Love versus Fear: Lessons from The Boss and Frozen


 “On his right hand Billy tattooed the word love and on the left hand the word fear, and in which hand he held his fate was never very clear.” – Bruce Springsteen, Cautious Man.

Love and hate are enemies, true, but love has another,  much more insidious enemy: fear.

We’ve all felt it. We’ve all struggled to find the words our the strength to say them… The strength to say anything at all. 

One of the best popular illustrations of this is the movie Frozen. We watched it as a family tonight (my daughter’s first Disney feature), and I was struck with the battle between love and fear. 

Elsa is dominated by fear from the first incident in the film, when she accidentally strikes Anna in the head with her ice power. 

But it’s clear from their parents’ reactions that they’d been ruled by fear much longer,  probably since Elsa’s power first appeared. 

In all their family, Anna alone is ruled by love.  Granted,  her naive approach does get her into some trouble, but ultimately,  her selfless act of love:

  •  defeats Hans’s  devious,  power-hungry plan
  • saves her from the freezing curse Elsa accidentally placed on her
  • frees Elsa from her overwhelming fear and shows get how to break the curse of eternal winter
  • Reunites their family and heals the rift their parents created when they decided to isolate Elsa. 

    It’s a perfect illustration of what John wrote to the eally church almost 2,000 years ago: 

    “There is no fear in love.  For perfect love casts out fear…” 1 John 4:18

    And that’s how I want to live my life,  more an Anna than an Elsa.

    By temperament, I’m much more off an Elsa,  much more a cautious man. But I love, and am loved, and if I’m willing to let it,  that love can cast out my fear. 

     One more song about live and fear, one of my favorite tracks from Sarah McLachlan (if you want to hear “Let it Go,” you can YouTube it yourself 🙂

    Metaphors We Live By

    I’m reading George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By, and it’s really rocking my world. To sum up their book in one (terribly inadequate) sentence:

    Metaphors are built into our language so deeply that they unconsciously guide – and even restrict – our thinking.

    We don’t just write metaphors. We don’t just talk in metaphors. We think in metaphors.

    Metaphors aren’t just for literature and poetry. Cultural metaphors go so deep

    The Tower of Babel, Russian manuscript, 1539.

    The Tower of Babel, Russian manuscript, 1539.

    that we don’t even realize they’re there. We think we’re thinking about things “literally,” but our conceptual metaphors are built into the language. And they shape our thoughts without us even knowing it.

    If we think “Time is Money,” (from chapter two) then it’s something we can budget, save, and invest. It’s something we must not waste. We’ve all heard and said those things, right?

    But think of a culture that isn’t ruled by our industrial rhythms. To hunter-gatherers, time is what? I can barely imagine how someone who has no watch, no calendar, and no real concept of money, might conceptualize time.

    Even the earliest hunter-gatherers had to have some concept of time: seasons change; day fades into night; babies grow up, grow old, and die.

    But they might think of time as a circle, spinning from day to night to day to night again. They might consider their lives a part of that cycle (either through reincarnation or in other ways). Lacking money, they’d certainly not talk about spending or saving time.

    So, what does this have to do with “Wrestling with the Angel?”

    If our very thoughts are guided by our culture-specific conceptual metaphors, then so were our ancestors’… specifically our spiritual ancestors.

    What were the conceptual metaphors of the writers of the Bible? Can we even really know?

    They didn’t live in a post-industrial world. They didn’t struggle with “diseases of affluence.” They knew nothing of equal rights or democracy. And we certainly don’t live in – or understand – their world.

    Is it enough to translate the Bible, if we don’t translate the underlying metaphors? Can even the best scholar actually understand the thought processes of a pre-industrial first century believer?

    Can we trust the Bible?

    Well, yes, but …

    Yes, but … we must go beneath the surface. We can’t just read a passage (in translation) and say “God said it, I believe it, and that finished it.”

    Yes, but … we can’t allow ourselves to get lazy. In Jesus’s time, Jews and Christians alike studied the scriptures, repeated them, prayed them, and knew the interpretation debates. Today, we’re used to instant answers and polarized parties. We want an ideological clan with all the answers more than we want muddy, messy, living truth.

