Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Rock & Roll, etc... Probing POV




We launched an interesting and thought-provoking series on Christianity and entertainment last week with theologians Dr. Glenn Kreider and John Adair from Dallas Theological Seminary. If you're just landing here, you may want to scroll down to the photo of the CD and start at the beginning.

Sarah:

George Harrison wrote a song called "My Sweet Lord." At the end, we find out his "lord" is Hare Krishna. Todd Rundgren wrote a song called "Light of the World." On the cover of the album, he's sitting in a lotus position looking seriously Eastern meditative. Shake the mold off and flash forward to 2007 and there are any number of mainstream rock bands singing songs that could appear to the listener to be pointing to Christ (e.g., Nickelback). If I discern they're talking about someone/thing other than Jesus... in the context even of "salvation"... does it matter? Do I cut them off my play list because they're not dispensing the truth... or do I make the message what I want it to be and keep on rocking?

Dr. Kreider:

I believe that we ought to be redemptive. That Harrison was singing to Krishna doesn’t mean that I can’t sing the same song to Jesus. I think Paul in Acts 17 gives us a biblical example of taking words written to one deity and applying them to God. Humans often mean things for evil that God uses for good. That doesn’t minimize the evil, it doesn’t call the evil good, it is rather that God’s grace redeems evil. And I think God’s people ought to be active agents of God’s redemptive grace in this way.

Rom 1-2 seems to indicate that the Creator’s existence (his eternal power and divine nature) is clear, plain, and evident in the creation. There seems to be a sense of transcendence and divine reality implanted in all creation. That people seek for something beyond them is evidence of this. Love for another points to longing for something beyond the person. People are looking for “salvation,” and artists often express that longing quite well. Are they expressing Christian doctrine? They do seem to be expressing truth. Are they doing so intentionally? Almost certainly not. Can Christians hear/read the longing on a different level, with a different “meaning” than the artist intended? I think so.

Sarah:

John, you’re the movie reviewer, so I’m going to direct this next question to you. Should I care about where screenwriters and movie studios/producers/directors are coming from? Does their point of view make a difference? Or is it only my perception or my filter that matters?

John:

I think their point of view definitely makes a difference, but it isn’t the only factor involved here. This gets into matters of interpretation, but very simply, you’ve got a director, the film, and you. Each of those elements will influence how you see a particular film, but the biggest determining factor is you. So you examine yourself: How do you respond to the images in front of you? Where do they cause your mind to go? How does the film make you feel? What are the roots of that feeling in the film?

But as the film and the director are also worthy of examination, then I think it’s necessary to ask these questions as well: What is the film trying to communicate through the story, the characterization, the angles, the editing, the color, the music, and so on? What do you know about the director and her personal vision that might be insightful for your interpretation of the film? Sometimes, we will have a strong personal reaction to a film, and these latter questions will help us to either pinpoint why that was or, sometimes, begin to cause us to change our mind.

To come back to that secular/Christian divide, if we take seriously the belief that all people are made in the image of God, and therefore all people reveal God to lesser or greater extents, then it seems to me it is never appropriate to simply write someone off because they are not a believer. This certainly doesn’t mean we have to see every film or listen to every band, but refusing to listen due to an author’s lack of faith certainly isn’t the kind of approach I would take to a non-Christian I just met. If that’s the case, then why would I take that approach to the art they produce?

Sarah:

Dr. Kreider… thoughts on this one?

Dr.Kreider:

I think the point of view does make a difference. I do not think, however, that one needs to know the artist’s worldview in order to appreciate the work.

I want to know the filmmakers’ point of view. By the way, the film itself is the best way to understand the POV. But don’t forget that the Christian, the one with eyes to see and ears to hear, sees and hears things differently than the non-Christian. The one indwelt by the Spirit has a spiritual POV. But sometimes those without the Spirit do see truth and even might present it well.

Sarah:

I heard someone say "you better guard what you view with your eyes and put into your minds... because you'll never get those bad images out." Isn't it safer to just immerse ourselves in Christian media?

The answer to this question coming soon...

