Slumdog Love Ethics

I just saw Slumdog Millionare for the second time and was struck by a scene depicting how real love works. When Jamal finds the grown-up Latika, married to a selfish, chauvinistic man who obviously doesn’t cherish her, he tries to convince Latika to run away with him. But she’s too scared. She’s an orphan who was forced to beg by a cruel overlord who sold her into this marriage. But at least now she’s relatively safe, living in a mansion with servants and some semblance of security. Certainly she can survive her husband’s rude and angry behavior if she is at least clean, clothed, and fed.

Like Latika, we feel safe in our sin. Whether it’s the decision to start a relationship with Christ or to take a new step of faith in walking with Him, the old way seems so much safer. It’s difficult to leave our pet sins, and even harder to leave the world of familiarity in order to follow Christ for the first time. Being rescued from slavery sounds nice, but will it really happen? And what awaits us on the other side of freedom?

Jamal longs to redeem Latika so he confides, “I love you.” But such effusions bear little relevance to her situation so she coldly responds, “So what?” She is hardened enough by the world to know romantic love alone cannot save her. But then Jamal demonstrates a different type of love when he promises, “I’ll wait for you at the train station every day at five, until you come.” He is expressing sacrificial, victorious love.

Jamal tells Latika what he will do, and how he hopes she will respond. But his act of sacrifice and hope does not depend on her actions. He will love her by waiting for her everyday whether or not she comes. He’s really saying, I will be there for you, no matter what you do.

Jamal’s sacrifice is no doubt mixed with his own interest in the beautiful Latika, and his power to save her is nearly non-existent. Yet his demonstration of love is similar to Jesus, who in essence says, “Here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to die on the cross for your sins. I’m going to offer you this free gift of forgiveness, a relationship, and eternal life. And all you have to do is ask for it.” He died for all everyone’s sin, knowing that most people would not accept His grace. But that didn’t change His decision to sacrifice for us.

So often I am too afraid to speak the truth to someone, or too selfish to love someone when it costs too much. I’m afraid of what the other person will do, or that they won’t do anything at all. But sometimes I’ve chosen to take the approach of Jesus and Jamal by letting someone know, either explicitly or through my actions, “I love you, and here’s how I’m going to show that. Here’s how I’m going to sacrifice for you.” Maybe it’s as simple as, “I’ll call you again next week.” Sometimes it’s setting boundaries: “I will hang up the phone if you continue this inappropriate behavior.” Other times it’s just being there, or broaching a difficult but necessary topic.

This is what 1 Corinthians 13 means when it says “love never fails.” It means love always wins. Victory isn’t getting someone else to do what you want. Winning occurs when we learn to love another, regardless of the person’s response. And so often God uses our acts of love to bring redemption in another person’s life. But that depends in part on the person’s free will, which is why Romans 13:10 says, “As far as it is up to you, be at peace with all people.” When we are willing to let God mold our hearts, we will experience the victory and power of real love.

Real Zeal

Love: how can we understand it? Let alone live it? It is the greatest commandment, the summary of the Law, the New Testament ethic, and the measure of a Christian’s maturity. Just when I thought I was getting my minds around love ethics, we started studying worship. But when it comes to worship, what’s love got to do with it?

Worship results in Zeal, which leads to Significance, which equals Victorious Love. (With joy as essential to worship.)

Revelations 5:9-14 is the perfect picture of worship: “Worthy is the lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (v. 12). The heavenly beings in this passage as gushing about God’s greatness, because they’ve experienced it first-hand. We also personally know God’s glory through love relationship.

When we worship God we recognize and respond to God’s zealous love for us. Zeal is essential to understanding love, and it goes beyond the normal “love is a choice” formulation. God didn’t grit His teeth when He decided to love us, as we often do when we obediently and mechanically “serve” others without zeal. Rather, God went out of His way and stopped at nothing to redeem and reach us, so that we might experience His love in a personal, intimate way.

As a result, we can joyfully give our hearts to Him in gratitude and awe, seeking an ever-deepening love relationship with Him. When our heart worships God, rather than submitting out of sheer obedience, we experience joy as we delight in knowing God, His salvation, and His lavish provisions. Zeal is the natural outgrowth of joy: as we rejoice in God’s zealous love for us, He gives us the desire and zeal to love others. This is what it means that “We love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Zeal is how we gain significance in people’s lives because it results in victorious love output. When I get functional and just go through the motions with people, even if I’ve thought about “what is best for them,” I don’t have zeal. And then I’m not loving victoriously, but half-heartedly or worse. Zeal isn’t about drumming up a bunch of sanguine excitement and warm fuzzies toward people. Rather, it means fighting for people’s good out of a heart-felt, God-given desire to love others. Zealous love is determined passion, and it will seek God’s will through prayer, the Word, godly counsel, and spiritual training so that we can love victoriously. When we have zeal for people we will become significant to them, and to be significant is to love and feel loved.