    Yes, but … we must approach scripture humbly, realizing we may be wrong, no matter how long we’ve believed something.

    Yes, but … we must approach other people humbly, realizing we may be wrong.

    Yes, we can trust the Bible, but … we should know better than to blindly, assuredly, trust ourselves.

    What I Am Sure Of

    I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about questions, writing about the push and pull of mysteries of the faith, things so many people take for granted.  It may be frustrating to some of you that I don’t always come to a conclusion.  To borrow a phrase from Donald Miller, I don’t “resolve.”  But please bear with me.  There are some things I do believe…

    The charge has been leveled that evangelical Christians, and conservative ones in general, can’t stomach ambiguity, ambivalence, and uncertainty.  And surely bumper-sticker catchphrases like “God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It” only add to that image.

    But the truth is, people aren’t great with ambiguity, ambivalence, and uncertainty.  That’s why, once we choose a political party, we ignore almost any horrible deed by our side, because it’s “better than the other guys,” whether it’s torture – I mean, “enhanced interrogation” – or drone strikes on Pakistani civilians and U.S. citizens abroad.

    Similarly, when we settle on a religious framework, we tend to stick to it, minimizing or exceptionalizing its problems, from ‘crack that limp wrist’ to ‘build a fence so they’ll die out‘ to the ongoing abuses of complementarian fundamentalists.  But much of the time the problem isn’t the theology so much as the certainty itself.  None of us is immune to confirmation bias.  The problem comes when we don’t fight it, but instead sanctify it.

    It’s true that we go through times of transition, mostly as young people, when we examine our parents’ beliefs to see which ones are really ours.  The children of conservatives may become socialists, the sons of hippies, Young Republicans, the daughters of butchers, vegetarians.

    Of course, times of change and transition aren’t only for adolescents. Sometimes having children sparks a new period of wrestling, brought on by sleepless nights and the awesome wonder of new life.  Sometimes age and approaching retirement, with its distant rumblings of mortality, sparks yet another time of change.

    But beyond this?   Most people don’t have a stomach for uncertainty.  As human beings, it’s our nature to prefer flawed, even wrong, answers to rightful questions.

    It’s far too easy to stop wrestling, struggling, “working out our salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12-13)  We get comfortable, and soon we find we’re no longer following Jesus across dusty Judean roads, over craggy mountains, and into the land of the half-breed heretic Samaritans.

    Instead, we’ve set up our comfortable seats at the temple (always the same pew, every Sunday).  And the sad part is, we don’t even really expect Him to come to us.  We think He has come to us, and we’re good.  We’ve got it.  We got our inoculation, we’re right with God.  We’re all right.  “I’m not a sinner.  I never sin.  I’ve got a friend in Jesus…

    And that certainty makes us hard.  It calcifies and ossifies, grinding our compassion and empathy to a halt.  Outsiders become, not the ones we seek out (like the woman at the well), but enemies of the faith.  Our approach is not genuine interest and sacrificial compassion, but alarm and hostility.  We cry “persecution!” from our well-cushioned pews in our air-conditioned churches every time something in the outer world slaps us in the face.  But persecution isn’t a slap in the face; it’s a bullet in the head.

    There’s a reason we call it wrestling with a topic.  Wrestling is hard.  It’s sweaty.  It’s physical.  It’s exhausting.  Working out our salvation with fear and trembling requires a lot of energy.  More than that, it requires pain.  Fear and trembling.  This is going to hurt.

    Wrestling with God is going to hurt.  And it should.  The Marines have a saying: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”  If you can’t stomach the pain of questioning, you’ll have to accept the weakness.  But please, don’t claim that weakness to be a stronger or truer faith.  Shouting heretic and TYPING IN ALL CAPS doesn’t make you right.  It didn’t make me right when I did it, either.

    This is what I believe.  I believe that Jacob didn’t wrestle an angel.  He wrestled God Himself, a pre-incarnate Jesus.  And though he wrestled all night until his arms ripped and his lungs raged like fire, though he almost lost his leg, Jacob wrestled.  He held on, and in the end God blessed him.

    And I believe God still waits to wrestle with us all.  It won’t be pretty.  It won’t be easy.  It won’t be painless.  But it will be worth it.

