Gaga and the Church

My essay The Gospel According to Lady Gaga, originally posted here, but republished by Sojourners, continues to get some good traffic over there. Late last week the essay popped back up, thanks again to Facebook, on Sojourners's Most Read list.

Reading over some of the comments the post has received (at Sojo and on Facebook) I'd like to make some clarifying comments.

The gist of the critical feedback about the essay is that Lady Gaga isn't a very good role model, morally speaking, and that her lifestyle and lyrics promote licentious behavior.

That's a totally appropriate criticism. No quarrels on my end on that score.

But as a response I didn't write that post to hold up Lady Gaga as a moral exemplar. I think I'm clear about that in the essay. I kept my focus tightly on Gaga's appeal to kids being bullied on playgrounds. And my point was simply this: Does the church have this same appeal to these kids? Is the church experienced by them as a haven, a sanctuary? Is the church a prophetic voice in the community, leading the way on anti-bullying initiatives?

So, yes, while it is true that there's a lot to push back on regarding Lady Gaga, in this particular area who is doing more to reach out to these kids and speaking out about bullying? Gaga or your local church?

When was the last time, if ever, you heard a blistering sermon at your church about playground bullying? I mean, I don't mind people pushing back on the Gaga thing, but if you push back it would be nice to see you point to the anti-bullying program at your own church. And if there isn't one, well, let's let the sinners lead the way. The church can follow.

It wouldn't be the first time that has happened.

And speaking of Gaga, what's she been up to since my essay? Since I wrote that piece she's partnered with Harvard University to create the Born This Way Foundation to fight against, among other things, playground cruelty. Gaga donated $1.2 million of her own money to the effort.

Good on Gaga and Harvard. Now what about your local church? And how about Christian schools and universities?

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50 thoughts on “Gaga and the Church”

  1. The 'Born This Way' CD is among my favorites now.  And I never in a million years would have listened to the album, let alone parted with any cash to own it, if the posts here hadn't challenged my perspective.  When I load 'Born This Way' up in our car's CD, I crank up the volume and sing along real loud -- which has earned my daughter's respect.  She needs that encouragement to be bold and strong.  I have spent the past 3 years pouring my energy into building up my daughter's self-esteem, which had hit rock bottom during the years at our former church.  Even my very extroverted, easy-going younger son recognized and "felt" that the group dynamics there were not kosher.  So, in my experience, a church may talk against bullying, even while it is being done within its hallowed halls.

    My opinion of schools is that bullying goes on as much as it ever did.  Some schools may do especially well at curtailing bullying behavior.  The majority don't have a clue.  Only the most overt, extreme cases get the attention of the adults.  Most bullying flies under the radar...until a kid either commits suicide (Phoebe Prince Dateline episode just aired on Sunday evening), or he/she shows up at school with an automatic weapon and goes berserk on his/her tormentors.

    More often than not, adults (church "leaders", teachers, school administrators, and sadly, parents) are in denial about bullying.  If there are no visible signs of injury, did any harm occur?  Even if "invisible" wounds are acknowledged, the tendency is for adult experts to blame the child (or the child's parents).  In a recent small group discussion, a school administrator remarked that she felt parents needed to be "educated" as to what bullying *really* is, so that presumably fewer will overreact to their child's complaints of being bullied in school, and in turn, not phone the school so often.  God help me.  I made reference to the f-word in my response.  I'm not proud, but I meant it.

    As to Lady Gaga's lifestyle and suitability as a role model:  No, I wouldn't take to dressing up like Lady Gaga, and neither would I encourage my daughter to do so.  (Not that she's tempted in the least!)  Is Lady Gaga a total hedonist?  Probably.  Is she a sinner?  Sure, just like the rest of us.  But she's a sinner who, apparently, has a heart.  Can the (self)-righteous church folk who denounce Lady Gaga's demonic attributes say the same?  I hear Jesus say, "Father forgive them; they know not what they do."  And Jesus wept at the fact that "Jerusalem" yearned for peace, but did not recognize that what would bring them true peace was even in their midst.  We kill our prophets, we attempt to kill God Himself, when the truth is too inconvenient.  Mercy!

