Gobsmacked By Grace: The Charleston Massacre’s Shocking AfterMath

Most of us have been following the tragic Charleston church massacre story the past two days. The victim’s families made heart wrenching statements today at the bond hearing of the racist terrorist, Dylann Roof. They all courageously confronted the evil degenerate who murdered nine of their sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, and friends. And all who spoke in some way gave the same shocking message to the gunman:

“I forgive you.”

They were honest about the hurt and pain Roof inflicted, and through tears they lamented the loss of their loved ones. The curious element was this: Every statement had another kind of lament in it. A lament not just for what Dylann Roof had done, but a lament for Dylann Roof’s soul. A grief not just for lost family members who are deeply loved, but a grief for a lost young man who is blinded by hate.

It shook me up. And media members, who were called to react to it on live TV, were left grasping for categories.

Greg Gutfield, a typically sarcastic conservative commentator with razor wit, was visibly moved by the statement on the Fox News Show “The Five”. Never at a loss for words, Gutfield almost was this time:

“That might be the most powerful display of human emotion I’ve ever seen in my life. I will never be that good. They just witnessed unmitigated pure evil. But that (response) might be the best example of what is ‘good’ I’ve seen in my life….”

The next portion of Gutfield’s statement I found particularly heart wrenching (for a different reason):

“I’m not a religious person…But I can’t begin to understand. Does religion make great people? Or do great people go to religion? I can’t even comprehend this…I’m gobsmacked.”

There was a great act of grace displayed today in the words and tears of the victim’s families. And if they were to expound on what’s behind their radical statement I wonder if they’d point away from themselves. Maybe the foundation of radical grace isn’t found in “great people.”

Maybe they know the deep need of forgiveness they have before a holy God, and they’ve experienced all that forgiveness and more in the person and work of Jesus Christ. They know the bent of their own crooked heart towards hatred, bitterness, and anger. Because of their self-awareness they know the only place where healing for those dark gripping emotions can be:

At the foot of the cross of a gracious Savior. The God-Man who made himself a victim of the violence and blind hatred of man.

I’d bet the families of the Charleston victims have prayed the publican’s prayer many times before this tragedy, maybe even during the prayer group the found themselves in last Wednesday night: “Lord be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

The families are primed to be striking ambassadors of God’s goodness towards Roof because they intimately know the God who covers their badness with grace. And Gutfield’s right. We can’t “comprehend” supernatural grace with fallen minds. This has nothing to do with whether we are religiously predisposed or not.

Does religion make great people?

Not at all. Largely it ruins people, as most religion treats its traditions as proud badges before God and man (Mark 7:13).

Are great people attracted to religion?

Not at all. There are no great people. Not one. Just a great God Who forgives great sinners like us (Romans 3:10).

But there are normal people apprehended by a counter worldly gospel of grace, as the hurting Charleston families have attested today. And there is a great God who shows up in the midst of mindless suffering to give victims their voices.

The world is listening to these strong broken voices. And what He’s saying to them, and through them, is beautiful.

It’s beautiful because it’s mirroring the silver lining of good news even with a backdrop of horrifically bad news. It’s the living word of the gospel He speaks to us everyday, through the blood of His Son shed for us.

The Law of God has proven we’re guilty.

We stand condemned in an eternal court.

A Father stands before us with a statement.

His only Son’s blood is on our hands.

His words to us, the perpetrators:

“You’re forgiven. I love you.”

Amazing Grace. Should leave us wrecked everyday.

Or as some would say: Gobsmacked.

Bryan Daniels

Advertisements

The Duggars and Hypocrites Like Us

Scandal hits the Duggars

The Christian world was “shocked” such a lurid act could surface out of such a pristine family. They were paragons of conservative family values and modesty. Homeschool heroes.

Disclaimer: This isn’t really a post about a fifteen year old Josh Duggar and his young victims.

This is a post about our meta reaction when tragic news like this breaks upon our collective preconceived notions.

The only thing that’s shocking in this situation is that we continue to be shocked by these situations. Even after the Catholic priest scandal. Or Bill Cosby scandal. Or Ted Haggard scandal.

Fallen people gonna fall (Romans 3:23).