There are so many good verses about zeal, and I particularly like 2 Corinthians as a study of zealous love, which Paul expresses for the Corinthian believers. Perhaps it’s a little easier to get my mind around Paul’s zeal, although it’s invaluable to reflect on God’s zeal for us, especially as demonstrated through Christ’s ministry.

Paul refers to his first letter to the Corinthians, which included some much-needed rebuke, in 2 Cor. 2:4: “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.” Zeal includes the willingness to offend others when necessary for their good, but always “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), just as Paul did here. He wasn’t malicious or self-righteous about confronting them. He was emotional about writing words he knew would grieve them, but he hoped they would see it as the mark of his zealous love.

Zealous love is expressed in both actions and words. Sometimes we need to affirm our love for people, as Paul does in 2 Cor. 11:11: “Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!” He is zealous for them to know that He loves them. When we put so much emotional and sacrificial effort into loving people, we want them to feel loved. But so often I avoid emotional statements about how significant a relationship is and how much I love someone because I’m afraid to be vulnerable.
Our actions demonstrate zeal when we sacrifice substantially for others and thus become significant to them. “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God” (2 Cor. 4:15). Zeal means living for the people you love, rather than for yourself. Paul lived for the sake of the churches and lost people. He was zealous to bring more people to worship and thank God for His grace. And it took an offering of his whole being. He was willing to suffer anything for their good; no cost was too high. That’s real zeal.

The all-consuming nature of zeal is described again in 2 Cor. 5:13-15: “For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” He is overcome by God’s love and consumed by the zeal that results from worship. He gives up control to become a bond-servant, willing to live for others, acting either sane or insane, whatever love requires.

We see again the sacrificial nature of zeal in 2 Cor. 12:15: “I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?” Zeal will lead us to a level of sacrifice only limited by what is beneficial for the other person. And this offering of self is joyful, as Paul says he is glad to do it. He’s willing to sacrifice for them even if they resent it. People don’t always understand our zeal for them and may not respond as we hoped, but victory lies not in their reaction, but our active love for them.

Then he gets even more personal in a beautiful, heart-wrenching verse, 2 Cor. 7:3, 4: “I do not speak to condemn you, for I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together. Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort; I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction.” Zeal produces an overwhelming sense of unity, emotional bonding, and spiritual significance. It is the eternal heart-connection of brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s like the parent-child relationship he uses to illustrate his zeal for the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:7, 11). He gains so much joy and comfort and pride from the Corinthians’ victories because he is significant to them, and as a result of his zeal they are learning to be significant to others.

I experienced this idea of someone being in my heart when Jen and Yana left our fellowship and friendships. Zealous love opens the opportunity for profound hurt because once someone is in our hearts to live and die together, an external severing of the bond is so painful. I feel like a part of my heart was ripped out with them leaving, and yet at the same time they are still in my heart. I was significant to them and their leaving doesn’t change that. But we shouldn’t need a tragedy to feel the eternal, intimate bond we have with our friends. There are so many more people who are forever united with me
through the bond of Christian love relationships.

And there is an opportunity for great joy in such friendships. We rejoice when those we are zealous for gain their own zeal and significance, as in 2 Cor. 7:7: “and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more.” Such an outcome produces joy upon joy. And as a disciple’s character grows, so does their worship and thus their zeal. 2 Cor. 7:11, 12 says, “For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the offender nor for the sake of the one offended, but that your earnestness on our behalf might be made known to you in the sight of God.” Paul’s zeal for the Corinthians led to their repentance and righteous handling of wrong, and this led their hearts to deeper worship of God.

Here is what we all hope for our disciples: 2 Cor. 7:16: “I rejoice that in everything I have confidence in you.” But do we work zealously toward this goal of victorious love output? Can we say, as Paul did in 2 Cor. 11:2, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin”? God is jealous of us because we are rightfully His! He has substantially sacrificed for us; He is unquestionably significant to us. And when we lead someone to worship God, we betroth them to Christ as part of His church. Like parents betrothing their child, we should be jealous and zealous (both from Greek zelo, to burn with passion), to present our spiritual offspring as a pure virgin to Christ.

When we zealously love a disciple or someone else, their welfare becomes more important than ours (Philippians 2:3, 4). “For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong; this we also pray for, that you be made complete” (2 Cor. 13:9). Zeal takes a high emotional toll on us; it is simultaneously wearying and energizing to love victoriously. We may feel weak as a result of sacrifice or sin, but we still rejoice and worship God, motivated by the spiritual power growing in our disciples. This leads us to pray earnestly that God will mature and “complete” them as a result of their worship.

There are so many more verses about zeal, but one I especially like is 1 Peter 4:8: “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” The zeal I’ve just described from 2 Corinthians is a goal to strive for as we worship God and let Him transform our hearts. I fall so far short of zealous sacrificial love, and yet by God’s grace I’m still building significance in people’s lives. God is most interested in our heart attitude of zeal for others. Our sin will always get in the way of perfect execution. But this verse is a beautiful and reassuring promise that if we let God grow zealous love in our hearts, He can work around and through our sinful blunders. And that brings us back to one more reason to worship and rejoice in Him.

