the courage to speak truth. It’s counter cultural, I know. Not many among us appreciate truth—even those who claim to value and seek an accurate perspective of reality. Still, a passionate love for truth, regardless of the cost, lays the foundation for genuine hope, not to mention a good night’s sleep.

What Is Truth?

photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr cc
photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr cc

The conversation saddened me. I was speaking with a middle-aged acquaintance (I’ll call him “Bill”) and the conversation momentarily drifted toward the things of God. Bill, however, quickly steered our discussion toward the topic of sports as he emotionally recounted the opportunity that he had to introduce his young son to a couple of the Pittsburgh Pirates all stars. In Bill’s world, God meant very little and the stardom of professional athletics meant everything. Like so many others who dwell on this earth, Bill’s reality is limited to what he can see, hear, and touch.

photo credit: Waiting For The Word via Flickr cc
photo credit: Waiting For The Word via Flickr cc

Truth, in a sense, amounts to an accurate description of reality. That which is deemed to be true is that which agrees with what is real. The problem is that there are many different “realities” in our world, and, thus, many different versions of “truth” that clamor for our attention. These “realities” are actually only of human perception and so we must ask ourselves if our “realities” and “truths” correspond with the ultimate reality of God.

Two thousand years ago, the Roman prefect over Judea, Pontius Pilate, nervously conversed with Jesus just prior to sentencing the Son of God to death by crucifixion. It was during that interaction that the notoriously cruel Pilate uttered the infamous words, “What is truth?” (John 18:28-40) To Pontius Pilate, objective truth was sacrificed for the “reality” that corresponded with his own personal agenda. Similar to Bill, the Roman ruler was at a total loss when it came to dealing with the reality of Christ and His Lordship.

In the pluralistic culture of our day, it sounds noble-minded to say something like, “It doesn’t really matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere in your beliefs.” Such statements always make me chuckle because they send a clear message that the unseen spiritual world is nothing more than human fabrication—something akin to the Greek mythology I enjoyed studying in my younger years.

A strong case can be made that because the spiritual world around us is eternal, it amounts to a greater reality than the temporal material world in which we live. Bill’s two baseball heroes may be able to play for another ten years or so, but their careers will end and their bodies will eventually go to the grave. In contrast, the Creator of the Universe exists eternally.

photo credit: Pierre-Olivier via Flickr cc
photo credit: Pierre-Olivier via Flickr cc

Why does any of this matter? Pontius Pilate ordered that the innocent Christ be unjustly tortured and killed.History tells us that Pilate’s life took a downward turn a few years after the crucifixion, and that he eventually committed suicide. The day will arrive when not only Pilate, but all of us will be judged by God’s eternal truth. No high political ruler or MVP from any sport from any age in history will stand guard at those pearly gates. What will matter for each of us—and it will matter a great deal—is the degree to which we discovered the reality of God’s eternal truth and aligned our lives accordingly.

People pay a lot of money to attend fundraisers with political dignitaries. They also shell out a lot of cash in an attempt to buy into the glory of collegiate and professional athletics. But in the end, only one reality will matter. When it comes to gaining access to the eternal truth of God, well, that is a “ticket” worthy of a steep price!

Hey, Good Buddy, Ya Got Your Ears On?

original photo credit: Travis Isaacs via photopin cc
photo credit: Travis Isaacs via photopin cc

There was a season during my teenage years when CB radios were all the rage. People installed them in their cars and sometimes even their houses. My buddy’s dad had his own little CB station set up in the corner of his living room to keep him entertained through the long winter evenings.

“CB Lingo”—once only the language of truckers and rednecks—became common jargon for all of American society. Whether by radio or by phone, it was common to greet a friend with, “Hey, Good Buddy, Ya Got Your Ears On?” Little did I realize then that it was Jesus who coined that phrase—only His was a slightly different version.