The more perfect, and nice, and homeschooly the Duggars were on-screen, the further the fall seems to us. But that’s because we falsely believe we’re adept at judging distances from God based on surface behavior. The Duggars are in the same sunk ship of humanity we all find ourselves in. They’re likely guilty of protecting their family name at all costs just as we would be given the same circumstances.

There’s only really two types of folks in the world: 1. Those high-profile figures who will fall publicly because of their sin and 2. the rest of us who aren’t high profile enough for it to matter when we fall.

That’s not to say our darkest blots would have heavy legal ramifications. Or that our misdeeds would scar the innocent in the same way Josh Duggar’s did. There should be definite legal consequences for such crimes. It’s just that we’re not very in tune with our own wicked thought patterns if we’re sucker punched every time a new scandal comes to light. I bet if every nefarious thought that popped into our head on a daily basis were projected on a public screen we’d be in a familyless friendless plight pretty quick.

The nicest most religious Midwestern values family you could write into a Mayberry neighborhood is as screwed up as the broken Detroit family with a crack addicted mom and transgender prostitute dad. The former is just better at hiding it.

Part of our cultural Christian church culture we in the Bible Belt have ingested is that we at least know how to act in public. It’s subversive and not overtly taught. But it’s there: We clean up nice, put on a good smile, have our kids under control, listen to Christian radio all day, don’t drink or curse in public, etc. We’ve conflated shining our gospel light with cleaning our cup on the outside (Luke 11:39). And we’ve become Christian actors, which is just a hop and skip away from becoming full-blown hypocrites.

In our hurried hiding of this hypocrisy we don’t realize this: it’s okay.

This is the freeing reality: Everyone is a hypocrite. Every. One. I expect my two sons to keep their playroom organized and clean. But they only have to look at the back seat of their daddy’s car/gym locker/office to see I’m selective with demands. There are petrified gym shorts in the back of my Honda that have been carbon dated to the paleolithic era.

The only unforgivable  place we could stay in the world is failing to admit our own hypocrisy. Which would be staying in our insulated safe world of Christian radio, Christian friends, Christian bumper stickers, Christian breath mints and acting for one moment like this behavior gets us one baby step closer to God.

The broken hypocrite who knows their own sin is closer than the blind hypocrite oblivious to it. (Luke 18:9-14)

The gospel of Jesus is for hypocrites. Because hypocrites are all there are in the world.

So come:

Actors and addicts.

Impostors and Irreligious.

Victims and Victimizers.

Duggars and Drunkards.

There’s a place at His table for all of us scalawags. Repent and believe that His grace in Christ alone is the scandal that can save even you.

Bryan Daniels

Driscoll and Ditches and Dirt and Us

As an old-young man: There’s some things I don’t wrestle with anymore.

Yet there’s other things that have my psyche crippled like a Rhonda Rousey armbar.

Ten, OK maybe two, years ago I would gladly jump into a variety of online political or apologetic debates. Acting like my two cents was a million bucks I’d weld philosophic catchphrases like a Thor Hammer:

“Out of context!”

“Straw Man!”

“Ad Hominem, sir!”

Driscoll is wrong and so is everyone

I don’t inject myself into those blog comments and Facebook threads anymore. Maybe it’s life taking me by the shoulders and shaking some sense into my big ornery head. Maybe I’m blinded by the apparent planks protruding from my own eyes. Maybe that sounds humble-bragish, it probably is.

But my mission has become more simple lately. To love my beautiful pregnant wife as the Bridegroom has loved the church. To rear my sons and model manhood to them in a way that makes them see their daily need for Jesus. To put to death the nasty flesh that still lurks around the corners of my own heart. To sow into fellow strugglers and friends the gospel seeds of grace. To teach and coach in such a way that my students and athletes will see that life is bigger than school and sports.

If I strive to do these well: How will I have time to be the interweb keeper of theological/political/philosophical/ecclesiastical/whatever fidelity?

I’ve admittedly spent too much time on Twitter and Facebook (just reactivated) this last week of my summer. One common article theme was regurgitated within my social media circle: The scandal(s) of Mark Driscoll and his Mars Hill Church outing of Act 29 Network.