I Can See Clearly Now the Sin is Gone

I only wish the title was truer for me. Last night I traveled to Columbus to hear the great Ralph Ankeman teach a Love Ethics class. After Dar called to invite me I was so excited to see this legendary figure who counseled the venerable Katey Downs, who in turn helped disciple our fearless leader, Keith McCallum. What an example of real spiritual significance.

Dr. Ankeman, a medical student-turned-missionary who now practices biblical love therapy in a secular psych ward, did not disappoint. He began on a note of wonder: “How closely the gospel of Christ fits the way human beings are,” he reflected. His teaching, at once quirky, comical, and insightful, was brimming with stories and examples illustrating the application of biblical love rules. The rule that stood out the most to me is that “I can’t make you do anything, but I can tell you what lies within my power to do.” For example, I can’t make you stop neglecting your kids, but I can call child services, as painful as that might be for me.

Keith’s teaching was equally good, if somewhat shortened for the sake of time. He’s updated the material a bit to clarify the concepts of fences and gates. But I think he’s writing an article on it, so I’ll save the details for now. I’ll just say his teaching got me thinking about what God is showing me about other people. I tend to be very negative about, well, everything, and my negatively quickly escalates into judging others. “Why can’t they just get it together?” I wonder. Keith’s teaching offered an interesting possibility. Perhaps it’s my own heart that’s getting in the way of others’ growth.

What an odd, counter-intuitive thought. And it must be rightly understood. I can’t make anyone do anything, as stated above. But if I’m seeking to help someone, and yet judging them at the same time, is it not reasonable that God would withhold insight from me regarding the other person? If I’m seeking to motivate someone’s change for impure reasons, perhaps to bolster my reputation or just because her sin annoys me, it makes sense that God would not honor my efforts. But when I sincerely want to help that person only for her own sake, it then becomes safe for God to reveal her heart to me, thus showing me how to spur her on toward love and good deeds, as Hebrews 11:24 says.

I feel like God is showing me things about “what lies beneath the surface” of my old home church and my new cell group. I don’t know exactly what to do about it; no doubt my heart needs further purifying. But I did not sleep well after my return from Columbus. I felt like God was laying burden after burden upon me. I arose this morning feeling weighed down and a bit confused. What did God want me to do with all of it? My first response is to worry, and I set right to work with an ever-hardening knot in my stomach.

But I knew this wasn’t right, or pragmatically helpful. After all, Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burden is light. As I started to trust God one worry at a time, I realized God showed me these concerns not to weigh me down, but bring treacherous undercurrents to light. I know I’m not the only one with these insights, as many of them were gathered from conversations with others. I’m not special. I’m just convicted. And my practical nature is itching to do something about it, and there will be plenty of time for that. But I won’t know what to do unless my heart is right.

And that’s the last point I wanted to comment on. Of course with all the heart-clarifying, there will always be a measure of sin this side of paradise. God in his grace grants us revelation even in our imperfection. But the clearer the heart, the clearer our spiritual eyes: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Dennis closed the 2007 Xenos Summer Institute with a teaching called “Cultivating a Tender Heart.” It’s worth listening to (http://www.xenos.org/xsi/resources.htm#2007) and/or reading his paper (http://www.xenos.org/essays/tender_heart.htm) by the same title. It’s been over a year since I’ve done either, but the theme strikes me as increasingly relevant: in ministry we face the paradox of loving people with the hope that God will change them, but we also know they may choose to reject God and us. Even with a disciple it’s possible to invest deeply and sacrificially for years, only to lose them to a person, a job, or a drug. It’s a painful reality and especially tempts seasoned workers to hold something back—namely, their hearts. What does that look like? The leader might give of time, knowledge, prayer, and counsel, but ultimately their efforts lack zeal because they are afraid of being hurt. The less compassion and vulnerability are developed in the friendship, the less will be lost if the person forsakes their walk with God. So the thinking goes. Yet the Bible calls for something quite different:

“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

I periodically (at least once a week) dive into the depths of my melancholy nature and revel in the misery and fear of historic and potential losses. First it was Missy, then Kay, then Jen. Now I fear the same for Yana. And I start naming a handful of people who might be next. I don’t want to care about them, I conclude. It’ll hurt too much later on.

But then I remember how much God has been hurt by humanity. Think of all the times people turned their back on God. There was the Garden of Eden incident for starters. He must have been profoundly grieved, as well as wondering, “What exactly did you think I meant by ‘If you eat of it, you will surely die?’” And He didn’t flood the earth because people were thriving spiritually. Nor did He confuse the languages at Babel because people were building a tower to honor Him. Abraham’s naughty little scheme for baby-making without his decrepit wife wasn’t exactly godly, either, but God still came through on his promise when Abraham repented. Jacob was a complete con artist but he still secured God’s blessing.