(Photo by work the angles; see http://flickr.com/photos/ventana/94427402/ for restrictions on use.)

On My I-Pod Today: Share the Land, The Guess Who

Monday, February 26, 2007

Rock & Roll, etc... Context & Conscience



Continuing the dialogue on music & arts begun last week with Dallas Theological Seminary theologians Dr. Glenn Kreider and John Adair.

Sarah:

Hello, again! Let's pick up where we left off last week: We bought a U2 DVD and were enjoying it with the kids… then around track 4, Bono lets loose with the "f" word. We immediately took it off the kiddy playlist… but should it come off ours, too?

Dr. Kreider:

Ouch! My advice: always preview things unless you are sure you want the kids to see/hear it.

I wish Bono would not use some of the language he does, but God probably wishes I wouldn’t say and do some of the things I say and do, too. I believe this is a situation where parents need to make parental decisions. I would prefer that my young children not be exposed to things like this. Mute buttons come in handy. But there does come a time when our children need to live in a fallen world, face the reality of the world as it is. I wish I could protect mine forever, but I can’t. But I can choose what I show them. When they are with their friends, they will often see and hear things that I would prefer them not experience, but we can and should be intentional about what happens in our home.

This video raises another issue. We ought to think about how different cultures have different social norms and mores. Irish Christianity is different from American Christianity in many ways. I am from the Northeast originally. Evangelical Christianity there is different from here in Dallas. I’ve learned the hard way that certain words are considered very offensive to Christians here, when the same words are not heard the same way elsewhere. In addition, the context is everything.

Cultures (and sub-cultures) have different sensitivities. Cross-cultural ministry is often hindered by the failure to understand those issues. But to get more into the role of culture in theology would take us away from the question you asked, which is whether or not it is acceptable for parents to see and do things that are not acceptable for their children. It all depends. I do not think that it is hypocritical for me to watch movies that I would not want young children to watch. I think adults can and should have the freedom to experience things which are adult in nature. To use a provocative illustration which is intentionally chosen as an extreme example: I do not think that married couples should have sex in front of their children nor should they refrain from having sex because they would not want their teenagers to have sex. Or, less provocatively, just because I send my young children to bed at 8:00 p.m. doesn’t mean I need to go to bed at 8:00 p.m. Just because my five-year-old cannot drive a car doesn’t mean that I should not drive a car. Get the point?

The over-arching guideline is this: I believe that something that cannot be done in faith is sin. If one can watch U2 concert videos in faith, watch them. If one cannot do so, then don’t. Some people cannot hear the f-word without sinning. Those people have a hard time living in a fallen world. Just last night, in a “family” restaurant, the guy next to me was engaged in a drunken profanity-laden conversation on his cell phone. I did not ask to hear that and there really is not much I could do about it. I really wish I had had a mute button!

Sarah:

I can think of more than a few good uses for a mute button...

John:

Some parents have the conviction that they not watch anything their kids shouldn’t watch. I wouldn’t make that prescriptive for all Christian parents, as I don’t see a justification to do so in Scripture. This seems to me then to be another of those gray areas. It also seems to me entirely possible (actually, probable) that most parents have a more solid foundation of belief and practice than their kids, borne out of the experience of life, and are therefore better able than children to sift the good from the bad, the helpful from the useless. So can you watch the Bono video? Sure you can. So long as your conscience permits. But if it bugs you, then don’t. No big deal.

Sarah:

George Harrison wrote a song called "My Sweet Lord." At the end, we find out his "lord" is Hare Krishna. Todd Rundgren wrote a song called "Light of the World." On the cover of the album, he's sitting in a lotus position looking seriously Eastern meditative. Shake the mold off and flash forward to 2007 and there are any number of mainstream rock bands singing songs that could appear to the listener to be pointing to Christ (e.g., Nickelback). If I discern they're talking about someone/thing other than Jesus... in the context even of salvation... does it matter? Do I cut them off my playlist because they're not dispensing the truth... or do I make the message what I want it to be and keep on rocking?


The answer to this question coming soon...


(Photo by dekeiter1160 used by permission. All rights reserved. See http://flickr.com/photos/65221908@N00/155044578/ for more pics.)


