With all the negative aspects to the Waco Biker Massacre story from yesterday’s news media coverage, I am concerned that some of the good and honorable ideas may have been glossed over — even by my blog post from yesterday. So I would like to address a few of those ideas.
Consider these core truths:
- As Augustine points out, all humans act with a view of good in mind. No human being is motivated by hatred or evil. All human beings are motivated by the good. Where some humans err is in the means employed in the attempt to achieve good. This is why Augustine defines sin as a perversion of the good.
- God did not intend humans to live in isolation. He created community as an antidote for isolation.
- All humans are hard wired by God with an intuition of something bigger than themselves. Accordingly, humans strive to be part of something bigger in this life, something that transcends their ordinary and their normal.
With these core truths in mind, think back to the events of Sunday afternoon. What eyewitnesses witnessed was a group of men who found community, who discovered how to live for a purpose bigger than themselves, and who passionately acted in a manner that defended the ideal of their community. Now, either the manner of their defense or the ideal for which they strived may have been erroneous in nature — that much is for certain. But, let’s not overlook the framework within which this Biker group, or any other biker group, or any other community operates. That framework is the good within the chaos from Sunday.
Some are wondering in amazement about the seeming archaic scene of biker gangs shooting it out in the parking lot of a bar. Questions arise at such a scene:
- Why do gangs still exist?
- Why do people join clubs and groups?
- Aren’t social groups obsolete?
- Why are people still riding bikes?
- Don’t they know about fossil fuel shortages?
- Don’t they know about polite society?
- Don’t they know that leather gets uncomfortably hot in the Texas sun?
- Are they not aware of gun safety?
- Isn’t there a tamer way to channel this need for fraternity?
While these questions may arise from a certain sophisticated perspective, let’s keep in mind that these same questions have been around for centuries. They are, in a sense, the timeless, existential, worldview shaping questions asked by poets, philosophers, civic leaders, and sociologists. And the answer to these questions has remained the same for centuries.
Because people need community. Because people need to live for something larger than themselves. Because people need to believe in the good.
That is why we still ask the questions, although not all of us may be able to articulate them in such a way. That is why biker groups still exist, especially the majority of biker groups committed to doing good in the world. That is why people still go to places of worship with some regularity. That is why, despite Pew research numbers, people still join together with the body of believers in Christ. That is why book clubs and political groups, and support groups, and artist collectives, and multiplayer video games, and chat rooms, and message boards, and Facebook, and twitter, and sim city all still exist.
We all need community. We all need to live for something larger than ourselves. We all need to believe in the good.
The pressing question for all of us in light of the Waco Biker situation is this: is there a space where all three ideals converge? Where a community gathers around the good to live for something larger than themselves? I believe there is such a space and it is the hope of the world.
This was not an episode of the highly entertaining television series Burn Notice or Sons of Anarchy. This was reality.
By now you are likely aware of the sequence of events. Two to three warring biker gangs were invited to interact in a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, TX. What supposedly began as a verbal fight in a bathroom begat a fisticuffs battle in the dining area, which begat a guns and knives showdown in the parking lot leaving 9 dead, several more wounded, and more than 100 arrested.
And as was the plot of a Burn Notice and Sons of Anarchy episode, once fighting began, more crews took to bikes and to I-35 in order to defend honor and brotherhood. We ride, we die.
As someone who spent the better part of 11 years calling Waco home, let me make a few observations about the social climate of such a scene.
1. Waco is a good town full of good people. By and large people love Jesus, want to be moral, and want to do good. Waco is a town with citizens that fit into a number of categories including entrepreneurs, church planters, Baylor bears, missionaries, the homeless, military veterans, and coaches. The Branch Davidians and this national embarrassment do not speak to the reality of the community. This situation, much like the Branch Davidian crisis, is an example of outsiders coming to bring a negative light on an otherwise great city.
2. We should not be surprised that Twin Peaks restaurant is an epicenter for nefarious activity. Emily Mills, the CEO and corporate soul of Jesus Said Love (a ministry to women trapped in the sex trade industry) has put it quite succinctly in this recent blog post:
If you know anything about Twin Peaks, you know it’s in the same vein as Hooters. Not officially part of the sex industry, right? And yet many of our [sex industry] women transition here to wait tables when they get tired of taking their clothes off. One girl even told us, “I have one old man who comes into Hooters just to touch my butt. I let him because it’s easier to deal with him than some of the jerks in the club.” And so, the cycle of objectifying women and even sexually assaulting them goes unchecked. Times like today, places like this become hotbeds for violence: because where you permit injustice to one, you run the risk of permitting injustice for many…even putting an entire city at risk.