Then there’s Moses, a nasty combination of murderer and whiner, but God miraculously led the Israelites out of Egypt with him as their leader. Speaking of Israel and whiners, God’s chosen people always promptly forgot how God provided for them and bowed down to stupid wooden lawn statues instead. God repeatedly mourns their unfaithfulness, comparing them to a wife who committed adultery again and again. But He kept taking them back, picking them up and dusting them off through forgiveness and healing. David was a total macho-man idiot, what with the womanizing and husband-killing, but God used him because he was “a man after God’s own heart.” The list goes on and on, with Israel the star idiot of the Old Testament drama. But God never gave up, reneged on His promises, or withheld His love.

And then I remember how much God has been hurt by me. I’m a star idiot, too. From the sinful state I was born in to my fear and negativity, to the daily sinful thoughts and motives I’m not even aware of, He has plenty of reason to write me off. Yet He pursues me with lovingkindness just as He did with Israel. I didn’t go looking for God. He was looking out for me. He tracked me down and drew me to Himself. It had nothing to do with me or my goodness. There is nothing good about me (Isaiah 64:6), but He wants me anyway.

How heartbreaking God’s hurts must be; how agonizing to endure. And I complain when I lose a disciple or two, whom I didn’t love nearly as well as God loves me. While it’s worth mourning the loss of those friends I can’t let that change how I love the people God’s put in my life right now. I want to cultivate the tender heart He has displayed through Scripture and in my relationship with Him. It’s a heart that continues to love even in the face of betrayal and unfaithfulness. It’s a heart that loves boldly, relentlessly, tenderly, and patiently. It’s a heart that pursues, initiates, chases down the people who so desperately need Christ’s healing love. That’s what it means to “love one another as I have loved You” (John 13:34).

The Xenos Law

A sense of urgency is immediately evident at the beginning of Paul’s first letter to Timothy. After his standard greeting he gets right to the point: don’t leave Ephesus because you need to tell people not to teach whacked-out doctrines. Throughout his writing Paul warns against false teachers, but even in Galatians, written when Judaizers threatened to steal the excitement of grace from new believers, Paul waited at least a few more verses to introduce his concern. But in 1 Timothy he’s just bursting to make the main point the main point.

And what is that? One word: grace.

It dominates virtually every page of the Bible in innumerable forms. It’s God’s gift that we could never deserve, Christ’s payment for our sins and the invitation to an eternal relationship with Him. And it’s exactly what was threatened when these navel-gazing teachers began flapping jaws filled with falsehood, deception, and legalism. They indulged in hair-splitting speculation instead of spreading the news of salvation by faith alone. And Paul was pissed.

Doesn't Paul look pissed?

Timothy, on the other hand, was timid. That’s probably why Paul had to tell him to stay put and deal with this festering sore, which could easily infect and wipe out the church at Ephesus. So he reminded Timothy what it was all about:

“But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”

The point of all our efforts in ministry is love, whether we’re planning, teaching, relating, or doing other various and sundry tasks. And this love is not the polite fakery of office-manners or Sunday church decorum. It’s from a heart purified by Christ’s blood, which makes it possible for us to forgive and earnestly care for other sinners. This love comes from a generous conscience which not only wishes others well, but actively seeks to provide good in their lives. It issues forth from a sincere faith, without hypocrisy because we realize we are utterly depraved and unable to love without Christ.

As Paul continues he points out that the Law was made to be broken. The point isn’t for us to earn God’s approval by keeping it, but for us to realize we can’t do it and accept grace instead. In Xenos we know this, but we’re still in danger of becoming teachers of the Law if we don’t emphasize the preeminence of love in response to grace. We must teach people that we are under grace! We don’t want to teach or allow people to teach the Xenos Law:

1. Go to every CT, home church, and cell group meeting.
2. Pray and share at these meetings.
3. Try to get other people, especially non-believers, to come to said meetings.
4. Read Walking in Victory, The Scarlet Thread, and the NeoZine.
5. Check Basecamp often, and post frequently.
6. Hang out with people a lot in order to build “spiritual relationships that last.” (another required reading)

These are all very good steps to take if you wish to grow as a Christian. If not, following them will probably make you miserable. But the point is, we don’t want to follow the Law. We want to fall in love with Jesus and be motivated by His grace and a dynamic, exciting love relationship with our loving God.

But how? Remember the goal: Love that is pure as it’s motivated by grace, not guilt; that is from a good conscience, not selfish, gotta-grow-my-cell-group motives; and that is from a sincere faith that God is good, the gospel is true, and Christ is the only one worth living for.

How does that work out practically? Take one example. When your disciple or roommate skips out on CT, don’t make that the issue. Instead ask, “Why did you pass up this opportunity to love others?” or “Why are you being so selfish, autonomous, and distrustful?” (Love Ethics notes, week 1). Get to the heart of the issue: “Why aren’t you excited by God’s grace?” Find out where the faith-hope-love train has broken down (see Hebrews CT series) and help them repair it, rather than just addressing the external behavior. Remember the purpose of discipleship teaching the person to love others, God’s way.