    Amen.

    Proof-Texting and Cherry-Picking

    Cherries from the Jerte Valley by Hispalois, Creative Commons

    Cherries from the Jerte Valley by Hispalois, Creative Commons

    It’s only human to sift through the evidence and latch on to any fragment that supports your case.  Prosecutors do it. Lawyers do it. Even preachers and theologians do it (there’s a song in there somewhere, I think).  It’s only human … which means it’s certainly not divine.

    The things we believe are vital to our subconscious, especially in Evangelical Christian circles.  In a very large sense, we are what we believe. You’ve probably heard of confirmation bias, the tendency to subconsciously interpret the evidence before us (whether textual, physical, or statistical) in a way that’s consistent with our existing worldview.  We cherry-pick and reinvent to protect our self-image.  And most of the time we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

    So it’s not that surprising when someone accuses me of not taking the Bible seriously.  What they generally mean is “Anyone who doesn’t agree with my interpretation of the Bible doesn’t really take the Bible seriously, and here are the proof-texts to prove it!”

    As if using isolated verses out of context to prove your point in an internet debate actually amounts to taking the Bible seriously.

    The Bible is simultaneously a divine work of amazing unity and a related group of human works spanning several centuries and many genres, including poetry, history, prophecy, apocalypse, epistles, and genealogies.  It’s kind of like Jesus in that way – simultaneously fully divine and fully human, as Peter Enns wrote.

    Both aspects have to be appreciated and respected, if you want to take the Bible seriously.  Isolated verses thrown out with no cultural context (and in translation, no less), used to silence opposition and win arguments?  That’s how the world uses knowledge: as a weapon, a means to an end, with the end justifying the means.

    I’ll quote a comment I made earlier (I won’t link to the debate, because I think that would just be “pointing fingers” at the person I was arguing with).

    The truth is, we can cherry-pick individual verse and parts of verses from the Bible, and honestly, we can use them to “prove” anything – subjugation of women, Biblical support for slavery, predestination, free will, Manifest Destiny (the necessity of conquering “pagan savages” so you can teach them about Jesus), vegetarianism, socialism, capitalism, whatever.

    THAT practice is what offends me. Not the scripture, but the use of individual verses (and verse-fragments) as a tool to back up whatever point we’re making.

    The Bible can only be respected if it is studied as a whole unity, understanding that it was divinely inspired, but written by human hands. We respect it and take it seriously by studying it as a whole, praying for God’s guidance, AND by learning about the genres, culture, and lives lived by the people who first heard it.

    The point is not that I’m wiser or more spiritual than some random person I’m arguing with on the Internet.  I’m not.  I’m as vulnerable to confirmation bias as anyone.  I’m as prone to cherry-pick and proof-text as anyone.

    The point is, we all have to be aware – and beware – of our own biases and tendencies.  We want the Bible to shape what we believe, but too often it’s the other way around.  Sometimes I think we’d all be better off if we stuck with the basics:  Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

    The Art of Vulnerability

    Nietzsche Quote

    As Christians, we have to be willing to step outside our comfort zones, something I’m not very good at.  I’m not a naturally outgoing person.  I tend to prefer books and numbers and art and ideas to people and social gatherings.  Of course, I get as lonely as anybody else if I do not get enough social interaction.  I’m incredibly thankful that I’m married to a woman who not only understands this, but feels very much the same (though she’s more focused on music than on books and numbers).

    But I think that going outside our comfort zones almost by definition means doing things we’re not so good at.  Don’t get me wrong: I think God made us the way we are for a reason.  I think our talents and temperaments are not accidents, but gifts.  And so I will probably never be called to lead a Billy Graham-style crusade, preaching to millions, or even work as a pastor, dealing with an entire congregation in groups and one on one settings.  But if I ever am, I know I’ll have to step up and do it, trusting that God will give me the strength to fulfill His call.

    So, what does that mean here, in the written word?

    I think, for me at least, it means vulnerability.  Nietzsche famously said, “of all writing, I love only that which a man has written in his own blood.”  I think that (if I may be so bold as to speak for Him), God may feel the same way.

