Thursday, December 13, 2018

Baby, It's Cold...Inside


Baby, It’s Cold…Inside
by Troy Cady

It has been interesting reading various responses to this year’s Christmas Culture War battle. Many Christians have already been upset for years now about a perceived threat to their liberty by being told they should greet people in public this time of year by saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

No one gets a fine or time served as punishment, mind you, but the accompanying disdain that results from transgressing this new social more extracts enough of a penalty to embitter the average evangelical.

And now many of them are upset that the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Dean Martin has been removed from radio playlists because listeners have complained it supports a narrative that disempowers women.

The way I see it, the response to this by some Christians has been to take offense at the taking of offense by people who want the song removed. Many folks (Christians among them) reason that it’s just an innocent song about some playful back-and-forth between a man and woman who fancy one another. The man wants the woman of his romantic interest to stay a while longer (presumably because he wants to snog a bit) and the woman protests demurely, “I really should go. I ought to say no.” But the man persists, no matter how many times she says no. One of his ploys to get her to stay is to argue, “Stay here by the fire. Baby, it’s cold outside.”

Those who are upset by the song’s removal argue: “Good grief! Can’t we have any fun anymore? Lighten up! It’s just an innocent flirtation. When will the Thought Police take a break, already? People these days are offended by the smallest things. Bunch o’ snowflakes...”

I can understand and appreciate why some of my Christian friends might be upset by the song’s removal, but I must admit: as a pastor, I’m a little perplexed at this response—and I find no small measure of irony in it.

……………………………..

When I first became a Christian, I was VERY conservative because I came to faith in the midst of a conservative Christian cultural environment. By “conservative” I do not mean Republican, necessarily. I don’t mean it in a political sense; I mean it in a social sense.

I came to faith just a couple months before I turned 15 and most of the Christians I knew then (the Christians who were part of the church we attended) frowned upon things like: card playing, gambling, cussing, drinking alcohol, smoking, premarital sex, listening to “secular” music, dancing, and going to the movies. In fact, when I first came to faith, I thought that listening to any kind of rock music was sinful, even so-called “Christian” rock. If it had a beat to it and felt too…pleasurable…it had to be wrong. I listened to a taped seminar once where the teacher taught Christians to burn their secular music. Though I didn’t go as far as that, I did get rid of it all. (In fact, when I was 19 I asked the woman who is now my wife to get rid of her secular music tapes. Crazy, I know!)

The point is: though this was not entirely representative of all evangelicals of the 1980s, it was not uncommon. Though many look on this now as positively medieval, there was (I must assert) something amazing about it (in a good way). For all the faults of such a mindset, it must be said that evangelicals of that stripe did what they did because they wanted to be holy. That kind of passion for personal piety and dedication to it, despite its unpopularity, is rare these days.

Of course, one could argue that a better understanding of holiness causes one not to retreat from the world but to be fully present to it. Biblical holiness is a holiness of closeness, identification, and solidarity.

At any rate, during this era of evangelicalism, Billy Graham was kind of like our pope. If ever there was a man who knew how to show people what it means to be a Christian, it was him.

And one of the things people really respected about him was his commitment to addressing some classic sins that had taken down too many big-time preachers in his day: greed, power, and sex.

He took the sin of greed seriously by limiting his income and being held accountable to it by others. He took the sin of power-mongering seriously by limiting the number of speaking engagements he accepted. Finally, he addressed the many sexual infidelities of his televangelist counterparts by refusing to meet alone with a woman, in private and in public.

This last measure had come to be known among evangelicals as The Billy Graham Rule (and it is still known as that today). Of all the rules Billy abided by, this one (it seems to me) garnered the most respect among his fellow evangelicals and I would assert that probably most evangelical pastors adopted the same practice prior to the year 2000. In fact, The Billy Graham Rule is still prevalent today among a good portion of evangelical pastors, if not the majority.

In any case, most evangelical Christians today would say that, if a man is going to meet alone with a woman (especially in a private place, like an apartment or home) they certainly should avoid having sex together, unless they are married. That one is still a big no-no.