I’m certainly no expert at keeping the goal of love in sight, as I’m far too functional in my leadership and relationships. But I desperately want to turn to grace to fight legalism and learn love instead. Who’s with me?

Babies ‘R’ Us

Some people have been going on about the movie Into the Wild as an example of anti-love ethics. I think I found the female equivalent when I was watching Rachel Ray while babysitting. They had actress Leah Rimini on, who apparently was the female lead in King of Queens.

Leah let Rachel Ray’s camera people create “a day in the life” video of her, Angelo (husband), and Sophia (daughter). I couldn’t believe my eyes as I watched Leah dote on her three-year-old’s infantile behavior. “Well, of course she’s infantile,” you say. “She’s only three!”

But I’m not just referring to tantrums and crying fits, although there was plenty of that. This 3 ½ year old kid was still on the bottle. She drinks milk and water from baby bottles at an alarming rate, especially at night when she downs six to eight “aqua babas” a night. Oh, and she sleeps between the parents in their bed every night.

She wakes up and cries about every hour, and they shove a bottle in her face to shut her up. An hour later, she’s up crying because she wet her diaper. So they change her give her another bottle, which of course means another wet diaper later. How dumb can you be? It’s simple cause-and-effect. Not to mention you’re being completely manipulated by a chubby preschooler!

At first I was horrified that the show would be promoting such an atrocious approach to parenting. I mean, Rachel Ray might come off a little ditzy, but this was deplorable! But as the program continued, it appeared that Rachel Ray, without ever really condemning Leah, was trying to reform her. They brought in a pediatrician to give Leah a reality check about the how abnormal and problematic a preschooler on a bottle is. Then they had a hardened mother of three try to teach her to say no to her little devil. Not that you need any child-rearing experience to figure out what’s wrong with the situation.

What shocked me most was Leah’s reaction to people telling her it’s a problem. She made statement like, “People tell me my kid’s manipulating me, but I don’t see how she’s doing that. I’m just taking care of my little girl and there’s nothing manipulating about that at all.” Are you for real? Her approach to child health care was also interesting: “I just keep going to new doctors because I want to find the pediatrician who will tell me what I want to hear.” She’s in for quite a search.

Perhaps the thoughts she repeated most frequently best reveal her attitude: “I just think at the end of the day as a parent you have to do what you heart tells you to. And when my little girl is crying because she wants a baba, it just feels so wrong not to give her one.” Listen to your heart, eh? The heart that’s more deceitful than anything else, the heart that’s desperately sick? That doesn’t sound like such a good idea.

And since when is parenting about doing what feels good? I’m not a parent but my impression is that it’s about doing what is actually good for the kid, not what they want, or what’s easy. You should’ve seen how many bottles these people went through in a day. What great lengths they went to just to get their love demands met and to meet their child’s love demands. Another way they indulged Sophia was by letting her draw on their friends’ faces with make-up. “She’s creative and she wants to put make-up on people, and if you come over, you’re just going to have to deal with her putting make-up on you.” Talk about no boundaries! It’s a good thing they had a girl because otherwise their kid would probably beat everyone up. “Well, he just really likes to wrestle so you’re just going to have to deal with the bruises…”

The other thing she kept saying was, “You think I’m a bad parent.” And everyone assured her that no, she’s not a bad parent, and it’s so cool that she was willing to share her experience with other people. Well if she was a good parent why was she on the show for this in the first place? Obviously she wasn’t there as a picture of exemplary parenting. The problem is, she wants people to like her, Sophia most of all, and instead of doing what’s best for others she does what she thinks will make people like her.

But after bad-mouthing this poor deceived parent, I must admit that I do stuff like this, too. It’s just more subtle. I am too soft on people, not because I’m being kind, but because I don’t want to deal with an unpleasant reaction or possible rejection. I better get it together before I have kids!

Babies ‘R’ Us

Some people have been going on about the movie Into the Wild as an example of anti-love ethics. I think I found the female equivalent when I was watching Rachel Ray while babysitting. They had actress Leah Rimini on, who apparently was the female lead in King of Queens.

Leah let Rachel Ray’s camera people create “a day in the life” video of her, Angelo (husband), and Sophia (daughter). I couldn’t believe my eyes as I watched Leah dote on her three-year-old’s infantile behavior. “Well, of course she’s infantile,” you say. “She’s only three!”

But I’m not just referring to tantrums and crying fits, although there was plenty of that. This 3 ½ year old kid was still on the bottle. She drinks milk and water from baby bottles at an alarming rate, especially at night when she downs six to eight “aqua babas” a night. Oh, and she sleeps between the parents in their bed every night.

She wakes up and cries about every hour, and they shove a bottle in her face to shut her up. An hour later, she’s up crying because she wet her diaper. So they change her give her another bottle, which of course means another wet diaper later. How dumb can you be? It’s simple cause-and-effect. Not to mention you’re being completely manipulated by a chubby preschooler!