  2. Dear Richard,
    Just read all of the Facebook comments over at Sojourners on your original Gaga post, and found it to be very similar to the comments here on it. Unclean has had me doing a lot of thinking on boundary psychology lately, specifically to the how's and why's of making the internal change of boundaries.. It seems to me that there are many in the church that take more pleasure from directing their anger towards those outside the boundary than they do from presenting any reasons why it's better 'inside' their boundary. Perhaps that comes from attempts to quiet and deny the doubts within themselves (akin to Rollin's concept of the Pastor being the one to believe for the congregation.) I'm not sure that any kind of dialogue can reach these people, since they seem completely convinced of their correctness.

    But what about those that aren't as solid in their antipathy towards the outsider, how can they be reached? I think that many of those simply stand behind the louder voices to be counted in the number, rather than standing up and holding the battle flag can be reached because their motivation for not changing is different. Perhaps they may be afraid of the internal pain and dissonance that comes from changing their internal boundaries, and probably more are simply comfortable in their inertia. 

    I've spent a lot of time perusing your archives here, and have actually made a few blog posts concerning thoughts your work has brought to my mind. That being said, I have to give you one of the highest compliments I can give someone: You make me think. You provoke me to question and re-examine my actions, motives, and preconceptions. 

    And that is always a good thing.


  3. Hey, anything that gets children to learn to be themselves and build their self-worth is okay by me. I'm not sure Lady Gaga does that though. I'm not sure. I haven't spent alot of time with her. Here's a good song I listen to that helps me fight against religion. I don't fight other people only my fears. I'm trying to overcome them. It's good motivation for me. Probably not for everyone though.

  4. "And if there isn't one, well, let's let the sinners lead the way. The church can follow. / Wouldn't be the first time that has happened."

    So many things you've written about over the years come together in one swirling vortex when your readers realize that many Christians are disgusted, scandalized, and threatened by those sentences.  Authoritarianism.  In-group cognitive dissonance.  Uncleanness, ethnocentrism, and finding the grace of God in strange places.

    I pray that this article breaks the magic spell among those who are ready, but I despair at the hosts of Christians who won't ever get it.  This makes me wonder what kind of post-death environment in which you and other Universalists think that God could pursue a scheme of universal salvation.  One in which the limitations of fleshy brains are removed?  One in which the environment prompts no ethnocentric xenophobia?

  5. I found this poem today, written anonymously. I thought it appropriate to this post:

    Why is Church so boring?

    “It’s all about God...
    We’re not here to be entertained” ???
    Where you’d expect to find life
    Ends with impersonal Biblical facts
    Divorced from messy struggles
    Week after week
    Pretending it’s okay

    The most profound thoughts
    Convey surprise
    So, where’s imaginationVulnerability
    The unexpected
    And the paradoxical?
    Sometimes I become invisible
    Detached from the consensus
    From those who delight
    In making truth dull

  6. Maybe all the Christians have to go to Lady Gaga concerts in hell?

    But seriously, if I were writing a book like C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce, a vision of what hell would be like for, say, ethnocentric Christians, I'd imagine them living life as a gay person, or a black person, or a poor person, or a woman, etc. I imagine a great switcheroo as far as moral luck and social location is concerned. By the end I expect, after many of these lifetimes, the person falling on their knees and saying, "I'm so sorry. Have mercy on me, a sinner."

  7. Well, let's see. The first sermon my interim pastor preached at my church was about how his son was getting bullied, so he told his son to go fight back. Then, after his son clocked the other kid, the other kid's mother showed up at the house to talk about it and my pastor slammed the door in her face. This he used as an illustration of Joshua-like Christian courage.

  8. Great post!

    Let's get our churches to go see the new documentary, Bully.  It is scheduled for "wide" release on April 13 and tells the stories of a handful of families greatly affected by bullying.

    Here's the official website.

    ...and a review

  9. I love it!  I sent your article around to some members of my church youth group a few months ago. It's interesting that many responded by claiming Gaga isn't a good role model.  That seems to be a way for people to distance themselves from her.  "She's the sinful one, not us!"  That, of course, is a way of uniting over and against Gaga.  In other words, of scapegoating her.  But I wonder if anti-bullying movement does something similar.  Is it possibly a way for us good folk to unite over and against bullies?  In other words, are we scapegoating the scapegoaters, and in the process becoming scapegoaters ourselves?

