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Culture

Does the Church Get Irony?

thorramsey 4 comments

Satire and irony (not widely recognized in the church) are methods of communication and most often on important subjects. I won’t be supplying you any examples because I attend church, so I’m not sure I’d recognize them myself. Isn’t that iron… hey, I think I just made an irony!

In my last book, I tackled the doctrine of hell using satire and irony and my personal favorite, actual jokes. But this doesn’t mean I didn’t have a point. (My editor saw to that. And then the publisher saw to removing all the funny parts because the book was about hell.) It also doesn’t mean the book lacked substance. I don’t think. Others will decide that, but from my point of view, I tried to say something while using comedy as the vehicle to say it.

Gerald Nachman wrote an entire book about comedy and his book wasn’t even funny. I don’t think. It was a serious book, and he’s not even German, that ethnic group that has no choice but to be unfunny. (Funny people don’t try to take over the world.) He wrote about the rebel comedians of the 1960s who made some sort of difference with their comedy, which is why the book is called Seriously Funny. Lenny Bruce paved the way with social satire and now most comedians follow in his footsteps by cussing. He primed the stage so comedians can now say whatever they want, but it turns out they got nothing to say. Aside from, “Bleep!”

There is a saying that comedy is pain seen from a distance and depending upon what comedian you’re watching and how far back your seats are, this can certainly be true. But comedy and pain have always been connected. Historically, this is why comedy has always been closely linked with oppressed groups, such as the Jewish people who have a long history of comedy, along with blacks and Hispanics. Think of all the great comedians and many were either Jewish or black. There’s a reason for this. If you make the bully laugh, sometimes he won’t beat you up. Germans are not known for their sense of humor. They were too busy killing Jewish comedians.

This argument makes sense, but then I wonder, “Why aren’t Native Americans funnier?” Just look at their history.

They should be hilarious.

That’s ironic.

I think.

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Downton Abbey Meets the 1960s

thorramsey No Comments

After waiting an inordinate amount of time between seasons, excuses expected because it’s the Public Broadcasting Service, my wife and I resumed our Sunday evening together time by watching Downton Abbey. Last night’s broadcast was followed by a special on the manners of the time, an on-set historian sparing no detail so the characters get all the nuances of their spoons right. Downton Abbey producers may be concerned about table manners, but the social mores of the scripts are taken directly from Haight-Ashbury and the 1960’s sexual revolution.

Downton Abbey’s characters are living during a time of tumultuous societal transformation and if you follow the thinking of the right characters you will end up in this good place that we are today, the future. Or at least as far into the future as the 1960s. In shocking fashion (if only), Lady Mary and her suitor have decided to spend a week together trying each other out sexually to see if marriage might be a possibility for them.

Hooray for the progress of the progressives who are the first to understand that before you marry someone it is wise to have sex with them to make sure everything’s going to be fine in that department until death do you part. Aside from the fact that this is centering the marriage in utterly selfish physical gratification, and aside from the other fact that it’s naive and unrealistic to think that whatever one experiences that first week is what one will experience with their spouse five or even ten years later, the problem with romanticizing the sexual revolution as progressive thinking is just that — it’s romanticized rather than realistic. Forget the time machine, can’t H.G. Wells just walk over to Downton and warn Lady Mary that she’s making a horrible mistake?

Look to the future, Lady Mary, and be warned.

American culture moved progressively toward lax views of chastity to lax views of marriage until it became commonplace for couples to live together. Living together had the same reasoning as “test driving the car” as many crassly put it, to make sure they are right for each other before that big commitment is made to eat cake publicly, the farce of the marriage ceremony with all the pomp and none of the substance. What exactly is that white dress for now? Why does the father give the bride away? Well, he doesn’t in most cases now. Do we even understand why this was the father’s role? The meaning of the marriage ceremony was lost decades ago, but we still like parties.

Living together is pretending to be married. It comes in handy when you want to move a couch. What many in the church (not to mention the culture at large) have failed to realize is that when the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 6 that “the wages of sin is death,” he is not just referring to the by-and-by, but also to the here and now. He’s talking about tangible fruit, albeit rotten fruit. “But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.” Most baby-boomers (and Gen Xers, for that matter) who are now believers have participated, promoted and found pleasure in many things in which we are now ashamed, such as careless attitudes about sex and marriage. This doesn’t mean we live in that shame, but neither should we forget Paul’s warnings about bad fruit. The fruit of the 1960’s sexual revolution is bad fruit, because we are slowly watching the family structure fade away before our very eyes.

The sexual revolution left our culture with this legacy that our sexuality is about our bedrooms alone, primarily a private concern that is of no consequence to anyone else. The prevailing thinking is that, married or not, it shouldn’t matter to anyone else but those in our little bedroom, whoever and how many that might be, as to what transpires between said parties. In his insightful book, Defending Marriage, Anthony Esolen remarks, “We have come up with the strange notion that sexual activity is strictly a private affair. It cannot be; and children are the walking and talking proof of it.”

He makes a very convincing case that living together is a sin against the family. How so? First, if marriage is sacred (and according to Scripture, it is — “let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous”) then those of us who have engaged in this behavior have done it without regard for how children see marriage. There was a time in our culture when living together was scandalous. It was something parents didn’t have to explain to their children at the time, because it was hush hush. Children were protected from it, even by the couples of that time, who were much less blatant about their sin. It’s not that people were any less sinful then, it’s just culture itself reaped the benefits of the salt and light of what was once called Christian virtue. Today, people are offended by such thinking, seeing it as antiquated and prudish, which seems to be of greater concern than protecting children. Over half of the children today are born out of wedlock, a crisis to which even the church seems oblivious. The lack of family structure these children grow up in will change our culture even more, because it changes children when they are no longer afforded innocence.