At first I was horrified that the show would be promoting such an atrocious approach to parenting. I mean, Rachel Ray might come off a little ditzy, but this was deplorable! But as the program continued, it appeared that Rachel Ray, without ever really condemning Leah, was trying to reform her. They brought in a pediatrician to give Leah a reality check about the how abnormal and problematic a preschooler on a bottle is. Then they had a hardened mother of three try to teach her to say no to her little devil. Not that you need any child-rearing experience to figure out what’s wrong with the situation.

What shocked me most was Leah’s reaction to people telling her it’s a problem. She made statement like, “People tell me my kid’s manipulating me, but I don’t see how she’s doing that. I’m just taking care of my little girl and there’s nothing manipulating about that at all.” Are you for real? Her approach to child health care was also interesting: “I just keep going to new doctors because I want to find the pediatrician who will tell me what I want to hear.” She’s in for quite a search.

Perhaps the thoughts she repeated most frequently best reveal her attitude: “I just think at the end of the day as a parent you have to do what you heart tells you to. And when my little girl is crying because she wants a baba, it just feels so wrong not to give her one.” Listen to your heart, eh? The heart that’s more deceitful than anything else, the heart that’s desperately sick? That doesn’t sound like such a good idea.

And since when is parenting about doing what feels good? I’m not a parent but my impression is that it’s about doing what is actually good for the kid, not what they want, or what’s easy. You should’ve seen how many bottles these people went through in a day. What great lengths they went to just to get their love demands met and to meet their child’s love demands. Another way they indulged Sophia was by letting her draw on their friends’ faces with make-up. “She’s creative and she wants to put make-up on people, and if you come over, you’re just going to have to deal with her putting make-up on you.” Talk about no boundaries! It’s a good thing they had a girl because otherwise their kid would probably beat everyone up. “Well, he just really likes to wrestle so you’re just going to have to deal with the bruises…”

The other thing she kept saying was, “You think I’m a bad parent.” And everyone assured her that no, she’s not a bad parent, and it’s so cool that she was willing to share her experience with other people. Well if she was a good parent why was she on the show for this in the first place? Obviously she wasn’t there as a picture of exemplary parenting. The problem is, she wants people to like her, Sophia most of all, and instead of doing what’s best for others she does what she thinks will make people like her.

But after bad-mouthing this poor deceived parent, I must admit that I do stuff like this, too. It’s just more subtle. I am too soft on people, not because I’m being kind, but because I don’t want to deal with an unpleasant reaction or possible rejection. I better get it together before I have kids!

True Confessions of a Tribal Sissy

After re-reading Keith’s article “Time to Grow Up!” I realized what a sissy I am. I grew up in a tribal home where love was largely defined as compliance. While my parents instilled in me a number of important permanent love values such as responsibility, a good work ethic, and contributing in the family, I found myself completely unable to function socially in the world outside of home. I also suffer from the first-child syndrome: my parents, despite their best efforts to warn me against the idea, left me thinking that I am the center of the universe.

Sissy Meets World

This problem’s first clear manifestation occurred at my preschool program, where I sat revealing my three-year-old panties and sucking my thumb instead of singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and similar fare with the more well-adjusted children. The finale of my performance saw me hurl my carpet square off the stage, an act which was imitated by one of my classmates. Best of all, my parents had the foresight to preserve a video record of my public debut for posterity.

Perhaps my shy nature is mostly to blame, as my more outgoing younger sister did not have the same difficulties. In fact, she gained the title of social butterfly at my kindergarten graduation since she “made more friends there than Kalie did the entire year,” as my parents observed. To what extent nurture and nature are at fault I cannot say, but my inability to relate to others clearly marked me as a tribal sissy from the start.

The situation did not improve over the years; rather I found myself a lonely and isolated teenager who thought myself above befriending brain-dead adolescents. Never mind that hormones left me just as brain-damaged as the next fourteen-year-old. I was different; I was not high school—a noun which became the ultimate adjective-insult in my vocabulary. Thus I found myself alone and lonely at the end of the torment commonly called high school.

Many of you already know the story of how God transformed me from a scared-but-willing college freshman who cried before parties, to a person who cared enough about others to at least carry on a conversation. But the remnants of my tribal sissy past still haunt my relationships and ultimately my sense of significance. I see it in every area of my life: I want to be loved and that means gaining others’ acceptance, approval, and affirmation. I think this often concerns me more than what is good for other people. That’s why I’m too soft on people, while I silently judge them in my heart. It’s why I’m often ineffective at disciplining people, despite my self-righteous convictions that they are so very wrong. When boldness is required, I’m more likely to back off because I fear others’ response to me.

I’m sure this contributed to my failures in discipleship, including but not limited to Missy, Kay, and Jen. And while they each ultimately made their own decision, I think I offered too little too late (especially in the first two cases). I am so scared to repeat these mistakes—I literally have nightmares about it—but if it’s still fear that drives me, I’m doomed for failure again. Because half the reason I’m scared has nothing to do with the well-being of my friends, my cell group, or my home church, and has everything to do with what people will think of me. Once again, I’m after what I falsely define as love, namely, recognition for a job well done.