Five years ago I would have cared a lot more about this cultural Christian news. That’s not to say I don’t care, because there’s still a latent scandal-seeking rubber necker inside me scratching to get out. But there’s too many battled and bruised souls (including mine) in the world to give two rips about the latest fabricated scandal. You could replace “Driscoll” with “Gungor” here and nothing would change about my sentiments.

This isn’t a just Christian problem. It’s a human problem. If it wasn’t Mark Driscoll or Gungor for us it’d be the Kardashians or Jay Z or insert some other political or celebriscandal.

What we humans end up having is a strange echo chamber of faux outrage towards fresh juicy news about public figures. And we almost never really know the people we rage against. Their public persona is largely made by the marketing whims of others. So we breathe our own fiery rhetoric into the heated reactions to reactions all clamoring for anonymous interactions with people we don’t care to meet or know.

If I may corner my own “tribe”: The online Christian community spends so much time and energy being angry at people they don’t know or never will meet I wonder how they have any time and energy to love the people they do know and meet everyday.

I believe the scandals we long to gaze into say more about us than the people involved. Maybe we want to see a chink in the armor of the best among us. Maybe if we peer close enough we’ll see through the shiny marketing and find a soul that’s hemorrhaging a bit like ours. A fellow sinner stumbling in the dark yet desperately reaching for the light.

We need to know the imperfections of our perfect. That we’re not alone in frequently falling into the ditches our own shovels have dug.

I’m with you.

And I believe grace lifts us out of those ditches again and again.

And it enables us to help lift others. The nearest ditch faller is the one we run towards. The souls closest to us need the hand of grace we’ve found in Christ. Not our self-righteous posturing, just our honest forgiven self.

I may pull you out today. Tomorrow I’ll need you to pull me out. It can’t be from afar or from the safe confines of a raging online persona. Let’s make this commitment to one another:

We’re gonna have to get dirty at some point.

Bryan Daniels

An Open Invitation To Those I’ve Hated

Come you bumper sticker theologians and activists

The 33 item man in the 10 items or less lane

All you opinionated e-hard drive by commenters

and my neighborhood speeders.

Come all you cat lovers and treehuggers

and the doomsday preacher of Law keeping

KJV onlyists and skeptical materialists

and Joel Osteen.

Come MSNBC and Fox News hollerers and pundits

Right and left puppet dancers

IRS directors and ambulance chasing lawyers

and Sean Hannity.

Come Kanye come Kardashians

Hollywood bring your elite and your plastic surgeons

Julia Roberts and Lindsey Lohan and Oprah

and Bill Maher.

To dead beat dads and chain smoking pregnant moms

To everyone else in the world I can’t stand

My heartfelt apologies as I stumble to lead the way

To death and falling like dead

before the dying God Man;

Where life begins

Where the worst are forgiven

and the hateful and hurtful put down swords of spite

Like David and Peter and Paul

and me.

Bryan Daniels

Sleeping Beauty Can Be Ugly

 

The other morning Josiah received a Cyberverse Transformer from my garage-sale-hopping wife (I can neither confirm nor deny she’s addicted). I wouldn’t have recognized this character had his name not been on the unopened box: “MudFlap.” When he’s not a Decepticon-fighting Autobot he’s drag racing the streets as an orange tricked out Chevy Traxx. So he’s a good guy.

But when we lifted his head out of the hood my six year old had a couple of questions:

Mudflap got beat by the ugly tree.
Mudflap got beat by the ugly tree.

“Why is Mudflap ugly? Is he bad?”

I stumbled over an answer and tried to explain how good guys can be ugly too. As parents, we have attempted to sow into our sons the truth that looks have nothing to do with a person’s character. But the dominating wind of culture seemed to blow all those seeds away for a moment.

It got me thinking.

My first crush was probably Ariel, from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” I was seven. Other than fish scales for legs, she was a knockout redhead with a Barbie body and a voice like a choir of baby angels. A mythical creature.*

Ariel, The Little Mermad

She was good.

And Beautiful.

