What does it mean to be Human?

This week in my Religion and Film class, we are analyzing Sci-Fi movies and how they attempt to answer some of the general questions religion does — how we got here, what is ‘out there’, what is our purpose, etc. I really find that class to be intriguing and mentally stimulating, and the various discussions are fun, too.

But at the end of class on Monday, my professor asked my entire class, “So, guys, what does it mean to be human?”

I’m sure you can imagine some of the answers a bunch of liberal, young college students came up with:

“Nothing is real!” (The girl who said this said quite a bit of other related stuff, too, but it was all so far off that I actually think she managed to reach Jupiter with a batch of hash brownies.)

“Only our memories and experiences make us human.”

“DNA and our unique 7th chromosome.”

Those were just a few of the answers stated in class.

After class, I couldn’t help but ponder on this idea. What exactly is it that makes us human beings? Is it our bodies? Is it the volume of our intellect? Is it just our genetic coding?

To me, what makes us human is the search for significance. We humans (Christians and non-Christians alike) are all looking for the purpose of our lives, and what it is that really matters in life. And while I do think there are some extremely smart animals (like pigs, no joke) that search for optimal existence, there are no animals that yearn for a deeper meaning beyond mere survival.

This ‘search for significance’ plays out differently according to people’s beliefs. For us Christians, significance is found in a life filled with Jesus (Philippians 3:7-9). For an agnostic, significance is found in whatever they make of their life. For a Buddhist, significance is found in the liberation from suffering into an elevated existence (sounds complex to me!). For the atheist, there is no significance, but ironically they find it awfully significant to make sure everyone else knows that.

I think you get my point.

Also, I personally see that ‘search’ as the main mark and evidence for the soul, which far outlives our Earthly vessels. As a Christian, I obviously believe there is only one source of true significance. However, many peoples are satisfied in where they find it, at which point they usually stop searching. I am taking a neutral stand in saying this, because in all reality it is my love in Christ that pains me to know some people turn from the truth.

Anyway, that is what I believe makes us human.

What do you believe makes us human? Is it purely tangible and nothing more? Or is there something else?


Visual Dungeon

Everyone at some point in life has either heard or said the phrase, “I need to see it to believe it.” Sure, it’s a cliché statement, but it reveals a lot about how we operate in society and perceive reality around us.

Sight is one of the five senses, but we give it a ton of credence today (too much, actually).

Look at the porn industry. Is it not booming?

Have a conversation with people about God. Most conversations end up talking about evidence and why we don’t see God. Hopefully, though, those conversations don’t stop there.

But even though we are immersed in a society of sights and consequential feelings with our latest technologies and the like, have we turned a blind eye to the damage or the insignificance of it all? Willingly, even? Yet, with our huge dependence on media for information about everyday things, it seems we are trapped.

In Why Johnny Can’t Preach, T. David Gordon indirectly mentions this very subject (specifically TV) as well as some reasoning behind it:

“Everything about it [television] is trivial… Because its pictures must move, it captures best those things that are kinetic, that have motion. Yet few of the more significant aspects of life involve much motion: love, humility, faith, repentance, prayer, friendship, worship, affection, fear, hope, self-control. Most of what is significant about life takes place between the ears, as we make sense of life, of our place in it, and of our failures and successes, our joys, our sorrows, our fears, our loves.”

Gordon may be talking about TV, but this really applies to most of our other forms of media as well. And I completely agree with Gordon.

Many people honestly believe everything must be seeable to be true or believable, but what about a marriage in trouble? How will a couple work an issue out, or even know there is an issue, without talking and communicating about it? Obviously, a husband and wife will notice problems in how the relationship looks, but what about hidden sins and secrets?

It takes time and listening. Not just in human marriage, but in reading, friendship, and all the other stuff Gordon mentioned. If we are too busy trying to find out what the latest news story is or the next big thing Steve Jobs will announce, we won’t be able to hone in on the more important fundamentals in life (again, like what Gordon mentioned above).

When we look to see what God says about it, he says the same thing.

Deuteronomy 4:11-12 – “You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice.”

In the verses after that passage God tells the Israelites not to make physical, visual idols.

The reason why God wants kids who hear and obey, not see and obey, is a matter of being different. God is different than anything else this world or any religion has to offer. No image can confine him, and doing so would only open the image up to human corruption like so many idols before.

There is a certain hint of intimacy to this. Those who still insist sight must be apparent for validity would do well to realize they did not start out this way. They say in the mother’s womb, it takes only  a matter of weeks for the baby to know its mother’s voice. Then when it is born, the child’s eyes confirm what it already knows to be true in its heart.

It is the same way with Christians as we are the children of God. He doesn’t imprison us in a visual dungeon. He frees us to something greater, where love, a subject of infinite more value than anything fathomable by the eyes, conquers all.



Modern Day Jesus

Book by Matt Mikalatos (not relevant to the post, but I thought the cover was funny)

Often, Christians become obsessed with what to wear to church and other Christian gatherings. Depending on the denominational/theological standing, pastors can get quite obsessed with this as well.

We all know that in the Bible there is no standard for what the ekklesia (Greek word we derive church from) should look like in terms of clothing. Yet, many churches fall prey to judging and cursing those who may or may not wear pants and a tie to worship God. However, legalism can befall the guy who outright condemns someone for having a personal preference for what to wear on Sunday or a given group.