I think it wise for any community to think twice about granting permits to places like Hooters, Twin Peaks, Tilted Kilt, etc… Maybe it is a bit of an overreaction to point to this isolated incident and cry injustice. Or, maybe it is this kind of isolated incident that requires thinking minds to consider the question, “Is this an isolated incident, or a glimpse into the kinds of small evils that occur at restaurants like these everyday of the week?” See here and here for a snippet of the kinds of things that occur here on a weekly basis.
3. Don’t mess with Texas. Seriously, do not mess with Texas. At one of my previous churches in Texas I discovered that all of the deacons went through CHL training. Which means that every week, our entire deacon body was packing in the worship service. When I asked the head of the deacons as to why his deacons were packing he said, quite simply, “Because we will not let something like Columbine happen here.”
Texans, by and large, don’t play around when it comes to the safety of their communities. As the biker gangs discovered, one does not simply bring guns to a gunfight in Texas. If the deacons are packing, you can bet the swat teams have substantially more force available. One sergeant basically said that he would not recommend that any other bikers make their way to Waco after news of the situation got out. Um, yeah. They would have to fight through Baptist deacons just to get to the police just to get arrested.
In this sermon I was trying to address the question that I hear asked by our church family friends: “Is it wrong for me to force Jesus on my kids?”
Many of our friends grew up in homes where they had a drug problem: Their parents drug them to church on Sunday, drug them to Wednesday night prayer meetings, drug them to VBS, etc…The result was that many of our friends spent their 20s resenting the local church instead of living among believers in Biblical community.
So the question becomes clarified for believing Parents: Is there a way to force Jesus on your kids that is actually beneficial?
I think so. And I think Deuteronomy 6:4-9, otherwise known in Jewish circles as “The Shema,” can inform our parenting in a way that helps us force our kids to consider what it looks like to treasure Jesus most in this world.
In this sermon I tried to establish a baseline definition of the Biblical notion of love. I wanted to clearly distinguish what Paul understands as love (agape) from what the world largely uses to mean love (romantic feelings).
In conclusion, and in order to make application, we see how one’s definition of love impacts their model of marriage. If you view love as agape (behaving like Jesus) then your view of marriage is rooted in behaving like Jesus towards your spouse. If your view of love is defined as romantic feelings, then your view of marriage will be based on your ever changing romantic feelings towards your spouse. when those feelings go away, your marriage goes away.
One of my favorite scenes from the Christmas classic Home Alone (1990) is when Peter McCallister is attempting to encourage his curmudgeon brother Frank as the family hurriedly rushes out of their Winnetka, Illinois manse en route to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for a family trip to Paris.
Frank: There’s no way on earth we are going to make this plane. It leaves in 45 minutes.
Peter: Think positive Frank.
Frank: You be positive, I’ll be realistic.
Frank and Peter’s exchange highlights a prominent movement in American thought and spirituality – the New Thought, or Positive Thinking, or Optimism movement. This pseudo-religious/health/self-help/spiritualistic movement emerged in America during the 19th century through the teachings of P.P. Quimby and one of his famous disciples, Mary Baker Eddy. It was Eddy who took Quimby’s ideas and baptized them in cultural Christianity to form the Christian Science movement. The basic idea of said movement is that human mentality can change human reality. If a person thinks positively about a particular aspect of life (business success, health, personal goals) then some transcendent force will press down on the natural world and bend providence in the favor of the person who thinks. Likewise, if a person thinks negatively, the results could mean disease and death.
Positive Thought, Optimism, and American Culture
This line of thinking became deeply entrenched within American culture in the 19th and 20th centuries and still plays a prominent role today. Author Mitch Horowitz wrote the first significant history of the positive thought movement in his 2014 book One Simple Idea. According to Horowitz, the subcultures of art, foreign policy, sports, business, health and wellness, and religious groups all borrow from Quimby and Eddy’s philosophy. For example, one of the more popular songs in 1945 was a tune by Johnny Mercer and the Pied Pipers called Accentuate the Positive. In the song, Mercer structures his lyrics and chorus in the style of a sermon, beginning and concluding with the main point:
You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between
Consider the shift of many a sports commentator who, during an injury timeout on the field, fills in time by remarking our thoughts and prayers are with the injured player. What good does thinking about the player accomplish? If positive thought is correct, then perhaps all that positive energy could change reality. In her speech Smile or Die journalist and author Barbara Ehrenreich notes that Lehman Brothers, Countrywide, and AIG were crippled by their culture of positive thinking amidst the housing bubble crisis of 2008. Employees who voiced concern with the housing projections were censured in some cases and fired in others.