Dr. Glenn Kreider (left) is a professor of theology at Dallas Theological Seminary and John Adair is pursuing his doctorate in historical theology.



Saturday, February 24, 2007

Isn't It Ironic?



Check back next week for more of my interview with Dr. Glenn Kreider and John Adair on Christianity and entertainment!

(Photo by LeggNet used with permission; see www.leggnet.com.)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Rock & Roll, etc... Is It Risky?



(Pic of bubble wrap man... is he safe?)

Here's the second installment of a frank and thought-provoking interview with theologians Dr. Glenn Kreider and John Adair. If you're just coming on board, you'll want to scroll down and see where we started this series on Tuesday.

Sarah:

Let's pick up where we left off before: Phil 4:8 tells us what we should think about. Most rock music probably doesn’t fall under the “pure” category. Do we put ourselves at risk when we depart the Christian music scene (Christiain radio in the car, etc.) and start venturing elsewhere?

John:

We put ourselves at risk doing all kinds of things. We risk gluttony every time we sit down for a nice meal. We risk pride or vanity every time we look in a mirror. Yet we still eat dinner and still give our hair a good look before heading out the door. The choice before us should not be to either drown in a sea of impurity or put our heads in a hole in the ground. Jesus told us to be in the world, but not of it. Thus, the choice for us is not where we are (in the world), but rather one of approach (how we are going to be in the world). To that end, I might ask of music and art: What do we make of those things we encounter in the world? What about this song is true? What about it is false?

Dr. Kreider:

Nothing is pure in a fallen world. If Phil 4:8 means we can only listen or read or spend time with things which are pure, we would need to leave the world. Note that Jesus (John 17) explicitly rejected that option. Also, much of the Bible would be off-limits for our reading as well. The Bible includes a great deal of tough stuff (see Judges for the stories of Samson, not to mention chapters 20-21!). Further, since we are fallen creatures, corrupted to the core of our being, and will one day die as evidence of our innate sinfulness, it would be hard for any of us ever to be considered pure (apart from the grace of God). If the goal is to separate from impurity, we would have to separate from ourselves.

Sarah:

Then what is Paul talking about in Phil 4:8?

Dr. Kreider:

I suspect that Paul in Phil 4 does not mean that we walk through this world with blinders on, but that we train our minds to focus on God and godliness. But we cannot escape the crappiness of a fallen world. And we should not try, for two reasons. First, we do not appreciate the hope we have if we view this world as already redeemed. Seeing this world for what it is, seeing ourselves for what we are, increases our longing for the new creation. Second, seeing the effects of sin in us and in the world should develop our compassion for the world and its inhabitants (human and non-human) and make us better representatives of the one who loved the world (the creation) so much that he sent his Son and of the one who demonstrated how we ought to live in a fallen world by becoming one of us and coming here to live among us and the one who now indwells us as agents of redemption in a fallen world.

John:

There’s a great song by a guy called Sufjan Stevens called John Wayne Gacy Jr. In quiet tones he offers a brief description of this historical figure, a man who molested and killed over 20 boys. Obviously due to the subject matter, and having a son myself, it is difficult to get through. The song is about dirt and filth and all that goes along with such a person who would commit crimes like that. And while it doesn’t devolve into explicit language, it certainly wouldn’t be the first thing one would think of as pure. Yet in spite of that, the way Sufjan portrays this man as a human being, and, rather than pronounce judgment, shines the light on himself, offers a redemptive purity alongside this terrible story, a purity that those poor boys never knew.

By taking this approach to songs like that, the questions then become broader: The first question isn’t necessarily about this particular word or that particular moment, but about how the material is treated. What is the overall sense of the piece? How is the topic treated? Are things like honor, truth, nobility, and purity seen as virtuous? Of course, one must always be attentive to one’s conscience, and as the particulars of this song or that film violate those boundaries, the individual must respond appropriately. No song is worth one’s conscience.