Because of this, many evangelical Christians still frown upon a man being alone with a woman when they are unmarried, especially if they are romantically interested in each other. They reason that it’s like asking an alcoholic to be a bartender; it’s just best to avoid putting yourself in a space of temptation.

With that in mind, I find it a bit ironic that evangelical Christians (of all people) would object to the removal of a song from the radio which portrays a scene where the unmarried man and woman are fixin’ to get it on.

After all, I remember the days when Christians were instructed to write the owner of a certain convenience store requesting they stop selling Playboy—or the Christian would get their entire church to stop buying from that store. Yes, there was a time when some Christians would have written to the radio station themselves, saying, “Take that song off…or else.” At the very least, there was a time when Christians would have avoided even listening to such a song or such a station that played that kind of song. “Why support something so…sinful?” we reasoned. “Why invite temptation?”

This evangelical cultural background truly causes me to wonder why I have read so many posts from evangelicals in the past couple of weeks advocating that the song should be kept on the air. “Why the turnabout?” I ask. What has changed?

………………………….

The culture wars. Many evangelical Christians today are simply tired of being told what they may or may not say, do and think. They remember when they could wish someone a Merry Christmas without being told it’s insensitive.

They lament the pushing out of God in the public sphere and they feel bullied by “the left.” It was the same bullies who pushed prayer out of schools. It is the same bullies who twist “freedom of religion” by advocating that, if one religion is going to be represented visually in a government space, every religion has the right to be represented visually in that same space.

To many evangelicals, pluralism is a four-letter word.

And you can add “tolerance” to that list, too. “The bullies use tolerance like a weapon,” the evangelical observes. Those on the left are tolerant of everyone except evangelicals, they feel. Everyone is free to think and say what they want, but when the evangelical tries to say what they think, they are pushed down as intolerant—and we can’t tolerate that now, can we? “They’re just tolerant of everyone who agrees with them. That’s the truth,” …so says the evangelical.

“Besides,” the evangelical thinks, “America was founded as a Christian nation. Just when—and why—did we lose that distinctive? And how can we return to it?”

This is the context. The culture war has more nuance to it than that, to be sure—but from an evangelical standpoint, this captures the crux of it. It’s the “liberal policing” that drives them mad.

And this is why many are responding with mockery and defiance to the insinuation that a song like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is unhelpful if we are to overthrow old habits that enthrone cavalier attitudes when a woman says no to a man’s advances. Evangelicals experience this declaration as nothing more than coercion by a group of leftist bullies. Many evangelicals feel that, not only is such a declaration just plain silly, it reflects a deeper rationale that lies at the very heart of everything that is wrong in America today.

……………………………..

This is why American evangelicals spend a lot of time, energy and money advancing a particular interpretation of the First Amendment—and all the other amendments, for that matter. They reason that, if America was founded as a Christian nation, the Constitution is part of the Christian’s charter. This is why some evangelicals expend more energy in the fray of political discourse than they do studying the Bible or simply expounding its simple message of a God who is love itself.

The idea and ideal of free speech is often the center-point of such cultural wrangling. American evangelicals spend a lot of time defending free speech partly because they know what it feels like to be denied free speech. Sometimes, what they want to say is labeled as “hate speech” by others, even when they are trying to express their ideas in a respectful way. They resent the labeling of different viewpoints as “hateful.” So, surprisingly, you will sometimes see evangelicals defending the venom of white supremacists (yes, in the name of Christianity).

“Our way of life is at stake, our freedom of speech,” they reason. “What will become of Christianity in America if we are not free to speak up? Indeed, what will become of America itself?”

This is cause for war, we reason. Someone must take a stand and do what is right.

But how does one fight a culture war, anyway? It appears to me that many evangelicals have chosen to fight the culture war with the very materials that created the war in the first place. As a pastor, this is troubling to me.