  10. I think that's a constant temptation that must be vigilantly monitored. I think the key is providing havens and surrounding kids with circles of protective friendships, not locating the bullies and acting violently against them.

    I do think schools and youth groups should stigmatize bullying, making it socially costly and uncool, but work to avoid stigmatizing individuals. Though that is a difficult balancing act. But difficult doesn't mean we should opt for non-action.

  11. I think this is a direct result of the institutional church involuting upon itself and becoming more about self-preservation than performing the self-sacrificing ministry of reconciliation. I believe this is why Jesus told the Pharisees that tax-collectors and prostitutes would enter the Kingdom of God before they would.

  12. Well, isn't this an awkward position, in that: a.) I was total bully bait as a child, but b.) I understand that Lady Gaga is genuinely crap music, in an objective sense. Well, at least she's doing some good, too.

  13. I had severely clubbed feet as a child.  I was bullied in school by other kids as well as PE teachers (yeah -- I know).  I was roughed up, spit upon, stoned, and beaten.  I went all the way through high school without ever using the restrooms. When I went to church I was bullied by my pastor because I came from a broken home.   I was bullied at Bible Camp by the counselors.  Only one beating, but mostly emotionally and psychologically.

    Now I am just an old white man, so I cannot claim victim status anymore.  We're like the last of the dodos.  The true evil done to a person being bullied is the loss of ability to soften and become tolerant of human faults -- not so much in others, but more importantly in yourself.  You spend your entire life trying to over compensate and "be perfect".  The best host for religious brainwashing and intimidation.  Is it any wonder that both my sister and I ran (and wheeled) as fast as we could away from the church?

    The very first thing you learn as someone who is different is that life is manifestly and fundamentally unfair.  The greatest lesson you can learn is to live well in spite of this, never expecting anyone to help you or defend you.  Because, when you need it the most, they usually won't.  That more than anything else is why we have children jumping from bridges and hanging from trees.  It is not perception -- it is reality.

  14. She also has the same level of intellect as a high school dropout. Her comments would be witty...if they came from a preteen. Sorry, I'm ranting. But I just hate hate HATE that people are gullible enough to believe she's avant-garde and different, when she's just a trendy bimbo who got lucky with the industry.

  15. If that is how your church community treated you, then it is worthless. Do not come back to it. You know, most people vastly underestimate the harmful power of verbal abuse on the fragile psyche. They're completely blind to suffering that does not immediately manifest itself visibly -- often because they were fortunate enough to "fit in" effortlessly.

  16. I hve not been to church since a deacon was found guilty of the worst kind of child bullying.  Lady Gaga can lead those sinners in the right direction as well.

  17. There is incredible wisdom in this approach.  Grateful.  Bullies are wounded and in need of compassion, too.  How to "see" them with Christ's eyes, instead of seeing red?  If restorative, healing action is to take place, then it seems to me that we can't deal out love in zero sum game fashion.  I think that we are all capable of playing the bully, or the victim, and maybe that is why we try so hard not to see the problem -- and consequently become bystanders who either look on helplessly or turn a blind eye altogether.

    One last thought:  Our American ethos of rugged individualism is prided on strength, power, success, winning.  Weakness and vulnerability are a shameful thing.  I often wondered if the church culture's silent nod to the bullies was a result of unconscious (or maybe deliberate in some cases) cultural conditioning which seeks to stigmatize weakness (a "tough love" approach, if you will)?  No one wants their child to be weak and vulnerable to victimization.  I think that's a good parenting instinct to empower our children to be resilient amid the harsh realities of life.  I just think that we are largely going about it in the wrong way, and certainly not according to "The Way" of Christ.  The opposite of not being weak is not being a bully, at least as Jesus taught and showed us by example.  That's not an easy act to follow, I'll be the first to admit.  ~Peace~

  18. Sam.  My friend.  I weep over the cruel lessons you have been forced to learn.  This is the truth:  You are not a victim.  That's not your core identity.  You have suffered real offense, but I have seen in your witness and "withness" here at ET, again and again, that you have traded and are trading bitterness and despair for life and love.  You are stronger because of the things you have seen and experienced.  You have so much to give -- honesty, wisdom and compassion for others who suffer and are outcast.  Hang on, Sam.  I see the beauty in who you are.  That is your true identity.  We can do this.  Take heart!  ~Susan

  19. I am grateful for all I have learned, and the good friends and family that I enjoy today.  I am blessed now with the certain knowledge of who and what I am.  I can finally stand to be in the same room with myself.  But it took many years of helping others, which for me was the key.