Dr. Kreider:

By the way, some “Christian” music isn’t very pure either. Some of it has pretty sloppy and even erroneous theology, especially related to the trinity. Some of it is silly and sappy “Jesus is my lover” kind of stuff. Personally, I would rather listen to non-Christians describe the struggle of living in a fallen world than to listen to Christians claim that they have perfect, satisfied, and “blessed” lives. I would not recommend it necessarily, but Godsmack singing “I’m running blind” or “I need some serenity” encourages my faith and hope more than some of what I hear on “safe” radio stations. I would rather listen to Bono sing my testimony that even though on the cross Jesus loosed the bonds of my shame I still haven’t found what I’m looking for than to listen to some Christian cover the song and change the lyrics to “Thank God I found what I’m looking for.” (I heard a Christian artist do that and in so doing she turned the song of hope into a tragic and sad testimony of hopelessness. If one has already found everything she is looking for, she has settled for way too little. The Bible explicitly teaches that we have only received a down payment, the first fruits of what is to come.) I haven’t found what I’m looking for and that’s why I keep running. I am looking for a city whose builder and maker is God, a place were there is no sorry, shame, crying or pain, a place where the streets are paved with gold and have no name, a place where the triune God makes his dwelling on the earth and lives with us forever and ever.

Sarah:

We bought a U2 DVD and were enjoying it with the kids… then all of a sudden Bono lets loose with the "f" word. We immediately took it off the kiddy playlist… but should it come off ours, too?

The answer to this question coming soon...

(Photo by doubtingthomas blog; see http://flickr.com/photos/thomasjwoods-com/254841445/
for restrictions.)

My Dream Job: a Christian "Oprah" (Dr. K... oops. Improper adjective use??)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

I Know, It's Only Rock & Roll, But I Like It, Like It, Yes I Do... (Are We OK with That?)



Today we launch a series on Christianity and contemporary entertainment. If you enjoy music and the arts, this multi-series interview is bound to make you think.


Sarah:

Hello, gentlemen! Two of my favorite thinkers from Dallas Seminary. Dr. Glenn Kreider is a professor of theology. John Adair is pursuing his PhD in historical theology.

By way of introduction, Dr. Kreider has a bit of a following at the seminary among some of us who appreciate his very hip musical orientation. Rumor has it you wish you were a part-time DJ. Any truth to this?

Dr. Kreider:

Actually, you’re right! I am a frustrated "wanna be" DJ. I’m a theologian who loves music. And I love to play good music for others.

Sarah:

So it’s true! You heard it here, folks! OK, John. In all your “spare” time you write these incredible “thinking person” reviews of artsy movies. You also have a toddler and a baby on the way! Any plans to review children’s fare?

John:

Thanks for the compliment! I look forward to introducing my kids to some of my favorite animation (and other kid friendly fare) and will happily review movies aimed at children, providing having the kids doesn't cut down on review time! In fact, one of the more impressive children’s movies I've seen was Howl's Moving Castle, which I wrote about here.

Sarah:

You can even find artsy kid fare? I’m totally impressed. What else are you watching?

John:

I've seen all but the most recent Pixar movies and appreciate each of them to greater or lesser degrees. In fact, my friends will tell you that an off-hand mention of Toy Story 2 (my personal favorite) always gets my attention. Anyone who can avoid crying when Jesse gets left at the side of the road must have a heart of stone!!

Sarah:

Agree! Then again, I cry at Buick commercials… OK. You’ve both graciously agreed to jump into blogsphere for a dialogue on so-called “secular” versus “Christian” entertainment.

First question: Is it OK for Christians to listen to a wide variety of secular music?

Dr. Kreider:

In order to frame an answer to this question I think we need to define “secular.” From a quick glance at a dictionary, I learn the term might mean that which is of the world (the creation) and temporal… or it might mean non-religious or even anti-Christian. When Christians use the term I suspect it usually has a negative connotation. One reason for this is that many of us have been taught that the “world” is our enemy, it is against Christ. It is true that the word is used that way in Scripture, but not always. When we teach our children to sing, “He’s got the whole world in his hands,” it is all creation we have in view, I think. So, if “secular” might be that which is of the created order, then everything humans construct is secular.