Talking on CB Radio
photo credit: Andrew 鐘 via photopin cc

Matthew 13:3-9 records what is often called “the parable of the sower.”

And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (NASB)

Did you notice how Jesus ended His little story? “He who has ears, let him hear.” It’s similar to, “Hey, Ya Got Your Ears On?” but with a slightly different twist. Jesus commonly used this phrase when in the process of making a difficult statement. In a sense, the Son of God was saying, “Listen up folks, you may not like what I’m saying, but you really need to hear this.”

photo credit: Natanis Davidsen via CreationSwap
photo credit: Natanis Davidsen via CreationSwap

After Jesus presented the parable of the sower, the crowds went on their way marveling about the eloquent stories that He told. Christ’s disciples, however, pulled Him aside and began to ask questions in an effort to get to the heart of the matter. The Messiah’s followers didn’t just hear what Jesus said; they actually listened.

You know, one thing about Jesus is that He is just so darn easy to ignore—at least in the short-term. A few people in Western culture totally reject what Jesus had to say, and I’ll say that, at the very least, I applaud them for their honesty. Most of us simply pick and choose, approaching the teachings of Christ like we would a restaurant buffet. We keep what tastes pleasant to the palate, while conveniently ignoring anything we deem to be distasteful.

Buffet
photo credit: Andrew Michaels via photopin cc

The problem with this approach is that the words of Jesus Christ can never be simply a matter of preference—they are the very words of life. Whether we choose to reject His teachings, or simply ignore them, I can guarantee that we will find ourselves paying a steep price in the end. The Creator of the Universe is not to be trifled with.

Personally, I really do prefer the pleasant parts of Christianity. I like, for instance, going on retreats—taking time to linger in the presence of God and sitting around the campfire singing Kumbaya with my brothers and sisters in Christ. But along the way, I have also learned the life-giving value of less palatable things like hard truth, correction, and discipline. The fact that I don’t like something doesn’t mean that I don’t need it!

How about you? Ya Got Your Ears On?

No Power, No Game – A Key Lesson from the Super Bowl!

Mercedes-Benz Superdome
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It was an odd moment in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome suddenly went half black. The players and coaches stood befuddled, the broadcasters went ominously quiet, and the television cameras simply panned the half-darkened ceiling of the massive dome. Nobody really knew what was going on but one thing was certain—no power meant no game. At least for the next 34 minutes.

As I begin to wrap up this series on violence, I can’t help but make an observation that is somewhat critical of the conservative community standing in total opposition to any form of gun control. This is quite difficult for me to do because I have quite a few good friends I might possibly offend.

The New Testament clearly emphasizes that God has given His church powerful spiritual weapons for the purpose of advancing His kingdom.

The truth is that, although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds. 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 (Phillips)

I understand that the primary context of this passage is the Apostle Paul writing about truth as our primary weapon for breaking down enemy strongholds; however, in the greater context of the New Testament, we find that truth is not our only spiritual weapon.

Receiving from God
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In His final words before ascending into heaven, Jesus made something quite clear to His followers—He would empower them, through the person of the Holy Spirit, to do all that He called them to do.

But you shall receive power (ability, efficiency, and might) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends (the very bounds) of the earth. Acts 1:8 (AMP)

In addition to His awesome truth and the amazing power of prayer, God has invested within the heart of every true believer a power that far exceeds anything that the human race could ever envision. Unfortunately, for the most part, it is a power that lies dormant as we pursue a multitude of other methods to satisfy our lives and to do ministry.

A fundamental strategy of any type of warfare is to attempt to disarm the power of the enemy. And I must say that, for the most part, Satan has done an effective job of getting the Christian church to lay down its weaponry. We often give minimal attention to the truth of God’s word, a lesser amount to individual and corporate prayer, and even less to operating in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The church has been effectively disarmed to the point of having minimal influence in a society being overrun by dark forces.