    Born crippled, I was abandoned by a father who ran off with an openly manipulative paramour.  Our mother could not or would not protect us.  Yet she forced us into a church which was worse than useless.  The ministers I met were mostly egomaniacs or deviants.  Teachers were too busy or didn't care.  Everyone had their own problems.  I learned all that I needed to know about human beings before I hit adulthood.  Remind me again whose "self-esteem project" I was a part of? 

    I find the whole idea of looking to a self-absorbed singer for moral direction to be absurd.  But I never bought in to the whole "out-person/victim" narrative.  We are all "Others".  Raise your hand if your church is any different from your workplace.  Or worse?  So my guess is it isn't working.  I didn't give a rat's ass about "fitting in".  All I ever asked for was just to be left the f**k alone.

  20. I had a daydream the other day. I was a high school teacher and I was sick of the "cool" kids picking on the "uncool" kids right in front of me, but in subtle ways that I couldn't usually do anything about it. I dreamed that I empowered every class of students I had by educating them on the social influence they have over each other, that if they all band together within this classroom against bullying and oppression (the non-homework kind of course), it can be a safe haven for them. I made the point that for that hour in that class, they were stuck with each other and not one kid had to have more power than another. I'm not sure if that would actually play out like I would hope, but then again, it was only a day dream...

  21. I would like to mention that for all it's cruelty, there is a positive side to bullying, I think. And trust me, I've been short all my life and have had my fair share of being bullied. But that's the point. Being bullied shapes us. I think in a way we need that conflict, especially the internal self-esteem validation process, to rub up against once in awhile. All of those under-the-radar jabs, insults, and power plays are the seeds of character formation. 

    So often as Christians seeking the kingdom, we forget how God works within the perversion of this reality to make us whole. We yearn for death to be no more, we yearn for pain and suffering to be consumed in the fire of God's love. But it may just be a sophisticated way of having our nice clean little boxes. We need the struggles, the bullies, the heartache, isolation and misery (at least for now) in order to shape us in to Christ. 

    In no way do I want to promote any sort of demeaning or bullying behavior, on the contrary. Yet, as it remains a part of this world, as our interaction with sinful and selfish people remains a reality, being cognizant of the potential good that these trials and tribulations do us gives us a unique perspective to hope, not just for the not yet, but for Christ to be formed in us right now.

  22. Also, I'd really like us (this is a big reminder to myself probably more than most of you) to let the church off the hook. Too often I use the Church as a sort of box to toss all of my ideals into and then I become frustrated at the slightest inkling that those ideals aren't reality. Let us not forget that there are no higher standards for pastors than for laymen, there are no higher standards for Christians than for non-Christians. Christ and his perfection are for all - and we all fail. I suggest we keep that truth close to our hearts and in the forefront of our minds as we seek to rebuild and reconvene.

  23. I disagree. Bullying has no positive side whatsoever. No more than sin and meanness in any form have a positive side. "Do we continue sinning that grace may abound? May it never be!"

  24. Stephen, a question:  Are those Christians who knowingly condone or even glorify bullying, using the justification that you put forth, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or the "American gospel?"

    Bullying is intended to hurt.
    It's about power.
    I am no fan of the "tough love" approach.

    Christians who condone or commit bullying out of a misguided notion that they are paradoxically *helping* the bullied to "toughen up" and be formed more fully "in Christ" are playing God in the worst kind of way, imho.

    Surely, we in the Church can be more creative than that in serving both the bullies and the bullied?

    I propose that bullies can be shown and taught compassion, and that others don't have to be enemies.  The bullied who are different, or weak, or wounded can be built up with loving, healing embrace in all its forms.  The Church needs to get its head out of the sand on the issue of bullying, and confront its own sinful complicity, as far as I am concerned.

    The philosophy that you have put forth, I am sorry to say this so bluntly, is a major reason for my disgust and distrust of the Church and, in my personal experience, particularly conservative evangelicals.  I reject the philosophy of religion that you appear to be advocating.  Strongly and unequivocally.