So, does Uncle Frank have a point? Is this type of optimism or positive thinking ultimately unhelpful for human beings and cultures who want to flourish? Furthermore, what should Christians make of this optimism? Should the reaction of the Christian church be to become negative people who only think critically and harshly about things?
Hope For 2015
The problem with the positive thinking movement is not that it preaches positivity or optimism. The problem with the positive thinking movement is that it is a Trojan horse. Hidden deep within its philosophical core is the dangerous idealism of self reliance. The problem with this form of optimism is that it relies on self. Positive thinking is a self-reliant perspective. Optimism makes for a great tool, but a poor theology. It fails to account for the reality of human frailty and the tendency for humans to mess up. A Biblical alternative to this unbridled and unchecked optimism is a more Biblical term. That term is hope. To be sure, the terms “hope” and “optimism” became synonymous during President Obama’s 2008 political campaign and this move muddied the American lexicon. But stripping away a clever campaign strategy and getting to the Biblical definition of the term, hope is not a perspective. Hope, according to Scripture, is a person. And that person is Jesus Christ.
Take a look at 1 Timothy 1:1 (ESV):
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope“
For Christians, the good news of Jesus Christ is that he is our Hope. And our Hope is sovereign over our 2015, because our Hope is sovereign over the past, present, and future. Our Hope does not call us to the false gospel of self-reliance. Instead, Jesus calls us to rely on Him for 2015 and beyond.
So the answer to the aforementioned question is this: As believers in Christ, our posture for 2015 is not to put on more self reliance. Our posture, according to Scripture, is to rely on Jesus Christ, who is our hope. Can we be positive people? Of course. Positivity can be a helpful tool in our discipleship arsenal. In a race, for example, positive thinking can help us continue to take steps so that we can cross the finish line. The Bible says much about the damage a critical tongue can have on the church community. But these make for helpful tools, not overarching theologies. Jesus is the one who is God over positivity and negativity, optimism and pessimism. So rather than relying on the tools, may we rely on Jesus in 2015.
Two stories. Two similar scenarios. Two possible applications of freedom of speech.
In the first scenario, an acting duo produces a film entitled The Interview, a raunchy gross-out comedy trip through North Korea that includes a gratuitous orgy scene involving Kim Jong Un. The Film concludes with an assassination attempt on self-same head of state. When North Korea discovered the details of the plot of this film, as the FBI report details, they hacked into the Sony Films data cloud and and leaked sensitive executive documents as retribution. These hackers also claimed revenge and terrorism if Sony releases the film for national distribution.
The initial response by Sony was to delay the release. Later, Sony decides to cancel it all together. The public response, mostly by the artistic community, has been to cry foul and to lift up the ideal of free speech in America, especially when it comes to art.
In the second scenario, an undergraduate student in an ethics class at Marquette, a Jesuit university, asks his teacher, a graduate student, for clarification on some remarks she made in her lecture on ethical conversations about human sexuality. The teacher remarked that anyone taking a position against homosexuality as a viable option for human flourishing would be required to drop the class. The student pressed her as to the ethical reasons for such a narrow position. She glibly responded that the student did not have the right to hold to such a position.
When the student brought the matter to the attention of the faculty and administration (through some less than above board means), the administration responded with an open letter in support of the grad assistant/teacher. The public response, mostly by the religious community, has been to cry foul and to lift up the ideal of free speech in America, especially when it comes to religious liberty and ethics.
I find these two stories, situated one after the other in my twitter feed, to be interesting foils that highlight an important conversation about the extent of freedom of speech in America in the 21st century. Namely, should we limit free speech? Or, rather, should we limit the application of free speech in America? When a film portrays the assassination attempt at a global political leader is this to be understood as an appropriate application of free speech? Or is free speech then limited if it brings about negative consequences?
This would seem to be the case in the Marquette scenario. The student in question had the freedom to speak until his free comments offended the teacher. At that point, freedom of speech was no longer to be applied.
The big question rolling around in my brain today is this: Do we really believe in freedom of speech? Or, do we like the idea of free speech as long as no one is offended? Are we now a nation of people pleasers who aim to train the next generation of thinkers to become even more skilled and proficient people pleasers?
I don’t think we are. At least, I certainly hope not. It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who warned against this same kind of madness from within the context of Nazi Germany:
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.