Gun Rights Rally
photo credit: Elvert Barnes via photopin cc

Our reasons for allowing this to happen may be many but I think they are as weak as our spiritual vitality. In the end, we are either ignorant of God’s power available to us or we aren’t willing to pay the price to lay hold of all that He has for us. Perhaps it is a mix of both, but either way, I can’t help but wonder how the spiritual landscape in America would look if we as conservative Christians were as outraged at the loss of our spiritual weaponry as we are about the possibility of losing our gun rights.

Still, there is good news in all of this! If we will only take the time to dig deeper into His word to discover the power and authority available to us, if we will fast from food and some of our media, if we will spend extended time in prayer seeking His face, God will gladly restore the church what has been lost and neglected. Although God’s power is readily available to every believer, generally, it does not come as easily and quickly for us as it should. Deliberate and extended effort may be necessary.

No Power, No Game! We can whine and complain all we want, but unless we take up the call to spiritual arms, the spiritual landscape of our nation won’t be changing any time soon.

Smear Campaign

How times have changed! In the days of Abraham Lincoln debates between political candidates would last several hours, involving the opportunity to present well-developed lines of thought. Much of the U.S. public, being well read and accustomed to researching the issues, afforded the luxury of forming candidacies based more upon the needs and answers of the day than upon the negative swipes taken by the respective candidates and their supporters.

You may have noticed that today’s campaign world is somewhat different. Mere thirty-second sound bites carry huge weight. Public persona and the ability to skillfully craft one-liners seem to exert more influence on voters’ decision making than actual campaign platforms. And those attack ads! How we detest the mud slinging by candidates and political action committees to shroud the opposition in a murky fog of negativity!

Photo by Lars Ploughman - CC BY-SA 2.0

In the short term these ads are very effective (and so they continue to be utilized), but in the long run they create a sense of political malaise that alienates the average voter from what he or she comes to regard as the repulsive world of negative politics.

But this post isn’t about political campaigns. What I’m trying to address is the reality that a massive smear campaign has been launched against God, and that many of us have fallen prey to its lies and negativity. The resulting price is steep!

Photo by Rebecca Kennison - CC BY-SA 3.0

It all began thousands of years ago in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 3 we read that the serpent  filled the minds of Adam and Eve with doubts about the loving intentions and all around goodness of their benevolent Creator. Beguiled by the serpent’s hiss, our ancient parents opened the door to an evil fury that continues to wreak havoc across the broad spectrum of our human existence.

Our loving God has gone to extreme lengths to reverse the curse and provide redemption for humanity, but the ongoing Smear Campaign continues to undermine His redemptive efforts. In other words, we continue to be had.

Why do so many of us have so much difficultly living by faith? Part of the problem is due to our natural tendency to walk by sight rather than by faith, but our issues with unbelief go much further. In the recesses of our hearts we find doubts; doubts about the credibility of the Bible, doubts about God’s willingness to meet our needs, doubts about whether the benefits of a life of faith are worth the price paid.

For years Christians in the Western church were at war without even realizing the battle pressing upon them. Today’s landscape is quite different. Emboldened and energized by key victories in the secularization of our culture, militant atheists are launching a plethora of attacks against Christianity—much of it against the character of God.

Photo by Richard001 - CC BY 2.0

As it is with navigating the political landscape, so it is with the religious. If we don’t identify and study the issues, we fall prey to misinformation and underhanded smear tactics.

The answer? Ignoring the issues won’t help. Neither will attempts to suppress our doubts. It falls upon us to be honest with our faith struggles, to confess our unbelief to God, to painstakingly search out answers to our nagging questions. Only then will our gaze pierce the negative haze of misinformation to see our faithful and loving God as He truly is.

Does this mean effort on our part? For sure. But the price paid pales in comparison to the benefits gained. Search for Him with all of your heart! No amount of mud slinging can mar His image, nor can any question ever intimidate Truth!

“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. 12 ‘Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 ‘You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.'” Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NASB)