  25. Hmmm... "genuinely crap music, in an objective sense"... I think maybe my definition of objective might be a bit different...

  26. Perhaps churches could organize a showing of this new movie? I haven't seen it but I've read good reviews and it does seem to capture a difficult subject quite well...

  27. Oh my. I wasn't really expecting to get this sort of response. My gut response is that you just really didn't read my comment. And that may be true, but it's not fair because you may have read it but I must not have expressed my point well, my apologies for the confusion. I think I picked a bad topic (hot button) to make a more generalized point. Let me clarify...

    I do not support bullying at all, ever. Nor do I support a sort of justification of sin that allows people to harm others "for the glory of God." 

    I mean in my previous comment I did say, "In no way do I want to promote any sort of demeaning or bullying behavior, on the contrary." I don't believe I said anywhere that we ought to go out and bully or berate people to make them more Christ-like. I think the problem was how I started the comment. Patricia, you're right, there is not a positive side of bullying. Bullying is always bad, just like any other sin. I realize that what I said was inaccurate, forgive me. What I meant, was essentially that God can, and often does, work good from the bad. I think it's one of the neatest things he does. And again, this fact doesn't give anyone license to go off doing harm for Jesus' sake. That "good from the bad" mentality is really all I was insinuating. It was supposed to promote an acceptance of the bad that happens to us and provide of different perspective to look for the possible good that may come of it. 

    What's interesting is the conflation of what I am failing to suggest with the idea of a predetermined "tough love." I was thinking of MacDonald's theme of God working through chaos, catastrophe, and "bad" things for our good. It's the acknowledgment that God has and is in control. This "tough love" is intentional and predetermined and therefore controlling and manipulative, it's on the front end of the action; what I was suggesting is on the back end of the action, how we choose to respond (not as a society necessarily, but as the one being bullied and/or harmed. Let me illustrate the difference: You thought I was a child saying, "Let's beat up that other kid because he needs to get tougher," when I meant to be saying, "Wow, being beat up really sucked, but I think I'll trust God that it's exactly what I need right now." (The latter is quite the mature child!)

    So I suppose you could say it's a coping mechanism, but I'm really ok with having God be a coping mechanism every once in awhile. 

    I hope I brought a bit more clarity to my prior comment.

  28. Huh. I think there might be days where I'd prefer the bully to the hedonist. A bully typically isn't in denial that what she is doing is selfish and wrong. She knows full well that it's wrong. To me, a hedonist is much more dangerous because of their good but probably misguided intentions - they think they are doing the Lord's work (or at least what "Lord, Lord" wants them to) when they are not. Hedonists are more akin to false prophets and Pharisees where as bullies are more akin to wretched outcasts and sinners who are entirely cognizant of their sin but continue to do it. 

    A bully today, is an outcast tomorrow.Your phraseology made me think. Thanks. 

  29. Sorry, I keep forgetting I can't respond to multiple people at once. To see my response, look to my response to Susan, below. Thanks!

  30. I don't recognize the bullies or world you are describing. Bullies typically aren't in denial? That's a head scratcher. Psychologically, the evidence points to the fact that bullies are antisocial and narcissistic (even playground bullies) and that they externalize responsibility rather than internalize it.

    Regardless, a bully is simply one who uses power--physical, social, economic, etc.--exploitatively or sadistically. And I most definitely prefer hedonists to these sorts of people. Good Lord, I'm a hedonist. As are all my friends. As, I'm guessing, are you.

    By contrast, I don't like spending time with people who enjoy using their power to push people around. 

  31. I read your comment, and I think I understood it the first time.  I suspect, after reading your follow-up comment, that we still would not agree, but we have probably only begun to scratch the surface of this very complex issue.  It isn't only bullying and the Church's response to LGBT community and other marginalized out-groups that we're talking about now, but the larger matters of theodicy and orthopraxy, near as I can tell.

    Are you referring to the doctrine of predestination here, Stephen (i.e., Bad stuff happens, but God causes or allows it to happen for a good reason, for our own good?)

    This reminds me of the Healthy-minded / Summer Christian vs. Soul-sick / Winter Christian religious varieties, in terms of the "proper" response to suffering and pain.