I wonder what Jesus would wear if he came to America? If he came here instead of ancient Israel, what would his clothing choice be?

We’re usually quick to point out his poverty, but in America even the poorest in the country are the richest in the world. I’ve heard plenty of stories of homeless people (in America, of course) who choose to be homeless because they like begging and mooching. Not really need based at all.

To add to that, for most of Jesus’s life, he was a carpenter (some would argue even a mason). He may not have been rich, but he definitely had a few bucks to spare. I wonder if that job would translate to a $20-$30k salary today? Who knows.

Would Jesus wear Levi’s and a nice shirt from Target? Perhaps he would pick up a few things from Good Will and Wal-mart? Maybe he would dress up in a bit and sometimes whip out a polo or some Banana Republic (I tend to think not myself). Would Jesus wear TOMS shoes?

What do you think? If Jesus came to America and did his ministry here, what would he wear?

DISCLAIMER: this discussion has no eternal or theological significance. Just mere speculation and humorous implication.

Engaging Culture

It seems to me that a large majority of people view the Bible to be about as interesting as Moby Dick. I think a good chunk of the people in that majority call themselves Christians – Gasp!!

The Barna Group released a new study about six large patterns in Christianity in America. The two I am focusing on here said that we Christians are “less outreach oriented” and “our influence on culture is largely invisible.” This is not good. What would Jesus say? Rather, what is he saying (and are you listening?). Why aren’t we reaching our homeland for the Kingdom?

In terms of outreach and community, I have seen Christians fall in to two extremes. Again, these are extremes. The first type of Christian gets deeply involved in church or Christian organizations. They really connect with the people in their community groups (Bible studies), they go to church often, and they spend a lot of time with the Christians in their life. Beyond that, there’s not much else. These Christians don’t make much effort to seek unbelievers to befriend, and they don’t really do much outreach or tell others about their faith.

The second type of Christian is not nearly as involved in church or ministry as the first type, but they do have a good number of friends who are unbelievers. Don’t get me wrong; these guys and gals go to church, probably even consistently. While they probably don’t go to church events, they might join a community group. They usually are willing to talk about God and share their faith with their unbelieving friends and acquaintances, but there is rarely an invitation to church or a community group.

The first type stays within the Christian bubble, and the second type stays in their personal bubble outside the Christian bubble.What’s the common pattern here? Both extremes stay in their comfort zones and don’t fulfill the Great Commission. Now the healthy thing to do as a Christian is to find the balance between the two extremes, but when we aren’t trusting in Jesus our sin pushes us to one end or the other.

When our heart is in the right place, what should we be doing? Engaging culture. Sadly, as the Barna study reveals, we don’t even know what we’re doing. At the surface this can get a little sticky. Recall Romans 12:2 – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,…” It’s important to realize that conforming to culture and engaging culture are not the same thing. Let’s look at an example from the Guy who got everything right, Jesus.

Matthew 6:2 – [Jesus said] “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

Jesus is extremely smart. Look at the word, “hypocrite.” We get it from the Greek, literally “hypokrite.” However, the context we have for it today was not the same in Jesus’s day. Back then, a “hypokrite” was a term used to describe an actor on stage. That’s right. Theatre. Now Jesus’s audiences were not Greeks, who loved theatre. They were Jews, but by this point in history the Roman Empire (Israel included) had been hellenized with Greek culture, resulting in a lot of Greek traditions mixing with different ones. One of those Greek traditions was a love for theatre.

So just as an actor acts out a character that is not their genuine personality, so a “hypokrite” acts out a godliness that is not in their heart, their true self. This was the point of what Jesus was saying. He obviously got the point across, given that the Pharisees were quite angry with him after the Sermon on the Mount. It’s cool because no one really used “hypokrite” in the deceptive, negative sense before. And what’s admirable is that Jesus engaged culture enough to know what was relevant to his audience, and he used that to spread the truth. And look at the influence!

This is a perfect example of how we should be engaging the people in our culture when we tell the Gospel. Jesus did not conform to culture by becoming obsessed with art and theatre and other norms for society back then. He appreciated theatre for what it was, and strategically contextualized it for God’s purposes so that others could understand better. Awesome! What does this look like in modern society?

Do you have an iPhone? Sweet (if not, I don’t either. Just go with me). Don’t conform to your iPhone and neglect your friends family because your face is glued to it like it’s a dream-flavored Hot Pocket. Instead, use it when you need to, and download a Bible app. When you are telling some friends or co-workers about Jesus, engage them by pulling up a verse on your iPhone to show them. Culturally relevant? Yes. Cheesy? Perhaps. Effective? I guarantee it.

That’s just one of the massive number of examples. Don’t forget that if we have a true relationship with Jesus, the desire of our heart will be to follow him and tell others about him (John 14:15). Don’t fall into the lie of entitlement so prevalent in secular culture. We have an obligation of loving others.

Now my honest opinion is that most of us Christians enjoy sitting at Starbucks, enjoy Apple products, and usually know what’s popular/going on (if not, you might want to head to Digg.com and read up on some articles). In short, I think most of us are pretty cultured. We just need to get off our butts and engage others for Jesus. If we don’t tell others about the Gospel, that’s pretty selfish. Not only that, but how would others know? Here’s a random food for thought: Instincts aside, if God never spoke to Adam and Eve, what would life look like? Afterall, Jesus did say we live on God’s Word (Matthew 4:4).

Oh, and sorry if you are a Moby Dick fan.