Living together before marriage is to tell a lie to children about not only what marriage is but what defines a family. It is to live a lie before the public. And it is to tell a lie to the person you’re living with. The reason that man or that woman is not marrying you is because they do not want to marry you, but they selfishly want all the benefits of marriage.

As marriage is redefined, so is the family. Sadly, many think this redefinition is progressive and good, but the fruit is repressive and damaging to children. Keeping two parents from a child is to repress that child’s desire for what both parents have to offer in the family structure. All the fallout of the sexual revolution from abortion to the redefined roles of men and women to living together before marriage (and the list goes on) have engendered a culture that is less than child-friendly. When you sit in the tearoom of the American Girl Store in Los Angeles and the wall of windows looking out from this toy store stares at a five-story tall woman in sexy underwear from Victoria’s Secret, there is no clearer indictment that our culture is not only clueless about children, but it doesn’t really believe any damage is being done.

Flaunted sexuality, commonplace abortion, cursing in public, no fault divorce, our culture does not protect children in the least. The fallout of the 1960s has landed upon our children.

Bombs away, Lady Mary.

Esolen says it best in his book: “We cannot have a culture of marriage and family and a pseudoculture of divorce and abortion; that is a contradiction. We cannot have a culture of marriage and family and a pseudoculture of indifference with regard to male and female, and children “chosen” (or not) as accessories to their parents’ lives; that is another contradiction. We cannot have a culture in which purity is held up as an ideal and a pseudoculture of pornography, sexual ‘experimentation’ (note the coldly clinical term), and salaciousness celebrated as ‘edgy’ and ‘bold’; that is still another contradiction.”

It can feel hopeless and overwhelming except that “you have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Without knowing it, maybe our culture is producing a generation of children who will be ripe for revival, but only because of the ruins they live in.

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The Tragic Belief of Reincarnation

thorramsey one comments

After seeing the sadness in the face of a relative who lost his son recently, I couldn’t help but contemplate the outworking of his personal belief in reincarnation, the default belief that has swept the masses in American culture.

The iconic image of the child praying with folded hands in American marketing has been replaced with the child sitting in the lotus position meditating in a Better Homes and Gardens’ ad. Granted, my relative was ahead of the trendiness curve, reading Edgar Cayce and traveling via astral projection before the term New Age was coined, minted and sold as herbal tea.

All beliefs have implications and I wonder how many believers in reincarnation consider the tragedy inherent in this belief.

The night before the funeral, I stayed in my dead relative’s home. As I was looking over his bookshelves lined with hardbacks covering the A to Z’s of reincarnation, his grieving father commented to me, “This is what we believe.” Even if my relative comforts himself with this idea that his son will be reincarnated and live life again as someone else, the tragic implication of reincarnation is that this father will never see his son again. There is absolutely no hope of reunion.

If reincarnation is true and we have lived multiple lives, then we have no idea who we were in our former lives. We have no idea who our parents were in our past lives. Those we deeply loved have forgotten us and we have forgotten them. We only know our present lives, not our past. It’s all lost. Every meaningful relationship is lost forever. Every memory is gone. Even those who believe in reincarnation do not claim to have clear memories of their former lives the same way they have memories of their present life.

The only people who connect again with long dead loved ones who’ve gone on to live as others are people in movies. But the rest of us poor schlubs will never again be conscious of dead loved ones.

What people probably find comforting about reincarnation is that they do not have to fear judgment of any kind after death, certainly not by a personal God. However, even if karma will get you in your next life, you have nothing to fear because you will not be conscious of how karma gets you in your next life. Reincarnation is both tragic and self-deceptive.

The contrast between the Christian doctrine of redemption and reincarnation is stark.

Take just this one simple verse from the Revelation of the Apostle John, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

In reincarnation every tear is forgotten, but only because of a type of spiritual lobotomy. In Christianity, He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There is a personal God who takes our grief very personally. This is the God who knows what it is to grieve, because He did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all. In Christ there is healing from past hurts and from devastating loss. He doesn’t lobotomize us, He makes all things new.

In reincarnation you have an impersonal and cold universe that doesn’t share its secrets with you. How can it? The universe itself is impersonal. In Christianity, Jesus tells us that everything the Father has made known to Him, He has made known to us. He has held nothing back from us. Everything He has shown the greatest Christians in history, He is pleased to show you.

In reincarnation you are absorbed into the universe. In Christianity you are overwhelmed by the presence of God and what He has done for you in Christ.

Reincarnation rewards those who think they are morally upright. The gospel only rewards the humble wretch from whatever walk of life. Only the sinner self-aware of his sins is brought near to God.

But most vitally, in Christianity, he who dies will live again. We will be like Him in His resurrection. Jesus was recognized after He rose from the grave. He was still Jesus, only resurrected. You will still be you, but now incorruptible, never to die again. We will recognize Jesus and every loved one who died in Christ. There is glorious reunion in Christ. In reincarnation, there is permanent relational loss, not only of loved ones, but of self. Self isn’t made new in reincarnation. Self is lost. Your uniqueness is illusionary in reincarnation as are close family ties.

Reincarnation is indeed a tragic belief.

I was at the funeral.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. (1 Corinthians 15:20-24)

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