It has been quite a while since I’ve recorded a new podcast, and I hope that you haven’t fallen into despair while waiting for this episode. This time we are focusing on culture, something that we think about often, and something that I think is very important. I hope this episode is useful and helpful as you think about your own culture and how you can be a positive influence on those in your community.
How do you get your news?
Most of us don’t really think about it. We turn on the television and get fed whatever the networks think we ought to hear. Podcasts offer a different experience entirely. It’s like stepping back in time, to the era when people used to sit by the radio and listen to news, comedy, and music together each night. However, podcasts give you the added ability to choose the source of your information — and that can be a very valuable thing.
I talk a lot about changing your perspective on this blog, so here are a few of the podcasts I listen to regularly to help me hear about news and current events from several different vantage points.
If you want the conservative evangelical perspective on today’s current events, then The Briefing is the place to go. Mohler offers a 20-minute daily podcast covering three or four current issues or events in the news. Even if you don’t agree with everything he says, he must be admired for the sheer determination and discipline he has displayed in writing out (he reads his podcasts from a script) a 2,000-word summary of relevant news events, every day, for the past several years.
If you want a perspective that is clearly, undeniably from the other end of the political spectrum, please listen to Ezra Klein. Again, though you may not agree with everything he says, there is plenty of reason to respect Klein — Klein, for his ability to put together interview after interview with prominent political personalities. Especially good was his interview with Brian Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative.
If you’re like me, and you watched the NBC sitcom 30 Rock at all, then it’s hard to listen to Alec Baldwin’s voice for any length of time without breaking into laughter. That’s a compliment, not an insult — he may be one of the funniest actors I’ve ever watched. But this podcast is good — especially for it’s interviews with some great singers and musicians from the 20th century. If you want to check it out, listen to this incredible interview with the great American singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot.
What can I say? This may truly be one of the greatest podcasts ever produced. If you’ve read Outliers, David and Goliath, The Tipping Point, or any of Gladwell’s other books, you know that Gladwell can put together facts like no one else on earth to make you truly understand trends and events from a new perspective. Please listen to the unbelievable story of Brown v. Board of Education from a surprising angle in the episode “Mrs. Buchanan’s Period of Adjustment“.
It is important to listen to people, even if you don’t agree with everything they say. As I near the end, I’m going to recommend Bell’s podcast for his positive message and his committment to keep communicating. Bell offers a very good treatment of The Sermon on the Mount and tackles something he calls “The Lie of Redemptive Violence” — and it is worth listening to.
And as we end the list, it wouldn’t be complete without Tim Keller. For foundational truth, there is nowhere better to turn but here. It is primarily sermons, as Keller is the pastor of Redeemer Church in Manhattan, but the length of each episode is generally shorter than Klein, Gladwell, or Bell — about 40 minutes. I have episodes that I will listen to over and over again. If you’ve never listened to Keller, here’s a good place to start: “Absolutism: Don’t we all have to find truth for ourselves?”
In order to understand my world, you need to understand something about culture.
The place where I live is deeply divided. Not 20 years ago, the people here experienced a complex war, between 3 sides, which was stopped by the international community in 1995, and left the city divided. There are literally two halves of the city, each with its own utilities, government offices, and postal service.
I am affected by this divided reality every day. I live inside of it, and it governs my daily routine. But no matter how long I live here, no matter how well I speak the local language, no matter how well I know the city, I will always be a foreigner. I will never be a member of the culture here — not in the same way that locals are.
This aspect of my life here has taught me a great lesson about how I ought to think about my involvement in the country of my birth. This, I believe, is how I was always supposed to look at my own culture and society. Consider these words of Scripture:
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
1 Peter 2:9-17
The point is that, regardless of where I was born, I am now to look at myself as primarily a member of the people of God. This membership is of utmost importance, such that I make it more important, in my own mind, than even my earthly citizenship in the country of my birth.
Just as my present city is divided, the country of my birth is divided, deeply. There are northerners, southerners, liberals, moderates, Democrats, Libertarians, and everything in between. But citizenship in the Kingdom of God enables me — it requires me — to look at those divisions as a member of another culture.
I see the divisions, I am affected by them, and I have my opinions about the sides. But no matter how much I am affected, no matter how well I try to speak the “language” of that debate, I know that I cannot involve my heart in the debate in the same way that most do. For them, this is ultimate — there is nothing transcending this cultural war.
But for me, if the words of 1 Peter are of any significance, then I know that this conflict is surpassed by one much more important, ending in the realization of the longing of the redeemed hearts of God’s people, the redemption of all things. No matter how many times someone says,”this is the most important day in our lifetime,” — I know that a day much more consequential is coming, whose memory will never fade.
God speed the day.