Related to this is the strategy of fighting the culture war via the arsenal of capitalism. I alluded to this strategy above when I referenced the practice of boycotting a certain seller unless that seller brings their practices in line with what is considered to be proper and good by whoever is concerned. So, Christians have historically boycotted stores (like Target or Starbucks) and products by sponsors of unseemly television programs to get a certain program cancelled.

The problem with using this strategy to fight a battle is that the same strategy can be used against you—and such a strategy tends to be coercive or, at best, manipulative, instead of invitational.

Of interest on this front: this is precisely what we see in the “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” debacle, but it is not without precedent.

It is now fairly well-known that many Americans have decided to boycott Chik-Fil-A because that company has contributed to charities that are hurtful to many gay and lesbian people. You have the right to disagree with someone’s lifestyle, but the minute you do something to bring harm to that person is the minute you stop getting my support, financial or otherwise. So goes the logic; we will hit you where it hurts: in the pocketbook.

In this way, both left and right have chosen to fight the battle on at least two fronts: constitutionally and commercially. The first argues for competing ideas concerning what free speech entails—and whether there is a limit to such a freedom. The second, however, tends to lay aside the question of free speech to achieve a goal of cultural engineering. It uses the forces of capitalism to obtain a competing vision of what entails a just (moral? good?) society. The war consists, in fact, of competing “moralities” or “goods.” What one group sees as moral, the other sees as immoral. So the question becomes, “What is just in the face of such variant visions of morality? How do we live side-by-side in a peaceful way with those who differ from us? Should we just 'make peace' with it all or should we fight for what we think is right, even though others disagree?”

These two battle fronts are important to keep in mind when it comes to the “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” controversy. In particular, it has been interesting to me to see some evangelical Christians playing the “free speech” card in response. “Whatever happened to free speech?” some have retorted.

But the removal of the song from the radio playlist was, properly speaking, only incidentally an issue of free speech. The weapon used in this instance was good ol’-fashioned commercialism. Radio is a business and a group of people simply let that business know they didn’t want that song being played anymore because it reinforces norms that shouldn’t be normal anymore.

It’s the same reason people object to our current president’s way of communicating. Many have already made the observation that the president’s frequent bullish tone is not something we should normalize in our way of being together. We want a society of civility, even if we disagree with each other. If there were a way to legally curtail his arrogant and denigrating way of speaking about others, many people would take it.

Apparently, there were enough people who objected to the song that the radio station decided it was in their best interest (as a business) to remove it from the playlist. But evangelicals really have no right to object to this strategy, because they have historically fought the same war with the same weapon. If you want the song put back on the playlist, pick up that weapon yourself, at any rate. After all, it’s there for your use whenever you want it. And it’s so powerful. 

We know that by experience, unfortunately. It’s like a drug that you just want to keep using.

………………………..

As it’s Christmas, I need to ask: “How is a Christian supposed to fight a war, anyway?”

Though the Bible speaks about “spiritual battle,” the message of Jesus’ life has something so radical to offer us, it should stop us all in our tracks.

First of all, the weapons of the Christian are not of this world. In fact, the only weapon Jesus ever used was not a weapon at all. It was the cross; it was a weapon used against him.

His answer was love. When they said “die”, he picked up love. He picked up love for those who were killing him, for those who wanted to silence him, to take his voice away.

In infancy, he had no words; and, in death, he had few. His life of love was his message.

He could have defended himself, but he didn’t. He let love be his defense.

One of the things I often say when training others on conflict transformation is that the worst response you can offer when attacked is to defend yourself or attack back—but it is typically the first response of most people.

This is why it saddens me that so many Christians feel compelled to defend…a song—instead of stopping to listen. To be sure, they feel compelled to defend more than a song. To them, it is a way of life, an ideal of freedom—and the song just happens to represent the larger issue at stake.

That is also why it matters to those who wanted the song removed. It represents a larger issue at stake. It’s not just about “the song.”

That is why I advocate that, when things like this happen, Christians need to stop long enough to listen, to enter into the world of those who have raised an objection. If we do that in this case, we might hear them saying, “It’s not okay to dismiss a woman when she says no to a man. Shut up and listen to her, dude. Be a gentleman. No means no. This has to change, already.”