But this disgusting obese Octo witch wasn’t:

Ursula the Seawitch, Little Mermaid
Bad and Ugly

Sleeping Beauty didn’t have an overbite. Prince Charming didn’t have a double chin.

They’re good.

And beautiful.

Even when the culture tries to get it right, it still gets it wrong. “Beauty and The Beast” has good intentions from the outset, but the chivalrous premise disintegrates in the end. The “Beast” is actually a dude who looks like this:

I mean, come on.
I mean, come on.

You didn’t think a beautiful girl would live happily ever after with that ponytailed Giant Schnauzer did you?

It’s not just a Disney induced disease. “The Avengers” movie series has a similar premise, just for an older audience:

Other than the roid raging Hulk, the main characters consist of 1. A cocky billionaire playboy with a hot wife and genius wit (Iron Man) 2. A god King with a chiseled frame and flowing Fabio like blond hair (Thor) 3. The perfect boy next door and patriot who may be part timing as an Abercrombie and Fitch model (Captain America).

All good guys. All good-looking.

Even though we know this shouldn’t be true, we drink this Kool Aid down. It’s the toxic air we passively breathe, so we rarely notice it. Modern renditions of Christ confirm this. How many commercial caricatures of Jesus make him a tall white Vidal Sassoon spokesman with six-pack abs? A pure and holy pretty boy. A soft Savior:

Not Jesus

You want to know what Christ looked like on earth? Go to any Iraqi village and look into the sun worn face and dark brown eyes of the average male peasant there. You’ll be closer to truth.

But the truth isn’t sexy. And most times, neither is good.

The most evil creature in the world masquerades as a beautiful angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). So beauty, in all of its alluring draw, can be flat-out bad. It can be twisted for the worst.

Let’s reject the fallen outlook that only values what is seen.

The real knights in Shining Armor may have acne.

The real Princesses may be quite plain.

But they shine like stars (Philippians 2:15). Now and ever after.

Bryan Daniels

*I married my very own bombshell redhead 14 years later

“Aren’t You Glad You Don’t Have A Daughter?” And the “Boys Will Be Boys” Fallacy

 

A lamentable piece of juicy gossip is making the rounds of our little big town. The students of my school are abuzz about a former fellow female student who is making national news for the wrong reasons. I won’t divulge the situation’s specifics as the exploitation of it locally has already reached an unnecessary height.

But one of my female students asked me a question yesterday that struck me as a regrettable microcosm of current youth culture. After a brief mention of some of the unfortunate details she asked,

“Coach Daniels, aren’t you glad you don’t have a daughter?”

To which I replied “No,” and quickly changed the subject to more school appropriate matters.

But I had to force back down a latent rant I had rising up in my chest cavity (which shall be spewed upon you now):

Why do we only typically single out the young girl? In this incident there were others involved of the opposite sex, and their actions were every bit as shameful (I say more so as supposed young “men”) as hers. We have an unspoken bias in our culture against adolescent girls who act in appalling or loose ways against their family or church upbringing. Yet when adolescent boys violate their conscience and code we kind of shrug and wink at it and say

Well, boys will be boys,” or

“You know boys are just wired differently.”

Like we need to chastity belt the little girl until she’s 35 and yet we give the little bugger a long leash to work out his newfound testosterone. That’s dumb.

And we feed the natural born predators within male nature by our omission as much as our commission. We’re only concerned when these boys become 18-30 year olds stuck in this perpetual adolescence. When they begin to encroach on mom and pop’s retirement plans with their joblessness and credit card debt. What we have is this: Peter Pans with beards and a mean streak of sociopathy. Weak little boys will invariably end up feasting on the weaknesses of women.

These boys have conflated their masculinity with machismo.

And we’ve enabled them.

I will try not do this with my sons. They better, to the best of their God given ability, learn to protect and provide and lead women with gentle strength and most of all: respect. I’ll do my God given best to model this with their mother, albeit imperfectly. But they’ll know their position of strength as a man should be used to serve the weaker among them.

Mostly I’ll try to point to another man. The perfect man. The One who treats His bride the way every woman really wants to be treated (Ephesians 5:25-32)

To protect the abused.

Heal the wounded.

Pick up the broken pieces.