    Vulnerability goes beyond honesty.  A person may be completely honest, as far as it goes, while writing about topics that never require him to lay himself bare, to intentionally make himself look weak or foolish or flawed.  But only by appearing weak and foolish and flawed can we really glorify God.

    And this goes for fiction as well as blogging and memoir (those who know me know I’ve always written fiction, and I’ve always struggled with being truly happy with what I create).  It’s hard, when trying to juggle plot, character, character voice, and prose style to really be vulnerable.  It’s not easy to let an ugly, doubt-ridden, questioning, disappointed, vulnerable part of myself spill out into the characters, especially not a character I like.  It’s not easy; in fact, it hurts.  But it is, I believe, necessary.

    So what do you think?  Should our brokenness before God show through in everything we write?  Is there a place for confident, even didactic prose?  What about didactic, prescriptive fiction?  And are we ready, as Christians in an often-sanitized culture, to confront each others’ vulnerabilities?

    The Danger of Being Right, Part 1

    One of the worst temptations I’ve ever had to fight was the temptation of being right.  Let me explain.

     

    When I’m right, when I really, truly believe I’m right, I am without doubt.

    When I am without doubt, I stop asking questions.

    When I stop asking questions, I start telling other people the answers.

    When I start telling other people the answers, I argue with the ones that disagree with me.

    When I argue with the ones that disagree with me, I really want to win the argument.

    When I really want to win the argument (for Jesus!) I pull no punches.

    When I pull no punches, I hurt people and bring shame to the cause of Christ.

     

    And that’s why it’s dangerous to be right.

    Chick-Fil-A day?  A great day for “freedom of speech,” but a bad day to be gay in America, and a terrible day for anyone who actually wants to bring gay people into the Church.  You want uglier examples?  The Crusades.  Slavery.  Manifest Destiny.  Guantanamo Bay.

    Show me one place where Jesus or the apostles operated like this.  Well, Paul did, but back then, they called him Saul.  But one encounter on the road to Damascus changed all that.  When we’re right, and we really know it, we’ll roll over anybody who stands in our way, and we’ll do it in the name of Jesus.

    Because if we’re right, and they’re not just like us, they’re wrong.  And if they’re wrong, then we have to defeat them.   And if we have to defeat them, we need to take the gloves off.  And when we take the gloves off, we hurt people and bring shame to the cause of Christ, whether it’s Guantanamo Bay, Chick-Fil-A, or arguing on Facebook.

    Doubt is our friend.  Not doubt of Jesus’s resurrection, or God’s love and grace, but doubt of ourselves, doubt of our own rightness, our own righteousness.  After all, didn’t the prophet Isaiah say our righteousness is nothing but filthy rags?

    Wrestling Angels

    I’m writing this blog primarily about religious matters.  I’ve tried blogging about my faith a couple of times before, but I always fell away from it (the blogging, not the faith).  I think there were two problems:

    First, I was trying to tell people what I think the “answers” are.  I don’t have answers.  Honestly, we don’t get many “answers” this side of Heaven, and anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something.

    Second, I wasn’t ever really, deeply honest.  I don’t think it is possible to be fully honest when giving out “answers,” because the truth is, whatever seems right now may seem wrongheaded and petty in a couple of years.  When your business is talking answers, you either lie,  constantly contradict yourself, or become so arrogant that you refuse to change your mind.  None of those is worth the bandwidth.

    The only honest path is to admit to the questions, to embrace the questions, and to genuinely study the questions.  Doubt can be a kind of worship.  Doubt is a kind of humility.  Doubt is saying to God, “I don’t understand you, I know I can’t prove you, but I still choose to worship you.”

    That’s why I’ve called this attempt “Wrestling with the Angel.”  The title comes from Genesis 32:24-28, when Jacob wrestled with an angel (or possibly a pre-incarnate Christ) throughout the night, refusing to let go until the angel blessed him, even though the angel tore his hip out of joint.

    It was here that he lost the name Jacob, the deceiver who stole his brother’s birthright, and became Israel, the one who struggles with God.

    And I think that is one of our duties as Christians: to struggle with God, to wrestle the angels, to dive headlong into our doubts and fears.  To hold on until He blesses us, and gives us a new name.