To be sure, the song is popular because it clearly resonates with a cultural script that is familiar to us. So, some people have put their finger on this song and have identified that the cultural script it reflects has hurt countless women over the years, even if only inadvertently and, seemingly, in innocence. Personally, I’m grateful these listeners did what is surely unpopular for many Americans by saying, “Enough. We shouldn’t normalize this anymore, or dismiss it casually.”

You might say, “Lighten up”—but to women who have been hurt because they’ve been told to “lighten up,” your word is not a healing word. As Christians, we should be the first to hear that pain, even between the lines of a “cute” song.

I want to appeal to my fellow Christians (as I have done in the past) to stop reacting in such a knee-jerk way when someone from the “left” challenges your assumptions or cultural preferences. Our cynical or embittered responses reveal to others a smallness of spirit, a coldness, a callousness of heart that fails to take into account the experience of those different from us. And, ironically, nothing could be further from the warmth of the Christmas spirit than such a cynical, combative response.

Baby, it’s cold inside. Warm up; slow down and listen. Lay down your defenses, your weapons.

Remember: the weapons you use can (and most likely will) be used against you—the very same weapons. When that happens, it is the utmost hypocrisy for us to cry foul.

So, why not just pick up the cross—not as a weapon, but as a sign of humble love and service? If others see you pick up the cross, maybe they’ll see the mysterious, beautiful wisdom in picking it up themselves. And, think about it: if everyone picks up the cross, we will have no more war. Yes, the cross is the one “weapon” that wins the war—because it isn’t a weapon.

Pick up the cross. See the other in their humanity, their experience, both their pain and strength. Stop fighting with the weapons of this world. Show a better way. It’s infectious.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Shape: reflections

Shape: reflections
by Troy Cady

Recently, I heard a popular television preacher explain why he is justified spending so much on high-end, expensive clothing. He reasoned that, as a father, he wants his children to look good because, if they look shabby, it would be a poor reflection on him as a father. Since God is a good Father who loves to give good gifts to his children, it’s not only normal for Christians to be good dressers but, really, we should be the BEST-dressed people around. It’s a reflection of the best Father when his children look the best.

This is the shape of designer faith, I suppose.

…………………………

Some questions.

I wonder what it would look like if Christians today looked more like Jesus and if they were more fully shaped by the cross?

I wonder if people who have golden toilets installed eventually come to take the shape of their installations or if they more closely resemble the contents therein? I wonder if the sacrament becomes to such a person nothing more than a little cracker and cup of juice. I wonder just what is the sacrament of the rich and powerful? Is it Body? Is it Blood? What is the shape of their altar?

I wonder what it would look like if we invested more of ourselves in being clothed with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” than in surface appearances?

How is it that we have completely misread the message of the Bible, a message that proclaims God does not look at the outside of a person—but looks at the heart? I wonder what place Isaiah’s vision of Christ’s disfigurement really has in our closeted hearts?

Indeed, what shape is my life to take if I say I want to be in Christ and have his life in mine?

Such a small, haunting question: What shape is my life, my heart, to take?  

…………………….

She’s a shaper.
Something is being formed
between her legs,
something spinning,
an artistic mess, wet
between her legs,
a creation by the creator,
precious, unique.
She puts her whole body into it,
every tough muscle
and delicate drop of water,
sweat and—yes, blood—
her voice at turns singing
and whispering, laughing
as she makes.
See her hands, strong,
(and her womb is verdant)
shaping something common,
approachable, and beautiful,
something that holds
something to sustain.
She makes space
between her legs,
a hospitable place
for tenderness
poured out like
generous breath.
See how her heart is fixed
on what she is making.
She’s a shaper.

………………………………….

Americans tend to esteem the self-made person. We prize our autonomy. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and…make something of yourself!

It’s a mystery: somehow my life takes the shape of what I make of it but somehow there is a greater power at work all around me and inside me, shaping me in grace and love. This power is not mine, but it is in me; it’s a mystery.