Sarah:

For our purposes, let’s say we use the term “secular” as it relates to that which is “non-Christian.”

Dr. Kreider:

I’m not sure it’s helpful to classify music as “Christian” or “secular.” I understand what it means to use “Christian” as a noun but am not sure how helpful it is as an adjective. I know what it means to speak of a person as a Christian but find it much less helpful to describe music, art, writing, education, cars, medicine, math, science, paper, I-pods, computers, etc. as “Christian.” I understand what it means to say that the artist/musician is a Christian but does that make her music Christian? As the term is used, Christian as a description of music seems also to focus primarily on the lyrics. (Note that I grew up in an age and in a subculture that argued that rock music was of the devil and the beat itself was proof that the music was not Christian. In its most perverse forms, it had racist underpinnings, asserting that rock music used savage, African beats. Rejection of the genre of rock music, although still around, is not widely used any more.) What makes lyrics Christian? Must they mention Jesus by name? How many times? In that case, much of the Bible is not Christian, since Jesus is not explicitly mentioned.

John:

I agree. I'm not sure thinking about "secular music" as one big monolith is where we want to go. It seems that the Christian vs. secular music divide merely perpetuates a distinction that is not as stark as some people want it to be (i.e. Christian music is all true while secular music is full of falsehood). The fact is all music, Christian or otherwise, is written and performed by fallen human beings, and as such, has its own mixture of truth and falsehood. So, instead of trying to cordon off certain artists or labels into a “safe” Christian ghetto of sorts, I would rather ask if the particular artist/band/song points your sensibilities toward that which is true, pure, noble, and lovely. If one can answer yes to that question, then I don't see a problem, regardless of which label releases the music.

Dr. Kreider:

Yes, a much better standard than labeling the artist or the lyrical content would seem to be questions of truth, beauty, reality, harmony, consistency, appropriateness, etc. Derek Webb makes that point, using irony, when he writes, “Don’t teach me about truth and beauty, just label my music” (“A New Law”). I like a wide variety of musical styles. I find myself particularly drawn to music that expresses reality that is authentic… that tells the truth. Life in a fallen world is messy and tragic. Music that expresses the struggle of life in a fallen world encourages and stimulates my hope. Music that expresses hope, even if not with explicitly Christian content, encourages my hope. I am listening to John Mayer at the moment. “Something’s Missing” expresses the truth that something is wrong with this world. I love the line, “How come everything I think I need always comes with batteries?” There it is: a metaphor for life in a fallen world. Every time I replace the batteries in one of my toys (“The difference between men and boys is the cost of their toys”) I am reminded that in a fallen world, everything is decaying and dying.

John:

I also have a hard time thinking of Christian music as a “genre.” It is the only “genre” of music based entirely on lyrical content. Jazz, pop, rap, rock, and classical are all genre identifications that point toward how the music sounds, rather than to what it says. This leaves me wishing the Christian vs. secular music construct would fade away. Alas, due to marketing concerns and the ongoing belief that what one buys from a Christian label is somehow fundamentally safer and true will, I fear, continue to perpetuate this divide for some time.

Dr. Kreider:

Back to your question, Sarah: Is it OK to listen to a wide variety of music? Yes. I believe that diversity is good, that we should listen to a variety of voices expressing a variety of opinions on a variety of issues. I even think it is helpful to listen to some music that is disturbing and outside my “comfort zone.” I want to know what people are listening to. I might not like it and I might not spend a great deal of time listening to it, but I do want to know what people around me find worthy of their time and money.

John:

And to what extent and what one specifically listens to will depend on the individual in question and their own conscience. Some people may choose to only listen to Christian music, others may pursue a more varied course, but either way, one should be true to their conscience.

Sarah:

So it would appear that you both favor erasing the line that tends to divide “Christian” and “secular” music. Seems you are both looking, in terms of lyrics, for truth and that which provokes thought or conveys virtue or hope. Phil 4:8 tells us what we should think about. Most rock music probably doesn’t fall under the “pure” category.

Question: Do we put ourselves at risk when we branch out from the Christian music scene (e.g., Christian radio in the car) and start venturing elsewhere?