This worked in my tribe. If I did my chores, practiced my instruments, and didn’t fight with my sisters, I was received as a good daughter. But I misinterpreted my parents’ acceptance for love, and that based on conditions. This is why I was so shocked when they expressed love even after I messed up big time (i.e. “secret car” incident). Their loved turned out to be unconditional, or at least much less conditional that I thought. But this demonstration couldn’t undo nineteen years of my twisted view of love.

Now my sissy self gets discouraged at the slightest hint of defeat because I feel threatened. And I react with ugly immaturity, sometimes sophisticatedly masked and sometimes not. Like a child who throws a fit after losing a game, I metaphorically suck my thumb and throw my carpet square by crying and blurting stupid, proud, fatalistic statements. While I know my tantrum-declarations aren’t true, my feelings overwhelm and conquer me in a classic example of infantile behavior.

Tantrums--cuter on kids than adults

While I’ve become more mature according to the world and can now initiate conversations, build friendships, and maintain even difficult relationships, I’m still far from spiritual maturity. I want to be able to serve with humility, no longer seeking others’ approval and admiration. I want to disciple with authority, fervently and boldly pursuing what is best for the other person regardless of her reaction. I want to stop fearing failure, take my identity from Christ, and remember that I answer to God. I want to stop demanding to be loved the wrong way, whether it’s with tantrums or subtleties, and start loving the right way, God’s way. And although my negative sissy self whispers that it’ll never happen, I’ve already experienced God’s victorious love output in my life, and I know that He can continue to lead me in a life of love that conquers.

True Confessions of a Tribal Sissy

After re-reading Keith’s article “Time to Grow Up!” I realized what a sissy I am. I grew up in a tribal home where love was largely defined as compliance. While my parents instilled in me a number of important permanent love values such as responsibility, a good work ethic, and contributing in the family, I found myself completely unable to function socially in the world outside of home. I also suffer from the first-child syndrome: my parents, despite their best efforts to warn me against the idea, left me thinking that I am the center of the universe.

Sissy Meets World

This problem’s first clear manifestation occurred at my preschool program, where I sat revealing my three-year-old panties and sucking my thumb instead of singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and similar fare with the more well-adjusted children. The finale of my performance saw me hurl my carpet square off the stage, an act which was imitated by one of my classmates. Best of all, my parents had the foresight to preserve a video record of my public debut for posterity.

Perhaps my shy nature is mostly to blame, as my more outgoing younger sister did not have the same difficulties. In fact, she gained the title of social butterfly at my kindergarten graduation since she “made more friends there than Kalie did the entire year,” as my parents observed. To what extent nurture and nature are at fault I cannot say, but my inability to relate to others clearly marked me as a tribal sissy from the start.

The situation did not improve over the years; rather I found myself a lonely and isolated teenager who thought myself above befriending brain-dead adolescents. Never mind that hormones left me just as brain-damaged as the next fourteen-year-old. I was different; I was not high school—a noun which became the ultimate adjective-insult in my vocabulary. Thus I found myself alone and lonely at the end of the torment commonly called high school.

Many of you already know the story of how God transformed me from a scared-but-willing college freshman who cried before parties, to a person who cared enough about others to at least carry on a conversation. But the remnants of my tribal sissy past still haunt my relationships and ultimately my sense of significance. I see it in every area of my life: I want to be loved and that means gaining others’ acceptance, approval, and affirmation. I think this often concerns me more than what is good for other people. That’s why I’m too soft on people, while I silently judge them in my heart. It’s why I’m often ineffective at disciplining people, despite my self-righteous convictions that they are so very wrong. When boldness is required, I’m more likely to back off because I fear others’ response to me.

I’m sure this contributed to my failures in discipleship, including but not limited to Missy, Kay, and Jen. And while they each ultimately made their own decision, I think I offered too little too late (especially in the first two cases). I am so scared to repeat these mistakes—I literally have nightmares about it—but if it’s still fear that drives me, I’m doomed for failure again. Because half the reason I’m scared has nothing to do with the well-being of my friends, my cell group, or my home church, and has everything to do with what people will think of me. Once again, I’m after what I falsely define as love, namely, recognition for a job well done.

This worked in my tribe. If I did my chores, practiced my instruments, and didn’t fight with my sisters, I was received as a good daughter. But I misinterpreted my parents’ acceptance for love, and that based on conditions. This is why I was so shocked when they expressed love even after I messed up big time (i.e. “secret car” incident). Their loved turned out to be unconditional, or at least much less conditional that I thought. But this demonstration couldn’t undo nineteen years of my twisted view of love.

Now my sissy self gets discouraged at the slightest hint of defeat because I feel threatened. And I react with ugly immaturity, sometimes sophisticatedly masked and sometimes not. Like a child who throws a fit after losing a game, I metaphorically suck my thumb and throw my carpet square by crying and blurting stupid, proud, fatalistic statements. While I know my tantrum-declarations aren’t true, my feelings overwhelm and conquer me in a classic example of infantile behavior.