This power is a Person who knows and can be known. This Person is a shaper, a maker. This Person makes in, by and for love. And it is this very love that shapes me—if I let it shape me.

We let love shape us as we learn to know the Person who is the Lover. We learn to love by letting ourselves be loved, then loving in return.

What God is making is so much greater than anything I could ever make on my own. Our lives are shaped by love more than we realize. When we open our eyes to this reality, it transforms us. Instead of trading rags for riches, we learn to see our rags as riches—because we see everything in love. There’s no need to play dress-up anymore. Love makes us real. This is the shape of authentic faith; its poverty is its wealth.

………………………….

At Christmas we remember that love takes the shape of infancy. It’s the shape of God’s hungry mouth, suckling on the heavy breast, filled with milk. It’s a shape you can get close to, a shape that comes close to you.

Love takes the shape of God’s poverty. The King became naked and cold, homeless.

The shape of Life at Christmas is an imperfect shape. It’s risk and vulnerability. It’s an open shape, open even to be oppressed and extinguished. It’s a shape unlike any shape you’ve seen before. It’s a mystery.

The shape of God at Christmas is a small shape. It repudiates bigger and better. It’s weakness is its strength. It’s an artistic shape, a creative shape that creates life in all who take the time to really look at it.

It’s a simple shape, but no less captivating for its simplicity. Somehow, it’s always the same and always changing at once. It will never wear out, never cease to stun and silence us.

God’s Christmas shape is a shape that begs to be held, cherished, nurtured. Keep this shape warm. Treat it gently, tenderly. Wrap it to keep it warm, but don’t try to control it. Console it when it seems sad and laugh with it when it’s lively.

The shape of a Christian at Christmas should mimic this mysterious shape. It calls for deeper listening, closer looking, better loving.

Mockery has no place, nor cheap imitation. Who needs wrapping paper when hope is the gift?

…………………….

Ultimately, a Christian is one who puts on the cross. The true Christian is one who is shaped by the reality that the Father sent the Son so that all who would imitate him would be filled with the Spirit of God to share the love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit with all.

This reality, properly understood, makes the sign of the cross. The vertical axis was drawn when the Father sent the Son; the horizontal axis is formed by the Spirit prompting those who believe this story to share God’s love with everyone. The story itself is the cross, so a Christian is a cross-shaped person.

And cross-shaped people are naked people.

God, in both infancy and death, disrobes—showing us his whole unhidden self. What a shape!

…………………..

Maybe you’d like to make this prayer your own. It’s a simple prayer, but if it is prayed from the heart, it can change everything. I invite you to pray it with me now, in the simple, silent, mysterious shape of your soul.

Shape me, Lord.
You are the potter; I am the clay.
Help me stop pretending.
Make me real.
Make me what you want me to be,
not what I want to be.
Let my life take the shape of your love.
Amen.








   

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

in the stillness

In this time
to just be still
you can feel the gentle
rising and falling
of your chest—
silent, slow breath.
Close your eyes
and see,
imagine the day’s
timeless questions resolved
in good time.
Do you wonder—as I—
when we will learn to love
with no exception,
when all competition
will be friendly
and joy our
constant orientation?
Do you wonder
if grace is enough,
when tenderness
will temper the perpetually tough?

Ask your questions now
in the stillness.
Here in this present
time becomes a healer,
that which has fallen rises again
and pride has no place but the grave.
Here in this present,
feel the arms you cannot see
loving you unconditionally.
Breathe, sweet breath,
rising and falling—
hope, your best friend,
is calling.

………………

in the stillness
by troy cady




Friday, November 30, 2018

snowflakes

a little-known fact
about snowflakes
is that they don’t melt
when teargassed
or tongue-lashed;
multiplied,
they’re capable
of crippling commerce
and each one is unique
so you can’t lump them all together,
though you can try.
You can go on calling them snowflakes, of course—
it won’t offend them
because they know
that God names each of them,
short-lived as they are—
they’re precious,
crystals convened…
around a speck, yes—
but then…
who doesn’t have a little bit of dirt inside?
Still, there is something beautiful
about their lack of concern
as to what the season should be called.
They just go about immigrating
to our homeland
and there’s no telling
how many will come
and how fast.
They seem to invite us
to just make peace
with how little we can control them
and welcome
the break from ourselves they give us.
A little-known fact about snowflakes
is that they are tougher than they seem.