A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. (Title of Psalm 51)
My last post generated a few responses. I appreciate the encouragement to keep writing.
The most notable response (to me anyway) began, “not sure how to practice this more…” I thought it was an excellent observation, because honestly, that’s where I am most of the time.
Seeing the problem is the easy part
It’s relatively easy to see problems. We look at things and instinctively know they are not perfect. Call it cynicism, skepticism, complaining, or whatever you want.
The problem with that is that usually, we see the problems when we aren’t looking at ourselves. I’ve been in countless small groups, Sunday school classes, church services where, when the conversation turns toward personal application, the room goes strangely silent.
Those of us who have been in and around churches for any length of time know the situation. The leader says something like, “Jesus is talking about infidelity here… And I know that many of us have a problem with lust here.” Suddenly you can hear a pin drop. Everyone clams up.
Suddenly we who so easily see faults in everything around us are unwilling to engage. We’ve shut down.
Where did we learn that we ought to be perfect?
The gospel says, “Be honest about yourself — it’s the only way to change.” This idea is not natural. Naturally, we know that impropriety brings punishment. And so we clam up, and hide the things we think might bring judgment. We think that God is calling us to appear perfect, when what he really wants from us is brutal honesty.
Here’s a question to consider. Many of us know the story of David and Bathsheba, and how David was brought to justice after his affair with her. But where does one get the courage to write a chapter of the Bible, and begin it by describing one’s own infidelity for all to hear? This is the kind of courage that the gospel makes possible, and it’s what we need if we are going to truly change.
King David, in his personal saga of isolation, sin, and repentance, had undergone a paradigm shift in his attitude toward himself, and that’s what enabled him to write Psalm 51. Unless our attitudes toward ourselves change, we will never be able to change our behaviors. Primarily, I think the natural attitude that needs to change has to do with the role of community.
Most of us see spirituality as an intensely personal pursuit. We see it as an arena where we have the ability to relate to God and reform ourselves, but we don’t really see other people playing an essential role in that process. I believe that, while, theoretically, yes, it may be possible to experience radical personal change through prayer and personal devotion to Scripture, most of the great fruit of the Spirit’s work is practically unobservable unless we give ourselves to a community of other people that will help us apply what we know to be true. Usually, until we make ourselves part of a transformational community, everything remains theoretical.
And that is against the ethos of the gospel. Remember — this is an utterly life-changing way to live, not simply a better way to think and talk.
This is the hard work of becoming a Christian. It is finding a small group of people with whom we can share our struggles and desires, and who can help us change and become the people we were created to be.
I don’t believe extensive passages about the “body” would be in Scripture (Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12) if our Chrsitianity were meant to be a completely personal pursuit. Even the “fruits of the Spirit” passage is a list of things that are nearly impossible to recognize outside of a community (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness…).
A few points of application
- We must change our attitudes toward ourselves. This is the first and perhaps the most difficult step. But once we open up to the idea that we need to change, the rest of the steps are then possible.
- We have to find people that will help us to change our attitudes. This is a pursuit that, I believe, is just as important as prayer and devotion to God’s Word. If we go though life saying, “I just don’t connect very well with other people,” then we’ll never find the courage to change. It’s up to us to find the few people with whom we can connect.
- We have to be the kind of people that will help others change their attitudes. If we aren’t devoted to God’s people, then we aren’t really devoted to God’s Word, which tells us to devote ourselves to each other. We have to be honest about ourselves, but we also have to be the type of people who will listen when others are honest, and accept and love them for it.
Today I’m just going to punt.
Here’s a great article that you should read about the situation of the poor. Everyone who thinks of themselves as a Christian should read it, I think. As the author says, there is one verse from Scripture in particular that seems like it should govern our thinking about relating to the poor, and it is found in the little book of James:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. — James 1:27
Here’s the way I’ve always always responded to this: am I really a Christian?
Here’s the way I’ve always always responded to this: am I really a Christian?
This is one of those serious verses of scripture that, once read, offers the reader no excuses. There will be no more playing games — this is serious business. If you didn’t know about it, you’d be excused, but now that you know, there will be no more playing games. This is no longer some feel-good religion — it has suddenly become serious, and if these results aren’t evident in your life, then you now must either change or intentionally deny the need to do so.
And that’s where I — even as a person who left his country to work with youth and students abroad and share this message of hope and healing — start to question myself. I don’t want to look after people in their distress. It is messy. I don’t want to resist pollution by the world. It is hard.
The action is difficult, but it is not the most disheartening. It is the desire. What does it mean that I would so rather worry about my own life than someone else’s? What’s wrong with me?
What does it mean that I am more concerned about my own comfort than others’ distress?
As usual, I’m left with few answers, and many questions.