The answer to this question and Part II of my interview with Dr. Glenn Kreider and John Adair coming soon.




DTS Professor Dr. Glenn Kreider (left) and PhD candidate John Adair.


(Photo of CD by gytr; see http://flickr.com/photos/grytr/296878046/ for restrictions.)




Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day!




(Photo by Stephen Taylor used by permission; see http://flickr.com/search/people/?q=dashingyankee for restrictions.)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Can the Flock Rock?



That's the question I posed recently to a professor of theology and a doctoral student. What are Christians to do with modern music and entertainment? Can we rock? Or should we run? Their answers might surprise you... interesting dialogue coming!

Next Week: A Series on Rock 'n Roll, entertainment... and, of course, God.

(Photo by furiousgeorge81; see http://flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=98145025&size=m for restrictions.)

My Valentine's flick pic: Serendipity!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

My Funny Valentines


What the kids are into these days... "Webkinz" stuffed animals. Wonderful, reliable source for these is Gram's Store: http://www.gramsstore.com/.

Monday, February 05, 2007

In Defense of a Lullaby


The creation account found in Genesis Chapter 1 reveals a God who is creative, analytical, purposeful and loving. Turning a cold, still void into a colorful prism of life, God engineered and sequenced the birth of natural existence with mind-blowing intricacy. Life-sustaining habitats preceded us. Consider the marriage of essentials with respect to Earth! From the composition of our planet and its atmosphere… to the tilt of Earth’s axis… the Moon… the shape of her orbit… and the perfect distance from the Sun.

Here we enjoy a “habitable zone”—not too hot and not too cold—a place in which life-essential liquid water flows. Were we marginally nearer the sun, we would burn up. Were we a bit farther away, we would freeze. We can complain about how cold it is in Texas all winter long, but, in reality, so long as the water’s not chunked up or boiling, we’ve got it pretty good.

We will have to get to heaven to understand the level of effort put forth when God forged existence. From a human perspective, we can relate to degrees of challenge. I can build a car out of Lego’s but would be hard pressed to assemble a Lexus. But in God’s economy, is everything effortless? The biblical account of creation shows us a process. A progression of events or “stages” culminating in what many popular translations of the Bible describe as a day of rest (Gn 2:2).

Did God need to rest? The Bible tells us God is inexhaustible (Isaiah 40:28). So what is this concept of rest as it relates to God?

Here it is helpful to go back in time. Where many English translations read that God took a day of “rest,” the original Hebrew word was “sabat,” which is translated “cease.” So the concept here is that God stopped creating on the seventh day. He had finished with the broad strokes that defined natural existence and He paused.

I’ve been thinking a lot about rest the past few months. There are a couple ways to try and understand why it is that God paused depending upon how you interpret Genesis 2:3. Whatever the reason, we know conclusively that He stopped. Though He is a tireless, eternal spirit who doesn’t need rest, He paused.

We, on the other hand, were created with mortal bodies that must rest. No one can stay awake for long periods without sleep and expect to maintain physical and mental health. We need a break from stress, as well.

When I heard about the popular pastors who’ve burned out, I prayed that God would sustain my own pastor and his staff. Enduring cancer has radically altered my own perspective on taking on too much. There’s compelling scientific evidence that stress—unrelenting pressure over long periods of time that keeps us constantly spinning and spiraling without respite—can, indeed, wreak havoc on the body and lead to disease.

Over the past year or so, I learned lots of new uses for a familiar word: “No.” It was hard to say at first. I had to practice in front of the mirror a few months to get it down pat. I still don’t like to say it. But I have what I believe to be a general direction in which God is leading my life. Defined priorities, if you will. I do what I can with diligence toward that end. But I no longer feel compelled to try and do it all. Because something will “drop,” and it could very well be something precious and important that goes down with a thud.

I have friends who are over-committed and under constant, siege-like pressure. Always doing for others and failing to care for themselves. You know who you are. I worry about you. I pray for you. I want you to rest. God stopped!