Tantrums--cuter on kids than adults

While I’ve become more mature according to the world and can now initiate conversations, build friendships, and maintain even difficult relationships, I’m still far from spiritual maturity. I want to be able to serve with humility, no longer seeking others’ approval and admiration. I want to disciple with authority, fervently and boldly pursuing what is best for the other person regardless of her reaction. I want to stop fearing failure, take my identity from Christ, and remember that I answer to God. I want to stop demanding to be loved the wrong way, whether it’s with tantrums or subtleties, and start loving the right way, God’s way. And although my negative sissy self whispers that it’ll never happen, I’ve already experienced God’s victorious love output in my life, and I know that He can continue to lead me in a life of love that conquers.

The In-born Supremacy (a.k.a. The boastful pride of life)

I just listened to the recording of the last Love Ethics class and I’m wondering exactly I get seduced by the cosmos. The three main ways Satan seduces people are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. I think I am most influenced by the boastful pride of life. I’m not naturally an excessive sensualist; it simply isn’t my personality. Sometimes I get drawn into the lures of materialism, wanting to buy nice, new things, but mostly I’m too practical to succumb to this. The lust of the eyes will probably be more tempting as we look for a house to buy. But more than anything, the boastful pride of life infiltrates and undermines my desire to build into God’s kingdom.


“The boastful pride of life seeks to take others out in the quest to steal significance.”

One of the ways that I am drawn into the cosmos is my concern with how I look. I’m not really into make-up, trendy hairstyles, or clothes (anymore), but I am into fitness. It’s basically good to be fit, but my focus too easily shifts to my looks. My concern moves from whether I am fit to whether I look fit. The classic question, “Does my (fill in body part) look big in this dress?” says it all. I don’t want to buy into the cosmos lie that I need to look like an airbrushed model in order to be accepted by others or be attractive to my husband. But I realize that sometimes my trips to the “work-out center” have more to do with appearance than health.

Another way that I get seduced by the cosmos is by taking my identity from what I do. This is a tendency I probably developed in childhood and adolescence, as I found success in music, sports, and school. As I was considered skilled in my small-town high school, I took my identity from my success. I felt smart and talented, but underneath my confident façade teemed a toxic waste dump of insecurities and false humility. I didn’t really feel smart because I knew that someone, somewhere (probably not too far away) was smarter than me. And I was afraid of being confronted with this reality because if I took my identity from being smart and then I wasn’t the “smart one” anymore, what was I? Without my false sense of intellectual superiority, I was utterly insignificant.

College posed a terrifying threat because I knew the proverbial pond was about to get much bigger. Unfortunately, I choose a major that was less than intellectually rigorous, and Akron isn’t exactly the Ivy League. Once again I was at the top, a big fish in a relatively small pond. Ego bolstered by my professor’s praise and my GPA, I continued, as much as I didn’t want to, taking my identity from my school. The only event that could destroy this temptation was graduation. As a teacher rather than a student, I came face-to-face with my inability to apply my knowledge perfectly in every situation. And I had no grades coming in at the end of each semester, only kids whose free will to learn was largely outside of my control.

Now I subtly but proudly take my identity from my performance in a different realm: ministry. If my disciples are doing well, serving, and reaching out to people, I feel like I’m doing all right. If people thank or compliment me for my efforts, I feel validated. As much as I hate to admit it, I often realize my thoughts reveal that I seek recognition for works of service. I was asked to help at several weddings without receiving the honor of being a bridesmaid. This disappointed me even though I understood the bride’s choices, and I recognized that sometimes I serve with proud rather than humble motives.

Talking to another person who is proud of their accomplishments makes me realize the depth of my own pride. Instead of humbly listening to and congratulating their successes, or calling them to humility if needed, I find that I want to boast about myself. Six years after high school graduation, I still feel the desperate need to prove myself to others. I want to show that I’m just as good as the next person, when the truth is that we’re all terribly depraved.

When I have kids, I’m afraid I’ll want them to experience the same type of success in music, sports, and school that I did. I know those activities aren’t as important as the Kingdom of God. They can actually be the devil’s best ploy to distract my family from God and win them to his kingdom instead. I don’t want to take my identity from my kids and how successful they are in the world, but I already see myself doing it when I proudly brag about my smart, talented, beautiful little sisters. The temptation to do the same with my kids will only be stronger, no doubt.

God is teaching me how to take my identity from him, especially as I’ve quit my job and can no identify myself as a very young high school teacher. Now I am in a rather humbling position as an unpublished writer and deacon wannabe. While I’ll continue to work and write for God’s Kingdom, I can’t take my sense of worth from the success or failures I experience. I don’t want to proudly boast (aloud or in my head) about my attributes or accomplishments. God gave me every good gift I have so there’s no use bragging about what I’ve done nothing to earn. I think the antidote to the boastful pride of life is being a humble, grateful, faithful steward of my gifts, so I want to learn significance by bringing glory to God as I serve others, instead of building a kingdom for myself. This is the best way to fight against the seduction of the cosmos.