The Way We Win Matters

The classic sci fi novel “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card was adapted on to the big screen in November 2013. The story tells of a brilliant boy, Ender, who trained to battle in a world threatened by a formidable alien race. In the final battle sequence, Ender skillfully devises the perfect strategy, carrying it out ruthlessly to achieve victory against his enemy, effectively wiping out the entirety of the opposing army. Just as the audience exhales from his display of incredible wit and meticulous execution, the chilling plot twist dawns: what Ender assumed to be the final simulation exam was indeed a real, flesh and blood battle. Ender had inadvertently committed genocide.

Enraged by having been manipulated into killing, Ender glowers at his commander, the emotion in his voice drenched with the incomprehensible weight of his new realization, he says,

the way we win matters.

Battle wounds inflict both the victim and the victor. When I look around the landscape of Christian activity, I see stripes of betrayal, festering cynicism, crippling disappointment, and visible strains of fatigue. Whether they are earnest, conservative Christians losing their grip on cultural advantages, or liberal Christians frustrated by the slow pace of progress, the war raging is showing its wear. We even use language like “culture wars”, or “spiritual battle”, and “fight against (insert cause)”. All along the spectrum, followers of Jesus are bearing the heavy cost of their own, hard-fought, battles.

It is the core of believers, to take up our convictions and season the world like salt; to shine like a light on the hill. Without a passion for our causes, our faith lies dormant, irrelevant to our circles of influence. Without the tenacity of a warrior, we cannot prevail in waging war against the global injustices present in our generation. Let there be no doubt, we are embroiled in a fierce battle.

And yet, the moment we begin fighting in ways more like the Roman Empire, than the One who submitted himself to death on a cross, we have already lost the war. When we begin to adopt the mentality of us vs. them, or attempt to lord power over instead of subverting from below, we relinquish our distinctive ability to critique the culture in which we live. We can dress our battle cry in fancy spiritual lingo, but unless our movement to fight is to give away power rather than gain, we aren’t fighting in the way of Jesus. Unless our battle wounds are cruciform; intentionally bearing the pain of others out of love, rather than from retaliation fire of a fight we start, we aren’t winning in a way that matters.

Ender’s Game, the movie, did poorly in the box office. There are many speculations to why it didn’t gain traction, but one reason is its counter-cultural narrative to the reigning glorification of violence in Hollywood. The Oscars, the most prestigious awards in the film industry, has granted many accolades throughout the years to movies portraying redemptive violence. An Oscar win is indeed the pinnacle of one’s acting career. Yet in 1973, the recipient of the Best Actor award, Marlon Brando, asked the actress Sacheen Littlefeather to publicly refuse the award on the grounds for the injustice perpetrated towards Native Americans by the film industry. Read the remarkable story of an example in which persons in positions of power and powerlessness worked together to create room for more justice.

There is no room for complacency and passive non-engagement with the rampant injustices from modern day slavery to environmental degradation. But we must fight for justice in the way of Jesus. This means scrutinizing our methods in community development, unpacking the nuances in dialogue for reconciliation, and being wary of sensational language which dehumanizes the ones we hope to persuade. The ends do not justify the means. Let our urgency and passion drive us to critique the how of what we do. Like Ender, let’s not be tricked by the lies of the empire, only to find out at the end, we have inadvertently committed injustice in the name of justice.

We must fight, but the way we win matters.

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Don’t Resolve to be Someone You’re Not

Some of my favorite people in the world are crass, wildly inappropriate, and slightly neurotic. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe because I admire (envy) their defiance of social conventional norms, or because they give me permission to express my own neuroses. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re constantly negative and raging, don’t expect to be invited over for dinner anytime soon; but an edgy personality with a sometimes bad-ass attitude – that’s kinda cool.

*Wait, did I get stuck in a time warp as a teen girl?* 

2014 is upon us shortly and resolutions are sure to fill up our news feeds with various formulations of how to “be a better person” in the New Year. I guess it’s time for me to routinely put “be more patient” back on my list. I think I was 0.67% more patient in 2013 than 2012, so that’s, progress? At this rate, according to my rudimentary calculations, by 2050 I should be 27.38% more patient than I was in 2004. I will be slow and steady, always filter my words, and…

totally not myself anymore. 

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When our resolutions fail year after year, maybe it’s because we were never meant to be the ideals we have set for ourselves. 

What happens when my crass friends clean up their language, or the inappropriate ones start acting prim and proper? They become less interesting versions of themselves. Instead of setting unrealistic virtuous goals, maybe we need to start expanding our definition of what makes a better person.  I read a paradigm shifting book years ago called “Now, Discover Your Strengths”. The premise of the book is to overturn the common misconception of spotting our weaknesses and improving upon them. Instead, we ought to discover our strengths and spend our time and energy maximizing those areas.   In other words, stop trying to be someone you’ll probably never be (i.e. a patient person), but become more fully who you are.

I found this idea not only practically helpful, but also theologically profound. Some of us inside Christian culture have made the mistake of truncating the gospel to a behavior modification system. Jesus is not Santa, constantly checking to see if we’re naughty or nice. He came to pave a way for us to become more complete versions of who God had created us to begin with. As Christians, we believe we are created in the image of God – a God who is kind, gracious, compassionate, and just. But let’s not forget Scriptures also depict a God who is jealous, angry, indecisive, and impatient. We have deemed certain character qualities negative and weak, when all along our perception of God-imaged creatures have been far too narrow. The diversity of human personality and range of emotions ought to be affirmed as good. We don’t only need Nice Christian people in our world – we also need people who are strong willed, quick-witted, creative, cynical, and yes, crass with a bit of a bad ass attitude.

What the gospel does require is for us to capitalize our strengths and orient them towards Truth, Beauty, Justice, and Love. We have been liberated from the behavior modification system in order to live into speaking life, creating beauty, fighting for justice, and loving unconditionally.

This year, don’t resolve to be someone you’re not. Resolve to live more fully into this life.