My mother prays every day for Todd and me… that we find rest. I’ve come to ever appreciate the love and wisdom behind that prayer. Because we need it. As the psalmist David, undergoing enemy assault and bodily suffering, said in a desperate appeal to God: “No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave?” (Psalm 6:5) So good health sustains life which is obviously essential for ministry and worship in the here and now.

David sought God’s intervention here. He appealed to God for healing and potency. There have been times in which I felt that God infused me with energy needed to get a particular job done. He is our first line of defense and the one who ultimately sustains us in all things. But, day to day, I believe we, too, have a role to play in looking after our own health. It’s up to us to listen to our bodies and be sensitive to clues that our health might be at risk. In addition to prayer and fellowship with others, eating healthy, exercising, staying current on medical screenings, and maintaining a spirit of hope are all vitally important. As is rest.

Question for you today: Do you need rest?

Not Blaring (just peacefully streaming) on my I-Pod: More than This, by Roxy Music

(Photo by Brookesb; see http://flickr.com/photos/brookebocast/199276257/ for restrictions.)

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Listen Up... Dads?


We’re doing a deliberative reading of the book of Ephesians for the next couple of weeks in seminary. Toward the end of the book (5:22-6:9), Paul, in what may be a "circular" letter intended for broad distribution within the church of Ephesus and beyond, gets direct with members of the Christian household. He prescribes in these passages how individuals were to relate to one another in the context of intimate living relationships. Paul begins with instructions for wives… then husbands… then children… then fathers… then slaves… then masters. I had to read this passage twice to make sure I hadn’t missed the part where he talks to mothers. Paul transitions from fathers to slaves without mention of us.

“Where are the moms?” I asked a friend.

“Oh, they’re the slaves,” she quipped.

(Doubtful this is what Paul meant, but funny!)

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but raise them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)

My Bible notes suggest that the Greek term “pateres,” translated “fathers,” could also mean “parents.” I also consulted a few commentaries which suggest that there are two camps of thought on this one. While it remains inconclusive as to whether or not Paul is addressing fathers only or both mother and father, when we think about how we are “wired” from a gender perspective, it’s altogether reasonable that the focus here might, indeed, be dads only.

The other night, Todd was reading an article from a Christian group about the role of mother and father. Mothers, the article said, are by nature nurturing and empathetic. Fathers, meanwhile, are meant to discipline and instruct. Todd and I looked at each other knowingly as this is pretty much how it plays out in our own home. While there’s obviously some degree of blending as we consider gender economies—Todd, for example, will discipline and nurture—there is undeniably a leaning or internal “default” that seems to normatively make nurturing more predominant among women with the propensity to discipline, perhaps, a little more organic to men.

So, in this light, as we read Ephesians 6:4, it makes some sense that Paul might be speaking directly to men. Because in doing the job they are designed by God to do—discipline and instruct—there’s the risk of exaggeration here. When discipline creeps beyond the desired training goal and begins chipping away at the spirit of the child. We see this from time to time at youth sporting events when over-the-top “despot” dads verbally batter their children in public. I’ve seen in the eyes of some of these kids a raging silent emotion. Fear. Anger. Even a kind of vacancy as, perhaps, they’ve learned over the years to “check out” as a way of coping.

There's a similar verse that gets at why it's important to avoid provoking our kids to anger. Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they will not become disheartened. (Col. 3:21) Here, again, the Greek word could mean fathers or parents.

Of course, we mothers can and do act in ways that dishearten our children. So whether or not Paul is speaking directly to women here, we obviously have a huge role in ensuring a proper balance of discipline, instruction and nurturing so that our kids launch confidently into the world as healthy, God-centered adults. What's more, we all know of homes in which "traditional" roles are flopped... where women are the stricter disciplinarians and men are more nurturing.

So, it would appear that there are two ways to interpret who is being addressed here. We can rightfully examine the original language and walk away with a prescription from Paul for both parents. There's also a case to be made here for a message pointedly to fathers. It would seem to me, in some ways, this particular shoe is, well, a better fit for dad.

Blaring on my I-Pod... Best of Times, by Peter Cetera

(Photo by Eveyln Adams of Pilgrim Colin and Todd... both looking very handsome!)