    What it boils down to for me is, only *I* can say of my own faith journey, "That really sucked; but nonetheless, I choose, by the grace of God, to accept the path that I've been given to walk, and will try to surrender to any way that that suffering can be used to reflect God's love to others.  I can bear witness to the truth as it has been received by me.

    I can't tell others that their "stuff" didn't really suck (invalidate their felt experiences), and demand that they "just trust God."  Especially if I am not willing to enter into their suffering *with* them.  People need to lament openly, and deserve to be compassionately heard.  Even when the lamentation creates conflict, and convicts the Church.

    If someone is a Healthy-minded, Summer Christian type, and the coping mechanisms that that worldview provides them in the face of suffering are all that hold them together, I have no need to bully anyone out of their consolations.  Is this what you were getting at, Stephen?  If so, O:K then.  We agree on that.  :-)

    But are you saying of George MacDonald that his view is of a God who predestines all, suffering being no exception?  Then that begs the question in my mind at least, what is our responsibility to those who are suffering and marginalized?  Presumably, if God is in control of all this misery, for our own good and for His glory, we would be working against God if we interfere or intervene to relieve the suffering of another, wouldn't we?  I haven't read any MacDonald, except what Dr. Beck has excerpted in his blog posts over the past year or two.  It's not hugely important to me that I pick a systematic theology at this moment, but I ask only to better understand where you are coming from.  ~Peace~

  32.   Are you ___ing kidding me?

    Wow, being beat up really sucked, but I think I'll trust God that it's exactly what I need right now.

    This sort of god is just as much a bully as any.

    Forget that.

  33. My thoughts were merely anecdotal. I'm certainly, and unfortunately a hedonist. I don't think I had the same conception of a bully in mind, what that was, I'm not entirely certain. Maybe I've been in the Christian circles so much that I've gained a distaste for our sort of hedonism. Here's my thought, which I do not think contradicts anything you just said at all: It seems to me that, as far as hedonists go, they live in a social world. And as hedonists pursue their own happiness, others get wrapped up into that pursuit whether consciously or unconsciously. "How" others get wrapped up in my hedonistic pursuits is usually through guilt, shame, and manipulation. I want people to entertain me, so I manipulate them accordingly. I want people to further my prospects of getting a job or dating a certain girl, or this that or the other thing so I use numerous socially sophisticated devices to acquire others' aid. That's sort of what I'm talking about. And it's not that I don't want to help people, I do. But I don't want them to manipulate or guilt me into doing so. I want to do it because it is right. It's like as Christians we assume/expect others to do "Christianly" things for us and manipulate towards those ends in a selfish manner. 

    So I think maybe the hedonist/bully distinction is a false dichotomy. But you probably never meant it to be a dichotomy, I suppose I did that. Under your definition of bully, I would place the hedonist (one who pursues their own pleasure) because of their ultimate social interactions and engagements, provided that they are purely hedonistic of course. Would you agree that what I described could fit under that definition?Idk, perhaps I'm just too sensitive when it comes to those sorts of things, I'm not sure. I could be totally off base about this, though.

  34. "Wow, being beat up really sucked, but I think I'll trust God that it's exactly what I need right now." (The latter is quite the mature child!)

    I still disagree. That's not a "mature" child -- that's a child who has been conditioned to accept abuse.

  35. Yea, I agree, it's a pretty terrible example. I meant to convey an attitude of acceptance of the good and bad things that happen to us. The example is way too provocative to work. I think this is the point where I should just shut up.

  36. "A bully typically isn't in denial that what she is doing is selfish and wrong. She knows full well that it's wrong."

    Again, I disagree. I don't know if links are working here or not, but is the blog of Dr. Linda Martinez-Lewi, and she has a host of articles that outline the traits, behaviors and descriptions of bullies within the family, and how they conveniently scapegoat their targets, never acknowledge any responsibility, and twist history and facts with gaslighting (aka convenient amnesia) and other tactics. I've seen this in church as well. In fact, some of the worst bullies within a family can be among the most religiously devout, using Scripture and faith as both excuses and justifications for their actions.  Not only do they not become outcasts, they exhibit a charm that draws others into their delusions of grandeur, and wield influence capable turning otherwise thinking adults into minions who do their bidding.