………………………..

snowflakes
by troy cady

   

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Lion and the Lamb

The Lion and the Lamb
by Troy Cady

The Bible doesn’t actually say the lion will lay with the lamb, but the spirit of the sentiment is certainly present. The misquote is taken from a conglomeration of verses, chief of which are found in Isaiah 11 and Isaiah 65.

In 11:6-9 we read:
“The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
    and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.”

Isaiah 65:25 condenses 11:6 and 9:
“The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
    and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.

The images in these texts have been interpreted historically in at least two ways:
1. They have been taken as images of Jesus, and
2. They have been interpreted as images of peace.

The image of the lion and lamb, in fact, does appear in Revelation where we read in chapter 5 about the Lion of Judah who is extolled as king while the Lamb is shown to be the only one in all creation who is worthy to open the sacred scrolls. In that text, the lion and lamb are one and the same as both images are joined in the person of Jesus. The qualities of the Lamb (humility and sacrifice) are cause for exaltation, ascribing power and glory to the Lion-who-is-the-Lamb.

Love, shown in supreme acts of humble service, is enthroned. And love brings together what would normally be torn apart.

…………………..

I’m thinking of these texts right now (this image of the Lion and the Lamb) because of a friend of mine. His name is Leo, which means “lion” in Latin.

One of the things I love about our friendship is how different we are from each other: he’s Greek and I’m American; he has earned a PhD and I’m still working on my Master of Arts. He’s licensed to fly small planes and I get airsick. He’s a scientist and I write bad poetry. I’m a pastor and he’s an atheist. In some ways, he’s a lion and I’m more like a lamb.

You’d think with all our differences there is no way we could be friends, but Leo is one of the most cherished friends I have these days. He’s both thoughtful and generous. I’ve been privileged to go flying with him and we’ve shared lots of good conversation and food with each other. We keep an eye out for each other.

But some weeks ago, Leo did something that was especially kind: he took me to a prayer room. He didn’t have to go with me; he could have just said, “Troy, you should go visit the Art Institute. They have an exhibit on prayer right now that you should see.” Instead of just telling me about it, though, he took the time to go with me.

It meant a lot to me and, thinking back on it now, I’m still touched by it. How thoughtful and kind!

I appreciate Leo because I can be my real self with him and he accepts me for who I am: a person of faith. To be sure, I see faith in Leo, too. He has faith in people and he’s always searching for truth. I love those qualities in him.

Now that I think of it, I guess there’s a little lion and lamb in both of us.

Thanks, Leo, for our unlikely friendship. Thanks for helping me see the old writings of Isaiah come to life. I appreciate you.


Thursday, November 22, 2018

a prayer to gratitude

somewhere in this tangle
of charging cables
i might have placed
my gratitude;

or maybe i dropped it
a ways back
along with all
the unwanted platitudes
i offered to avoid
the discomfort of grief.

gratitude,
disconnect me
from self-sufficiency;
show yourself to me
in my own imperfection;
help me give thanks
for both light and shadow,
what’s been given
and what’s been withheld
in your gracious, gentle wisdom.

………………………..

a prayer to gratitude
by troy cady
thanksgiving 2018


Sunday, November 18, 2018

ready for winter

Do you see every brittle twig
fallen on the forest floor,
the great fields,
stripped just after harvest,
frozen under the snow,
earth’s back bared,
waiting for the blade’s cut?
My spotless window
killed the finch midflight;
I know because I’m looking at her,
still, fallen and cold,
called before her time.
I know; I saw what happened.
Do you see?
Do you care?
When you prepare for winter,
do you collect or purge?

……………………

ready for winter
by troy cady