Physically or emotionally. To make the most insecure women feel valued inwardly as the souls they are, not just as the bodies they offer.

To answer my student’s question directly: It should be just as fearful a responsibility to raise up sons as daughters. The fleshly whims of pseudo men are largely responsible for the damaged modern female psyche. The godly leadership of real men will largely repair and restore the flourishing woman in every little girl.

God help us raise up men and women who have submitted to the One perfect Man. And may they realize they can always return to His open gracious arms. No matter the public shame, guilt, and shock attached to what they’ve done. Sons and daughters will return to the family table.

This man will never reject them (John 6:37).

Bryan Daniels

I’m Quitting Facebook: And the Fantasy of Social Media

I recently deactivated my personal Facebook and I’m in the process of deleting my Twitter.

I’m tired of being a slave.

Not that this route of abstinence is necessary for everyone. I’m sure many can use such social media tools in moderation. But for now, I’m not one of them.

I’ve seen the dire effects of social media on this SmartPhone generation I teach everyday. If my ninth graders are not texting, they’re tweeting. If they’re not tweeting, they’re sharing pics on Instagram. If they’re not Instagramming, they’re liking on Facebook. If they’re not liking on Facebook, they’re Snapchatting. If they’re not snapchatting, they’re sharing their Flappy Bird score. If they’re not sharing their flappy bird score, they’re texting…

And so their virtual world turns, revolving around 3 X 2 inch screen that makes everything, especially relationships, smaller. With a hunched posture and lowered gaze, they bow before their handheld idols all day long.

My drug of choice the past year(s) has been Facebook and Twitter. The little red number that pops over the little blue world has been a confirmation of my social value. The retweet or the favorite has been a welcome endorsement of my public thoughts. None of the satisfaction lasts, and none of it has depth.

I want to try to plant my time and resources into the people that matter most.

Hopefully, twenty years from now my sons will remember a dad who joyfully Hulk Smashed them onto the living room couches during their early childhood. They won’t remember the brief time dad’s witty post on Skinny Jeans went viral.

Hopefully, forty years from now my wife will remember her husband looking into her eyes before bed every night and saying with focused intensity “I love you.” She won’t remember all the funny YouTube cat videos I showed her or the times we spent all night gazing into our Iphones.

And I could try to be balanced and nuanced and put boundaries and clear guidelines up as far as my social media use. 1. Only fifteen minutes a day 2. No use right when I get home from work ….. etc. I have in the past. But it’s easier for this dog to return to his vomit than learn new tricks.

The chimera of social media has stunted our relational growth. We’ve swung into the carnival door on the whim of our thumbs and now we measure every real world experience and relationship with the fleeting fantasy of faux social contact. I’ve heard normal ninth grade girls mention they have thousands of Instagram followers. They only personally know a fraction of their followers. They largely have no clue who is viewing or using their pictures for fancy sake.

That is scary.

But that big contrived social media platform affirms their worth.

“It’s not real,”

I told a high school FCA group yesterday about our obsession with social media “relationships.” And those words probably resonated with me more than them. There was a time (like 15 years ago) people met physically for face to face encounters and fellowship. Over tea or barbecue or wiffle ball.

But there’s also a cost involved in that: It’s harder to hide a zit or bad hair day in the flesh.

It’s harder to be inauthentic in the flesh. As a result, it’s easier to be known in the flesh.

And so the unfortunate catch is this: We’ve so controlled our public persona that no one really knows us. Sure, they know the facade we’ve carefully constructed to be seen by others. But they don’t know the hurts, dreams, fears and failures at our soul level. We don’t bare those groanings to an inanimate screen. We only bare those groanings to fellow souls we trust.

And who we trust has gotten narrower and narrower because our social life has been imprisoned within the dull glare of a smart box. And one of our deepest human longings, to be truly known and accepted, has been blurred and manipulated through the lens of a device we control…or controls us. And I know it’s not a handheld issue, but a heart issue at stake here. This is true with anything in life that lords over us.

So I will attempt to break out of the box for a while.

To be a better husband, father, and friend.

To be known, and to know.

Bryan Daniels

*I will still post on this blog irregularly as time permits.