  37. Susan, I had a long response to adequately address all of your important questions. But somehow I lost it to the interwebs. I am sorry. 

    Now I don't feel like typing it all out again so here's a spark notes version: I can't really speak for George MacDonald, just my interpretation of him and his work. I believe in remaining within the tension of free-will and predestination because they both seem to me to be scripturally and experientially validated. I would consider myself a winter christian, always have been. Within that terrible example I gave, I typically give to myself, not in a trite way, but in the context of the deep and intimate trust I find at times for God. It takes a lot to trust a God with my punishment and teaching even towards the highest good (conforming me to Christ). It seems to me that it either comes down to that sort of submissive, servile, and naive trust in God or that I continue to demand that I be treated the way I want to be treated or think I ought to be treated (what a dangerous thing, knowing myself - maybe better to trust in a good God even when it doesn't seem like he is?) For there are things that we all can define as non-negotiables, things upon which our worldviews pivot. God being a good god and a sovereign one, are mine I think. So take that as you will. This really is the worst context to have this kind of theological conversation because it'll just get  presumed to be condoning bullying and the like. Bad context (and terrible examples), poor decisions on my part. 

  38. Exactly, I think this is merely a difference in my conceptions and definitions of what a bully is. In my response to Richard, below, I note how I connected hedonism with a different form of bullying, which Richard helped to define for me.

  39. Well damn the church.

    Since most of its youth groups are made up of cliques supported by their parents who are in the cliques you can't stomach, and who disenfranchise you and your families, damn the whole lot. You've already determined you don't like them, and why would God: they're throwing his kingdom down a black hole you don't want to get sucked into. Church bullies are the worst and they only spill their foul spirits on the rest of us at school, work, or any space where socializing might occur.

    Then tell your Wanna Be Celebrity Preacher, Pastor, whatever, to set aside his current grand sermon series that's gonna make him the next Pulpit Star in Churchland. How could he possibly be so conceited to continue when his church fellowship is fostering the bully culture on weekdays regardless of his trendy sermon-centric Sundays?

    So yeah, by all means damn the church -- 50% have been and still are the bullies they've always been, and spawned offspring to further their legacy and sustain the church tradition. A lot of them are the educators who have ruined our world and now our children, but we still attend the same Bible classes and pray for them when we wished we didn't have to sit and listen to them pray. God forgive them! The other 50% of us going to church or hurling at it are still cowering and blubbering like the victims we were born to be. We still can't find the courage to tell those in power within our church community what we really think they need to do to change the problems that get in the way of our journey to find where God put the kingdom after we find our coveted self-esteem, every American's right.
    But hey, until we do we'll be happy to self-medicate somewhere between singing crappy Country Western praise songs or crap Lady Gaga ilk.

  40.  This is such an important point - the danger of scapegoating the scapegoaters. We need to look out for the times we are bullies to others. There will always be bullies in this fallen world but I think this is where the community-minded practices of Restorative Justice are very powerful.

  41. Stephen,  thanks.  We've engaged in some mighty thought-provoking, heartfelt discussion, on a very "hot" topic.  You're "good" with me, friend.  No worries.  ~Peace~

  42. I really appreciate this post. Christians are often quick to denounce the good works done by unbelievers with sinful lifestyles rather than taking the clue that there are unmet needs we've been ignoring. I can tell you that, for children especially, church is not a sanctuary. I was bullied, as were my siblings and some other kids. I can tell you stories about incidents with CofCs, CCs, and denominational churches. I've seen teachers and parents ignore what's happening right under their noses. I've seen members' children bullied so much they dread attending church functions their whole lives. I've seen visitors' children bullied so much they never return. Sure, I'm in my 30s now and haven't taught Sunday School for a long time. But I really doubt that much has changed since.

  43. Also, I think that a lot of the critique you received was your negativite commentary on the church, which many Christians think is awful and just shouldn't happen. I, on the other hand, appreciate your willingness to challenge the weaknesses and failures of the church. It is sometimes painful to hear, but I still need and want to hear it. We do neard encouragers and those who point out the ways the church is fullfilling its mission, but we also need prophets who will speak out against it. That takes great courage and a willingness to be vulnerable. Kuddos.

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